/*amazon_ad_exclude = "christian"*/ The Skin I Am In: April 2008

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Forget The Ending

We all seem to be searching for that proverbial happy ending. The truth of the matter is, life is not a fairy tale. At times it resembles a romantic comedy, others a horror flick. Other times still it may appear like a long and drawn out documentary where you almost feel the need to check your own pulse. Regardless of genre, real life rarely ties up all its loose ends before the closing credits.

A common expression reminds us that it's not the destination but the journey that is important. Naturally I have always understood the fundamental concept, but oddly, I think now for the first time I finally get it. As in, really get it.

When I decided to address this topic my initial intent was conveying that happy endings don't just happen. We must produce them. Each life is far more than any particular moment; it is greater still than the sum of its parts because more valuable than the experiences themselves are our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. How we perceive life will effect how we live it.

Yet upon further examination I pondered, “what is a happy ending?” For unlike a book with tangible parameters--a concise beginning and end--our lives are always in a state of metamorphosis, constantly changing and evolving. Is a happy ending judged merely by the state of our existence as we approach our final moments? Surely that is not what people spend their lives striving, worrying, and fighting so hard to achieve. Perhaps we should aspire for happy endings to our many different chapters, as opposed to narrowing our focus on the entire volume.

As happiness waxes and wanes throughout our life's story, some chapters will end well while others will not. It is the lessons we take from one chapter to help improve the next that provides a good and worthy script; a script that combined with the inevitable tribulations brims with many happy endings.

A great number of us spend far too much of our lifetime working toward a certain goal. Yet once reached and many years invested, then what? Either we stagnate on a disappointing plateau, or we set a new goal. This pattern accomplishes little more than to produce a vicious cycle. Like a dog chasing it's tail, you are constantly moving but never really getting anywhere. I certainly do not suggest that we avoid setting goals for ourselves, rather that they not become our primary objective. Sadly, people often get so focused on their accomplishments that all other facets of life become neglected. In our perpetual quest for happy endings it seems much of the time we overlook the greater meaning.

We should enjoy life like we do a good book that is thoroughly engrossing and rewarding to read. Imagine how the words come together painting a picture in your mind. You instinctively savor the images they conjure and the feelings they evoke. Obviously, it would be counterproductive to hurriedly skim the text in a race to reach your goal of getting to the end. The integrity of the story would be lost, negating the very reason to read it in the first place. One must appreciate the rich details and depth of character development in order to derive the significance of that very last sentence for it is irrelevant without the hundreds of pages preceding it. Likewise, in life, profundity does not rise from mediocrity.

Instead of considering my ailing marriage as a grievous conclusion to a major chapter, I am choosing to regard it as an opportunity for a happy beginning in the next installment. While I certainly don't know what direction my storyline will take, perhaps these past few years were merely preparation for the next chapter. Maybe my future chapters have even greater things in store than the tale I had envisioned. Maybe--just maybe--this unfortunate circumstance is truly a happy ending in disguise.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Only The Real Thing

I am on a mission. This is no bargain hunt, either. Cheap imitations will not be accepted. Nor last resorts. Nor second-hand goods. It must be 100% authentic, for this is far too critical to settle for less. I am not out to find the best that has ever been. That would be an impossible quest. I am merely out to discover, and then implement, my best -- flawed and imperfect as it is. Regardless of quality, it must be genuine. It must be true.

I know that the path to self is a continuous one, forever winding and twisting until the moment of our final breath. However, I have recently covered a lot of distance in quite a short time and am closer than ever to me. The trail is hot with many clues and I can not afford to let it go cold.

Clearly, I am no longer the young girl who walked down the aisle over a decade ago. As I emerge from naive to painfully aware and self-confident, realizing my potential has become an important quest. One that I am not content with allowing anyone else, including societal roles, defining for me.

Unfortunately, I am currently suffering circumstances which impede my progress rendering my mission impossible. For where I presently reside there is too much stress and chaos to accomplish the task at hand—with so many distractions and influences bearing down on me right and left, I am unable to think clearly about the future. Informed and confident decisions are rarely made in the heat of battle; for that is when survival mode takes over. It is a shoot first, ask questions later mentality when you are in so deep that you can actually hear the bullets whizzing by your head. You don't know whether to duck, jump or dart because there is no time to think or analyze your next move. In survival mode, you are forced to act immediately and rather than strive for the best outcome, you simply hope to make it out alive.

