Taking Back My Life….Two Wheels at a Time

Yes, I am one of those people who continued riding bicycles beyond high school. Although there were phases when bicycling has not been a part of my life, it was always there in the back of my mind like a burning ember just ready to catch fire if only given a chance.

The last ten years have been difficult ones, as they have been for many people. And, like many others, somewhere along the way I lost bits and pieces of myself as hobbies, interests, and dreams were set aside as though they were meaningless and unimportant.

But, they are very valuable. Waiting patiently between the responsibilities and the mature decisions that are required to make up our days are the laughter and joy that make those days into a life. That laughter and joy comes from the activities we enjoy doing, the treasured dreams we seek to find.

I’d forgotten that. Some of you may have, too. We listen, sometimes, too much to an inner voice that tells us that if our responsibilities are not being fulfilled easily and without effort, if there is any hardship in our life or in the communities around us then having fun becomes irresponsible. We may laugh superficially at someone’s joke or at a movie, but we fail to actually experience any depth of joy from it.

For years, I had contemplated returning to cycling. Few things could relax me more, help me to focus, and help me to reach a new perspective about one situation or another then a long bike ride through the quiet countryside, listening to the breeze teasing the leaves and the birds singing their songs. Cycling is a lot like life, really. Hills, valleys, struggles, and then….ahhh, coasting!

I have never, ever been remotely close to being at a professional level, but it brought me joy, a sense of accomplishment in meeting a mileage goal, and it was a fun way to get some exercise and see some beautiful scenery simultaneously.

It took me about three years this time to talk to myself into going for a ride. Then, it required another few months to actually follow-through on it. I would, after all, have to buy a bike. I read the books. I researched the internet. I compared prices and made lists and decided that my short-term goals on the bike would be exercise and a general sense of enjoyment while my long-term goals would be to finally take a bicycle tour of some part of the world. I’d always wanted to take a bicycle tour of Europe, stopping along the way to see the great castles; the Napa Valley in California with stops to learn about (and taste) various wines; and the Natchez Trace through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, complete with good ole fashioned southern comfort food. None of these tours were ever taken because it required too much time away from work and other responsibilities. But, then, I will get to retire someday. (I hope.)

With my little list of the features I would need from a bike, I walked to a nearby bike shop with every intention of riding a bike back to my humble abode. And, that is exactly what I did. Then, I spent most of the rest of the day staring at it, anxious about my first ride as I went about the other necessary weekend errands. The following morning, awakened early by anticipation, I fastened my helmet and set off for the nearby bike trail.

And, I remembered…

And, I smiled…

And, I wished passersby Good Morning…

And I meant it….

Twenty miles later, I returned home. No thoughts of wasted time. No, too much time has already been wasted on that. Just peacefulness, planning the time for the next ride, and inspired to, once again, put two words together on a page.

I remembered something that I had forgotten during those morning miles: Responsibilities are important, but living is important, too. Enjoyment makes the responsibilities a bit easier to bear. It builds a life out of something more than just obligations. It turns the kaleidoscope just enough to allow us to see things in a different, perhaps healthier, way. Pleasure, which is a reward within itself, reminds us that we are worthy of joy, regardless of any outer circumstances. It’s what makes life worth living.

I remembered. I hope you remember, too.

Continue reading “Taking Back My Life….Two Wheels at a Time”

Where’s Doc Baker when you need him?

Everyone deserves health care coverage.

 
Everyone deserves access to health care.

 
Everyone deserves affordable health care coverage.

 
We’ve heard these and similar statements regarding the health care crisis. Why is there so little discussion about access to affordable quality health care? And, by the way, what defines quality health care?

 
I’m one of the people who actually has affordable health insurance—as long as I don’t use it. My employer pays a portion of the cost of some plans and all of the monthly premium for the high-deductible plans. I chose both wisely and poorly. To continue to live within my budget, I opted for the high-deductible plan, but I had no idea how much one single office visit with a blood draw would cost. It’s a monthly-budget-breaking 10 minute event followed by lab work that comes with its own monthly installment plan.

