New years day, looking at light and shadow.

Well another year has passed and here we are looking at what we commonly regard as a new cycle in our lives, full of hopes for the new year, tempered with lessons learned from the year we have just completed.  This is an interesting year especially, being that it begins on a new moon, another event that is full of symbolism for new beginnings, clearings, and fresh starts.

I’ve found myself thinking about the lessons I’ve learned in 2013, and the experiences I have had.  I’m thinking about the goals for 2013 that did and did not come to fruition, as well as the goals I wish to see for 2014.   The year started off with high hopes to change the world, and manifest a golden age of Aquarius.  After realizing that the world had not ended with the passing of 2012, I felt we had a fresh start!  A chance to re-create the world into a paradise of magic and wonder and beauty and love and all that lovely stuff wish we all would like to see.

I was following interesting people with big ideas on the internet.  People with ideas for spirituality, science, sustainability, education reform, all manner of wonderful intentions.   They inspired me to look at things in a bigger way, and they also inspired me to look at myself.  They inspired me to look for the “exalted” form of those things, the positive images I could create for the world and myself.

But with growth, comes growing pains, in this contrast filled world we live in, you have to know what the negatives are as well…  Looking at yourself and looking at the world around you isn’t always easy.  Sometimes you encounter things that might scare you, might make you feel like you’re up against a 1000 foot wall, with no ladder.  Thinking about things that way can make you feel small, magnifying the things your afraid of makes it hard to see the light, because then you find yourself trapped in the shadow which they cast.

The thing is before you transmute the shadow you must approach it, and to approach it means to confront the darkness. But there’s a trick to it.  Darkness is just the absence of light.  We have light available to us always, our very nature is light, and we have the ability to shine it everywhere.  We make the mistake of ignoring it, focusing on the darkness.

I can think of examples of this in action, I can see how its’ folded out in my own life over the past year, and I’m happy to share a few of my experiences this year.  Of the intentions I had for 2013, one of the biggest, was to become more responsible with how I interact with the earth.  Early in the year I started up a Facebook page called Indigrow.  The whole idea of the page was to promote organic gardening, community, and sustainability.   We thought it could function as sort of coop, as well as an information hub for organic gardening, and sustainable living.

At the time, my husband and I were living with my parents on a small farm in Wisconsin.  We spent the spring setting up a greenhouse and organic garden.  My ambitions were lofty, what I envisioned in my head was a greenhouse decked out with an aqua-ponics system, we could raise fish in the greenhouse and that in turn would feed and water plants that grew along with them.  We would grow non-gmo, heirloom seeds, and we would avoid any chemical fertilizers, such as Miracle Grow.

We would start a revolution of people who would render Monsanto and all the other corporate giants irrelevant.   Along with organic food, Indigrow would be a platform for people to learn about and create their own sustainable energy, renewable energy.  From lofty goals like giving everyone on the grid energy independence, to smaller goals like creating solar heaters from soda cans, and making refrigerators out of terra-cotta pots.    We wanted to implement new and old ideas and technologies on a broad scale to really create a sustainable planet, and positive vision for the future.

As far as if we achieved that goal, I think it depends on where you are focusing on in regard to the massive wall that blocks the way to Eden.  The Facebook page started off well, but hit a plateau from my admittedly, my own neglect of it.  My neglect of it was caused by shame that the greenhouse wasn’t quite going in the direction I would have liked to see.  I forgot a crucial fact, we were living at my parents.  While they had good intentions in mind when it comes to the sustainable approach to organic gardening and the like, they were just as new at that stuff as I was, though more knowledgeable on the general subject of gardening itself.

Unfortunately, sometimes with knowledge comes the tendency to stick with what you know, and what is convenient.  I found myself butting heads with my dad a lot when I would catch him using miracle grow or committing some other kind of organic gardening violation.  At that point I no longer felt comfortable calling it organic gardening.

My dad’s reaction was perhaps a little bit more sensible than mine in some ways, his approach was.  I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing, I will incorporate some changes, but I’m not going to overly chastise myself if I’m not perfect at it right away.   Basically he gave himself a learning curve.  My approach was more, all or nothing, but that’s not always a healthy approach.     From my perspective I felt fraudulent calling it organic gardening and I no longer posted as much on the Indigrow page due to this shame I felt.  After a while I started to give up on the idea all together.  I started paying way more attention to the shadow of my obstacle.

Indigrow still has a Facebook page, and I haven’t given up on the idea.  2014 finds me with new circumstances and a new perspective.  I’m going to go back to it with even more knowledge and experience then I had when I started at the beginning of last year.  It might take a different shape, but it will have the same goals in mind.  Starting this week I’ll be updating and adding new information and ideas I’ve gathered to the page.  I might not be able to build an organic greenhouse co-op this year, but any help is good help.  Helping to distribute knowledge on an important subject is nothing to be ashamed of.    This change in perspective has me reflecting on the bright things, achievements I did make, and ways to look at my failures as lessons I learned.  In September, we made the move from Wisconsin, to Iowa.  That move has opened us up to a whole lot of new perspectives, challenges, and opportunities.