In order to effectively strategize you must step off the battlefield, although mine is not inundated with loads of mass destruction, but rather an insidious form of warfare. Like many types of poisonous gas you can not detect it, yet you notice your health declining as the toxins slowly eat away at your vitality. You eventually become weak, exhausted and apathetic to the cause; even dangerously indifferent to your own survival.

It is additionally disheartening when it is one of your own delivering the poison which is slowly killing you. Even if they did not consciously intend you harm, it is their incessant carelessness and disregard for your well-being that has made it difficult for you to breathe. Ironically, and possibly the cruelest of all, while their actions were destroying your inner core they were simultaneously portraying themselves the victim. What audacity to blame you for your ailing spirit when it was they who supplied the source of your pain! As much as you would like to forgive, it is hard to accept apologies when they continue to demonstrate, and seemingly always will, this same reckless abandon to your health and vitality.

It is therefore difficult for me to see the bigger picture and accomplish my mission while among those same toxic fumes that clouded my vision and deteriorated my livelihood. I desperately need some fresh air so that I may gain a fresh perspective. For this reason, I am organizing a reprieve that will get me out of the war zone and afford me the opportunity to think--not just react. I do not want to get further down my path to look back and have regrets as a result of strategizing in survival mode. I want to not only survive, but to come out with a renewed zest for life. I want to not only be comfortable, but happy and proud to wear the skin I am in.

I plan to return energized and ready to make a fresh start, regardless of what that may be.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Life Or Limb

I stand hovering at the edge of the cliff. I peer over to gage whether or not I feel I can make the jump. I'm not quite sure. Although it is a long way down it is the fear in not knowing what lies at the bottom of this infinitely vast canyon delaying my decision. Since I am, at least, too sensible to lunge in unpreparedly my maneuvers are done in a deliberate manner which will not only serve to buffer the fall, but will allow a way back up in the event that The Great Unknown turns out to be worse than my fate here on the cliff.

I haven't always been teetering. For even before living near the safe center of this plateau, I resided in a canyon similar to the one I currently regard so mysteriously. Back when my adulthood was still in its infancy, I had had to make the climb just to acquire the elevated flatland on which I now stand. Upon landing I was afforded a better view of my future than I had ever had and it seemed as though I had reached the top of the world.

At the onset I was shown a particularly favorable season and my naivety and optimism prevented me from questioning the longitude of those ideal conditions. I failed to realize that the sun god works his magic, shining extra brightly upon the arrival of a newcomer. Although he does not intend to deceive, he eventually becomes weary and can not afford the energy it takes to continue the act of always radiating such warmth. Now clouds too often cover what used to shine so frequently and the love I had found which inspired me to climb here in the first place, the love that once felt so pure and real and unconditional appears darker in the shadows where I am not so blinded by the magic of the sun's early light.

Although things naturally change and evolve, much of what was displayed was more illusion than reality. It has taken a long time before I looked beyond superficial appearances to realize that my mate who shows affection with a touch or a squeeze, lacks the deeper and more important functions of compassion. It's as if his vision of love developed from a gesture he had seen in a black and white snapshot.

It isn't entirely his fault, for his upbringing was one of great dysfunction where love was taught to be conditional, not absolute. Seeking his mother's affection he attempted to warm her cold and unpredictable state with a stroke or a hug, getting little in return. Yet, there comes a time in each life where personal responsibility must be taken for one's own shortcomings. Throughout our union, he has repeatedly allowed the very wolves that raised him to prey on me as they do him, while defending their predatory actions. No amount of pleading or desperation could save me. Any attempts I made at self-preservation were condemned and destroyed. Even in other instances when I have been victim to crime and misfortune he, my one partner in this land, he who claims to love me, has repeatedly denied aid as I lie begging for his helping hand. By leaving me to fend for myself even in my darkest hours, it has forced me to conjure up strength and find my resolve. Ironically, he lacked the foresight to predict that these very traits would serve to his detriment when I utilize them to make the leap from the
cyclical fate of this linear plateau.

The most difficult part is that I have built my entire life upon this flatland. And while it has supplied a good resting place, render a lasting environment for growth and development, it does not. The stifling climate has limited my creativity and depleted my loving nature. My enthusiastic "what if's" have changed to regrettable '"if only's". I fear if I stay it will suck my spirit dry.

