Riding the pendulum of life

I recently watched a Ted Talk video featuring social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood called “Getting stuck in the negatives (and how to get unstuck).” Coming across the video was one of many coincidental discoveries made during a week when my mood had suddenly jerked from happy and energetic to sullen and exhausted. There is nothing going on in my life that warrants such a shift, in fact my life is filled with all of the things I have always wanted. It seems, though, that on occasion something tips me into the abyss of negative thinking. Professor Ledgerwood’s nine or so minutes of video summed up the answers I had been searching for in asking “why” do I fall into these moods and, even though I have effective coping skills to get out, what stops me from using them?

The experience of living life with extreme shifts between the feeling of all is well to “oh my god everything sucks,” is like riding on a pendulum. The further I am to the bottom the more drastic the mood swings are. The most productive days are those spent closest to the apex of the pendulum, where the swing is barely perceptible. Perfect balance is not conducive to creative production because that neutrality causes a sense of stillness that lacks motivation for me. But a little bit of swing is good because I can feel emotions that inspire creative projects or solutions to challenges.

Staying at the apex of the pendulum is ideal, but sometimes I find myself sliding down toward the bottom. Throughout our lives we experience challenges or trauma that are reasonable explanations for unstable mood. But what about those times when everything seems fine? Why do we suddenly end up back in the extreme swing? In my case, it seems that empathy is part of the answer. Over sensitivity to empathy, or reactive empathy, is a condition that causes one to feel another’s pain so personally it causes physical and emotional changes that may lead to deep depression and feelings of hopelessness. An article I read a week ago in Psychology Today explains it like this:

With empathy, you will feel their stress, anxiety, and anger in your body. You might feel their pain emotionally and physically. If you let theses emotions sit in your body, your body and mind can be emotionally hijacked. –Marcia Reynolds Psy.D., April 15, 2017

The problem deepens when reactive empathy is combined with Prof. Ledgerwood’s discoveries about moving from negative to positive thinking. Wallowing in our own misery meets misery loves company. I see this in myself as I look for reasons to be unhappy, or look for sad things to support my unhappiness. Allowing my empathy to grow and become heavy enough to send me sliding down the pendulum puts me in a vulnerable place I call negativeland. When I am in negativeland I find the climb back to the light too difficult and begin to grasp at anything I can to justify my feelings rather than use the skills I know to get out of there. The longer I stay, the more difficult it seems to be.

Prof. Ledgerwood’s experiments proved that our brains have a much more difficult time moving from negative to positive thoughts than from positive to negative. I can imagine this by looking at a negative thought as being below the water in a deep crevice, with the positive thought above the water high on a hill. If I look at a situation in the positive light I am standing on the top of a hill. Even if new information is introduced that may be negative I refuse to leave the top of the hill to look at it. However, if I am under the water in the crevice after seeing a situation in a negative light, I find it too overwhelming to fight my way to the surface and then climb the hill just to be disappointed that the new information isn’t real.

Knowing our human brain is formed by habitual ways of perceiving the world and reactions to it, and that we have somehow been wired to be more accepting of the negative helps me to understand that I can retrain my brain and make new connections that help me to see things differently. Understanding that my oversensitivity to empathy produces reactions that are toxic to my mental state helps me cope when I let my guard down and find myself sitting at the bottom of the pendulum.

Though it is still a struggle to climb back to the apex, I can begin to move up to a more stable place by reminding myself that I am only in charge of my own life, that I can only control my own decisions and that I am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. When we take on other people’s problems and try to “fix” them, we are in a sense stepping away from our own life. Sometimes we may find that we are running away from something in our own life or trying to fill a void that we have not dealt with. Taking ownership of my life and being responsible for the things in my own head has to be priority number one. What others do, say or think cannot dictate my happiness. What society, politicians or celebrities do, say or think cannot dictate my happiness. Getting stuck in the negative is my own brain’s doing, getting out comes from the same brain. I know this all to be true, but during times when I forget and find myself at the bottom again, I will remember to let go of the extra weight caused by too much empathy so I can begin to climb back up, and I will stay focused on the brightly lit apex at the top of the pendulum which is where I want to be.