 
Remember the old movies? The town’s local doctor would stay awake for days, working in his (they were always male doctors in the old movies) laboratory and scouring over every medical text available to find the answer that would end his patient’s suffering. When he wasn’t conducting research experiments, he was sitting at the patient’s bedside, an expression of distress upon his face as he struggled with the questions. Usually, the doctor would find the solution, the patient would be saved, and the movie would end with the two joking around about the experience as they rounded up the cattle. Other times, the patient would die, but then the doctor would learn it was an epidemic, quarantine the town, find the remedy–which usually consisted of herbs and help from the Native Americans–and everyone would live happily ever after.

 
Okay, so perhaps we don’t need behavior that extreme from our medical practitioners to denote quality healthcare.

 
This, however, is the standard medical visit in the modern era: The patient arrives for the appointment, presents insurance to the receptionist, pays for the appointment, and sits in the waiting room until ushered by a nurse to the scale for weight measurement and then into an exam room. The doctor arrives, spends approximately 15 minutes or less with the patient, possibly orders lab work, possibly writes a prescription, and points the patient back toward the front lobby before rushing in to the next exam room where another patient waits. Sometimes, as was my recent experience, the doctor sees the patient without a thorough medical history. And, test results? Well, they’re now sent to the patient online. For those who can afford it, they’ll return to have the doctor interpret the results, results the doctor is looking at for the first time as he/she walks into the exam room where the patient awaits. For others, though, a follow-up visit isn’t in the budget and they’re left trying to interpret medical data on their own while still experiencing the problem that prompted the visit to begin with.

 
Surely, this isn’t quality healthcare.

 
Medical practitioners are rushed to see as many patients as possible on any given day due to the costs of practicing medicine. Additionally, they’re answering to the health insurance companies. Tests aren’t ordered or performed if the health insurance company dictates it as unnecessary. Which, ultimately, means that patients aren’t receiving thorough investigations into their medical issues, information is not being gathered, and the result is that patients are being misdiagnosed and/or given inaccurate instructions based on partial information from minimal testing.

 
There is a new, emerging system called Functional Medicine which, allegedly, focuses on spending more time with each patient and ordering more comprehensive testing to accurately diagnose any particular issue. But many don’t have MDs practicing or overseeing the health coaches who are seeing the patients. Of the Functional Medicine clinics that do have practicing MDs, they don’t accept insurance. Which means, in short, it’s a system that only serves the people who can afford to pay, in totality, for their health care management.

 
Quality health care needs to focus on the patient, examining the big picture—with thorough testing—to determine an accurate diagnosis. We don’t need the old west type doctors, but we need to step away from the current practice that treats medicine like big business instead of health care. We need a health care system that takes into consideration all factors that could influence a person’s health, including diet and stress management. We need a health care system that treats each patient the same, regardless of their health insurance coverage and/or their ability to pay.

 
If I had any answers or potential solutions, I would certainly share them. But, I do not. So, in the meantime, I’ll continue scouring over library books and online resources as I try to determine what my minimal test results mean in their totality and, then, I’ll eventually head to the health food store so that I can try to help myself the best I can.

 
(Heavy sigh.) Where’s Doc Baker when you need him?

God is… (poem)

God is the brilliant hues of twilight
And the warmth of golden rays,
God is the light and the darkness,
Every night and every day,
God is the breeze across the meadow
And the storm across the sea,
God is in the flowers,
Every plant, every tree,
God is in the orbit of the planets,
The Earth, The Milky Way,
God is in every hit of intuition
Sent to help us find our way,
God is in every word that has been spoken,
Every thought that’s come to be,
God is in all the time gone by,
And years still left unseen,
God is in the towering skyscraper
And the smallest drop of rain,
God is in the blueprints,
And the ink that drops the stain,
God is in every soul that has been born,
And every soul still yet to be,
God is in every breath
And each space that’s in-between,
God is in all things.
There is nothing else.

