Sure, My Kid is Starting First Grade This Year.

Its summer and it always seems that by the time we really get into the swing of summer everybody is already talking about the school year starting up again. They are already setting up the “Back to School” displays at the stores and I’m already getting asked “What grade will Mark be in this year?”

More often then not I straight up lie to this question, because I realize its not about the question. People really don’t care what grade your kid is in, unless they are going to the same school as their child. This question is the same as “What are you doing for Christmas?” It is a polite seasonal conversation maker. More than anything they are trying to relate to my child’s age.

There are times that I am close enough to someone to give them the long full version. It usually starts with, “There are no grade levels at my child’s school.” Then maybe I’ll explain how children are grouped based roughly on age into three “rooms” and how my son will probably stick with room A this year, but that will be up to him and his teachers.

Democratic schools do not arbitrarily divide students up based on birth year. We know from experience and studies that dividing children up this way isn’t even the best way to educate children and people really struggle grasp how radically different a democratic school is from any public school. Its harder to explain than unschooling most of the time. Its easy to tell you what there isn’t. Its much harder to communicate what there is and how magical the environment can be.

In a democratic school there are no grade levels, there are no grades. There are no tests. There are no report cards. There are no traditional classrooms. There is no age segregation. There is no ability segregation. The only times the kids are divided up is for a short morning meeting, and then for classes they choose to sign up for. There are no punishments or requirements.

In a democratic school there is community, and freedom, and respect in a way that just isn’t possible when teachers must coerce children to comply to state standards of learning and testing. At Village Free School there is extremely little the children must do and values that are held highest are taking care of yourself, taking care of others, and taking care of the school, and when it comes down to it there is always a community surrounding you ready to help you do those things so you are never alone in it.

One of the biggest daily challenges is getting the kids to eat (which falls under ‘take care of yourself’). With the youngest kids (room A) they put lunch on the whiteboard with the plans for the day (none of which are required, unless its an all-school trip). They talk about lunch and then give the kids reminders when 12:30 rolls around that they should maybe take some time to eat. I often check my son’s lunch box when I pick him to find it mostly full. No one makes him sit in a lunch room for 30 minutes, so he’s still learning to find the discipline to listen to his body and feed himself. Luckily the car ride home is a great time to catch up on some eating.

My son spends his days playing with people of literally all ages. There aren’t a ton of babies and toddlers around (becuase the school starts at age 5) but they are there. Younger siblings and teacher’s kids are welcome and there are at least two toddlers that are regulars and the kids adore them. The teachers are often right in the thick of things playing with the kids or are nearby for when the kids need help, usually when a conflict arises.Thats when things get really radical.

If there is a curriculum it is human relationships and learning how to be decent person though listening to others and solving problems together. Much of the day is spent solving conflicts or working out things in groups. What to play, where to play it, what will the rules be, will we let this late comer join in, how to we keep it fair for smaller kids? The kids spend a lot of time working though these questions. Justice and fairness is a high priority for most of the kids, and they will become very passionate when there is a real or perceived injustice towards themselves or one of their friends. This is where the amazing adults can step in and guide them though “challenges” using various peaceful techniques to solve the problem to the best of everyones ability and satisfaction.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is always happy. Sometimes kids walk away from challenges feeling like they didn’t get the outcome they wanted, sometimes kids cry or get angry, sometimes the adults don’t know exactly what to do. But the focus on respecting each other and letting everyone feel heard and cared for goes a long way all on its own. The lack of hard structure to the day allows lots of time to work though challenges with no rush and this is key. Real conflicts don’t get solved in five minutes and kids have real conflicts.

My son is not starting first grade this year. He is beginning his second year at the Village Free School. Where he will spend his days playing and learning though play. He will have time to read books and be read to, he will engage in art whenever he chooses and to whatever extent he choses, he will be surrounded by capable loving adults who are available to help him explore any questions he has. He will have the opportunity to participate  in “offerings” taught by teachers, fellow students, and outside instructors. Last year he choose no to sign up for any, and that was perfectly acceptable. He still occasionally jumped in and participated when he saw something fun going on as an offering. He will be part of a community that accepts him for who he is today and has no expectations or timelines for his growth. They understand that children grow all on their own when given the fertile environment to do so. Some flowers grow faster than others, some grow tall slowly, but they all are beautiful flowers deserving of sunshine, water, and fertilizer.

