A New Pathway

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind . To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. ~Henry David Thoreau

Mental and spiritual changes that are real, that are deep and that are lasting cannot be accomplished by a single action. The ruts of my past pathways are carved deeply in my soul. How I felt about myself while growing up, how I relate to the people around me and how I connect with higher consciousness have all created hardened ways of approaching life. And just like it takes an effort to get the wheel of a cart out of the rut caused by years and years of running along the same path, making a change in how I think and act as a result of consistent ways of thinking for many years, requires great effort. Even after years of trying to remove my father’s too often repeated admonition directed at me that I was ‘as useless as tits on a boar’, I still feel its sting.

Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

It comes at me during moments of my own weakness or when I feel like I am failing at something. It comes when I am in frustration because something is not going the way that I had intended it to go. My self esteem starts to waver, I remember that statement, and I fall further into my emotional state. I feel that I will never amount to much in life. I feel inferior to those around me. I doubt my abilities and my talents and my propensity for learning. I begin to believe that he was right, that I have no purpose in life. In my later teen years I rebelled against his frustrating cry by repelling anger with anger, telling him to fuck off and do it himself and leaving the scene. But the many repetitions of this statement by my father had already began to wear a deep rut indeed into my psyche. Alone and by myself I would use the same statement as self recrimination for an error or failure.

In the past years since I became aware of the impact of this statement on my life, now 25 years since my father’s death, I have battled with this statement. I have meditated on it. I’ve told myself that it isn’t true and listed my many accomplishments in life and challenges overcome. I have been in therapy, taken medication and symbolically thrown a rock with this statement written on it over the side of a cliff. And every once in a while, when I start to feel a bit down, it comes back to haunt me: ‘you’re as useless as tits on a boar’.

On an intellectual level I know that it isn’t true. I have disavowed the statement and I can enumerate many life accomplishments. And it is still there, lurking in a hidden nook of my brain waiting to jump out at an appropriate time to drag me back toward the abyss of depression and self loathing.

Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

Lately I have been examining it more closely. I have started to look at it from my father’s point of view. Now for the most part, we had a good relationship. But it wasn’t always easy. I was his first born son and like any father, he probably had his own hopes and dreams for me and my successes in life. He probably thought about me taking over the family farm. He may have wondered who I might marry and what his grandchildren might be like. However, I also think that by the time I reached my teens, we were both coming to realize that I might be gay.

I have looked at my father’s own readiness to be a parent and realized that he had his own challenges while growing up. His father was 55 years old when dad was born. As soon as he could lift a shovel, I am sure he was helping his older brothers and father in planting and harvesting of crops, tending to and milking the cows and butchering chickens that provided Sunday dinners. His father was more like an aging patriarchal figure, or a grandfather than he was a dad. And of the stories I’ve heard, he had infirmities that prevented him from being much of an active member of the farm work force as he aged. My father, fairly quick at school, passed his high school entrance exam just after he turned 14; he left school without finishing the year and pretty much took over the farming duties from his ailing father as his older brothers were now working at jobs away from home. Seven years later, his father died.

Dwyer Farm (circa 1944)

Looking at this past, I can understand how his youth did not prepare him to become the father he might have become. He had plenty of anger issues and seem to relish letting go a stream of words that would make Red-Beard blush and let every neighbour within earshot to know that I had screwed up royally again. Anger was the only strong emotion I saw him express growing up. Fortunately, I remember little physical punishment; the verbal chastisement was enough. And, as he aged, he mellowed. He became a more pleasant person to be around. We never developed a deep relationship. We never discussed feelings or our past mistakes. We never talked about my relationship with my partner or anything touching upon sexuality. In the only ‘talk’ we had had about sex, just before the subject was presented back when I was in grade eight. He told me that as humans we didn’t go around the neighbourhood like a dog looking for a bitch in heat. Sexuality was not talked about. Feelings were not talked about. Within the family, anything to do with an even slightly taboo subject was mentioned in whispers as if the soft speak wouldn’t attract a fouler curse. Nevertheless, I appreciated what my father had done for me, his personal sacrifices for the good of his family. And could appreciate that he too was growing in understanding of himself. We both did the best we could in our relationship, given its challenges.

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on Pexels.com

I understand this all. I get that it was a different time. And I understand that he was doing the best that he could under the circumstances of his own upbringing and beliefs. I see that much of his anger was really misdirected frustration at his situation in life and his inability to express himself. It doesn’t make it easier for me when I am reliving the past, but it does make it forgivable. I have a better understanding of how he got to that point in his life. And I would like to believe that if I had arrived at the point in my life before he died that I needed to talk with him about it, he would have reacted well and listened to what I had to say. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

That doesn’t mean that this work I am doing on myself is finished. I still have to go back and fill in this and the other ruts of pain and hurt that were created early in life. I have to work on forgiving my father regularly. And I can work at changing my focus. I can focus on the good times that I had with him. I cherish the long hours I spent with him at the hospital as he lay dying; few words needed to be said then. And I will be forever grateful that I was able to spend his last night on this Earth at his bedside. With him, as a human, I have made my peace. With his words, it is still a struggle to overcome their power. But slowly, with constant work and the passage of time, I am moving beyond that perspective of my past and I am creating a new narrative of who I have become and who I will be tomorrow. Grass is growing again over the old pathway. Like an old scar, I can still see where the wound was inflicted if I squint a bit, but it is losing its hold upon me. I am working on digging in new thoughts to dominate my life, creating my own pathway in how I think about myself.

