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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Embracing It-Moving Forward from the Past

Embracing It

In his book Excuses Begone, Dr. Wayne Dyer addresses the concept that past excuses to avoid reaching your potential as a human being number into the zillions (my term). However, these can be generalized as having one of two origins. In essence, he boils it down to Nature versus Nurture.

This document isn’t meant to be a summary of this book that focuses on overcoming the very human habit of creating excuses that limit us. Rather, this is just a collection of some notes on the subject that stood out as I listened to the Audible presentation.

As an amputee, for example, I could use my inability to both hold a book and smoothly turn pages as an excuse to not read, or to rarely do so. But Audible and Kindle Books provide a wonderful solution to an otherwise daunting problem.

The same could be said for the act of writing itself; a pen and paper have proven too unwieldy for me to use as I once did, while still a member of the two-armed fraternity of people.

But I have the great good fortune to live in a world where voice recognition is both widely available and highly accurate. Even if I still had both arms, I’m inclined to believe I’d use VR anyway; it’s easier for me to organize and navigate all the separate documents I’ve got going at once.

That’s no mean feat for someone who is dealing with an extensive history of traumatic brain injury (TBI). But enough about me-let’s get back into my notes on this book.

First, one overarching excuse people make for not fully realizing their productive self identifies their limitations as being genetic. No kidding.

Sometimes, people believe they have a gene that wires them to think a certain way. To them, this must be true. Why else would their parents, and their parents parents, etc. have always thought that way? They believe their self-limiting thinking is inherited and, given all the evidence that supports this, the idea seems solid enough.

The other rationale Dyer believes people have for their thinking holding them back and keeping them from reaching their full potential is because they say they’ve always thought that way. Therefore, it can never change.

To Dr. Wayne, the solution for this is an easy one. He simply says that such thinking “is just a thought, and a thought can be changed.” Sounds overly simple, but I know this to be true firsthand, as I’ll explain below.

I don’t know about your limiting thought patterns but I can confidently say that my self-limiting thinking is not born of the first excuse – it’s not hereditary.

Rather, it’s rooted in the second excuse, though in a most interesting way.

The mindset my parents had, which became mine as well, was rooted in fear, guilt and shame. It’s a mindset they have to this day. And it’s also what I consider the biggest obstacle to our having a positive dialogue to this day. Or any dialogue, for that matter as I don’t find their thinking to be so much self-limiting as downright crippling.

While I knew the mindset I grew up with was incongruent with my own beliefs, I had to adopt them to for lack of any other suitable thought processes to guide me.

Upon college graduation and my subsequent release into the world as an adult, I find myself lacking an identity. More on this below, also.

Dr. Wayne begins Chapter 3 with a brief description of the thought processes he had regarding smoking in his younger years. It was a habit he wanted to give up and he listed an extensive – and quite impressive, at that – list of reasons for doing so.

His reasons for wanting to quit were considerable, but so was the list of ways he was tied to the habit, which overwhelmed him at first.

Yellow teeth, stinky fingers, messy ash cleanup, the cost of lighter fluid or lighters, the chronic cough it gave him and the knowledge that he was exhaling toxic air after each puff were all good reasons to quit.

But how to avoid this habit in the face of all of these learned behaviors was the question.

After contemplating this perplexing scenario for a while, the answer dawned on him: just quit smoking!

It took me back to my own smoking habit during college. My habit began suddenly at some point, during my sophomore year I believe, and lasted until the beginning of my junior year.

It always coincided with attending classes on weekdays, and drinking and smoking with friends on weekend nights. Somehow it seemed appropriate to smoke as we vented our collective spleens about the state of things in our world.

Perhaps we fancied ourselves modern day poets, documenting our experiences in a slurry of iambic pentameter. I cannot recall, and something tells me it’s better that way. It’s a past time that’s best left in the past.

Still, I do remember often expressing my thoughts then with a sarcastic tone that struggled to also have a backhanded, funny element. In those days, the glass was always half-empty, not half-full.

Being angry at our perceived lot in life, such as we saw it then may have come naturally, but it wasn’t conducive to following the healthy path that could lead us to our authentic destiny.

