“Show me that the good life doesn’t consist in its length, but in its use, and that it is possible – no, entirely too common — for a person who has had a long life to have lived too little.” ~ Seneca
In a country that notoriously doesn’t take enough time off work to stop and take a breath, I’m thankful that we have a holiday that begs us to stop and remember the warriors who have fallen in service of it. In addition to a mindfulness of gratitude, I think every fallen soldier would also want us to take a moment to contemplate if we are making the most of the gift of their sacrifice.
And so for today, I leave you with a simple question: Are you making the most of it? Do you wake up with an excited vigor for what you are working towards? Do you experience the periodic moment in the middle of your day where you suddenly realize “this is my life, and I love it”? Or even better, do you have projects or goals in front of you that make you even a little nervous about? That frenetic energy that comes from staring at an obstacle course ahead, but knowing that the only thing you can do is run straight at it and embrace the challenge.
Do you have any of these things in your life right now? Even in the margins, in small fragments? If not, ask yourself why? And the key word in that sentence is yourself. That’s not a situational question, It’s not a question of “why haven’t any of these things found me?” No, it’s a question of why you haven’t put yourself into a place to find it.
Inspiration is always available. You just have to reach up and grab it. The easiest way to find it is to force yourself to do something new.
And if you do have these things in your life, consider yourself fortunate. Contemplate them today, call out why and how you are grateful for them. If it is a person that grants you this joy and motivation, make sure you tell them today.
If you do have these feelings, these motivations, these joys, then enjoy today with the confidence and hope that you are living life the way those who sacrificed for us would prefer. You are earning it.
“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal freedom. Not the type of “personal freedom” you see fueling facebook arguments and public demonstrations on capitol building front lawns. I mean the type of freedom that allows one to feel content and beholden to no one, and how to achieve it.
On the surface, “true freedom” sounds quite simple: being able to do whatever the hell you want. But that’s not quite it, is it? I think it is necessary to analyze a little deeper, which leads to thinking about needs versus wants. Put more simply: True freedom is having everything you need.
But what do you really need? Have you ever really thought about this? An earnest examination is not so simple. Do you need that extra outfit you’ve been eyeing online and can’t wait to buy? Do you need the new model iphone? Do you need that promotion at work? That new gadget or car? Why? Will it really make your life finally achieve that elusive balance you’ve been seeking?
If you’re a little uncomfortable with this line of thinking, it’s okay. I am too. It goes against everything most of us are taught as children. “If you work hard enough, you can have anything you want” is a thing we hear a lot in America. Forgetting about whether or not it’s accurate, is that a healthy way to think?
Throughout civilization’s greatest thinkers, this has been a common point of contemplation, and thus, there is no shortage of clever quotes to point us in the direction of wisdom and learnings of those who came before us. From Socrates (“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”) to Thoreau (quote above), from Gandhi (“Live simply so that others may simply live.”) to Fight Club (“the things you own, end up owning you). The human race is seemingly surrounded by cautionary wisdom that we can’t be bothered with. We can’t help ourselves, the allure of excess is too great.
The encouraging side of this dissonance however, is that it actually starts to feel really good when you figure out how to start telling yourself “no.” When you begin stripping the unnecessary from your life, it can almost become enjoyable, and the more uncompromising you become with yourself, the more attractive it all becomes. This is something I’ve been learning these last couple months.
I’ll cap this with an example that I read recently in my “the Daily Stoic” book, by Ryan Holiday.
“The late fashion photographer Bill Cunningham occasionally declined to invoice magazines for his work. When a young upstart asked him why that was, Cunningham’s response was epic: “if you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do, kid.”” That’s the most punk rock thing I’ve ever heard. That’s true freedom.
Last week was a tough one. If you’re reading this, you likely know that my day job involves a mission that started with a little girl with severe epilepsy that found success and life with a cannabis oil years ago. Last week, we lost her.
I’m going to share what I wrote on my social media accounts, and below that, I will share a hopeful update…
Devastating news to wake up to.
I first met this little girl at a backyard party a few years ago at Joel Stanley’s house. I was having a beer and chatting with friends when I noticed her sitting quietly a few feet away, just taking in all the social interaction around her. The conversation I was in ended and I found myself alone for a few minutes. Typically not being very good with kids, and very aware of Charlotte’s fame as the face of the world’s cannabis-as-legitimate-medicine movement, I actually found myself slightly intimidated by her presence and avoiding eye contact as she gazed curiously at me. And I don’t get intimidated. Ever. Yet here I was, being reduced to nothing by a 9-year-old’s stare.