Hillary, Bernie, Donald and the paradigm shift

Background text pattern concept wordcloud illustration of paradigm shift

The year 2016 will be forever known as the moment everything shifted. From politics to social issues to climate, nothing is or will ever be the same. This kind of shift happens in each generation to one degree or another, but for those of us born between the 1950’s and 1970’s it has been exponential. And this particular shift comes with a move toward a great balancing.

I was born in 1960, the year when much of what we are now experiencing as Americans was also being birthed. Consider the following list of important happenings in and around 1960, and the comparison to today:

  1. Four African-American men sat down at a  Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina and were refused service. This sparked a peaceful protest and ignited a movement to end racial inequality across the South. Though we have a long way to go, we have achieved laws that protect every American from discrimination and are soon to pass more. We have seen in just the past decade LGBTQ rights come to pass, right to die became a legal choice in some states, progress in equal pay…and etc.
  2.  Official United States involvement began in the Vietnam War. Today, our Vietnam Veterans are aging and some, after experiencing years of neglect by the country have spent much of their lives in mental and physical agony or homeless. According to the Vietnam Veterans of America, vva.org, Veterans Advocacy, Government Relations, two-thirds of the some twenty-one-and-a-half-million veterans in our country do not interact with the Veterans Administration. Though progress has been made, we are still far from where we should be in caring for our nation’s veterans. Yet, even with the analysis of the purpose and outcome of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, we engaged in a similar situation in the Middle East. Another generation of young people are forever changed by a never-ending war and its repercussions.
  3. The U.S. launched the first Weather Satellite and the first Navigation Satellite  Each day we take for granted the technological advances in communication and global positioning systems while our once giant computer that filled the basement of a building is now a wristwatch, and global positioning satellites can pinpoint our location to within as close as 1 meter or better.
  4. The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was signed by Dwight Eisenhower ensuring voting rights for African-Americans. Voting rights continue to be a source of battle for opposing political sides. The fact that gerrymandering has been allowed to run wild with the specific goal of limiting the votes of one party is finally being discussed and changed, with the true motive exposed.
  5. Oral Contraception (the “Pill”) was approved by the FDA. Advances in medicine and the understanding of human biology have produced a variety of methods of birth control. Since the approval of “the Pill” and the rise of other types of birth control, coupled with media campaigns and public schools teaching sex education, the total number of teen pregnancies dropped 44% between 1990 and 2009.
  6. Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) won his first professional boxing match, later converted to Islam and refused the draft based on religious beliefs. When I was six months old in September of 1960, Cassius Clay won the Olympic Gold Medal in boxing. As political tensions rise in the 2016 Presidential campaigns, the subject of Islam and the Muslim faith seem to be at the center of discussion, and the passing of the converted champ now known as Muhammad Ali seems all the more poignant given his devotion to humanitarian efforts. 
  7. The approval of oral contraceptive was a shot of adrenaline for the Women’s Movement. In 1960 the Women’s Movement shot into overdrive. Now, in 2016 we are on the verge of making history in the United States with the highest seat in the land potentially being handed over to a woman, and not just any woman, Hillary Clinton is a woman who epitomizes the strength of American spirit (more on that later).
  8. Charles David Keeling’s publishing of his findings describing the seasonal pattern of CO2 variations led to the study of Global Warming.  Air pollution in Los Angeles, California was so bad in the 1960’s that people could not continue with daily activities outdoors due to the physical effects of the rise in ozone concentration. Children were kept home from school, athletes worked out in doors and farmers stood by helplessly as crops withered. The combined pollutants stood at 100 parts per billion in volume in 1960, but with an aggressive campaign to reduce, limit or outlaw certain types of pollutants the result has been a declining factor of 4 in nitrogen oxides, 50 in volatile organic compounds (which produce ozone and particulate matter) and 130 in peroxyacetyl nitrate (which causes eye irritation). While these changes are encouraging, without the cooperation of the entire country and a global effort, our human habits have contributed to the natural rise in temperature of the earth thus resulting in an earlier and more rapid climate change than normal.
  9. American Socialism had become unpopular due to improved living for the middle class and the negative influences of McCarthyism among other things. There is no question that America’s form of capitalism and democracy is a successful example of growing a country from birth to dominance in a short period of time. Two hundred and forty years is a blip of existence compared to the rise of other countries, many which have fallen or changed drastically since their inception. That being said, there is room for improvement. The United States of America has been an experiment in freedom that began with a simple set of assumptions. Today, with increasing complications that are inherent in a free society, we are facing difficult choices that challenge the original plan. Socialism became a dirty word to many in the 1960’s, but with examples of success in parts of the globe, some young people are looking at the system with fresh eyes.
  10. According to the 1960 U.S. Census, 85% of Americans were white. Our nation is on track for becoming the true melting pot we were labeled in 1908. According to the U.S. News & World Report, 2015, July 6, “It’s Official: The U.S. is Becoming a Minority-Majority Nation,” the 2014 census revealed that over 50% of the children born that year were classified as minorities. This tips the scale for the number of white versus non-white citizens and will forever change the face of America.
  11. According to a Pew Research report, in 1960 on 25% of households had Dual Income. A final comparison is that of the 1960 household income with today’s. Then only 25% of Americans had a dual income, by the year 2012 that number rose to 60%.

