Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Stare

I just found this bit of writing I did after visiting the German History Museum in Berlin right after the New Year. I was hesitant to publish this piece on my blog when I first wrote it because it deals very directly with my conflicting and ever-changing views on religion and spirituality, but now I'm simply curious to hear what others might think about this strange experience I had.

I think what makes this anecdote particularly interesting is that I'm not strictly opposed or supportive of religion at all - I really try to embody the "live and let live" philosophy, do what makes you happy and try to make the world a better place. If we can agree on those things, then we'll get along just fine. Spiritually, I believe there is a force that is both ignorant and unsympathetic to the idea that humans are superior, we are all equal with everything else in the Universe, and Nature is the ruling voice over all things. With that being said, this is what I experienced that day in Berlin on January 2nd, 2012:

" I was at the History of Germany Museum today, a sole adventure because my friend had to work and I don't know another soul in the city. It was actually a very nice experience: I brought my iPod and was able to spend a lot of personal time with each exhibit. Near the beginning of the Early German History section is a wooden crucifix. A somewhat plainly featured Jesus hangs humbly from the cross, his head drooping and his eyes cast downward. Looking at him from a distance one would assume his eyes are closed, forever departed from this sad world, having finally escaped Earthly sufferings. But when I stood directly in front of him and looked up into his face, I saw Him. I wasn’t just looking into the smooth, wooden face of a statue of a man, I was looking into His eyes and he was looking back at me. I had the distinct feeling that I was sharing a moment with someone, the same feeling one gets when they’re being watched and which makes them instinctively look up at the person to share the moment. It was startling, and I tried to avert His gaze by walking to His side, but His eyes followed me. I looked objectively into His face and noticed that there was hardly any detail at all, not even irises or pupils in his eyes to give him a sense of realism. I can’t understand why I felt his gaze so strongly. I have looked many people in the eye, people who are very much alive with all the specificity of human features, and have not felt so strongly the deep attention I felt I was receiving from this wooden depiction of Jesus.

I still feel disturbed by this moment. I am not a religious person, and if I was religious I would definitely not be Christian. Was I being called by God? Was it a sign from the Universe? Or was it a trick of the light? As I walked around him, trying to find the source of this feeling, I thought I saw a tear come from his eye. It was a short moment, I noticed quickly it was just a chipped part of the wood that made up his face. But as I continued to look at him, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was crying, and that he was crying because of me. It felt like he wanted to tell me something but couldn’t, that I was disappointing him somehow and he couldn’t tell me what to do. It was hard to leave him. I felt I had found something very important, that I was receiving a message from someone or something. As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder and noticed he wasn’t looking at me anymore, just staring down as before. But I still felt his sadness. I still feel it now.

I believe in signs, but I believe they come from within ourselves and that the mind perceives them through external messages in order to understand them more concretely than the mind can express to itself. This was a very strong sign that something is not right. I am in a very delicate time in my life, nothing is certain and my actions now are forming who I will become in the future. I'm in a place where I could go in literally any direction I choose, and there are many, many options. I think this was a sign to stay true to what I know is right: that love, kindness, and tolerance must never be sacrificed for the sake of being someone you think you ought to be. I must be vigilant in my protection of the self, to keep pure what remains of who I’ve always been, and to let it become a part of who I will always be."

What troubles me most about this experience, looking back on it, is that I still don't know how to respond or react to how that moment made me feel. It was very powerful. Thinking back on the memory is similar to thinking about a time as a child when I did something wrong and my Mom, Dad, or Oma gave me that bone chilling look of disappointment. And that hopeless feeling that there's nothing you can do to change what you've done, and you can only hope to be good enough for them in the future.

Like I said in the piece, I believe in signs, but I believe that they come from within. I'd love to hear some thoughts and ideas about what this could mean.

It would be especially comforting to hear that its all a bunch of nonsense and everything I saw was just a trick of the light... ah, to be atheist! What luxury!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kill the Killer

These past couple of days have been stressful. Yesterday I realized that because of student loans, fines to the Deutsche Bahn, and general irresponsibility, I am already out of money. This is a new record, I think, running out of money only two weeks after my monthly paycheck. And I'm supposed to be saving money for my return to the States? Awesome, way to go, Jillbo. Not only that, but I'm supposed to be taking a trip to Amsterdam this weekend, a trip I've been anticipating my whole life... and now it looks like I might have to lend money from my boyfriend for the whole weekend, which would really suck.