After standing alone hanging onto my beer for dear, insecure life, hoping someone would come back and save me from Charlotte’s inquisitive watch, I finally caved and made eye contact.
Nothing happened for a minute. But i already felt stupid, so I decided that I wasn’t going to lose a stare-down with this damned kid. Our eyes remained locked for what seemed an eternity, and with every passing second, my resolve steeled and my confidence returned.
And then something magical happened. Charlotte’s seemingly blank expression made an abrupt right turn and a radiant, goofy smile erupted onto her face, completely disarming me, and letting me know that it was indeed funny, even if I hadn’t gotten the joke we’d just shared. Now, even more than before, I felt really stupid about how I’d just reacted to the previous 60 seconds, but the image of that silly, playful little smile was now burned into the backs of my eyelids and I didn’t care. My icy heart was completely melted, stripped of it’s protection. She gave me one last patient look and turned away, searching for someone new to observe.
Charlie, I didn’t know you as well as many, but that isn’t really the point, is it? Your impact on this world was felt far and wide, and you created a path where there was none, providing a hope for people who desperately needed one. And you also gave people like me, with no real dog in the fight of “alternative treatment,” something to take up arms and fight for.
You may be gone now, but we will all remember you, and the cause you represented. But maybe more personally, I’ll always remember that time you gave me a mental ass-whooping without even saying a word. You may have been given a tiny, feeble body, but I saw only a towering giant.
*UPDATE* : last night a large group of people parked their cars outside of Paige’s (Charlotte’s mother) house, raising up mobile phone lights, glowsticks, and candles from the safe distance of each person’s automobile. Unaware of what was happening, Paige and her husband came outside to see well over a hundred people directing their love, support, sympathy, hope, and positive energy to Paige and her family. Overcome with emotion, Paige and Greg approached every car individually (maintaining proper social distancing) and thanked each person through tearful smiles.
I’m not going to elaborate much, but the moments I got to share with them are some of the most raw, authentic, and painfully restorative moments I’ve experienced in my life. My heart was broken wide open for them, but even now I’m not quite able to articulate my feelings. Loss is such a powerful wave, sometimes all you can do is let it take you.
But I also came away from the experience with a sense of healing, and positivity, and hope in humanity. The fact that so many people were willing to suddenly and creatively venture out and show their support and love, especially in such dark and perilous times, is something that I desperately needed to see. And Paige, with tears on her face and a humble smile, I could still feel her fiery courage beneath the visible pain she was experiencing. It had a renewing effect on me. It reminded me of how important and beautiful and powerful that little girl was, and how this lioness of a woman had fearlessly fought for her, against every law, doctor, and politician that stood in the way. It reminded me that every sacrifice, though small in comparison, that I’ve made to work alongside this cause has been completely worth it. Thank you Charlotte, and thank you Paige.
“Whenever you find yourself blaming providence, turn it around in your mind and you will see that what has happened is in keeping with reason.”
~ Epictetus, Discourses
About 4 weeks ago, this quote was a featured topic of the day in my “The Daily Stoic” readings. I knew it was a good reminder, so I wrote it down, but I didn’t realize that it would still be sticking in my brain over a month later, due to drastically different circumstances.
It’s a funny and simple reminder that I want to pass on to you today. Obviously everything is such a strange upside down world we are all living in right now, and the surreal, sobering reality of it is impossible to avoid anymore. And with that, reasoning with yourself that someday you’ll be able to look back on all this and say “…and that’s why that all had to happen” with a degree of awareness and wisdom is comforting to me.
I was speaking with a friend yesterday and I mentioned wistfully how badly I wanted to go camping up in the mountains and get away from all this. He replied matter-of-factly with a “yeah but it’s cold up there at night right now.” It ended the topic pretty quickly.
Understandably, I was simply dreaming of better days, and there’s nothing wrong with that, even if it isn’t very productive at the moment. But my friend’s response also put things in perspective in a real, yet helpful way. The point is that while it’s okay to dream, it’s also useful to keep some small measure of reality nearby. Would a camping escape solve all my world’s problems right now? Not if I was freezing to death.
And so it is with that semi-humorous reminder that I look at our present situation and remind myself that it won’t be so long before I’m looking back on this time of pestilence and isolation with a sense of greater understanding and perspective. I encourage you to see it this way as well.
The last week has been quite the wild ride, no? But instead of the crazy roller coaster ride that takes you up and down and all around, this is more the kind of roller coaster that just takes you straight down.
