Better Humaning

What’s at the root of (un)happiness? How can you start and maintain a daily meditation practice? Where might minimalism fit in? And what about politics? Better Humaning is where I write about all that and more.


Better Humaning

Breaking the Chain of “Maybe”

It's an epidemic. It's coming for your social life. But there is a vaccine.

There’s a modern scourge upon us, and every get-together, plan, and social event is vulnerable.

I don’t know when it started, who’s to blame, or if it can be defeated, but I’ve begun vaccinating myself against it. And if you or your social circle have caught a case of the Maybes, or you want to prevent an outbreak, here’s what you can do.

The first step with any epidemic is understanding the problem: What is the Maybes, how does it spread, and why is it harmful?

Continue reading → “Breaking the Chain of “Maybe””
Better Humaning

Falling Off the Daily Meditation Path

(and how to get back on)

I haven’t meditated in over a week.

I’ve become increasingly aware of this every day that passes. It’s become so big in my day, that, right now, Not Meditating feels like all I’ve accomplished.

And yet, here I am writing this instead of doing the damn thing. What is wrong with me?

I know that I’ll appreciate my time sitting — both while it’s happening (even if I know it’ll be more fitful than usual) and after. It’ll give my day more focus, give me a breath between the world and my reactions to it, and I’ll feel happier, healthier, calmer, and whole-er.

The benefits of meditating, when I haven’t been, are always more obvious to me in the negative: the list of things I’ve been doing, thinking, eating, etc. that were not mindful, but were instead short-sighted comforts that led to longer-term pains. The things I wouldn’t be doing if I had been meditating.

And my recent memory is full of such things. My body and mind are weighed down with their aftermath.

Yet here I am, still Not Meditating. 

I know that all that’s standing between me getting back on that path or me continuing to flounder is a few minutes on the cushion. I’ve known that every day.

And yet I didn’t. I still haven’t.

So what’s getting in my way? If you’ve ever experienced this — or currently are — what’s getting in our way?

Continue reading → “Falling Off the Daily Meditation Path”
Better Humaning

Overthinking Everything So You Don’t Have To

A how-to listicle for aspiring overthinkers

I have a confession to make: I’m an Overthinker.

I think I’ve always been this way, but my condition has worsened with age. And my chosen profession didn’t help.

I overthink as a matter of work, often. And I always overthink my work. Not just the things I make themselves, but how to describe what I do, and what unites it all.

Lately, I’ve come to think that the best way to describe my job is “overthinking everything so you don’t have to.” That’s no surprise, I’m sure, if you’ve popped around this site, or read my books, or seen anything else I’ve made.

But, ironically, I’m also driven, fundamentally, to empower people to not need me, via my work. I always endeavor to remove myself from the picture. Making myself irrelevant is one of my primary goals in everything I make, and it’s often the question that leads to the improvements or further work: “How can I create something that is freely available to prevent a person from needing to hire me to do it?”

That’s why, for example, I released my copyright on my work back in 2013: I didn’t want people to have to keep asking me to use it, license it, or reprint it. I removed myself from the middle.

So this creates a bit of a conundrum. No surprise: me finding a conundrum. That’s Overthinking 101.

Recently, I’ve been [over-]thinking about that conundrum a lot. And I’ve felt a growing urge to reconcile it, which brings us here. To the how-to I never suspected I would write: A list of ways that I overthink everything, for those of you who want to DIY (OIY?).

Following is the process I generally follow as I overthink everything in my life and work.

I apply it to everything I create, to the social justice and human rights advocacy I engage in, to how I organize and operate on a “business” level, and even to how I do things in my “personal” life (relationships, puppy training, cooking, etc.).

This is the not-so-secret sauce.

But I suggest you proceed with caution. Overthinking is addictive. I wonder why that is.

Continue reading → “Overthinking Everything So You Don’t Have To”
Better Humaning | Status

Policing Voting vs. Nuance

You can complain about politics if you don’t vote.
You’re not a bad human if you don’t vote.
You can still be my friend if you don’t vote.
And voting is an exceptional way to complain.
And it’s a perfect way to stake a claim in your humanity.
And it’s a wonderful way to show up for your friends.

Better Humaning | Quote

Mistakes don’t guarantee learning, but learning requires mistakes.

Better Humaning

I can’t stop thinking about the “Social Justice Dogma,” or keeping quiet.

It’s time for me to break the first rule of the social justice dogma: don’t talk about the social justice dogma.

Last spring, I got to spend a couple weeks in rural Ontario giving a few dozen (!) talks, assemblies, and shows at schools and organizations around the province. Every time I visit the Ontario countryside, I’m struck by how much it reminds me of my now-home state of Texas, in ways that are equal parts comfy (lots of hospitality) and uncomfy (lots of camouflage and usage of the word “lifestyle”). But this trip was different.

