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Forgiveness on Christmas: Letters from a Non-Believer

Every year I run from Christmas. 

It terrifies me. The shameless consumerism, the pressure to buy gifts and to spend time with everyone–jumping from party to party to fit everything in. It’s emotionally (and financially) exhausting, and so I run. I run emotionally, distancing myself from the songs, movies, shopping, togetherness–what you might call an all-or-none phenomenon. But this year, instead of running emotionally (although that definitely played a part), I ran physically. As soon as I finished my last exam, I booked the cheapest one-way out of the States, and two days later, I found myself in Montezuma, Costa Rica—a sleepy surf town on the Pacific with as many dreadheads as stray dogs (it’s a lot). And I haven’t left yet.

It was a sigh of relief arriving here, where year-round sand and sun obscure any semblance of season. No Christmas trees, no snow, no crazies pushing their Reason-for-the-Season pamphlets at you outside the bar. And the relief this initially brought gave way to something quite unexpected—a connection with the Christmas Spirit! The Macy’s ads, Bing Crosby croons and Hallmark Originals strangle out any pretense of emotion (aside from irritation) that I could have felt back home, but underneath the black hole of what is Christmas-in-America, there truly is a feeling to this time of year. There must be, if I’m feeling it all the way out here.

From a strictly agnostic standpoint, it is a time of shorter days, colder temperatures, and death. It is a time when we hunker down with the closest people in our lives and are grateful for each other and what we have, for we are reminded by the browning leaves outside that life is fleeting. We reflect on the thoughts, encounters, and experiences of the past year, wondering what could have gone better, what we’d rather not repeat in the year to come. It is a very powerful time, a time to allow death of the aspects of our lives that no longer serve us, to let go of past grievances and screw-ups, and to start the next cycle cleansed. And the only way to do this is to forgive—and forget.

So this year, I am holding a funeral for the grudges and heartbreaks, the fuckups and embarrassments.

I am saying my final goodbyes to the people I hurt and the people who hurt me, the shit which hit the fan, the mistakes I made, the love I missed out on. Readers, hopefully you can find something in these letters to which you can relate. And if not, I urge you to address those special people and situations from your 2017, to forgive yourself and them, and then burn those letters, or set them out to sea, or publish them on the interwebs for the entire world to behold (me). Because if you start a fire in the darkness, you’ll have the light to move forward.

To my family,

I forgive you for misunderstanding me. All you want is to make me part of your world, but you don’t understand that my world is very different from yours—that our most fundamental views on life lie on opposite sides of the seesaw. To me, this is cause for strife, tension, and the desire for distance. You love me so much, but I am afraid to show you who I really am, for I fear you wouldn’t love that person the same way. Every time we’re together, I am relegated to the youngest child, in need guidance from the rest of the family.

Who is lost. Who is naïve.

I have never felt more myself than when we are apart. In fact, I feel strangled when I’m with you, as this identity you attribute to me is nothing like the one I have worked so hard to create for myself—and it’s fragile. I push you away because I reject the identity of the person you knew me as when I was younger. But I know you love me more than I am afraid to consider, and even though you frustrate and sadden me, I know you would be there for me when nobody else is. And for all the arguments, heartache and confusion this has caused me, I owe you forgiveness. Ultimately, all you want is to love me, include me, and be part of my life. So I forgive you for going about it in the wrong ways because these are the only ways you know, and I know that above all else, your intentions are good. And of course, I love you back. Even from afar.

With love,

Becca of 2018

To my Exes of 2017,

I forgive you for the pain you have caused. I forgive you because I know you too are afraid to be vulnerable, and this past year has instilled a similar fear in me. I forgive you for the brick wall you built around yourself and refused to let me enter. I forgive you for kicking me out, even when I thought I was making headway. You were only protecting yourself, your heart. You tried to be kind in the aftermath, but emotions are intoxicating, so for the times that you were less than kind, I forgive you. I forgive you because fear, confusion and past heartbreak make giving yourself to another difficult and scary. They are also what make us human.

I forgive you for being human.

