Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Challenging Our Beliefs...

I recently read an interesting book by Thomas Kida entitled "Don't Believe Everything You Think". It outlines the six common mistakes we make in our thinking:

1. We prefer stories to statistics.

2. We seek to confirm, not to question, our ideas.

3. We rarely appreciate the role of coincidence and chance in shaping events.

4. We sometimes misperceive the world around us.

5. We tend to oversimplify our thinking.

6. Our memories are often inaccurate.

This book really pushed me out of my comfort zone. It had me taking an honest look at my thinking and my long-held beliefs about myself and the world around me. It brought butterflies to my belly. I was sick as I pondered the possibility that some of the things I thought to be true may not be.

My ego did not want to accept that maybe I'd been wrong about things. That maybe the thoughts I'd created a life with were just that, thoughts, and in many cases, thoughts without any basis in reality.

Why are we so attached to our beliefs and thoughts? Have we defined ourself by them? Is that who we really are? Can we be separated from our thoughts and beliefs? Who would we be without them?

tall penguin

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

And Yet Another...

Thanks to RichardDawkins.net I've got yet another example of child indoctrination. Check this one out. The song though is pretty cool. Catchy.

HBO 'Friends of God' Documentary Clip

tall penguin

Monday, January 29, 2007

Oh Fox News...

Okay, I've heard lots about Fox News and how slanted their views can be. But this is ridiculous. I can't even believe that this is considered journalism. I'm speechless on this one. Just watch for yourself. And tell me, who really seems angry here? Geesh.

Fox's John Kasich interviews atheist Brian Flemming about the Blasphemy Challenge.


tall penguin

Missing the Children

I woke up in the middle of the night with a deep grief in my heart. I could see the children from my former jw congregation. I could see their smiling faces. I could hear their laughter.

At every jw meeting, I would walk into the main hall and instantly two or three little ones would come running, squealing my name and wrap themselves around my legs. I'd reach down, scoop them each up in turn and give them big hugs. Many times, it was them who got me to those meetings. I longed to see their beaming faces, to let them know there was someone around that cared for them, that saw them as people.

I sat with these kids, played with them, doodled with them, babysat them, took them out for play-dates--shopping, park trips, movies. I went on their field trips, attended their school events, met their teachers. I listened to their thoughts, their dreams, their fears, their stories. We laughed. We cried. We were friends.

Growing up I didn't feel that I was allowed to be a child. I wanted so much to let these kids be kids for as long as possible. I did my best to make them feel that is was safe for them to be who they were. I wanted them to feel loved and valued.

I miss these children. It's been almost two years since I've seen them all. They are frozen in my mind at the age I last saw them. One day, I hope they will seek me out. I'll be waiting.

tall penguin

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Do We Need 8 Glasses of Water A Day?

Okay, I'll admit I fell for this one. I bought into the hype that we all need 8 glasses of water a day or else we'll be chronically dehydrated. I think it's a pretty common misconception. Here's what the evidence shows:

"In an invited review published online by the American Journal of Physiology August 8, Valtin, the Vail and Hampers professor emeritus of physiology at Dartmouth Medical School, reports no supporting evidence to back this popular counsel, commonly known as "8 x 8" (for eight, eight-ounce glasses)."
Dartmouth Medical School News, August 8, 2002

So, where may this idea have come from?

The article continues:

"Valtin thinks the notion may have started when the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council recommended approximately "1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food," which would amount to roughly two to two-and-a-half quarts per day (64 to 80 ounces). Although in its next sentence, the Board stated "most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods," that last sentence may have been missed, so that the recommendation was erroneously interpreted as how much water one should drink each day."

The big question for me is why do we fall for this stuff? Why do we accept this type of information as fact without any real evidence to back it up? A great response to this was given by a Los Angeles Times reader as quoted on Snopes, the urban legends reference website, regarding this topic:

"The advice fully meets three important criteria for being an American health urban legend: excess, public virtue, and the search for a cheap "magic bullet"."

It still floors me how gullible I've been and how much wishful thinking has permeated just about every facet of my life. *sigh*

tall penguin

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Acceptance

I've been struggling with acceptance. Acceptance of myself and what is. I think the biggest obstacle I face in this is that if I accept myself I must accept others as well. And generally this is not a problem. Except for one person. My mother.

I still have such a hard time accepting that my mother could not have made better choices in her life, choices that would have made life much different for my brother and I. Of course, the biggest choice being that of joining the JW cult.

Yet, I really wonder whether she could have made a different choice. All things being equal, if time and life had unfolded exactly as it did for her, would her ultimate decisions not remain the same? Kind of puts the idea of free will into perspective.

I see such similarities between my mother and I. I want so much to make different decisions than she did. And in some ways I have, but in other ways I still battle the same underlying issues she did. We're not all that different. To accept me is to accept her. And it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

tall penguin

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Life's Soundtrack

In almost every film, there is a montage scene. It's the scene where the main character's life is reviewed before he dies or the movie ends. Or sometimes, it's used to show a progression of events over time. Sometimes, when I'm sitting on the subway, I look out the window and see a montage of my life so far. Often it's triggered by a song that is playing on my Ipod. All sorts of memories float up from within, things I haven't thought about in years. Some happy. Some sad. It's like watching a film and hearing your life's soundtrack playing in the back of your mind. At this point in my life, my montage would be heard with Rufus Wainwright's "Beautiful Child".

