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Archive for August, 2005

I wonder if there is such a thing as "luck". Do things just happen to us? Do things happen as a result of what we put out there in the world? Or do things happen according to arbitrary rules of what we have come to know as luck? Does the philosophical/religious idea of karma come into play with our ideas of luck? Do we get what we deserve, or do we get what we get according to chance?

 

I know two people, brother and sister. They are about as different as can be; the brother is moody, a bit dark, irresponsible, cynical, arrogant and immature. The sister is very even-keeled, bright and cheerful, very responsible, always gives the benefit of the doubt, modest, mature. The sister is the single most lucky person I know. She wins every contest she enters, finds money, and generally has an easy time of life. The brother has incredibly terrible luck – he has had more car accidents than anyone I know, most of which were not caused by him, and has a difficult time in most of his dealings. Although it is clear that the brother doesn't make good choices, and doesn't treat others as well as he could, which would lead to him having a more difficult time in life, I can't explain the sister's good luck as easily. She does make good choices, choices that allow her steadiness and constancy in her life. She usually thinks things through carefully before she does anything. But yet, it seems that even her mistakes turn out well, good things happen in her life that she did not plan, and people respond to her with good humour and warmth no matter what the circumstance. How is it that this is the case?

 

I do lean towards an idea of karma, that one good turn deserves another, and that the energy one puts out in the world comes back eventually. I have no proof of this, but my moral system is one of merit, and I like to think that we are responsible for what we do in life, good or bad. In this system, good deeds are rewarded in some way, and bad deeds punished. (That said, I also believe in second chances and redemption.) If I do something bad to someone else, I deserve to have something bad happen to me in return. Likewise, if I am a good person, I do not deserve to have bad things happen in my life. However, this is not always the case. I like to think I am a good person, kind and generous, helpful to others, conscientious and caring. But I've had a whole lot of bad things happen over the past three years or so that have made life more difficult and unpleasant. Have I done anything to deserve these things that have taken place? No. But yet, they have happened. Do I have bad luck? Or another possibility: are these things lessons that must be learned?

 

I'd like to open this up for comment. What do you guys think? Is there such a thing as luck? Or do we merely earn our desserts?

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I was watching a popular TV talk show today (the one hosted by the most famous black woman in the world) and she had a celebrity guest on (the only daughter of an insanely popular, dead male musician, perhaps the most beloved rock and roll singer of all time whose former home is now a tourist attraction). This guest was asked about her brief marriage to an also very famous musician who I believe is a child molester, and whose music I have boycotted for several years based on that belief. The question posed to this woman, who has her father's droopy eyes and curling lip, was "Do you think he loved you?" She didn't know how to answer that, and so the question was rephrased: "Do you think he loved you as much as he knew how?" It was THAT question that really got me thinking.

 

I think that love is a fairy tale. Society has spent many years, and many millions of dollars in movie production, crafting a mythical ideal of what love should be, how it should taste and smell and look and talk. We are conditioned to believe that love means your whole life stops, and you never have another thought that doesn't include the other person, the object of your affection; we are supposed to fall in love and not be able to breathe, think straight, or spend another night alone. Life is supposed to be blissful, and nothing bad ever really happens as long as you still have that person in your life. I think that is a load of crap. I'm not sure that anyone can ever reach this ideal.

 

We are all changing, all the time. We learn new things and develop our minds, go through deeply influential experiences, and we change as a result. When you take two people who are in a relationship, you have two people who are changing all the time, not necessarily at the same rate, and not necessarily in the same direction. Perhaps some of these changes are shared, but some most definitely are not. The idea of commitment to one person for the whole rest of your life is something not to be done lightly. Don't get me wrong, I think it can be done and I think it can work, but I also think that is rare. I have two friends who I think are a great example of this; they have decided on a conscious level to stay together and keep loving each other, and by making it a priority in their lives, I have complete faith that their relationship will endure.

