Friday, January 19, 2018

The Universe Isn't Bringing Us Anything (So Go Ahead & Live)

Cafe 1842 - Waterloo, Ontario

Good afternoon. It's a balmy -2 celsius outside today, and I find myself at one of my favourite cafes drinking javanilla coffee and munching on a banana nut muffin. I'm also perusing my Facebook feed, and this little nugget of "truth" just came into my view:

Really? Wow! You mean that all my worries are soon to be extinguished, all my needs met? All I have to do is relax and trust and "watch how fast" the universe works on my behalf? That's great! 

There's just one problem.

It's bullshit.

This meme (strange, aren't all memes usually 100% true?) isn't the only one going around with the same sentiments. There are others that say things like "Everything happens for a reason" or "Trust that everything will work out in the end."

There was a time several years ago when I connected with and loved sayings like this. I was part of a spiritual community, a sect of Christianity, that was very much about positive thinking and The Secret. If you're unfamiliar with the book, it basically deals with the rather fishy "law of attraction." Basically if you hold an idea or thought in your mind and "put it out to the universe," said universe will bring it to you. I went to workshops that recommended creating vision boards. Basically you put pictures of what it is that you desire (i.e. a new car, a new job, a vacation, a bigger bank account, better health, a partner), you look at it every day, and the universe will conspire to eventually bring them to you.

There was only one problem. 

It didn't work.

It's a lovely thought that the universe is working on your behalf, isn't it? That someThing, someOne, someWhere is working overtime in order to grant your wishes. 

The only problem with this line of thinking, besides it not working, is that it abdicates us from our responsibilities to make tough choices and to make our lives into what we want them to be. There is something to be said for having an optimistic outlook on life, but we take it a step too far if we start expecting a Lamborghini to show up in our driveway with Scarlett Johansson in the drivers seat (I'm still holding out hope for that one...)

Some people wait their entire lives for life/the universe to bring them something, without taking any practical steps to making their lives better or their dreams come true. Life is rough, cold, and dark sometimes; perhaps that is why people resort to messages like those in the above meme. I would also say that this is why people choose to enact petitionary prayer to a god. We are often faced with things like illness, violence, and poverty, and we wish with all our hearts that there is someThing, someOne, someWhere looking after us and conspiring to make things better.

I am slowly learning that we have a responsibility to do with our lives what we will, to act rather than wait for god/the universe to bring things to us. I wish it weren't true. I wish that my good thoughts and intentions were all that was needed to have a fulfilling life. But they're not. 

Instead, we have to do what we can with what we have, and grab life by the balls and live.

mark andrew

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Be Careful Which Doorway You Walk Through

Waterloo, Ontario

Do you ever feel like you're living someone else's life, like that of a victim when you'd rather be living as anything but?

I have found myself in the wrong place before, figuratively and literally.

Over 10 years ago I had a drinking problem. More accurately, I had a serious anxiety problem and used alcohol to numb out. It got so bad that, as a bartender at the time, I began to slip shots of vodka into my orange juice, and drink beer and wine after my shift - anything to keep the anxiety at bay. Long story short, I got caught, and on the way up the stairs from my change room, I fell and bruised myself up pretty badly, to the point where I was carted off by ambulance in front of my co-workers. That was a real treat.

So I thought that I would check out an AA meeting that was held at a church just down the street from my place.

That first night I walked into the lower level of the Lutheran church and there was a small group of people sitting around a table. So my first experience with Alcoholics Anonymous had begun, right? Well, after sitting down and listening to a few of the people sharing, I soon realized that I was entirely in the wrong meeting. I wasn't in Alcoholics Anonymous, rather, I had meandered into Sex Addicts Anonymous! I was politely directed to the larger group down the hallway. I will never forget this!
Be careful which doorway you walk through.

So, do you ever feel like you've walked through the wrong doorway and are living a life that is more like drifting and settling rather than being passionate and intentional? Maybe it's because you weren't encouraged as a child, maybe you lived through abuse. Perhaps you were told that you'd never amount to anything. Maybe you deal with crippling mental or physical illness that drags you down and has done so for years.

