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Emerson’s Self-Reliance and Coffee

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Socrates said “Know thyself,” and after reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Self-Reliance, we could paraphrase Emerson’s main point as “Trust thyself.”

What if we trusted ourselves- our inner most thoughts, our actions, our perceptions, our wills? What if we were to strive for a more meaningful independent life and not settle for the sullen mediocrity encouraged by society’s institutions? Self-Reliance was first published in 1841, but Emerson’s words still ring with an awakening truth 177 years later. In this post, I hope to bring across some of the key points Emerson made which spoke to me personally.

Emerson states that we should look more to our thoughts and not be so dependent on the words of the past:

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.”1

This work we must do ourselves:

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that lot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”2

We must believe in ourselves:

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine Providence has found for you; the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.”3

Emerson warns us that society will push back against those who seek to go their own way:

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members. Society is a joint stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity.”4

Emerson states that we must shun conformity in order to find our truth:

“Self-reliance is its [conformity’s] aversion. It [conformity] loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind.”5

As we venture out on this new self-reliant life, people will question us, and may even misunderstand our intentions. Emerson states that if we are misunderstood, then we are in good company:

“Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”6

Emerson makes many more wonderful points, but for the sake of time and space, I would encourage you to seek them out on your own. The last points I will make concerning Self-Reliance is that I find some of Emerson’s points parallel that of the Stoic philosphers, especially when he discusses the spark of divinity each of us possess, the importance of living in the present moment, and that our happiness is solely up to us, principles I have learned and have tried to implement along the recentstops of my life’s journey. God bless.

1Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Introduction and notes by Peter Norberg. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. 2004: 113-114.

2Ibid, 114.

3Ibid, 114.

4Ibid, 116.

5Ibid, 116, brackets mine.

6 Ibid, 120.

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Leaning In

quote-chalk-think-words.jpgWhen I first became a Christian, one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding ; In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV). However, as I have aged and faced various trials, I find that the road is still crooked in places, along with being bumpy, forked, and hilly. Man’s religion has taught us not to question anything concerning God, His wisdom, or His Word “You’re overthinking it,” religion says.

Why such opposition to thinking on our own? We seek God individually, yet we try to find a community of other like-minded individuals to try and make sense of it all. One of the dangers of this “groupthink” is that logic, reason, and common sense can be shunned in favor of a misplaced faith or even superstition. If you were taking a trip and you knew the path was wrong or knew you were lost, wouldn’t you stop and try to figure out a new route? Recalculating the journey would not only be for our safety, but our sanity as well. During my life I have found myself at both of these extremes- the “faith-minded,” and the “logical seeker.”

I’ll admit in the last four to five years I have drifted in my faith, going from one church to another, to no church affiliation, seeking answers in familiar places, only to be left with even more bewildered thoughts. I have been a Christian since my early twenties (as of now, I’m in my forties), I have a seminary degree, and have done missions work. I say that not to boast, I just want to give you perspective on my struggle with faith. I believe part of my struggle was not doing my due diligence of what was taught. “The Bible says it and that settles it,” would be a typical retort when faced with opposition either from my mind or someone else.

How many of us, if we were to be honest with ourselves have struggled in faith? How many of us have come down from the Sunday morning emotional high only to be slapped in the face with the Monday morning reality? Why are we so scared to seek our own wisdom? Do we fear that we will be ostracized from our comfortable group? Are we scared of the accusation of “not having enough faith?” How many of us have sat by being passively-minded waiting for the miraculous to happen and watched things get worse? I’m not saying that miracles don’t happen, but we shouldn’t always expect the supernatural, sometimes we need access the resources and means at our disposal.

I’ll admit there is still at lot I don’t understand, even as I put more weight on my critical thinking and learning. For instance, as Christians we seek to “be in God’s will,” or speak of “God’s plan,” yet we seldom have a clear understanding of these terms. How can God straighten out a crooked road if we don’t know which road to take? If feels an awful lot like guess work. In these situations, I can relate to the quote from the baseball player Yogi Berra, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I know the theological arguments and cliches for this next point, but why does God’s plan and will involve so much suffering, even for those who can’t defend themselves? Babies born addicted to drugs, born with birth defects, children who battle cancer, face poverty, children are verbally, physically, and sexually abused by parents and others, face starvation, and other horrendous struggles, which turns them into broken adults.  It breaks my heart to see such things and at the same time hear that “God has a great plan for your life.” I’ve reached a point where it is difficult to reconcile such things.

Please keep in mind that I am not attacking God, the church, or anyone else, I just have a lot of questions on my mind that need definitive answers in this life and not the next one.

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My Vessel, My Life

By Michael W. Raley

I lie adrift in the Ocean of Perpetual Darkness.

Overcast clouds cover the moon.