This data comparison leads to a conclusion that 2016 is a year of turning corners. A shift in the structure built by the “good ole boy club” who controlled everything. There are signs of a waning guard and a waxing new mindset with our future generations. The youth of today are the majority of tomorrow and they come in all gender configurations, colors and methods of communication.

The fact that a woman, Hillary Clinton, battled it out with an admitted Socialist, Bernie Sanders,  for the Democratic nomination (as of this writing she is the presumptive nominee), and will most likely be competing against the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, a wealthy man with no political experience who is being accused of misogyny and racism is ironic. I say that because Hillary represents the story of American spirit for women during a time when women have to fight just to be heard, Bernie is indicative of the new mindset that the younger generation is developing about what type of government system they see as effective, and Donald is the epitome of the old guard in his last spasms of life.

The status quo is no longer working for the youth of today, let alone tomorrow. The comparisons made are evidence of that. The interesting thing about it all is that I have witnessed such a shift in my lifetime. Everything we are currently debating from Civil Rights to Global Warming began and mutated during my life up to this point. Women are currently fighting for the right to breastfeed in public, we are fighting over what bathroom we can use and trying to justify the average citizen’s right to own a gun that can mow down 50 people in seconds.

There is a paradigm shift happening. A shift that the youth are bringing. The old ways are not going to work in this new world. Our Constitution needs to be seen as a living document if we are to develop beyond this first quarter of the 21st century. Religious and racial intolerance, gender bias and discrimination, hate and fear are all things that will hold us back or keep us in a perpetual battle with one another.

Bernie Sanders shook things up, he opened Pandora’s box for the youth of our country. The interest he generated in financial responsibility and economic fairness, gender equality and a win-win philosophy will most likely inspire many young people to further investigate public policy that will make positive changes for social reform.

Hillary Clinton showed women of all ages that even during times of oppression, developing a fortitude that will carry you to achieve your dreams is meaningful and effective. While the strength some women display may be offensive to some, their perception is not what matters, it is the individual woman’s personal goal that does. When the ignorant and small-minded were (and still are) critical of Hillary for staying with her husband in light of his transgressions, the confident and focused woman measured her options and made decisions strategically based on what would suit her future endeavors. Staying consistent in her attitude, method and mission, Hillary Clinton is a determined strong person with years of experience developed through the trials and tribulation of a navigating a man’s world.

Donald Trump is representative of the fading face of Andrew Jackson on an old $20 bill. He may be worth a lot down the road, but his true usefulness is outdated. The rhetoric, strange ideas and outlandish comments seem to be contrived in a purposeful way to make things easy for his Democratic opponent. It reminds me of a man playing at 50% assuming the woman will be easy to beat, but in this case wildly underestimating the talent and strength of his female competitor.

We are witnessing changing weather patterns, technological and medical miracles, scientific discoveries that rock our very foundation of belief and understanding, worldwide social upheaval…is it the end? No, I believe it is a turning, a re-balancing of masculine and feminine. A quickening in the womb of our existence before the birth of extraordinary change. Are you ready? This child of the 60’s is.

