Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nature Deficit Disorder

If you can make it out there - you can make it anywhere.
No, friends, this is not about the New York City of Frank Sinatra's dreams; it's the great outdoors.
Before I launch into my personal theory on Nature Deficit Disorder, I'd like to present some facts.
The David Suzuki Foundation threw together a beautifully disturbing infograph, which I will happily regurgitate: "For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural environments. This urban migration has important physical, social, and cognitive implications. We urgently need to wake up to the link between human health and the natural environment."
Let's get the nasty facts out of the way first; the foundation states that "City life is characterized by constant consumption, i.e. electronics and appliances that are plugged in 24/7. Nearly 4 billion people live in cities, which is 4x the amount in 1800. New York City leads the pack with regard to carbon footprint - 10.5 tons per capita."
Other sobering facts include the fact that an average North American spends 95% of their day inside, that 8-18 year olds spend 67% of their day on some form of media (TV, phone, computer) and that 77% of North Americans are Vitamin D deficient. But so what - we're evolving, right? We stemmed from Neanderthals long ago, went through the Industrial Revolution, have modern medicine and amenities to make life more comfortable.
But if everything is so hunky-dory, and playing Words with Friends while eating potato chips is the definition of summiting the hierarchy of needs, then why are 1/3 of Americans overweight, and 1/3 obese - leaving a staggering 30% in a healthy weight range? Heart disease, depression, diabetes, cancer, ADHD. All on the rise.
I'm not a statistics freak and I suck at numbers. But I'd venture to guess that there's a pretty strong correlation between the gross way we're living disconnected lives, our fat asses, our short attention spans, and our inability to climb mountains. Tim Gill, of The Ecologist, states, "Humans are disappearing from the outdoors at a rate that would make them top any conservationist's list of endangered species." You now get the idea that we're not outside a whole lot in the year 2012. And yet, Central Park, Wash Park, Delores Park - they're all packed on the weekends. Why? What's wrong with throwing down a blanket on the concrete?
The Suzuki Foundation has staggering facts about a "greener" life; within 2 minutes of being outdoors, stress levels drop (they measured blood pressure levels, brain activity, and muscle tension), within 2 hours, memory performance and attention span increases, and if you spend a whole 2 uninterrupted days in nature, levels of cancer fighting white blood cells increase by 50%.
So what is it? Can we bottle it and sell it at Whole Foods?
My theory is that it has to do with the fact that deep in the backcountry, you can't mobile upload it but you can empty your own recycling bin, you can't "like this" but you can love being in it, you can't tweet about it but you can hear the birds sing, you can't check on your stock but you can stock up, you can't get it at Costco - but boy, can you fill your tank.
I'll never forget, several years ago, when a good friend of mine living in New York City protested nature. "Dirt is gross and I detest the smell of pine." Like nature wasn't cool. Like nature wasn't trendy because it didn't provide a status symbol. Like nature, somehow, with our "evolution" and emphasis on collecting shiny toys and bullshit, somehow stopped being in vogue. Cities are the new black, nature is so 1800. I mean - can't I just sit in a cafe and read about it in Travel & Leisure? The standard for success, after all, isn't working on a farm in the middle of nowhere, it's making it to the top in a sprawling metropolis through "healthy competition" - long hours, rapid response emails.
