A Sunday Chat with Myself—Nostalgia

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the Good Old Days.” —Doug Larson

I’m the proud product of German parents and I can still speak conversational German. When my children were still young and had young families of their own, it was the a Christmas custom in the home of one of my kids for me to  sing “Silent Night” in German to the gathered family.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Nostalgia is more than just a ‘yearning’ emotion. It can also involve homesickness. It’s a thought process, so, it’s both a thought and a feeling. Used properly, nostalgia can even act like a healing—a cure for something that may have happened in one’s past. Freud believed people who dwelt too much in their past nostalgic moments were unable to move forward in life. I believe Freud, that this is a danger of nostalgia. On the other hand, a little bit is good for you; too much can be restrictive.

I like to think of myself as having a fairly good balance in regards to the time I spend in nostalgic moods, where nostalgia acts as a body healing and an inspiration instead of a restriction. For example, today I’m sitting in my office chair, feeling blue, lagging motivation. How do I get out of that negative mood and do something? Nostalgia can help.

I think of the times in my past when I was full of ambition and enthusiasm. I was going to change the world! Memory—Nostalgia, lets me remember many of those past dreams when I was full of energy.

“how sad and bad and mad it was – but then, how it was sweet”  —Robert Browning

Flashback.

Having grown up on a small Saskatchewan farm in the days before many of the modern farming practices were common—combines weren’t invented yet, or at least they hadn’t appeared yet in our area. In my youth,  the “stooks” had to be loaded onto “hay racks” and then brought in to a central point where a threshing machine would separate the grain from the stocks. The stocks—chaff, were then be blown onto one big pile by the threshing machine. These huge straw piles would serve a double purpose during the winter months on a farm. First (and I suppose, most importantly) they would serve as sort of a free range eating area to the cattle when they were let out of the barn, plus act as an insulation from the snow, should a cow want to lay down.

Second, this straw pile would act as a playground for us kids. During the week we were generally too busy with school and helping with farm chores to do much playing, but on weekends, it was common for the neighbor’s kids to come over and one of our activities was to dig deep tunnels into this straw pile. Because of the straw’s insulating ability, it was quite warm inside these tunnels, so we could even take off our heavy winter coats inside the tunnels. And there was always enough light reflected so that the tunnel was never in complete darkness. It was really a lot of fun, and we unshackled our imaginations even to the point of daring in inventing games to play. It was fun, and often it seemed like we had barely begun when the call came from mother that it was nearing supper time, time to get cleaned up and come into the house.

Ah, yes, how well I remember! There was my friend, Robert—he was afraid of the dark, so he never ventured too deep into the tunnels we dug. Harry was the venturous one. He’d often scare even me in some of the crazy antics he’d perform. Then there was Arnold. I think he’s dead now. He was sort of a sickly kid, even when he was young.  Haven’t heard from him for a long time, and Raymond, he was the youngest in our group, so he’d still be alive …

Fast forward to today.

I wonder how Raymond is doing? Did he ever marry that little redhead he had a crush on when he was still in his late ‘teens? I look up the last address that I have for him, and begin to write:

Dear Raymond:

Do you remember the times when you’d come over on Saturday and we would build these tunnels in our haystack … ?

Thank you, nostalgia! You got me out of my doldrums!

I walk into memory lane because I know I’ll run into you there.

A Sunday Chat with Myself — 11 February, 2018

“No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination; never put off until tomorrow what you can do today” — Lord Chesterfield

Life can have its boring moments if I don’t keep busy, but, to me, that raises  a question: is the idea of boredom a penalty for idleness, controlled by societal forces that have instilled in me the idea that I must always be busy? As the proverb says, “Idleness is the root of all evil.” Therefore, can I assume that idleness I sin, as many of our preachers try to convince us? .” We’re taught that “idle hands create mischief for the devil.” There are a whole bunch more sayings like this so, to me, it’s obvious, society has a serious concern that we citizens don’t fall into idleness, and furthermore, what is boredom? Is one the consequence of the other?

