the concept of intellectual humility: let’s take a look

“When I open myself up to the vastness of my own ignorance, I can’t help but feel a sudden suffocating feeling. I have just one small mind, a tiny, leaky boat upon which to go exploring knowledge in a vast and knotty sea of which I carry no clear map”

Brian Resnick, Science Reporter at Vox

Part of the process I used to write this post, in addition to research, was that I took some time to think about the evolution of my own personal beliefs and values, an evolution that I think was essential in crafting my identity and sense of self. I don’t know if I would have ever made these changes unless I allowed myself to question, doubt, and be wrong. I asked myself when I shifted my views, how I did it, and how it felt to admit that what I once believed in whole-heartedly, I now believe is wrong. Intellectual humility is just that — the characteristic that allows for admission of wrongness, and a characteristic that I believe is at the heart of growth growth, at both the personal and community level.

“It’s [intellectual humility] about entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others. Intellectual humility is about being actively curious about your blind spots.”

I was first introduced to this concept during a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training that I was fortunate enough to be included in through my AmeriCorps service here in Portland. Education in a safe space is such a valuable resource which I am incredibly grateful for. Once a month, for three hours, I sit down with my fellow AmeriCorps members as we vulnerably unpack issues around cultural identity, microaggressions, socioemotional learning and work together to determine how we can best show up for those that have been historically oppressed in our work. This is often a messy process. There are often mistakes made and tears shed.

It is essential to understand the fact that there are so many ideas and sets of beliefs out there; it’s what makes our world diverse, vibrant, and colorful. Traveling, learning, intentionally educating yourself — these are all examples of how we can ensure we are exposed to a variety of different ways of life. We don’t have to agree with them, but we can’t ignore their existence. We will not be able to grow by denying the existence of things that might upset us. It can be painful but this acknowledgement can allow us to be better advocates for the people and causes we believe in.

“Social psychologists have learned that humility is associated with other valuable character traits: People who score higher on intellectual humility questionnaires are more open to hearing opposing views. They more readily seek out information that conflicts with their worldview. They pay more attention to evidence and have a stronger self-awareness when they answer a question incorrectly.”

Quote and links from “Intellectual humility: the importance of knowing you might be wrong” on Vox

Maybe one of the reasons why intellectual humility is so rare currently in our culture is that our culture is not a very safe space. It is scary to admit our wrongness and we’re not very nice to each other. The Trump administration is proof that we’re encouraging blind ignorance, rewarding it, actually, with power.

I want to clarify, here, though that even as I write this, I am working on this skill currently. Part of being intellectually humble is stating “I am still working and learning, I am not perfect at this.”

The truth is that to be human is to be ignorant. As uncomfortable as this is to admit, I think that once we admit this and start celebrating admitting that we’re wrong, we can create a safe place for people to say “I once thought this but now, I’m not so sure.”

Welcome to the human experience. We are all not as smart as we’d like to think we are. Intellectual intelligence is fucking hard. I know this. But I think we can try a bit harder, myself included. I think it’s something vitally important to our growth. Allow yourself to listen, allow yourself to evolve.

Love + Light, dear friends — Allison

a peek inside an anxious mind and some thoughts on that.

Every small moment overtakes my whole mind. It matters not that I could be fine in ten minutes because right not I am not. I feel everything so fully. I have a hard time letting go of beautiful moments into the arms of nostalgia. I have a hard time letting go of my ideas that float around inside my head, formulating and growing until reality seems far in the distance. I struggle with letting go of people, even people that have hurt me. I feel I have no control over the next moment. I feel little control for this moment right here. I have questions about everything. I’m not sure what the right answers are, or really where I’m going. I am terrified about so much — mostly irrational things. Next month could be completely different — or it could be the same. Next year will likely be different — so, so different that I could be surrounded by new people in a new place. But today is today.

Breathe —

I do know that this morning, just this morning before work, I was making my oatmeal and talking to the cat and dancing around my kitchen in a pale lavender bath robe without any pressure or stress or pulls to be doing something else. That’s not much. It isn’t flashy and I wouldn’t showcase that on my social media pages or even tell my parents.

And yesterday on my way to my second job I stopped at a park, I had only 15 minutes but I sat anonymously on a bench and read my novel that I had gotten from the library. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping and the leaves were swaying in the breeze and I was able to be content, or better yet, I was able to be in control of my own contentment, to create it for myself. That’s success, people. I cannot stress how successful that is for me, at least. Yes. I can be in control of my own contentment. Remember this.