If a montage of your life was being filmed, what song would you like to accompany it?

tall penguin

Doodling...

Okay, everyone out of the closet now. Who doodles? I mean, draws little pictures, designs, squigglies, whatever. I am an obsessive doodler. There are doodles in my day-timer (yes I still have a manual paper one...PDAs are for pussies), doodles on every scrap of paper to be found in my apartment, doodles in my crossword puzzle books. I rarely even do the word puzzles. I really just love the feel of my medium point Papermate pen as it glides across the soft newsprint paper. It's the texture and flow of the combination, like butta.

Not sure how long this has been going on, but if you were to look back at my high school notebooks you'd find more doodles than notes. Perhaps it's a learned behavior. I remember as a young child watching my mom speaking on the phone and she would doodle on a scrap piece of paper as she was talking. I recall her doodle of choice was a smattering of concentric squares. She'd also constantly practice her signature. Not sure if she was proud of her name or just perfecting it for all those sick notes she had to write to my teachers.

Me, I doodle hearts mostly. Yes, I know, it's sappy but I've always been attracted to the heart shape. As a young girl my bedroom was littered with heart-shaped paraphernalia: boxes, earrings, pendants, rings, even my garbage can. Each time I went shopping, inevitably another heart-shaped item would catch my eye, until one day, my mother said, "Enough with all the hearts."

I've gone back to doodling hearts (Tough luck Mom!) along with these strange shaped blobs. Almost amoeba-like in shape, I doodle them in interlocking groups, like some kind of parasitic puzzle. I find doodling helps me to focus. It helps me stay connected to my body when I'm roaming around in my head. That's one thing I dislike about writing on a computer; it's more difficult to doodle while I'm waiting for the ideas to come. Stupid technology interfering with my creative process!

You can even analyze your doodles here. The interpretation of my heart doodles is that I'm in love or have a romantic disposition. No surprise there. Of course, at age five, I wasn't in love with anyone, but I'm sure I was already a romantic. In spite of all my incessant, sometimes insane, ramblings I am in love with life. In love with love. In love with pain. In love with everyone and everything. Perhaps that is what scared my Mom. Maybe she wasn't ready for Little Miss Love. That's okay Mom. I love you.

tall penguin

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What Would It Really Take?

Following up on my post "Are atheists asking too much?" I wanted to talk a bit more about what it would really mean for people to let go of religion and God.

If you've been reading my blog, you can see what turmoil challenging one's long-held beliefs can create. If you were to hop on to any ex-fundamental religionist forum you'd see many more examples of the angst this causes. The more I think about this, the more I wonder whether humanity is capable of letting go of god; letting go of wishful thinking. Is it even logical or reasonable to think that such a massive shift of beliefs could happen? And if it were to happen, could it really take place as easily as some atheists believe it could?

Of the people I've met from the ex-jw community, many have went from believing in one version of god to another. While they've given up the Bible according to the Watchtower, they've gone on to adopt some other religion's explanation of God and the universe. Some have left Christianity for Islam or Judaism or other God-based systems of belief. Then there are those who have given up the traditional ideas of God for a more New Age approach. Few have given up the idea of God entirely. It seems that the penchant for wishful thinking is all too human at this point in our evolution.

When I read Dawkins and Harris, I wonder sometimes how they think this great shift in consciousness can take place, practically speaking. Having been raised with a fundamentalist world-view I know first-hand the mental acrobats required to learn how to think rationally. Do we need to develop some kind of global therapy program? Because the reality is, fundamentalist and wishful thinking are tied up with so many very emotionally-charged issues and memories. Memories of family, culture, abuse, pain, betrayal---a plethora of the good, bad and the ugly. I find it difficult to see how the majority of believers could give up their illusions and delusions without a great deal of help, both societal and professional. Are we prepared for such a need?

I realize it's not up to Dawkins or Harris or myself to bridge this gap for humanity. I just wonder if perhaps a little more empathy could be shown for the tremendous leap being asked of people when we speak of giving up "the God delusion". Or is it too late for empathy? Is it now a case of ripping off the band-aid really fast and just letting the chips fall where they may? Yet, is it ever too late for empathy?

Perhaps it is the next generation that should receive our focus---the children. But where do we begin?

tall penguin

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Are We Addicted to the Highs?

Furthering my constant inquiry into what motivates people to do things, I wonder about the momentary highs we receive from daily happenings and how they propel us to keep going. Perhaps it starts with that first adrenaline rush of the alarm going off. Instant chemicals to get us up and moving. Then the trip to the church of Tim Horton's for the caffeine. Then off to work to do something that makes us feel like we're contributing to society. To have those moments of success where we feel we've accomplished something new or noteworthy. These moments are punctuated with yet more trips to the caffeine shrines, sugar-laden goodies and perhaps a trip to the gym to boost those brain chemicals into a seeming state of balance. You come home, kick back with a cool one, enjoy more food, allow yourself to be entertained by the boob tube and soon you're off to dreamland. And it all starts again tomorrow.