Nature is the removal of the mask. To thrive, you have to strip down to the basics. No makeup bag, no laptop, no Facebook status updates, no "smart" phones. You, the elements, some protein, a sleeping bag, a blanket of stars, the galaxy, the dirt, animals, wind, flora and fauna. The great conservationist John Muir once said,  "I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was actually going in."
In order to be present outdoors, one must disconnect - from the comforts of home, from the amenities we grow used to, from chargers and electronics and the ability to Google how long something is going to take us. Priorities shift. You start using all of your senses, not just the ones required to mindlessly watch The Bachelor or to stare at a computer screen on the daily. You start connecting after you disconnect; paying attention to how fast the clouds are moving, what they're forming, that certain evergreens carry a butterscotch scent, that the sun really does keep track of time. You don't need a watch, you don't need a phone, you need 2 legs, willing lungs, an excited heart and a childlike mind. Stop and pick it up. Take your shoes off and dangle your legs in water. Ocean, mountain, desert, plains - smell it, dance in it, lose yourself in it. Connect the pieces that can't be connected in any other way. You have more in common with a deer or a bear physiologically than you do with your computer; you can touch a soft purple flower but you can't touch Google.
Nature teaches so many valuable lessons - what seeds in your mind are worth sowing? What thoughts that don't serve you can you leave behind with the deadwood? She is powerful because she is where we came from and where we are going - we're merely borrowing energy from something greater, and that "greater" is absolutely the most kinesthetic, simple, whole thing in the world - Mother Earth, created from bits and pieces of chemicals that the cosmos decided to throw together in stunning fashion.
If we take time away from our "busy," self-important schedules to feel our part in this life - our existence as a mere string in a violin of the strings section of some great orchestra - that humility can shift perspective and actually make us into better people.  I'm confident of this and I don't need any certain facts to prove it. People who seek refuge in nature aren't likely to thrive on the chaos of the world when they've witnessed the connections they have to it in such a raw way.
After the tragedy of the Aurora shooting in Colorado, folks were eager to point fingers in search of answers. Gun laws. Movie theatre security. Hand wringing, name calling - we need answers.
But I believe that tragedies such as the aforementioned have a strong correlation to the disconnect we are carrying around in our hearts - we don't know our neighbors, we might move or switch jobs every couple of years, we dedicate our Monday nights to Season Premiers instead of long bike rides. As human beings, it's time to question our "evolution." Our looking down at our phones during dinner instead of looking into the eyes of the person we're dining with. Our obsession with newer, faster, shinier, instead of practical, eco-friendly, communal.
You don't need Adderall to satiate your natural human thirst for adventure. You don't need anti-anxiety medication or a drink to calm you down. You need to get your ass outside, and fast. To connect, to feed your inner wild child, to set yourself free.  Calm your nerves, shake it out, get down to earth, and back to nature. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I Think, Therefore I'm Single: An Ode to Riding Solo in Your Late Twenties

