The Wandering Monk

Brewmaster Rysu – New Posts On Tuesdays


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What is YOUR Direction?

Think back as far as you can remember.

 

Go on, I’ll wait.  Alright, are you there? Is it at some specific memory? Is it a state of mind, or a place in your life?  Is it very specific or is it hazy?  Do you feel it more than you see it?  Do you think it more than you feel it?

Now comes the hard part.

Take one step closer to now, but only one.  Find the next memory after the oldest one.  Got it?  Now find the next.  Continue on until you see the timeline of your life unfold until present day.  You’re now traveling down memory lane, that road we often travel down when nostalgia strikes.

When you get to the first crossroads in your life, I want you to stop.  Don’t just ask yourself which directions you could’ve chosen as someone who already knows the outcome of one of them… ask yourself what your options were at the time, to you, as you saw them.  Ask yourself what would’ve happened if you would’ve taken another path.

When you do this, do you feel things like regret or satisfaction? Are you happy with the choices you’ve made?  Are you unhappy with the outcomes?

As we travel through life, we often face crossroads that we negotiate with little thought, because the social world around us has deemed that one road must always be the one we choose.  For example, when you were in your teens you likely got a job, or started driving.  You likely kissed your first kiss, experienced social stress at school, or discovered yourself in leaps and bounds.  You likely fostered the first seeds of who you truly are, and became shaped by these seeds and your environment.  You added details to your mold, and prepared (or attempted to prepare) to define yourself.

Or maybe you didn’t do any of this.  Maybe your life completely different.

But no matter what your life was, did you make those choices yourself, or did society make them for you?  Did you explore yourself because you wanted to — define yourself how you wanted to? Or did you do what the world asked you to do?  Did you become who the world told you to be?

Growing up, I always heard some interesting phrases.  “You can be anything you want to be” was one of my favorites.  It’s true, you can.  But such a simple phrase is deceptive, because it omits the most critical requirement.  Perhaps you can be anything that you want to be … but can you want to be anything?

If you wanted to throw High School to the wind and be a writer, could you?  If you wanted to be an artist that awed the world, could you?  If you wanted to do nothing at all, could you?

If I had gone to my school guidance counselor and said “I want to write a blog, travel the world, and free my spirit.” she would have laughed at me.  When she realized I was serious, she’d truncate her mockery with advice.  “You’ll need to go to college in order to learn how to write professionally, you’ll need a job that pays you well enough to travel, and you’ll need to study what freeing your spirit means before you can know what to go do.” she’d say.

Sure, I could do the things I wanted.  But I couldn’t want to do them how I wanted to, because that path wasn’t approved by life’s management.

Well, I’m 31 years old, I’ve been to 15 countries, maintain this blog (such that it is), and it took me freeing my spirit before I could ever study what that meant.

But I followed the path that everyone told me I needed to, before I did all that.  And it held me back from being who I wanted to be.  College taught me more about the restriction massive debt can have on your life than it did about writing or pursuing my dreams.  The more I stuck with the system they told me was right, the more I’ve struggled to be free.  I have to keep a job to pay off debt that funded a life I never wanted.  Following society’s path was like wearing a lead boot in a marathon — except that everyone was proud that I was doing it and all I could think the entire time was “Why would anyone do this?”

So, tell me.  What’s YOUR Direction?  Not the one that is prescribed for you, but the one that you’d truly love to take.  As you step back through your personal timeline, look at the choices you’ve made and ask yourself: Did I make these choices because I wanted to, or because I was told, forced, pressured, or coerced into making them?

No matter what your answer is, you should know that it’s never too late to look towards the distant horizon you’ve been longing for and to step towards it.  Be responsible with your decisions — clean up the mess that you’d otherwise leave behind — then go for it.  Commit yourself to it and orient your goals towards your own happiness.  Arm yourself with your passions, and know that one day you’ll breath the air of a life you’d never thought possible but that you’ve finally achieved.  Take your victories where you can get them and don’t give up.

I’ll leave this post with one final thought.   In the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, we learn about our personal legends.  We all have something beautiful and amazing that we are meant for and the unfortunate truth is that we don’t all find it.  But the universe speaks in omens and in gestures, always trying to guide you towards your personal legend.  So the next time the world speaks to you — when a situation that pushes you in a direction, when an unlikely outcome asks you to rethink something in your life, or when you read a blog post that resonates with you, consider that it may just be the universe sending you a nudge towards what you’re truly meant for.