You can add any variation of high-inducing activity, including sports, religion, education, alcohol, drugs, sex, music, art, whatever you like. The point is, well, what's the point of all of this? Do we live merely for these momentary highs? Is that what keeps us going each day? Is this what life is about? Are we just a bunch of firing brain chemicals waiting for the next hit?

tall penguin

Floating Head...

I didn't sleep much last night. And when I don't sleep well, no matter how hard I try, I can't get the rest of the day online. I'm better to just clear my schedule and wait it out. But some days I have things scheduled that aren't so easy to clear.

So I'm sitting here, feeling like a floating head, torturing myself about what to do with an appointment I have tonight. I'm exhausted. I feel sick. Josh is sick in bed. And I can't decide what to do. I feel such anxiety on these days. I have flashbacks of my JW days and how each day there was a meeting scheduled (JW's have religious meetings 3 times a week) I would go through this anxiety about whether I felt well enough to go.

For someone with CFS/FM, it is not just a consideration of having the energy to be there. It's the energy it takes to put on clothes, put on makeup, eat something, get in a car or get on a bus, put on the happy face, socialize, be attentive to indoctrination for 1-2 hours, filter through the guilt and shame you will inevitably feel at some point during the meeting, socialize again after, and then make your way home.

Needless to say, I missed meetings on occasion, although not as much as you might think considering all that. I was indoctrinated to believe that if I pushed myself to get to these meetings I would receive God's blessing and that I'd feel much better after, as opposed to the guilt I felt when I didn't go. It would sometimes take me days to get over feeling like a complete failure for missing a meeting, just in time to go through the next round.

Granted, often I did feel better after these meetings. The religious emotional high spikes endorphins. But by the next day, I'd usually crash and burn. I'd go through this at least 3 times a week, plus those days where I was expected to be out in the ministry. You know, knocking on people's doors bringing the "good news".

And I bought it all. I bought into these ideas. I felt these meetings and the ministry were my "lifeline" and that I would not be able to live without them. I was addicted. And I was trapped. It was like Hotel California, "You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave."

These memories haunt me. Every time I make a commitment to do something, whether it's take a class or make a doctor's appointment, I'm terrified about what happens when it comes time to keep that appointment. I have this overwhelming sense of being trapped in having to go. Even when it's something I want to do there is still the anxiety around having enough energy to get through and the question of what happens if I don't. How do I escape?

tall penguin

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Post Secret

If you haven't already had a look at this site, please do.

Post Secret started as a community art exhibit and has now expanded into an international phenomenon. Basically, people send in postcards with a secret they've never told anyone else. It's a strange sort of communal voyeurism that seems to ease the pain of carrying our human burdens.

It is updated every Sunday so be sure to bookmark it and check it once a week. There are also three books available which are collections of some of the favorite cards.

Just when you thought you were alone someone sends in a postcard and reminds you that we're all fucked up! Enjoy.

tall penguin

Why Do We Do Anything?

I'm almost finished reading "Freakanomics" by economist Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. It's a great read. It will really get you thinking about what drives people, including yourself. The book explores the incentives that drive behavior, from a crack dealer to a cheating sumo wrestler. It asks questions that people don't stop to ask, like:

'What is really behind the drop in crime the U.S. has had in recent years?'

'Is a child more likely to die by a misfired gun kept at their friend's house or by drowning in their friend's swimming pool?'

'How much affect does parenting really have on a child?'

Perhaps I'm an existential "freakonomist". I've been asking questions all my life. And there are still more. The biggest of which is, "Why do we do anything at all?" What happens when all the obvious incentives become meaningless?

I'm paralyzed by this lack of meaning in my life. What if I venture off in another direction in my life only to find that it is complete crap, much like my religious upbringing. I can't remember a time when I didn't feel this way. I think it's just become much more apparent due to recent life events.

In everything that I do, I am constantly wondering if there is any real point to what I'm doing. Is there any tangible value to my efforts? It's part of the reason I work in retail. I'm a cog in the corporate wheel, but the satisfaction of helping someone is immediate. I work in a bookstore. I help them locate their book. They buy it. My purpose is obvious. It's measurable. It has a beginning and an end.

They come. I find. They buy. They leave. Nice and tidy. But the pay is shit. Oh life, why must you mock me so?

tall penguin

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Another Closet Opening...

I haven't talked about this very openly in recent years as I honestly never thought I'd be back here again. When I was 17 I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. I was sick for a number of years and gradually regained a measure of health and went on with my life. Over the past six months, I have been in a state of relapse and am now struggling with something I thought would be a distant memory.

There is a lot of stigma associated with these conditions. Some people, doctors included, feel that these disorders are predominantly psychosomatic. And if you've been following my blog, you may think the same thing. Sometimes, I even wonder myself. It's difficult to sort out what the mind causes and what other factors cause. There are seemingly a million factors that contribute to health or ill health and I have no idea how to make sense of it all.

It's true that I've had a lot of stress to deal with in the past few years. Yet, my body just doesn't seem to respond to stress in a normal fashion. Exercise makes me feel worse, not better. I can sleep for 12 hours and still wake up feeling like I haven't slept at all. Even on days where I mentally feel confident, happy and peaceful I still feel exhausted and if I even go out for a walk, I'm likely to wake up feeling completely floored the next morning.

