Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I woke up this morning and asked God why He gave me another day?

God replied, to do my work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reimagined in Ruins

Not too long ago I tweeted that I’d be better off with no material possessions. A smart apple tersely responded surely I wouldn’t want my material cache of belongings stolen. Time passed. I let his tweet echo in my mind for sometime, the notion of giving versus being taken from, and the idea of what it would be like to have nothing swished around in my mind like a soapy sponge on last night’s dinner plate.

Today, in front of me, after a good cup of coffee, stood the unanswerable Socratic paradox, if we work to accumulate material possessions, then it would be unimaginable, or counterintuitive at the very least, to give them all away, nonetheless have them taken from our grasp? Surely running water, an insulated home, and a stove to cook food with is necessary for modern life. Case and point - that delicious cup of coffee required some boiling water to drip into the ceramic cup, not to mention the electricity that propelled the grinder blades to crush the roasted beans into a handful of sandy goodness. Surely we shouldn’t live without everything I concluded, as many of you have very long ago, but all that other stuff, you know, everything that doesn’t serve our daily needs, are all those things really necessary?

I’ve been robbed three or four times, my mom a few times, my brother at least once, my father a few times, and my various businesses in the tens of times, not to mention close friends and family that’ve fallen victim to the act countless times. What universally seems to come from robbery emotion-wise is not so much the loss of possessions, but rather the feeling of violation.

I don’t know about you, but my robber is dressed in all black, wearing a perpetual scowl on his lips wet with the fresh drool delivered from the adrenaline rush that his thievery so often delivers. My robber loves to take, destroy, and dirty the very place I call home in a way that shows he is not only a taker, but a controller. My robber hates what I love, and would kill my dogs if he knew how much it’d break my heart. My robber is forever a thug, a wild man with a heart for terror that waits for everyone to sleep so he can cowardly slip through the door and take what is not his like Bank of America tagging on new debit card fees for it’s customers.

My robber wickedly does what he can to cause strife, profit from my loss, and create chaos, fear, and hopelessness.

Here is the funny thing about the robber, he’s not up on mythology, at least not the story of the phoenix. See the phoenix of Greek lore actually ignites itself on fire after nearly a dozen centuries of life, just to see itself reborn out of her own ashes for a new life of fruitful existence. In essence the very person that exists to hurt us is helping us, freeing us from all that we own and associate with in grand fashion, allowing for our new selves to emerge in way we would never self-perpetuate. Our robber ducks in, tosses a match on our nest and resting bodies, and lights a fire of change that we would never ask for on our own account, but are so grateful for after we see the beautiful ashes the fire left in it’s wake. Given a life reimagined, what would you do different? Exactly.

Look around your living room, your office, or bedroom. Would you buy that same desk if you could? Surely you’d think twice about that snow globe with the snail in it you thought was so cool five years ago you had toss it on the checkout counter at the surf shop, or about that t-shirt you got at that Limp Bizkit concert before they were lumped in as has-beens from the nineties. If you really look around, and really ask the question, not do I need this, but how often do I use this shirt, snow globe, watch, or candleholder to better my life? If you really ask that honest question for all the items in your home, the answers might start surprising you. Nine out of ten possessions will suddenly look out of place, as there simply is no need for them anymore.

When all your belongings are taken, stolen from under your grasp, what really happens is opportunity disguised as tragedy. We are gifted by the visit from someone so greedy they take everything you own, and leave you with so much less than you would’ve ever tossed out on your own. You have nothing now, so finally you are free to live the life you know is best for you in all that wisdom you’ve acquired through the years since you purchased all those things to being with. Living with less might just provide that blank slate you wanted for so long, but never knew how to ask for, once you have a roof over your head and a stove to cook with of course.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The People That Encourage Us

Growing up near the city dark was relative. Streetlights flickering connected to a grid of a few million more all dancing to the beat of electrical currents. It was dark then, but never blindly so.