And sometimes happiness is so fucking simple. At the end of the day, I drove my little Corolla over the Fremont bridge towards home with the windows down. I could see the whole city ahead of me, for a moment, and the Willamette on both sides. I was floating for an instant. The sky was glowing orange and Stevie was singing through the speakers. And it was a fucking Tuesday, just an average day some would say. I went to the grocery store bought some vegetables and walked into my apartment with two reusable bags full of healthy foods and a bouquet of sunflowers just for me. I swayed again in my kitchen to music as I chopped my vegetables. And after dinner I pulled out my novel again and poured red wine into a cracked wine glass on the coffee table. And I inhaled. And exhaled. And I luxuriated in the fact that again, this is not much. But it is also everything. See, sometimes it’s very hard work to calm myself down, to talk to myself in a reasonable manner. Sometimes these simple things can be very hard. Then there are other days in which I forget what an accomplishment it can be to just sway in your kitchen, days when I am dancing with my friends, head thrown back laughing. Or walking through Irvington when all the flowers are in full bloom. Or flying across the Broadway bridge on my bike during the sunset.

Let’s work on being kind to ourselves. Let’s prioritize our mental health. Let’s be nice to our bodies, fill them with good fuel. Let’s not be afraid to say “I need help!”. Let’s notice those moments where you remember to breathe and tell ourselves “Good job!”. Let’s be intentional about our relationships. Let’s practice self-care. Let’s get outside as much as possible.

LOVE + LIGHT, Allison

controlled hallucinations

I was listening to a podcast about consciousness while on my morning commute the other day. It’s ironic because most people aren’t consciously aware of something as predictable and familiar as their morning commute and neither was I on this particular day. The time it takes to get to work is viewed as something to get through as quickly as possible. Myself included, I arguably played the podcast to distract myself from my surroundings and make the time pass more quickly. My interest in the subject matter of the podcast and the emotions sparked from the ideas presented caused me to think about this topic further though. Now, I don’t remember whether or not it was raining, what I was wearing, or the face of the person sitting next to me. However, I remember some of the ideas from the podcast, even if it is just the thought “Damn. This is really good, I need to listen to it again.”

The episode featured an interview with Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex in England. Seth is world renowned for his studies on the science of consciousness — or your experience of the world around you and you yourself within it.

I’ve thought about consciousness before. Personally, my thoughts gravitate toward how I’m perceiving the world and others in it and whether or not I’m perceiving it “correctly”. Did I read the social cues right? Is this what they’re trying to convey? Or rather, I don’t ask myself these questions but I assume them. If I say a particular thing, people will then view me as stupid or less intelligent. I’ve thought about the idea that every person walks around the earth with a mind full of thoughts, ideas, and emotions just as complex as mine — I’m not sure if I can fathom that magnitude, but I’ve had the thought. I’ve thought about my own personal biases and how my unique life experiences have led to my perception of the world. However, most of my thoughts have centered on me — my personal reality. It’s completely different to think about these studies in light of others, and, I would argue, incredibly valuable to do so.

Seth has been conducting research on this for years and he states that our perceptions of the world are controlled hallucinations and when we agree on our hallucinations, we call it reality. These controlled hallucinations are a combination of the actual sensory data, our past experiences, and our sense of self and place in the world. These hallucinations are ones in which the brain’s predictions are being reined in by the sensory information in the world. They’re not just random constructions, they’re constrained by the sensory data and our past experiences. Contrary to what I’ve been thinking for years though is that perception doesn’t depend largely on signals coming into the brain, it depends as much if not more on perceptual predictions flowing in the opposite direction.

“We don’t just passively perceive the world, we actively generate it.”

Anil Seth, TED2017

I had to pause it right there. Wow. What an idea. The world we experience comes just as much if not more from the inside out as it does the outside in. What is reality? Just our brain’s best guess. But still a guess! I’m mind blown over here. If my reality is my best guess of the world and in everything in it, thinking about how much that can differ from person to person is an even stranger thought. It can also be a reassuring thought when I feel disconnected from others.

