Travel writing, victims & villans

Quote: Once you refuse to see  someone else's grief and  focus on your own grievance,  it becomes far easier to  reduce your rival victim to  a villan — someone you need  to protect yourself against  and, if necessary harm  before he can harm you.

Background photo credit: jinterwas via Compfight cc

I love travel writing. The ability of narrative to transport me into another country or culture thrills me.

I tend towards reading light-hearted travelogues, like Hitching Rides with Buddha or The Sex Lives of Cannibals, but I’m finding that there’s deep value in more serious fare.

I picked up a book from the The Best American Travel Writing series because I thought it might be like the travel story anthology Not so Funny when it Happened, which contains some of the funniest writing I’ve ever read.

The Best American Travel Writing series is not, however, a collection of humourous travel tales. There are some light-hearted stories, but many of the accounts are pretty austere. Essays include trips to Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Bulgaria, and India – and not the clean, shiny, touristy parts of these countries, but the squalid, corrupt parts that most tourists don’t see.

Tom Sleigh’s essay The Deeds hit me hardest. He wrote about Israel, Palestine, and the Palestinians living in Lebanon with a raw humaness that feels surprisingly non-partisan. Amidst the narrative, Sleigh brings up this idea that everyone involved in and affected by the conflict in the Middle East is a victim; that people can choose to see the grief of others and recognize that the people on the other side are victims as well. Compassion and understanding can arise from allowing for joint-suffering rather than portraying the other side as villainous  This concept that plays out in less intense situations closer to home as well.

This quote stood out to me, particularly as I’d just had a mini-skirmish with someone where I felt victimized.

Once you refuse to see someone else’s grief and focus on your own grievance, it becomes far easier to reduce your rival victim to a villan — someone you need to protect yourself against and, if necessary harm before he can harm you.

~ Tom Sleigh
from The Deeds in The Best American Travel Writing 2009

In that mini-skirmish, I chose not to see the other person’s hardships and focus only on my own. I established an ‘us versus them’ scenario that meant the other person had to be the villan who was trying to destroy my way of life and impede my happiness (in a much more trivial way than in the Middle East), rather than a fellow victim. Although we were both victims in that neither of us were getting what we wanted.

That mental switch from seeing the other side as antagonistic and combattive to also victimized reminded me that there is room for both people to be suffering. Both sides can feel hurt, neglected, and frustrated. I do not have a monopoly on those emotions and someone else feeling the same way does not negate my hardship.

The next time a conflict arises with someone, I hope I’m able to avoid seeing them as the villan. To recognize their grievances and understand that they are not trying to worsen my life, but improve their own… exactly the same way I am.

Happiness on horseback

Laura on horsebackI went horseback riding on a recent vacation and remembered how happy it makes me. I took riding lessons as a kid and then returned to riding as an adult several years ago.

I rode once or twice a week for a few years and mostly loved it. Of course there were some days where things just didn’t feel comfortable, but overall riding thrilled me.

Then my stress levels skyrocketed at work and riding lessons became a chore. All the pressure I put on myself at work came through on horseback. I made the horses nervous, I got frustrated easily, and my hobby was no longer fun. I gave up riding.

I hadn’t ridden for two years when I got on Ginger at Makena Stables. All the enjoyment came rushing back and being on a horse was fun again 🙂

Now to see if there’s a way for me to continue horseback riding while not on vacation!

The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.
~Ashley Montagu

Be gentle with yourself

Quote over cluster of startsThere are a couple situations that reliably bring on negative self-talk and increase the nasty thoughts I think about myself. A couple nights of disturbed sleep and the grey nastiness of the slushy weather outside have led to recurring thoughts that I don’t care enough about others and that I’m not nice enough, considerate enough, or loving enough; that I’m just overall not enough.

Days like this, I need a reminder that I am enough. I need a reminder that it’s okay to be gentle with myself. I need a reminder to treat myself like I would anyone I love.

I’d never accuse a loved one of being a terrible person for the same perceived sins I’m calling myself out for… not even in my head.

I am enough. And I will be gentle with myself first.

Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.

~Lama Yeshe

Smile because it happened

Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.Tonight I teach my lass class at Body Harmony. The present studio space is being redeveloped and the owner is taking a hiatus before re-opening in a new location.

While I’ve only been teaching there since spring, I’ve grown really attached to the space, other teachers, and, of course, the students. I’m going to miss teaching there and it’s hard not to feel melancholic about the transition.

Dr Seuss brings a little perspective to the situation. Instead of being sad that I won’t be at Body Harmony in the coming months, I’m focusing on being grateful that I’ve been able to teach and practice there.

Catching the tail end of the space farewell celebration tomorrow evening should help with the smiling part, too 🙂 On Friday evening, Body Harmony teachers and students will be celebrating the space with live music and good food. Nothing like a party to drive away sadness!

And if you’re in the mood for a hatha class this evening, join me from 7:30-8:45pm tonight for the last evening class at this incarnation of Body Harmony!

Change the way you think

If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it.

Practicing meditation can be a powerful way to change the way you think.

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt posits that there are three ways to change your thinking and permanently alter the way you view the world: Prozac (or other similar medications), cognitive behavioural therapy, and meditation.

Meditation is the cheapest and comes with far fewer side effects that medication!

And I highly recommend taking a look at Haidt’s website and reading his book. It’s a scientific approach to why we think the way we do… and how to make ourselves happier.

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

Mary Engelbreit