We are all guilty of dragging casualties into our problems, and if I were to fault you for this, I would be a hypocrite. I forgive you for being selfish because even though loyalty to your values occasionally manifested in miscommunication, manipulation, and flat-out ill will, I can forgive you because I see myself in you, and I know you never meant to hurt, only to protect Numero Uno. I must also do this. The emotional rollercoaster you drove me down has taught me many lessons which I continue to learn, foremost of which is the importance of nurturing myself before others and being very careful who I allow in to this sacred space of self. You taught me never to compromise who I am, for if that’s what it takes to attract someone like you, then you aren’t right for me, and we must blossom into something beautiful yet apart from each other. I hope for the best for you. I hope that you may unearth and understand your feelings about relationships, love and loss, and that whatever troubles you may come to pass. I forgive you as I let you go, and I wish you fair seas on your way out of my heart.

With love,

Becca of 2018

To Becca of 2017,

I forgive you. I forgive you for the times you put yourself above the ones you love, and for being callous to the ones who tried to give their love to you. I forgive you for pushing your family away, and for the stress this caused, because you only meant to take care of yourself. I forgive and let go of the embarrassments because you were only trying to be funny, or kind, and most of the time that works out all right. I forgive you for running away when life got too hard, for pushing away when life got too close. I believe that you are kind, and I believe that you want harmony in your relationships and happiness in your life. I forgive you for the times you acted in contradiction to this, knowingly or unknowingly. You care to succeed, and you can, so I forgive you for the times when adventure and excitement got in the way of your vision. I forgive you for the times you were less than kind to your body. I forgive you for the times you tested karma, for more often than not it tested you back. I forgive you for the times you strayed from the path because I know you always find your way back—that’s who you are. I forgive you for allowing how others see you define how you see yourself. I forgive you for anger and regret, for unexplained sadness and intentional cruelty. I forgive you because I love you and want what is best for you, and I know the only way to achieve this is to forgive, and to move on.

With love, 

Becca of 2018 

 

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Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a noble thing to want to be a better version of you. January 1st is the day the Gregorian calendar tells us we are starting the cycle anew: one year gone, another fresh start to come. This naturally causes us to reflect 8282560669_e7e935d3df_q (1)on traits that may not be serving us anymore and inspires us to change that trait.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that January is the busiest time at gyms and, as a current employee of a juice bar, I can tell you it’s by far our busiest time for juice sales and cleanses.

But change is a gradual thing. January is the busiest time for these places because, inevitably, we fall back into our old habits. How many people even remember what their NYRs were last year? Point is, we forget. That’s why I think the craze of resolving to improve is overrated, and that’s why I don’t do it.

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More like learn how to spell…

I strive to be a better person every day I’m alive, and I’m constantly reflecting on myself with this in mind. It shouldn’t take a new year to ask how I could do things differently.  Some common themes in my own life are having more patience, slowing down my life, listening to my body more. And these are things that I struggle with every day of the year.

NYRs don’t last, and that’s my problem with them. They don’t last because you can’t all the sudden decide you want to be a different person and—poof!—you’re a new you. The truth is that it takes a lot of time, effort, and self-reflection to actually let go of old habits and develop new ones. It might even take more than just one year.

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New Year’s Day is a spiritual time because this is when people slow down to consider how to live and be better than they were. But New Year’s Day shouldn’t be the only time this happens. If you’re making a resolution this year, resolve to resolve every day, and then maybe you’ll see those resolutions turn into reality.

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Thinking like a Caveman: The Latest Cure to Cancer!

Cases of cancer are raising some absurd statistics: some 1 in 3 women will have breast cancer, is the latest I’ve heard. But I’m not here to write about cancer statistics; I’m here to write about why the numbers are so high—and rising—in the first place.

The easiest answer is that the population is aging, and granted, some cases of cancer are likely the result of getting older. But some cases are not, and it seems like diagnoses continue to shock us. “But she was so healthy!” “But he was so young!” Sometimes it feels like cancer is striking out arbitrarily, and anyone could be a target—even the strong, the young—even children.