These ideas also help me to better empathize with those experiencing mental pain. Sometimes, myself included, we suffer not because the real world hurts, but because our minds tell us that it does. This is still real pain. Sometimes it can be excruciating pain. This type of pain is valid and an part of the human experience.

“Our own individual inner universe, our way of being conscious, is just one possible way of being conscious. And even human consciousness generally — it’s just a tiny region in a vast space of possible consciousnesses. Our individual self and worlds are unique to each of us, but they’re all grounded in biological mechanisms shared with many other living creatures.”

Anil Seth TED2017

Thinking about our experiences as ourselves can be overwhelming. But I think this time thinking and wondering should be celebrated. Maybe we should intentionally carve out time for this. Questioning and analyzing can lead to a greater sense of understanding and a greater sense of wonder, says Seth. And I agree. If anything, this time I spent listening and learning makes me even more thankful for a world filled with a variety of perspectives so very different from mine.

Here’s a link to the talk, a valuable resource you should explore.

Happy Saturday, friends! Love + Light, Allison

stretch.

“When I was making High as Hope, I was thinking about how to live creatively without chaos. Her writing was like a blueprint. She seems to bring such reverence to the act of living that I find so inspiring. I could just read her write about her morning coffee for pages.” said Florence Welch in reference to her song “Patricia” written about Patti Smith on her most recent album, “High as Hope” in an interview she did with the Rolling Stone in November.

Florence Welch and fans at the Moda Center in Portland, truly an unforgettable night.

I am in absolute awe of people who can sit down in the chaos of this world and create. Writers, artists, musicians, dancers, all of them — I know it doesn’t just freely and easily flow for them all of the time but a lot of my role models and people that I’m inspired by have this ability to breathe in, breathe out, and create no matter the circumstances. I see these people and it seems that they have this ability to funnel all of their brain energy into what it is that floats around in their mind, sit with it, question it, roll it around over and over and put it out into the world vulnerably.

I spend most of my free time and money on surrounding myself with these creations. Looking at art, reading, and most of all seeing live music brings me genuine joy and I’m always searching for new creators to explore. I enjoy creating myself and I’m working to be involved more actively in the art of creating rather than just being a passive observer. I’m always on the search for how to commit fully to creating and I look to these role models for answers.

Really, I’m just a fan of being stretched — if that makes sense — taking what I already have and pulling it into something new, developing a deeper passion, having a new thought, embracing a new experience. Exploring others’ creations is one of the things that stretches me to my farthest limit. That warm wave of energy that pulses through my body and mind. That light, fluttery, sensual experience. Sometimes it’s outwardly, it makes me feel like my body could just take off and if I jumped I’d begin to fly. Closing my eyes, moving to the sounds effortlessly. But sometimes it’s purely internal. The awe I feel toward my literal beating heart. Or the realization that I have this network of brain neurons that are so intricately intertwined I’ll never be able to untangle their complexities. And it’s because of those that I have this capacity to write, to create, to move, and breathe. My heart is full of gratitude for this ability.

I want to know how you stretch yourself? Tell me in the comments. Thanks for reading my floating thoughts, friends. Love + Light, Allison

in case you’re wondering what I’m doing here.

I’m going to remove the rose-colored glasses that social media wears for a minute and try to paint a real picture of what it is like for me here in Portland, an Ohioan living it up on the West coast on an AmeriCorps budget.

So what do I do at my job? What does a day in my life look like? Don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and exploring as showcased on social media, but I do have a job too!

Let me tell you.

I walk out of my apartment to catch the 7:26 am 56 bus toward downtown. I live in the southwest hills of Portland, about a 15 drive toward downtown without traffic. I ride for several stops making note of the occasionally visible Mount Hood or the layers of fog in between the evergreens before getting off downtown to transfer to another bus where I’ll cross the Hawthorne bridge and head to work. I genuinely enjoy my commute, even though most people on the morning bus have a lifeless and tired look on their face. I like the time to listen to music, look out the window, and mentally prepare for the day without having the stress and tension that driving in Portland morning traffic brings. I also like being a part of the morning energy. When I transfer buses downtown, everyone seems to be rushing by, in their own little worlds, going to wherever it is that they work. It’s not glamorous in any way. It’s sometimes inconvenient. Sometimes the bus is crowded and people invade your personal space, but it’s part of living in a city, and it’s better than sitting on a congested I-5 when gas costs as high as almost four dollars a gallon.