It's the summer of being 27. That means every other week, someone gets engaged, someone pops out a kid, or someone gets divorced.
It's a fucking weird time to be single.
In fact, it's an age where, even if you didn't really pay attention to the fact that you're single, you have to now. On wedding invites, at company parties where the only way you can power through is by fantasizing about photocopying an inappropriate organ, at high school reunions, or any invite-only event that has a dreaded space for a "+1"to be scratched in at will.
On one side of the fence are the unhappy relationships, the ones that have sunk so far into the abyss of complacent sweat pants that Taco Bell is considered a night out. At the end of this line are the divorces, the extramarital affairs, and the bandaid-babies.
Then there's the other side of the fence - which is the party that you never seem to get an invite to. The warm "I'll be the big spoon," when you've had a hard day, the constant companion, the person who offers you their arm to rest on in your tent during a stormy camping trip.
At 27, you're officially in your late twenties. You've landed in that age bracket where you start thinking about things like how many of your best eggs have been been boiled already, and can't decide if you have more sanity than the rest of the general population, or are just an incompatible asshole, for not being in a relationship. The same age bracket where people in their early twenties look at you, unknowingly, thinking to themselves, "I hope my shit's a little more together at that age and I'm playing Tinker Toys with my kids and not avoiding a puddle of vomit outside Pub on Pearl on a Friday night."
Sometimes you strip tease to your mirror while blasting Fleetwood Mac, inherently knowing that dancing to Stevie Nicks in your frilly undies while eating some fucked up Pringles-and-Nutella combination can soothe any guilt you feel from houdini'ing your one night stand the night before. Sorry....Adam? Had a stomach ache and had to leave - hastily scribbled on the back of a random ass envelope on your way out the door at 430 am.
Other times, you eat your feelings - if they are hiding, they can usually be found in either the McDonald's or the Wendy's Drive thru. This is especially true after a Bon Iver concert.
You never neglect the child in you - because when the going gets rough, you're really just still very much the 9 year old version of yourself that didn't get chosen during the Snowball-couples-roller skate in 4th grade due to excessively large ears and a lanky frame. You take care of her by washing your hair at night and sleeping in tight braids, waking up with massive, picture-day-in-1991 waves - and you can conquer anything with that shit.
Dating at 27 means that you care about things that didn't matter in your early twenties. Is this guy gonna make me be the bad-guy parent? Does he care about making the world a better place on some level? Does he know who the fuck he is? What he wants?
Because when you're staring 30 in the face, you've dated for over a decade, are comfortable being alone, and your standards are obviously pretty high since you haven't settled thus far.
You wake up one morning and get a well thought out apology from an asshole who blew you off months before. You actually consider it, because time has taught you that being closed off only hurts you the most in the end. As it turns out, he's still an asshole, and another verification that your gut is always right. The biggest lesson gleaned from this massive collection of romantic experiences is that when someone tells you, either literally or through red flag incidents, that they are "that guy" - you better fucking listen.
Which brings me to the hardest part of it all - to stay open and to attempt to accept every person as if you have never been through this shit a million times before. You have to take the gloves off, peel your eyelids back, and ask, ok, who are you? Without judgement, without preconceived notion, without some lame ass "...but I've been hurt before" guard up, with flexibility and openness and the fluidity required of all human relationships. This isn't entirely easy when you've said "Fuck it, I'm going to South America alone," or "Fuck it, I'm going to this movie alone," or something in between these extremes, which, besides allowing you the exquisite freedom of knowing that you don't need anyone else to do shit you've always wanted to do, requires bearing the burden of knowing that you can, in fact, do things without someone else and still enjoy yourself, so why should I bend for you, eh? Ah, the plot is always thickening.
At the end of the day, I'd never trade these precious years I've had to myself and for my personal development. I'm confident it will make me a strong, self aware partner - because 1/2+1/2 doesn't equal 2, and expecting completeness from another human being is actually quite parasitic, and I'm not much for residing in the intestinal tract of another person.
I'd reckon that the emphasis on singledom only grows greater with age - but always remember that the only pressure you should allow to affect you is the one your masseuse gives you during your monthly massage with money that could otherwise be spent on diapers.
You're 27 (31, 35, 42?) and single - big fucking deal. There are plenty of folks that lead shining examples of why partaking in the level of insanity required of a relationship isn't the healthiest thing you can do for yourself. Just look at how fucked up John Lennon got when Yoko entered the picture. Before that time, The Beatles were dressing up in awesome, brightly colored soldier outfits and singing about Walruses, and then shit got real.
You can view sifting through the bullshit and assholes as good stories to tell your own kids (or cats) when they have what-the-hell moments of their own, or even as fodder for a slutty ass book to propel you to the top, a-la Chelsea Handler. Work with what you've got, and don't bitch about it, because being single later than everyone else is a helluva lot better than working at K-Mart at night because your baby daddy is, well, your baby daddy and nothing more.
All that being said, it's perfectly ok to imagine yourself in some tight, black leathery get up, whipping bitches into place while singing Beyonce's "Girls." Maybe you soothe your ego by calling yourself The Black Mamba - an eye patch looks awesome on you and just emphasizes the fact that people can't. handle. this. shit.
Some day your prince will come, even if your boobs are dragging on the floor while you're the only one left standing to catch that goddamn bouquet. And if he doesn't, you can always go back to the Velvet Underground, back to the floor....back to the gypsy that you were, always have been, and always will be.  Viva la vida de soltero.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Take Back Your Face