I didn’t really know what to write this morning (which is why I’m late sending this out). Coronavirus panic and concern has been unavoidable. There isn’t a social media platform or news outlet that isn’t completely plastered with news, advice, statistics, and general content related to this global pandemic that has suddenly gripped the entire world and awakened us to a new reality. You just can’t seem to get away from it, and it is becoming obvious: Things are going to be different now.
I spent some time yesterday reflecting back on just how surreal this whole thing has been over the last couple months. Particularly in the last week, the havoc has been remarkable. Financial markets have been decimated (my stock portfolio is basically toast), the travel industry reeling, the service industry and all its employees suddenly not sure how bills will be paid, all sports industries canceled indefinitely (it seems in retrospect that this component seemed to suddenly wake americans up better than anything else. Leagues like the NBA should be commended for such quick movement, while other organizations like, say, our President and his team, should be ashamed for their incompetent, and even reluctant inability to take action.), and so much more have all been thrown into a dreadful uncertainty of what the foreseeable future looks like. It really is a crazy thing we are going through right now. A true black swan event. Something that I certainly have not seen in my entire life, and in fact the successful investor Warren Buffet even said it took him 89 years to see something like this happen. It is unprecedented.
As I’ve watched and read and listened to people talk about and dissect this worldwide crisis that is playing out before us, I’ve paid close attention to people’s response mechanisms with a passively observant curiosity. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it until yesterday, as I reflected back upon the last week. Two things struck me:
Firstly, I was struck by how little we still know, and how that is currently affecting us as a people. Not that the scientific community “doesn’t know anything,” quite the opposite (in fact, if you’re looking for a really good central resource, check out this Google Doc my friend Marcus put together, pulling info mainly from Johns Hopkins, instead of the conjecture being passed around on Facebook). I’m more referring to the eventual outcomes of the disease and this “containment phase” we must endure, and the fallout of the economy and residual effects to communities worldwide. It is strange that such a faceless villain can wreak so much disruption, and leave us with such a heavy sense of unease and uncertainty.
And that leads me to the second thing that has stuck out to me: our behavior in that unease. Through conversations with friends, silent observation on social media, and the rest of the cacophony sounding off on the subject, 2 response patterns seem to emerge the most obviously:
Defiance and denial. This behavior is marked by those who minimize the danger and refuse to adjust behavior. Things like “We’re all gonna get it anyways” and “It’s no different than the Flu,” and similar statements are frequently expressed.
Total panic, overwhelming stress. Doomsday prepping, irrationally buying toilet paper, getting worked up to the point of exhaustion, are all common for this behavioral response.
Obviously neither of these are healthy, nor are they responsible. Neither of these behaviors are well informed, well researched, or well balanced strategies. But they seem to be the loudest. It begs the question: Why do we rush to assess judgment in uncertainty?
I’m sure there is a psychological explanation available in this somewhere, that people have an instinctual need to comfort themselves in confidence during crisis, even if it is constructed from a false sense of security. But I’m no psychologist, so I’ll spare the speculation.
But there’s a less obvious third behavior that remains patiently silent. Waiting, watching, collecting information, self-educating, this person doesn’t make declarative or ignorant proclamations on social media or amongst friends. In contrast, they cautiously prepare while also maintaining a cool head by not allowing emotion to get the best of them.
Unfortunately this third person doesn’t use the soapbox approach by trumpeting their thoughts outward, so they get drowned out by the other two response types. It is the unfortunate reality of modern life, and it often feels like there is a severe lack of reasonable thought out there.
So how do we address this? How do we find a way to bring more reasonable thought to the forefront and fade ignorant behaviors to the background?
In times like these, I think it is important to take an honest accounting of our own behaviors and assess. In the last few weeks, if you’ve behaved like one of the first two behaviors, don’t feel any shame, just change your behavior. It’s not even a difficult change: If you’re not an expert, just quiet your desire to speak up, and make room for those who actually are experts. It’s that simple. Don’t contribute to confusion, panic, or ignorance.
And if you are someone who has been patiently observing and educating yourself, keeping quiet, keep doing what you’re doing. And perhaps try your best to gently let others know what they are doing or saying is not really helpful in as peaceful a communicative effort as possible. Be an example of patient confidence in a world of chaos. Show people a better way.