Then this morning, I almost had a nervous breakdown when I had a less than friendly interaction with the family espresso machine. This thing is a beautiful, luxurious, intricate, and probably very expensive coffee/espresso/cappuccino making creature, and its a part of the family like a beautiful cat would be. But this beautiful cat can make professional status coffee drinks, so its the greatest cat ever. And for a good twenty minutes, I thought I broke it. I filled the part of the machine that I assumed was for grinding coffee beans with coffee beans, naturally, but then got really freaked out because I thought maybe that actually wasn't the right place for coffee beans. And then I was completely convinced that it was the absolute wrong place for coffee beans, I had probably poured those little buggers into the inner workings and very bowels of this complicated beast, and that I had most likely inadvertently murdered a family member who might be more valuable to this family than I am at this point. On top of everything else that has been stressing me out, this put me over the edge. I was in survival mode, like an animal caught in a trap, blinded by stress and fear and acting on any idea, no matter how illogical, that comes to mind simply to make the problem go away. The small coffee beans had wedged themselves into a tiny little hole, so I attempted to pick them out with tweezers. When that didn't work I proceeded to use spoons, tipping the enormous thing in all directions, draining out water, shaking it around, and then using tweezers again. Coffee machine parts where everywhere, beans scattered on the floor, and I was covered in dirty coffee water. I must have looked like a crazy person, and I'm grateful no one was around to see me in such a state. After realizing how much this coffee machine was taking over every last molecule in by brain reserved for rational thought, I put the coffee machine down (right side up), cleaned up my mess, and took a breath. I told myself everything was going to be alright, the machine would be okay, and I will be alive no matter what fate I may have accidentally dealt this machine. I needed to reclaim my mind from this uncontrollable, raving, and powerful stress monster, and just come back to reality. As I calmed down, my logic seemed to come out from hiding from that intimidating stress-creature, temporarily tamed, and began to suggest some simple, logical solutions to my problem. I realized other people have probably had similar interactions with this machine, in which case there was probably some advice on the internet. Lo and behold, I found a manual for the machine online which promptly explained to me that I was, in fact, right about where the coffee beans were meant to go, and that I just needed to restart the machine in order for it to recognize that it was refilled with new beans. You can imagine my relief as hot, dark, tasty espresso leaked from that machine into my mug. An espresso drink later, I was back to my normal self and ready to forget the whole thing.

Thinking about the experience, I am fascinated with the incredibly powerful affect stress had on my entire being. One moment of insecurity turned into twenty minutes of mental torture, making an irrational monster out of a once sensible person. What ultimately saved me and this poor machine from unnecessary and possibly fatal dismantling was the moment I realized I had lost myself to this negative feeling. And once I realized that and came back to myself, my solution came to me. I think this is something very important to consider because we all deal with stress in our lives and it is a very powerful, controlling feeling. Obviously I am fortunate enough to complain about things as small as pocket-money and coffee machines, but there are people out there who have to deal with much more scary and stressful things, and I think it's worth considering the powerful affects stress has on our energy, creativity, and love.

Stress has the ability to kill all positive, constructive, and meaningful thought in an instant. It is a seriously powerful emotion that can be triggered by the smallest thing, and take control of our lives effortlessly. When it has a constant presence in our lives it suffocates our creativity and blocks our energy and breeds more negativity until we are convinced that our lives suck. It inhibits our thoughts and emotions which saps our physical energy and makes us want to curl up in bed and be alone, crippling us socially, spiritually, and mentally. In so many words, stress = unhappiness. Duh.

So, if we're going to attempt to protect ourselves from this dangerous force we have to be able to tackle stress in a healthy, rational, and intelligent way. Here are some ideas:

o Don't try to suppress your emotions during times of stress. Recognize the negative, controlling feelings and accept them as they start to come over you. Trying to convince yourself that it doesn’t matter never works because it is all you can manage to think about. So let it consume you, temporarily, being conscious that it is not permanent and will subside soon.

o Visualize the future moment when this problem is gone. It’s sometimes hard to imagine a time when you won’t be anguishing over whatever gigantic issue is plaguing you, but there will be a time, and it will come sooner than you think. Know that whatever is causing you stress, whether its something as temporary as a broken coffee machine or as constant as a bad relationship, try to visualize yourself in the future having gotten through this challenge. This will help to calm you and to think rationally.

o Deal with the problem to the best of your ability. Do whatever you can in that moment to reduce the size of your problem. You may feel hectic and out of control, but just acknowledge it and try to be active. Don't let your feelings make you passive and non-functioning.

o Once you have done every logical thing you can think of to make the problem go away, focus on something else. Make it simple. Call a friend and tell them about it, watch an episode of your favorite show, take a shower, go for a run, make food, or focus on a different, less stressful problem. If the thing your stressing about continues to bug you, let it bug you, and try to think of the next logical step into solving the problem. If you can’t, move on.

o Return to yourself. Even if you can’t solve the thing that is stressing you out, you’ll find that eventually the feelings of doom and despair fade as your brain visualizes the future, makes logical choices, and has a realistic perspective on your circumstances. And once those bold, dangerous, scary, all-consuming feelings fade into the background, you’ll see that more logical and interesting solutions will come to mind. And you’ll see that what was stressing you out so much was not nearly as big of a deal as you thought it was. Either way, you will get through it, you will be alive, and you’ll be happy.