But sure, yeah, my kid is starting first grade this year.

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Village Free School!
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What is Going on in My Head?

The mind is a mind boggling thing. The fact that we use this tool in an attempt to understand itself shows how complex it is, and how far we are from understanding how it works.

I often hear we are in the days Galileo when it come to neuroscience. We finally have imaging devices, but they are crude and showing us things at a macro level, while the micro details still elude us. I’m a little obsessed with neuroscience right now, every other book that I’m reading has “brain” in the title. To the point my friends poke friends at it. (Angie, I’m lovingly looking at you!) I feel like this is both because of my intense curiosity, and becuase of my desire to understand myself. Maybe if I understand the biology at play I can better understand why I have the strengths and weakness I do, and maybe even work on the weaker parts.

Lately I am again being tormented by dreams. At least its not so bad that I am afraid to sleep, as its been in the past. I still vividly remember the period of nightmares I had in high school that left me sleepless at night and falling asleep in class. And more recently, about a year or two ago, I was having dreams of dying and waking up unable to breath. That was another time I was too scared to sleep. Both of those times I would read or watch TV until I was physically unable to stay awake.

This time is a little different. I’m having dreams about specific people in specific scenarios and it seems every time I dream it escalates in intensity.  This is paired with waking up feeling not well rested and tension in my neck and head. I feel like its a window to some unresolved trauma from broken relationships, but what the fuck do I know? I really wish that part of me would speak more clearly to the rest of me so I would know if there is something I can do to resolve this. Until that happens I have writing, yoga, and meditation to try and keep me grounded.

What is going on in my head!?

How I Almost Hated Writing

Most of school came easy to me. Too easy. So easy it was incredibly boring. I would live in my head until recess and lunch came along and allowed me to talk with my friends without being chastised. I usually hung out with the other nerdy kids. We didn’t know we were nerds at the time. The few friends from the K-8 school I attended (starting in 2nd grade) that I’m connected with via facebook are pretty proud nerds posting about what Harry Potter houses they are their favorite Magic the Gathering cards. We aren’t all the same flavor of nerd, but we are nerds none the less.

Yet I struggled in two specific areas at school, early on it was writing. Putting my thoughts on a page was hard. I didn’t have great fine motor skills and even though grammar was something I had mostly mastered in speech translating that to periods and commas on a page didn’t make any sense.  The confining rules of grammar and the obsession with correct spelling nearly destroyed the love of writing in me.

I remember being in second grade and being told I was spelling too many words wrong and being made to write the words I misspelled over and over on a page until I got them right. I remember my mom drilling me on spelling words at home. No matter how much I practiced I would only get about half correct on the spelling tests. I still don’t understand how to figure out how a new word is spelled at 31. All those spelling assignments and punishments did for me was make me HATE writing.

By 3rd grade my mom was spending me to a tutor over the summer who was teaching me spelling and grammar. I hated that I was going to school over the summer, but at least this teacher was nice. She let me write about things I cared about and was gentle in her corrections. I was so torn on those lessons. I loved and hated them all at once, but she helped remind me that writing could be a good thing. I started journaling not long after that.

In 4th grade I started my first journal, writing mostly about the boy at school I had a crush on. Turns out he’s really into guys, but in Catholic school that wasn’t really something he could be honest about. He was so nice to me, and his last name was next to mine alphabetically, so we were always next to each other in line and often had our desks next to each other. We got in trouble for talking a lot and became close friends for a few years. He thought my mom was cool, it was hard for me to see it.

At school writing continued to be a challenge while everything else (except math) came easily. I now believe I had an undiagnosed learning disability, probably stealth dyslexia, which contributed to most of my struggles. Even though I could never articulate them well the rules of grammar eventually came naturally to me. I’ve since learned that good writing bends those rules too its will and I don’t worry about them. Writing is a tool, like music, to make someone else feel a little bit of what I feel. The point of learning the rules is to learn how to break them.