Recently I've been thinking about this and how I don't want my past abuse or my current mental health struggles to determine where I am going in life. I don't want to continually walk through the door of half-steps and half-measures, settling in for a life of mediocrity. So how do we get ourselves out of these ruts that we find ourselves in?

Sometimes we need close friends to remind us of our goodness and potential. Sometimes we need a good therapist who really deeply listens. But for me, I think it's about listening to the still small voice that urges me to walk through doorways of boldness and not timidity, courage and not cowardice.

Wherever you are on your journey, I hope you can find yourself living a life that fulfills you, one of intentionality.

I believe in you. I love you.

mark andrew

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fences, Pills, And Possibilities

I had two options available to me as I held the open pill bottle in my hand.
Cafe Pyrus - Kitchener, ON

The other night I picked up the refill of my prescription for an anti-anxiety medication that I've been on for several years. There was nothing special about the pick up - I simply showed my ID to the pharmacist and made my way home.

My diagnoses are major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and complex PTSD. I have suffered from mental illness since I was a child. Mental illness runs up and down both sides of my family tree like a blight, so it’s not surprising that I too would face “the black dog.”On top of genetics, all throughout my childhood I was a victim of punishing verbal and emotional abuse.
I have tried every anti-depressant known to humankind it seems, and have been hospitalized on three occasions because of my illness.

But as I entered adulthood, it seemed that I finally came to a crossroads, or as I call it, a fence.

For years I have been sitting on a fence of sorts. On one side of the fence lies death, specifically death by my own hand. On the other side of the fence is a life where I listen to my inner voice which tells me that I have a lot to offer to the world and to act boldly, to stop living such a small life.

I sat on that fence again the other night after picking up my medication. I had two options available to me as I held the open pill bottle in my hand. The first option was something I have considered hundreds, if not thousands of times. It consisted of throwing the entire bottles worth of pills (along with my other prescriptions) down my throat and hopefully ending it all. The second option was to stop living a life of half-steps and second-guessing, a life where my past abuse defines me. To live a life where I listen to that persistent inner voice which calls me to be the best version of myself that I can be. In that moment, holding that pill bottle, I knew that sitting on the fence was no longer an option for me. Doing so had been killing me slowly for years. The fence brought some level of comfort, but the trade-off was a life of constant fear and indecision.

Perhaps you find yourself at a crossroads, or sitting on a fence like me. You've thought of suicide thousands of times but a still small voice inside of you tells you that there is more to life than fear and dread. I get it, I've been there as recently as last night. If you can't hear your inner voice right now, listen to the voices of those around you who know you best, the people who know that you have a whole hell of a lot to offer this world. You may need therapy, medication, or a caring community to awaken from the nightmare. Do whatever you need to do to get off that fence.

I believe in you. I love you.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

On Being Thankful, & Spicy Hummus Wraps

Queen Street Commons Cafe - Kitchener, ON

Good afternoon. It's a balmy -13 degrees celsius out there, but I'm nice and warm inside this cafe, drinking dark roast coffee and just having finished eating a spicy hummus wrap. I have a lot to be thankful for.

When you're dealing with things like mental illness and poverty, thankfulness can be something that goes by the wayside. But I've really been feeling thankful lately, particularly when I step into the house that I'm living in after being out in the frigid cold. I have a roof over my head, a warm room, food to eat, a great friend as a flatmate.

Other things that I'm thankful for:

  1. My circle of friends, both old and new. I am blessed with good friends who listen to me and understand me, and accept me for who I am.
  2. A community that I can belong to; in my case Grand River Unitarian Congregation. It's a place where people with a wide array of religious beliefs - or no religious beliefs - can come and covenant to treat each other with dignity and respect.
  3. My weekly meditation group that I've just begun to attend. It's a grounding experience to share silence with others in the midst of often noisy weeks.
  4. My family. I have good relationships with my Mom, my brother, and perhaps most surprisingly my father. That's been a major change the last year or so. We have some milestones coming up this year. Mom turns 65 next month, Dad turns 70 in March, my niece Rachael becomes a teenager also in March, and I turn 40 (how did that happen?!) in July.
  5. Good coffee, and plenty of cafes where I feel comfortable hanging out in.
  6. Music. Lately it's been a steady diet of AC/DC and Bryan Adams, though today it's something a little softer - John Denver. Listening to John Denver makes me think of my Mom, as we have a tradition of playing crokinole and listening to his music.
  7. Sexual and gender diversity. I'm thinking particularly of those friends of mine who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. So often I find that they radiate authenticity and warmth and acceptance of me, perhaps because they often know what it is to be discriminated against.
  8. Good beer. My all-time favourite being Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, a German smoked beer that I first had when I traveled to Germany 10 years ago. It's available at many LCBO stores.
  9. I'm thankful that baseball season is in sight. Go Jays!
  10. Medication that works. While the side effects are a pain in the ass, the meds that I'm on help with my complex PTSD, major depressive disorder, and general anxiety disorder.
  11. Humour. Because everyone loves my puns.
  12. Being able to see quality movies at the Princess Cinemas and the Apollo. (Go see The Shape of Water!)
Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for. It's so easy to concentrate on what one doesn't have as opposed to what one does have. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blogposts. :)