In years past, the ideas I was presenting (i.e., social justice and anti-oppression concepts, centered around gender) were mostly received as new. And the questions aligned with that. But this year, a lot of the questions I was hearing weren’t responding to what I was saying on stage, as much as they were addressing things that were already bouncing around students’ minds before I got there. I just became the first “spokesperson” for social justice they were able to confront IRL.

For example, in years past I got a lot of questions about things like “What do you mean gender and sexuality aren’t the same?” Or “What do you mean a woman can’t ‘oppress’ a man?”

But this year, a bunch of times (double digits) during Q&As I was asked something that amounted to “So gender is a social construct, and so is race, so why are we accepting of Caitlyn Jenner but not Rachel Dolezal?” By high schoolers. In rural Texas Ontario.

Hold that thought. I’ll return to it, but first I want to take a step back. Continue reading → “I can’t stop thinking about the “Social Justice Dogma,” or keeping quiet.”

(Un)Happiness

The Road Away From Email

A long and winding path with a pot of gold at the end. If I can get there.

I wish I never had to read another email.

This is something I’ve said thousands of times, aloud and in my head (mostly in my head). I’ve said it in anger after opening another death threat. I’ve said it in frustration when an email sent me down a rabbit hole that took me away from a project I had planned for the day. It’s been an underlying sentiment for years, but it wasn’t until recently that it turned into a concrete plan:

I am going to stop reading emails.

But how?

Continue reading → “The Road Away From Email”
Better Humaning

A Fix: Politics Not Reminiscent of Sports

Moving from our current play field into something better for all of us.

Political discourse is at a place where it’s hard — if not impossible — to see it as productive. Most times, it doesn’t even seem like folks who are arguing have a vision for anything being accomplished by that argument, other than hearing words yelled.

Facts have been weaponized and are lobbed as projectiles, not used as tools to build a bridge from one perspective to another. Opinions are worn like armor, used to protect ourselves from the bombardment of facts. We scream for our ideas to drown out the screams of others for theirs.

If sports are modeled after war, as many people say, our political discourse has taken a form modeled after the way we talk about sports.

Continue reading → “A Fix: Politics Not Reminiscent of Sports”
Building a Daily Meditation Habit

Maintaining a Daily Meditation Habit

What it's going to take for me to stick with 100 days of mindfulness

I’m on day 9 of 100 in my quest to making meditation an integral part of my daily routine. At just shy of 10%, I have already learned a lot that will inform the next 90. I’m going to walk through what I’m planning to draw upon, from most concrete to most abstract.

1. Tools matter.

meditation-progress-sam-killermann

There’s this famous Audre Lorde quote that gets tossed around a lot in the social justice activism spaces I occupy: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Folks generally take it to mean that you can’t undo a harmful system using components that support that harmful system, or by working within that system.

There are lots and lots of debates about that quote, and you can read them (or we could get into them another time), but for now it’s the second part of the quote that I am appealing to (the part that is often omitted): “They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

It’s this idea, that the master’s tools may temporarily allow us to be him at his own game, that I’ve found to be particularly salient this past week. Indeed, I’ve managed to turn just about every thing in my life that led me to mindlessness into a tool to help me practice mindfulness.

Continue reading → “Maintaining a Daily Meditation Habit”
Better Humaning

Building a Daily Meditation Habit

100 Days of Mindfulness

About a year ago I committed to writing on this site every day for 100 days in a row. Today, I’m committing to something similar and different: I’m going to start meditating every day, for at least the next 100.

Let me explain why, and how I plan to do it.

I’ve had an inconsistent meditation practice for about a decade now. At its best, I meditate every day for a streak of a week or two. At its worst, I meditate once a month.

But here’s the thing: I know that meditation makes me happier, calmer, work better, think clearer — it makes me better. Every time. I can even verify this for myself with some [obviously slanted] data: looking back at my journal, and comparing that against the records from the meditation app I use (Calm), I can see that on days I meditate I almost always finish every task I set out to do in the morning. I’m also more gracious, thoughtful, and patient in my responses.

On the days I don’t meditate, well, I get by, but I’m a bit messier. And sometimes those days turn into weeks into months. That’s what’s happened these past few weeks.

And the science backs this up, right? We all know this, if we exist even a little on the internet. Just google “the scientific benefits of meditation” and bask in the bazillion hits of glory.

Continue reading → “Building a Daily Meditation Habit”
Better Humaning

How I Rationalize Being So Hard on Myself, & How I’m Going to Stop

The difference between knowing something and embodying it.

I’m my own worst critic. A lot of us are. I don’t like this about myself. A lot of us don’t. But I finally have a strategy to make it stop happening.

