I don’t need your “likes”

This morning I listened to pastor and author Sarah Jakes Roberts speak about “seeing yourself.” I was only half listening while researching on the Internet. At some point I was only vaguely hearing her message. But when I heard, “I don’t need your ‘likes’,” the pastor’s message caught my attention.

For anyone who engages in social media, “likes” are a kind of Holy Grail. Likes travel; they expose you. “Likes” can increase your visibility and your network. Likewise, they can create a fleeting movement. Achieving many “likes” is the soul of social media.  Receiving “likes” can be addictive. It’s one of the ways that lead people to become hooked. “Likes” and social media are much like high-school: we want to be liked and accepted and, well, popular.

Over the past decade, I’ve told friends with an intense love-affair with social media that it reminds me of a popularity contest. And when Pastor Jakes Roberts stated I don’t need your likes, I wasn’t convinced she meant that she doesn’t need your likes. I took her “need” to mean that she doesn’t depend on your “likes.” I would argue that the pastor prefers your “likes,” even if she doesn’t necessarily need them.

Spirituality without the religion, at its core, rests on being here nowBeing here now is intentionality. A mindful–an intentional–journey elevates us to a level in which we don’t need to be validated or appreciated or popular by those we have no personal/intimate relationship with.

We have to ask ourselves if we are using social media for more than a vehicle for our careers or to connect with strangers to share common interests. Social media works because too many of us feel unliked without some form of validation, or connection (pseudo or not). We seek acceptance by outside sources, and it does matter to a great amount of people. Social media offers recognition to the un-validated.

Since the mid-2000s, when social media and other online socializing changed the very breadth of the Internet, we lost sight of authentic connection. Too many of us, before we head for the potty or to do meditation or bow our heads to say a quiet Morning Prayer, reach for our devices. It’s a mechanical life-style that requires us to always keep up. Our day, in essence, is driven by the need to get a “like”; similar to a junky jonsing for a hit from a crack pipe.

We reach for our devices at red lights and stops signs. We walk through malls and along congested sidewalks–looking down. Indulging in social media throughout the day leads to unconscious living and reactionary behavior.

Psychology Today defines addiction as followsa condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior. Social media, for so many, is addictive.

Enough of us will claim to need it to promote our [fill in the blank]. But 86 percent of social media is personal. We, or rather our egos, are fixated.

This always-keeping-up/staying connected lifestyle leaves little room to be mindful. Being mindful isn’t selective. Random. Convenient. It requires us to be as present as our lifestyle dictates. We are no longer in our moment. Living our moments. We are hooked on “likes” and followers and being relevant.

Social media, inarguably, is powerful. And in particular for those needing to market their skills, talent, and product. Howbeit, we are so over that–using  social media as a means to “keep in touch” and promote our talents. Human nature is naturally organic and incessantly needy. But here’s one way to determine if you aren’t obsessed with social media: You will not care about how many people are in your network, and you will not need “likes.”

 

Advertisements

Careless judgement leads to enlightenment

More often than I care to even think about, I find myself doubting a life choice. If it doesn’t turn out as I’d hoped or anticipated, I take the position that I chose wrongly. Recently, I was let go of a  “temp-to-hire” job. I was there one month. Simultaneous to the temp-to-hire, I had an option–a better opportunity: a year of contract employment paying more, and with benefits. The soi-disant temp-to-hire job offered no benefits.

I was “let go” without knowing specifically why. This made my initial percipience in choosing the opportunity one of having judged carelessly. Walking out of that building, I was deeply disappointed with myself, and I felt hoodwinked. The person who hired me was not the only thing I miscalculated; I seriously missed the mark.

Yet the path I’ve been on for at least a decade now doesn’t line up with both overthinking and second-guessing. In fact, it would be contradictory. I have spent much of the past 8-10 years trusting a process. I have remained open to a journey that continues to mysteriously unfold. Wherever it takes me.

For some time now I’ve trusted that not every choice will be sagacious; and however unwise any decision seemed in hindsight it had a higher purpose. Some outcomes will not stroke my ego. Still, whatever lack of knowledge I had at the time, the choice was flawless for my personal, spiritual, and psychological growth.