I have noticed mild forms of boredom in higher forms of animals, but not as intense as in humans. For example, my cat can lay on its soft blanket by the window all day long, stirring only when it’s hungry or needs the litter box, and not get bored at all. Life seems peaceful for my cat, but when I get bored, I become restless, and life is anything but peaceful! My mind, my fingers, are itching for something to do!

I also see yogas sitting cross-legged for hours on their mats and not be bored.  The only conclusion that I can come to that my boredom is conditioned; purely a state of mind. Boredom does not necessarily have to be a product of idleness.

In an article that I recently read by Jessica Leber, she claims that there are five types of boredom. I was especially interested in her first three categories of boredom. The first is Indifference. If I understand her correctly, indifference is when I watch the entire evening news hour while eating my sandwich, and come away feeling unmoved by all the negative events that took place in the world this day. In a sense, my mind was idle, but I wasn’t bored: my passive mind was being entertained to a point of indifference.

The next is calibrating. Calibrating is an unpleasant situation one might find himself in,”characterized by wandering thoughts unrelated to the present situation.” It’s like in my youthful days when I still went to school. The scene: an algebra lesson. My teacher would drone on in his monotone voice something about “a” plus “b” minus “c” equals”d” (unpleasant situation) while my mind was dreamily gazing out the window, preoccupied by imagining animal forms in the fluffy summer clouds above.

The third type of boredom Jessica Leber defines as Searching. Searching is like a “person might do to ease the discomfort of a situation one find himself in.” like, I remember once when I was still in the military standing guard in front of our Captain’s office where he was conducting an important training meeting. To relieve my boredom, I counted, then recounted, every one of the hundred plus (I forget the exact amount) of ceiling tiles that ran the entire length of the corridor! I was searching for something better to do, but military discipline demanded that my mind stay in the present moment of being ‘on  guard.’

Boredom: God’s way of telling me that what I’m doing is not interesting. I should occupy my mind with interesting, constructive “stuff.” 

During that military time I was condition not to think: just obey, that all my thinking will be done for me. “Hurry up and wait” was another common military conditioning, while not trying to be bored in the process–not having interesting, personal thoughts–was all part of that routine.

But all that was in the past; they were my life’s experiences. So, is that it? is idleness that causes boredom given to us as a gift that we inherit along with birthright, so that we’re guaranteed to move forward and have experiences?

The yogas have an interesting practice that addresses idleness. It’s sort of a yoga conundrum!  They ask you to try and make your mind blank and still so that you have no thought in in at all. It can’t be done, because, even if you should accomplish that impossible feat of not thinking, the very act of forcing your mind not to think, is a thought! Plainly stated, my God did not create me to have an idle mind, and boredom is the ‘kick in the pants’ for me to find something to do.

For all creation, thinking is mandatory! Contrary to the hum-drum experiences in the military, or what I didn’t learn in school, life forces one to think!

But, I do have a choice: I can fritter away my time in daydreaming, or tightly center my thoughts on a specific topic or action and accomplish something that I’m desirous of doing. Act positive, as work ethicist’s might call it.

Which raises another interesting thought. Many companies have a special department, usually headed by their CEO, called a “Think Tank.” The purpose of the Think Tank is to come up with new or innovative ideas that the company can use in giving it an edge over its competitors. I’ve known people who had pleasure and honor of being part of a company’s Think Tank and one thing that’s decidedly absent during a session is concentrated thinking! Everyone seems just idly doodling and exploring all the possible “what-ifs” centered around the problem/topic of the day. It seems that our subconscious mind works best when our objective, conscious mind stays out of its way, and great ideas—solutions to vexing problems—often pop up seemingly out of nowhere when the mind is idle.

In conclusion, both an idle mind and an active mind are special attributes that we inherited  from our Creator. It is wise for me to know the difference of when to be idle, and when to be active!

“Focus on being productive, not busy.” — Tim Ferris

 

 

The Placebo Effect

I’m fascinated by our opinions and habits that we, as humans display. Many of us carry ‘Lucky Charms’ , or eat lunch with a certain fork, or wear a specific undergarment just before an important event in our life to invoke  a specified luck or result. Why will one Lucky Charm work for one person, while another will vehemently poo-poo that belief?