Remember that if you are truly in love with life and how you live it, you’ll be a beacon of real and true inspiration for others.  You could make lasting, impacting, and brilliant contributions to the world in ways you may not even be able to comprehend now simply because of your love for the life you’re leading, for the harmony of the energies around you and within you, and for the employment of your brilliant and creative mind as you live.

Believe in yourself and the very act of doing so will instruct the rest of the world to follow suit.  You can do it.  I believe in you.

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Addiction: It’s all in your mind.

There are plenty of resources on the internet that talk about addiction.  Still, the stigma of addiction talks a lot about chemicals and withdraw, and marks distinction between a person being addicted to Heroin and a person being addicted to, say, Gambling.

The stigmatized perspective is that when you take chemicals that are considered addictive, the chemical makes you want it — nearly involuntarily.  And perhaps this is true in a sense, but the general perspective is that it’s the chemical that’s at the wheel of the addiction bus, not you.

But what if that was completely wrong?  What if I told you that no chemical makes you addicted to it inherently?  What if I told you that all that chemical addiction stuff you read about is actually all in your mind?

To be clear, let’s mark the distinction between withdraw and addiction.  Withdraw is the physical and psychological response to not having something one is addicted to, whereas Addiction is the act of feeling like something is important enough to alter the gravity of your life and to become such a priority so as to be viewed as irreplaceable and to want uncontrollably.

Often when someone is denying addiction, they’ll say “I can stop anytime I want to, so I’m not addicted.”  … I think the inherent logical fallacy here is that addiction is never wanting to stop.

“Okay, I’m addicted,” you might say, “But why don’t I want to stop? Because of the chemicals!”

This is where I’ll disagree with you.  To explain why, let’s first look at what the typical symptoms of addiction are in a person’s life.

  1. A person lies about the frequency, and sometimes even the existence of, a particular thing in their life either out of shame, fear of judgement, or so as not to draw attention to it.
  2. A person slowly restructures their life around the addiction, reconfiguring their finances, responsibilities, and social participation to support their addiction — all the while downplaying the impact of those changes and justifying them in their mind.
  3. A person slowly pushes the boundaries of meeting their obligations; shedding all unnecessary responsibility, time, and commitment to focus on their addiction; including going into work late or leaving early, frequent call-offs from work, or neglecting other responsibilities without hard boundaries, such as relationship obligations, house maintenance and duties, or even parental responsibilities.
  4. A person with addiction is defensive, abrasive, and/or protective of their addiction if it is referenced to or attacked.  When it’s approached as being an addiction, it’s dismissed without consideration.  When it’s critisized, irrational counter arguments or ambiguous replies are the majority of their defense, such as “It’s what I want to do.” or “I can do what I want.” or “You just don’t understand me.”
  5. A person with an addiction justifies to themselves why they are doing it when their common sense questions the activity.  “I only need to win one more time,” .. “I’ll be fine as long as I do/don’t …” … “I’ll just do this quick and then that’ll be it.”

There are other symptoms but these are often telltale signs of someone with addiction in their lives.  The thing is, these symptoms exist in someone who is addicted to Heroin, and they also exist in someone who is addicted to video games, gambling, checking their smart phone, smoking, drinking, or even running, drinking coffee or tea, or any other activity that offers certain criteria in a person’s life.

Addiction is just another word for a runaway habit.

An addiction can usually form if these criteria are met:

  1.  The activity gives the person some form of relief or happiness that nothing else in their life can emulate.
  2. The activity is an escape, can be easily downplayed, justified, or explained to oneself, even if external logic or common sense easily dismisses those explanations or justifications.
  3. An activity that can be done habitually and with relatively or perceived ease and discretion.

 

Here’s why Addiction is in your mind.