Because we don’t like a particular end result, and we’ve decided what we chose was not our finest moment, doesn’t mean that the outcome is not for our highest good. So often, when stuff goes kinda sideways, it’s natural to assume that we could have chosen mindfully or not been so quick to decide. Yet, whatever goes down, the universe works miraculously to have our back. And in order to appreciate the lesson, we have to honor the miracle in any situation that is unfair, unkind, unloving.

When I discussed this with someone a few days ago, a comment was made: “Sounds like they never planned to hire you fulltime.” And I agree. Regardless, the job itself was no more than a paycheck. It wasn’t a “career move,” and some of the responsibilities were somewhat arduous because of the convoluted way the company did business. Like so many people with creative pursuits, an 8-5 is solely to pay the bills. In this case, both the employer and I were each being used.

Being used is a win-win provided both parties agree to the terms. This is exactly why I remain steadfast in terms of doing internal work; I have to walk my path honorably. There are times when I come in contact with a stranger, and I am reminded of the me decades ago. Oh, do I cringe–at her cockiness and immaturity. That clueless nature that goes with being young; the lack of experience that is demonstrative just by the way she carries herself. I cannot go back to her.

Before my feet touch the floor, I meditate, and I say a morning prayer. My prayer is not deep or religious, but I do seek guidance in what it will take for me to walk in the world and be the best person I can be in any given moment of my day. I choose not to be distracted and to be small. I want my ill-judged choices to discipline me. I purposely choose to evolve so that I won’t dwell in an impassive space that will surely lead me to being unenlightened.

 

 

 

What’s in it for me

Over drinks with a friend, I shared an experience I had a few weeks ago. I’d been sitting in the park getting some much-needed reading done when a young woman approached the line of tables where I was sitting. When I looked up our eyes met. Her mouth shaped into a wide, friendly grin. “Hi,” she said. I spoke back. Within moments she asked me, “Are you a writer?”

After we talked for several minutes about the type of writing I do, she revealed that she was interested in writing and had made an effort to write a few things but wasn’t sure exactly how to write. Because I was a veteran writer, I felt a certain level of responsibility to talk with her about writing, and about the writing life.

In our conversation I recommended books that were especially helpful to someone interested in writing. I offered other options; for example, an MFA program, or seeking out writing fellowships, which are invaluable to the serious writer. Each of these was a good starting point for a novice.

In the midst of my sharing these details, my friend butted in with, “Why did you spend so much time on this? Seriously—some random girl who probably won’t ever do any of the things you suggested!”

My friend is in finance. The work ethic in that career is so dissimilar from that of artistic expression. While my friend is smart as hell, funny, and successful, she’s a Type A personality. Staring at spreadsheets and analyzing figures is her idea of fun!

A writing life is risky. A few years ago, I read that professional writers earning a living strictly from writing is just short of 6 percent. Six percent! That’s amazingly low. The 94 percent are balancing various forms of employment, and most likely their other work supports their writing. Someone working in high finance cannot relate to the complexities of trying to make a living writing.

All of my writing life I desperately needed a professional writer to tell me how to “make it.” Also, to warn me of the risks of traveling a writer’s journey; especially as a creative writer. I, undoubtedly, could have benefited from a writer who had paved sidewalks and got rejected hundreds of times before one single “would love to see your work” came through.

Deeply, I wished that I had been warned of the tiresome setbacks and complications and unimaginable “Dear Writer” rejection letters over the course of several decades. Not to mention how that would shape me not solely as a writer, but as a woman. A human being with feelings and an ego!

So, I tried to explain the why-I-took-the-time to my friend, who is acquainted with my life story. I put a considerable effort into making her get it: when someone unplanned comes before you, seemingly from out of nowhere and they say they want to write, you stop what you’re doing. You do your best to encourage them and give them some of your time. Treat them with respect. Honor their innocence.

It’s not always convenient. People have places to go and people to see. But there are those moments when we have to decide if we’re going to be like the people who flipped us off when we were trying to make it. We all need someone who has access to knowledge. Knowledge we lack. Too often we are standing right in front of someone we don’t know, and a stranger wherein there will be no tangible reward.

Sometimes it’s less about what someone can do for you and more about what you can do for someone else. The quality of your receiving is only as good as the quality of your giving.  Life, overall, is reciprocal. Those of us who have benefited from experience should stop ourselves and ask whose life can I change today? Imagine if all the very successful people, more often than not, helped a stranger; gave them advice on how to navigate the process or where to begin, or offered sincere guidance.