Though I wouldn’t have guessed it then, some of my old buddies from those days would never emerge from the safety of that cocoon to spread the beautiful wings that lay just beneath that tough-guy façade.

It was, I think, what they’d consider the highlight of their lives. The sarcastic world they spoke of did, in fact become their reality. Their thoughts never changed, so neither did they.

Our state of affairs at that time seemed funny to us, but in an apprehensive way, like so much nervous laughter. We thought we had all the answers even though we knew we didn’t, but we had our whole lives ahead of us and figured we might as well take a deep breath before we had to embrace the future.

Anyway, at the end of that school year, I transferred to another campus to complete my studies. Just as quickly as it began, my smoking habit ceased. It simply didn’t serve me anymore and, because my world and the people in it changed, I changed to fit in.

As a social chameleon, uncomfortable with the idea of making waves and being the center of attention, I adopted whatever status quo seemed appropriate at the time.

This in mind, my thinking leads me to believe that I am well-suited to identifying and overcoming my own past negative and self defeating habits.

It seems that embracing my past instead of coming from that old familiar place of guilt and shame about it will allow me to begin living life knowing that, just as I quit smoking, I can also confidently quit my old behavioral habits.

Here’s a thought I had while listening to that same chapter:

While considering what Dr. Dyer thinks of as memes, or the thoughts we learned by mimicking those around us, I realize that growing up I did not share those memes that existed in my family.

I was not the overbearing son of a gun that my father still is today, not was I the fear driven creature that my mother still is today.

However, because the memes I surrounded myself with in college weren’t compatible with my thinking either, I clung to the only ones I knew: those from childhood.

As an adult, I found myself in a world where I had no authentic traits to call my own, and I did not know where to begin finding them. That stage of my life where I tried on new social clothing, so to speak, I realized, must continue.

A mentor was what I needed, but was too unaware to be aware of it. By then, I’d already had a few good ones, though I failed to recognize their potential importance to my life.

A high school teacher, for example, was just a guy I thought I got along with well. In the absence of a positive father, I merely fed off good vibes from fatherly figures wherever I found them.

But I know better now.

The social chameleon in me tried on many outfits: a drinker and smoker, a frat brother and social recluse, then later a triathlete, a hockey player and extreme skier, a mountain biker and competitive road bicyclist, racing other men in my age group, not to mention a father, husband, and more.

In my thirties, I think it was, I realized that all of those above activities, without exception, were all based on individual merit. Except for hockey and road bicycle racing, none were team sports

In short, the well-oiled social chameleon in me hid the fact that I had a powerfully introverted side I’d always been in touch with but failed to recognize for a long time.

I wasn’t a team player, but that was (and still is) okay. My true self had gravitated toward my real nature right under my nose and continued developing without my even realizing it!

Still, I didn’t have an identity to speak of, and I looked upon my developing authentic self as a novelty. I didn’t recognize it for the true revelation it is. So the struggle continued.

Though my efforts were worthwhile, ultimately I found they never would serve me. I was convinced of it, even if I had to nearly kill myself in the process.

That nearly happened, too. I had a bicycle accident with a car one evening while on a tough road bicycle training ride, alone, of course. But even that wasn’t enough to open my eyes to the real me that I know is in there.

I’d been without an identity for so long I was simply scared to settle down and adopt one. I had to create an identity from scratch. Still do.

I made more mistakes than I’d enjoyed successes and, as a 51-year-old man, I still really have no authentic identity. That’s what I’m still struggling with now.

I am a writer, and a good one at that. But I feel I remain in a world surrounded by people with behaviors I am convinced will never serve me. With the exception of times like now, when I can freely articulate my feelings on this subject, I feel lost. It’s why I’m so fulfilled by writing for this blog.

End of this day’s book notes 📝

Some additional thoughts, inspired by listening to this book today:

After college, when I was married, and then a father for four years, I was still in search of an authentic identity.

Even though I was a college graduate, a father, a husband, a son in law, with those and so many other socially defined titles, I remained tied to my childhood identity, i.e. somebody’s son.

In effect, this was a concession of all my responsibilities and decision-making to people whose mindset was not congruent with my own.

But such was my desire to have an identity that I willingly handed back the keys to my life to toxic people from whom kindness was rare.