As a species, we need to get better at living with uncertainty. We don’t have to immediately possess the answer to everything. Arrogant confidence is not a strength, it’s a weakness. It’s okay to say “I don’t know,” it’s okay to acknowledge gaps in understanding or skill, in fact it is crucial to success. It is imperative we learn how to shut up and wait.
We’re going to eventually get the answers and the security we seek, and we’re going to get through this together. We just need to maintain composure, be patient, and make room for wisdom to be the loudest voice in the room. And no, that wasn’t a social distancing joke ;-p
“Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here-and-now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.”
~ eckhart tolle, The Power of Now
The last couple of months, I have been doing a great deal of reading. Not everything has been focused on Stoicism or business, in fact some of the books have been Sci-Fi novels, and I’m even about to finish the whole Harry Potter series in the next few days.
But I’ve also been slowly crawling my way through Eckhart Tolle’s “the Power of Now,” usually whenever I’m needing something a little more introspective and personally challenging. And for me, challenging it has been.
If you couldn’t deduce from the title, the book is heavily focused on “living in the present.” While the concepts in the book are nothing new, the presentation is a modernization of buddhist ideas with a flavoring of christianity to create a modern zen for the modern mind. Over the last 30 years, it has been a very successful book, selling over 3 million copies in 30 languages, even being recommended by Oprah.
Personally, it has been teaching me how little I truly “live in the present” (I kinda hate that saying, but it is the easiest way to capture the concept), but I’ll save that topic for a later writing.
I don’t fully identify with everything I’ve read in “The Power of Now”, but one thing I have really appreciated has been the simplicity with which much of the fourth chapter’s strategies are on staying present. A simple example is the quote atop this reflection. It truly and simply captures the only 3 solutions one has when one decides to take responsibility for their own life and do something.
The operative words there are “take responsibility,” in that they underline the consequence of action. If no action is taken, misery and negativity will continue to be endured in an undesirable situation.
Have you ever felt like you were stuck in an intolerable situation? Ever felt hopeless or powerless to make the type of impact you know you’re capable of? Ever just hate the situation you’ve found yourself in?
Well your options are quite simple. You either do something about it, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you will continue to be a victim of your circumstances, you’ll continue to be unhappy, and you won’t be in control of your own being and, subsequently, life.
If you do decide to do something about it, however, you have 3 simple options, according to Tolle: “remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.”
The passage goes further into detail about those three options and various related strategies (so I recommend the book if you’re looking for more on the topic), but the very next thing after this quote is just as important:
“If you take any action – leaving or changing your situation – drop the negativity first, if at all possible. Action arising out of insight into what is required is more effective than action arising out of negativity.”
Negativity can be a powerful motivator of action in itself, but if it is the key ingredient, it will come at the expense of growth.
I think this is a powerful lesson that everyone can benefit from, and I am grateful to have it to meditate on this week. I encourage you to do the same.
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
Last week I was speaking with a friend, hashing through some things they were frustrated with in what seemed to be stuck in a lack of progress. One of the core issues discussed was the mind’s desire to control, and the difficulty in letting go and trusting outcomes to arrive positively through patience. It is something I identify with extremely closely.
For as long as I can remember, whenever I’ve decided to commit to something, I commit to it wholeheartedly, with all my effort and energy. An admirable trait to be sure, but there is a darker side of that coin: an almost obsessive propensity to want things to be perfect, even if they don’t need to be. That intensity can have a lot of unintended consequences, particularly when it comes to working with other people.
Have you ever worked on a group project in school? Ever notice the way personality types quickly emerge once the work starts? There have been too many articles written on this very topic to count, so I’ll spare you that rabbit hole. But if you think back, I’m sure you can remember some of the best and worst team projects you’ve worked on previously and the people you worked on them with.
There’s the analyst or researcher, willing to do the book work. There’s the organized planner type. There’s the communicator, who volunteered to do most of the talking during the presentation. There’s the team player, a generally agreeable, well rounded person okay with whatever responsibility the group needs from them. There’s usually a creative type. You also undoubtedly encountered the slacker or procrastinator that just didn’t seem to care that much, nor did they volunteer for anything. There’s usually also a leader type, for better or for worse. That was usually me.
The thing about being a perfection-obsessed alpha type who usually assumes the leader role is that you typically have a hard time letting go of responsibilities and allowing others to drive. That’s a recipe for really bad teamwork, and one that took me a long time to learn. I grew up playing team sports, but mainly baseball, which is actually a 1 on 1 chess match masquerading as a team game. So I didn’t really learn to start trusting and relying on teammates until I got promoted into a Manager role at the call center I was working in at 30. It didn’t take me long to realize I couldn’t just get on the phone and make sales for my employees. I had to trust that they could get the job done so I could focus on other responsibilities.
