Navigating Spiderwebs

I haven’t purchased a magazine in a very long time, but Real Simple’s publication about the power of positive thinking jumped out at me in CVS last weekend and I grabbed a copy.  Having been in therapy, life-coaching on top of being a self-help book junkie, I already knew that there is plenty of scientific research that shows that a sunny outlook has not only mental, but physical benefits.  I realized not long after purchasing the magazine that I had fallen into a negative-thought pattern after my sub-par performance in the AP training and mediocre nature walks with my kids.  I went down a dark rabbit hole of “I’m not enough of… I’m not good enough at… I should just stop trying.” There are several common negative thinking patterns – black and white, mind reading, crystal-ball gazing, over-generalization, disqualifying the positive, overreacting, unrealistic expectations, name calling, self blame and catastrophizing.  These thoughts not only rob us of our joy, they also kick up our production of cortisol causing inflation and a host of medical conditions associated with sustained high levels of stress.  I found myself reading about how bad stress is during moments of high stress, which only exacerbated the situation.  

I began what can only be described as my self-help journey the first time I walked into a CrossFit gym in 2015.  Something about the drive that I saw in the people there made me want to be a {better) athlete.  It’s a stretch to call myself an athlete pre-CF.  I wanted to get into shape, mostly for esthetic reasons,  but soon I found my desire to be better seep into different parts of my life.  I became obsessed with the idea of trying to ingest only beneficial/healthy things – food, beverages, media, music, etc.  I went from trying to improve my fitness, to eating healthier, to being a better parent/human being in general, to being spiritual, etc.  I read many self-help books from The Artist’s Way, Spiritual Junkie, Can’t Hurt Me, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, The Obstacle is the Way and The Alter Ego to name a few.  I went down a Google rabbit hole writing this trying to figure out how much the average American spends on self-help products each year, and stumbled upon a bunch of very anti-self help movement information out on the web. Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, posted an interesting video on YouTube, “The Self Help Industry is Lying” where he posits that most of the industry is powered by “self help junkies” who are looking for their next big breakthrough, who are not willing to put in the work.  Have I been guilty of this? I most certainly have.  Another online critic said that when you are doing “self-improvement” there is no third party measuring your improvement, therefore it’s all bullshit.

Maybe the whole self-help industry is bullshit, but it’s working for me.  I’m better physically, mentally and spiritually than I was in 2015.  Years ago I never would have been writing this, much less Googling the spiritual significance of spiders.  On yet another day where I was promised that the divorce agreement would be signed, I walked into countless webs, and avoided crushing daddy long legs and then this is what the internet told me about the spider’s spiritual meaning- “In the spirit realm, spiders are master timekeepers, tying energetic knots that weave together the past and future to help you manifest in the present moment. They can alert you when you are stuck in the past, or jumping forward in the future.” source .  A friend also reminded me today to, “stay in my square footage. We are all addicted to the next.  We lose presence… happiness is in this breath, is here and is now…”  Focusing on breathing is the simplest way to ground myself and appreciate the present moment for whatever it is when I am in a frenzy.  Lungs are the only organ we can control, take advantage of that shit. 

I found the pattern in each of the self-help authors is that they have all overcome some kind of catastrophic event (s) in their lives.  Addiction, divorce and abuse are the top three.  Almost all of the people in my inner circle these days are all people who have experienced these things, and are healing from the wounds.  One of the best things I did was to stick to the twelve week in The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, to recover my creative self.  Because of her course, I continue to journal three pages almost every morning, but it also gave me a tool in which to check in with myself.  It forces me to hold myself accountable to see where I am good, and what parts of my life need more attention/guidance/growth.  Cameron calls it the “Life Pie” and her instructions are, “Draw a circle. Divide it into 6 pieces of a pie. Label one piece spirituality, another exercise, another play, and so on with work, friends, and romance/ adventure.  Place a dot in each slice at the degree to which you are fulfilled in that area (outer rim indicates great; inner circle, not so great). Connect the dots. This will show you where you are lopsided.”

I have modified my categories over the years to “Adventure, Creativity, Personal Growth/Spirituality, Health/Wellbeing, Work, Relationships with Others.”  Today’s web is lopsided, but hardly to the same degree and the same areas as the first one I drew in 2018.  What I have found is that when I focus too hard on one aspect, I have to put in over-time with the others to balance it out.   “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson. I enjoy connecting with others on a personal growth path. I like it when people share things about themselves that reveal that they are working to be better people.  I have tried to emulate some things that these people have done.  At the end of the day, I am finding my own way, doing my own thing, and picking up nuggets of advice that fit for me along the way.   

“You deserve to be in spaces and relationships that make you feel happy- that feed your soul and help you grow.  You are worthy of connections that are loving, nourishing, kind and authentic.  So before you settle for anything less, remind yourself that the places you visit, and the people you journey with through life, should leave you feeling safe, loved and enough.” – Alexandra Elle


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