Kill the Killer
This sounds corny, but what you can really begin to understand from dealing with stress correctly is that everything will TRULY be alright. Once you go through a bad, scary, stressful time and get out of it safely and securely, you see that it was only temporary and in the end you were victorious. Don’t let this be a passing thought: if you can develop this understanding into a philosophy, you will see your life improves drastically. Not only are you able to see through the negativity of stress to the other side whenever it happens to you, but you will begin to grow into a perspective that gives you confidence, courage, awareness, and understanding. Really, things will turn out to be okay. Every day you wake up and your feet hit the floor is a good day, as my Dad likes to say. Your mind is intact, your body is safe, and your soul is always in control. So, when stress threatens to overcome you and strip you of your creativity, energy, and love of life, try to stay in control of your thoughts. Instead of letting it overcome you and lead you down a dark path of negativity, let the spastic and electric energy of stress motivate you to learn and grow. If you think about it, feeling those intense feelings of stress is a great experience, if handled correctly. When times get rough and the temptation to give up to fear and and insecurity becomes strong, stay conscious of these things: your mind is intact, your body is safe, and your soul is in control at all times. Challenge yourself to be optimistic during bad times, and, like training a muscle, you will see over time that your ability to be positive gets stronger and stronger. Soon negativity and stress will just be a blip on the radar, and won’t have the control over your thoughts and emotions that it once did. Not only that, but I promise that if you truly embrace optimism, a love of life, and a respect for the complicated, beautiful mess of the Universe, you will begin to draw positive people and experiences into your life

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My First Workshop

I was really nervous about my first Writer's Workshop in Düsseldorf.

I have been part of many workshops in school and even co-founded a Playwrighting Workshop (POW! Playwrights' Open Workshop), and so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I decided to try to start a writing group here in Germany in hopes of meeting other English-speaking creative types, since I've come to a bit of a making-new-friends standstill. As a recent college graduate I'm bound to go through withdrawals of certain kinds, which is natural, and knowing this they don't really get me down. But one thing I refuse to let go of in my life is being part of a community of love, creativity, energy, and flow, and so I decided that I would try to make one out of thin air and, hopefully, inspire others to discover something new about themselves at the same time.

The group was small, and only one other person besides myself brought writing to share. Most people showed up just to meet new people with no interest in the writing aspect at all, which was totally fine with me. Meeting new people was really the objective in making the group, anyway, and I was just happy to have been able to provide that for some people. But I was happy too soon, because it got so much better. A lovely young woman, Rosa, new to us all (I knew a couple people from previous Au pair gatherings) brought a beautiful piece about the power of humor that some people have to influence reality, and the true beauty of not taking life too seriously. It was really moving, especially since it was written in English, which is not her native language, and she had obviously worked very hard on it. And after reading my blog, discussion started to slowly come out within the group, like a shy animal starting to feel comfortable in a new home. In a group of five people, three of whom had started out by telling me they weren't into the whole writing thing, we were dissecting our writing, bouncing around ideas of meaning, and coming up with new thoughts.

I was shocked. My goal going into the meeting was to inspire at least one person to start writing, or at least experiment with the idea of it. By the end of the meeting almost everyone was talking about what they might start working on for the next meeting. It was a really inspirational and exciting moment for me, realizing I had the ability not only to bring people together to try something strange, but also to inspire those people to try something new and think about things they may not have had thought about before. I am so grateful to the open hearts and open minds of the people that came -- it easily could have turned out that we just had a few laughs over a few beers on a Saturday afternoon, but it was so much more than that. It proved to me that everyone you meet has something amazing to say and they really want to say it, but we are so rarely encouraged to express ourselves so openly.

And what's truly amazing was the content of our discussion, because not only was it interesting and thought-provoking in itself, but now that I reflect back on it we were already talking about the result of what we were doing at the time. Interestingly, but not too surprisingly, Rosa and I had some things in common in our writing. The discussion that followed our readings centered around the idea of one's potential, about the bullshit we create to hold ourselves back, and how we begin to get through all of it to live our lives to the fullest. And the main idea we kept coming back to was the idea of "the comfort zone", the safe place one creates for herself and gets so comfortable in that she loses the urge to go beyond her own self-proclaimed borders. As I mentioned in the last blog, it's so very easy to limit ourselves to our expectations and not have to go beyond and just let fear make all the rules so we don't have to think about anything. I think its really amazing that in our workshop discussion we were talking about something that we were at that same time working to destroy. Whether consciously or not, everyone there had come to this meeting to do something new to push the limits of their zone, to experience something unknown and broaden their perspectives. And I believe we all left fuller, brighter, lighter, and better.

This is something I want to continue to explore and hopefully share some ideas about. I truly think that pushing ourselves to take the first step into the daunting darkness of the Unknown is the first step of many steps to figuring out a lot of things: who you are, where you're from, who you truly love, and what you truly want. I think our souls are like the Earth, and our minds are the people who inhabit the Earth. Not so long ago people thought the Earth was flat, and that if we sailed beyond the known territory then we would fall into the abyss of the gaping Darkness. I have a feeling if we begin to take the same initiative as the fearless explorers of history and sail a little farther beyond what we already know, we'll someday end up at the beginning and realize that our souls are much bigger, much more mysterious, and far less scary than we originally believed.

I want to thank Rosa, Rob, Imogen, and Annika for coming to the first workshop meeting and inspiring me in so many ways. I know this is something I want to continue to do in different capacities, and you've already given me so much energy to pursue new ways of doing it. You're all beautiful, interesting, and thoughtful people, and I'm excited to continue educating myself on your minds and spirits, perhaps through some writing?