In the country a porch light after the sun diminishes is washed out by darkness rendered nearly useless. Stand outside in the country on a night when clouds cover the moon and your celestial views disappear. You can’t see anything tangible allowing for all the rest to arrive in front of you. All those emotions all the sudden transcend from a feeling to a color to an object standing right there in front of you. Reach your hand out and burn your fingers on the heat of your anger, or risk frostbite grasping the bitter cold that comes with being alone. In the black night a pulse can be felt, read even, that doles out memories with uncanny regularity. We become history students of our own mind.

In times like these our minds have priorities of their own, our thoughts become discourse, our minds the judges. We play out scenarios of the past, people no doubt, who somehow put us down. We wonder how we could prove them wrong, how we could impress them, how we could satisfy their often impossible demands of us. Like a wild tiger in a phone both, the panes of our fragile sensitivities are broken over and over, the phone rings to bring us out of this disastrous place, but tigers don’t know stop as well as they know go.

Sometime ago Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth fame wrote in an essay that we pay to go to concerts to watch other people believe in themselves.

Believing in ourselves, having the absolute faith we can do the unimaginable, we are ordained to be successful through the practice and patients that self-belief fuels. If only we knew where to get some?

A black chandelier sits in my garage, gorgeous and regal, it stood to make a wonderful addition to whatever room it graced. Problem is the chandelier arrived broken, a few pieces missing and thus it emits no light. Our thoughts of those we can’t please are a lot like my black chandelier, broken and useless, incapable of providing light. To think that entirely focusing on our detractors will get us to where we want to go is akin to the bookstore owner asking the librarian for advice on selling more books.

When running we can’t walk, when talking we can’t be silent, and when thinking of the negative we can’t fully embrace the positive in our lives, the great encouragers.

Great encouragers are often the last thanked at the party. They’re the ones we take for granted, as if they somehow owed us their encouragement. We say thanks to them, but do we really mean it? Do we realize the true power of their positive words?

Great encouragers are those that without immediate benefit offer support in praise regardless of our personal wellbeing. Great encouragers can be found among our family, friends, and even strangers in the street.

So many instances exist where great encouragers do their work, often without hoopla or bravado, they go about providing the love and assistance we all need in order to build that priceless thing known as self-confidence.

An email arrived late one evening a year ago, the subject something about writing, and the body something about how I made someone chase their dreams. I did the minimum, I thanked them, and never spoke to them again.

On the phone after a few hours of venting off frustrations from a summer filled with struggle my brother pointed out the possibility I haven’t ever embraced my true gifts. I agreed to get him to stop talking about it. Never did I mention how much it meant to me, not till now at least.

I got a text message not long ago from a friend I hadn’t talked to in a year, it in a roundabout way said their life was better with me in it.

Great encouragers innately are synced with our emotional clocks, they know when to say what and how. We often serve the same role to others.

A student once told me they wanted to drop out of college because they felt like they didn’t belong. I told them they were gifted, rattled off some initial ideas of what they could do with their life, and a year later they told me that’s why they stayed in school. I never heard from them again, I wonder where they are now?

Some years ago I dated a stripper for a few months, she hid her occupation from me out of embarrassment. When I found out we talked, and discovered that she had flawless math skills. Next thing I knew she’s done taking her clothes off for money, and now gets it from helping kids wrestle with numbers for standardized tests.

At a cocktail party this past weekend I told a young man I believed in his idea, his confidence grew before my eyes.

Did the writer pursue their passion because of my book? Did the friend really live a lonelier life without me? Would the stripper have quit without my tutoring pitch? Would the man chase his dream idea without my words? Who knows? If my words, something I’ve got a near unlimited supply of, even influenced any of the situations in the slightest towards the positive was it not worth saying to them?

We all might not have the abilities or personality for that matter to be great encouragers to others, but we all have the capacity to love, cherish, and embrace those that encourage us.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Paring it to Essential

Why were we so happy as children? Can a brain scan really tell us it’s all science? Are dopamine levels all we really need to gauge human happiness?