In December of 2012, I made the switch to veganism/vegetarianism, and spent most of 2013 living and learning about that lifestyle.  During that time, I managed to lose about 30 lbs, and started incorporating exercise and dancing like a fool into my routine.  It was easy enough to do in some ways,  there were plenty of options available when it came to alternative diets, and there was a plethora of videos on exercise moves, weight lifting, yoga, belly dancing, tai chi and all kinds of cool stuff on the internet.

However, after making the move to Iowa, I had a bit of a re-lapse.  We didn’t have a lot of extra money, and it felt like the alternative food options were more sparse, much of the things I was used to eating were unavailable.  I’ll admit that while I was eating vegan/vegetarian, much of it was still processed food that was quick and convenient, but still probably not all that great for you, and very expensive. (In my opinion) In addition, we spent the first month staying with a friend, we didn’t have much privacy and there’s no way in hell I’m dancing like a fool in front of people without the aid of liquid courage.   I also refuse to sweat in front of strangers.

My exercise routine is a solo one, because I’m not going to subject people to all that flailing and flab.  I suppose that’s due to personal issues of self-esteem and self-worth coming out, which I’ll talk about more later.   Needless to say, I fell into a sort of funk about all that and gave up on myself about 2 months.

In those two months I managed to gain 10 lbs, and feel incredibly shitty!  My body literally started freaking out, I was stressed out all the time, I saw it was time to get things back under control, more on that later.   After we moved into a place, it took me a while to acclimate to the idea that we don’t have to answer to anyone.  We lived with my parents for a year and a half, and then we spent some time crashing at a friends house till we could find a place.   Once we did, it was a strange sensation for us, having privacy and our own space, one that we are only now starting to get used to.

As strange as it is, I find that it’s equally wonderful.  We finally get to live by our own rules, and we don’t have the hindrance of living with people who don’t respect our own rules for life.  I no longer get the eye twitches caused by seeing recyclable in the garbage can, for example.   With the recognition that I am operating my own kitchen comes the creative inspiration to do more cooking!   There is also the recognition that I now have my own yard, and can plant my own garden, the way I want.  (As long as it’s cool with the landlord, if that doesn’t fly, I’m going to do some vertical gardening.  Actually, I’m doing some vertical gardening either way, because it’s cool as hell, and space efficient, which is great for our humble home.)   I’m making the plans to implement many of the cool ideas I’ve found over the course of 2013 for living in a sustainable way.

I’m currently eagerly awaiting an order from nuts.com.  Instead of pining away over the loss of my convenient processed food, I am now ordering the ingredients I need to make my own veggie alternatives at home.   I’m realizing that the wall I perceived blocking my progress was nothing but shadows, and I wasn’t paying attention to the beacons that could light the way through this obstacle.

These beacons have also shown me other options and opportunities to improve my health.  I printed out some recipes for gluten-free v-meat, v-chicken, and v-sausage,  once my order arrives I’m going to get to work creating my own food, made to my tastes.   One thing that has always bothered me about foods like seitan (wheat meat) is that they are made from gluten, and many people are gluten intolerant.  A lot of the health issues I’ve suffered from in the past all look suspiciously like they could be due to a gluten intolerance.   So, I’m adding this facet to my diet to see if it works for me.

Another thing I’ve been incorporating since we moved into our new place is using safer alternatives when it comes to cleaning myself and my house.  I’ve been incorporating castile soap, and house hold stand-bys like apple cider vinegar, and baking soda.  As I mentioned in another blog post, I like being able to clean my house without feeling like I have to wear a gas mask.  Some of the recyclable such as spaghetti jars I’ve been saving as well, so I can re-purpose them for my household projects like making my own cleaners, or shampoo.

As far as my self-worth issues, and my fear of flapping in front of strangers…I guess if I can become comfortable enough to work out in front of my husband without feeling awkward that will be a good start.  Baby steps.  But it does occur to me there is a cheap gym right down the street from me, two blocks away.  I’m thinking the two of us could check it out together and make it a “thing” or something.   Humor aside, I think self worth issues can be remedied by doing things that make you feel worthy, things you can be proud of.  I always feel better when I’m living my life in a way that I can feel good about.  I think the trick is not to get so hard on ourselves when we make a mistake.  We’re only human, we have good days and bad days, we just have to remember that each moment is a new beginning, and a fresh start.

All in all, I’m feeling really great about the new year, and the new circumstances.  The biggest lessons of 2013 are probably obvious ones, but it didn’t fully occur to me until the last few months of the year.

I can focus on the positives in my life, the things I’m proud of, my mistakes are my lessons, and sometimes the obstacles we face are nothing more than shadows; there is always a light to focus on somewhere no matter how small it might seem at first.  Every moment is an opportunity for a fresh start, we do not need to limit ourselves to introspection and recreating ourselves once a year, rather we should live moment to moment, because the baby steps add up.

Truth is learning.