One of the things that really helped me work through this subtle neuroses was the point where I learned how to differentiate what I could control and what I couldn’t. It is still something I haven’t quite mastered, but the better I get at it, the easier my life seems to get.
As I discussed these challenges with my friend, I conveyed the importance of this concept using “The Serenity Prayer,” a memorable mantra authored by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the early 1900s:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
It sounds so simple when it’s in a cute little poem, but in practice, this is extremely difficult for some people (like me). My friend, familiar with the Serenity Prayer, responded with:
“I’ve been trying to remind myself of this, but it just doesn’t seem to get through to me” they said in a discouraged tone.
This made me think of the Tim Ferriss quote above.
“You know, if it is that difficult, it probably means it’s the thing you need to work on most,” I suggested, trying to avoid sounding like an asshole by quoting Tim Ferriss.
“Let me show you something,” I said, retrieving my daily planner. I paged through the last 2 weeks, showing how I have been starting every morning by writing down a quote by Cato (the one I wrote about last week). I then showed my Google Calendar, where every day at 2pm, I have an alert set to remind me of that daily focus again.
“This isn’t a thing you just learn one day. It’s a thing you learn every day,” I said reassuringly.
All productive, ambitious individuals have things they are working on to improve. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t getting the quick results you desire. Instead, find ways to remind yourself and repeatedly force yourself to keep at it. You’re only really stuck if you give up.
There’s an old saying I’ve been thinking about recently. It is often incorrectly attributed to Abe Lincoln or Mark Twain, but the actual author is unknown. It goes like…
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”
In my readings on Stoicism lately, a quote with a similar meaning from Cato the Younger was the focal topic (though not quite as humorous). I have been trying to meditate or use these words as a mantra as much as possible. It has a slightly different angle, but similar purpose. Here are those words:
“I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.”
~ Cato the Younger
Anyone who knows me well has undoubtedly seen me dig my heels in on something at some point, and if i’m being honest, such moments will not be included in my lifetime highlight reel. My opinionated nature is something that can embarrass me or get me into trouble from time to time. But those passions have also led me to some of the most satisfying moments in my life as well, as the commitment and effort driven by my passion makes the victory that much sweeter in the end when the path isn’t easy.
As I’ve begun lately to commit to the effort of self improvement, finding a more graceful middle ground of these two extremes without dimming the fire has been at the forefront of my mind. Over the last month, I have focused simply on shutting my mouth and listening more, but that is only part of the equation.
In another recent reading from “The Daily Stoic,” the topic was “You don’t always have to have an opinion,” and the central idea was learning the discipline not to give control to your opinions, particularly negative ones. This is accomplished simply by observing an idea, acknowledging its existence without assigning it any personal meaning. It is a strange exercise, and one that goes against every modern human instinct, but it is surprisingly beneficial, as it allows one to collect more information and learn more than is possible when one quickly wades into battle with an opinion.
But when combined with Cato’s words above, it has proved to be a powerful combination of self-analysis and evaluation of my words and how I use them. When I combine the importance of delaying the selection of my opinion with the evaluation of whether or not I am *actually* changing anything by speaking the words in my head, a sobering humility is the first result. This discipline forces you to place an actual value on your thoughts, and to censor yourself if that value is not greater than the value of silence.
But there are also other unexpected outcomes. You begin to really listen a lot more. And you begin to collect much more information. You suddenly have more space to analyze the words of others, and you are often able to pull out truer motivations than what others’ words are even directly conveying on their own.
Another outcome is the leveling up of one’s contributions. The self-regulation of one’s contribution sharpens ideas to a point where only the best efforts are offered, enhancing the efficiency and output of the quality of work at hand. Everyone benefits from this practice, in multiple ways.
In today’s world of always-on, extremely loud, and overly aggressive in-your-face opining on display at every social media platform or publication available, this discipline may be more valuable now than ever before in our history. And while I may only be at the beginning of this practice, I know this work is worth the effort, even if I fail often.
Or, as Ernest Hemingway once wrote as advice to his friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
May we all be so eloquent, so as not to remove all doubt.
“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
~ ulysses, by tennyson
Yesterday was my birthday. I didn’t go out partying, I didn’t plan a big day with a bunch of activities, I didn’t even do anything outside of the ordinary. I made breakfast, read the news, went to the gym, did some grocery shopping, and followed that up by meal-prepping for the upcoming week while the NBA All-Star game played in the background.