This morning I’m headed to northeast Portland where my office is located. My office is a repurposed firehouse nestled in the residential Irvington neighborhood surrounded by large, historic houses and beautiful trees, especially in the fall. Inside, the pale yellow walls and smell of brewing coffee create a welcoming environment and I make my way to my desk where my amazing co-workers are already busy at work. They always kindly greet me even if it’s just a quick hello between their many phone calls.  Every day looks different for me but, in general, I’ll check my email, feed the squirrels outside our office window some sunflower seeds, and check my calendar for the day.

On Mondays, I usually ride along on our Project Linkage bus with one of our drivers, Paul, where we take older adults to places such as shopping centers, farmers markets, movie theaters, and make a stop for lunch. Project Linkage also takes older adults to medical appointments and to grocery stores, but Monday’s trips are generally more recreational. For many of our riders, this is their social network. This is their only opportunity to leave the house for the week and interact with others. They know the others that we’ll be picking up on the way and although it’s a long ride for the first one’s we pick up, they love looking out the large windows and seeing the other neighborhoods in Portland. This trip specifically services the mid-county area of Portland, many who live here have lived their whole lives in Portland, watching as it has rapidly changed and gentrified, pushing them out East where housing is minimally more affordable. One the most common topics of conversations on these rides starts out with “This used to be…” as everyone makes comments on their changing community. As a new Portlander from the Midwest and also a millennial, I initially found this very annoying. Change is growth and growth is good, how can these people not see that? They are so stuck in the past and it’s depressing, I thought. But the more I’ve learned about Portland’s history and also as I try to become more empathetic towards a client population that differs from myself in many ways, I thought about the feeling I experience when I drive past the remains of the house I grew up in, in Jeffersonville, Ohio. We moved when I was 17 and it is now a Medflight office, with a helicopter pad in what was once the front yard. Honestly, I try to avoid driving past it when I’m home; it’s a sad feeling. I realized that they aren’t just stubborn and that many of them have memories tied to places that no longer exist, which is sad. Plus, hearing their stories of Portland’s past makes me more educated on just how much the city that I now live in has changed and that when I look out the window, I’m seeing things that may not have been there just a few years back.

When we arrive at our destination for that day with all of our passengers, I assist in getting everyone out of the bus, operating the lift when necessary and then I join them at wherever we are that day. Sometimes this means walking around the zoo with a small group or helping someone with their grocery bags. However, most important is that I’m there for people to talk to. Some of our riders are genuinely amazing people and I love learning about their adventurous pasts and they love learning about how exactly I got here and what I “what to do when I grow up”. I’ve just gotten to the point where I know almost everyone we pick up on our route, although it differs as there’s always more that want to go than we have seats. On the ride back, I connect my phone to the bluetooth system and play some classic 1930’s swing music that everyone loves. Some people clap, some people sing, and overall it’s such a cool thing to witness. One couple that rides frequently has been married for 62 years! I can’t even fathom that. Sometimes people get to talking and they realize that they went to high school together, in the ’50s! I love being able to see these connections being made.

That is just an example of one thing I do at my job. Other days look different. I created a professional blog for Project Linkage from scratch with all original content. I then had a meeting with my supervisor and our communication and marketing team to discuss the correct use of our branding and what they thought of it overall. I got positive feedback, so I’m currently working on expanding the content and adding more features. I also do quite a bit of volunteer recruitment for our other older adults programs. On Thursdays, I help out at one of our organization’s many food pantries. Thousands of food gets delivered and I help unload and organize it to be ready for shoppers. It’s an amazing process to witness.

I also meet with a small caseload of older adult clients that live alone on a biweekly basis. These visits are mostly just talking to them, making sure they are safe in their homes, ensuring they have network of support, and letting them show me countless pictures of their grandchildren. One of my clients always brings a thermos of coffee and an atlas and we talk about the places we’ve both travelled. “Now show me where that is on the map.” She’ll say. Spending the first few hours of my day having coffee, slowing down, and just talking with someone who doesn’t have anyone to talk to is a very humbling experience. It challenges me to connect with someone very different than I and makes me realize the power in simple conversation.

 

on the road.

