Outsmarting My Smart Phone, Part I

My first cell phone was too big to put in a pocket or a purse. It was larger than a Princess desk phone, and all the rage before wireless made its debut. We bought it because everyone had one. It seemed like the cool thing to do. It sat between the front seats in the car that Bill drove. We only made calls with it when we were going to be late for an appointment or in the event of an emergency … both of which rarely ever happened. It was more a pain in the butt than anything else. It was a while before I got a flip phone that I could hide away in my purse.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my cell phone. Firstly, I don’t enjoy talking on the phone that much anymore. I rarely give out my phone number and I often don’t carry it with me. I simply don’t like being interrupted when I’m shopping, eating a meal, reading a book, taking a walk, or anything else for that matter. When I’m out of town I do take it with me, just so I can be reached if there is a problem at home or with my kids. I think the use of cell phones in public is way overboard. I worry about the all the little ones who know how to use these gadgets as they are learning to walk. Then there are the teens and tweens like my grandkids who spend way too much texting, playing games, and not watching where they are going. It’s quite frequent around here to watch UVA students crossing the street without looking either way to see if cars are coming, because they are checking their email. And there are lots of adults whose cell phone manners are particularly atrocious. Have you ever had dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time and he or she pulls out a cell phone to check emails, even before she reads the menu, or asks you how you are?

Over the last few years and the last one especially I’ve gotten more hooked on this canned entertainment than I’ve ever wanted to be. I believed those who told me that I had to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter to sell my book, and connect with my readers. If I didn’t have friends on the internet what did I have? Nothing, I was told. So I opened accounts on both of of those time wasters and took up checking my emails way too often, as if checking it eleven times an hour would guarantee that I’d just won a prize for my fantastic writing.

Then the last election happened and because I was so caught up in the anxiety and fear that many of us experienced, I was constantly on Facebook checking out the latest Breaking News that brought me into a dark period of depression. Being a news junkie, the cell phone did not ease my growing addiction to having to know everything that was going on all around me. I no longer needed a television set to tune into. I started carrying the phone with me everywhere, as if knowing what the president-elect was doing right this very moment would cause a major world war, or stop the world from spinning without my knowing it. I even checked it while I was eating breakfast and lunch. Something I said I’d never, ever do. If I had an appointment, the first thing I did was pull out my cell phone as I walked out the door.

There were the hate posts from both sides chewing out those who were upset about the election and how to get over it. Even those I agreed with most of time got nasty to those whom they said weren’t doing enough to resist. Making phone calls, writing postcards, marching, and signing petitions was all the rage. If you didn’t do enough of any one of those things you were bashed by those who spent all of their available time doing them. I absolutely believe in resisting, but when those on my side start picking on those who can’t do it all, I really begin to question exactly what is going on here. Fortunately most of that activity is over at least for the time being.

Then one morning I woke up, feeling especially down. I realized how much complaining I was doing because I never had time to finish anything I started. As the weather warmed, I wanted to spend more time outside pruning last summer’s garden left-overs and listening to the birds chatter around me. But I didn’t have time. I wanted more time to read, write in my journal, and prepare delicious food. I spent a lot of time over a lot of days, trying to figure out how to change my lack of time. What I discovered that nothing was really holding me back from doing what I wanted to do. I was simply addicted to the cell phone, the internet and all that it represents.

I’ve started making choices about how to spend my time, rather than being run by robots and having my brain get hooked on something out in the atmosphere that I can’t even see. When ever I get the urge to check my email or see what’s happening on Facebook, I ask myself why I need to do that now. Sometimes I still go down the rabbit hole but other times I hold off and enjoy the sunshine and the newly blooming flowers that are growing around me.

I’ll be writing more about this over the next few weeks. I’ll share ways to have more time for yourself and be more mindful. In the meantime, have a glorious week. And before you check your cell phone, ask yourself why you need to do that right this minute!

What? Me Worry?