mark andrew

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Human Soul Simply Wants To Be Seen And Heard

Matter Of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, ON

Greetings from downtown Kitchener on a drizzly, grey afternoon. I find myself at one of my favourite cafes, putting in time before meditation group starts later tonight. I hope you're doing well.

"The human soul doesn't want to be fixed, it simply wants to be seen and heard." ~ Parker J. Palmer

Do you feel like your soul is being seen and heard? In this city there are so many people, walking down the street, catching a bus, sitting in cafes. I wonder how many of them feel like they are really seen and heard. I don't mean noticed, I mean really seen and heard. Do you have people in your life who truly see you and hear you? Have you cultivated the kind of deep friendships where you can bare your soul and still be accepted, no matter how messed up you feel? Even if you're an introvert I believe that we need even one or two people who we can check in with periodically and truly be real with.

"The human soul doesn't want to be fixed." Often when we get together with friends, we'll spill out our problems, and naturally these friends will often want to fix them. Perhaps we do the same thing with our friends. Part of this is natural, because we want to help, we care about them. But I agree with Parker Palmer; the human soul doesn't want to be fixed, it simply wants to be seen and heard. It is not our job to mold anyone else into our image of what we think they should be. This is my problem with religious evangelism. I believe the soul is pure and knowledgeable all on its own; we can trust our soul. Religious evangelism, at least the fundamentalist Christian version, says that the soul is flawed and in need of saving. There are many well-intentioned religious people who think that they have the answers and they feel the need to share these answers with others. But the soul is wise, the soul is innocent, beneath any mire and muck that may be surrounding it. Wouldn't it be better if would-be evangelists learned to truly listen to others rather than attempt to sway them over to their point of view? Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I was an evangelist. I traveled with a team of people to a First Nations reserve with the goal of saving those who didn't have "the truth." How ignorant of me? What if I had simply listened to their stories and heard the truth of their souls instead?

I hope that you have friends in your life that truly see and hear you. I hope that you can trust your soul. I love you.

mark andrew

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Pulled Pork, Lost Dogs, And The Devil's Music

I really don't like the term "pulled pork." That's all.
Waterloo, Ontario

Soundtrack: AC/DC - Highway To Hell

Good Evening,

First of all, AC/DC, where have you been all my life? Lately I've been seeking out classic rock, hell, even modern rock. Recently I've added some AC/DC, The Who, Audioslave, Melissa Etheridge, and Bryan Adams to my collection, with notions of adding some Led Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, etc in the near future. I grew up almost solely listening to Christian music, so you can imagine AC/DC wasn't exactly in the mix. But enough about that.

This will be a rather random entry, as it's one of those evenings where I feel like writing but don't really have a set topic to write about. So here goes...

1) Does anyone else have a problem with the term "pulled pork"? I mean, I like eating it, but I'm uncomfortable with saying it or even reading it.

2) Lately my Facebook news feed has been full of lost dog posts. I mean, I get that there are a lot of pet lovers out there, but it's getting a little annoying, just sayin'. (Somewhat related, I remember when I made the joke that whenever I see an Amber Alert, I look around for hot girls named Amber. My uncle wasn't impressed. Oh well.)

3) I turn 40 this upcoming July. It's a big number, and you'd think I'd be depressed about it, but I think I went through my mid-life crisis the last couple of years, and like measles, I'm hoping it isn't a recurrent thing.