In Jr. High we learned how to type properly on computers. I hated those lessons, but they opened up a new world for me. Having a word processor that spell checked for me changed my life. It freed me to simply write. Teachers still made big red marks for my run on sentences and missing commas, but spelling was much less of an issue and the struggle of poor fine motor skills was completely gone. By that time we had a computer at home on which I was writing for fun regularly. By age 12 I was writing for a now long defunct website called sk8radio. I wrote product reviews and contest recaps in exchange for free stuff. It was awesome! I was a kid featured right there on the site with all adults and no one made a big deal about it. I was a competent writer who knew skateboarding and thats all that mattered. There was an editor for the site who made very small changes to my work and gave me feedback. No big red marks from teachers.

In High School things were mixed. I was constantly forced to write papers on things I just didn’t give a shit about. It wore me down. I journaled a lot. Its hard to go back and read those journals becuase they talk about being bullied, being scared, and my weird hyper spirituality. Believing in an all present, very involved God got me though the hellish days of Woodstock High School. But there were bright points. Some teachers gave a lot of freedom in their assignments and I could find something I really loved to write about. Of course there were always the fun classes, music and the sciences, which both were oases in a long hellish day of boredom, bullying, and self-hatred over my inability to do any math competently.

One class in particular really set in stone my love of writing, and it wasn’t even one of the “fun” english classes I took. My guidance counselor pushed me hard to take “College Bound Composition” at the honors level my senior year.  She noted my consistently high scores in english and wondered why I wasn’t already in honors classes. I reluctantly took the class and in it we wrote of mixture of fun and terribly boring assignments, all very practical.

One day a few weeks into the class my teacher, Mrs. Aavang, took me aside and told me I was a gifted writer. I thought she was nuts. She told me that she rarely saw people with such a natural writing voice, and that I was particularly good at writing my own story and that I should keep cultivating that voice. I didn’t really listen at the time. I just thought, “Is this going to get me into college? Probably not, lets work on that stuff.” But her encouragement stayed with me. It rung quietly in my mind and I continued to journal and eventually blog in various places.

It stayed with me back in my Xenga days when I would write long personal stories mostly about my youth group and spiritual experinces, throughout college in assignments that I cared deeply about. At that level most of the assignments were meaningful, and the teachers engaging. That encouragement is with me now and I’m expanding on how I share that voice publicly and more vulnerably.

I’ve now learned to really love writing and let those awful early memories be separated from the fulfillment it brings me now. I’m even working on my hand writing. I now own a fountain pen and practice my hand writing. Its finally improving a bit and doesn’t look like a six year olds anymore. It took till my thirties to be self-motivated in that regard. I believe it would have come much sooner had it not been forced upon me too early in my development.

Now my own son is six and learning to write. I’ve made the mistake of pushing him to practice his letters in the past. He pushed back, HARD. I backed off and eventually he started writing all on his own.

The other day he wrote a list of all the words he knows how to write, completely on his own, entirely self-motivated. Writing is a big motivation for me to stick with self-directed learning for my own son. He won’t be pushed to do spelling lists and writing exercises. He will find his writing voice in time, probably sooner than I did without the baggage of being forced to do something within confining rules too early in development. Six year olds should be writing what they love and not worrying about grammar. There is lots of time to learn that along the way, which frankly is how I learned most of it. The lessons about sentence structure never meant much to me. I learned to write mostly by reading and I’ve always loved to read. My son loves to read already and started reading at an earlier age than I did. I’m excited to watch him develop his love of writing as I continue to cultivate mine.

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My Lamy Safari and relearning cursive as an adult.

Carrie & Lowell

Finding words can often be the hardest part of life. And putting words to your deepest feelings in incredibly powerful. A huge focus of my work with the kids this summer is helping them find words. I want to give them examples when I see them struggling and then have them articulate them back to me. Sometimes I need someone to do the same for me. That can come in different forms, friends, family, professionals, but the most powerful place I find words when they don’t come for me is in art.

Carrie & Lowell has been an incredibly important album for me since I first heard the single “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross.” I had no idea what it was about, but I could feel the heaviness, and the Christian imagery resonated deeply with me. The first time I listened to it straight though, I had to listen to it again. I listened to it daily for weeks, I learned every word and I cried and cried and cried.

There is a hurt deep at the core of who I am. A loss that had defined me since I was 4 years old. The vast majority of my life I’ve lived without my Father. He died in a horrible accident when I was not quite four and half. He was in his late 20s.