“And there are moments, moments of true awe, for that is the only word I can think of that begins to explain the awareness and gratitude I felt of the world around me, as is was just me and the unknown.” – excerpt from my journal

Traveling through cities, plains, mountains, and deserts, I became more aware of the impact that my environment had on my mental state, when there was not any other person affecting my mindset. I had new thoughts, thoughts brought on solely by my own previous thoughts. I still maintained my appreciation and gratitude for the perspectives of others, but for this week it was only mine; how I saw what’s around me and the thoughts that came about from my environment. As I continued on my trip for five days, my perspective shifted greatly. I remember being in Utah felt completely different than being in Colorado and even more different than being in Iowa, not just the physical surroundings changing but also my mind shifting making it seem like weeks had passed when it had been just days. Let me explain.

I had a lot of expectations going into this trip because some of my closest friends have gone on solo trips across the US and had told me many magical stories about their own personal growth in the process. It was also the first segment of a very huge change in my life. I see what they are saying now, but what I wasn’t considering before is that growth is the product of struggle and mental challenge. Growth also doesn’t just come to you, you have to seek it out sometimes and really challenge yourself to see growth even during temporary negative emotions.

When I was on the road, I experienced moments of intense anxiety at times. There were moments, sometimes hours where I worried about putting so many miles on my car and all the trust that I was required to put into something that I had no control of and very little knowledge of how to fix if something did go wrong. Desolation scared me. I would drive for hundreds of miles without a single exit or even a gas station. Through deserts and mountains, sometimes my cell phone service would disappear and the thought of being stranded often crossed my mind and terrified me. Loneliness on the road was not something I experienced much to my surprise, however, sometimes when I would see the first glimpse of a distant mountain range after miles of driving through the plains, I would be hit with a wave of rejuvenation and light. This was something that I craved to share with someone else. When I had the privilege of hiking through the Rocky Mountains and seeing an emerald lake in the clearing, I felt so much joy and gratitude and I wanted to share that with someone else because it was almost too much for one person, I was bursting with awe at my surroundings. As I look back at those moments in reflection, I think that I was beginning to gain an understanding of our psychological and human need for others in our lives. Combining this understanding with the fact that solitude can be a transformational activity that is beneficial in truly understanding one’s sense of self.  This idea was one of my biggest take-aways from the trip, teaching myself how to create and use my own power while also loving the parts of myself that truly loved taking on this human experience with other humans. It is a balance and I think solitude teaches you about how to show up in the presence of others without becoming dependent.

I truly had to work on self-reflection, being kind to myself, and listening to my needs. Gaining an understanding of what was uncomfortable for me and learning how to validate myself instead of depending on someone else for reassurance when things were difficult. Telling myself that it was okay to be scared. Expressing gratitude towards myself for being brave. Understanding that I felt better in the mornings, under the morning sky I was most content, and making adjustments to my schedule so that I maximized my time during the sunrise. Analyzing what had a negative impact on my mindset. Allowing myself to experience longing for people back home. In a world where instant gratification is an easy path to fall into, understanding that identifying negative emotions won’t make them disappear but instead to think about all they are, what led up to them, and feeling them fully. I am still working on all of these things but being alone on the road initiated a new mindset for me that was incredibly valuable for moving across the country where everything was changing.

To end, I will elaborate on all of the amazing moments on my trip because they definitely outnumbered the negative ones. All in all, planning and carrying out a solo road trip of 2,676 miles from start to finish, is incredibly EMPOWERING. It took awhile for me to realize this but I remember the exact moment where it hit me that I had come so far and I did it all myself. I had just entered Utah and the sky was a brilliant shade of light blue without a single cloud, the sun beat down on my skin through open windows and the mountain air poured into my lungs. I had my music up loudly, hair blowing around in every direction, and that’s where I found it: my power. I threw my hands out the window and waved them in the wind, a huge smile on my face because I was doing it. I think about this moment often, when I know I have to do something difficult. I remember that power and my ability to take on challenging tasks and suddenly it’s not so hard, the world isn’t as intimidating as I’ve made it out to be.

why I have to go.

Growth. Let’s talk about it.

What does growth look like? What form does is take?

Growth is gradual. Growth happens slowly. Growth is nonlinear. Growth feels uncomfortable at times. Growth is an experience subjective to the individual, often misunderstood by others. Growth requires courage.

Growth is essential for whole-hearted living. 