Eventually, I divorced and, though it seems counterintuitive, I returned to the home I grew up in to temporarily live once again.

This last fact, my inability to break my bond with my abusive parents and toxic family setting despite having every means to do so is probably a function of the abusive environment it had been for me.

But this doesn’t mean I didn’t have some extraordinary thoughts in so doing.

For example, having been a paperboy in my neighborhood for years, I had a mental image of the homes as they were then.

Prior to that, I delivered newspapers in the neighborhood adjacent to my own, to which I rode my bicycle six days a week in all weather to do my work.

That made two separate neighborhoods with which I have a mental image, plus all the places in between my home and the other neighborhood I delivered papers in.

The reason these particular years are important to me is straightforward: I spent a great deal of my time as a kid confined it home, grounded by my parents for having scored poorly at school.

I understand now that the abuse that went on in my childhood home was something my parents were afraid it would get out the word of it would get out, and they finally have to answer to it.

Therefore, my poor academic performance was something they could count on because, to me, school was the sanctuary, I’ve safe place where I could spend time during the day without fear of retribution by my parents.

Maybe I was just an overly sensitive kid, but I was unable to separate the intense emotions I associated with my abusive home and my school responsibilities.

I believe I thought that, even if there was held to pay – and they’re always was Dash I’d avoid any additional pressure from external sources , Even in school.

But that’s where the paper routes came in. Even though I was grounded in the daytime. Delivering the morning paper was the only time I was allowed out of the house.

During the school year, I was back in time to eat breakfast and go to school. I never had to see my father, whose work schedule I knew well. I could time my comings and goings to coincide with his absences so I could avoid seeing him.

 The same was true during summer vacation from school. But, since I didn’t have to make it home to get ready for school, I would linger as I did my paper route.

Often, I would stop at a favorite quiet place the top the hill where I could imagine the world stretching out before me.

In reality, it was really just a convenience store parking lot and major street intersection in my hometown. I was there early every morning, watching the people below me begin their day.

My day had already started and, in a rare way, I felt ahead of the world. I had just done something productive for others who wouldn’t conceive of me as the loser I often felt like at home.
No bad grades, no screaming or crying or terror or anything bad mattered then. It was one of those wonderful times when I knew – I could just feel – that my life as it was then would not last forever.

My imagination then was every bit as active as it is now. Those quiet, early-morning moments were something I treasured greatly and still do. They live on in the early morning dog walks I have with the love of my life, Sophie, a nine-year-old Belgian shepherd.

I had a best friend up the street, one who was always there on those occasions when I was free to leave the house to go have fun. He had a morning paper route as well, so our schedules always coincided.
We often walked to the nearby mall, where a video arcade was located. We spent much of our change from tips we earned delivering papers there, but also got to know our way around all of the stores.

So from our neighborhood to the mall, we knew every street in shortcut like the back of our hands. And there were plenty of them.

That was a stage of my life that seemed as if it could go on forever. But I don’t mean that in a bad way. The violence at home was something I had excepted as normal by then and was blissfully ignorant of anything different.

One thing that never changed about that, however, was that no matter how good things may have been on occasion, everything was outweighed by those nightmarish times when my father was angry and my mother wouldn’t stop him.

At any rate, once I return home as an adult after all the real-world adult responsibilities have overwhelmed me and let me to do so, I was in for a major surprise.

In the eight or so years I’ve been gone from the home I grew up in, many things had changed. My detailed knowledge of the whole place meant that I was hyper aware of every little change that had occurred there in my absence.

Because I was so emotionally tied to the place – a fact I’m only now beginning to recognize - each change, no matter how small was a loss that needed to be grieved.

My memory is very state dependent so, as soon as I returned to the area, I remembered exactly how things looked exactly as they were years earlier.

Houses were painted differently, some sporting new additions or paved driveways instead of gravel, or shrubs and trees were none had existed before.

The grocery store down the street that I had worked at stocking shelves at night as an undergraduate, was closed and in its place stood a franchised pet supply store.

I couldn’t believe what had happened to the home I once had. Now, of course, I realize that the neighborhood had been changing gradually all along, but because I was there to see it and to live it, I hadn’t noticed.