 

All Lives Matter

Me (far right) with my siblings
Faces of the future

The debate over issues involving our safety as Americans is in a chaotic frenzy at the moment. Gun control, police brutality, racism, classism, health care, drug use and etc., the list of controversial subject matter goes on and on. The list is nothing new, but the passionate opinion on both sides is drifting further apart leaving little hope for any compromise or resolution.

Yet, the answer to all of the societal issues we face today is so very simple. All lives matter. While such a statement may seem naïve, when we consider the children of our country, those who will be running the show in the near future, perhaps the statement “All lives matter” takes on new meaning.

The rise in number of tragic deaths involving innocent Americans and the police is not necessarily a rise in the number of incidents, but as a result of the easy access to video and instant publication. The important after effect is an increased awareness in how stress, ignorance and undiagnosed mental health challenges are a volatile mix.

We are in a time of transition, a revolution of sorts in which the average American citizen is more free to access information than ever before and can influence others on a scale like never before. This awakening of an informed populace creates an environment of distrust and paranoia to a certain extent. Those who were able to control the people through withholding or distorting information are now forced to operate with transparency. The masses who now have begun to discover the unfortunate corruption that was always rumored to be but left unsubstantiated have lost their trust in the leadership. At the same time the spread of disinformation and deliberate lies have become the 21st Century version of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Some of the more irresponsible media are adding fuel to the fire on a daily basis.

Imagine if we all measured every decision and action by how it will effect a child’s life.

Those Americans who are far removed from the challenges of poverty, mental or physical health issues and the struggles of the working class tend to form opinions and make decisions that are seemingly apathetic. It is more often a case of being ill-informed or blinded by the belief that there is a fire in the theater.

The debate over where our tax dollars should be spent is a necessary and ongoing one that keeps us in check. That being said, if we as a society were to consider that the children of today will be in control tomorrow and that their health and well-being is crucial to our own in the near future, then we might make better decisions. The child living in poverty and chaos may be the teenager with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder later. That PTSD can manifest into severe mental health challenges that lead to unhealthy choices and potentially dangerous behaviors.

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says “Youth with unidentified and untreated mental disorders also tragically end up in jails and prisons. According to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health—the largest ever undertaken—an alarming 65 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls in juvenile detention have at least one mental illness.10 We are incarcerating youth living with mental illness, some as young as eight years old, rather than identifying their conditions early and intervening with appropriate treatment.”

When a society values its wealth over its children it is strangling itself. When a society divides its value by race, culture, class or geography it is doomed to failure. Note I said “divides its value,” all societies will have separations, hierarchy and class delineation. It’s when that delineation includes the value of the lives that the structure begins to fail.

All lives matter. Once we are willing to recognize that and build our society on that premise, we can be assured a strong future for America.

Blurred Lines: Science and Spirituality

I am reblogging this because it seems to be a hot topic of late……

Eve's Crossing

Some scientists are beginning to embrace spiritual philosophies while some religious leaders are recognizing the science behind spirituality. In this exciting new time of discovery we are considering possibilities that were in the fringe or fantasy category a few years prior. From discussions about quantum consciousness to real fear about the Singularity we find ourselves moving ever closer to a merging of science and spirituality.

I have spent many years with one foot in both worlds. My love for science and discovery brings a voracious appetite for news on the latest “eureka.” My life long quest for purpose drives me to soak up all I can about the spiritual philosophies around the globe and how they came to be. The quest is not without bumps, blocks and criticism. My science minded agnostic/atheist friends and family members pull one direction with their feet firmly planted, while some close to me in…

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The Bare Naked Truth

If you had to choose between two philosophies, one being survival of the fittest, the other being all for one and one for all, which one would you say resonates more in your heart?  That we each have the right to strive for all we desire and that we have no obligation to help anyone else, or that we are only as strong as our weakest link?

In this fast paced world that in some sense is really becoming closer thanks to technology, and yet is drifting further apart due to economic inequality, this question is important.

Ask one person for an opinion on public assistance, affordable health care and education and you may hear the answer, “I worked hard to get where I am in life, everyone else has the same chance. Why should I give away or share what I have to help anyone?