If I wake up in the morning and I spend 30 minutes drinking a cup of coffee at my kitchen table, it will become a habit (after about 20 days of doing this).  If I then tie any of the three criteria listed above to drinking coffee, it will eventually become an addiction, or a runaway habit.  If drinking coffee in the morning gives me a sense of relief, if I feel like I need to escape my life and I use my morning coffee to do it, or if I justify it to myself even if it could potentially have a negative impact on me (high blood pressure, jitters, etc.), then drinking coffee in the morning will grow into an addiction that is re-enforced each time I do it, and each time I talk myself into it.

If, one day, I wake up and I’m suddenly not allowed to drink coffee in the morning, and I have tied relief, escape, or need to it, then I will begin to go through some form of psychological withdraw.  Compounding this factor is the 5-7 day chemical withdraw period.

Withdraw is not addiction, withdraw stimulates addiction in us, psychologically.

When I go through this withdraw, psychologically or chemically, I’m telling my mind that I am being adversely affected and I am associating my adverse feelings to my lack of the thing I want, that gave me relief, escape, or need.  Because of this, I will use these criteria to justify my continued use of it.  We maintain addictions for fear of withdraw for the same reason we don’t touch fire — we experienced it once, and we learned that it hurts, so we try to avoid it by human nature.

Okay, so if I maintain my addiction for fear of withdraw, then how do I stop being addicted?

Too often, our society has this view on addiction — especially to illegal drugs — that consists of us casting those who experience addiction out of our accepted society.  We make it harder for them to find jobs and become stable, and we put people who use drugs in cages.

We take people who are not well and put them in a place where they can’t possibly get better and then hate them for not recovering.

The fight against addiction is two-pronged.  We must first approach it as individuals by understanding it, and then we must approach it as a society by healing it, not trying to conquer it or lock it away.

For us to approach it as individuals, we must understand that our very nature — the nature of wanting and needing emotional peace and happiness — is the root cause of addiction and that once addiction has taken hold, it cannot be torn from a person’s life by making a single decision to “just stop”.

Personal addiction stems, at its heart, from an absence of fulfillment, balance, and compassion in our lives.  Human beings are wired to adhere to things that give them a sense of happiness, relief, and fulfillment.  Our friendships and relationships are examples of this.

But when the things we expect to give us happiness fail to do so, we’re stuck in limbo.  We want to maintain these things because society tells us we must — we must have friendships, we must have relationships, we must always try no matter what.  But the truth is, persistence isn’t the same as trying; existing isn’t the same as living.

Inevitably, we will find something that can fill the void of what we are missing.  If we feel trapped in our lives, we will look for an escape.  If we are unhappy, we will look for something that gives us relief or fulfillment.  Once we find it, no matter what it is, no matter how petty or minor, we will latch onto it and not let go — because we are afraid of losing the one thing that gives us that sensation.

As human beings, we overcome addiction by finding what our addictions provide to us and make lifestyle changes that promote our finding those things in healthy and productive ways.

In their video, Everything We Know About Addiction is Wrong, Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell) talks about the Rat Park experiment and the human equivalent, the Vietnam War.  It’s a compelling highlight to this blog post and says many of the same things I’ve said as well.

The important take-away is that it’s not the drug, it’s your cage!

As a society, we view addiction with a negative, terrible stigma because human beings fear what they don’t understand.  We shed our compassion in favor of cold finger pointing and disassociation.  We remain too proud to associate ourselves with those that are suffering and explain our actions as the wounds they suffer are self-inflicted and that their choices are what condemn them.

But the truth is, more than 83% of Americans have experienced some kind of addiction in their lives.  Change comes in one of three conditions:

  1. A major catalyst forced change into their lives and allowed them to break the habit of their addiction.
  2. Sincere epiphany revealed the true impact the addiction is having (and depending on what sparked the epiphany, this could just be another catalyst).
  3. The needs that the addiction filled were met by something else in their lives and so their interest in the addiction tapered or subsided.

All three of these criteria can be boiled down to one constant: happiness.

A catalyst doesn’t stop addiction because it forced the person to stop, it usually stops the addiction because something that the person values more than the addiction becomes impacted.  This can be family, friends, bystanders, financial stability, or anything else in a person’s life that is suddenly or immediately threatened or even removed, that causes such a trauma that it jolts the person into making huge changes.

The epiphany is similar, but could come in the form of learning about the nature of what’s going on in their lives, social or peer pressure, intervention from friends and family, or the clear realization that life isn’t better with this thing in their lives, no matter how good they feel temporarily.