Imagine!

 

 

 

I am praying for you

In walking distance of where I stay, there’s a small, charming church. Most days I pass it when I walk through the neighborhood instead of driving to the park. My walks in the park are quite pleasurable. When I do walk in the park, it’s a promise that my day will go well. But the neighborhood stroll is sometimes easier and convenient. Besides, it’s delightful to witness the neighborhood’s ebb and flow coming to life.

While it has appeal, the church isn’t stunning, like a cathedral. It has several chalkboards on one side of the entrance, and at the top of the chalkboards it states I AM PRAYING FOR . . . and the pray-er fills in a name. Over the past few years I’ve written my own name in a space. But a time or two have written the name of someone I’m aware is tackling complex life issues.

This morning, I stopped to check out the names. All three chalkboards were filled with names from the popular to the classical to the distinguished. Casually, I began perusing the names and my heartbeat elevated at the name Kent. It was a gentle reminded of a dear friend I’d acquired while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. We worked together in pre-World Wide Web Silicon Valley.

Kent was handsome, a charmer, intelligent, creative, self-effacing, and one of the dearest and best friend’s I’ve ever had. Among other things, he was the one person I could ask to read an 800-page manuscript and he’d read it inside a week and offer genuine criticism, albeit circumspect. We were very close friends. He’d talk of “women” but I knew that Kent was gay.

Eventually he moved to D.C. We stayed in touch through cards, letters, and occasional long-winded long distance phone calls which were costly back then. I went through a breakup that was intense. Kent called me every night with, I’m praying for you, because he, of all of my friends at the time, understood how much that particular relationship made me doubt my judgment on every level.

Out of the blue, Kent called to tell me he was moving “back home.” Although I wasn’t one-dimensional, I lacked the skills I have developed and are second nature to me now. I didn’t have the slightest “deep knowing” I now possess. And I also wasn’t “superficial,” but didn’t pick up on things I would sense miles away today. Kent loved living in D.C.; he was happy and content there; and he had a great job.  I should have known something wasn’t right.

Soon after Kent returned to the Bay Area, an opportunity presented itself and I move back to SoCal. Therefore, I wasn’t around him to see his degeneration. On phone calls, he clearly sounded different, and when I inquired with “What’s going on with you?” he’d poo-poo my mild concern with excuses like, “What do you mean?” and “Just tired.”

It was the late ’80s, and cell phones were so not the norm. Everyone I knew still relied on landlines and answering machines. I’d call my machine to check messages remotely. Kent had left a message and I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I was unable to shake the sound of his voice and his bizarre message. It stayed with me all day. When I called him later that evening, I received no answer.

The following day he called me around midnight. We talked briefly. He always ended his calls with “Good-bye, I love you.” Yet this particular evening Kent ended his call with Pray for me. In those days I didn’t pray. Kent left me in the dark. Pray for what? In hindsight, I am ashamed of not having made even a clumsy attempt to pray for him.

Two days later his cousin called to tell me Kent had passed away. I screamed, “What?!

Kent had died of AIDS.

I stood in front of the church gazing at the name Kent, and although it was twenty plus years later, I bowed my head and said a prayer.

Breaking the ice

Recently, I stopped to grab a coffee at this quaint coffee place in Pasadena. While waiting to be served, I noticed that a particular barista was working the cash register. Something about her . . . Her body language, her smirk-like expression, and the fact that whenever she waits on me she’s seemingly unapproachable.

I’ve observed her exchanges with other customers, which is generally friendly and open. This particular morning it became clear to me that I was personalizing her frosty reception toward me. It’s not a matter of being uncomfortable, but I do loathe experiencing bad energy with someone I have to deal with from time to time.

When I was next to be served, and as I stepped up to order, I automatically anticipated the wonted cold shoulder. I was going to have to grin and bear this barista’s oh, it’s you thing.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I greeted her.

She came back with a not-quite-convincing, “Good.”

“I’m so glad we finally got some rain. L.A.–girl!” I made a concerted effort to be casual and accessible.

The barista said, “I know, right!” and she laughed.

I placed my order.

“What did you do for your holiday?” I asked her.