I spent my childhood feeling a profound loss and also feeling like I was never allowed to speak of that loss. I had to keep it deep within myself. I was often angry, but I kept it under wraps as best I could expressing it though various sports. You can throw a ball hard or kick your foot though a board and people don’t get too upset. I was never good at finding the words to tell anyone how I really felt. I still kind of suck at it, but I’m getting better. I have a few safe people now, and I write. I write here, and in other more personal places.

But Carrie & Lowell reached something I never was able to reach in myself with lines like

For my prayer has always been love
What did I do to deserve this?

and

Do I care if I despise this? Nothing else matters, I know
In a veil of great disguises; how do I live with your ghost?

How do I live with your ghost. Thats always been the struggle.

And then there is

Should I tear my eyes out now, before I see too much?
Should I tear my arms out now, I wanna feel your touch

Which so captures the deep visceral physical feeling of loss. To feel a loved person’s touch again. Nothing can actually communicate that feeling. But Sufjan does a damn good job.

Those past two lines are from the track “The only Thing” which resonates most deeply with me of any track on the album. I’ve struggled with feeling this loss so intensely I want to hurt myself. I’ve imagined how easy it would be to escape it all from driving off a bridge or into a tree. Then I realize I would only be passing on this same intense pain to the people who love me that dearly, and there are at least a few. I would never wish this pain on anyone, so I continue to find the best ways I can to cope, I search for healthier ways to deal with my struggles. This album provided one I didn’t know existed. Sufjan’s mourning of the loss of his mother and his reminiscing of his childhood helps me to explore those own intense feelings in myself.

I forgive you, mother, I can hear you
And I long to be near you
But every road leads to an end
Yes every road leads to an end
Your apparition passes through me in the willows
Five red hens – you’ll never see us again
You’ll never see us again

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Living in the Moment

Right now I’m in a place in life where I have no choice but to live in the moment.

I’m starting a business which is a crazy roller coaster. It also means I don’t have a career or income. We are relying on Ace’s income to pay all our bills, and this month it was significantly less than it has been in over a year. We straight up don’t have enough income this month to pay all our bills and eat. Luckily we have some savings, so we aren’t going to starve or have our utilities turned off our anything. Yet, I’m still anxious becuase I was hoping we’d made enough this month to pay down our small amount of credit card debt and keep saving our savings strictly for the new business.

I’ve been driving for Postmates since December to make a little bit of cash. In an average week of working 3 nights (about 12 hours total) I’m making about $150. That doesn’t include what I’m paying for gas, and becuase I’m a contractor theres no taxes withheld, so in the end on an average night I’m making just above minimum wage. When it snows I make great money though, sometimes as much as $25/hour. But, I’m only working a few hours at a time, so its still only a few hundred dollars each month. This is the job I could find that was flexible enough to work with my current life situation. I can stop at anytime. I have no hours. I work when I can, I don’t when I can’t.

Right now I’m waiting on possibly renting a perfect building for my business. I have no other potential sites right now. I lay down and can’t sleep becuase I just think about this building every night. I’m excited about what it will be like when the business is open, and I stress about how much work it will be. I wonder about countless things, the cost of the remodel, city regulations, safety, if the city will take issue with non-gendered bathrooms, and more. I was told I would have a response from the building owners this week and have heard nothing significant yet.

My anxiety has been high this week

Today in my yoga practice the wonderful Adriene said, “Find strength by letting go.” That really hit me. I’ve been doing all I can to stay calm and in the moment and this mini money crisis is really forcing me to do that. Right now the best course of action is for me to work Postmates as much as I possibly can, becuase I have no idea if this building is going to come though, but I’ll know soon.

If I get the building my life will be very busy with getting this building ready for a business, and working with the city to get approval to be in the building. At the same time I’ll be working with my builder to design ramps for the space,  overseeing all the improvements to the space, searching out sponsorship deals to help fund as many improvements as possible, and even starting the early stages of hiring.

If I don’t get this building I will be applying for regular jobs while continuing the hard search for suitable spaces for my business.

Each is its own kind of terrifying and the waiting is the hardest part.

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Mark started an obsession with Sudoku yesterday after being introduced to it at school.

I literally have no idea what tomorrow will bring for my life. I can’t plan for it, so my only choice is to live in the right now. That means doing yoga, breathing deeply, doing sudoku with my son, learning about circuits together, watching Rick and Morty with Ace, driving for Postmates and praying for good tips, cooking good food, and just being here.