I'm posing a challenge to all women everywhere for the month of May.
I want you to take back your face.

A few years ago, I posed this question during a happy hour with girlfriends. "I think we should do a Makeup-less May. You know, just for a month, just to see how it feels." I thought May would be ideal, it being spring and all - sort of a fresh start. Nobody was excited about this, my idea was met with questions like, "But what if I have an interview? What if I have a first date? What if I have a massive zit? What if I'm seeing an ex at a wedding?"

I get it, ladies. Sometimes you just want to express yourself, sometimes you just think that you feel your best when you look a little, well, made up. But don't you think it's time to take back your face? I, for one, am damn near sick of L'Oreal, Maybelline, Revlon, and MAC shoving products down my throat - with coy, manipulative, oxy-moronic taglines like such as natural looking makeup. Look 10 years younger. Defy age. Discover the fountain of youth.

You'll look like yourself, only prettier. 

I say fuck it. Fuck the concealer, the powder, the blush. I was born with this face and I'm proud of it. I came into this world without makeup and, when I return to the dust of this sacred Earth, I won't have makeup on, either.

There's something vulnerable about not having your makeup on as a woman. People see your face - your true, only face - and may or may not like it. You are naked. You have bags under your eyes, maybe a broken vein or two on your nose, zits on your chin and a few crow's feet. You're actively participating in this world and honey, that's a by product. ->; She's super over it and having a great time.

Indeed, it's silly that I even have to write a post challenging women to go makeup less for a month, because for one, it shouldn't be an issue worth writing about, but it is. For two, I don't think many (if any) women will be up to this challenge. Yes - it's a matter of expression and everyone has their makeup routine. I have some gal pals that hardly wear anything, ever, and others that I hardly see without it. But do you really want to be that chick that, when it all comes off, people silently eek and say, "I didn't even recognize you."

Personally, I wear makeup maybe two days max out of the week - Friday and Saturday - most likely because I'm going out. So let's analyze this - why would that be different than going to class or work? Because I want to make an impression, want to feel sexy, might meet a guy while socializing, want to be the prettiest girl. At the end of the day, though, the smoke and mirrors will always fade. I'm looking forward to taking a month off of the even the minimalistic makeup I do actually wear.

As a low maintenance gal, I don't even own a foundation or eyebrow pencil. It was just never a priority growing up and it's not something my friends and I talk about or put much emphasis on. But I'm well aware that there are shitloads, and I mean sheer shitloads of fancy pants products designed to create the illusion of lift, narrow noses, prominent cheekbones. They call it "conturing your face." I guess I've just always been more interested in conturing my character....

There's nothing "wrong" with makeup, per se - as long as you are completely conscious of the principles behind it. If you're not, I would point you in the direction of the late John Lennon and Yoko Ono's song, Woman is the N*** of the World. Yes, the title is pretty racy, but the it's meant to be so, as they bluntly shed light on all of the issues I'm harping on:

We make her paint her face and dance
If she won't be a slave, we say that she don't love us
If she's real, we say she's trying to be a man
While putting her down, we pretend that she's above us

Deciding what kind of makeup to wear, or how much, isn't a man's problem. But it's an economists dream; the makeup industry pulls in about $10 billion a year in revenue in the United States alone. 
It's very important that we understand the underlying message behind makeup: That your face alone as it stands is not good enough. I really don't see any other way to dance around that. You can make up as many justifications or excuses as you'd like as you line your eyes with kohl, but it all boils down to that. The need to enhance, to highlight, to reconstruct - try to imagine the freedom of foregoing that bullshit for just a month. The time you can have back in your day, the money from products that can return to your pocket, the dignity that can return to your pride because you won't look like Marilyn Manson after your hot yoga class when you attempted to downdog with liquid eyeliner. 

Beauty truly is skin deep. Micro focusing on our best physical features is, beyond being a first world problem, extremely vain and a little gross. Learning to sit with the discomfort of the separation from that, and baring your true face to the world - damn, what power you can take back. I'm not interested in what Cover Girl thinks about my blotchy skin. I have sun spots. I have a line that's starting to form on my forehead. My blonde lashes are super long, but only defined by mascara, otherwise it looks like I have none. I have acne equal to that of a teenager and I'm 27 years old. And I'm fine with it. 

I'm going to be a facial nudist for the entire month of May. 
I hope you'll join me in putting your best face forward for those 31 days - the real, raw, unedited version of you. The beauty that only you possess without rouge's disguise. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

I Am Not My Hair

In the south Indian State of Andhra Pradesh lies the Venkateshwara Temple - sacred ground for people of the Hindu faith. This temple serves as pilgrimage sight for thousands of Indian women who, after growing their long, black, gorgeous tresses out for years, shave their entire heads bald with one fell swoop of the razor. This severance serves the purpose of a very visible, conscious separation of these women from their vanity.

Hindu women might hold the record for the most drastic sacrificing of the hair on the head, but they are not the only group to practice tonsing for spiritual purposes. Friars famously leave a ring of hair skirting their scalp, with only a very visible bald spot remaining, smack in the middle of the skull.