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Sadly, the answer is not a simple one; there is no singular culprit—apart from the very way we lead our lives. Evolutionarily, we’re still quite similar to our Neolithic ancestors in terms of design. Without spoiling anything, we’re meant to wake and sleep according to the sun, to be able to build, hunt, gather, run, and climb all day long, to spend the majority of our time outdoors and be in tune with the cycles of nature. But society has advanced quicker than our evolution so, granted, living like a caveman isn’t exactly practical or feasible. But to completely neglect the natural state of our physiology is to make ourselves targets of self-destruction.

293013492_76ea598e8e_oConsider Mike, a middle-aged manager of some business firm. On a typical morning, Mike’s phone sounds an alarm at seven a.m., and he hits the snooze button two or three times before rising and getting ready for work. For breakfast, he makes three eggs, slices up some fruit, and drinks two cups of coffee with Splenda. He has to be in to work by nine, but he leaves at eight because there’s always dense rush hour traffic. Sometimes that’s still not enough time, and he spends the last few miles gripping the steering wheel and yelling at people who cut him off. At work, he takes his seat in his cubicle and works on his computer, where he sits until five, taking two quick breaks and lunch in between. After work, he goes to the gym where he listens to his iPod and runs on the treadmill while watching TV. He is exhausted on his way home, but there is an accident on the road, and he is again stuck in traffic. Finally, he reaches his house, whereupon he showers and heats up some leftovers. He relaxes on his bed to watch his favorite TV show before plugging in his phone on his nightstand, setting his alarm, and going to sleep to do it again the next day.

This is the familiar story of a day in the life of the average American, perhaps one of even above-average health. But it’s average people who are coming down with cancer. Here’s why.

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First and foremost, I’d like to point out the preponderance of blue light we are exposed to. This is the radiation given off by most of our technology: iPods, televisions, computers, digital clocks, fluorescent lights. In an increasingly digitized world, blue light is constantly surrounding us. It stimulates the “awake” part of our Circadian rhythm (what regulates our wakefulness and sleep), but constant exposure to this is thought to be implicated in rising rates of insomnia, anxiety, cancer, and a host of other ailments (I invite you to read Max Strom’s There is No App for Happiness for more information on this).

Sleeping with a phone next to your head, particularly a smart one, exposes you to hours of radiation every night. Not to mention the teens and pre-teens and yes, even elementary school kids who carry cell phones around 7317967922_b938afbd93_oeverywhere with them like an extra appendage. These things give off signals—GPS, cellular, and more—and it explains why there has been a preponderance of new cases of brain tumors found just above the right or left ear. Hands-free Bluetooth, anyone?

Let’s now turn to Mike’s diet. It sounds pretty healthy, right? It would be if it weren’t for the fact that the most commonly distributed, sold, and consumed food stuffs are all genetically modified, laden with pesticides, enhanced with artificial colors and sweeteners, or injected with antibiotics. Our food isn’t food anymore, unless you take scrupulous time to read the labels. But that’s Food for Thought for another article 😉

Waking up isn’t easy for Mike, which is why he hits snooze so many times. So maybe he’s not a morning person…but does that really exist? Humans are naturally designed to be rise with the sun, as it gives off blue light (this is in addition to ever-growing exposure to blue light in the modern world).130559143_92c20a2021_o If a person gets sufficient hours of quality sleep per night, the daily alarm will cease to be a torture sentence. As for the commute to and from work, sometimes traffic is unavoidable, and while nobody likes sitting in traffic, it seems almost an expectation that we get stressed and angry while in it. If we let it, the stress will cause our bodies to tense, our blood pressure to rise and breath to quicken. Try to consciously relax the body and slow the breath. Listen to books on tape or make playlists with favorite songs. Hell, do some mental math.

After Mike arrives at work, he sits, and for many of us, this is an inevitable aspect of our jobs. Get up often to stretch (especially the front body) and walk around. Step outside for a few minutes. Try replacing the desk chair with a ball so at least some muscles are being used while sitting. During lunch breaks, go for a walk or eat outside. The human body was not designed for a sedentary lifestyle. Envision again the daily life of a cave man.