The first time around with these conditions, I derived some comfort from my illusory beliefs in God and the hope that one day all my pain would be taken away. No such comfort any more. So, on top of everything else I'm dealing with, the reality of having a chronic illness just gets added on to the pile. It's a lot for one tall penguin to deal with.

I did come across something today that I found inspiring. One of my favorite bands is Belle & Sebastian. My boyfriend got me hooked on them and I saw them live about a year ago. In researching Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) I found out that the lead singer, Stuart Murdoch, was down with CFS for 7 years. And it was during that time that he began writing. On emerging from the illness, he started Belle & Sebastian, and well, the rest is history.

Kind of makes me feel like my blog is possibly a doorway to bigger things. Maybe?

tall penguin

I've Been Spotted!

I'm very excited about this. My blog was quoted on another site. Check it out. It's from the About.com page about Agnosticism/Atheism. Austin Cline writes, under the title "Do Atheists Have to be Perfect?":

"Members of almost any group may experience the fear that they effectively represent of their group as a whole and, therefore, must live up to the highest standards possible in order not to bring disrepute to their group. Atheists in particular can have this problem because atheism is already so widely despised and distrusted, but atheists really should be concerned about this.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Rumination Roots?

As you well know from reading this blog, I think. A lot. For a being with only one stomach I do a heck of a lot of ruminating. And that got me to thinking. Of course it did.

When I was a kid, somewhere around age 5 or 6, my mother changed the way she punished my brother and I for our wrongs. Rather than just use corporal punishment, which was pretty common at the time, she gave us a choice:

1. You can choose to get a spanking right away and be done with it;

or

2. You can choose to "think about what you did" alone in your room and come out when you're ready to give a run-down on why what you did was wrong and apologize for it.

My brother always chose Number 1. I always chose Number 2. And so it began.

I remember going to my room so many times and hiding under my big desk in the corner of my room, huddled up in the fetal position, rocking myself, attempting to understand my heinous deed, why it was so heinous, and what I had to do to make things right again. Sometimes this process took minutes, sometimes hours. It was a bizarre form of self-flagellation. (My parents were Catholic before converting to JWism. I've got guilt in my DNA.)

Eventually I would emerge. Usually, my mother would come and get me out of my room. I was either too stubborn or too ashamed to come out on my own. I'd come out into the living room and have to share my thoughts on what I'd done. Sometimes that would be the end of it. Sometimes I'd have a further punishment like not being able to go over to a friend's house or watch my favorite T.V. show.

In hindsight, I think my brother got the better deal.

tall penguin

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Are Atheists Asking Too Much?

I'm having yet another "Cypher day". This is what I'm calling these days where I long for "The Matrix" and wax nostalgic about how good the steak tasted before I took the red pill.

Having just read "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris and recently finished Dawkins' "The God Delusion" I can't help but wonder if they're asking too much. The idea of the majority of the planet giving up God, in most of its current forms, may be a bit ambitious. I understand it may be necessary to the survival of our species to give up God, but I'm not really sure we (as in human beings) are up for the challenge.

On these days, my "Cypher days", I have great difficulty in dealing with what I've lost in giving up the God delusion. I've lost my parents, my friends, hope and certainty. Reality isn't pretty. It just isn't. And sometimes, it's much more than I bargained for when I left God behind.

The search for truth although lofty and noble is often painful and lonely. "Truthiness" (I love you Stephen Colbert) is a group activity, a global activity, one that gives people a sense of belonging, albeit illusory. I just don't know if you can really sell atheism to the believers without offering something comparable. Have you ever seen a child who's lost their favorite teddy bear?

Perhaps Morpheus was right: "We never free a mind once it reaches a certain age. It's dangerous, and the mind has trouble letting go."

tall penguin

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Steps In Overcoming Masturbation

I came across this today. (I won't even go into how I came across it. It's a sordid tale involving my horniness and an MSN conversation with my boyfriend.)

I thought the JW's were bad. This is some admonition from the Mormons on how to stop the most evil habit of masturbation. I think this is my favorite:

"When in bed, if that is where you have your problem for the most part, dress yourself for the night so securely that you cannot easily touch your vital parts, and so that it would be difficult and time consuming for you to remove those clothes. By the time you started to remove protective clothing you would have sufficiently controlled your thinking that the temptation would leave you."

So that's what my straitjacket is for.

tall penguin

Crazy Eyebrow Lady

A good girlfriend of mine is a makeup artist. She recently took a training and needed to bring a guinea pig, errr...model, along to work on. So I gladly volunteered. My days as a hair model long behind me, I had forgotten what a serious business makeup is.

I spent the afternoon getting three different makeup applications. One of the artists asked me if there was anything I wanted to learn. I said I wanted to figure out how to balance out my eyebrows. Now, you ladies out there can probably relate to this. Many of us over-tweezed in our teens and now have eyebrows of differing length and fullness. Damn eyebrow hairs sometimes don't grow back. Who knew?!