If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you cannot do anything about it anyway.
— His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I’ve always been a worrier. I’ve worried about almost everything including what other people thought of me, what would happen if I didn’t do what I was told to do, and how much snow would fall overnight rendering the following day a disaster because I couldn’t get to my doctor’s appointment or my yoga class. I seemed to think that worrying would make the bad things I was expecting to happen disappear, never to be seen again. Fortunately, worry is no longer my constant companion.

It seems to me that worrying has a lot to do with control issues and fear. As a child I felt there was nothing in my life that I could control. I never knew when my parents were going to be mean to me or when they would give me a hug and tell me I was a good kid. From the beginning I had the imagination of a creative and could come up with the most amazing, wonderful stories in my head or the most terrifying. The scary tales were often encouraged by my grandparents who told me that if I didn’t eat everything on my plate, the wolf that lived in the pump house across the street would come and take me away. For a long time I believed them and ate all of the disgusting spinach that was piled on my plate and the extremely overripe banana that made me want to puke. I watched as my grandfather cracked raw eggs into his coffee and then drink it. I worried that he’d make me do the same thing as soon as I was old enough to drink coffee. Thankfully I was never forced to follow his lead.

I slowly discovered that worry was caused by anticipating what was ahead, fearing that I would fail and/or get into deep trouble. When I made the earth shattering discovery that I have little or no control over anything I figured out it was a waste of time. I would never be able to stop my father from being in a rotten mood, or keep lightening from striking my house. The world was way too huge and chaotic to fret about. Why waste my time feeling anxious and watching my back, which always ruined gorgeous, sunny days?

Being mindful is my goal these days. Sure I still worry about things when they feel wobbly, but once I realize what is happening it is fairly easy to let go, labeling my thoughts as fear or expectation. Surely there is no problem hoping for the best outcome of any situation, but letting it direct every moment of our lives is being wasteful of the gift we have been given. And fearing the worst is even more destructive.

Sam, my fourteen year old dog is getting very old, is deaf, and having difficulty with his rear legs. But he is happy and I can’t worry about how much longer he will be with us. I can only enjoy having him with me right now and the moments when he is feeling exceptionally chipper and can run up the driveway, chasing Lilli, his cat. I’m having too much fun right now getting up each day and smelling whatever flower is opening up for me. If the end of the world comes along while I’m at it I’ll deal with it when it happens. Why waste even a minute of this wonderful life?

Change

The Capitol. taken from our countries botanical garden.

The Capitol, taken from the United States Botanical Garden.

I haven’t done any writing except for making lists for the last week. Even my journal has been untouched. No, I don’t have writer’s block. There have been many times over the past seven days that I have wanted to write, but then something would change. Between hours of feeling little to no anxiety, waves of grief, fear, and depression came crashing through. I could be smiling and happy one minute. Then boom! One of those waves would hit. Words that had been gathering in my head would disappear in a sea of despair. I know I wasn’t alone.

I’ve needed time to wrap my head around what I believed would happen when I went to bed at 11 PM, last Tuesday night … that Hillary would lose. I had gone to the polls on Tuesday morning like most everyone else, and imagined the celebrations that would be happening that evening. When the first rays of light came through my window on Wednesday morning, my stomach started churning like a cement mixer. I didn’t want to hear the news. I wanted to close my eyes and fall into a peaceful slumber that would last forever. But being one who faces what’s ahead, regardless of what it is, I got up and listened and watched. It hurt. On my way up the street as I walked my dogs, a neighbor in tears, asked, “What happened? It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.” We hugged, feeling each other’s pain, then moved on into the day.

I’ve been watching what’s been happening on the news. As in the rest of the country, there have been incidences of hate in this city. And sometimes it’s felt like the end of the world has come. And in a way it has. At least the world as I knew it.

But it’s not the end. It’s about change and the beginning of something new. It happens every moment of every day, as time slips through our fingers and a new moment opens up. If it’s good change, we celebrate. If it’s bad change, we piss and moan, and stubbornly march ahead insisting that life will remain as it was or … what? Half of our population is grieving and are in deep pain. The others are happy and celebrating. Some of us ask what can be done to make it like it was before November 8th.