The notion of separating oneself from one's follicles became an idea that I quite simply got obsessed with after doing research on human hair for a biology class this semester. I unearthed the beautiful concept of rejecting one's vanity through the removal of hair the Hindu- way for a 14 page monstrosity, and was horrified to learn that this hair is subsequently cleaned and sold in the United States as weaves – for around the sum of $4,000.

What a concept. A well thought out sacrifice in one culture is turned around and sold to another culture – ours – with such a very specific, narrow minded view of beauty that women are willing to shell out thousands of dollars to fit the “norm.”

So, yeah, I started thinking about hair. About how I use the hair on my head for expression, and how it's been every color and length. About how I felt empowered by having long locks, and by God, the bigger hair the better. I've mastered the poof, the sexy teased hair – literally feeling that my hair could be easily contrived into some sort of epic, alpha-female mane. Telling other lionness' to back off, and calling forth the Big Cats. And what would I look like without hair? Why have I never had my hair super short? Was I afraid I'd be labeled as a lesbian, become less desirable to men, lose my feelings of femininity?

During the time I was composing the aforementioned paper, I also saw a few pictures of rapper Cassie's haircut, project runway contestant Anya Ayoung-Chee, and a few other brave ladies who had shaved half of their heads, creating some sort of bizarre mermaid-mohawk funk. I thought – hot damn, that's badass, I'm not brave enough to try that. And it just sort of snowballed from there, my own insecurities and discomforts about losing my hair compounded by the fact that some women were, in fact, rocking a unique style, and still others were rejecting their hair completely, Paul Mitchell be damned.

It's a freaky weird policy of mine that if something is pushing me to a level of discomfort, and it's not threatening my life, it sits in my craw until I just go and do it. Like traveling to South America for 5 weeks solo. Like going back to school to study biology with a brain so right-sided I lean when I walk. So I did it. I lost a foot or so of hair on about ¼ of my scalp – buzzing it down to about a half an inch of the skin.

My hair stylist held my long, blonde locks out, asked, “Ready?” and before I could answer, it was gone. Then she got out the clippers. I looked in the mirror in those groggy, waking early Friday morning hours two weeks ago and I saw my little brother, age 5, with a fresh buzz cut for the summer months. It was gone, and it wasn't coming back for a long, long time. Not only that, but my natural hair color hadn't seen the light of day for a decade – and I had to come to terms with the fact that my hair is, in fact, a very mousy, dish-watery, not-a-pretty-color-in-a-bottle shade, and that this was going to be on display for the entire world henceforth.

There were many small factors that added to the anticipation of the eventual slash and burn approach to that much hair on my head. For one, having long, blonde hair attracts a certain type of douche. I knew that by removing that much of my hair, and in such a drastic style, that the type of men I attracted would be limited, or changed, or somehow influenced. The hunch I had about this was confirmed when a very drunk, blubbering idiot who had just professed his burning desire to sleep with me was, merely an hour later, almost in tears when I mentioned I wanted to buzz part of my head. “Why....why...would you want to do that?” he practically sobbed. I can't tell you how hard I had to suppress the urge to rip it all out right then and there and scream, “In part because it's obviously a fantastic way to ward off closed minded fuck bags like yourself.”

Rocking what I call alternately the “Rock Chalk Faux Hawk” and simply the “mullet,” depending on my mood, has been the social experiment of the dome variety I hoped it would be. The first night I went out with my freshly minted half-head-of-hair, I had no heterosexual problems – a guy asked for my number. The second night I went out, I was passed a note from a couple inviting me in curly, sly handwriting to “tell them more about my class.” Yes, friends – the mullet showcases to some folks in the Mile High City a certain edge, if you will, at least a resistance to cultural norms.

But it's not for everyone. It's not for one of my good, very long standing guy friends, who pulled one of our mutual friends aside and asked, in a very upset tone, “Why would Erica do that? I mean, why would she do that to herself?” It was like they had caught me redhanded on Colfax, giving over the pants hand jobs to bums for a buck – my life was going down the shitter because I had buzzed part of my head.

It wasn't for my Dad, either. The fascinating factor, however, is that I consider myself to associate with at least mildly open minded individuals, my father and aforementioned guy friend included. But it was truly the men who showed the most concern, or feared it was some symbol of instability, not the women. 99% of the women I know (or don't know), ranging from good friends, to super close friends, to lab partners I see once a week, offered, “It's super cute,” to “I think it's fucking awesome.” I think it's because, as females, they empathasized with my plight, commended my bravery, and sincerely thought it was a cute style, the “deep thinking” aspect notwithstanding.