The North Star has long since burned out.

This compass no longer gives me direction.

The waves bounce me back and forth,

As I try to hold it all down.

All I see is water,

No rescue ships,

No land,

No horizon.

This cannot and will not be my life’s voyage!

I then decide to stage a mutiny

Against the oppression, the passivity, and circumstance.

I am now the Captain.

This is my vessel,

This is my life.

I will set the course.

I will follow my map.

Load the cannons

Because I’m bringing the fight!

My Word is Resilient- What’s Yours?

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If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Would you pick this word based on events you’ve been through or would it be an ideal with which you identify?

Are you a survivor? A warrior? Thankful? Stoic? Outgoing? The choice is yours. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because deep down you know who you are, where you’ve been, and where your going.

My word is resilient because that is who and what I am.

According to the dictionary, resilience is defined by the ability to rebound, bounce back, or recover quickly from adversity or a setback. I chose resilience not to be boastful or because I overestimate my abilities, but it is based on the culmination of my experiences and being able to come back stronger than before.

Resilience, like faith, training, persistence, education, or anything else in takes a lifetime of practice and learning. Life and circumstances do not play fair, as we may face multiple obstacles at once. Many times in my life I have felt like Job in The Bible, hit with bad news on top of bad news. Although Job was never given reasons for his trials, he persisted and stayed true to his character to the end. The experiences are never pleasant, but one must soldier on and fight each day.

Being resilient is not a matter of genetics, like having brown hair or green eyes, but is a character trait that can be learned and developed over time. How does one develop resilience?

Recognize each day as its own opportunity

Over the last two years or so, I have studied Stoic philosophy, which has helped supplement my faith. Like Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, the Stoics emphasize the importance of living for today, for the present moment is all we have. Every day you are given is a day to get it right. You didn’t handle things so well yesterday, start over. Apply your new knowledge to the issue at hand. Make today an opportunity for growth and stretching beyond your capabilities.

Give yourself some time

It is very easy to get ourselves in dire circumstances- financial problems, sickness, relationship issues, to name a few. Just as you didn’t get into these situations overnight, you will not get out of them overnight. Set realistic, gradual goals, and count the victorious battles along the way. To give an example from my own life: At the end of 2015, I was laid off from my job. I knew it was going to take some time to find a new job. However, when I was laid off, I gave myself two years to get back on my feet into something better. I was unemployed for three months, but took a lower paying job to get back to work, which led to me taking a different job. In between his time, I considered starting a new career and going back to school. At the age forty, I decided to start a new career, while working 50 hour weeks. The road was arduous, but I achieved my goal one month a head of schedule. One year and eleven months later, I was on the road to something better, albeit for less money, but I found my peace of mind.

Be Adaptable

Sometimes in life, our strategies to solve problems are not “one size fits all,” as we may have to fine tune our game plan when the situation changes. Just as in sports, the coach/manager sometimes has to adapt to the other teams’s strategy, an injury, or throw out a play that’s not working. If it’s a mindset, a coping mechanism, a habit, a false belief, or something else holding you back from being resilient and achieving your goal, throw it out. Start where you are at with what you have and make the necessary adjustments to help you succeed. When I went back to school, I had to change my study habits which helped me through high school and college, because they were not helping me. I had to adapt- while fighting false beliefs about my abilities, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. As I began to adapt, I did perform better and I showed resilience through it all.

As always, the comment section is open for anyone who wants to share their word.  Thank you and God bless.

 

 

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The Office and Celiac Disease — Geeky and Gluten-Free

No matter the place of employment, there’s always a chance there will be food in the break or conference rooms. In the United States, this free food often involves, pizza, donuts, bagels, birthday cake, other baked goods, catered food such as fried chicken or sandwiches- all of which are off limits for someone with […]

via The Office and Celiac Disease — Geeky and Gluten-Free

More of the Same

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By Michael W. Raley

Unless someone has walked your same path,

They can never fully understand

What you’re going through

And the struggles you face.

The fatigue you fought just to get out of bed.

The pep talk you gave your anxious self just to leave the house.

The chronic sickness that fights you every step of the way.

The inflammation that reminds you of the pain.

The thoughts that you suppress and fight

As you try to live life as a fully-functional person.

You try to enjoy the present moment,

Only to be haunted by the past

Or receive a harbinger from the future.

You have faith, you hope, and pray,

But the silence lingers day after day.

You know you need to make a change,

Yet remain in the quicksand of malaise.

You seek to make today a better day,

However, the forecast looks like more of the same.

The Roller Coaster of Anxiety

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It was the summer of 2006 and my wife’s employer at the time charted a bus for employees and their families to go to Holiday World, an amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana (that is the name of the town). My wife, being the carefree daredevil she is, wanted to start off with the biggest roller coaster in the park (oh boy). As I looked at that wooden roller coaster, I felt a twinge of anxiety.