I am getting ready for a big change. I have decided to pack up my things and drive my 2007 Toyota Corolla across the country, over 2,000 miles to Portland, Oregon and live for a year in a new place, in a new job, and with new people. I have been in love with the idea of living in Portland since I first visited over a year ago and I considered many different options for my move. I considered going to graduate school at Portland State, applied to all kinds of jobs in Portland, spent hours searching for housing options, and I felt intimidated by the process. There is a lot to think about when planning a cross-country move by yourself.

I started thinking about the root of this dream in the first place. I wasn’t in love with the idea of going to grad school, I was in love with the idea of moving to Portland: a weird, lovable city in the Pacific Northwest with mountain views, urban forests, and quirky people. I was in love with the idea of challenging myself by being alone for awhile, outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t want to lose my inspiration that I had gained from studying social work and I was ready to begin working in my field. I wanted an opportunity to experience living outside of the midwest. My four years in college taught me that I thrive in a challenging environment. I thrive in change.

I’ve decided to serve a year with AmeriCorps where I will be working for Metropolitan Family Services. I will be part of a team of inspiring individuals with the following vision:

“A world where children never go hungry, young people are always educated, families are financially stable, older adults remain connected and all humans are healthy, happy and cared for.” 

I am excited to be living in a new place where my explorative and mountain-loving personality will never be bored. I am also excited for the opportunity to live this vision everyday.

I am beyond excited for this new start. But it was also hard. It took hours of planning, phone interviews, and perfecting my road trip route. Leaving home is also hard. As excited and ready as I am to go, I love home and it makes me sad to leave behind those closest to me.

My life has taught me so far that growth requires courage so I’m taking off — scared but ready.

 

This is something I have been in love with for a few years now. ❤️✨

 

visualizing our power.

I find myself struggling with conflict surrounding the power differential that is present in many aspects of my life. First, let me explain what I mean by power differential. Sometimes this power differential is clear, visible and takes the form of a hierarchical structure in the workplace. A manager has more power than their employees; this is a fact. However, sometimes this power differential is assumed by me, made up, and incorrect. I assume to have less power than my peers, strangers I meet on the street whom I know nothing about, and almost anyone I interact with. I start with the idea that I am less than this person I am interacting with. This causes interactions to be artificial because as I converse with this individual, I cater my words towards what I think they want to hear, what would help me gain power. This situation creates a new conflict in my mind because I know that I personally value authenticity. Artificial interactions are not authentic. Whether this assumed lack of power comes from little experience, our appearance, our age, our financial situation, or just a general desire to please others, it is dangerous.

How can I create meaningful relationships when this power struggle takes over?

I cannot.

What I’ve noticed is that this power differential can begin to burrow deep down into my identity. It comes out in how I carry myself and how I identify with my sense of self. This can be very damaging. It can lead to unhealthy relationships and the acceptance of treatment that is harmful to us. It can prevent growth and true expression, both of which I value tremendously.

I have studied how to understand my perspective of my own power and have realized that I am not alone in these feelings. I know that I will have greater success if I approach situations with the mindset that I have power within me. I know that if I can validate my own power, I will be able to create more meaningful relationships and live a more authentic life which is something I know many people strive for, including myself.

In order to begin to visualize our own power, I think that having a positive sense of self is the first step. Spending time with ourselves and our thoughts can help us to analyze exactly what kinds of thoughts we’re having. We might notice that our thoughts are negative, that we rarely express gratitude towards that truly magnificent beings that we are, or that we have a cynical view of the world. A friend of mine informed me about this self-gratitude exercise that I think is very beneficial. All it is is simply taking a moment when you’re all alone to think about the many elements that make up who you are and draw attention to them. You can think about your physical attributes, such as your feet and legs. Think about their power to take you all over the world. Think about their power to climb the stairs everyday and pedal your bike and dance through your hallway. Maybe you’ve hated on them before because they are not long and tan and model-like but take a moment to think about their ability that is often taken for granted. You can do that with other non-physical attributes as well such as your ability to express empathy or your own ability to have emotions. Without that ability it would be impossible to build relationships or become close to other humans. Expressing emotions help us to become more self-aware of ourselves and our needs.  Now think about your eyes and all the joy they bring you from seeing all kinds of sites and colors. Think about your ears and the pleasure we get to experience from hearing sounds of nature and sounds of music. I am getting carried away here and this post is beginning to sound like a self-love/gratitude post but I firmly believe that they are all tied together. The more time we spend creating a positive sense of self, the more we will refer to that sense when interacting with others. They more positively we view ourselves when we are by ourselves, the more we create a more powerful image of ourself that shows up in conversation with others.