Change. We can’t stop it from happening. But even when it’s bad, I believe something good always happens as a result. Pain will still be evident and bad things will still happen. But change is what all of us had on our minds as we went to the polls on Tuesday. Whether it was equal pay for women, gun control, or simply wanting recognition that we exist. We all wanted change of some sort. And now we have it. Whether we like it or not.

I believe that the good part of this change is that we are being forced to wake up. There has been a smugness and entitlement afoot here in America especially among those of us who have enough to live comfortably. What doesn’t affect us is somebody else’s problem.  It has kept us from really dealing with issues that have needed to be addressed … education, equal opportunities in all phases of life, and a way to come together to work on how to bring our country and world to a better place and serve all of its people.

It’s easier said than done, and I admit I’ve been just as blind as everyone else. But this is an opportunity to really change things up. We can become aware of the people who stand next to us at the cash register or on line as we all wait to cast our votes. It’s time to share our thoughts without fear of being judged. It’s time to be kind to those who disagree with us and/or scare us. It’s time for us to listen.

It’s also time to allow ourselves to adapt to the changes ahead without being told we’re not moving fast enough or are pushing ahead too fast. We each have our own needs and ways of addressing what is ahead. I need to have time to contemplate what to do and how to approach what could be a more than a difficult time, without being told how to go about it.

I believe that what’s ahead is about being mindful of my own feelings and what I believe in. It’s about learning to be a good listener and being aware of what others need. It’s about staying awake and not making assumptions. It’s about reaching out to those who are suffering and needing help.

There are lots of things we can do. We can run for office, donate to a cause, sign petitions, join a group with similar issues, march in protests, or wear a safety pin. A friend of mine collects gently used used hats, scarves, gloves, and socks to hand out to the homeless in our town at this time of year.

But what we really must do is to stay awake, pay attention, make noise when it’s called for, and be kind. The rest is up to what each one of us is most comfortable doing.

I have seen two films this week that should not be missed and have helped me sort through my feelings and these dreadful times. The first is Moonlight. The other one is Arrival. I came home feeling as though both movies were made just for us, right now, at this time. Don’t miss them. I don’t want to tell you anything about them but they both lifted my spirits and gave me an idea of where I stand in the dilemma we all face.

Things will continue to change as they always do. None of us knows what will happen next. For me it’s about being as positive as I can and taking in the light shining through the cracks.

The More Thing Change …

Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke

Yesterday I decided to look back through the first blog I kept. Entitled, Rivanna River Days, I started it as a record of what life was like living on the shores of the South Fork Rivanna River Reservoir, where I resided at the time. I began this blog in the spring of 2006, many years before I began writing my memoir and a year before my mother died in 2007.  She was living with me at the time.

I found this piece that I wrote in September of 2008. I could have written it yesterday or last month or last year. I have to say I have no problem staying with my writing these days, but it’s interesting to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tending The Heart

Where have I been, you ask? I’ve been tending to myself …
My heart has been heavy with the vibrations of the exterior world …
It’s trying to hold its own … feeling grateful for all that I have …
The wonderful people I know …
Saddened for the state of this country … the violence in the world …
The hungry … the homeless …
And most of all for those who don’t see or feel the consequences for what they do.

It’s been hard for me to write anywhere about anything, including in my journal
that I normally jot in every day.
I’ve been saying a lot of prayers … asking lots of questions
And trying to stay as positive I can.

I know I’m not alone. There are many people feeling the same way.
I remind myself on a daily, sometimes hourly basis that I cannot control what is happening in this world
And that this too shall pass.
I take solace in meditation, the garden, living simply, and the gifts that each day brings.

Do you read back through your old journals or blog posts to see what has changed over the course of time?