4) Is there anything better than Sunday afternoon breakfast? On Sundays after attending my Unitarian congregation, I make it a habit to frequent a pub Uptown that serves breakfast until 2pm on the weekends. I always order "The Highlander," which is a nice way of saying "for those who want to eat absolutely everything, plus french toast."

5) Speaking of my Unitarian congregation, we have a new minister filling in while our regular minister is away on sabbatical for three months. All she had to do was to quote Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh, and I was won over.

6) I'm looking for a new wallpaper for my desktop. I currently have Mr. Rogers on my desktop. Yes, really. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comment section on good ole FB.

7) I currently have 7 candles lit in my bedroom here in Waterloo. Somehow I think Norah Jones would be a more appropriate soundtrack right now, but this AC/DC album is just too good.

8) Tomorrow night I might go back to this meditation group that rents out the hall in my church on Wednesday nights. We sit in silence and then drink exotic teas, like Bengal Tiger Chai or some shit like that.

I'll leave you with this video which I found hilarious when I came across it yesterday:

mark andrew

Friday, January 5, 2018

On Being A Sanctuary For Other People

Waterloo, Ontario

sanctuary: any place of refuge; asylum.

Memes. We all love them. Ok, not all of us love them, especially when they implore us to "Like" and "Share" them. However, yesterday my friend posted a meme that I rather liked. It simply read: "Be the type of person that makes everyone you come across feel perfectly okay with being exactly who they are."

Yes, I believe that each of us can be a sanctuary for those around us. I hope that you have 2 or 3 people, or even 1 person that is a sanctuary, a refuge for you. You know, someone that you can be completely real with, without feeling the need to put on false pretenses or masks. 

What does it take for someone to be a sanctuary? I think it requires a few different things. One of them is owning yourself. How can we be a sanctuary for other people if we haven't given ourselves that inner place of refuge. A place that can hold all of our fears, anxieties, our wounded inner child. This requires time and some effort (and often therapy). If we are always running, always busy, and never stopping to pay attention to our shit, our fears and anxieties will continually surface in the form of anger, jealousy, always having to have the last word, etc. If we haven't tended to our own wounds, how are we supposed to be truly present when sitting with a friend in need? Now, does this mean that we have to have it all together before being a good friend to others? Of course not, but I think we need to be in the process of tending to our own needs. The late Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen speaks of "crying inward" lest we continually spill our pain and rage onto others and expect them to heal us. 

I think that another requirement for being a sanctuary to those around us is that we need to practice deep listening. Do you ever notice that, during conversations with friends or acquaintances, we don't really hear what the other person is saying? Instead we often are merely waiting for the other person to stop talking so that we can say what is on our minds. This isn't deep listening. Going back to our own journeys, how can we be good or deep listeners of other people if we continually run away from the dark places within us, if we aren't listening to ourselves? Some of us will do anything to run away from our dark places. We have so many things around us that can distract us - our computers, television, Facebook, Twitter, books, music, video games. Now, sometimes we need these distractions for a moment if our pain is too deep to face, but at some point our dark places are going to catch up to us if we don't tend to them, if we don't listen to them. When we have taken the time to listen to ourselves, as hard and wrenching as that can be, we can truly be present when we are with other people. Instead of being in inner turmoil when we are in another's presence, we can sit with them and truly hear what they are saying to us.

As a good friend of mine pointed out to me, being this type or person, a sanctuary as I call it, does not mean taking responsibility for another's feelings or actions. It is not our responsibility to make others feel good. But I do think that it's incumbent on us to try to make them feel welcome and safe. Now, it may not be possible to help someone feel safe with us if a person's turmoil and anxieties are so overwhelming that they cannot receive our offering of a peaceful presence. But even in this scenario, we can offer a non-judgmental presence. We can let others feel all the shit they're feeling and not insist that they put on a mask or "buck up and be happy."

As I end this particular blog entry, I ask myself two important questions:

1) Am I doing the work that I need to own my own pain so that I can present with others?

2) Am I truly listening to others when I'm in a conversation, or am I simply waiting for a chance to say my piece?

I hope that you have a sanctuary or sanctuaries in your life. I love you.

mark andrew