Waking up in the morning and figuring out how to pat down the buzzed portion is interesting. It's a very soft texture, it feels good to rub it, and it's a truly odd sensation to either bike or run with the wind ever closer to my skull, albeit only on one side.

By this juncture in the post you get the jest of why I did it. But, as my dad pointed out – why be weird just for the sake of being weird? “I don't just go around with my chest half shaved to say 'Hey world, what's this all about? If you're not comfortable you should be.'” And I understand and agree with that point. However, as I told my father and as I'd explain to anyone, I wanted to rock this haircut to challenge myself more than others. I truly wanted to explore the deep level of discomfort the thought of buzzing my hair was bringing me.

Why did it matter? It's hair. It's an alpha keratin and, above all else, has this unique property in that it grows back. The way you style your hair, the color of it, the length, all are properties to consider when making a first impression of a fellow human. They're a hipster if it's long and unruly, they're a hippie if it's below mid back, they're well off if it's slicked to one side. But I think we can all agree that not all ladies with long blonde hair are foxy (just try to think of Anne Coulter without gagging), and that some people who are dressed super well and are Boyscout leaders with a clean shaven look are actually seriel killers that go by the acronym of BTK.

So the discomfort I felt, and others may feel, at looking at a buzzed portion of my head, is simply a signal going off in the subconscious of I am uncomfortable because this isn't fitting into the compartments I've created in my 18/32/59/75 years of life. People with buzzed heads are men. People with buzzed heads are recovering from cancer. People with buzzed heads are in the military. People with buzzed heads are raging lesbians. A girl with long blonde hair and a buzzed head = Can. Not. Compute. So if you see a haircut like mine and, after squirming a little and/or averting your eyes, you make it about me or my “need for attention” or my “need to prove something” - you're taking the easy way out. You aren't seeing it as an opportunity to look within and say, “Now why the hell would I feel so uncomfortable about hair? What does that say about me? About my skewed perception of reality? About the assumptions I make with regard to the contents of someone's character based on the labeling?” Character is built, after all, by our reactions, by our ability to hold something up and analyze it from different angles in a different pair of shoes, however uncomfortable that may be, and no matter how far our lacy panties get lodged up our butts because we don't know how to process something unfamiliar.

So when we see someone with pink hair, or a buzzed head, or in a wheelchair, or with blotchy vitaligo all over their body, or with one arm that's shorter than the other, or with a lazy eye – no, it's not going to fit into our symmetry-driven, superfical-snap-judgement Blue Book value of that person. Obviously, I'm of the "fuck it" opinion, but I'll admit that I've been dealt an easy hand – I'm thin, I'm blonde, I'm white. Feeling a fraction of separation and rocking it in my own way has been challenging, liberating, cool. I'd be lying if I said I don't look at my reflection in the mirror, even two weeks later, and think, Shit, every once and again. But it's so much better than backing out of the challenge I was conjuring in my head based on the fact that 'I could never have the guts to pull that off.' Because I did, and I do, and so does every person on the planet who thinks the obsession over air-brushed, made up, bra-cup-runneth-over models on the cover of every magazine in 'Merica is super fucked up and not cool for the psyche.

So rock out with your hawk out, whatever your “hawk” may be.

Buzz it, grow it out, let it all down - set your bad self free.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

God vs. Science - A Moot Point

There are those that believe in the Big Bang Theory exclusively, giving no credit to a force greater than what science can explain. And on the other side of the line, there are those who believe the world was created in seven days, that evolution did not happen, that the world was manifested exclusively through a higher power.

Both sides are wrong. Because God is science, and science is God. There's just no other way around it.

It doesn't matter if you are a Buddhist, a Taoist, a Catholic. Whatever your God, whatever your belief, as human beings, we have been gifted with a fantastic combination of knowledge and curiosity that has lent itself to countless scientific discoveries - about how things on our planet have evolved, about how they work. This knowledge has helped us to unearth cures for horrible diseases, create vaccinations, improve our health and ways of life. The very fact that we have these capabilities can be a testament to a higher power. Conversely, the fact that you might believe in a higher power does not mean that issues of scientific substance and merit refute your God. In my eyes, they only strengthen the argument.