The biggest change, the one that inspired me to write this segment was of a path that led into the woods between my neighborhood and the mall where my friend and I visited many times. It was located, appropriately enough, where Iroquois Street dead-ended.

Many of us have a mental image of the location that inspired Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Dark and tunnel-like, and wide enough to wait to ride a horse through.

Depending upon how you looked at it, the trailhead could look like a nightmarish abyss or welcoming arms, open wide and waiting for a hug. It was always for me, it was always the latter and night or day, I was never afraid to go in there.

Many times we’d traveled through there, anticipating a new high score on a video game or indulging in some carefree browsing at some of our favorite stores: The record shop, the hobby shop where we gawked at model trains and rockets, slot cars, and other plastic and balsa wood models.

Eventually, girls became our favorite thing to gawk at, though we had limited success in getting their attention. We were in that awkward stage, our voices changing and right in the middle of that growth spurt that would likely indicate our adult stature.

My friend remained blessed with his baby face while I struggled with the most visible and insidious scourge any libidinous teenager might have-acne.

Something I didn’t realize then what is that many of my female contemporaries did not have the luxury of living as close to the mall as we did. Therefore, going there was a pretty big deal.

That said, the choice between looking at make up, hair stylists and clothes and shoes was an easy one for them; we never stood a chance!        

Something we could do that no teenage girl we were aware of good match was our consumption of mall food. Anything from ice cream to burgers and fries to baked pretzels to popcorn, frozen cokes, chewing gum (we always had some on hand), and so much more I ate with impunity.

It was one of the few pros about having acne – I never had to worry about getting pimples from eating junk food! I never put on weight either, given my morning bicycle rides throughout my paper route.

But that path through the woods was there for it all, the figurative river that ran through it. No matter what, it held a nonjudgmental, unconditional even Divine energy to it.

The darkness of that trail at night was nothing compared to the uncertainty I might find waiting when I walked through the front door when I got home.

This shortcut through the woods was like that, even spooky sometimes. But because I saw it all year round, in fall when the leaves changed then fell, in winter under snow and then in the spring when it came back to life again I didn’t fear it.

In fact, that sleepy hollow was a welcoming place for me, a sanctuary. Interestingly, it was a big trail that could only have been made over time by many people walking through there. But I don’t recall seeing anybody else except my friend.

Though I never gave it much thought then, there must have been quite a lot of foot traffic along that trail before we became regulars on it.

But the trail always stood alone and, since my friend and I knew everyone in the neighborhood, we were unaware of anyone else who may have traveled that wooded trail, ever. If anybody would know such things, it’d be us.

Since the trail was such a fixture in my life at the time when I was pondering my high school years and beyond, I took it’s presence for granted. Especially given my view of it as a sanctuary, even though I didn’t think of it as such then.

It was among the most significant places in my life, and someplace I’d love to experience one more time. It was the feeling I had when I return to the neighborhood as an adult.

So imagine my surprise when, not even ten years later, I returned to that very spot, expecting to see that natural wonder that have meant so much to me.

Instead, The trail that I had meant so much to me have been reclaimed by nature. There was no trace of it whatsoever; where the asphalt ended, the woods began, end of story.

As it turns out, the natural wonder I’d thought of as “my shortcut” became defunct upon the opening of a light rail station that led to the mall from downtown Pittsburgh.

A set of twin boys who lived on that street that we merely considered nuisances back in our heyday had graduated high school by the time I returned and were off doing their own thing.

For the first time there I felt a strange sense of apprehension, a mild feeling of danger, perhaps. It was as if someone was looking over my shoulder, watching me, and there was.

It was my angels coming to visit me, to comfort me and to let me know that, even though an old path had naturally closed, new ones were destined to open. My job, then, was to open my eyes and open my mind and find them.

In the end, I went back to my old neighborhood seeking a sense of stability from the old days, dysfunctional though they were.

Stability was there, all right, I just didn’t recognize it then. All the changes I found proved quite a distracting shock to me. Now, however, I can appreciate it for it’s true significance.

That trail through the woods is definitely one place whose loss I have grieved. And, though I’ll never visit that place again, I will be following my joy on a new trail to another, happier place.

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