Religion is one of those things that you aren’t supposed to mention in small talk. You don’t ask someone about their religious affiliation after you’ve introduced yourself because it is a hot topic. In the last few years the gap between myself and religious affiliation has widened significantly. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at an international conference the focused on cultic organizations. Very interesting stuff. As one of the few people of color in attendance, I shared a bit of my personal experience with a branch of a religion that had a leader who dictated what to wear, what to eat, and where to go and expected to be obeyed. While the peacefulness of country living was present, it was overshadowed by oppressive rules that kept the leader in charge. During the duration of the conference I had the chance to attend seminars and meet other attendees who had once been in cults but left at some point. Many were born into various organizations that their parents had joined years ago. After the conference I wanted to read more about the experiences of individuals who had become caught up in cults and religiously abusive organizations. After meeting a few of the contributor’s at the conference, I read a book called Whispering in the Daylight and the author wrote about the cult led by Tony Alamo. It was fascinating and bone numbingly sad at the same time. One thing that was particularly sad was the fact that parents surrendered their children to be beat mercilessly and starved. They also allowed their girls as young as age 9 to be the “brides” of the leader. All in the name of religion and doing what they felt to be right. The question that always seems to be asked is how do people end up in these type of situations? The truth is that people tend to want a sense of purpose. Having a charismatic leader who seems to have found the meaning of life or claims to have some exclusive relationship to a deity can appear to be a good thing. It’s fairly easy to forsake all when one believes that not doing so would lead to eternal condemnation. By the same token, believing that your actions can earn you eternal bliss is an attractive idea. I think that it’s even different for children who grow up in that type of environment and have never known anything different. Reading the book about some of their experiences and how hard it has been and continues to be to adjust to “regular” life was eye opening. One thing that I believe is important to remember is that wanting to believe in something or someone isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But it can become problematic when one consciously decides to yield their free will without reservation to another individual. It’s a strange dynamic that I find intriguing.
One of my goals since moving to the east coast a few months ago has been to be more social. I decided that I was going to make an effort and go on some dates. I set a personal goal of going out with someone at least once a week. So far it’s been going pretty well with the exception of that one time I caught feelings too fast and ended up rather heartbroken. But that’s another story for another time. This one is about a date that I had last week. I’m on a rather popular site for dating that will remain nameless and there was a guy who had been messaging me for a while. He would write the occasional greeting and ask for a chance to get to know me. Regular stuff. So night I was bored and decided to respond (bad idea). He wrote me back almost immediately and asked for my number. I sent him the one that I give to people that I don’t know. Yes, I have one. Too many years of working in mental health and medical settings will have you protecting any little bit of privacy you can have. But I digress. John (definitely not his real name) called me right after I sent my number. He asked me what I wanted in a relationship and I gave my usual response of getting to know someone and seeing how it goes. He told me a bit about himself. He was from Nicaragua and worked in a blue collar trade job. He was in his early 30s and had never been married and didn’t have any children. He enthusiastically told me that he had just gotten his drivers license back after having it taken away for unpaid tickets and that he didn’t have his own place and was crashing at his own place. “But that’s ok baby, we’ll just hang out at your place,” he said. First of all, I don’t appreciate the assumption that I’m going to invite you over at any point. That’s a privilege reserved for a select few. John said that he wanted to spoil me and prove that he was the best man for me. He asked me out for dinner the next night to a Peruvian restaurant that was fairly close to my house. I could tell that he was hoping even at this early stage that he would get an invite over to my place after dinner. So I promptly crushed his hopes and dreams (very nicely of course) and let him know that I don’t get down like that. Because you know, standards and everything. So we agree to meet up the next day. Tomorrow comes and I get the generic “good morning beautiful” text message which never ceases to annoy me unless it comes from someone I think is beautiful and then it’s ok. He sent me a picture of his face as well and then asked for feedback. I don’t think I responded because sometimes the best answer is no answer. So the evening came and I arrived at the restaurant on time and parked. No John. He called me to say that he was running late. No biggie. So in order to make the best use of my time I checked in via text message with one of my other friends and caught up on what was going on in their life. John arrived about 20 minutes late and blamed traffic. Whatever. We are immediately seated by the waiter and we sit. John starts conversing with the waiter in Spanish asking about the drink options. I order water and politely decline his offer of alcohol. I try not to drink with people I don’t know plus I know I’ll have to drive home and it’s a weekday so I have work in the morning. Then the interrogation begins. He asks me multiple times if I like what I see. In the true spirit of avoidance I reply that he looks just like his picture. He shows me the obnoxiously big cross that’s hanging from a chain on his neck and declares (somewhat loudly) that he is a follower of Jesus Christ and a die hard Catholic. Instant turn off. I’m not particularly religious but I can appreciate the value that religion brings to the lives of millions. He then follows up his profession of faith with an extremely graphic description of the things that he would do if we were behind closed doors. He talks at length about how happy I’d be if I would just give him a chance and take him home. He promises that once I’ve had a “real man” aka him I’ll never go back. Now granted I haven’t been in the game that long but I do know that the more someone talks about their abilities and skills in that particular department, the worst they are at actually following through. It’s like their insecurities do all the talking and when push comes to shove their actions can’t cash the check their mouth made. Small pet peeve of mine. While the waiter at the table was semi-attentive, the food took a while (40 minutes) to get to our table. So John amused himself by talking to the couple at the table next to ours. One of which was a doctor. John immediately proceeded to ask a diagnosis question about some radiating pain in his neck that he had been having for a while. I wanted to crawl underneath the table. This is why I rarely introduce myself as a therapist because then people stay asking questions and sometimes I just want to be off the clock. But I digress. Finally the food came and John proceeded to eat his food loudly and messily. He chewed with his mouth open as he talked about his childhood and told me how much money had made last year. Then he started to ask me if he would see me again and I gave the most noncommittal answer known to man. “We’ll see.” However, technically it’s just a nice way to say no. The meal is finally over and he decides he wants to walk me to my car. Once we’re there he proceeds to try to put his hand down my pants in broad daylight and kiss me. I quickly extricate myself and get into my car and drive away. Date over. Never to happen again. He texted me the next morning and messaged me on the site. John also took the time to include a picture of a certain part of his body telling me that I didn’t know what I was missing out on. I could clearly see that I’m wasn’t missing anything whatsoever. I was actually winning because once again my theory about big talkers had been proven true. So after a few other pictures and messages about all the things that he had planned for me, I blocked him (thanks google voice). Case closed.