Back to the story. After work, Mike works out. Super. The only problem is that his workout is yet again indoors, surrounded by the sounds, distractions, and radiation of fluorescent lights, loud music, talking heads on TV. All these different, loud vibrations everywhere can stress us out over time, get us wired up, distract us from what’s going on inside our own bodies. Take the workout outside every once in awhile. Try leaving the iPod at home. Though it may not be easy at first, it’s simply a matter of acknowledging an attachment to it and breaking a habit.

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Look familiar?

The only other thing I’d like to add here is falling asleep in front of the TV. This again goes back to the blue light phenomenon, but it’s especially important before bed. Exposure to blue light and stories or news that may elicit emotional or intellectual responses will keep the brain alert. Not only will falling asleep be harder, but the quality of sleep will not be as sound, either. And please, people, don’t fall asleep with your phone next to your head.

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To recap:

  • Spending too much time indoors, surrounded by bright, loud, distracting technology
  • Attachment to our phones, iPods, televisions, and technology as a whole
  • Quality (and quantity) of our “food”
  • Quality and quantity of sleep and rest
  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Stress!

It’s no wonder we are a population addicted to coffee! How else would we possibly keep up with such fast-paced living? In developed countries, particularly the United States, there’s an expectation to live this lifestyle, and as such, many jobs make it pretty hard to step away from. Don’t get distracted by it. Open your eyes to these things around you every day, and you can make a conscious effort not to let them dictate the way you live your life. Cancer a result of neglecting the natural design and needs of our bodies from a purely scientific and evolutionary standpoint.  My suggestion? Think like a caveman.

Note: I didn’t mention prescription drugs here, as it’s a complicated issue so I saved it for a different article, Prescribing a Paradox. But I do believe that overuse and over-prescription of drugs (yes, that includes alcohol and caffeine!) is a major contributor to rising cancer rates, as well.

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Prescribing a Paradox

The United States spends more on health care than any country in the world, and yet for documented health, we don’t even make the top 10: a paradox, indeed. In fact, it’s a paradox which has politicians and healthcare workers relentlessly pushing to expand funding for drug research and health coverage—wait, what? Somebody is missing the big picture, here.

 

It is clear that our tremendous health spending is not correlating with increased health. The problem cannot be solved by increased use of pharmaceuticals and increased access to hospitals (and here I’m talking about Western, not infectious diseases. However, in the West, it is no longer infectious diseases which are killing us). The problem is much deeper than this, but it’s rare to come across somebody bothering to wonder what is causing all this disease in the first place. Rather than treating ailments once they have already taken hold of the population, wouldn’t it save a lot of time and money to prevent them from happening in the first place?

3315748907_5445d270cb_bOf course it would, but there are people with money and incredible influence who are benefitting from keeping our current healthcare paradigm centered on treatment. I’m talking about big-time health insurance and pharmaceutical companies who, these days, run the show. They have the money to buy out doctors in private practice to join their army, where they can dictate the nature and number of patients their doctors see. They are wining and dining these physicians to coax them into prescribing their new “products” to patients. Their influence is higher than this, though, permeating governmental policy and funding.

It’s a vicious cycle: increasingly sedentary lifestyles in the West and consumption of processed foods lead to an increase in the diagnoses of Western diseases. Thus, our reliance on these pharm and health insurance companies rises and their influence grows.  Soon every rambunctious toddler will be prescribed sedatives! Oh wait…

The point is, we are struggling to keep afloat in the costs we are incurring to maintain “health,” and for some of us, we’ve already drowned. If it sounds gloomy, fret not! The most important thing you can do is take charge of your own wellbeing. It’s not rocket science: physical exercise, eating fruits and veggies, and taking time to relax will benefit health. If you have the means, go see experts who will help you become the healthiest you can be, such as yoga teachers, personal trainers, dieticians, massage therapists, acupuncturists, psychologists. Taking charge of your health now will not only extend your life but the quality of it, as well.

Don’t wait until it’s too late, or you may be paying the price. –WB

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Food for Thought

There are a few things that get my goat, but what gets my biggest, fattest goat is the food industry in Western countries (including, but not limited to “first-world,” predominately white societies). The fact that I need call it an “industry” should more or less tell you the nature of the problem.