Tick…Time Passes By (A Poem)

Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
In the silence of the darkness the clock shares a quiet reminder.
Tick…
Time does not stop.
My life passes by evermore.
Tick…
Tick…
Monotonous.
It asks, “What have you done with your life today?”
Tick…
“What will you do with it tomorrow?”
I exhale and pray for sleep to come, to lend to me its blissful ignorance.
Tick…
Truth parades across my heart in rhythmic fashion.
Tick…
“What are you living for,” my heart asks my mind.
Tick…
In the darkness, I see memories of the day pass by in moving pictures.
Tick…
Joyless Tasks. Must-do Errands. Hopeless Waiting for something….
Tick…
“Is this really the life you want,” my heart asks, nearly aloud.
Tick…
“NO!” My body silently screams in aches and tears and regret.
Tick…
I roll over.
Images of tomorrow dance before my closed eyes.
Tick…
Joyless Tasks. Must-do Errands. Hopeless Waiting for something…
Tick…
Time passes by.
Tick…
In the echo of the silence I hear a whisper from within,
“What do you want?”
Tick…
I sigh as a tear falls.
Tick…
Time does not stop.
My life passes by evermore.
Tick…
Do I even know the answer?
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tick…
Tock.

A Walk In The Woods

I took a walk through the woods today, the words of Robert Frost drifting through my mind as I looked down at two paths, two forks, from which I could choose. Robert Frost bravely walked the one less traveled. I, on the other hand, remained on the familiar path, the same path I walk weekly.

“It’s safer here,” I thought to myself as I looked down the steep slope that began the alternative path that I have considered before and yet never taken. “I should stay on the path I know.” And, so I did.

And, such is the story of my life, a life of so often choosing the familiar over the unknown, allowing fear to dictate my choices instead of my curiosity.
What is down the other path that I pass by regularly and consider, but decline its invitation to adventure?

The path I typically walk is beautiful and, as the woods always are, ever changing. One walk is never the same as another, and there is always something to contemplate. Beauty surrounds me on every stroll, in the trees and the plants, the flowing water and the flowers growing wildly here and there. Periodically, I pass other walkers or people on horses, each of us kicking up dust on the trail as we pass by each other with a casual Hello or Good Morning. I see in their eyes the same near-meditative state that I feel when I walk as problems are sorted through, decisions made, and the past fades into forgiveness.

The woods are filled with nurturing sounds, unlike the sounds of the city. The birds sing as they fly amongst old fence posts, from tree to tree, or across the large stream. Squirrels play, rustling the trees and shrubs. Even the trees wave their arms gently, creating music of their own in a unique duet with the breeze. Honest and true, without pretense or the need to make an impression, it’s easier to think clearly here, to heal.

Would I heal more if I dared to take the other path, the path I so often stop, study, and ponder where one fork meets the other? On the familiar path, I don’t have to think as much. Steps come from habit. I know where and how to avoid the stones sticking up from the ground and the tree limbs that branch out upon the path. I know how long it will take me to walk from Point A to Point B. I know where the hawks are typically seen and where the three doves sit on the old fence. I won’t know any of that on the other path. I won’t know how far it is to safety should I ever need it.

But, surely, the other path also has its own beauty, its own uniqueness that I may enjoy, possibly even more than the familiar. But, like with the rest of my life, if I don’t begin the journey, I’ll never know.

The Dangerous Side to the New Age Movement

Think positive. Say kind words about yourself to yourself. Treat yourself well. Create an image of the life you want and it will come to you. Live in the moment. You are worthy.

It’s good advice, and it always feels like a weight is being released when we hear someone put a positive message out in to the world. I’ve bought the books, and given them away to practice non-attachment. I’ve been to the classes, online and in person, and practiced the exercises. I’ve kept the journal and tried to meditate. I’ve used the oracle cards and regularly read daily inspirational messages by several popular new age authors. Yes, we are all worthy and, yes, we each have the ability to change our lives. All of the classes and books, the movies and videos, the cards and journals and meditating can and does and will work.

But in all of these positive voices lies one very dangerous insinuation. In all of these positive messages lurks one very negative voice, and it is the out that all new age authors use to explain why their best-selling methods are not working for someone: You did it wrong.

The affirmations you repeated daily didn’t change your life: You did them wrong. The daily meditation didn’t bring you peace: You did it wrong. You’ve done all the work and yet something bad happened in your life: You did the work wrong. The classes and the cards and the gurus haven’t provided you with the guidance you needed to reach your goal: You did it wrong… It wasn’t meant to be… It hasn’t happened because you still have lessons to learn… Or, you signed a contract before you came into this physical world that prohibits that goal from occurring.