 

Back to the question that started this whole inner dialogue: "Do you think he loved you as much as he knew how?" It's a question that I hear a lot when relationships end and we sit, dissecting the relationship into fragments, trying to find the exact moment when things went awry. The answer this famous daughter gave was yes. She thought the pedophile did indeed love her as much as he could at the time they were married. (Me, I'm not so sure, but hey, I wasn't there.) The reason this question awoke this thought process in me is because I'm not sure that any more can really be asked of a person. I think most people who are in romantic relationships (and by this I mean relatively traditional relationships, not these modern friends-with-benefits relationships) love the person they are with ONLY as much as (or less than) they can, as much as they know how. Certainly people hold back and give less than they could in many circumstances, and do horrible things to one another and use one another and hurt one another. But how can you ask someone to love you MORE than they are able? I think the questions to ask are: "Did he love you in the same way you loved him?" and "Was the way in which he loved you enough for you?"

 

I have spent a lot of time dissecting a particular relationship I had that ended some time ago. I am absolutely certain that he loved me as much as he was able. I have no doubt of that in my mind whatsoever. I also know that he did not love me in the same way I loved him. I loved him more. For years, I tried to push him into loving me MORE, so things were even. But, he couldn't. He already loved me as much as he could. And so, the way he loved me was not enough for me. We both knew it. And so it could not survive.

 

I think this is the way it is in relationships. People love each other as much as they can, and hopefully, it will be equal enough, or it will be good enough, for both of them. I don't think it works to ask more of someone. I think it makes things harder. In some cases, it makes things impossible. Despite all of this, I am still a romantic at heart. I guess I just have a different idea of what that means than most people.

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body/mind

I have always felt that my mind was the most important thing about my identity. Perhaps it comes from a childhood spent primarily within my own imagination. Perhaps it comes from an upbringing that did not focus on physicality, but on intellectual development. I was never gifted with talent for sports, but I was always smart. I was just terrible at most sports: I couldn't run very fast or very far, I couldn't kick very hard, I couldn't jump very high, I couldn't hit any ball that came my way. I was in swimming, and I did well at that. But that was all!

 

My family was never very physically affectionate; hugs and kisses were not part of day to day life, and I don't think I was a very cuddly child. As I grew, I wasn't happy with my body; I was always the tallest kid in my classes, and I hated it, so I slouched to make myself shorter. I was also a child who was always a bit chubby, and it took a long time for that baby fat to dissipate. When puberty hit, because my skin is so light and my hair is so dark, I hated the hair on my legs and under my arms because it was so obvious. I was always told that I was a pretty child, but I never really believed it. In many ways, I learned to work with what I had, hide what I didn't like, and to focus on other things, not physical, but intellectual. I learned to develop my mind and my personality instead of my body. I was never very "in tune" with my body, working hard to the point of ignoring pain and fatigue, not recognizing signs of illness, and not nourishing myself properly. I ignored and denied my body.

 

The one thing I could count on was my mind. I was always able to grasp things quickly as a child, and redeliver information on tests very well. I could memorize things and remember things very quickly. Not all subjects came easily at all times, and I realize now that the learning environment for each subject needed to be supportive and stimulating for me to be able to learn effectively, but for the most part, I excelled academically. As a result of this ease of mental process and the difficulty of physical process, I came to focus more on my intellect, and look at my mind as separate from my body. I came to believe that my body was only a shell, only a carrier for my mind and my spirit, that it was unimportant and inconsequential. This view has been extremely useful to me. I have been able to put myself in other people's shoes, to feel compassion for others. I have been able to connect with other people on this basis, and it has fueled my absolute belief in equality because I was able to see everyone else as more than their bodies, as beings with unique minds and souls and identities with hopes and dreams and goals.

 

It is only recently that I have begun to respect and cherish my own embodiment. Without my body, there would be no mind. I still feel that my mind is most important and valuable to me, but I have come to see my body as an important part of who I am. In fact, when I look back at my childhood, I have come to see that perhaps my unsuccessful attempts at sports were not only lack of talent. I was good at swimming, I had good lungs and endurance, so there's not reason to think that I wouldn't be good at running if I developed that. I had terrible eyesight as a child which I ignored until grade 7, so no wonder I couldn't hit or catch any sorts of sporting balls – I couldn't see them until they were on top of me!

