I’m reading my email & letting my brain wander idly in a train-of-consciousness writing… and it occurs to me that the question one of my correspondents asks is a good one:
Why do I want to be good?
That is, actually, easy to answer for me: I want to be good because being good makes me feel good. Plus I get the added bennie of helping to make the world a little bit better every time I’m good — and that makes me feel good too. Pleasure feedback loop for the win. ;)
I know there’ve been studies that show this, curiously enough: given the option of doing something nice for ourselves or doing something nice for others, those who chose to do something nice for others had a slower endorphin rush — but it lasted much longer. Up to three months later, when the researchers asked the study participants what they chose to do, those who did something nice just for themselves had difficulty remembering what it was, and were somewhat indifferent to it in retrospect. Those who did something good for others, however, remembered it quickly and easily, and had a repeat of the endorphin glow they’d initially felt! That sounds like a win to me, as well as good proof that we really are a social species — we’re even chemically hardwired to feel better when we help each other!
I’m sitting on the Bridge (what we call our computer room) and admiring the sky outside as I type. There’s a big old pine right outside the second-story window, its branches wet and black from the rain, and its needles a mix of bright green and the tan-brown of fallen dead needles. The sky behind it is cloudy slate gray from the rainclouds, but every once in a while the sun peeks through and gilds the old pine, brightening its colors and warming the view. It’s a lovely mix of visual/emotional reaction, because while the grays are duller visually, they mean rain — which we desperately need here in drought-stricken California… and I love the sound of falling rain pattering lightly on the skylights as I sit warm and safe and dry in our new (as of about a year now, wow!) house. But the sun’s return is a joy as well — we’re past the Solstice by a few days now, and each day there’s about three and a half more minutes of sunlight as this great, wonderful, ancient Gaia continues on her whirling dance through space. I am so very lucky to live here and now.
I try to remember that in life: they grays may seem dull, but they’re the preface to renewed beauty and life. Scholastically, I’ve officially advanced to Candidacy now — I have the school’s permission to do my dissertation — and I suspect there will be several “grays” in my dissertation process, as well as both disappointments and delights in the interviewing. I’m working to keep the cyclical nature of life in mind as I start on this round of my journey. I have to remember both to keep a thoughtful, constant eye on myself as well as to give caring and compassion to those who don’t want to be self-reflective.
I’ll freely admit that confuses me, actually. How can you not be intrigued by your very Self? What mystery is greater? Yet I know several people who’ve told me, either indirectly or flat-out, that they don’t want to “know” themselves. The reasons range from an impatient, “I’m too busy for that stuff!” (which sounds like a somewhat fearful excuse to me — I’ve made that one myself, after all) through to what I suspect is a far more honest, “I’m afraid of what I’ll find.” What perplexes me — and what my friend couldn’t answer — is that if there’s something they don’t like within themselves… how can they change it until they know that? I’ve made quite a few changes in my life due to small and/or unpleasant self-realizations, after all. I find being alone with myself far more comfortable as a result, in fact. Admittedly, complacency is one of the stumbling blocks I have to keep watch for, but I do try. It’s one of the (more non-conscious) reasons I chose to drive across the country, in fact, a few years ago: I wanted to know if I actually liked myself enough to spend an extended period of time alone with me. I was actually rather pleased to discover it was a pleasure to do so.
Another thing I need to remember is kindness, both to others and to myself. I’ve seen the results of projecting self-disgust or self-hate onto others. It’s not pretty — or healthy. So I try to recall that imperfections I see in others — unwitting/embarrassing errors in dress, say, or uncontrollable bodily reactions — are just part of being human… and I’m human too. It’s easier to deliberately forgive that in myself, I’ve found — rather than simply ignoring it or blaming it on the dog or someone else or whatever — when I’m willing to forgive it in others as well. That also means that just because I take fascinated joy in the never-ending voyage of self-discovery doesn’t mean all my friends will as well — and it also means pushing them to do so when they’re not ready is not the answer! If anything, it retards their slow-growing willingness to even entertain the idea. They’ll get there in their own good time… not in mine.
I may believe that the world is best healed by those who’ve taken the time to first work on healing themselves… but I’m not the arbiter of righteousness that decides who gets to play and who doesn’t. If we all waited until we were all healed to work on healing the world, it’s a good bet there’d be little world left for healing, after all. So I try to do my bit, both for the world and for myself, and to help those I can, and to be kind to both myself and those around me. That’s part of why I came up with the thought I’m going to try to implement in this New Year:
My body is a temple worthy of respect.
To me, that says I am holy and worthy of respect… and therefore I should treat myself accordingly. I will be (continuing to) exercising more in the new year, both mentally and physically, and attempting to share the fruits of that labor with others as well. If I can bring more joy into my life, why not share it with others? Joy shared is, to my way of thinking, magnified — and I really like bringing joy to others as well as sharing in theirs.
The pine tree outside is grayish again. No worries… the sky behind it is slowly starting to turn blue as the clouds begin to break up. There will be more rain, and the sun will be out again… and there will be more gilding and growth and beauty.
A very wonderful, prosperous, and fortunate new year to you all… with much shared joy and compassion.