The makeup artist begins to create an eyebrow where there is no eyebrow with his trusted pencils and shadow. He steps back and reveals to me my new, improved, balanced eyebrow look. Wow! I'm totally hot!

So, I get home that night and my boyfriend looks at me and says, "There's something different about you." I smile and bat my eyes hoping he'll notice my new eyebrows. "I'm not sure what it is," he says.

"It's my makeup. I got my eyebrows fixed up," I said.

"Yes! It's about time," he says.

"What do you mean?" I asked. I've known my boyfriend for over 5 years (we were in the same JW congregation back in the day) and he's never once mentioned anything about my eyebrows.

"Well, before I knew you, I used to see you in the congregation and think, 'Pretty girl, but what's with the crazy eyebrows?'"

"Really?" Now, I'm hurt. And embarrassed. "You mean I've been walking around all this time and it was that noticeable that my eyebrows were fucked up and you never said anything?" This is where men are stupid by the way. Why don't they just tell us these things?

In typical male fashion, the boyfriend says, "I didn't want to hurt your feelings."

Great. So everyone has been staring at my mutant eyebrows all this time. I knew they were an issue but, geez, I didn't think it was that obvious. So, if you were one of those people who knew my eyebrows were screwed up and didn't say anything, you suck. And if you've been avoiding me because you thought my misshapen eyebrow was a sign of my inner madness, well, you may be right, but love me anyway.

tall penguin

Occam's Razor

(In my best valley girl voice ala Cher Horowitz in the film "Clueless"):

Like anybody know who this Occam guy is and why his razor is so famous? Did he have like some really long beard or something? I mean, dude, like what's up with that?

Okay, so I'm being facetious. But really, before I started exploring logic, that would have been my question. (Although not in that voice. I can't believe people still talk like that. I mean, really, get a grip.) What do razors have to do with logic anyway?

Basically, for those of you, like myself, who are logically challenged, Occam's Razor is the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. But for the sake of the nerds and geeks (yes Josh and Andrew I mean you guys) who will likely blast me for such a simplistic reduction, I will give you a more strict definition of the term from the all-glorious wikipedia:

"Occam's razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating, or "shaving off", those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. In short, when given two equally valid explanations for a phenomenon, one should embrace the less complicated formulation."

Or put more simply:

"All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one."

I could go on with applying Occam's Razor to the God/Intelligent Design debate but I'll keep it simple here. "KISS" to all.

tall penguin

Knowing I Could...

In the preface of Dawkins' latest book, "The God Delusion" he opens with this:

"As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave. Years later, when she was in her twenties, she disclosed this unhappy fact to her parents, and her mother was aghast: 'But darling, why didn't you come to us and tell us?' Lalla's reply is my text for today: 'But I didn't know I could.'

I didn't know I could.


I suspect - well, I am sure - that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it, don't believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents' religion and wish they could, but just don't realize that leaving is an option. If you are one of them, this book is for you."

I was one of those people. I didn't know I could leave the religion of my parents. I didn't know I had the option. In my mind it wasn't a choice. I was so indoctrinated that even if I left physically I wouldn't have known that I could leave mentally. I know many people like this. They are no longer affiliated with their religion but are trapped mentally from seeing things any differently than what they were raised with.

I physically left the Jehovah's Witness group in August 2005. Mentally, I'm still working on shedding the complete mindfuckery that pervaded my brain for 26 years (since age 5). But there was a moment I recall when it hit me that I could leave, that a lightning bolt wouldn't shoot from heaven if I did, that the earth wouldn't stop spinning when there was an announcement made at my former Kingdom Hall that I was "no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses". It was a wonderful moment. A moment of pure freedom. Can't say it hasn't been hell ever since but I'm still glad I did it.

Even now, there are moments where I do something and I shock myself. I didn't know I could do that. And it isn't about discovering some hidden talent, although that has also been the case recently. It's about realizing I have the option to do something, that I have a choice to do something, or not do something. It might seem obvious to most people but when you grow up with rules and a very dictated structure within which to live your life, the idea of personal choice is truly an illusion.

Case in point: When I first went shopping after my leaving the JW's, I was looking at a rack of skirts and my first thought, the patterned thought, was: I have to buy a skirt that goes below the knee but doesn't hit the floor. (Yes, the rules, although often unwritten, were implied and strict and enforced by peer pressure, shaming and guilt.) And then, it hit me. No I don't. I can buy whatever length of skirt I want. I can buy a micro mini or a long flowing skirt that trails for miles. I can do whatever the hell I want. Fuck you Watchtower!

I didn't buy the mini skirt by the way. My legs naturally look better in something a little longer. Curse my child-bearing body! But the point was I could buy it. It was an option. And options are good.

tall penguin

Those Moments...

You ever have those moments of complete clarity and peace? They seem to come out of nowhere. Granted, some may achieve them through meditation. What I'm discussing here though is when they come spontaneously, out of the blue, from who knows where.

I've had a few of these such moments recently. They've been scattered across my days like little yellow buttercups dotting a green field. And I love them. Actually, I live for them. In those moments, there is this little voice that comes up from the deep and whispers a faint, yet strong, "Everything is going to be alright." (You can recreate said moment by playing Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry". Just wait for the chorus. It's not quite the same, but you'll get the idea.)