A more simple creature might be satisfied with nothing more than the shelter and stability provided. But I did not choose my mate solely for his capacity to successfully hunt and gather wood. Looking no deeper than this there are surely other hunters even more proficient that I could pursue. Yet I long for more. I long to live. I envision a land where the sun shines regularly and where there are other creatures who also appreciate that our short lives do not have to solely revolve around familiarity and responsibilities. I envision finding a soul who shares common ideals whilst enjoying the adventure of growth and discovery. Even before embarking with another, I envision further continuance of self exploration which will be enhanced by resuming sole responsibility over my life and making my own decisions--decisions which aren't affected by one who, as history has shown, frequently doles poor counsel. And I must redevelop my instincts which, when listened to, generally lead me in the right direction. Spending many years under the influence of one man's simplistic trains of thought has caused me to lose confidence in my ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Recently I did something slightly more than hover. Practicing some preliminary steps, I descended just far enough to gander into the dark abyss, watching for any obvious hazards should I jump. I first collected a piece of timber and ignited the end so I could illuminate, albeit scarcely, the land below. The unforgiving flames approaching my fierce grip on the makeshift torch ensured my viewing time was limited, but I bravely clutched it for as long as I was able--for in order to execute this plan, one must overcome a fear of getting burned. I was able to shed just enough light to reduce my anxieties and plot my next move. I know it is time to start strapping up, as I am not getting any younger.

I do not expect those who measure success in outward appearances or pride themselves in their practical nature to understand my plight. One may ask, why risk life or limb to venture to an unknown place that hints at possibilities but promises nothing?

A valid inquiry, yet I challenge the value of life and limb if your spirit is already gone.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Me & My Karma

Amazingly, even on the brink of succumbing to my stress, I am told by an extremely reliable (albeit online) source that I have good karma! This test is scientifically sound, I am quite certain.

With the help of my emotional strength and my karma, I shall soon overcome my hardships. Now, pardon me, while I resume my meditations.

Your Karmic Alignment is: Zen Intuition!

Zen Intuition

My results:

Score: 15 You have a direct perception of truth. You are very keen and don't use it to take advantage. When you commit positive deeds, you don't do them to get ahead, you do positive deeds simply because it makes you feel good. Your intentions are almost always meant well and all this positive karmaic energy is bound to come back to you in a great way!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Grown

Being a bit overwhelmed right now with the deck life is dealing me, my blogging life has temporarily taken a back seat to the issues which are presently front and center; hence, the infrequency of my recent posts. However, following suit to my last few writings, my focus today will instead be an entirely different personal struggle than the more pressing situations currently plaguing me.

As I have mentioned, there are very few in my life to whom I have expressed what I feel to be the truth about religion and Christianity. One of the people I envision being the most difficult to talk to about this is my father. My dad is quite conservative in nearly every aspect, religion and guns being no exception (which, by the way, I have always found to be an interesting combination of causes).

My father was very strict, to say the least. I don't believe it was by design, rather out of intolerance and a lack of patience. I spent much of my childhood hating him. Since then, his temper has retreated and he regularly expresses an appreciation for family. A few years ago he conveyed a heartfelt apology for the kind of father he had been. We now have a relationship
based on respect and we both enjoy sharing and discussing our common interests. However, knowing the Christian mentality all too well, I have to wonder if he would accept and respect my personal ideals.

My sentiment is that any parent should be proud of a child who has developed a healthy and productive philosophy on life and who simply wishes for a better world, regardless of whether or not they hold “traditional” values. However, as we often hear, parents don't always show their children unconditional love when the child proves to take a different path than the parent would have chosen for them.
Interestingly, I received an email from my dad this weekend regarding the death of Charlton Heston. In the email, among conveying his love for my brother and I, he included the famous man's most important life lessons.

“-Stay active and true to your beliefs.
-Guard your freedoms.
-Don't be afraid to take a stand.

-Family and friends are important.

-Don't forget your mentors.

-Your values WILL change as you get older, that's a part of life.
-Strive for self-improvement... ALWAYS.
-Above all... KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR...especially when faced with extreme
difficulty or when times are darkest.”

I must wonder if, by this message, my dad is encouraging us to stay active and true to our beliefs, or to his beliefs—as, at least for me, there is a huge distinction between the former and the latter. Now that he has opened the door, metaphorically speaking, I do not foresee a better opportunity to “take a stand” and share my beliefs with him.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I Wish...