I appreciated the fact that my microbiology teacher recognized the great mystery of how perfectly everything fits together and works in such a complimentary fashion with regard to human biology. He would say things about how the way that the microflora we are given at birth to break down lactose was just "what the maker gave us." Nothing specific, nothing forced down anyone's throats, just a simple recognition that we know this is the way body breaks down milk and we don't really know why we were equipped with those abilities but not the ability to break down grass and cellulose like a cow.

Science is God and God is science. God can fill the gaps when science fails, or falls short, or can't explain a phenomena that renders itself stuttering. Likewise, science is the explanation of how beautiful things work together - how life ebbs and flows. The human body functions in such specific, intricate ways that it's an absolute work of artistry and nothing short of that. Evolution did happen - the whale's analogous pelvic bone attests to it - but how does that offend a creator? We share almost 99% of our genetic materials with chimpanzees and bonobos - we are all one and connected, and that is a humbling and empowering notion. Our cousin the star fish has cells that undergo mitosis just as ours do, and chromosomes packed with DNA like the almighty homosapien.

Science is just the understanding and testament to the beauty of life. The energy around us, that thing that people call Allah or God; both are real and work together. The harmony is astounding, inspiring, mind boggling - if you open your mind to that possibility. They do not oppose each other, they are each other. Like pieces of a puzzle. Like the hydrogen bonds that connect nucleotides in DNA. Like hands that fit together in prayer or meditation over the heart. After all, The Maker is, and was, a scientist, and a damn good one at that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

You Are the Eye of the Storm

Pray for peace. Let's give each other the sign of peace. Chuck the deuce. Peace be with you. Wave the white flag. A peaceful protest.

That seemingly unobtainable goal, world peace - it's almost a joke. The standard answer in a brainlessly worded Miss America pageant interview. But seriously, what about peace? What is it? How can we achieve it? Can we spread it?

The Dalai Lama said, "We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves." This means, very simply, that peace is a conscious decision, a well thought out process, something that takes work. Think about the last horrible experience you had - maybe it was a negative event at work, a breakup, someone cutting you off in traffic, something nasty yelled at you from a passerby. At that moment, you and you alone have the power to make the buck stop there. The ball has been thrown at you - do you catch it, hold onto it, throw it at someone else? Or do you catch it, stifle it, deflate it, deflect?

Human energy follows the same laws of thermodynamics - that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Ninety percent of our attitudes during the day are reactions to things that are happening - I don't want to go to work, I'm in a fight with my significant other, I failed that test, she doesn't like me, I have to shovel the driveway. The choice to focus on the negative is somewhat instinctual, something of a fight or flight response, in the hopes of staving off potentially harmful situations. But we can be above neanderthals - most of us don't live in caves, and have access to calming remedies such as hot tea, a good book, gentle people, a yoga class, moving music.

Solving negative things that happen during the day with additional negativity is just feeding the disgusting green monster that will do nothing but grow as long as it is fed. You make the choice to discontinue feeding the monster. You alone hold the power and can make the decision to shift your focus, fight for your own inner peace. If we can make peace with ourselves, conduct ourselves in a manner that's respectful to others, not walking away from difficult situations but welcoming them as hurdles to jump over, obstacles that will ultimately act as tools that enhance our growth as human beings - we have already begun achieving world peace.

You cannot control another's actions, reactions, or choices with regard to peace. But you can control your own. You can choose peace - and not in an apathetic way - don't use "achieving peace" as an excuse to sit on the couch, to disregard the plight of others or to not become an agent of change in your own right. Choosing peace is an active thought process, and oftentimes it doesn't come easy. It's easier (and temporarily more fulfilling) to slash somebody's tires, write a hateful message, disregard someone's feelings - but you're really just giving the green monster a ride on your back.