When someone who has a great deal of negative self-talk, which is one of the standard reasons why someone reaches out to the new age movement in the first place, is told that they have been incorrectly completing all of the work they’ve put in to changing their life for the better, it creates a downward spiral of even more negative self-talk, compounding an already difficult life instead of lifting them up to a more peaceful, self-encouraging, self-forgiving place. It can worsen depression, especially when not monitored by a professional, and can lead to extreme behaviors.

The new age movement was created, basically, when someone recognized that there was a need for positive messages in the world, messages that told all of us that we are good enough in a culture that tells us we are not. In a matter of fact, the movement popularizes the truth that we are capable, even if we are currently in the most horrid of circumstances, of reaching for and finding something better. The best message of the movement may be that, regardless of the past, we have the option of beginning to build a better life for ourselves right now in this very moment.

The worst part, however, is that for the new age movement to continue being prosperous for its teachers, authors, and filmmakers, it has to maintain an environment within us that we are not good enough, that we need to spend money on their conferences, classes, and catalogs of material. In other words, if the new age movement accomplished what it set out to do, which is to help everyone change for the better, it would put themselves out of business.

So what is the compromise that will keep these positive messages in the public arena, informing and reminding people of the abilities they already have within but without the inclusion of blaming? Perhaps it rests with adding additional reminders, including messages we may not necessarily want to hear: Sometimes change happens very slowly…but you are and will always be as worthy as the next person, worthy of something better. It may not happen today. It may not happen tomorrow. But, it can happen. Keep practicing.

And, as for me, well, I think I’m about to go buy yet another deck of oracle cards to remind me to think positively throughout each day. Who knows? Maybe this deck will work. Either way, I’ll keep trying.

But… the national chain bookstore I went to didn’t have it in-store. It must not have been meant to be. Or, perhaps, I simply wasn’t meant to have it today. So much for my intuition. Maybe tomorrow.

The Rocky Road to Enlightenment

This is not a test. It will not be timed. No one will be evaluated based on how long it takes them or how many times an error occurs. Smudges from pencil erasures are encouraged. There are no right or wrong answers; no right or wrong ways to determine an answer. This will not be graded and there is no final exam. Students who stray from the course content will not be punished and may return at any time without penalty. Everyone goes at their own pace. Relax. It’s okay. Breathe. This is not a test.

Although life often feels like one. Timed. And with word problems that have hints that seem completely disconnected from the question being asked. So we rush and we worry and we cross our fingers and hope we got it right as we turn in our paper and await our fate. Will we pass? Will we be promoted to the next level of learning? And, if so, will we know how to use the lessons we’ve learned so far?

The journey from confusion to enlightenment is not so much a becoming as it is an unraveling, a revealing, a remembering of the Real Self. Bit by bit, as our self-awareness grows, we strip away the false illusions that we have formally identified as our self and find that our true Self was hidden beneath this false identify all along. Never have we been without or away from our Real Self; it is not something we must create or find, for it was never lost. Rather, it has always been our essence, it has always been right here with us, within us; we simply need recognize it as what it is.

This Real Self is our real Home, and this Home knows only love. This love, should we learn to listen to it, will lead us back to our natural way of being. For as much as we long to return Home, Home wants us to return; as much as we want the joy, the peacefulness that comes from living our human life from this place of love, Home wants this for us even more.

Home is within, and Home is love. Home is timeless. It is where we exist before we are born in physical form, where we go after our physical death, and the place we can visit during this physical life. It is the peace, the feeling that we often associate with God, with love, and with Oneness. It is our true nature. It is the energy that holds all of the “correct” answers because it knows and chooses only answers reflecting love.

Home is always here and will wait for each of us to arrive in our own time. Home will help us find the way by calling to us and tugging at our shirt tail from time to time, asking us to listen to the silence within and to know. Yes, we already know all of the answers; we need only allow ourselves to remember. Relax. Breathe. This is not a test.

The most important thing I’ve learned about this remembering is that it’s an ongoing process. Most of us on this mortal plane never reach the point where we have completely eradicated and eliminated the root causes of all thoughts that are not love. And, that’s okay. Part of us is human, prone to error, and our goal should not be perfection but, rather, a continual learning, a continual awakening and awareness of our thoughts, our actions, and the birthplaces of each. It is with this knowledge and our willingness to explore our innermost selves that we shall grow; it is this knowledge that is the light that illuminates the darkness and exposes our confusion for what it really is: Illusion.