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine, and at one point, the topic turned to our health–how we were feeling. I commented that I had finally found relief for my Restless Leg Syndrome. All my life I had suffered from Restless Leg Syndrome, a painful nervous condition that can cause uncontrollable ‘jerking,’ or shaking of the limbs in order to relieve the pain. I mentioned that, outside of painkillers, nothing seemed ease, or cure my situation. In desperation, I tried Acupuncture–and it worked! Although not completely gone, now I could at least live with the pain.

My friend scoffed at the idea of submitting the body to Acupuncture.

“Superstition!” he claimed. “It’s a medically unproven superstition. If conventional medicine doesn’t have a cure for an ailment, then none exists–at least not until medical science can find one!”

I didn’t feel like arguing the point, so just changed subject. However, I could not help but wonder, is Acupuncture really only a superstition? I knew that my friend was quite a religious person: a Christian. Being a Christian myself, I also know that religion expects a fair amount of belief from its followers, for it to be effective in one’s life–but, hold on. Isn’t belief just another way of saying “Placebo effect”? If I believe such-and-such, and it works for me, while you believe that another something-or-another works for you, the common factor here is “Belief.” It is the power of belief that manifests results in our lives. I’ll give an example in this fictional conversation between Jack and me. Jack came to pay me a visit, as he does every Thursday afternoon. He came just as I had scooped some ice cream into a small dish and was about eat it while watching TV.

Me: “Hi, Jack, come on in. I just bought myself a pint of Baskin-Robbins ice cream. Peppermint flavour. Would you like some?”

Jack: Takes off his jacket and moves closer to the kitchen counter where I was dishing out the ice cream. “Baskin-Robbins! Peppermint, my favorite brand and flavor. You bet I’ll have some!”

I absently pick up an empty dish that happened to be nearby on the counter and without examining the dish closer, dig out two large scoops of the delicious ice cream and hand the dish to Jack.  We amble towards the living room and I turn on the TV.

A few minutes pass.

Jack: “You know, I think Baskin -Robbins makes the best ice cream in the world!” He’s already gobbled down half of his bowl’s content. “It’s sure good!”

Suddenly, with horror, I take a closer look at Jack’s ice cream dish. “Jack!” I exclaim. “I’m so sorry, but I mistakenly put your ice cream into my cat’s dinner dish.”

Jack’s hand, holding his next spoonful of ice cream, freezes in mid-air. He stares with horror at his dish, a sickly, greyish looks envelopes his face.

“Yes, it’s the cat dish–but it’s clean,” I quickly assure him, “I just had it washed this morning in the dishwasher–”

Suddenly, Jack vomits all over my carpet and chesterfield. “I’m sick!” he moans, dropping the dish. “Take me to the hospital!” .  .  .  .  .

My point here is, was it the ice cream, the clean cat dish, or Jack’s fixed belief that made him sick?

Yes, we are what we believe!

 

The Magic Door–or, How to Call Back Your Muse when it’s on Vacation.

Last Friday I was feeling–well, out of sorts. If you’re a creative person like I am, you’ve experienced a similar feeling: like a square trying to fit into a round hole. Nothing was going right for me. I had planned on doing some writing, but at the present moment,  felt like my muse had suddenly decided to take a vacation: gone on one of those famous Italian cruises, I guessed!

I paced back and forth in my office. I was desperate. Then I had an idea!

I went and stood just outside of my office area and, with my right index finger extended, drew an imaginary outline of a standard sized door in the space around me. I started out with just a plain outline of a basic door: about seven feet high and roughly thirty inches wide. Then I began to embellish it. I placed some large, yellow sunflowers with smiling faces about two feet off to the right, ensuring that some of their cheerful yellow heads bobbed happily into the door’s space to help break up the otherwise stark outline of the door, then added twin vines on each side,  letting them entwine as they grew upwards to end in a dense, leafy crown over the door header. Then, much like a magician would do, with the same index finger I drew imaginary bunches of tiny white snow flowers in my hand and, in dramatic fashion, sprinkled handfuls of them on the vine. They glittered and fell like fairy dust as they settled among the green, leafy vines. The whole scene looked quite pretty–and antiqued! I wanted to give the scene an old-fashioned, late seventeenth century look, and I was about to complete the scene by imagining an ornate, black metal bench just to the right of the door where I could stop to rest and drink in the tranquility of what I had created, should I choose to do so, but at the last moment, decided not to. I didn’t want to stop to rest: I wanted to open the door, and get in!