I wish that I were wrong. I really do. While there's an element of satisfaction in having certain contentions confirmed, the greater truth is that it really does dishearten me that there isn't more honesty, more open discussion and more objective analysis involved in what are some of the most prevalent issues of our time. I wish more people would engage a realistic perspective in order to formulate realistic solutions to the modern concerns that plague American society, instead of blindly rattling off impractical ideals which developed two millennia ago in a vastly different time and place; or worse, neglecting that the issues exist at all because they do not coalesce with their preconceived notions. I wish more could realize the wrong-doing in their judgmental behaviors and realize how their attitudes too often forsake the very principles they so fervently claim to deem above all else.

I also wish to emphasize that I by no means classify each and every Christian to impose the issues I address. Whereas nearly every person I know, including many friends and nearly all of my family are Christians, I absolutely do not contend that they are a conglomerate of bad, malicious people! I merely wish there was more awareness to the undeniable effects religion has on the world, its societies, and its individuals. While I respect and understand those who find comfort in the spirituality religion provides them, what I will never understand is how so many are able to justify manipulating their belief system to fit their behavior, as opposed to the other way around. Disguising arrogant self-righteousness in a pious concern for non-Christians only fools fellow members of the faith.

Personally, I believe that good Christians are simply good people who practice Christianity. I do not believe Christianity breeds good people. I do expect that most individuals follow their faith for the right intentions; however, it is an unfortunate reality that many become brainwashed in their quest for answers and pursuit for peace. This is a multi-faceted phenomenon, but one contributing element is the inherent trust that is unquestioningly rendered to religious figures. Religious figures may be well-spoken, motivational, and many times sincere, but are nevertheless human and therefore biased by personal opinions and interpretations. Yet whether their message is right or wrong, they possess the uncanny ability to spin their words in a way which hypnotizes the congregation into obedience.

Another facet contributing to individuals becoming unwittingly conditioned is the practice of continually repeating the same ideas. Repetition is a proven persuasion method, which is often utilized in advertising because of it's effectiveness. As we repeatedly hear the same message again and again, we slowly begin to accept it as truth, especially when surrounded by like-minded people. With continuous exposure since birth to the same ideas, and little to no introduction to any other ideology, it is no wonder many people cling so tightly to their religious convictions.

On that note, I never set out to find hypocrisy in the church. I didn't want to find holes in the theories, or inconsistencies in the practices or sexist ideals in nearly every facet of the scripture. For heaven's sake, that was my foundation. That was everything I was taught to hold sacred and dear. I didn't just wake up one morning and decide to strip my Christian label, hence leaving myself out in the cold with few to turn to. As of today, there are less than a handful of people in my life who know how I truly feel.

As a result of the notable lack in religious diversity in this country, religious tolerance is also in short supply. People discovering that they are able to find fulfillment outside of Christianity tend to be grossly misunderstood. The Christian community is not reputed for it's gracious acceptance toward an individual who no longer wishes to pursue the religion. Resulting from this, as well as the previously mentioned multitude of circumstances, it commanded nearly half of my life and a great deal of soul-searching to deprogram myself from the immense guilt that I was conditioned to suffer for thinking that possibly this
isn't the
one and only truth prevailing over the universe!

I wish the devout, as well as the not-so, would understand that although I have stripped myself of the Christian label, I am no less valuable, no less moral, no less compassionate than I ever was. In fact, the only things that have changed within me have been for the better, such as a cultivation of awareness and acceptance.

I do confess. I, too used to have a preconceived notion about non-believers. I thought they were either ignorant or simply being defiant--rebels without a cause who just weren't interested in seeing the good in the world. In hindsight, I am flabbergasted at what an unfair, ignorant attitude that is! While I can't speak for all others, I know that my reasons for evolving into agnosticism are pure, sound, well thought out, and well-intentioned. In actuality, the logic is the very opposite of what fundamentalists would tend to argue. Contrary to Christian perceptions, I have not “lost my way.” I have found my way. For it isn't about rejection; it is about acceptance. It is about discovering what I believe to be a more rational, tolerant and healthier way of living. I have realized that without the parameters, rules, and bureaucracy of religion, I am able to live a better life—one with less prejudice, less condemnation, less hypocrisy, and all-around more joy. In the ultimate irony, by removing myself from the cult of Christianity, I am now able to live in a manner which more closely resembles the advocation of Christ.

My wish now is that others would appreciate and honor my convictions.