Most of us spend our lives living in this illusion, unaware of what it is. We believe we are separate from each other, separate from God; we believe one person cannot make a difference; we believe life is meant to be difficult; we believe that we are powerless to change our lives, our communities, and our world.

Enlightenment is a word often associated with the shattering of this illusion. In Buddhism, enlightenment means that a person has risen above the state of suffering. The Era of Enlightenment was about learning to use and appreciate the knowledge provided by science and fields other than traditional religion. Common dictionary definitions of enlightenment merely describe it as gaining information or knowledge. Yet, most of us do not think of enlightenment as a word with a meaning, but as a visual, a stream of golden white light coming down into our being from the Heavens containing all of the wisdom of the world and the answers to all our of questions, earthly, esoteric, and spiritual that, once received into our form, never leaves us and provides us with a life of ease from that point forward.

Enlightenment may be better described for most of us not as a solitary event but as a series of events that provide us with the information, the insight, to make choices from love more frequently and in more difficult situations. Choosing actions and thoughts that are loved-based will, in itself, make life easier, more joyful. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? To live a life here on Earth that is peaceful, joyful, and easier than what we’ve known in the past?

So, as we explore and take inventory of the deepest—perhaps, darkest–parts of ourselves, let us not make more difficult the process by being critical of our progress or lack thereof. Let us not judge or criticize the roots of non-love based thoughts and actions that we find within from the past or the present. Let us, instead, praise our willingness to learn, our ability to change, and our desire to delve within the sea of knowledge, surround ourselves with the timeless knowledge of truth, and use this information to change our lives, one decision at a time … with errors and mistakes now and again … and with forgiveness for ourselves and others. Mistakes are acceptable, even encouraged. After all, a part of us is human, too.

This is not a test, but there are lessons to be learned. The challenge is to return Home to our essence, and to choose the answer that comes from love as often as possible during this physical life, including love for and toward our self.

Technology is Creating A New Type of Homelessness

There is a new face of homelessness, one that is much more difficult to recognize than the stereotypical old man in ragged clothes pushing a beat-up shopping cart down a metro street. This new face is one of professionalism, often in business attire but not quite as polished as he or she used to be.

If you look carefully, you can recognize them, the people in this new category of homelessness. Their cars, some old, some new, are loaded down with what’s left of everything they own. They will frequent rest stops and parking lots to remove or rearrange what they may need for that day. Yet, unlike the vacationers, there is a more distant, weary, worried look to their eyes. Some may risk the danger of sleeping at rest stops; some may use what’s left of their savings to stay in motels; but, though they try to hide it, all show the fatigue, from time to time, of always being on the move, of always trying to hide the difficulty of their journey.

This is a group of people that due to layoffs, bad decisions, or just plain old bad luck, find themselves unable to find employment. The stories are the same all over. For hours-on-end each day, applications and resumes are submitted online. For those who have the funds, unsolicited resumes are also mailed out regularly. Yet, there is no response. No request to interview. Only silence. An ominous silence.

Needing income, as most people do, after a short time of beginning the online process, the footwork begins, and they “knock on doors,” attempting to complete paper applications about town. “We don’t accept paper applications anymore; it’s all done online,” they hear repeatedly, even from the temporary employment agencies. “You’re overqualified; I can’t pay you what you used to make; you won’t stay,” they hear often from potential part- and full-time jobs that require only a high school diploma or less. “We don’t need anybody right now,” they hear from small, local businesses trying to compete with the national chain stores. So, they return to the internet, running around in circles trying to find someone who will think them worthy of at least an interview.

For all its wonders, the internet has a downside, particularly when it comes to applying for employment. It is impersonal, it increases the number of applicants from all over the world, leaving hiring managers overwhelmed with potential candidates, and often the most attention-grabbing-headline on a resume gets the interview. Or, for those who require a photograph with the resume submission, only the beautiful need apply. Hiring managers and computers often look for keywords or algorithms, but if your resume doesn’t contain those keywords, you won’t be contacted for an interview, regardless of experience or qualifications. There won’t be a chance to present yourself, to speak to a potential employer, to make a first impression, to explain your work history, your skills, and your strengths.