Photo by Bas Masseus on Pexels.com

The Creative Journal

Writing is part of my daily ritual. I wake up at 6 am. It’s not that early here. In the tropics, the length of day doesn’t change much between the solstices, so there’s plenty of daylight year round at this hour. I set the water to boil, prepare the filter and grounds for coffee and sit out on the deck while I wait. Here I say an opening greeting to the day and enjoy the quiet for a few minutes until the water boils. I make my coffee and I sit down to my writing.

I took up writing first thing in the morning about five years ago. It began while reading a book on developing creativity: “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron. In this text, which is part course, part workbook and part inspiration, she suggests that everyone write their ‘morning papers’. Here one can jot down thoughts, ideas, plans, a description of last night’s dreams, or vent on an issue and get it all out. She suggests to the reader that writing three pages of handwritten script every day is one of the best practices to increase creativity levels.

I admit I haven’t always been faithful to the practice. Some days, there’s a change in how need to plan my morning. Other days I get immediately involved in something and I forget. Once in a while I don’t think I have time (because I turned off the alarm and suddenly it was 7:30!) And until a few months ago, I had dropped the practice completely for almost a year.

I am grateful that I was inspired to return to the daily writing. It does a number of things for me. First and foremost for me, writing sets a good tone for the day. Rather than pop into social media or the news, I pop into myself. I am present with the now. I write about what I am thinking. I write about my challenges. I write about what I love and what I hate. I write about what I would prefer for the future. Sometimes it is philosophical, sometimes spiritual and sometimes it’s a rant from a seven year old kid complaining that things aren’t going the way that he wants them to go. It’s all over the place. And that’s okay. I write what is and try to be non-judgmental about it all.

Second, journal writing helps me to bring things into perspective. Those unassailable problems of life suddenly deflate to their proper size when I write about them. What has been a tornado of thoughts in my head about what is happening around me suddenly calms down into a few sentences that I can review and realize, ‘This is all it really is?’ Suddenly the problem becomes manageable because I know what it actually is: I’ve given the problem definition and thereby a way to find a solution.

Third, morning papers allow me to explore. I’m able to explore new ideas and thoughts about how things work, about what happened yesterday and why I reacted as I did. Exploration may entice me look later for articles or videos on a subject. They give me permission to go deeper into a subject that, honestly, I know I won’t do if I don’t set aside the time.

Gratuitous doggie photo.

The 45 or 50 minutes that it takes usually flies by, but some mornings it is like pulling teeth to think about something and I end up by describing what the dogs are doing or what I need to buy at the grocery store. And that’s okay too. I have learned that I need to be faithful to the practice and that what I am writing doesn’t have to be perfect. I can be patient with myself as well. It very rare for me to even look back over old entries. I just need to get this stuff out and down on paper. And when I start writing the date at the top of the page, I never have any idea how it’s going to end when I finish that day’s entry.

As for the benefits of this morning writing? It allows me to start the day and choose the direction I want it to go in. If I start with some negative stuff, I can end it with some positive stuff. I always end with a statement about something for which I am grateful to have in my life. I have made some good insights into myself and life while writing. Not all earth shattering, but important to me and in the coming day.

Journal writing, creative or otherwise, may not be for everyone, but I still challenge you to take the time to do a bit more research on this subject before you discard it completely. There are many ways of working a journal and morning writing, everything from just jotting down points to full on grammar and punctuation perfect. Whatever works for you. After a short while, I know you will be glad you started.

Priorities not Resolutions

“Spend all of your time on those things you value most — on those things which you believe go beyond the here-and-now. The more time you can spend on things you believe to be of infinite worth, the more powerful your daily life and behavior will be.”  Benjamin Hardy

Making changes in one’s life is difficult. It is hard to push through even a single change; we are creatures of habit. We like the predictability of knowing what is going to happen next in our lives. Changes are fought tooth and nail. We want things to stay the same. That’s why New Year’s resolutions don’t work: the energy required to make the change is far more than we are willing and sometimes able to give.

Resolutions often fail because we have not really ‘resolved’ to do anything. We have made a decision to, for example, lose weight, but have not made specific plans for how that is going to come about. When a strong temptation comes, we easily slip up and try that left over fruit cake or chocolate. And once you slip, it seems to be human nature accept the failure and fall back onto one’s old ways. Where was the decision? Where did the resolve go?

Priorities are different than resolutions. A true priority is something that is extremely important to you and that you will strive to work toward come what may and regardless of single actions. A priority is based on what you value. A priority comes before anything else. By definition then we have few priorities; just a few things that we hold above other things in importance.

“Priorities are the most fundamental and powerful thing in your life–they reflect your values and goals.”  Benjamin Hardy

If I choose to make a healthy body a priority in my life, then I don’t need to make a resolution: I do those things which will create a healthy body. I will ask how I can achieve this healthy body. I will read about it. I will make decisions about food, exercise and activities that will work toward this priority. I will measure the changes until I achieve that healthy body and I will continue to maintain it. Along the way I will have learned and applied much about this priority. I’ll be less likely to skip exercise or eat food that conflicts with my priority.

A number of years ago I made recovery a priority in my life. It still is a priority. Am I perfect at it? No. And I still work on it in all parts of my life. These past few months I have made writing a priority. So I am doing all the things that make writing an integral part of my life. I am learning about techniques, I am part of a writers’ group. I believe that writing is important for me so I write something everyday.

I choose my priorties in life. I don’t give that option to anyone else. I strive to spend a lot of my time writing. Am I always successful? No. But it is a priority so if I fall short I can pick myself up and move forward.

This year, don’t make resolutions. Why not take the time to do some reflection and decide what your priorities in life really are. When you know ‘who’ you want to be and ‘why’ you want to be that way, then the ‘how’ of achieving it will naturally follow.

Happy New Year!

Read Benjamin Hardy’s full article here: 30 Behaviors That Will Make You Unstoppable

giphy