Remember being happy as a child, you know, laughing in the forest on a chase with a sibling, tossing in bed incessantly from the utter excitement of going to the amusement park the next day, and the holidays, it’s like a three-month trip on the euphoria train for adolescents like we used to be. Can you recall those times? When our happiness was so abundant it was nearly omnipresent. So what happened between then and now? From the times when we were happy little children to jaded disappointed adults? Where did all that happiness go exactly?

Stuff consumes our beings in ways freightingly unintended. The more things we own the higher the probability something needs to be fixed, cleaned, updated, or at the very least used. Stuff with value can’t be given away, for those that need money and if the time ain’t right to sell it, well the burdenous cycle continues. We just become people with stuff accumulating more stuff in an effort to quench a never-ending thirst for stuff. Not to mention the monetary debt being in the stuff-cycle brings, and all the enslavement that comes with being in debt, it gets really unhappy real quick. Stress, unease, fighting, and even fatalities are results of such.

Having copious amounts of money isn’t much better if we aren’t wise with our spending. We never had to worry about our pets surviving a turbulent private jet trip to the Caribbean island we own, or the lack of veterinary care to treat them upon arrival before all that money fell in our laps. No, with money, after a certain point at least, comes big whoppers of unexpected problems and hassles. Problems everyday Joe’s working the night shift at the tire factory never, ever, in his wildest dreams would worry about. What’s the going rate to heat a McMansion each year? And the pool costs how much to maintain? It’s a tough nut to maintain if the money well ever dries up.

Stuff and money sap us of the one great pleasure of youth, simplicity. We lose our simple lives of routine for the grand production of a delicate balancing act, where balancing atop the razor thin wire of focus and purpose is a daily routine.

Some of the biggest companies in the world, many of them to be more specific, prey on our needs for more stuff. Apple is far from an ambivalent party here, there are product cycles geared towards our insatiable need for the latest and greatest. A child in the Horn of Africa just wants some food so he doesn’t die that day, but we maxed out our credit cards on something far less important than life-sustenance, we got something tangible that has neither a heart or a soul. If only we could pin our grievances on materialism and the trappings of such, but it’s more complicated than just what we buy, it’s also what we say, and what others around us say.

People pollute our minds with mental junk.

I’m secretly bothered by people that talk about other people, because mentally they are creating clutter on the most sacred human space of them all, the mind. Their mind is now clogged with it, and they are fast filling up my brain shelves with it as well.

We verbally butcher people for the craziest reasons, and yet it never satisfies us, so we keep at it, hoping one day there might be some fulfillment from putting someone else down, though as far as I know true peace has never arrived from such. I’m not talking about written critiques of elected leaders, or investigative journalism that uncovers the world’s most hidden improprieties, no, I’m talking about gossip. Gossip blogs, gossip from our lips, gossip from others, it’s useless, and propels us to stock our mental shelves with the unimportant in the most valuable of places. If we are so concerned with Kim Kardashian’s wedding failure or Justin Bieber’s paternal DNA test, what just got shoved out of the way? What if instead of Kim and Justin we thought of homeless Bob on the street corner and Mary in an abusive relationship? Our mental shelves offer only so much capacity, and our wellbeing is much better off for focusing on the Bob’s and Mary’s instead of the Kim’s and Justin’s of the world. Heck, we might just be able to help Bob and Mary.

How can we ever be happy with so much in our minds, homes, and banks? Truth be told we can’t, we never will be, and we shouldn’t expect to be until the art and act of simplicity is fully embraced.

Simplify everything, where you live, what you buy, whom you hang out with, and what you say. Try it for a week and see if it isn’t easier to be a better person, and as important, simply be at peace with world. Simplicity works in our world because our world is full of distractions, and without a clear and well thought out plan we don’t stand a chance at making it through unscathed.