I am in no way an expert in this. Those closest to me know that I can be a powerless, people-pleaser. I know this; it is why I’ve chosen to focus this post on the idea. Even as I am writing this post, I am thinking about my questions of it’s validity. Will others like it? Will they be able to relate to it? Is it overly positive/ a cliché? Am I qualified to give out this “advice”? Does it make sense? Then I challenge myself to remember my brain and its multitude of abilities. I talk to myself in a positive manner. I validate my thoughts just as much as I question them. I have the power to express my ideas, thoughts, and opinions, regardless of what others think.

Visualizing our power is the first step to believing that we are powerful. It is a journey. We will struggle. We will have moments of powerlessness as well as moments when we feel powerful. I am working on visualizing my own power and improving my sense of self. I hope you do the same today. fullsizeoutput_e20

Much love,

Allison

human closeness.

The Texas heat left me glistening under the shallow ceilings of a concert venue created from the remnants of an old church in Austin. The place had been divided up inexplicably into several different rooms and it was easy to lose your bearings or get lost. The walls were covered in colorful artwork that was beautifully fascinating but made the space feel even smaller than it was.  A band was playing. The backdrop of the stage was a chromatic display of colored lights shining through oil and water which created a kaleidoscopic pattern that seemed to complement the bands obscure music. The music was mostly just background brain noise for me at this point in the day. I was distracted by conversation, people-watching, and the many sights of this unique place which I found myself in. It was near midnight on a March night where we had spent all day exploring several different music venues throughout Austin, listening to bands I had never heard of but quickly loved, dancing, talking, hugging, sweating, and dancing some more. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute; I wanted more than anything to just keep going but I could feel my body’s need for rest seeping into my body and moving my limbs felt a little more difficult. The days before were spent non-stop traveling and moving and going and it had left me feeling exhausted, but in a very satisfying way, like I had been living so fully that I had used up all of my bodies resources in the process. I could feel the activities of the day wearing on my body in the form of a subtle ache in my legs. I felt as though today was the length of three normal days; my memories of this morning seemed a week prior.

It suddenly all became too much. I looked around for an exit to take a breath of fresh air. After wandering through a myriad of hallways and coming up only to dead ends, I ran into my good friend, arguably the best of friends: Patrick. I was surprised to see him because our group had gotten split up in the convoluted space, with some people in one room talking to each other, some people starting conversations with new people they had just met, and some people outside in an eclectic looking garden area with a selection of random outdoor furniture painted all different colors. I looked up at him and said that I just needed a moment of quiet outside so that I could breathe. He had ran into me in passing and I expected him to continue walking the other direction, but he said “Yes. Me too. Let’s go outside.”

We walked to one of our group’s cars that we had made the long drive in. There was evidence that the car had been lived out of for the past few days, but the silence that I knew was awaiting inside was appealing to me. I sat in the driver’s seat and Patrick sat in the passenger seat next to me and both looked out into the dark night. We were both silent for the longest time, not in a painful way but in the way that suggested we had mentally communicated our simultaneous need for this time to simply process the events that had taken place earlier in the day. After a long period of silence, I was already feeling better. Leaving the sounds and sights of the venue and entering the dark and silent night was exactly what my overstimulated brain needed. More than that though was the comfort I found in the presence of another human in that moment, sitting in silence in a dirty car in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. This moment refueled me. It nourished my tired brain. I explained to Patrick that I hadn’t expected feeling so drained during this trip but as I compiled mentally the events that has ensued the past few days, I realized that it made complete sense to be tired right now but it disappointed me at the same time. I wanted to keep the energy that I had pulled from each show, each conversation with my friends, each new place I had seen.

It is impossible to sustain that level of energy. This small moment reminded me of an often underutilized resource that most everyone has access to: other humans. I realized how much I need other people,  people that are accepting of all you are as a person, someone whom you can be truly vulnerable with. This moment of human closeness had such an immense positive impact on my physical and mental wellbeing that it felt like a wave of calmness covered my anxious mind. I sifted through many of my best and worst moments in life. I brought to mind embracing my closest friends and family members in the light of my successes or defeats, dancing under the lights of new cities with my best friends, even running through my backyard as a child with my sisters. Although solitude is endlessly valuable, the experience of struggling in the presence of another human is essential, we are wired for this kind of inextricable human connection.