These moments tend to sneak up on me. Yesterday, I was sitting on the subway staring out the window into the night and the moment came upon me. A smile spread across my face. I had to hold myself back from laughing out loud lest I be carted off to the nearest asylum. As good as I look hugging myself, spending the night in a Psych Ward is not something I'd like to experience. Again. Alas, I digress.

So I'm sitting there on the subway, feeling like laughing and crying all at the same time. And the voice comes up and I feel peaceful. I feel confident. I feel like nothing matters but this moment and that all is indeed well.

Some would say this is the voice of God or my "Higher Self". I'm not sure what or who it is. Maybe it's just me, the truest, most real version of myself popping by to say hello. Or maybe I just need my meds changed.

tall penguin

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Diagnosis: Existential Angst

Aside from those cute little guys in the movie "Happy Feet" I'm the only penguin I know of who thinks this much. Is this the affliction of having a neocortex? Damn you higher consciousness!

Every day I awake with this sense of dread, this empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. And no, it's not heartburn. It's this all-pervading sense of absurdity, the absurdity of this world, this life, this universe. The seeming complexity, balance and harmony which disguises the still deeper randomness, chaos and disharmony. I want to buy into the illusion that all is well. My gut, quite literally, says otherwise.

I was at a party the other night where people were discussing their careers and their education. Some of them had been in University for 5 or more years. I just can't relate to that. What motivates these people to do anything day after day? What drives people? I really don't get it.

My whole life I was driven by externals. A desire for approval. From my mother, from my teachers, from my friends, from my god. And it wasn't sustainable. Eventually, it all fell away. Now, there are the basic survival concerns that should be driving me each day: food, shelter, clothing. Nope, they're not doing it either. So, what is it that keeps me going every day? Why do I bother to get out of bed at all? Well, sometimes I don't. But when I do, aside from some "should" that must be done (I should brush my teeth. I should eat. I should keep that appointment with my doctor.) there is still that part of me that believes, that hopes that one day it will all become clear. That I'll have that pivotal, ground-breaking, earth-shattering epiphany where I'll laugh uncontrollably for hours, like some manic idiot, knowing that I've discovered what my life is all about.

More wishful thinking? Perhaps. But hey, it's all I've got left.

tall penguin

Monday, January 15, 2007

Choice?

How much choice or free will do we actually have? How much of our behavior and personality is determined by genetics and how much by environment? It's the whole nurture versus nature question and it's been going on forever I know. I just find it so frustrating.

The older I get the more I feel like I'm becoming my mother. As much as I have attempted to make different choices with my life and be consciously aware of why I'm doing what I'm doing, my life seems to still be moving in the same direction as hers. Same health problems. Same fears. Same hopes. And I wonder how much control I really have over this? Is choice just another illusion?

When I look around at my friends, as different as they may appear from their parents, there are some very core similarities. Many they'd be loathe to admit. With the 80 or so years we have on this planet, it seems unlikely we can "rise above" very much. Most days it feels like I'm just moving through cycles, the same ones my parents went through, and probably the same ones their parents went through.

Perhaps during each lifetime of these cycles, we manage to inject a small amount of higher consciousness for the next generation, to keep evolution moving along. But it would seem that it is relatively small, too small to be significant within our limited time frame.

I can see why people don't want to believe in evolution. It's slow and you only get to see a very small part of the picture. We'll never see how our bit of life contributed to the eventual evolution of the species, or its demise. It's much easier to believe that some deity is coming back to the earth in our lifetime and is going to make everything better and that our free will actions will determine whether we get to live forever. Wishful thinking is so much more fun than fact-based reality.

I miss my illusions.

tall penguin

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Delaying the Inevitable...

Hope. We all want hope. We know that we all, one day, will die. Yet most of us don't really want to accept that. We want to think we're going to live forever. Religion capitalizes on this desire. And I think medicine does as well.

We see doctors not necessarily for a cure. We just want to know we're not dying; at least not tomorrow or anytime soon. We want to cheat fate somehow; to have some foregleam of our inevitable death. If we're given a clean bill of health, or at least the problem is identified as non-terminal, we feel vindicated. Ahh, death is not coming for me yet.

It's an illusion though. We could die ten minutes from now. Next week. Hell, a meteor could come and incinerate the whole planet, even though we have lots of equipment to monitor these things. We rely on these gauges; science, religion, medicine, politics; our authority figures. We trust them to take information and tell us that no matter how bad it looks, there is a solution; there is hope. We don't want to face the inevitable. One day we're going to die. Every last one of us. And so we delay living our life, being present in the moment, which is all that is real. And by doing so, we are already dead.

tall penguin

Placebo Effect...

In the past couple of months, I've gone back to taking a prescribed sleeping pill, a hypnotic. One of the side effects is a bitter taste in the mouth which usually begins within 20 minutes of taking the pill. I have begun to notice that it doesn't work consistently to put me to sleep. On the nights where I get the bitter taste in my mouth, where I'm consciously aware of it, I fall asleep easily. I taste the bitterness and I think, "OOOOO, the sleep is coming. Yaaaaaa!" And off to dreamland I go.