Another person may answer, “I have been fortunate to have the education, support and ability to be very successful in life, I feel it is right for me to assist others in any way I can.”

Neither or these positions can be considered bad or wrong. Just different. We hear the debate about taxes, too much government control, unfair wealth distribution, etc.  Yet what it all boils down to is the naked truth. Some have the philosophy that we, like some animals, are to fight and scratch for all that we can get out of this life. That the weak should be left to die because then the human species will have a stronger stand in the world. Others contend that the human species is different from the animals in that we reason, empathize and have a conscious awareness of something greater than ourselves.

While we debate the issues, as we will continue to do, let’s remember to be honest with ourselves when we are backing up our position. The naked truth is that you are either in the survival of the fittest camp, or you are in the all for one and one for all camp. It really is that simple.

Autism, my son and drugs

Okay, a misleading title I know, but now that you are reading please stay with me.  I recently posted Parenting a teen with Autism on this blog expressing the pain and frustration of trying to do the right thing for my nineteen year old son.  At that time we were wrestling with decisions about drugs, diet, behavior modification, etc. in trying to help Jason through his transition into adulthood.  This post is a follow up on what has happened in the month since.

Following a visit with his new doctor, and after a lot of research into different medication options, we made the decision to put him back on Risperdal.  Part of the reason was based on the feeling that we were losing him in a sense. He stopped laughing, stopped communicating and seemed absolutely overcome with new ticks such as eye blinking and hand twitching. He wore a callous in the palm of his hand where his index finger rubbed from constantly closing and opening it.  It has been two weeks since we started him back on the medication and he is back to his social self.  We are still dealing with self abuse at times, usually when he does not get what he wants and is angry.  But in general he is happy and playful again.

I have advocated for trying natural ways to help him, whether herbal remedies or diet with some breathing exercises nothing seems to make a difference.  At this point I realize that my son is a very headstrong and independent being that does not want to be “made” to do anything.  Part of our approach in helping him cope now is expanding his communication as much as possible and helping him understand appropriate ways of expression without anger.  He has been using a Kindle Fire for over a year now that has language programs designed for Autism…but all he seems interested in is YouTube.  I allow this because he has to use the keyboard to spell out songs he wants.  This is helping him to better understand the association between written words, language and things he wants.  We will be starting some behavior modification therapy again soon, we hope to have better results this time.

I don’t know what another year will bring, or another month, or even tomorrow, but I do know that Jason continues to teach us a lot about ourselves and the mysteries of human social interaction with each passing storm.

Boobs…

The moment society decides that the human body is a beautiful, life giving, life nurturing temple of joy and a sacred gift we will begin to exist in peace and harmony with each other and the planet.  When the health of a child becomes more important than the health of a corporation, then maybe, just maybe we will actually move toward that Utopia we all imagine.

breastfeedingart1

By allowing dogma and tradition to cloud our judgement we have perverted our very essence as a Being and have actually begun to devolve into something that even our Creator can hardly recognize.  Wake up people, embrace the beautiful, the joyful, the diverse reality of what and who we are and the connectivity that shapes our future.

Whether breastfeeding, marriage rights or women’s rights, it seems that the world is quickly becoming a pressure cooker regarding whose rights are right and whose rights are wrong.

While I do believe that all of us are on our own personal path and all opinions are part of the great quest for understanding, I find myself growing impatient with the ongoing effort to suppress anything natural in favor of whatever can be monetized.  Be it religion, genetically altered plants, baby formula or oil we place value on the very things that move us away from our most natural state and in some cases the very things that may be our demise as a species.

The corporation with the money to press media and government to protect and support their efforts will always attempt to move society in their favor. This includes keeping the social morals controlled by their definition and by how it furthers their agenda.  They can control laws, religion and the economy…but only if we the people allow it.  We have separated ourselves into the haves and the have not, the “true” American or not, the conservative and the liberal, the beautiful and the ugly sometimes using the Bible to back our point.

Please watch this awesome video about society’s attitude toward breastfeeding.  Although the poet is referring to the United Kingdom, it is a small example of what I am trying to say.