This moment grounded me. As I sat next to another living, breathing person, a person that I valued and loved, I held on to every detail of the moment as it was happening. I wanted to hold onto this moment so that I could refer to it later, when I was alone. My friend, Patrick remained a solid and grounding force throughout the rest of that trip and continues to be in my life, even in moments for me that are truly challenging and painful but also for the beautiful moments as well.

After returning home from that trip, I found myself feeling melancholy. The sadness of returning to school and work combined with the let down of ending an incredible and life-changing trip left me depressed. I was a social work intern for a hospice organization which even on a good day was emotionally challenging work. I was making a visit with one of my favorite patients, Naomi, a 101 year old woman with a low functioning memory due to dementia but a high level of sass. I approached Naomi and her wheelchair seemed to engulf her tiny, frail body. She was uncharacteristically quiet that day and wasn’t telling me outrageous stories like she normally did. I sat there with her and reflected back to my moment of silence in Austin. I will try this here, I thought. I held Naomi’s hand gently, so that she knew I was there. “We’ll just sit here,” I said. “I’m right here. You don’t have to say anything.” I hoped that Naomi was able to experience the comfort that I had felt with the presence of Patrick back in Austin. Although she didn’t say anything for the rest of our visit, I left with the feeling that somehow my presence had improved her day, even for just a moment. As I left the nursing home where she lived, I was hit with a negative thought that I had often while working for hospice, “Am I making a difference?” But then I remembered Naomi’s tiny, wrinkled hand in mine and walked out to my car knowing that a moment can make a difference, especially when your moments are numbered.

implications of observing.

I identify myself as an observer. I often find myself watching more than participating. I find enjoyment in analyzing human interactions and discovering subcultures. I think it’s why I spend a lot of time in public places, even if I don’t necessarily interact with anyone. If I have a few hours, I’m more likely to go to a coffee shop or the library or ride the bus downtown than to stay at home. There are probably multiple reasons for this. One could be that going somewhere subconsciously makes me feel as if I’m being productive with my time, a sense of accomplishment in a way. Whatever the hell your definition of productive is, sometimes to me it’s just doing something with my time that seems intentional. What I mean is that sometimes the effects of an action don’t matter as much as the act of doing something itself. I might go somewhere to write a paper and in two hours I leave with a little less than a page. By many people’s standards, arguably even my own, that time was not productive. However, because I left the house and packed my backpack up and got out my notebook and laptop and fucked around for two hours doing who the hell knows what, I deem this time as productive. I’m not saying this logic isn’t as fucked up as it sounds, but it seems to be how I work.

Another reason for this could be that there is some sort of social value on observing other humans. I don’t think I’m contributing to my social wellbeing simply by showing up in a place where other humans reside. However, I think that being in the presence of other humans who are having their own interactions or working on their own assignments, doing their own work, I seem to absorb their energy as my own. They inspire me to get off my phone and actually write that paper or send those emails.

I think it’ important to note that I mean productive loosely. I simply couldn’t find another word that meant what I was trying to convey but I struggle with the word productive greatly. I’ve written about the concept of productivity before and how our generation’s obsession with productivity has instilled a sense of inadequacy in many of us, including myself. In the context of this article, I mean productive as simply spending my time purposefully.

Back to the point of observation. As odd as it sounds, I love researching sociology. I’m not logically minded so statistics don’t hold a lot of value in my understanding of concepts. We as humans have a very difficult time applying statistics to the human condition. What I mean by this is that when we read statistics, whatever they may be referring to, we see them simply as numbers, not as the humans that those numbers represent. More on this concept in the video link below.

One of the coolest things about sociology research is that it starts seeping into other parts of my life. I find myself applying the social exchange theory to my everyday life. I think about different cultures and the way that they compare to my experiences. I become aware of the interactions between strangers. In my everyday life, as I’m observing the world around me through my personal, very limited lens, I absorb the energy of others and subconsciously add it to my collection of influences and is then later revealed in my own interactions. In this way, I find value in my tendency to leave the house and participate in seemingly meaningless activities. I consider myself, at least partially, an introvert and I find comfort in this idea, that even as I keep to myself, observing interactions of others, I’m somehow still growing.