But there are nights where I don't get the bitter taste or I'm not aware of it, maybe because I'm reading something and I'm too absorbed in it to notice the change of taste in my mouth. On those nights, it seems as though the sleeping pill doesn't work. All this gets me thinking more deeply about the placebo effect.

I wonder if I was given a pill that didn't have any drug in it but that left me with a bitter taste in my mouth 20 minutes after taking it if I'd be more likely to fall asleep right away than without taking anything at all. My mind has made certain associations between the bitter taste and falling asleep. It seems likely that the two would correlate whether there was any active drug present in my system or not.

Doing some research on placebo effect, I came across this very interesting article. It's a bit long but worth reading. It will make you think twice about what your mind is capable of. A few excerpts:

"The truth is that the placebo effect is huge -- anywhere between 35 and 75 percent of patients benefit from taking a dummy pill in studies of new drugs -- so huge, in fact, that it should probably be put to conscious use in clinical practice, even if we do not entirely understand how it works."

"Doctors who deliberately prescribe placebos and patients who accept them are not unheard of, even now. Many of us, for example, enter into a tacit agreement to take a placebo when we ask for, and usually get, a prescription for antibiotics to treat a viral infection."

"Yet in the end it is also a bit of a gimmick. If you get too fixated on the ritual of swallowing a pill, you miss the larger meaning of the placebo effect. And the larger meaning has to do with a certain kind of empathic attention that a doctor -- some doctors -- give to patients. It has to do with faith and hope and a physician's capacity for marshaling those sentiments in the service of the sick. "The secret of the care of the patient," wrote Dr. Francis W. Peabody in a popular essay for doctors, "is in caring for the patient." It may also be the secret of the placebo."

--The Placebo Prescription, New York Times Magazine, January 09, 2000

This all leads me to my ongoing polemic about the illusion we have created in our own minds. How our desire for things to be true has little to do with their ultimate reality and more to do with our need for hope. When are we going to wake up from this dream and see things as they really are rather than how we'd like them to be?

tall penguin

Becoming The Watcher...

I've been playing lately with watching my thoughts. Kind of like cloud watching. I just take a step back from within myself and watch my thoughts go by. It's amazing and somewhat startling the number of thoughts we have every day. To stop and be aware of them is a very interesting process.

The other day I got triggered by some information about someone I knew. Immediately my brain was on fire with thoughts about this person from the past and worries about this person in the future. Within seconds I'd created this big story linked to about 10 other memories and they were linked to another 10 memories. And those memories triggered more stories and more worry and more fear. And then rage and anger and grief. Before I knew it, I was in a full-blown emotional response, crying and feeling like I wanted to kill someone.

Once I was able, I stepped back and just looked at all those thoughts, without judgment, without the need to analyze them or label them and realized they were just thoughts, mind-stuff, all stuff that my mind had generated to protect my ego from the illusion of who I thought I was.

I wonder how much of our suffering in this life is self-generated. How much of it is our attempt to protect our egos from the death they so well deserve. How often we weave these stories in our minds to justify our "rightness" and another's "wrongness". How we create drama to keep ourselves from seeing what is real. For what is underneath all this mind-stuff? Who is the watcher?

tall penguin

I Rue the Day

I hate the day. Perhaps it is the Fibromyalgia that makes it difficult to move in the mornings. Perhaps it is the fact that I don't sleep well many nights. Or perhaps it is my deep disdain for the status quo lifestyle that pervades the daylight hours.

There is a hustle and bustle, constant "busy-ness", striving and struggling, worker bee drone, robotic, and sheep to the slaughter kind of vibe to the daytime, particularly in the city. On those loathsome days where I am called on to function before 4:00 pm I dread leaving my house.

Remember those conveyor belts in the Jetson's? How the characters would just step on to one and they'd quickly be shuffled along to their destination? When I go out during the day, that's how it feels. I step out of my house and I'm shuffled along by the collective societal desire to "produce", to "get things done", to "make it through the day", to "achieve the dream". To what end though? What is our destination? A house? 2 cars? 2.5 children? Where are we going?

tall penguin

Monday, January 8, 2007

Pale Blue Dot...

Had an interesting day. I started off being caught in a web of self-pity and grief. Then I took some time out to just watch my thoughts and realized I was causing myself a whole lot of unnecessary suffering. I still find it fascinating (and frustrating too) how my thoughts can over-run my brain. I feel like such a hostage sometimes.

I came across this which I found sobering. It's Carl Sagan's reflections on a very unique photo of the Earth. It speaks volumes and definitely puts things into perspective for me.

tall penguin

Spiders on Drugs

Anyone remember those "Hinterland Who's Who" nature vignettes that the Canadian Wildlife Service released in the 70's? Well, here's one you may have missed:

Spiders on Drugs


Enjoy!

tall penguin

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Navigating the blog...

As this may be new to some people, I'll do a basic tutorial on how to make your way around the blog.

At the end of each blog entry you will see something like this:

1 comments

If you click on the time of day link you will pull up that particular entry on its own page complete with any comments that have been posted.