Of course we’re our own worst critics: we know better than anyone else our abilities, capacities, our “should”s — we know our potential, so we know when we fall short. We know our dreams, our honest-to-goodness, non-filtered-for-“reality” dreams. We know the lessons we should have learned, the mistakes we keep making.

We have all the data to give ourselves the most accurate grade possible, and the way we were taught to grade as kids is to start at 100 and work our way backwards. I’m not as happy as I should be despite my privileges. Minus 1. Why did I engage in that harmful relationship that was so much like the other harmful relationships I was in? Minus 5, one for each. Minus 2 more for not learning the lesson. Minus 10 for pointing out a “flaw” in someone else you know you embody. And so on.

From “I would never treat anybody this way.”

This is something I have heard myself say dozens of times. I know that I have an unhealthy standard I set for myself, and that with other people I lead with compassion and understanding, while I never give myself the benefit of the doubt. This understanding is as far as I’ve gotten, or at least it wasAnd for good reason: I can’t give myself the benefit of the doubt, because there is no doubt.

I know. I know better. I know what I should be doing. How I should be feeling. I know.

It’s easy for me to treat other people with compassion when they experience a shortcoming I would berate myself for, because I don’t know if they know what I know. I don’t know if they know we create our own obstacles to happiness. But I do. I know that. So I should be better.

What’s worse: I know I shouldn’t should. Oops. There I go again. But I know better. That’s why. I know what I know, and I know better. That’s at the crux of all of this.

To “I would never treat any body this way.”

I’ve been working with a business coach, her name is Paula, at the suggestion of a friend. I am doing a lot of stuff, but I have been doing it in an emotionally, physically, financially (and plenty of other-ially) unsustainable way. Paula is just plain delightful, but also sharp as a tack.

We were chatting about the issue of how I struggle with the hate campaigns that get pointed in my direction. It just feels wrong, and makes me physically ill, which makes it hard for me to do anything. Then I get frustrated with myself for feeling that way, because intellectually I know that I shouldn’t allow others’ misconceptions of me and my work to affect my well-being. It’s silly. So then I’m frustrated two-fold. Inception of frustration. Not ideal.

I wasn’t sure what, if anything, would come from it. I’ve thought about this a lot. Then she pointed out something I already knew.

“Your intellect has matured to this point, but your limbic system hasn’t.”

Right. That’s true. That’s the annoying part. It’s that I know I shouldn’t be experiencing this body discomfort, this genuine ill. It makes me sick. It hurts in my chest. That’s what annoys me. That’s the double-whammy.

Then she said basically the same thing, again, but this time I heard it differently.

These are separate. My intellect — my mind, the higher logic, my me — is not my body — my limbic brain, my reflexes, my physical response system. The first one is the one that writes on this site, that gives advice to others, and that sometimes (oftentimes) berates the second one.

Applying Sanford’s Theory of Challenge & Support to Myself

In grad school, one of the most important things I learned was that we need to meet someone where they are, and help them grow incrementally toward who they want to be.

The theory being that if you challenge someone too much, they’ll become overwhelmed; and if you support them too much, they’ll stagnate; the appropriate combination for growth is challenge mitigated by support.

The idea being that you don’t go from 1 to 100. You go from 1 to 2. 2 to 3. 3 to 4. And so forth.

Previously, I had been treating my limbic self (my body’s reflexive responses to these external stimuli) as being on the same level as my intellectual self (the higher reasoning self that has spent way too much time thinking about these things).

I was holding myself to a high standard, which would be fine if I just had one self and it was at a high level. But that’s not what’s happening. There are two selfs here: one part of me needs challenge to thrive (the intellectual part), as well as a second part of me that needs support (the limbic part).

Moving Forward: Supporting instead of Challenging

It’s time that I stop holding my body to a standard that I would never hold anybody else to. It’s time I start realizing that knowing something intellectually isn’t the same as experiencing it, and that’s okay. To know that the way for my body to catch up with my mind is by meeting it where it’s at, the same way I’d meet anybody where they’re at.

Right now, my body isn’t okay with a lot of things my mind understands and can rationalize with ease. My body craves things my mind doesn’t (like cheese and sunburn). It reacts to things in immature ways (like how I sometimes almost vomit with sadness when I read the horrible things people say about me on the internet — people who don’t, and likely never will, know me).

Pretending it doesn’t, or yelling that it shouldn’t, won’t change that. Maybe someday — hopefully someday — it’ll catch up, but that’s not going to happen if I keep trying to make it go from a 1 to 100. I need to focus on getting it to 2 first, or I’m not going to get anywhere. And to do that, I need to treat it how I would treat any other body: with compassion, understanding, and support.

And that’s something my mind can totally (finally) get behind.