When the needs that the addiction fulfilled are satisfied by something else in their lives, this can be both incredibly positive or terribly destructive, depending on which direction it goes.  This can be the introduction of a love in their life, the birth of a child, or a new job.  Or it can be the discovery and access to an even worse habit or addiction that rivals the impact the other one had.

Of all three of these conditions, the worst is the catalyst.  Because life needs balance, it will constant react to an imbalance.  A relationship that suffers under the effects of addiction will eventually boil to ending.  A job will only tolerate addictive behaviors so much before it dismisses the employee.  Because the nature of a runaway habit is that it consumes as much as it can, addictions will always lead to a catalyst and the catalyst is rarely good.  The stress these kinds of things exacts on those in our lives can make people do things they would never do otherwise, and will only perpetuate suffering and sadness — the very opposite of the reasoning we cling to addictions in the first place.

Our society subscribes to the catalyst method of handling addiction.  We ignore people who have them until it’s reported or until the symptoms begin to affect others, and then we shun and condemn them, and even throw them in prison and complicate their lives.  We do this in the name of ‘consequence’, when the consequences of the person’s addiction likely already resulted in grave losses — which often is what pushes addicts to commit crimes.

It’s a slippery slope, where those who are addicted make sacrifices in their relationships and personal lives to maintain the temporary feeling of relief they get, which perpetuates the suffering of their life dynamics and only increases their dependency and reliance on their addiction.

The catalyst in their life can be wild and destructive, and lead to the punishment of a person’s actions as a result, instead of at the root cause.  This is a true tragedy because we never truly prevent the reasons the catalyst formed.

When we are sick, we don’t just treat the symptoms, we treat the cause.  But how do we stop it as a society?

Well, heroin addiction was rampant in Switzerland in the 1990s and they couldn’t stop it.  So, they decided to approach addiction differently.  Instead of condemning those who were addicted to prison, they opened clinics across the country that actually gave them heroin as long as they enrolled in a rehabilitative program.  The statistics speak for themselves, with significantly positive results on the Swiss population as a whole.

The idea is that they don’t rip perhaps the only source of relief and comfort from a person and then shout at them until they get better, or lock them away so they aren’t a menace to society.  Instead, they acknowledge their current state — not the state that they should be in, or the state that they might have been in.  Then they find out what lead them there, and teach them how to build strong, healthy living habits that can bring them superior happiness, fulfillment, and joy to the addiction.

We fix addiction by taking people out of the cage and by giving them another option.  Nobody wants to be addicted, they only want what addiction gives them.

I hope you’ll think on this information and if you decide to do your own research on the topic, I’d love to hear from you.  Reply in the comments below or toss me an e-mail from the contacts area.

Talk to you soon.

 


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Icebergs

There are popular resiliency lessons in the modern world that talk about Icebergs. No, they’re not talking about floating ice masses that peak out over the surface of the water, but metaphorically, the analogy is similar.  ‘Iceberg’ refers to the idea that we all have surface reactions and interactions that are driven by deeply seeded core values and beliefs.  In an effort to better find ourselves and to evaluate positive, helpful interaction with others in our daily lives, the Iceberg lesson began.

In general, our surface emotions are the day-to-day responses we have based on our core value systems.  If we believe that we should respect our elders, then we might react towards another person being disrespectful towards their elders adversely, perhaps even without knowing why.  Not all Icebergs are bad, and it isn’t about eliminating the core value that produces a surface reaction, much like a real iceberg, it’s about understanding that it’s there and negotiating it safely.

Complicating the matter are enablers.  These are usually friends that reinforce negative surface behavior out of the notion that they’re supporting their friend (perhaps an iceberg in and of itself) rather than helping their friend discover the methodology behind their reactions.  The key to this is the questions during the discussion.  Whereas an enabler will ask ‘Why’ questions, the helpful friend will ask ‘What’ questions instead.

For example, a man sits down to watch football with his son and his wife reminds him about the leaky sink.  The man thinks in his head that it’s a small leak and he can fix it later, but on the surface he yells at his wife to back off.  