I’m not particularly good at it, but I’m trying, and I’m certainly better than I was a year ago when this kind of stress would have had me in a state of anxiety and depression to strong to get me out of bed. My best practice is to take things one day at a time even one moment at a time, by letting go of the unknown, letting go of the future, and being in the now.

January Book Reviews

I’ve read (or started reading) some books this January as part of my effort to read more. I’m going to give you some short reviews of what I’ve read so far. I’m also going to include my last book from December as well a few books I didn’t finish and I’ll describe why in the post. I’m simply going to do this in the order I read them and give some thoughts on each. Also I’ll post Amazon links for each book, but I highly recommend you use your local library or support your local independent bookstore (or even any physical book store) if you are able. Here in Portland, I love shopping at Powell’s Books!


Pale Blue Dot
Carl Sagan

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Pale Blue Dot is a classic astronomy book written by the legendary Carl Sagan. Carl’s contributions to modern astronomy and cosmology can not be understated. Just take a quick glance at his Wikipedia page. He was the face of science to millions of people and for a very good reason, he knew what he was talking about, and was passionate about it. In Pale Blue Dot he is able to communicate the history of our understanding of the cosmos in a way that connects with the average person. This book is written for everyone, not just us geeks and nerds. It is a bit dated, as many of the “future” space programs he describes have already happened. But that is amazing in itself, as he accurately predicts sending rovers to Mars and our current race to send humans to Mars.

The book is based off the Pale Blue Dot image, which wouldn’t exist if Carl hadn’t insisted on it. He wanted to show the world the largeness of space and the smallness and vulnerability of Earth. With the image and book he succeeds in doing that for the average reader. I utterly enjoyed this book and could not put it down. It was extremely fascinating and I greatly deepened my own understanding of human efforts to learn about space. If you are a fundamentalist Christian, or believe strongly in a personal God that created the Earth just for us, this book will challenge your faith a bit, but it does so in respectful way asking big questions that each of us should absolutely take the time to ponder. If you have never read this classic and are at all interested in science, go read it! What are you waiting for?

Pale Blue Dot


A Universe From Nothing
Lawrence M. Krauss

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A Universe from Nothing dives much deeper into one area of cosmological science than Pale Blue Dot. It gets deep in the physics of how the Universe came to be, as best as we can currently understand. And as far as I understand this book is very current and is based on some recent breakthroughs in our understanding of physics. I love cosmology and physics, but I’ve never taken any classes on either outside of high school, so my knowledge isn’t very deep. I was able to understand the concepts laid out in the book pretty well thanks to the wonderful illustrations. If you are curious about the age, formation, and shape  of the universe and how we came to our current models, then you will enjoy this book.

My only complaint is that the author, Lawrence Krauss, is extremely snarky to the point of being rude. I was upset at some of his comments (added in parenthesis) throughout the book implying that all people from certain states are clearly idiots due to their substandard education, and insinuating that people with any form of faith or belief in a greater power are also clearly misguided fools (the Afterword by Richard Dawkins should have tipped me off). The book overall had nothing to do with belief or atheism, but he added that in here and there and I think it detracts from the book overall. Despite that I’d still highly recommend it to someone with an interest in cosmology or physics.

A Universe From Nothing


Walkable City
Jeff Speck

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As a Portlander its very hard not to love this book. Author Jeff Speck consistently hails Portland as one of the best examples of walkability in the United States (alongside New York City). This book is really aimed at city officials who are using flawed logic and and outdated regulation to design their cities infrastructure, but anyone who cares about transportation, climate change, or local politics should read this book. It outlines in ten very clear points what to change and work on to make a city more walkable and how important that is to the health of individuals, a downtown’s economy, and our global climate.

Some of the changes Jeff suggests are ones most people would immediately agree with and understand, like valuing bikes, and making sidewalks feel safe, others are little outside what most people would consider good city design, removing lanes, allowing mixed use lanes, and avoiding one way streets, but the author very easily and strongly makes his case for each idea and gives clear examples of it working. The book is written in a way that is very inspirational, and I’ve started walking much more becuase of it (and in the cold wet winter)! Another book I could hardly put down and a good read for anyone living in a city or decent sized suburb (which is almost all of you).