So today I tried yoga for the first time with my AirBnB host. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to try for a while but never quite got around to. I’m trying to be healthier and I vowed that this year I would try to have some new experiences. So to a yoga class I went. The first thing I noticed was that I really wasn’t flexible. I don’t make stretching a frequent practice and boy did it show as I was trying to breathe and stay in the same position at the same time. The teacher talked about trusting the Universe and just relaxing. For the life of me I couldn’t bring myself to relax. I admire those people who can automatically calm themselves down and focus on the present. I haven’t mastered it yet. I could feel my anxiety rise as the quiet music played and the class was quiet with everyone practicing their breaths. I thought about all the uncertainty that I’m surrounded by and what the week would be like. My mind raced to how hard it is being single sometimes and the trips that I had planned. I tried my hardest to focus on the present but the planner in me needed something to do. While I want to try yoga again, I need to try it on vacation because I’m usually a bit more relaxed and maybe I’ll get through without distractions. The class was good but seemed incredibly long. I really liked the focus on being grateful and eliminating distractions. It’s something I need to do more.
- Life is hard. It’s messy and doesn’t have any promises or absolutes. But it’s easier to go through those stressors having money. Just like it sucks to be sad but its more comfortable to cry in a Bentley than on your bike.
- Advance planning is important. It’s hard to make crucial decisions when you’re still reeling from emotions and you have to think clearly. It’s better to get it out the way and not worry about it than to scramble last minute.
- It’s important to take some initiative and find out what resources are around you. After all, it’s better to know someone and not need them than to need someone and not know them.
- Questions are good. Ask them.
- Keep an open mind. Just because things have been done a certain way for a while doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved or become more efficient.
As I’ve said in a previous post, it’s so hard to believe that the end of the year is once again upon us. This year has brought an abundance of life lessons that I didn’t quite plan on learning. I’ve included below the top 5.
- Everything isn’t always as it seems-sometimes you have to take the time to dig beneath the surface and find out what’s really going on instead of blindly accepting someone’s explanation.
- Comfort zones are great for people who don’t have a sense of adventure and don’t want to go anywhere in life.
- There are some opportunities that only come once so carefully (and I mean carefully) think about the ones you turn down for whatever reason.
- There are times in life that you have make uncomfortable decisions in the present that your future self will thank you for making in the future.
- There are some things and experiences that you’ll never experience until you travel outside the country and go off the beaten tourist path.
A lot of my posts this year have been about making choices, trying new things and following through. Recently I had the chance to experience the results of a pretty deliberate choice that I made. I had to go against a lot that had been engrained in me since childhood and also through adulthood. Going off the beaten path of what was expected and doing my own thing. I’ve always wondered what life is like for those who adhere to a specific set of values and morals all their life without even considering that other people live by other sets of morals and are completely fine. Some people have a need to learn by experience. They don’t want to take any one else’s opinion because they want to know for themselves. I think I’m one of those people. While I can fully agree with vicariously learning in order to avoid life altering pitfalls, there’s something to be said about having a personal experience. Many times we can be so quick to take someone else’s word for it without being willing to investigate it ourselves. In my opinion, nothing good ever comes from taking someone’s opinion as truth without critically thinking about it for yourself. There’s a quote I read not too long ago that said “Question everything.” In the world we live in, thinking is essential. In addition to that, the ability to see things though a different perspective can serve as a conduit for new experiences and opportunities that others miss.
It’s often suggested that when you start a new endeavor or begin in a field you’re not familiar with that you find a mentor. The point of this is to learn from them as you learn the ropes. These types of people are especially valuable when faced with unfamiliar situations. It’s easy to be paralyzed by fear instead of moving forward. I remember there was a playground contraption when I was a kid called monkey bars. The whole point was to move across only using momentum and your arms. Truthfully I struggled a lot with going all the way across. I would move to a few bars and then would hit a mental or physical block that prevented me from going even further. However, If anyone held my ankles while I moved across the bars I could always finish. A mentor can be a guide as you navigate though a new experience and is usually a good resource. I was recently in a position where I had to seek out a mentor of sorts. While the task wasn’t something that typically requires a mentor of sorts, I wanted someone who could both give advice and coach as I was in unfamiliar territory. The person had to be patient but also have the necessary experience I needed in order to learn from them in the most effective manner. I’ve learned that many times a hands on approach can be the most efficient way to learn because of the experiential aspect and the fact that it’s not a lecture of sorts. It’s a real lived experience that has memorable value. In my case, the person I chose was multi-talented and had both the educational knowledge and the experimental knowledge combined with the trait of patience. This created an optimal learning environment and served as a confirmation that the choice I made was the right one.