Broken Record Syndrome

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It is a bit surreal that I am writing about records on a blog — and hopefully most of you know what a record is or if not can imagine what one might be — because the last time I played a record I had no vision for sharing stories on the Internet. Writing was a more contemplative, intimate process as it was assumed that much of what I wrote would not make it any further than the pages of one of my notebooks.

Now I feel a sense of responsibility to share what I write, at least those thoughts that are somewhat comprehensible and complete, if it might help someone else in some small way. To deprive the world of my writing, and the insights contained therein, when it can be so easily shared would be cruel and unfair. My audience of one has grown to a nebulous group of unknown proportions.

This has changed the tenor of my writing. It has forced me to step outside of myself and look more broadly at my feelings, circumstances, and experiences as I describe and seek to understand them. I have evolved, progressed, and transformed in response to a rapidly changing world. And I, as well as others, I hope, have benefitted.

But in many other areas of my life, I have not so easily and gracefully progressed. I have become stuck like a broken record, caught up in a fractured groove that plays over and over again. These grooves represent both thoughts and behaviors (or lack thereof). And the symphony of simultaneously repeating tracks is poorly orchestrated, resulting in an agitating undertone of dreary reputation with no end in sight. Despite my best efforts, I — like millions of others — suffer from broken record syndrome from time to time.

Broken record syndrome occurs when we have recurring thoughts or exhibit repeated behaviors without intention or purpose. Over time, these automatic repetitions become background noise; we become accustomed to their presence and accept them as normal. They become our ingrained biases and our habits. They greatly impact our lives; yet, we are largely unaware that they even exist. And when they do float in and out of our field of awareness, we forget that we have the power to transform them into something more useful and more importantly, more beautiful.

So the first step, then, is to be open to noticing the little snippets of thought and behavior which we experience so frequently, and with such subtlety, that they typically escape our attention. And once we have discovered them, and realized the nuisance and monotony of their perpetuation, we can begin to understand the purpose they have served in our lives. They have protected us, and made us feel safe, in an uncertain world. They have given us something upon which we can rely when everything else seems to slip through our fingers. But it is not enough use these incessant beasts as a crutch, and we deserve better.

We can, instead, offer ourselves freedom from reliance on things that are actually hurting us, by leaning instead on something stronger. Something more meaningful. Something transformative. Something of our choosing and our design. We can replace the cracks which cause us to trip over ourselves again and again with ideas and actions that more deeply resonate with our heart of hearts. We form new habits and develop new ways of seeing the world. And these continually evolve, in response to our changing world and our own self-growth. And through this process we discover more happiness, fulfillment, and peace.

Heartfulness

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The concept of mindfulness has become popularized in recent years as a result of the work of many teachers, writers, and practitioners. And I am very grateful! Being more aware of who we are and what we do, living in the moment, and being intentional about our thoughts and actions are all integral to leading a meaningful and purposeful life.

But it isn’t enough. Without a full and open heart to center and connect our mind to something greater than ourselves, whether it be communal or spiritual or both, the practice of mindfulness can become esoteric, and sometimes egocentric.

I don’t think many mindfulness practitioners would disagree with me. At least I hope not. Indeed, the way mindfulness is typically taught and practiced, at least in my experience, promotes the fluid integration of mind, body, and spirit.

But something about the term mindfulness seems deficient to me. It begs for a companion to demonstrate that the mind alone does not fully represent our human experience.

Heartfulness is a complementary concept that builds on the idea of mindfulness. It focuses not on the thinking and feeling of mindfulness, but on being and doing instead. It is a process through which we can create resilient hearts, leading to more peace and love in the world. Heartful means to be full of curiosity, acceptance, understanding, responsiveness, forgiveness, and hope. It is to be our most beautiful selves despite the challenges and turmoil we face. When we practice heartfulness, we don’t need to think about being intentional because we consistently connect with and express the pure love in our hearts. It is to be who we are meant to be, a continual expression of our deepest desires and dreams.

Creative Happiness

creativityI seem to only be truly happy when I am actively engaged in the process of creating something. Creativity gives my life focus and clarity, a goal around which I can organize my otherwise chaotic and sometimes self-destructive thoughts. In addition, creating something — whether it is tangible or intangible, permanent or temporary— brings with it a great deal of self-satisfaction, boosting both my self-efficacy and my sense of self-worth.

Creativity represents a healthy balance in-between two other extremes: restlessness and stagnation. Both restlessness and stagnation are linked to insecurity and detachment. I know when I am getting restless because I feel impatient, ungrateful, and agitated. Restlessness can lead to brooding, unthoughtful behavior, and sometimes devastating life consequences. When I start to stagnate, I feel bored, lazy, and hopeless; stagnation inevitably leads to psychic death. This is perhaps similar to the theory of bipolar disorder in which there are two extremes of mood: mania (restlessness) and depression (stagnation).

Creativity, then, is an outlet that brings together complex emotions in a positive, goal-oriented way. It bridges the novel brilliance of restlessness with the structure and stability of stagnation. When I feel restless, it is often because I want something new in my life; when I create, I make something new in my life. When I feel stagnant, I feel empty and as though my life is on hold; when I create, I initiate and sustain movement through which meaning and fulfillment emerge. Through the creative process, I am able to use and reconcile conflicting emotions in a complementary way that hopefully adds more beauty and peace to the world.

40 for 40 #6: Sourdough

I have always been curious about sourdough, but when I recently read that it both had a lower glycemic index than other breads and offered beneficial bacteria I decided to give it a try. I promptly ordered a starter that originated in the 1700s and a nice airy jar in which my starter would reside.

If you haven’t worked with sourdough before, it requires a bit of TLC. If it is kept on the counter, it needs to be fed with water and flour every day. If it is kept in the refrigerator, which is what I do, it only needs to be fed once a week. Each time it is fed, half of the starter needs to be used or thrown away. As a Pennsylvania Dutch person raised with the motto of “waste not, want not,” I of course need to fund a use for my starter each week. I have been eating a lot of blueberry pancakes.

I’m one of those people who tends to go overboard as soon as I latch on to sometime. I had an idea about how I could travel throughout the world with my sourdough starter — incorporating bacteria from every state, and finally every country, so that I could bake peace bread to provided sustenance to people in need. While I haven’t yet started this project, I am tempted to put my starter in the backseat of my car, neatly tucked in a seatbelt with a pillow for support, the next time I cross over into the nearby New Jersey border.