My next step was to mentally construct the door of deep brown walnut wood, well aged,  inlaid with garlands of floral designs in a lighter walnut. I hung the door on large, old rusting iron hinges that had been hammered  into their present  shape eons ago by an artisan who loved his craft. The door was heavy and, at present,  quite impossible for me to open unless I knew the right combination of magic words that would let me lift the iron latch that held the door firm in its place (I borrowed the design for the latch from a photo I had once seen in a magazine of a beautifully crafted latch on a door of an old castle). At first, I drew the door as being stubbornly immoveable because that was exactly how I felt–at least, creatively!

Then, another thought: what lay on the other side of that door?  To find out, I would have to think … think hard …  find the secret, magic password that would let me lift the heavy iron latch and open the door.

Abracadabra!” That was the best I could come up with at the moment. What the heck–I wasn’t creative today anyway.

To my surprise, that was it! That was the magic word: Abracadabra! Suddenly I was able to easily lift the heavy iron latch . The door objected irritably by creaking loudly as I pushed it open and walked through. In my mind, ahead of me, lay a long, narrow bench topped with plain, office quality, off-white Arborite and had several computers positioned strategically along its length. Men and women were sitting in front of these computers, each busy typing something … I dared to step closer to peek over the shoulder of a pretty young lady who was so busy typing she never even noticed my presence. She was creating a romance novel. She was dressed in a seventeenth century peasant-cloth grey dress, complete with white bonnet and apron. I named her, Annabel.  “I’ll bet she’s in love with the young prince that lives in the castle just down the road, and he most likely doesn’t even know that she exists.” I felt empathy with the young lady.

Next, I inched cautiously over to the lady–I placed her in her late 30s– short, blonde hair, very trim and efficient looking, dressed in a starched white shirt under a light grey business suite. But, unlike the previous young lady, I couldn’t go unnoticed here: she saw me, looked up from her computer and threw me a smile.

“Watcha workin’ on?” I thought I might as well ask since I had been discovered anyway.

“It’s a draft for a business plan my boss wants me to type up for him,” she offered in a tired voice. “As if I haven’t got enough other office work to contend with, now I have to  also type up his personal stuff.”

I left her to finish her draft and moved on to the next gentleman–well, surprise! I’ll go out on a limb and call him a gentleman, but he was anything but that: completely the opposite to the previous trim lady in a business suite:  he was unkempt, hadn’t shaved for a week, wore a dirty white Tee shirt stretched over an overstuffed beer belly  and was wearing  jeans that had seen better days. He even stunk a bit.

“What you want from me?” he growled as I approached. “You’re not getting any ideas from me!” He covered his monitor with an equally dirty grey hoody so that I couldn’t see what he had been typing. “I have a hard enough time coming up with ideas for my own stories.”

“Well, I wasn’t–I mean, I was just … browsing–”

“Well, don’t browse!” He yowled back that ended in an animalistic grunt. What an unpleasant person, I thought! “Go back to your own computer. You got more creativity than I’ve got.” He got up from his computer and came towards me in a threatening manor. I’m sure he meant to do me harm …

O.k., I decided that was enough! And, not a moment too soon, I ducked back to safety behind my side of my Magic Door.

Then, more magic! As I stood there, still holding fast to the latch on my Magic Door, now tightly closed  to bar that–ugh, gentleman–from grabbing me, I suddenly felt completely refreshed.

“Hey!” I fairly shouted, surprising even myself as a realized the  rush of creativity that now engulfed me. My Muse was back off its Italian holiday! With renewed confidence, I again took both hands and lifted the imaginary  iron door latch and again stepped through my Magic Door, only this time I didn’t create an imaginary scene. The scene was already there in real time!

The long  bench with its computers and people typing on ‘clickety’ keyboards were gone. I now  stood in the real world facing my own, real computer monitor. I sat down and started typing …  clickety, click-click … scenes and visions rushed into my head faster than I could type.

Thank you, Magic Door!