Simplicity offers at the very least a road to a home built on the fertile soil of peace landscaped with trees of calming focus, and a door open wide enough to let whatever shows up come through with ease.

On a personal note I’ve been working on simplifying my life for the past 13 months. Everything in my life has taken a turn for the better, and while I still have a long road to travel to achieve anything close to peace of mind, I feel empowered by what simplicity has offered me thus far, and the above is my testament to such.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Searching for Solace in Rejection

There is a level of brevity in being painfully rejected. Whether or not I could play kickball as youth, I certainly didn’t look like I was any good. When the schoolyard picking went down I was at or near last picked for as many games as I remember ever playing. I wondered if maybe, just maybe, I was a sleeping Frank Thomas of the kickball diamond, a Pelé of the asphalt, or just as bad as they thought I was.

As much as I’d tell myself back then that rejection gets easier, it clearly doesn’t. The only consistent element of rejection, or the feelings that accompany it at least, are that they eventually go away, or so we’re taught with clichés like time heals all wounds. Does it really?

With age we replace being thought of as insignificant on the playing field for being thought of as insignificant in life. We aren’t invited to certain cocktail parties, to chair or even be part of given committees, and if single, we aren’t always loved back in the way we wished. We grow envious of people with stuff we don’t have, and when desperate, put those down that have less. Less money, education, humor, wisdom, hair, you name it, anything to dial down our own feelings of rejection.

Stubborn loyalty exacerbates the scope of rejection’s reach. We, as souls that have felt the pain of being last picked in the game of life a few times too many hold dear to the bonds we were able to form, to the team’s that did pick us, even if it were for just a single game.

My grandmother never remarried after her divorce. My mom still asks about my dad, 25 years after their marriage ended. I look at my only brother and see a reflection of my own thoughts on the matter, us both still clinging on to things long past. I can’t help but hope the pattern ends with us, but reason tells a different story.

Here is the paradox of life, if we want to participate we must allow for the possibility of rejection to exist. In other words, if we wish to satisfy our human DNA for love, appreciation, growth, and fellowship we must risk feeling totally and utterly rejected in all categories. If you are like me, and equate rejection with sharp torturous soul-stirring pain, then you understand why we’re almost being reckless by participating at all. Enter the modern life.

You hang out with whom you trust, read whom won’t hurt you, and pander to those that potentially may. You seek guidance from those that seem immune from rejection, hoping it’ll rub off on you, and in effect bolster their reputation for immunity. We live in a dog eat dog world, where those that are self-aware enough to admit having trust issues are in fact making themselves ripe targets for rejection to occur. Like a wounded rabbit limping along in the open coyote infested California desert chances of a pleasant outcome dwindle with each minute passed.

Can we decipher anything but bitterness from the taste of rejection on our lips? I believe so. We all feel enslaved to certain people, standards, and cultures, and when rejection occurs, it offers freedom from such slavery. You no longer are shackled to whom you had to be to exist in the place you were told not to enter anymore, you are now free to be different. Fired from a job? Now’s the time to try something different. Dumped? Now’s the time to date someone different. Kicked out of the house by your roommates? Now’s the time to live somewhere different. See a pattern? In our rejection we gain freedom, and maybe a little courage to do something crazy good.

Not a day goes by I don’t think about some type of rejection in my life. We lost the state championship in football my senior year of high school, we never were able to enter that elite club of winners, the loss still stings 14 years later. I still wonder why my ex girlfriend left the country and never came back, and why that magazine book critic didn’t like my debut novel no matter how unsatisfying she thought the ending might have been. I wonder, ponder, think, vent, and stare at the walls blankly. At the end of the day my ticket to freedom is the only tangible thing I’ve got to show for those rejections.

And you, do you feel free as a net result of yours? Are you free to live, work, and do in a better way from being rejected, or did all those no’s just leave you without a yes worth living for?