The conversation he might have with an enabler might ask questions like “Why did she do that?” Or “Why didn’t she get your son to do it? Is she babying him?” Or even if they’re trying to be helpful, they might ask “Why do you think you got so angry?” 

Conversely, another friend might ask him objective, root-searching questions.  “What did it mean to you that she asked you to do that?” Or “What was the part about that conversation that upset you the most?” Or even “What do you think made you react like that?”  

Discovering the root cause of the problem doesn’t make it go away, but it does help the man and his wife navigate their icebergs a little easier, reducing their conflicts and enabling their happiness.  The chain reaction is positive and helpful, not deconstructive.  


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Time and the Human Experience

Consider what the word ‘Time’ means to you.  When you think of it casually, the definition and the ideas associated with it seem simple to understand.  Time is the dimension of the passage of events from one to another and our experience with it, right?  It’s the progression of events, one after another, towards the future and from the past and the position we are at right now is the present.

Human Beings love boxes and labels.  I recently wrote a post about Gas Station Sushi that talked briefly about this, but more to the point is that labels are funny things.  When we look at them in passing, they seem to represent exactly what they were intended for; to easily convey an idea or a set of preconceptions.  But the harder we look at it, the more abstract and disconnected we feel from the label.  Some people even adhere so strictly to labels that without the boundaries of labels to guide them, they feel like all is chaos.  And they aren’t wrong, are they?

The YouTube channel vSauce recently posted a video on the passage of time and it’s abiguity as well as the method in which we, as human beings, have kept track of it.  When you look at the past methods we’ve used to track time, it becomes clearer and clearer that we have tried desperately to fit our common perception of reality into boxes so we can quell our lack of total explanation.  

The way the earth turns in relation to the sun has some interesting impacts on the measurement of time, from day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, century-to-century, and millennium-to-millennium.  It makes muddies our once crisp view on time and the manner in which we track it.  It’s an example of universal occurrences that are wild and chaotic that the human experience tries to quantify for the sake of our own understanding.  

Philosophically it brings a few points to mind.  Foremost is the idea of dimensions; if Time is a dimension because it’s a manner of perception, then shouldn’t all of our experience as human beings be consider its own dimension?  After all, whether it’s a dog’s view on reality or an extraterrestrial’s, their entire concept of existence is entirely and abstractly different than our own.  The next idea that comes to mind is that the universe, while amazing and marvelous, is the result of billions of years of actions and reactions that coalesced into only one possible outcome given the variables abound.  Some people call it ‘intelligent design’ because it is so vast and incomprehensible, because it’s so calculated and exacting.  But is it?

Let’s go back to ‘time’ as an experience.   As box-creating, boundary-setting human beings, having established words like ‘past’, ‘present’, and ‘future’, we are surprisingly unable to set an exact instance of experience between the past and the present or the present and the future.  Some say it’s the transition of awareness; when you are aware of an event that is no longer, it has transitioned to the past, whereas if you are aware of an event that will come to pass but hasn’t yet, you’re referring to that as a future event.  But where do we draw the line? Can we observe a moment becoming part of the past, or is it only when we realize it? ‘Now’ can either be one second, or it can be a moment, an hour, or a day.  So long as our perception establishes the sensation of the ‘now’.  As I write this, is each word I write the ‘present’ and the previous word the ‘past’?  And if this is my present now, by the time you read this, it will be my past, but your present.  For me, it’s my present but your future.  Geesh!

Astrophysicists Neil deGrasse Tyson and Steven Hawking have explained many times in many places that gravity can stretch and impact time.  But if time is an experience, then the dimension of time is within us and so gravity stretches us.  The gravity of distant stars skewing our perception of the universe may be another creature’s normal, non-altered reality.  When we look into the sky, we see the light of a billion-billion stars, whose light is reaching us long after its source has faded into oblivion.  This means that we’re experiencing the past in the present and that we are those stars’ future to their present.  

It seems to me that the perception of time is relative to the human experience.  With this in mind, our strict adherence and obsession with time to measure our lives, our days, our experiences, seems a tad silly.  It’s this idea that reminds me that we created words to conceptualize experiences and ideas so we can share them with each other.  So we can learn, and think, and grow.  Ironically, when we spend so much time on the constraints of the labels we’re using, we are robbing ourselves of the very experiences we’re trying to share.  