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior said it eloquently:

Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live? If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

So become an agent of peace. Begin the process inside, make the decision every day to live peacefully. Watch your tongue, watch your actions, watch your tone, watch your body language. Be the eye in the storm that people are drawn to - creating a safe haven for yourself and others. Breathe peace in and breathe peace out. Your power of choice can be the power of peace - white light burning bright.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

El Fin Del Mundo

The world is going to end on December 21, 2012. That means you've got less than a year left to catch up on all of episodes ever produced of The Office, win Nathanial's Hot Dog eating contest on Coney Island, chug a gallon of milk without puking, and accomplish any other lifetime goals that you've been putting off.

Jest aside, let's get super dreary and pretend the world really is going to end as 2012 wanes. What would you do with every day of the countdown? Would you genuflect on bended knee, trembling in fear that black horses will sweep you away Book-of-Revelations style? Would you throw caution to the wind - rules and civility be damned - indulging in every sin imaginable enough to earn your seat in every circle of Dante's Inferno?

Or - would you live your life like you've always wanted to live it? No excuses, no holding back - because you've only got a year.

If you ever look around in admiration at things people have done - changed their career completely, taken up an instrument at an old age, read Ulysses, traveled to a foreign land, written a book, moved someplace new and strange, eaten a guinea pig, danced in front of a crowd, made their bed every day - and thought to yourself, "I could never do those things" - you must understand that the only person who told you that you cannot is yourself.

You are your best friend and your biggest doubter - ultimately the fault or praise goes to you when you decide to do something (or not to do it). Yes, it's helpful to have encouragement from others and to find approval and solace outwardly. But within you and only you lies the power to decide when and where you go. Or stay.

If you say that you can't hike that mountain because you're too out of shape, you told yourself you can't do it. If you say that you don't have the gumption to move to San Francisco because you don't know a soul, you made the excuse. If you change your eating habits and lose 10 pounds, you made the lifestyle changes to do so. If you obtain two degrees in four years, you set the tone of discipline and sacrifice to make it happen.

Pretending the world is ending in 2012 isn't such a bad way to live your life. It's time to take responsibility for your accomplishments, your downfalls, your goals, and to stop making excuses or pointing fingers as to why you've never done the mind-blowing shit on your bucket list. Want to throw yourself out of a plane high above the Rocky Mountains in a free fall sky dive? DO IT. Want to read one book every month? DO IT. Want hike the Appalachian Trail in 2 years? Start getting in shape, buying maps, making plans, saving the dough and MAKE IT HAPPEN. Find a way or find an excuse.

But - I need a year to think about it, but I need to make sure that I've got the money, but I've got a car payment, but I'm fat, but I'm scared, but I don't know anything about that, but I've never done it. Friends, that's the thrill of it. That edge of the comfort zone, that unknown abyss below the false safety of the cold cliff - it's a honeycomb of the sweetest adventure you've ever tasted. It's the womb, the fountain of youth, the crazy colorful place you end up when the "carpe diem" whisper in your head becomes a scream. If you save a little, plan a little, dream a lot, think it through, learn the language, buy the ticket, take the ride, you can and you will succeed just by the very fact that you have attempted. The alternative is an accumulation of "buts;" there are a million excuses but only one today. Only one 2012, only one lifetime where we have this glorious body that can take us to the incredible heights that we want to reach. And if you fail, if you fall, if the bakery you've dreamed of starting ends up burning down or it turns out you can't make pie crust worth a damn and preservative-ridden Little Debbie puts you to shame - at least you tried. You can look back, head held high, arms folded, flour on your cheeks, knowing what was instead of what could have been.

What is it for you? It doesn't have to be big - those so called little things are just as important as the big - learning to knit, making a good cup of coffee, this year I just want to put the dishes in the dishwasher after breakfast every morning. Yes, there is a time for peace, a time for meditation, and accomplishing every goal thoroughly and beautifully - with the pace of a lacemaker - is part of the art of lovely living - not to rush through your goals only in order to cross them off. But there are many catalysts for this lifestyle - it's what your couch and cable TV are for - so I'd like to be the voice to kick start your 2012 by saying, take the training wheels off somewhere. Board the train to the middle of nowhere Nebraska in hot pursuit of finding the world's biggest ball of twine. Understand the gravity that ultimately you are the one who is responsible for your choices, your life, your timeline, your story. You've got the pen - what will you write this year?

El Fin Del Mundo - what a beautiful way to say it's the end of the world. How will you set it on fire before it all comes crashing down? You've got 337 days. The clock is ticking.