In which I am accused of being Zen about everything 

We are born inside the gates with the power to create life
And to take it away
The world is our temple
The world is our church

Heaven’s here on earth

If we have faith in humankind
And respect for what is earthly
And an unfaltering belief
In peace and love and understanding
–Tracy Chapman/Heaven’s Here On Earth

This has been an interesting year. How does that saying go? May you live in interesting times? It’s true. I do. 

I have laughed more in the last year than I have in a long time. 

I have cried more in the last year than I have in a long time. 

I have questioned everything I thought I knew about myself. 

I’ve learned how to mostly embrace who I am. 

I’ve become close to people who were only acquaintances, and seen people drift away who were once close to me.

Yeah. I am still fat. 

Those are all good things. Even the crying. 

Things change and stay the same and all of it just is the way it is. 
Earlier this month, I was at the beach with several people I love. They were all meeting each other for the first time, but all know me very well. At one point, I walked out to the back deck and interrupted three of them talking about me. They stopped their conversation long enough to tell me that they weren’t done discussing me and I should come back later. 

They meant it. So I did. 

When I came back, they were still at it. I had no idea that there was so much to say about me. I’m not the most fascinating of creatures. 

What they were talking about is what they referred to as my stubborn refusal to admit that I am spirutual. 

No one, I was told, can be as full of wonder as I am and not be spiritual. 

Can so, I replied, (because I am a total wordsmith like that.)

Can not, they insisted. You have to admit that there must be some sort of creative force behind it all. It couldn’t just all be accidental. 

Must I? Couldn’t it? 

Yes. No. Besides, you’re always looking for things to be grateful for. That’s a spiritual trait. 

No, I just recognize how good I have it. 

And so it went. We did not agree. They laughed at my lack of belief in spirituality and I laughed at their insistence that I must be wrong. I don’t care if there is or is not a spirit. They insisted that I am Zen and just don’t want to admit it. 

Maybe it’s semantics, but what I believe in is things of this Earth. People. Mountains. Trees. Squeaky cats. Purple sunsets. Rain. I can be thankful they exist without feeling a need to thank a Creator for them. They exist. That is enough for me. I don’t feel a need to put a label on it. 

If someone thinks I am spiritual because I see beauty in life, then that’s fine. If they want to label it Zen, or being a purple people eater then whatever. I think I am just an atheist with an eye for beauty, an appreciation for the people I love and a desire to seek out silver linings wherever I can. I like good beer, books and Elvis Costello. 

My name is Michelle. I am who I am. No more, no less. 

Disclaimers

I have a really hard time dealing with people who are hot and cold, people who love me one day and are indifferent the next.  It triggers reactions that are intense, especially if I pretend I  am really OK with it for a while and it happens over and over.  Which I try not to do, but hey. Human.

Of course I also have equally intense positive reactions, which results in things like pulling off the road because I have to stop and watch the sunset right NOW and text everyone to go outside and look. I say “wow” a lot. I stop what I am doing and try to see beauty in things. 


So it is, like many things, both a blessing and a curse. 

One of my disclaimers would be:

 

Warning: expect extreme emotional responses.

 

I am living a far more open life than I ever have before. I say what I think and feel, and prefer that in others as well.  There is still an inherent introversion, and my first reaction is still to go quiet when I am experiencing some sort of intense emotion. How do you tell the difference between being quiet and happy and being quiet and angry? Well, you might see me smiling or scowling…but the easiest thing is just to ask me. I will talk about anything now. Even things that are hard to talk about. Sometimes I just don’t quite know how I feel, sometimes it can take me a while to sort things out in my head. I will tell you that, too.

Sometimes all I am thinking is “should I have popcorn for dinner?” Other times I am thinking if I should bring something up or let it go. These days, I seem to be opting more and more for bringing things up before they start to get to me, but first…silence.

This would definitely be one of my warning notices:

 

Beware of extended silences.



As I keep trying to make myself a better person, there is one thing I continue to struggle with. It is difficult for me to deal with stupidity. Not innocent ignorance, but willful ignorance.  Ignorance can be overcome with a willingness to learn. The sort of stupidity that gets to me is the sort that doesn’t even want to learn. My behavior on this has improved only slightly from the first grade when I told my teacher that I didn’t want to help a boy named Wayne with his work because he was stupid and mean. She made me do it anyway. He still tried to beat me up at recess. He was stupid and mean. Where I was wrong is not in my assessment of Wayne, but in my lack of empathy for why he was the way he was. It is still a character flaw I work on, but not as hard as I should. 

My biggest disclaimer would be:
Warning: does not play well with stupid people.
If people came with warning labels, what would yours say?



What’s your job?

Yo, what a freak

I’m a tree

(No you’re not)

I’m a tree

(Stop lying)

–Imani Coppola/I’m A Tree

Driving home from work, stuck in traffic, I noticed three trees at the side of the freeway. All the same type. One was sort of squat–stubby and scarred. One was tall and robust–the only one that really seemed to be flourishing. The other was thin and scraggly. 

It made me wonder, the way things always do, if  trees notice differences between themselves. 

Does the spruce envy the weeping willow its pliable branches and soft leaves?

Does the willow envy the noble fir for being so tidy and green all year?

Does the fir envy the cherry for its flowers and fruit?

Does the cherry have a superior attitude because it doesn’t have scratchy needles like a pine tree?

Not likely. Given the lack of brains, trees probably aren’t big on labels. Classifying isn’t something they get called on to do in life like animals do. They reach for the sun as best as they can with their branches, and send their roots down for as much nourishment as they can find. 

Trees know their job and they do it. No worry. Probably no pleasure, either. 

Humans love to compare and label. We classify. We sort. 

We wish we were taller. Shorter. Thinner. Darker. Straighter. Slimmer. Better. Worse. We’re happy when we’re doing better than other humans. We’re sad or anxious when we feel like we’re not doing as well. 
We don’t spend a lot of time just being. 

It’s the thing that makes us build things, but also the thing that leads to excess. Avarice and war. Caring and compassion. Because we are so successful at adapting, the only thing that keeps us in check is…us. 

Mostly, we run rampant. At some level, I think most of us know that. We feel a need to rationalize it by claiming a higher purpose, or a better spot in the evolutionary chain. 
Ultimately, the Earth will win. 

The trees won’t care either way.