So, the next time you’re late, just remember that it’s all relative. 


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Gas Station Sushi

Think of the words “Gas Station Sushi” and record your first impression on that phrase.

Specifically, answer these points:

1.  Initial thought.

2.  Visualization (if any)

3.  Associated impression.4.  If a friend asked you about your opinion, what would you say?

Now before we get into where this conversation is going, write those answer down.  

  
Alright, now that we’ve considered ‘what’ your perspective is, let’s follow it.  I won’t pretend to know what your responses were but, for most, the thought of Gas Station Sushi generated a few opinions immediately.  These initial impressions have some keen insights not only into a single person’s perspective, but also on a social case that can be made for some much harder issues.  Let’s take a look.

If you’re like me or many others, you saw the words ‘Gas Station Sushi’ and your first impression was likely not a favorable one.  Without having any direct interest, a person may respond to the phrase with indifference or disinterest at a minimum, or may leap to assuming a great many things from the phrase at a maximum.  If you felt indifferent, then this speaks for a cautious, open, and analytical mind whereas if you leapt to a conclusion, it may indicate that you trust your immediate instinct and impressions, draw conclusions from experiences with relation to subject matter, and likely behave in a headstrong manner.  

Further, if you remained indifferent, it may mean you struggle to direct your focus and energy into a single task.  This exercise, for example, implicitly asks you to engage with it.  Doing so minimally means you’re interest enough to participate, but not interested enough to give it your mind’s full focus.  Pre-judging based on the phrase means you draw from experiences innately, and psychologically react to those experiences, especially bad ones, with a internalized, pre-determined action (that may or may not be a conscious decision).  

But what does this mean for society at large?  Well, look around in your group of friends and in the social communities you participate in.  Do you see more of the reserved, cautiously optomistic, critical thinkers?  Or do you see the reactive, knee-jerk, hasty responders?  Statistically speaking, you’re likely to encounter the later, not the former.  Our society innately fears what it doesn’t understand and it rarely takes the time to see a situation through before making a decision on their action.  This action doesn’t have to be a physical one, it can be a psychological action too.  

Can you think of where Gas Station Sushi fits into this?  What if we replaced Gas Station Sushi with a particular ethnicity, gender, race, creed, or religion?  Would the results be different?  Here again, statistically speaking, they would not.  Notoriously, we as humans have oppressed those whom we did not understand, or whom we judged too hastily.  When humanity hears Gas Station Sushi, it reels at the thought.  Indeed it may research and investigate it, but the stigma is born from an initial and widespread action.  Only through aggressive, societal change, can this stigma be broken.  

Consider for a moment that human beings, like Sushi, vary wildly beyond their titles and the words we invented to describe them.  Consider that the function of our language is to convey ideas, not bind others with restriction.  And most importantly, consider that there is only one word that can accurately describe anyone: Human

By the way, it turns out, there’s a sushi vendor by the name of Lee’s Sushi that offers high quality sushi that is quite good, at local gas stations.  This adage may have been a long winded version of “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but truly when a cliche is uttered so often, the value in the lesson is lost.  


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The Meaning of Happiness

What a broad title, huh?  You probably read this with some mixed emotions.  Is this going to be philosophy?  Is it an idealist’s take on it all? Is it sarcasm?

The answer is: Yes.  While I can’t honestly speak for everyone, I have recently reflected on myself and I’ve found some really amazing things.  Things that ultimately lead me to finding my own place in the world.  Let’s start from the beginning.

A few years ago I began to reinvent myself.  I went through some pretty bad times and had some emotional break downs and when I emerged on the other side, I came to the conclusion that I needed to know who I really was beyond that which was regularly beaten down by the world.  I’ve always been a spiritual person and I have been a Zen Buddhist for many years.  So, it’s no surprise that I found my biggest clue by looking inward and asking — and facing — the hard questions.

First, I needed to know what I wasn’t.  I scanned through my past, and I looked at who I saw.  Not just the parts that I was OK with, and not just the parts that I was ashamed of.  But all of it!  I saw myself as someone whose happiness was defined by external sources; by attachments that I talked myself into thinking I didn’t really need, but I might as well enjoy while I had them.  The truth was, I did need them and when they were taken from me, I felt a massive void in myself.  But was this who I was?

