The Wall

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By Michael W. Raley

I stare at the wall and wonder,

“What does it all mean?”

Have I spent my time on the right causes

Or have I just blindly followed the crowd?

I moved forward to only get knocked back down;

I wonder how many more times I can get back up.

What I’ve known no longer works

And my journey begins anew.

I’m older, wiser, and more discerning;

Armed with equal amounts of skepticism and reason.

At this point, there is no turning back,

There will be no retreat, no surrender.

I will get around this wall,

Whether it be over, under, around, or through,

I’m coming, on my way to a breakthrough.

 

 

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Don’t Feed the Trolls

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*https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/heres-happens-confront-internet-troll-face-face/*

First impressions are critical in life and in business.

A good or bad first impression can decide whether or not that date will turn into a relationship, you get the job, join a particular church, or vote for a certain political candidate.

All of us are guilty from time to time of making snap judgments about people and situations. We judge someone’s character just by looking at them. We tune out a song or speech after the first verses or sentences. We don’t like something new because it’s not as good as the original. We overuse such phrases as “It’s the best/worst ever.” After making the determination about someone or something’s value, we look for confirmation bias:

“I got stuck in traffic this morning. I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

After the news is announced that a particular actor was cast in a movie yet to go into production and be released, “That’s going to be terrible. Worst casting choice ever!”

“This country is going to hell in a hand basket. I miss the good ol’ days.”

What if I told you that you can manage your impressions and starve your inner troll at the same time? You can. Everyone of us has the ability to control our responses to any situation. As individuals, we have the right to think for ourselves, thus we can move away from doctrine, party, and the same talking points which are never convert your opponent anyway.

I am a firm believer that life is fraught with difficulties and we should anticipate problems, but we should not live in fear of them. What if we were to take a few moments to step aside and assess the situation? You received a bad diagnosis from the doctor? You can always seek a second opinion. You can examine your life and make changes concerning your health. In the case of a terminal issue, you can even make the most of the time you have left.

In Epictetus’ The Art of Living, the Stoic philosopher discusses how our view of situations, including death, can be more damaging than the situation itself:

“Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. Therefore even death is no big deal in and of itself. It is our notion of death, our idea that it is terrible, that terrifies us. There are so many different ways to think about death. Scrutinize your notions about death- and everything else. Are they really true? Are they doing you any good? Don’t dread death or pain; dread the fear of death or pain. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” (italics mine).*

When the alarm goes off to signal a new day, don’t sigh or allow yourself to be filled with dread, because you’ve been given a second chance. Take the time to talk to the person you dismissed and maybe you’ll find some common ground or become friends. In order to manage our impressions, we must be fluid and adaptable to whatever comes our way. Don’t expect to have the same beliefs at forty that you did at twenty. As we experience more of life, the more knowledge and wisdom we attain in order to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We must also realize that life is not all bad and it’s not all good, as there will be difficulty. Change your perception of the situation and you will chance your response to said situation. And please, stop feeding the trolls. God bless.

*Epictetus, The Art of Living, interpreted by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 10.

The Worlds Beyond Ours

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It is estimated that there are 100 billion, possibly 200 billion galaxies in our universe.1

Let that literal astronomical number sink in for a moment. I could not imagine have 100 billion dollars, let alone 200 billion. After taking care of my family and friends, giving towards numerous charitable causes, buying everything I could want and paying taxes, I would still have more than enough money to spare. Yet, beyond our world, our galaxy, are boundless worlds that we cannot begin to imagine.

In this 14.5 billion year-old, ever expanding universe, how can we rule out the possibility of other life out there? I’m not speculating about galactic empires, Klingons, little green or gray beings, or any of the standard science fiction tropes, but just think about it for a moment. I am inclined to think that there is life beyond what we know, even beyond where our current science takes us. What effect would such thinking have on our theology?

Up until the pioneering work of Copernicus, later confirmed by Galileo, Church doctrine taught what is known as the geocentric theory of the universe, which states that the universe revolves around the earth. Copernicus’ heliocentric theory- which states the earth and galaxy revolve around the sun, which modern science has confirmed. We know with certainty that the literal universe does not revolve around us, but what if we are not even the apex of God’s creation? What if it is the epitome of humanity’s arrogance to assume our place while the vastness of this infinite universe?

What if beyond us is a world where its inhabitants have not spilled innocent blood in the names of war, religion, or greed? What if these beings did not destroy their environment through pollution, harming the air, water, and food supply? What if these beings listened to the voices of the philosophers and poet? What if they put into action the words of their own Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and aspired to live out those ideals without feelings of superiority or hypocrisy?

I find the universe to be a humbling place. If we were to consider our place in the grand scheme of things, could we once and for all put aside our tribalism and live in peace? Can we recognize for a moment that according to the Big Bang, our planet was created by giant collisions with other celestial bodies and we are still susceptible to threats from asteroids and meteors that could end life as we know it?