 

So, finally, I am beginning to make peace with my body, and accept it as a vital part of who I am. It is how people recognize me, it is how I am able to transport my mind from place to place, I use it to make my living, and I need my body to keep my mind active. I have come to see my body as integral to my identity, and now I am making efforts to take better care of my body. My hope is that as I work towards better health and fitness, it will help my mental and intellectual development, and that I will really love taking care of my body and enjoy doing things I couldn't do before. As I exercise and tune my body, I am also finding mental clarity.

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Lately, I've been considering my beliefs. I thought to myself the other day, "I don't believe in anything," but that's not quite true. I do believe in lots of things. I realize that, to be more accurate, I don't have a specific belief in one particular religion or philosophy. In this discussion, to be clear, if something has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, one cannot BELIEVE in it; it simply IS SO. One cannot BELIEVE in a FACT. (I don't believe the earth is round, I know that it is so.) A belief involves faith, without evidence. A belief in a thing could easily be countered by another belief in its exact opposite – and neither thing can be shown to be true.

As a philosophy student, I am constantly forced to examine difficult issues, some moral, some psychological, some metaphysical. One might think this would lead to a firm set of beliefs. One would, however, be wrong. I find it difficult sometimes, after examining all the arguments involved in an issue, to come down firmly and clearly on one side or the other (or the other). Sometimes I find it easy to decide on a position, based on beliefs that I already hold and have stood up against other issues with some consistency.

I have come to see that most of the beliefs I have are based on one of two things: evidence, or logic. For example, I believe in the existence of "aleins". I believe that there are extra-terrestrial beings out there somewhere. Why do I hold this opinion? No conclusive evidence exists to support this idea, but in my mind, it is simply logical that somewhere else in our bigger-than-we-can-imagine universe, there is at least one other planet on which there is some form of life. Just makes sense to me.

There are other intangible things in which I believe – moral principles. I believe in freedom, equality and justice. I believe in honesty, respect, responsibility and compassion. I believe it is best to live one's life according to these principles, among others. I believe it is wrong to judge other people, and I believe it is wrong to do things to deliberately hurt others. There are also certain theories I ascribe to, such as forms of pacifism and utlitarianism. These beliefs help to form my opinions on several issues, such as the american "war on terror", the property rights of First Nations people, same-sex marriage, and abortion. (Bad, bad, evil idea, terrible abuse of power that has not been amended by any stretch of the imagination, so obvious it seems silly that people argue about it, and every woman has a right to have the option to choose it, respectively.)

This could be referred to as a set of beliefs, linguistically, but they do not quite fit my definition. There is evidence that the world operates better under moral rules such as freedom, equality, justice, honesty, respect, responsibility and compassion. Our laws certainly reflect these ideas, and more people seem happier and have better qualities of life when these ideas are upheld. So, to me, these principles come a bit closer to fact than to belief, although I'm sure some do not live their lives according to these principles and will disagree. At best, they are values, principles to which I firmly ascribe that give me a moral framework for moving about in the world. However, none of these values make it any easier for me to decide on major, metaphysical questions, such as what happens when we die. This is where I have difficulty. Nobody can conclusively tell me what it is like after death, if consciousness continues, if there is a spiritual "place" that our "souls" go to reside. There is no evidence. There is only belief.

So, this is where I have trouble. I was raised in the christian baptist religion, but it fights with my sense of logic – lots of things just don't make sense to me, and these things are not exclusive to baptist faith, but run common throughout all christian theology. For that same reason, I cannot ascribe to other major religions, such as judaism or islam. The theory of reincarnation makes sense to me, but yet I cannot put my foot firmly down on it, and so I cannot ascribe to either buddhism or hinduism, nor any other religion that uses reincarnation heavily in its moral theory. The idea of one all-powerful god does not appeal to me, and neither does the idea of several gods.

And so, I remain unsure and undevoted. It is the one area of my life in which I feel at odds, and no amount of reading or research into other theological schools seems to help. The religious idea I can come closest to ascribing to is classical Taoism, but lots of forms of Taoism do not make sense to me either. In any case, it is a struggle for me that has been going on most of my life, despite any activity in christianity in which I have participated. I don't feel I am any closer to answers, but I do feel that it is something that needs resolution. I am not sure about the existence of "soul", but if I have one, I'd like it to be at peace with this before death comes knocking.