Walkable City


The Happiness Project
Gretchen Rubin

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I could say a lot about this book, but I will do my best to keep it to a few paragraphs. First the good. Gretchen starts the book by recognizing that she’s not living life to the fullest and pondering on what she could change to feel happier in her daily life. She doesn’t want a radical life change, but wants to find more happiness right in her everyday, her home, her kids, her job, her friends, etc. This is a noble pursuit and one I think more people could benefit from. I was laughing so hard and how she went about this goal by making charts and action points. At one point she has a conversation with her sister that was a little too real to me, where her sister called out her very strange way of categorizing life and happiness into a “resolution chart” to be worked though. I wondered if she was an INTJ like me, as I would do something like that. I totally got it, and I have a feeling if I explained a project like that to my sister I’d get a similar response. Gretchen’s personality is similar to my own and I loved that.

The book is organized into months, as she decided to focus on a different area of her life each month. Some of these spoke more to me than others, especially the ones focused on relationships. Her goal to nag her husband less and her resolution to have more fun with her kids are both things I immediately felt I could do as well in my day to day life. Her style of writing is engaging for the average person, but the book is a bit longer than it needs to be. I found some chapters to be a bit repetitive. I also found the book hard to stomach at time becuase of how privileged she is. She lives in a walkable area with lots of family and friends nearby, she has a well paying flexible job and is able to buy things to help with the project. I don’t have a lot of those things and struggle to afford groceries right now, so I found the chapters on money and work to be pretty frustrating. Her advice is great, if you are in a similar enough life situation. If your income isn’t high enough there are lots of suggestions she makes that you simply won’t be able to do right now, and to her credit she acknowledges that. Gretchen also comments on how she’s never had to deal with mental illness, which was another hang up I had, as someone who’s experienced long bouts of crippling anxiety, happiness takes on a different meaning these days.

All of that being said, I was inspired enough to write down a few of my own resolutions after reading this book, so the outcome was overwhelming positive for me despite the frustrating parts of her story of privilege.

My resolutions were: have friends over for dinner at least once a month (and build relationships), work on Stronger Skatepark every weekday, focus on the positive, talk about the negative only if you are seeking to help improve something, be active (exercise) everyday, ride my bike when it is a practical option (instead of driving), listen better and focus on what other people are saying, write, track my food.

The Happiness Project


The Stuff of Thought
Steven Pinker

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This was a random find at the library (where as all the previous books were on my reading list). And the first chapter captivated me, but the second lost me. This a deep book, written for those with a deep understanding of language. Steven knows his stuff, to a level thats hard for me to comprehend. I could never diagram sentences in school, and this book gets pretty deep into sentence structure and how we somehow intuitively know which verbs work in which constructions. One of my skills is exactly what he describes. I’ve always had a knack for writing in a readable way, I just know how to do it. I was never taught. When he starts to explained each type of verb and the way researchers came to understand how we use them, I checked out. I deeply wanted to keep reading and understand but I was getting so little out of so much time put into it, that I decided to move on.

The Stuff of Thought 


The Sin of Certainty
Peter Enns

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I’ve heard Peter Enns speak on Podcasts before and I always love what he has to say about the Bible and Faith. He is a wonderful scholar and speaker and makes the Bible accessible to us crazy progressive Christians who sometimes struggle in our relationship to this text. I loved the beginning of the book, he tells his own story of doubt and how that changed his life and put his career on a new track. Peter then explains how our obsession with working out perfect beliefs can actually be damaging to our faith in the long term (which I’ve experienced first hand), but I found the book over all to be slow moving, and just barely scratching the surface of so many things I had already worked though that I got bored. I read half the book and kept saying to myself, “Yeah… and?” becuase I felt he could have gone so much deeper. I felt similarly about the last Rob Bell book. I want books that challenge me to think in new ways, and this just didn’t scratch that itch for me so I returned it only halfway finished so I could move on to the next book.

This book would be excellent for someone who is just starting to question fundamentalism, but doesn’t want to give up on Christian faith completely. I wish I had this book in 2008 or 2009 it would have been perfect as I was first doubting the things about God I had been taught were facts, that really stand on shaky ground. But its ok, its ok to not be sure of everything involving God and thats what Peter is trying to communicate to people.