2398513475_c570cfb113_bEnter the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. These are the guys who make the rules about food production, and they publish the Food Pyramid and recommended caloric and nutritional intake. But there’s a small problem with the FDA making these rules: a majority of the members are tied to or are in charge of factory farms. Conflict of interest? I’d think so. Why else would our original food pyramid have grains at the bottom? Fortunately, a few doctors went poking around this claim and came out with a spectrum of disastrous outcomes on health with such a diet. In light of this, they’ve changed the pyramid a little (MyPyramid!), but the sneaky bastards are still playing at the grain game. I should correct myself: the government-subsidized food stuffs game.

Why grain? And what’s with all the corn, soy, and peanut in everything? At some point in the early 20th century, the government decided to subsidize these items, granting incentives to farmers who agreed to grow them. Naturally, farmers jumped on board—maximize profit? Sounds good. But now so many farms have been converted, these few items are being produced in excess. Luckily, we’ve found creative ways to use them. Try reading the ingredients on packaged food. I saw orange juice the other day proudly advertised as “gluten free.” I’m sorry, but what is gluten doing in juice in the first place?

8603655199_f571045505_oThe recent phenomenon of gluten intolerance need not come as a surprise. We consume gluten and other corn, soy, peanut, and meat additives in far excess of what we realize, particularly when even our juices have them! Of course our bodies would begin to reject them, and the reaction is compounded by the recent phenomenon of genetically modified crops. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have been scientifically altered from their natural forms in order to enhance production—thereby garnering even more reward from the government.

So let’s come back to the issue. It’s not that our government is full of idiots who can’t understand what a healthy diet looks like: the phenomenon is the government’s antiquated and ill-considered response to an expanding population (a population who demands meat!). More people equals more food, equals more land for food—that, and modifying the genes of seed strains to optimize nature. (Optimization—that should be the name of our generation: Generation Optimization.)

5723160949_079d365db7_bFactory farms dominate the show, so as a consumer, it becomes more expensive to buy organic (which is fucked up, considering they’re actually growing the real stuff). But if calling something “too expensive,” depends on your spending priorities. Everyone can do their part by buying foods labeled organic, or non-GMO (read: the FDA is also in charge of labels, so be careful not to trust products simply labeled “natural,” as this term isn’t regulated. Read carefully, friends.) If you do this, you are doing more than feeding your body what it’s designed to function on—you are joining a movement against fake food. You are standing up to our warped food industry and demanding them to produce the real stuff, please.

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Who Gives a Shit About Global Warming?

The global warming debate irks me. It’s as if the number of degrees up or down or neither of Earth’s temperature affects whether someone chooses to throw their trash out the window or not. It irks me that, characteristic of America’s paralyzing bipartisanism, the issue should be as hotly debated as it is. The exact nature of the consequences doesn’t matter. What matters is that we confront the fact that pollution is bad and that we shouldn’t do it. Are we really going to wait for the sea level to wash away our coasts, or the ozone to disintegrate, or farmland to become infertile, or some other upheaval of life as we know it before we decide to cut down on consumption?

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I’m confident that in a small part of everybody’s mind, there is recognition that our lifestyle—with plastics cluttering the oceans, the population ever-expanding, the clearance of natural habitat, copious burning of coal—is going to have repercussions on not just the environment but on our health, as well. We know that pollution is bad for us, bad for the Earth. So if you say global warming isn’t “real,” does this mean you are endorsing pollution? I would certainly hope not.

Seriously, people, with or without the climate changing (but seriously, check the scientific literature), don’t freaking pollute. Just don’t do it. Don’t be so self-centered as to drive a hummer and eat steak every night and leave your A/C running all day (“but I like it!” they whined). These luxuries are not sustainable, and they will come to an end. The world was not intended for our disposal. Us lovers of the planet (that’s everyone) ask all the people of the world to please cut down on these things. People can and do survive on much less, so allow yourself to sacrifice some of the luxury for the sake of our race and the land we share.

It is said that awareness is the first step towards instigating change.

You’re welcome, World.