At this point of my life, I had not been on a roller coaster since I was twelve, as I developed a fear of them. We waited through the long line and sat down in one of the ride’s cars. The foam padded steel lap bars came down to secure us while the ride is in motion.

Click.

My thoughts and my heart began to race.

“I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here,” I kept repeating out loud.

I tried pushing up that foam padded steel lap bar, which would have been a job better suited for Superman or The Incredible Hulk. My wife reassured me that it was going to be fine.

Click.

The roller coaster started to move. Too late now. Time to man up.

Clickity clack up to the top of the track.

As our part of the coaster reached the summit of the first hill,the pressure built up in my head and I screamed to release it. The ride couldn’t have been three or four minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

Finally, it was over. I was back on Terra Firma. I was shaken, but I had conquered my fear. That day I went on to ride all of the roller coasters at Holiday world. A few years ago, I rode bigger roller coasters at King’s Island.

The story I just told was a sample of an anxiety-filled life. For anyone who has ever dealt with anxiety, it doesn’t have to be a large, fast, wooden roller coaster to trigger a response, it can be something as mundane as leaving the house for work, a test, or any other seemingly harmless situation.

I’m not a mental health expert, but I know how crippling anxiety can be. I know the frustration when it seems you have tried everything you know to get rid of anxiety, but it’s still there, taunting you like a bully.  Of course, some feelings of anxiety are good for survival, as we perceive threats to the safety of ourselves and loved ones. However, when anxiety clouds your judgment, freezes you, and becomes the norm of your life, it’s time to do something.

My life has been a battle with anxiety, as it my arch nemesis, like a Joker to by Batman or Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker. Very few people know of my struggle, but I am determined to take my life back. I am sharing my story on this blog (possibly with the world), to let you know it’s okay. You don’t have to be ashamed. You must be honest with yourself and admit that there’s a problem. Reach out and seek help any way you can.  Today is the start of a new journey for me. I’m taking back my life. God bless.

 

 

 

Our Age to be Enlightened

By Michael W. Raley

The time has come for the reasoned and rational voices to prevail,

And put aside the empty rhetoric, which only leads to more travail.

All these tired talking points only take us back to the problem’s start,

As more and more dig deeper trenches around their obstinate minds and hearts.

How about we actually work together to solve problems

Instead of resorting to demonizing and fear mongering?

We should have long ago made great strides and progress.

Yet, we continue to retreat and regress.

There are those who  refuse to see the dawn of a new day,

Because they cling to the comfort of the old ways.

We must not allow ourselves to be frightened,

For this is an opportunity, our age to be enlightened.

 

 

 

I Move On

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By Michael W. Raley

There’s a fire going through my bones

To go along with the sharp daggers stabbing me.

No matter how much I try to rest,

I am still puffy- eyed and fatigued.

The aches, the pains, and the occasional twitch

Is not for the faint of heart.

I move on, determined to live life.

Some days I’m simply maintaining

And other days I’m striving beyond my limits,

Knowing either way there will be a price to pay.

If something is going to cost me,

Then I am going to squeeze out every ounce of value,

For I only get one chance.

I am too stubborn to give up

And I refuse to hide in the comfortable shadows.

 

A Little Wisdom from Dogs

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“The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”

– Charles de Gaulle

I love dogs, as my wife and I refer to our dogs, Maggie, Henry, and P.J. (who passed away in 2013), as our “fur babies.” I’ve often looked at my dogs and wondered how awesome it would be if they could talk and converse with us. What would they say? “Hey, we’ve been through this-I don’t like the brown triangles in my food.” “You gonna let me out or can I just go on  the rug?” Or maybe they would vent their frustration by saying,  “That little yapping dog next door gets on my nerves.”

If I may engage in a bit of whimsy, dogs already teach us a lot without saying a word. As evolved from their wolf ancestors, dogs, even as domesticated as they are, consider themselves as part of a pack. Besides the protection that comes from being a pack or family offers a place of acceptance and unconditional love. For me, the unconditional love is what is best about having a dog.

-Dogs don’t care what you do for a living or how much money you make.

-Dogs don’t care who you voted for or get upset when there’s political disagreement.

-Dogs don’t discriminate because of your skin color, age, background, religion, orientation or anything else we use to divide each other.

-Dogs teach us not to take things so seriously- just throw the ball, tug on the rope, go take a walk.

-Dogs are grateful for life’s little pleasures-some good food, clean water, a warm bed, and good company.

-Dogs teach us to stay alert to our surroundings.

-Dogs teach us the importance of frequent naps.

-Dogs use their limited years to get the most out of this life.

Maybe, just maybe it was the dog who domesticated us and not the other way around.