Although a few local businesses still hire the old fashioned way, for the most part, everyone is doing business online. Qualified applicants can certainly be hired in this way but there is a growing number of people, good, dedicated employees, who are falling through the cracks.

And, they wonder, this new category of homeless, as they drive down the metro street in the hopes of seeing a Help Wanted sign and pass the old man with the shopping cart: How long before that is me? While, on the news, the reporter talks about the number of new jobs being added to the economy…

So, what do job seekers do?

There is no magic pill or quick fix from this situation. Primarily, this new group has to keep on keeping on, applying online and on paper to any position available.

Apply directly to the company site when possible. First, not all jobs posted on job boards are actually available. The company website, however, should have an up to date listing of available jobs and job requirements. This also lets the company know that you’ve navigated their site and not blindly hit the “apply” button on a job board and uploaded your resume and cover letter. While on the site, take the time to explore the information the company has posted about their company. Even fast food restaurants will write about the qualities they promote (i.e., excellent customer service, integrity) and the qualities they search for in employees (i.e., commitment to excellence, open availability, etc.) and you can use these key words in your cover letter.

Write a unique cover letter for each position applied for. In the cover letter, mention specifically the skills you already possess that could be an asset to the position. Use in your narrative the key words that the company mentions on their site (i.e, they want an employee who is committed to value) and how you would fulfill this task.

Learn and promote how the skills you already have can be of benefit in positions in which you may have no experience. For instance, prior social work positions equal customer service skills and, often, how to manage the schedules of multiple people. Prior managerial experience translates into the ability to work as part of a team. A former nurse would have skills of following protocol and paying attention to detail. A former typist could list meeting deadlines as an asset they would bring to a new position.

Work any knowledge of hobbies into potential skills. For instance, an avid cyclist may have the knowledge to assist customers in choosing the proper bike to purchase or may be able to perform bicycle maintenance. Someone who loves to paint or take photographs may be able to knowledgeably sell artistic supplies or take and sell souvenir photos. A book lover may be able to properly display and make suggestions to book buyers.

Have a willingness to start over again with much lower (possibly not even rent-paying) income, a willingness to return to school for education in a new field, and a willingness to work in a position outside your comfort zone. Then, add some patience, faith, and daily reminders that All Are Worthy, and that includes you and me.

None of this is new information because job seekers already know these things and put them to use daily. Job seekers, when not applying to jobs, surf the internet continuously, searching for information, guidance, on how to land a job, any job, or at least an interview.

One of the biggest complaints about technology is that it is separating us from each other. People obsess with their smart phones instead of interacting during dinner. People text instead of dialing a number and actually speaking to someone. Help desk phone lines have largely been replaced with texts, emails, and live chats with some anonymous person and many sites don’t even have a phone number to call with questions. But, technology is also making it more difficult to be hired, even though it appears the opposite is true. Yet, it is the world we live in, and if companies only accept applications online then that is how it must be done. But, what will the long-term consequences be?

And, for all of the job seekers, remember that you are not alone. And, whatever you do, just don’t give up.

How Do We End Up Where We Are?

How do we end up where we are?

Life is a highway filled with twists and turns and forks in the road, and which one we choose can change everything…

What makes us choose to go left instead of right, to accept something passively as fate or to fight, to stand our ground, or to run? Is it fear? Is it hope? Is it a dream that this one decision might finally help us find the road to happiness? Are we acting on instinct, some deeply rooted seed planted lifetimes ago when an event that we can no longer recall thrilled us or traumatized us? Are we simply trying to please those we see around us now as judges? Does life come down to dumb luck and good intentions?

Or, is it true what some say: Everything that happens does so for a reason, even if we don’t recognize it as such. What if every event, every action, every choice was a link of a chain, happening purposefully so as to link up with the next, and the next, and the next? What if every mistake, every seemingly wrong turn was meant to be?

But, predestination leaves no room for free will, for human error, for humanity. Unless, perhaps, the real lesson, the real goal, is not creating the link we want to create but respecting the beauty of the chain in its entirety.