She said, “I hung out with some friends in Big Bear. It was nice. You?”

“Went home for Christmas. It was wonderful seeing family.”

“So, where’s home?” she inquired.

“Nashville!” I told her.

The customer behind me, waiting in the queue, let out an audible sigh.

I paid for my coffee and added a tip in the jar.

“Thank you!” the barista said, and there was a slight emphasis on you!

“Thank you!” I said, adding, “Have a good one!”

Her voice was alive and customer service-friendly. “You, too!”

Sometimes we catch ourselves, or perhaps we’ve evolved enough to consider how we experience certain situations and manage to ascertain when we are blaming it all on something else or someone else. We become aware of our rolling of the eyes, our judging–it’s just a barista or just some stranger.

It was my exchange with the barista in which I realized something about me might well have been off-putting to her. Our attitudes toward each other was instinctual, even mutual.

Even if I had always attempted to be present, or extended myself with some degree of warmth, it may still not have been reciprocated. But my life experiences and life lessons have taught me that reciprocity is a two-way street. It’s only conspicuous when we are present, and egos and personal childhood issues don’t creep up. And in order for reciprocity to work it requires an “owning.” Yet some of us are unreachable; nothing will crack certain armor.

When someone comes across standoffish, or the receiver senses even the slightest cold shoulder, it’s natural to assume it’s the other person’s issue, they are the problem, not us. Yet, if we stop ourselves and simply lean in a bit more, it’s possible we will realize that we’ve each drawn conclusions with the absence-of-evidence. It’s not simplistic to discern our one-dimensional attitude, or when we’re being small and petty.

Breaking the ice with someone we always seem to feel uncomfortable around, or don’t particularly like for reasons that are narrow-minded and immature, feels good. Just like when friends argue but say I’m sorry. Or in an intimate relationship we get caught up in blaming and overreacting because of unhealed wounds. And yet we have the wherewithal to realize that we’re too sensitive to hear criticism or not being open-minded enough to honor another side of the story.

When extending lighthearted compassion to those we dislike, or evaluate without knowing next to nothing about that person, can help us to discover something about ourselves. For starters, our indifference, our being reserved with those we have preconceived notions about, or even our intense judging nature.

As a result of the friendly-ish exchange with the barista, I was reminded that we’re always a work in progress. And it probably isn’t a bad idea to occasionally do some much-needed personal inventory.

The challenge

Staring 365 days of a new year through the lens of open-mindedness has not worked very well for me over the past few years. By March I am bemoaning obstruction after obstruction, and any other petty thing that makes me feel desperate. Yet, over the last and final day of the previous year, I was reminded that my life is getting shorter. Not to mention in the past few years I’ve encountered deaths of loved-ones, and the frequency startles me.

Thus, it’s time now, to stop whining about not gaining this or acquiring that; or adding to a list that reflects far more “to achieve” than “already accomplished.” The last year has suggested that appreciation should be my absolute go-to each and every single day. Life weighs more, that’s for sure. And we’re all insanely stressed. But this is the year in which I am genuinely committed to walk the talk.

I’m mindfully working on rethinking the past three years. A blunt reminder from a friend made me see plainly how much I focus on pettiness, and it brought me to full awareness as to how blessed I truly am. More often in recent times I’ve permitted what I consider the “unjustified-ness” of my life circumstances to eclipse the stunning nature of my entire journey–its breadth and substance.

I’ve lived in amazing cities and traveled to phenomenal destinations. But over time I’ve concentrated less on the superlative blessings this life has produced. Instead, I’ve given hard, cold stares at what I haven’t achieved or what I’ve wanted but what I’ve wanted has eluded me. I don’t think it has ever occurred to me–what I’ve managed not to lose, or past obstacles I did overcome. And family and friends? They’ve sustained me.

Some years back I let go of the idea of New Year Resolutions. I know no one who actually manages to fulfill their list of commitments based on resolutions. Yet I trust in ideals and I know that I am capable of changing my tune. Moreover, my attitude. The way I see life. Especially the way I view my career as a writer, which has been a kind of nemesis; my single most life-long hurdle. I dare not suggest that I’ve made peace with the direction my writing path has taken. Still, I am optimistic that this is something I can work through.

