Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Place Where We Become Human Again

I've been out of the city for about a week now, actually twin cities with a population just over 300,000. Instead, I've been spending time at my Mom's house in a town with a population of 38,000. It has been what I have needed. I can actually walk down the street without the gridlock of sight and sound and make my way spaciously through the mall.

Perhaps the thing that has been so refreshing is that I've sat here in a coffee shop at the mall the last couple of days, and people have actually smiled at me when I smile at them! It's amazing! In the city, when you come across someone on the street, they inevitably either turn their head away, or their chin becomes glued to their neck, as if you were Medusa.

If eyes are the window to the soul, it's clear these people are suspicious and don't want to let you in at all.

We do this at our own peril. Yes, there are some people who are disturbed, but you know what, I'll even go as far as to say that they deserve a friendly smile to brighten their day. We all need some connection with our fellow human beings, and what better way to start than with a smile. It says "Welcome friend, we share our humanity," rather than "Get away, you're probably a perv or a threat."

It is when we make eye contact or - shocking - even say hello that we may make new friends, perhaps our best friends. A part of either us or them or both may be healed as we realize "this person sees me on their level and may even care about me. It's been a long time since I've felt that." In today's world of video games, virtual worlds, satellite TV, and social media, so many of us have very little actual human contact.

My brothers and sisters, today we have an opportunity change all that. Maybe it starts with just one smile.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Bogeyman, The Monster, & The Ghost: Dealing With Fear

On March 4, 1933, newly elected U.S. President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, uttered the now famous words, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” during his inaugural speech. At the time, the United States was facing one of the worst economic crises in history and the eternally optimistic FDR was trying his best to keep the country from erupting in panic. Whether it was that statement or dozens of his innovative new approaches to kick start the economy, things began to rapidly improve soon after that speech.

Over the years I have thought about FDR's famous quote. After all, one of my diagnoses is mixed anxiety disorder (sort of like mixed nuts - which sounds apropos!) including obsessive compulsive disorder and general anxiety disorder. I have lived many if not most days of my 35 years in a state of fear. Sometimes I wake up with it, sometimes it creeps up in the afternoon, and sometimes I go to bed with it. Heck, sometimes I am scared of who I go to bed with!

But I'm thinking today, isn't fear really just a big bogeyman, the monster under the bed, the ghost in the closet? Maybe fear isn't real at all, as I've heard many people say. There is a difference between fear and danger. Danger can be real, fear is not.

I'm trying to live in the moment today as several things are up in the air in life. But from inside I hear that persistent, divine voice calling, saying to me, "Mark, why won't you let it go? It's out of your control. You can only do as much as you can do, and the rest is up to me. Let go of your fear. Do it!" I know it is easier said than done, but I believe that yes, it can be done. Sometimes we need help doing it. For me, I have anti-anxiety medication and friends and guides to help me. If there is one thing in my life that I would choose to change if someone gave me a magic wand, it would probably be that I wouldn't be so afraid all the time. It shortens our lifespan, and robs us of being in the present moment.

Speaking of being in the present moment, I am thinking again that prayer and meditation are essential ways to deal with our fear, our anxieties. Just to take some time each and every day and quiet our mind, and if we are spiritual, pray and listen to the affirming words that the Spirit is telling us. The Scriptures say that where love is, fear is not, that in fact perfect love casts out all fear. Probably my favourite verse in the Bible (1 John 4:18).

It is hard, it is dreadfully hard to trust and let go of our many fears. It is as if we are trapeze artists who have to trust that there is a net underneath of us if we fall. The Spirit is our net, and She will not let us go.

Bless you on your journey today,

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tweets & Wall Posts: Social Media's Illusion Of Intimacy

"It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've thought... it figures"
~ A. Morissette

Yes, I realize that the following entry will seem "a little too ironic," as I'm using social media to talk against it. But here goes.

It's amazing how much technology has advanced in, say 20 years. 20 years ago it was a novelty to send an electronic message to your cousin studying abroad (and by abroad I mean another country, not a woman, though I've studied broads frequently - okay I digress). 20 years ago we'd find ourselves logging onto message boards (BBS's), and spending hours creating basic webpages on Geocities.

Oh how far we've come in 20 years. Today if you go to the electronics store of your choice and buy an iPhone or a Samsung, chances are that in 2 weeks there will be a better model out there (and by model I mean type of phone). If you work for Blackberry, today you'll have a job, tomorrow you probably won't - ouch, my bad.

But what about social media. Today we are enamoured, no addicted to Facebook, Twitter (Facebook's cooler younger sister), Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Here are a few problems I have with social media.

1) People who use social media as catharsis. These are the people - and I've been guilty of it in the past - of practically bloodletting on their Facebook page and thus on the pages of their 624 friends news feeds. This happens when their girlfriend dumps them, or when life just sucks and somehow everyone should know about it. GUESS WHAT?! It doesn't work! It only makes you feel worse when not as many people "like" or comment on your woes, and it makes you feel pathetic.

Lesson: Save the time and call an actual friend or a therapist.

2) Meme's - This is more of a pet peeve than anything. We all see them, every single day. We scroll down our Facebook news feed and someone  has posted a cute picture of a cat or of a sublime sunset with some "inspirational" quote. Most of these are quotes that some random guy in Indonesia has come up with, though other times they are quotes from Rumi or the Dalai Llama. Regardless, they're pretty annoying.

Lesson: If you want to get inspired, GO FOR A WALK.

3) People who use social media to document Every. Single. Minutiae. of their life.
  •  We can no longer fully eat a scrumptious burger. Instead we take a pic of it while our teeth still has pickles in it.

  • We can no longer just visit a great café. Instead we have to "check into" that café online, so that Aunt Matilda in Port Bruce knows.

  • We can no longer just get together for a conversation with a close friend. Instead we must post a status update saying that we're "with" them.
4) Social media interrupts the flow of life. Ooooooh New Agey! But I think that it is the case. I think there's a reason that we are part of someone's life in Grade 3 and then we never hear from them again. I think there's a reason that we aren't "friends" with that guy from high school that beat us up but now may be perfectly nice. People enter our lives like a wave, and they leave our lives like a wave; it's only natural. And that's talking only about the people that we actually know. Some of us, myself included, have added friends or followed people that we barely know, or who we may only know through a friend of a friend of a friend.  In the last 2 months I have cut my Facebook friends list by 300 people, and it feels great; I feel like I have more mental space. Social media can lead to anxiety and mental clutter.

Now this doesn't mean that we should all convert to the Amish way of life or even disable our Facebook or Twitter accounts, but I believe there must be some balance. I also must say that there is the rare case when you do meet someone online and you end up having meaningful friendships with them. I find this to be more the rarity though.

In closing, remember when you're posting something personal to your "friends," don't expect too much intimacy in return. Seek out real faces, real smiles, real ears, real hands.

Mark Andrew Nouwen