The Sin of Certianty


One of the things I decided to do when I took up the challenge of reading more (a goal of a book a week) was to give myself permission to stop reading books that weren’t grabbing my attention. I didn’t want to waste time feeling bored and stuck and I ended up doing that with two books in a row! But I’m so glad I did becuase Ace and I recently had a date night where we spent the evening browsing at Powell’s Books flagship location, which they claim to be the largest bookstore in the world. I found a lot of books that grabbed me, and bought two.

The book I’m currently reading, How God Changes Your Brain, has me in its clutches. I can’t wait to get back to it. I wouldn’t be so excited to read today if I hadn’t let go of the books that I wasn’t finding fun. I would still be bogged down in The Stuff of Thought dreading my next reading session. So give yourself permission to let go of things that aren’t serving you, its ok to admit that a book (or movie, or habit, or practice) isn’t for you right now. It makes more space for wonderful things that can make your life better!

Meditation

I started going to therapy sometime in the fall of 2015. One of the very first things suggested to me was meditation. At that time I just did not really know how to do it. I read descriptions and guides and even tried a few guided meditations. I was so lost and frustrated. At that time all I could accomplish was trying to control my breathing for two minutes, and even that was hard. I was experiencing a lot of panic at that time, and really struggled to focus for two whole minutes.

Slowly, over a long period of time I started to find some things that worked for me. The biggest, by far, was doing yoga. I love Yoga With Adriene. I found Adriene when my back was hurting badly one day (kind of like it is today) and I googled “Yoga for back pain” becuase I was willing to try anything free to get some relief. I found Adriene’s video and was so impressed. Adriene was the best yoga instructor I’d ever seen. She was extremely inviting and somehow felt like she was speaking right to me, even though it was an old YouTube video! Adriene just has this way of communicating that is so respectful and inviting. I even said to myself “She talks like a good therapist.” I loved the video so much I did more and more!

I didn’t expect the videos to help me learn to meditate, but they did. Adriene is able to gently and expertly guide you though the movements while coaching you to keep breathing and to focus on your body and breath. Her constant guide of “find what feels good” gave me the freedom to modify poses as I needed. I was learning to ignore all the racing thoughts and feel my body while paying attention to my breathing. For me pairing movement with breathing was the key I needed to learn to meditate. Over time and with practice my time on the mat, guided by Adriene’s videos, became a key part to my healing and getting my anxiety under control.

Each practice would end with shavasana, which was a new practice to me. At first being still and relaxed and focusing on breathing deeply was extremely difficult, but the practice of yoga made my body feel so good that I kept coming back. Day after day I did yoga and ended in a meditative pose. On the days that I would really be able to focus on my breathing instead of my thoughts I would find all sorts of strong emotions rising up. I would find myself sobbing at the end of a practice thinking of departed friends and old wounds. It really helped me discover the places of hurt hiding in the recesses of my mind that needed work. I had no idea that yoga could do that.

Recently I started adding time for meditation at the end of yoga. I don’t time it, but I think its generally about five minutes that I lie on the floor, just focusing on my breath. Of course all sorts of thoughts pop up, but I really try to just let them go and come back to my breath. I’ve also found that bringing my hands to together in front of my face helps. Feeling my fingers resting on my face and forehead give me a physical point to focus on.

Five minutes doesn’t feel like much, but it is. Especially paired with yoga, it makes a huge difference in my day. I am starting to notice the days that I struggle a lot and am short tempered with the people I love are the days I skip yoga and meditation.

It’s taken me 15 months to get the point that I can meditate for five minutes several days a week. Thats a long time, but the pay off has been absolutely huge. Its quite hard for me to quantify how much its impacted my life for the better. I’ve always seen myself as a snappy and sometimes straight up mean-spirited person, but that view and that reality is changing, and its in large part thanks to meditation. On days that I meditate, I feel more focused, more empathetic, and more flexible, things I’ve always valued but struggled to actually live out.

If you have wanted to try meditation but are scared to start, or worried you might fail, or don’t know how to get started, I urge you to just start somewhere. Before I found yoga I would set a timer for two minutes, and go outside at night and just look at the stars. It wasn’t quite meditating, but I would spend those two minutes breathing deep and it would help give me a short break from the anxiety that was nearly constant at the time. If I can do that at my lowest I’m sure everyone can find something they can do to bring some calm and peace to their minds for a few moments each day. I know if you try you won’t regret it.