For starters, I can say I’m gaining ground on being proud of what I have created on the page. Likewise, honoring the blessing, which has been my three-plus decade ambition: to share my gift with the world. Someone recently said to me, and with awe: “One of the biggest publishers in the world put your books out there!

So this year, what will you let go of? Perhaps this is the way we should begin the New Year–looking at what we need to let go of instead of writing down what we wish to acquire. I have chosen to accept that faith truly is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

This means that despite how it looks, letting it go and putting whatever it is into the hands of your god (the Universe), and taking your hands off the outcome, is what Faith is built on. It’s a complex, even emotional, discipline. And even for me it will be a new way of not questioning the process.

I invite you to Trust your journey. Believe in your story. And in doing, perhaps we both will, in a not so distant future, be absolutely astounded!

Chocolate covered cherries

This time of year always reminds me of my childhood. And because my older sister, now deceased, relished the season, I cannot help but reminisce over the silly things we used to do growing up. Especially when we lived in Denver. From looking high and low to find the Christmas gifts my mother did a good job of hiding from us; to snow falling, and icicles dangling from the edges of rooftops.

I miss snow. Sun-drenched Los Angeles has its own sui generis appeal, but if Angelinos could experience an occasional snow day it would be the best city on the planet!

A few weeks ago, I worked with two women on a writing project. Jessica was the one to broach the subject of chestnuts and snowmen that was often the routine of her childhood Christmases in Upstate New York. Our childhood holiday memories led us to laughing-until-we-cried. We were struck by the fact that we’d each grown up in different states but had similar holidays. This  led me to reveal my obsession with the exceptionally sweet chocolate covered cherry.

This ridiculously sugary delight is undoubtedly one of the richest candy treats. During the season, and when I was a child, my mother would give me a box which contained at least 20 pieces. I would devour each one of them in one day! Because my sister didn’t care for the chocolate covered cherry, I never had to share.

This is typically a festive, lighthearted time of year for me. But the times in which we are living places so much strain on my spirit. It can be both heavy and tiresome. The news suggests a decaying society, and much of what is reported is abstruse. Everything we read about, or are continuously exposed to, feels dark and despairing.

Yet I understand that this is only one side of the story. Inarguably, there is splendor in the world. Many people have love in their heart for mankind; they do selfless “good works” to create an even better world. Good is omnipresent. Typically, I detect miracles shielding me from harm every single day. There was a time when I believed without a shadow of doubt that darkness could never, never outmaneuver Light. And I still trust this; yet the intensity of that belief has been unduly tested the past few years.

The world is much larger and more complex than the universe in which I came of age. Something as simple as an intense anticipation of a yearly box of chocolate covered cherries was enough. Occasionally, I have doubted that girl and her idealism; still, her audacity continues to intrigue me. I trust her judgment, and remain committed to her dreams no matter what her Real Life looks like.

Here’s the magic, a subtle synchronicity behind this blog. Several days after I’d shared my childhood Christmas memories, I received a text from one of the women. She was inviting me to her annual holiday open house in Silver Lake. “Drop by, please,” her text said. So I was able to push back a commitment to see a film with a friend, and she agreed to meet me for a later showing.

Arriving at the address, the house balanced on a slope. Making my way up a wooded staircase, I could hear Mariah Carey singing her rendition of “O Holy Night.” Once I rang the doorbell, a face I had never seen in my life answered, offering me a hug. “Happy Holidays!” she sang.

I mingled for a few before eventually spotting the only person I knew there–Lucinda, who’d invited me. I liked the layout of her home. It was  quaint, and with a modest view of the city’s landscape from her sundeck. A photographer by trade–although she’s been working on a novel over the past decade–her photographs, primarily in black and white and copper, hung artistically on every wall of her humble, yet chic-like, abode.

I didn’t want to be late meeting my friend, so after I felt I’d been there long enough to be polite, I approached Lucinda to say good-bye. She and another guest were discussing President Trump. Lucinda attempted to cajole me into joining in on their debate, but I knew once I got started I’d be late meeting my friend. Extending a final good-bye, Lucinda butted in: “Oh, Bonita, I got you something. Wait, don’t leave!”

Upon her return, Lucinda was holding a small seasonal gift bag. She said, “I couldn’t resist.” Tucked inside red and green tissue paper was a box of Godiva dark chocolate covered cherries!