What Do You Believe?

I tested myself on my beliefs. Not my religious beliefs – I am not in a place of enlightenment, and I don’t hold any favor with organized religion. I challenged what I believe in myself. I said to myself: name something you believe is true and prove it false.

First, I said, “I am a bad student.” By every conventional measure this is true. I never handed in homework on time. I slept through class. I crammed to pass tests (which I always passed), and I had no discipline. But that test thing: yes, I passed tests with ease. I aced some. Go figure. There were papers I wrote in university over a single night. But I did well. I graduated, not at the top of the class, but accomplished nonetheless.

Am I a bad student? Do I have learning difficulties? I have struggled with dyslexia all my life. Even now in my maturity, I struggle. I have to take more time to read emails, and I can’t make sense of numbers sometimes. It’s been a problem. But I still learn with ease. I learn by doing rather than by reading; although, I have learned a lot by reading. So, that isn’t true, either.

I have proven myself wrong. I challenged my wife with this. I asked her to name something that she believed was true and then prove she was wrong about it. What a revelation! It’s harder than you think because you will discover things about yourself you may not be ready to face. Are you full of doubt and self-loathing or shame? Maybe you need this exercise.

So, ask yourself the question. What negative thing do you believe to be true about yourself? You will be surprised how wrong you are about what you really believe.

Advertisements

Symbiosis

I was listening to the radio as the sun was coming up Saturday when I saw a rusted-out car on the road. I was driving through a fairly wealthy community, so it stood out a little. I thought about the rust – iron oxide, to be precise – and it occurred to me that life on this planet could not have evolved without global-level symbiosis. You see, plants take in carbon dioxide, CO2, and they expel oxygen. We learned this in 7th or 8th grade, I think. Oxygen is kind of destructive, when you think about it. Without it, old, beat-up cars would not fear for rust. On the other hand, of course, animal life could not exist.

Humans and whales and tree frogs need oxygen to live. And we expel CO2 as waste, the very thing plants need. It would not be possible to have plants without animals, nor vice-versa. Symbiosis was part of the evolutionary process from the beginning. Perhaps in earth’s extreme distant past, the atmosphere was very different, and plants were able to thrive before other life emerged. But it is undeniable that we need each other to survive.

It is the same for our relationships. Symbiotic relationships exist in nature, plant-to-plant, plant-to-animal, and animal-to-animal. For instance, certain flowers would never be able to flourish without bees and other insects to pollinate them.  And the bees benefit from the pollen and nectar collected and converted to honey. It’s a win-win. That is until something upsets the balance. If the plants are killed off, the bees die, and so on.

Human relationships can be symbiotic, but not in such an obvious, tangible diorama. We all give and take in our relationships. In a perfect world, there would be balance, equilibrium. But many of us are out of balance. Some take more than they give, and give more than they take. On the surface, giving more might seem healthy, but extreme selflessness can make a person more needful than could be predicted. You may know someone like this. They do “too much” or give away everything to their own deprivation.

Years ago, I read about a man who had won a lottery jackpot of $50 million. Within three years he was bankrupt. At first I thought it was one of those cases where a person had spent lavishly to the point of being broke. But this man, as it turned out, was generous to a fault. His “needy” relatives bled him dry. In his defense, I would probably have given away millions to my parents and others. I dream of being able to build a mountain lodge for my dad to retire to, and my mom could have a small rural home where she could plant vegetables. The man who won the lottery was likely no more careless than the average person. His sin was in being too generous, giving to anyone who asked.

What’s wrong with that, you ask? The “teach a man to fish” maxim comes to mind, but does anyone want to invest time in being the finance minister to their family? My wife and I actually have a plan in the (extremely) unlikely event that we should win a jackpot. It may seem as rational as building a rocket in your backyard, but people do win, and often they are unprepared. Be that as it may, we are going to give away a lot of money without condition, and we don’t expect anything in return, should it actually happen.

Unreciprocated donations of money and property, however, are not going to drain your spirit like being the on-call, go-to, knight in shining armor for your family and friends. There are times when we answer a call or accept a request from someone without thinking of our own needs. Don’t misunderstand me – I will always be there for my friends and my family. But I have to take care of myself. A good example can be found during the moments before take-off in a commercial airliner. Flight attendants give instructions to passengers about the “unlikely event of loss of cabin pressure” by demonstrating how the oxygen masks work. Most importantly, they are sure to point out, do not worry about helping the person next to you until you have secured your own mask. The reason is that if you pass out from lack of oxygen, you are going to be a liability, unable to help anyone.

Likewise it is with our relationships. I know people who are great at taking care of others. But they are completely incapable of basic personal care, like getting enough sleep and so on. (How many nurses do you know that smoke?) Being healthy isn’t simply looking fit. Health is holistic, encompassing body and mind. Your body is a host for millions of bacteria, mostly helpful. The microbes in your gut literally keep you alive by protecting the tenuous balance of your bodily systems. Likewise, the bacteria on your skin surface are like the sentry at the gate. Unfortunately, Staphylococcus bacteria will kill you if they make their way to internal organs.

This brings me back to that rusted car. Oxygen, it turns out, is actually harmful. Too much oxygen in the atmosphere and plant life could not exist. The air we breathe is about 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen. The rest is argon and carbon dioxide and other gases. That balance is what makes this planet how we see it today. Cut down all the trees, and bad things will begin to happen. Really bad things. But what if you got rid of all the humans? That delicate balance will still be affected. You see, we’re all part of this living machine, earth. We need each other to survive.

Feet

If not for the stupid, stupid weather – ice and snow in Texas?! – I would be running tonight. I saw some runners this morning while the temperature was still above zero Celsius, but there was no way I was going out tonight. In any case, I followed through with my goal to start running again after – what? – 8 months. Maybe more. The excuses were just that. Excuses.

My feet were sore at first, along with my thighs and calves. But I always tell people: the first workout is not the toughest. It’s the second one. So, I went right back out there and did it again. And then we had an ice storm. After the return of spring, I went right back out. It was harder than I had expected, probably because I had eaten a heavy lunch, and I have come to realize I run better after a fast. Plus the relative humidity was about 90%, but it was cool, about 6 degrees. Even then, I sweated profusely.

The thing about running is that I don’t think about it once I get in the zone. I think that’s how I understand that saying. “The Zone” is this place where thinking goes out the door. You are mentally and physically united in effort. I will get to a place where I can hear my feet hitting the pavement, and I can see my shoes, and I can hear my breathing, but I’m not really there, if you know what I mean. It’s like my eyes and ears and all my senses are detached, as if my mind is in my feet. I realize this sounds odd, but there simply are no words to describe it.

I’m seriously bummed out right now – actually irked – because of the stupid weather. I know there is nothing I can do about it. Actually, maybe human being will one day be able to control the climate. I mean, it sure looks like we’ve cocked it up already. Maybe.

My feet are good. My knees are good. For an old dude, I’m doing alright. I just wish the damned snow would stop.