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Pet Peeves. I have about a million of 'em. One of my major pet peeves is traffic – more specifically, other drivers in general. I would just like them to move out of my way, simply pull over when I come along and let me by. Just yesterday, I was trying to back out of my parking spot at the grocery store when a dummy in a stupid SUV came careening across the parking lot and attempted to squeeze her oversized gas guzzler into a teensy parking space. She got stuck, and then put her SUV in reverse, but then didn't move. She put it back in drive, didn't move, back in reverse, didn't move – sure enough, she appeared to be having a heated argument with someone on a cell phone! After she sat, motionless, half in and half out of the parking spot, for an eternity (likely about 45 seconds), I got fed up with her ridiculous shenanigans and reversed my own little adorable car out of its parking space so I didn't have to deal with melted ice cream in my trunk when I got home. Sure enough, the idiot honked at me.Pedestrians are another peeve of mine. Just please, stop jumping out in front of moving cars without warning, expecting motorists to come to screeching halts inches away from your little skinny, delicate legs that are so easily broken by large steel machines operated by flawed human beings. I don't really care if it's raining and you forgot your emergency umbrella and your hair and clothes are getting all wet. I shouldn't have to stop quickly because of your lack of foresight and good planning. (This happened to me recently, so it's fresh in my mind.)

I have to make an admission now: I don't like children. Kids who scream, cry, throw temper tantrums, make noise in general, whine, look dirty, ru in other people's yards, and make messes are a very large pet peeve for me. Parents who allow it infuriate me to levels I am not comfortable with at all, nearing homocidal mania. Simpering, spineless parents, who don't spend any time with their children because they work 14 hours out of every day and want each "precious" moment with their ill-behaved spawn to be harmonious and free from conflict and/or discipline make my head hurt and my hands twitch. Now, I see they are writing to TV shows to get British women to come into their home and teach their children how to behave properly instead of doing the job themselves! Yet more evidence of their incompetence! And these are the future leaders of our society – snot-nosed brats who do not value physical activity as much as killing things on their video games, wouldn't know a vegetable if it hit them between the eyes, and get their way simply by asking repeatedly until someone says yes. YIKES! Sign me up for the commune in the woods!

These are the more commonly occurring pet peeves. There are others, such as waiting in lineups, losing socks in the dryer, bad haircuts, having to recycle, etc. My hair getting stuck in my lip gloss drive me nuts somedays. Paying for parking is a major grudge I have against the city. And not having sidewalks cleared of snow, not cool. I hope by sharing some of my pet peeves, I will be able to free myself from feelings of negativity that they involve. It's the bigger things that really need my attention, not the stupid mundanities that pet peeves really are.

Please, share your silly pet peeves! get them off your chest!

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We live in a modern age, or rather, a post-modern age. We live in an age of creation, innovation, and technology. We live in an age of multi-tasking. We live in an age where money talks and nothing else can be heard, where time is money and money means time – more time to do what we really find fulfilling. We live in an age of exuberant consumerism, of "retail therapy", where purchasing "stuff" can make things seem better when we are having a bad day.

All of this amounts to workaholism. Everyone has it, like a contagious disease that spreads easily through the television and computer screens, through wireless connetions and the water we drink. We are bombarded with beautiful things, everywhere we turn, and we must have them. We must have them if Joe and Sally have them, and ours must be better and faster and more beautiful. This means we must work hard to get these beautiful things, and to be able to maintain them. But too often, the work does not satisfy the soul. Perhaps we believe the thing we would truly be fulfilled by would not be a feasible and lucrative career option. Perhaps we believe what fulfills us can't possibly be met in a job. Perhaps we don't believe in ourselves enough to follow our hearts to fulfillment. In any case, many of us stay tied to careers and jobs because we have a lot invested in them: years of education that would be lost, years of clawing up the ladder, years of kissing the boss' ass, years of membership in a society or union, years we have sacrificed things we enjoy to work overtime in order to advance more quickly, years we have spent honing our skills. Years. We think we can pay them forward: we work our asses off so that in a few years' time, we can take an extra week of vacation, or we will finally be able to take that parental leave without financial hardship, or be able to buy that home, or be able to call the shots. Years.