Managing Stress In An Insane world

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

Earlier this year I decided to avoid the news as best I could. I didn’t want to hear about the presidential campaign; especially the words of one whose name shall not be mentioned here. He upset me greatly and when I started yelling  at the television it was a sure sign that I needed to turn it off. I do still tune in less than an hour every day because I want to be able to make informed choices. But I leave the room from time to time when I want to avoid talk from certain people.

Managing my stress is an important part of my self-care. I do not want to live with constant anxiety which turns my gut into a churning cement mixer filled with rocks. I get jumpy, depressed and feel hopeless. At the ripe old age of seventy-three I want a life of ease. I can’t afford the damage that stress causes to my mind, spirit and body.

I’ve been a news junky for as long as I can remember. I absolutely had to watch all of the heart breaking reports when JFK was assassinated. I tuned in constantly when Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were taken out. On the morning of 9/11, I wept and felt like it was the end of the world. On all of those occasions my gut churned away. I had no appetite for food. And for at least a week if not longer, I sat in front of the television reliving the cataclysm of 9/11.  Every news channel replayed the fall of the twin towers, over and over again. I was depressed. I had trouble sleeping. Like everyone else, I was sick at heart. At the end of that week I realized I was harming myself, not helping myself.

I needed to find my center. I needed to smile and laugh. I couldn’t go to NYC and help with the cleanup but thought perhaps if I lightened up and started believing in goodness, my depression would go away. I gave blood. I went back to working in the garden. I helped to prepare the downstairs apartment in my home for my mother, whose health was failing. She would be moving in with us in late October and would spend the next six years being in residence with us before she broke multiple bones and died in May of 2007. I knew it was going to be difficult and wanted to ground myself before she moved in.

I felt much better until Mom’s health started going down hill rapidly. I began watching hours of news again, and woke to NPR every morning. While I peeled potatoes, prepared meat loaf, or kneaded bread the TV was on. I listened to how the world was falling apart. It was easier to watch the world in turmoil and spout off on how to fix it, than it was to give my attention to what was happening in my own household as Mom moved toward the end of her life.

Later I was told I suffered from PTSD. It was suggested that the horrific news about climate change and the continuing saga of war in the Middle East were making me more stressed out than I was to begin with. But it was hard to turn it all off. I was too invested in the news and what was happening around the world.

I started meditating, said no to events or movies that I knew would upset me and set some boundaries For myself. But it was still difficult to stay news free. How would I know how to live if I didn’t know what was happening in the world? I was especially anxious about the mass shootings occurring so frequently around the country in schools, movie theaters, military bases and shopping centers. But even through those events I did fairly well at turning the boob tube off at the first sign of my being upset. I worked at staying positive. I reminded myself that beyond the negative is a beautiful world filled with good people who are kind and doing good deeds.

Then “you know who” decided to run for the presidency. My stress and anxiety levels began growing by leaps and bounds. I was sure the end of the world was nearing. I was afraid for my country. I feared what would happen to my kids and grandkids in the future if that man got into office. I yelled at the TV during debates and the nightly news. I cried some nights as I tried to fall asleep. Finally I said, “Enough. I can’t do this anymore.”

When I woke to the tragic news of the shooting in Orlando, a few weekends ago ago I was surprised by my reaction. I had no need to see the grim photos or know the numbers of innocent people killed and wounded. It was so unlike me. I asked, What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you reacting the way you usually do?

But I knew there was nothing I could do. Would sitting in front of the television all day taking in this heinous act of violence help to keep this kind of event from happening again? I knew that all it would do is make me feel angry, hopeless, and extremely heart sick. I decided to turn the news off and go about my day. I worked in the garden, cooked a delicious meal, and finished reading a book that I was completely immersed in. During the following days I signed petitions and made a donation to one of the sites involved in bringing an end gun violence. And after a bout of angry posts on Facebook, I decided to stop that too.

I still tune into the news most nights just to get the headlines. But it isn’t causing my stress levels to rise. I’m living in a better world, taking care of myself, trying to be as kind as I can, and being grateful for all that I have.

How do you handle the gruesome events that seem to happen every day all around us?
How do you stay positive in the face of negativity?