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Posts Tagged ‘LIFE XT’

  1. Compassion: Lighting up the Shadows

    April 7, 2019 by Diane

    Over the past couple of weeks, I finished a short story and entered it in a contest.

    The beginnings of this story came to me one morning as I warmed up on the keyboard. It was worth exploring, so I tucked it away in a file I call Write Aheads.

    When I read the announcement for the short story contest in a local paper, I scrolled through my Write Aheads, came across this beginning, and thought it had potential.

    Hmm. Wonder where this might lead.

    It was the kind of story that revealed itself word by word. As E. L. Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

    It was pure blind trust on my part, following that feeble light.

    Enter Detective Bloch

    The protagonist, I discovered, was a detective with multiple personality disorder. In the third paragraph, he contaminated the evidence at a crime scene. He wasn’t likable. His energy was dark. In short, he was an anti-hero. He even told the reader straight up, “Don’t make me into a hero.”

    The fact that this character sprang forth from my subconscious gave me pause. Was I mentally unhinged? Steven King wrote dark characters. As did Michael Connelly. And Robert Crais. Were those writers unhinged?

    When this detective first appeared on the page, he caught my interest. The actions he took surprised me. Not to mix metaphors, but as I continued to write the story, the way he played cat and mouse—only showing his cards when he was good and ready—made me want to follow, and by the end of the first scene, the curve ball he threw rocked me back on my heels.

    I was all in. I had to know what happened next.

    Playing God

    As writers, we play God with our characters. We give them form, imbue them with habits and thoughts and emotions, bring them to life in the fictional world we’ve created. No matter how flawed they may be, how despicable, they’re our creations.

    This detective, this anti-hero, wasn’t the sort of character I’d want to know in real life. But in my fictional world, he interested me. I was curious to know more. And when he revealed why he did what he did, I felt compassion.

    Which brings me to…the assignment

    I’m sharing this, because the assignment for week 6 of the LIFE XT program was:

    Add Compassion. Use leaving the house as the cue to Notice-Shift-Rewire the habit of Compassion.

    As I left my house, I immediately forgot to notice, shift, or rewire. But by the end of the week, driving home from the grocery store, listening to politics on the radio, I had the opportunity to practice compassion. Nothing hardens my jaw as much as political news. It’s all fake. Except, of course, the news I tune into. And while I’m being honest, I may as well admit: the only side that’s right is mine.

    Did I remind myself, while grinding my teeth into a fine powder, that there are people on the opposite side of the aisle, listening to a different version of the news, who are having those very same thoughts about me? Did I use this moment to practice compassion?

    No.

    But I did practice Presence. I turned the radio off.

    My “ah-ha!” moment

    Circling back to Detective Bloch, I reflected upon how, in spite of his dark nature, I could feel compassion for the character.

    That must be what the Big Kahuna feels for the evil among us.

    Writers and the Creator of the universe are similar in that we form something from nothing, and sometimes that something goes rogue (Don’t eat the apple, Adam!). Yet in spite of how wrong, how vehemently opposed we might be to someone’s actions, we can still be curious about what brought them to that place, intrigued about where they’ll end up, and interested in learning their story.

    Being curious, intrigued, and interested are pathways to understanding.

    And understanding is the bridge to compassion.

    Well.

    I could always be curious about someone who angered me.

    Intrigued? Hell, ya!

    Interested? Why not?

    But could I remember to take that long view, that God-like perspective, when someone was in my face shouting their opinions?

    Maybe.

    At the very least, I could take a giant step back. Make room for something more divine to light up the shadows between us.


  2. Presence: Awareness Times Infinity

    March 17, 2019 by Diane

    Over one-third of the way through the LIFE XT program, I failed.

    I had started the program with high hopes after reviewing the book it’s based on, and agreeing to dive in and record my progress on the suggestion of one of the readers of this blog. I started with meditation in week one, added exercise in week two, questioned stressful thoughts in week three, and embarked on week four with these instructions:

    Add Presence: Use showering as the cue to Notice-Shift-Rewire to Presence.

    To build a new habit, the authors suggest anchoring it to a cue. In a perfect world, you Notice the cue, Shift your awareness to the new habit, and Rewire your brain by allowing the experience to sink in. Do this 21 times, or whatever magic number it takes, and you’ve developed a new habit.

    The only problem: I couldn’t remember the cue.

    Every night as I showered, I sang with gusto. Or worked through plot flaws. Or edited blog posts in my head. The only thing I noticed was that it was bloody cold with the overhead fan on, and the water was too hot.

    I was not present.

    I was failing week four.

    Friday rolled around, and I took my lunch outside to a picnic table on a rare sunny afternoon. My mind journeyed back to a time before funeral parlors, when the body of a loved-one was embalmed in the kitchen, which is why kitchens in the early 1900s had a big drain in the floor. Not an appetizing thought, but I was sitting across from the history house at the museum which triggered the image, and my thinking would have continued in that vein if I hadn’t dropped a chunk of barbecued tempeh on the table, right in the path of an ant.

    The tempeh, from an ant’s perspective, was the dimension of a two-story building. The ant seemed confused at first, then interested, then excited in the way ants get when they’ve found the Mother Lode of sustenance, and after navigating around the base of the object, the little guy climbed up and over and down and around and hurried off to summon the troops.

    I picked up the tempeh to toss in the garbage, thinking how disappointed the troops would be when they arrived to find nothing but the lingering scent of barbecue and fermented tofu. Would they send stressful ant-thoughts to the scout, labeling him stupid-stupid? No. Ants don’t have the capacity to judge. Their brains are ant-sized. They would inspect the area throughly and then march onward, looking for food elsewhere.

    Watching that ant brought me back to the present moment. It’s probably why children spend hours hunkered down over an anthill. You can’t get more present than watching ants. Or being a three-year-old. I finished the rest of my lunch, feeling the warmth of the sun, appreciating the birdsong, admiring the dusty blue cowboy sky. Time expanded. My body relaxed.

    This is what it meant to take my meditation off the mat.

    I wondered: if being present felt so expansive, why did I spend so much time opting out instead of in?

    Three reasons came to mind.

    One: I was preparing for the future with what-ifs. As long as I explored every possibility, like the ant examining the cube of tempeh, I’d survive whatever came next. It was a form of magical thinking, believing I could prevent bad things from happening just by dwelling on them. That was the kind of trouble my human-sized brain got me into.

    Two: I was attempting to reclaim my past self with coulda-beens. I visualized where I’d be now if I’d acted differently then, even though what I knew then was a fraction of what I know now so my choices, good or bad, were based on limited experience and could not have been otherwise.

    Three: I was avoiding whatever might be lacking in my own life by focusing on things outside myself. Like whether The Bachelor would lose his virginity. And did anybody really care? Wasn’t Bachelor Nation tuning in to see if he’d crash and burn, along with the snippy women who fawned over him, so our own lives would look pretty close to perfect?

    I pondered that possibility—and the awful realization that I had referred to myself and Bachelor Nation in the same sentence—while showering. And then I remembered: oh yeah, this is my cue to Notice, Shift and Rewire to Presence.

    Which I did.