No, of course not.  My suffering came from being who I wasn’t.  My conclusion in my search to find what I was not lead me to learn some key things about myself:

  1. I am not weak.
  2. I am not helpless.
  3. I do not need someone else to define my happiness.
  4. I do not need to sacrifice all of myself for someone else’s happiness.

Armed with this knowledge, I had a foothold in my self reflection.  I probed further, needing answers.  I arrived at a series of true self assessments that ultimately surrounded some fundamental necessities.  Before I could ever understand who I was, I first needed to forgive myself. You probably read that and thought “What did you do that you need to forgive yourself?”  The answer isn’t as obvious as you think.  It’s not some crime, or secret thing I have been harboring, but it might as well have been.

All my life I have taken the blame for my own self-destruction.  I had internalized all the pain I had gone through and had made myself out to be a victim, while secretly and simultaneously feeling guilty for doing that, knowing deep down that it wasn’t the right path.  I compromised my values and I let people use me as a doormat.  I let fear, anger, depression rule my life instead of embracing happiness.

I forgave myself because I didn’t know how to be happy.  I had only ever known sadness and conflict in my life and so I thought it was all I could ever know.  I thought it was the only way I could feel.

Truth is, happiness is a choice.  Once I forgave myself and accepted that all my mistakes, flaws, problems, and issues were part of the whole.  I no longer tried to cut those pieces of myself out of my life, or pretend they didn’t exist.  I accepted myself fully.  And when I did, this really amazing thing happened: I felt complete.

So now that I’ve looked into myself and forgave myself for all of my flaws and mistakes, the next step was to bring myself some real love.  Not love from someone else, but love from myself, to myself.  To do this, I had to be my own friend.  I had to teach myself to treat myself like I would treat my best friend.  I began this radical movement of compassion towards myself.  I felt the things I felt, and I embraced them and comforted them as one might do a friend going through a hard time.  And guess what? I appreciated my own sense of compassion, which only furthered my happiness.

The next step was true independence.  I had met my true self; both emotionally, psychologically, and metaphysically, but how did I maintain that image in the presence of someone else whose energy would surely try to dissuade me from my own ideals?  I found the answer in understanding how to stand with myself.  To that end, I refused any relationships of any kind until I was happy, comfortable, and enjoyed being alone with myself first.

Fast forward the better part of a year, and I am blessed to know real happiness every day.  I wake up happy that I have something in my life worth living for and that I have an everlasting source of happiness that can never be taken from me.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.
–Hellen Keller


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Harmony

Last night I dreamed that I was a creature made of light and energy and I hovered in space before a blue planet of creatures I’d never seen before.

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They appeared to be young but somehow, had deviated from the natural world. All worlds I recalled seeing before this one were that where natural ecosystems existed in harmony. Perhaps there were those that consumed others, but their consumption ultimately fueled the ecosystem they were part of. Their every waste product enabled the positive production of their world.

But this new world on this new planet was different.

They seemed to be intelligent, emotional, capable, driven, explorative, curious creatures that regularly ventured to press themselves further and further into the fabric of understanding.  It was easy to see their intellectual potential.  It was obvious that they thirsted for knowledge like no other. 

Yet for all that they understood, which was impressive for the short time span they had grown, they were so blind to the things that they were doing to their surroundings. Their waste products destroyed their local ecosystem. Their consumption of those around them did not cycle back into the system in such a manner that it ultimately necessitated the circle. They were outside of the cycle.  Some of them knew this and tried desperately to tell others, but their progress steadily drove them farther and farther towards inevitable destruction.

As I hovered there, learning about who these creatures were intimately, what they were doing and how they were doing it, it became more and more clear to me that their future was destined to always consume with great disregard. How could anyone welcome them to a greater universe when all they know is consumption?  When they behaved like the most advanced virus the galaxy could ever have seen.  The kind that is intelligent and is utterly unaware at the destruction they cause.  I observed their past and saw they had always been this way from the moment they could.

I turned to the stars behind me and began to drift away from the world. After a moment I paused and glanced back and I said, “I will return some day to see what will have become of you. I pray that you learn from what you’re doing before its too late.”

I woke up.

What have we done?