Frustration and Perspective

Today was a pretty laid back day, sort of.  My husband and I spent the day inside.  You could say it was uneventful, but that all depends on how you look at it.  We started the day off playing a little MTG (Magic the Gathering for those of you who haven’t gotten your nerd cards)

MTG is a fantasy based card game that requires quite a bit of skill and patience.  Since I just started playing, and I’m not very patient to begin with; I’m a bit lacking in both of those areas with regard to this game.  I’ve been working very hard the last few days putting together a deck to play with.  It requires a lot of testing, and trial and error, and frustration and swearing.  Finally today I thought I had a good deck built, something solid that would ensure my sweet, sweet victory.

Boy was I wrong.  In a sense…

My husband John has this awesome (and horrible to play against) red burn deck that can quickly destroy most of the stuff you put up against it.   3 matches (3 games to a match) later, it was becoming very painfully obvious that my hours of work spent putting together this deck weren’t doing me much good.  I won 1 game (barely) out of the 9 we played.  I started getting frustrated.  Angry even.  I quit the last game in huff and vowed never to play magic again.  I am a sore looser.    I place way too much of my self-worth on winning.  What sucks about that is I’m used to doing the exact opposite.  Loosing.

John did his best to console me in my frustrated depressed “God I suck so hard” state.   He explained that it takes people years to be able to play and win consistently, it’s even more difficult of a task if you are doing what I was attempting, and building your own deck, versus going with a pre-made version.

In the moment it didn’t really make me feel much better.  I was too busy wallowing in self-pity.  You see I have this weird messed up notion in my head that I should be able to understand and do something perfectly right away, and if I can’t I have failed at life and should go jump off a bridge or something equally depressing.  It’s a character trait I’m working on but when I’m thrust into competitive situations it really brings out that “shadow side”.   It’s a problem for me because many times it causes me to give up in frustration.  I feel like if I’m not good enough to excel at it right away I’m not worthy enough to continue it.

I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.  I find I expect all this unrealistic stuff from myself, and when I can’t deliver, I beat myself up for it over and over again relentlessly.  I treat myself in a way that is unfair and something I wouldn’t consciously do to other people.  I say “consciously” because I’m pretty sure that if I’m doing it to myself I’m probably doing it to other people on some level.  Looking back,  I can see situations where I’ve held unrealistic expectations from people and been a bitch (if we’re being honest here) when those expectations were not met.

I can see that this self-sabotaging form of thinking is unhealthy, and flawed.  I know there are things I’m good at right now, and many of those things took time to cultivate.  I kept at it because there was something about it I enjoyed, or wanted to figure out.  Art is a good example of that, I didn’t start out at the level I am now, and it would be unrealistic to expect my 6-year-old self to know all of the techniques, tips, tricks and methods I’ve learned in the 20 + years I have been at this.

Even when I look at my art and think that it’s not where I want to be just yet, I can look back on the old stuff I’ve done and see how far I’ve come.   When I do that it makes me feel good, and it gives me a sense of how much further I can evolve.   Sure, I have my days where I want to throw away my paintbrush and never pick it up again-yes, but I keep coming back to it because I am passionate about it.

I get stuck when you throw a competitive element into the mix.  For some reason my happy-go-lucky attitude seems to crumble when this happens.  It seems that when I start comparing myself to other people I start to lose that passion and it’s replaced by something far less pleasant.  In a lot of ways it’s like watching a train-wreck.  It’s like there’s a piece of myself that is observing (insert whatever melt-down you want) and it can see that it is unhealthy and not doing me any favors.   That part of me is trying to say “Hey, SLOW DOWN” but , many times,  it goes unheeded.

I’ve heard that we can get addicted to certain emotions if we experience them enough.  I think it’s true.  I can feel when those emotions are happening.   My heart might start racing, my palms might get sweaty, I might start feeling a bit light-headed and shaky even.   I know when it’s happening.

I think I know where some of these addictions to feeling worthless come from.  I was bullied badly in school, they called me every name in the book, they broke my bones, they stole my things, they publicly humiliated me again and again.   Suffice to say, I’ve had a lot of time to develop an addiction to unhealthy emotions.

The thing is, sometimes it’s easier for me to just give into the emotions.  Sorta like a relapse.  I’ll be doing good for a while.   Then something will happen to trigger those emotions.   I’ll try to breathe through it, focus on something else.  But if it’s the wrong day of the month, if I haven’t had my coffee, if I’m not feeling particularly well, if my pants are too tight, if my toes are cold,  it all goes south.  Suddenly, I find I’m chasing the blue donkey of depression again, back at square one.   Another emotional relapse and having to work myself back up to a positive emotional state, only to repeat the process again.

I think it’s time for me to take a little bit of that passion I have for art and apply it to being happy.  I have to keep in mind too, that it’s a process.  Just like it took time and dedication to advance my art skills,  it’s going to take time and dedication to gain emotional advancement.   I have to also keep in mind that much like a good artist is never done learning, and makes it a point to learn as much as possible, the same applies for emotions.   I can’t beat myself up for having them.  I just have to learn from them, and how to work with them.