It reminds me of that opening line of that terrible afternoon soap opera: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives". Time pushes us forward. If we think of the years we "invest" in unsatisfying careers in terms of years of enjoyment lost, things look quite different. Every year we spend doing something that is not emotionally or spiritually fulfilling, is a year lost to us, that we could have been spending doing the things that make us happy: travelling, learning, making art, playing sports, playing music, writing, doing yoga every morning, baking, gardening, hiking, raising children, making love.

In an age that defines us by our jobs, it is my suggestion that we stop spending 8-14 hours of each day in a place where we do things that do not fulfill us, and that we stop defining ourselves by our job title. I challenge myself and everyone who might read this to answer in a different way the next time someone asks "What do you do?" Answer by telling them what it is that you do that makes your heart sing and your spirit dance. Refuse to be limited by your job. Tell them you go to art galleries and museums and reflect on what speaks to you. Tell them you tuck your kids in each night and read them a story. Tell them you kayak and surf. Tell them you bake the best chocolate chip cookies they have ever tasted. Tell them you go to bars and dance to live music. Tell them you make jewellery. Tell them you run and do 300 crunches a day. Tell them you read voraciously. Tell them you write poetry. Tell them you review movies. Tell them you make children laugh.

We have allowed our jobs to control our lives for too long. We spend too much time at it every day not to be fulfilled by our work, just so we can go to the store and buy more stuff that sits in our home while we sit at our office; stuff that will never fill the void or make us happy. Next time someone asks you what you do, answer that you dance by moonlight around campfires to music your friend makes on his guitar – or something equally joyful that makes your spirit sing!

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Today I started my day an hour earlier. I am amazed at how much more time this seems to give me. I was up and out of the house before 9 today (I had an appointment), and now it is 11 and I feel as though I've been up for hours and hours! So I have decided that I am going to get up earlier all the time now. I feel like I could get so much more stuff done.

 

Time is a valuable thing, often wasted and squandered as though there would always be more to come. Time is kind of a mind-boggler for me. I have trouble thinking in terms of infinities. Time is also an invention, and so that is kind of weird as well, because it is and it isn't… it's something that is there, but someone actually named it, claimed it, put a purpose to it. It's hard to think about life without time, because we are always so structured around it: what time I will be at a certain place, what time I will leave, how much time it takes me to get from my home to the place I have promised to be. How old I am. (29 and 2 weeks) How fast the seasons go by. How fast the years go by. Time is inescapable and irreversible; you can't get it back once it's gone.

 

So how can I be more mindful of my time? I have always kind of liked not wearing a watch, not caring what time it was, and going by my own rhythm. Ignoring time. Doing what feels right, when it feels right, rather than when someone wants me to. But, rather acutely lately, I am feeling time. It is pressing on me, catching up to me. It is whispering to me, taunting me. Soon, I will have more things that must be crammed into the same amount of hours in each day, each week. Not as much free time, time to spend just as I like, being leisurely and savouring the minutes that pass. Soon I will have to account for every minute, with few to spare.

 

I am fairly good at organizing my time if need be. I can stick to a schedule quite well. But then the irrepressible urge to rebel takes over. I can't explain the reasons for the rebellion that overtakes my life sometimes. Chalk it up to my controlled childhood. I dislike being confined into a role, into a set of restrictions. I dislike being told what to do, how to do it and when it must be done. And so, the rebellion begins. It starts small and grows, rather quickly, until the whole day that I had planned to do X, Y and Z becomes a day in which part of X was done and I watched old movies on TV and made a big batch of cookies and cleaned my closet.

 

I think this might be a turning point. Although I don't want to be controlled by time, eventually, it will win. Time always wins. So I have to think in terms of working with time, so that I can have more control over the time that I have been given, and so that I can be more efficient and enjoy more of the time I have that is free, that is mine and that I have not sold to a business or promised to an institution. My time IS valuable, and so I must start treating it as such.

 

Time, bring it on. I can handle the passing of each moment, the ticking of the clock.

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