If you click on the comments link you will reach a page where you can type your own comment. You do not need a special account to do this. You can post in 1 of 3 ways:

1. With an account.
2. Other--you can just pick any name you like and post under it.
3. Anonymous--you don't have to put your name in at all.

You will have to type in a security word for your post to go through. This prevents the blog from getting spammed by automated programs. Notice that you can always preview your post before it is published.

If you prefer, you can click on my profile and just email me your comments privately. That's cool too.

If you click on the envelope you can email the post to someone else. Feel free to share.

Also, if you want to sign up to receive the blog in your news feed there is an option at the bottom of the page. It looks like this:

Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)

Hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to email me.

I want this to be an open forum for discussion. So feel free to respond to any of the posts that are made on the blog, not just mine. The more the merrier.

tall penguin

Saturday, January 6, 2007

MRI

I had an MRI today (for some back issues). I've never had one before so I wasn't sure what it would be like. Some people told me it might freak me out because it's so confined. My boyfriend attempted to "prepare" me for the experience by telling me to envision myself as a mummy. I didn't think that was the best visualization but that's my boyfriend for ya. To know him is to love him, or at least tolerate his attempts to make me feel better.

I guess if I were claustrophobic it might have been an issue for me inside that metal tube. I actually found the whole experience rather cocoon-like. There was something quite lovely about the sensory deprivation. Lying completely still with my eyes closed and ear plugs in, the only sense I was acutely aware of was my hearing. It's REALLY loud in that machine. But it's a neat rhythmic hum, like some kind of heavy metal lullaby.

When I came out I was dizzy and disoriented, kinda spacey. It was wonderful, not unlike a good buzz from your favorite drink or other buzz-inducing substances. I came out and my boyfriend had to help me unlock my locker because I couldn't even coordinate myself to put the key in.

On leaving the hospital, I noticed my boyfriend had a cup of tea in his hand. I asked, "When did you have time to go down and get a tea?"

He said, "You were in there for 30 minutes."

I snickered. Groovy man. Groovy.

tall penguin

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Jesus Camp

Has anyone seen the documentary Jesus Camp? Oh my. I can't even begin to tell you how disturbed I was by this film.

It's basically a documentary about a camp where children learn about Evangelical Christian ideas and how to "take back America for Christ". I didn't know Christ was looking for a new home.

It's an alarming view of fundamentalist Christianity. And to think there are more extreme camps than this one in the U.S.

This film is also a very scary look into the beliefs that are held by the leader of the free world. Watch for the George Bush worship. I shiver just thinking about it.

tall penguin

Perfectionism Insanity...

I haven't posted for a few days. I'll let you in on why that is. First though, some background. In the cult I grew up in, Jehovah's Witnesses, (that's the first time I've mentioned that, isn't it? I guess I'm really out of the closet now) there was always this "protect the appearance of the religion at all costs" kind of mentality. There's an all-pervasive need to not "bring reproach on 'Jehovah' or the congregation" (as if God needed me to make sure no one got the wrong idea about him). It causes quite a perfectionist persona to develop, where you have the need to project that you've got it altogether. Time and again, we were told that we were "Jehovah's happy people" and that we must be aware of how we present ourselves "to the world" so that people "on the outside" would be endeared to the God we served. No small task.

So, what does this have to do with why I haven't written for a few days? Well, as I've been writing about my increasingly atheistic ideas, I felt this overwhelming need to "protect" that idea from any ill perceptions. I haven't been feeling great emotionally for the past few days and I thought that if I wrote about my depressive thoughts I'd be "casting a bad light" on atheism. The thought swirled around in my head: "No one's gonna wanna become an atheist if they see that it hasn't cured all your ails." So I didn't write. Yes, I know. It's fucked up.

I realized though this morning that that was completely irrational. I'm not responsible for what anyone thinks of atheism or anything else for that matter. And I'm human. I suffer from depression. This is part of my life for the time being. I can only be where I am. And so it is.

tall penguin

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Responses to Atheism post...

I thank everyone who has emailed me about my recent post on atheism and religion. I find it interesting that most people felt more comfortable discussing their views privately with me and not here in the open. I imagine there may be many reasons for that, including not being familiar with posting on an open forum such as this. I wonder though whether it is our desire for "political correctness" that prevents us from being more open on this subject. What are we so afraid of? Worth asking ourselves I think.

Believe me, blogging on this particular subject has been very difficult. As I expressed in response to one of the emails I received, it is a HUGE step for me to even be discussing anything so openly, let alone god and religion. For most of my life I've hidden away my thoughts for fear of offending someone, somewhere. God forbid (no pun intended) I should have people not like me anymore because they disagree with something I've said. I am painfully and slowly learning to check my ego at the door and put myself out there. I may be wrong. And I am willing to be wrong. It doesn't matter. I just want to talk about this stuff.

Once you've experienced censorship of thought you find a certain freedom in just being able to discuss ideas, without having to commit to a particular belief. I'm actually finding myself moving away from beliefs. The less I believe the better. I am here. I know that much. For now anyways. Maybe someday I'll discover that that isn't so either.

tall penguin

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Year!

Not much to say here. Feelin' a little out of it considering last night's festivities.

Thought I'd share a quote:

"New Year's Day - Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual."

Gotta love that Mark Twain!

tall penguin