I would encourage to take a trip to a planetarium or an observatory and view a show. I would also encourage you to listen to Carl Sagan’s poem, “The Pale Blue Dot,” which puts a beautiful perspective on our place in the universe. Stop waiting for the apocalypse or heaven to come to earth, this is all we have and all we know for sure. Look up at night and view the stars, the constellations, admire the beauty and majesty of our universe and dream of the possibilities.

The Irrational Prison

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By Michael W. Raley

 

I feel it coming on,

That sinking feeling of dread.

I do what I can to procrastinate,

Trying to make the feeling go away.

It’s not working.

My breathing becomes faster and more intense.

I don’t want to leave my safe space.

I become fully aware in the moment

And begin to reason with myself.

It isn’t logical for me to feel this way

And I know that.

There’s nothing out there that’s going to get me,

But my heart races more and more.

Nothing has happened to make me fear leaving,

This just happens and I can’t explain it.

Just go and do what you have to do,

I say to push myself out the door.

I finally muster up the courage to leave

And accomplish an attempt at a productive life.

This is no way to live,

But it is the way I live,

Behind the bars of an irrational prison.

 

The Stream of Tranquility

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By Michael W. Raley

There is a stream of tranquility

Trickling down from the jagged stones of remembrance,

In the space once occupied by the raging rapids.

My senses are sharpened,

The colors are more vivid

And the sounds more boisterous

Than I can ever recall.

I realize that this moment is all I have.

So, better take it all in,

Because it won’t come back around.

I am coming to terms with who I am,

Which brings a slight grin to my face.

I’ve fought my way over, through, and back

More than I care to remember,

But I’m still here.

As the warm spring breeze blows across my face,

I savor this euphoric feeling of freedom.

Time Well Spent

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I have a music streaming app on my smartphone which keeps track of the time I spent the previous month listening to music. When I receive this notification, it gives me pause as I think about the amount of time I spent listening to the music I enjoy. What if our lives had an app that could keep track of all of our habits? What if this app could keep track of everything we do in life? This app could keep track of such things as:

-The amount of time we spend complaining about the current presidential administration.

-The amount of time we spend arguing with friends and strangers on social media.

-The amount of time we spend putting off important tasks.

-The amount of time we spend in anxiety, fear, or depression concerning the past, present, or future.

Believe me, I have my days when I’m not the most productive person. I know the struggles you face- you work a full-time job, there’s family obligations, bills to pay, the car broke down, you’re trying to get in shape, and you have to go to sleep at some point. You’re just as fatigued when you wake up as you were when you went to bed. Rest and lesiure are important, as I too spend some down time trying to relax and drown out the noise of the world.

Henry David Thoreau spent two years living in a cabin on Walden Pond in an effort to live a better, simpler life:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…”1

Walden was first published in 1854, I wonder what would Thoreau say about life in 2018? Thoreau also discussed the need to simplify our lives:

“Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.”2

When it comes to how we spend our time, Thoreau echoes the sentiment of Stoic philosopher Lucius Seneca, who lived 1800 years before. Seneca challenged the general notion that “Life is short.”

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. Life is long enough and our alloted portion generous enough for our most ambitious projects if we invest it all carefully. But when it is squandered through luxury and indifference, and spent for no good end, we realize it has gone, under the pressure of the ultimate necessity, before we were aware it was going. So it is: the life we receive is not short,but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”3

One of the tenants of Stoicism I admire is the thought of living each day like it was your last. This doesn’t mean living in debauchery and unbridled hedonism, but giving careful thought to everything you do. We do not understand that we are given a certain amount of time to live, yet we plan as if we will live forever, a point Seneca makes so eloquently:

“It is because you live as if you would live forever; the thought of human frailty never enters your head, you never notice how much of your time is already spent. You squander it as though your store were full to overflowing, when in fact the very day of which you make a present to someone or something may be your last.”4

The life of Jesus Christ overlaps that of Seneca, and Jesus in Luke 12:16-21 told the Parable of the Rich Fool. In this parable, there was a rich man who was satisfied with the fruits of his labors and decided to tear down his barns and build bigger barns for his crops. The rich man then decided to rest on his ambition and “eat,drink, and be merry.” However, the rich man was unaware that he was going to die that night, not getting the chance of basking in his accomplishments.

James also warns us about presumptive conduct: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15, NKJV).

Thus, we must be mindful of how we spend this life, for it is the only one we get. Give consideration to all that you do and say, simplify, and focus your energy to what will build up yourself and others. You do not have time to dwell on toxic thoughts, relationships, and people. Don’t spent the next twenty,thirty, or forty years on trying to build for a future life, live the life you have now. God bless you.

1Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience, Introduction and notes by Jonathan Levin. New York: Barnes & Noble (2003): 74.

2 Ibid, 75.

3 Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca. New York: W.W.Norton & Company (1958): 48.

4Ibid, 50-51.

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.