During most of the day, I couldn’t help but sift through the normal thoughts one has during these semi-meaningful arbitrary milestones that we set for ourselves like birthdays. How am I doing? Am I working toward what I want? Am I where I thought I would be? Am I where I should be? Am I loved? Do I love? Do I have passion? Am I still curious? Am I inspiring myself appropriately? Is this still interesting?
At some point while I was wandering the aisles of Whole Foods and pondering these thoughts, the quote from Tennyson above crept into my head and stayed there the rest of the day until I had a chance to sit down and reread his poem, “Ulysses” (also known as Odysseus, of Homer’s “The Odyssey”). I previously read it at some point in college, but had found the old english vocabulary to be boring and therefore indecipherable for my underdeveloped brain.
But this time around, I found a lingering resonance that I can’t quite define.
The poem takes place after Odysseus/Ulysses has returned home to his family, and he finds himself, for lack of a better term, bored. He has become part of the experiences that have shaped him during his adventures abroad, and he longs again for the great unknown, the call of the wild. He decides to leave his ruling duties to his son, and to rally his crew again for one last voyage at sea, with the final two lines of the poem offering a defiant refusal to bow to age.
“Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
While I read and reread the lines of Ulysses to make sure I was pulling as much meat off the bone as I could, and organizing my thoughts for what I thought would be a triumphant and defiant topic here in this column, I had my Spotify account on shuffle in the background. On my third read-through, the soft, delicate tones of Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” began playing. I stopped thinking, stopped reading, closed my eyes, and relaxed in my chair, listening as the gentle piano notes danced lightly around the room, filling the air.
As the composition progressed, drifting from the serene innocence of the opening to the dramatic ascending notes immediately following, then to the peaceful rolling motifs blissfully drifting around seemingly without direction in the middle of the song, until the melody quietly slowed into its wispful, melancholic yet satisfied end, I found myself experiencing emotions I had never let myself feel in the song before.
I felt the bliss and insecurity of innocence. I was lured by wonder. I felt the weight of helplessness, of being completely out of control. I felt the sting of pain. the bittersweet melancholy of love lost. I felt the release of healing. I felt the breathlessness of love’s first spark. I settled into gentle comfort. I felt cautious, and hesitant. The pull of curiosity. I felt the gentle confidence of true beauty. I felt hope.
I sat still as I allowed these emotions to wash over me, unsure of what it was I was experiencing, but trying to remain present nonetheless. Amid a fog of confusion, the song ended and I wiped the tears from my eyes.
I looked at my notes on “Ulysses” and tried to make sense of how this poem could lead to the emotional experience I had just had with “Claire de Lune.”
I am still not totally sure of what this experience is significant of, nor do I think these two works of art relate to each other in any way.
But as I look back on my 37 years of life, I find great comfort that I can find such identity and resonance from a piece like “Ulysses,” knowing that though I may not have the accomplishments I hoped to have by now, I still possess a dogged determination to strive, to seek, to find, and that I am not yet ready to yield. Not any time soon.
And yet I also find comfort that I can derive such passionate, emotional identity and definition from a piece like Claire de Lune, a song I’ve heard a hundred times in films or shopping malls without more than a thought of its recognizance. And yet, suddenly I can be moved to tears when it inexplicably decides to reveal itself to me in an intimate moment.
And as I grow through my experiences, and I continue to marshall the strength not to yield, I will continue to be increasingly open to these emotions that for most of my life I have avoided. For I am only recently realizing that they make me strong, not weak. Where the strength of my convictions and ambitions offer the form, my emotions and vulnerabilities offer the color, and together they weave the most beautiful tapestry I am only just now becoming aware of.
I am not yet where I want to be, and I am still learning who I am. But I know that I have a lot of life left to explore. And for that, I have hope.
Every morning i wake up, since the beginning of the year, I’ve been reading from “the Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday. It has been a useful way to begin each day with a thought, quote, or idea that I can attempt to carry with me throughout the day and give me something to chew on & think about.
February’s running theme and focus has been on “passions and emotions,” two things i’ve never been short on. Perhaps the easiest way to see my emotions get the best of me is when I’m playing sports. Sometimes my tunnel vision in the competition for a W is so intense that I completely forget about my manners, and i say or do things i regret later. Or perhaps it is when I’m driving and I have to endure the insufferability of hapless, oblivious drivers with no respect for concepts like flow of traffic, or merging appropriately, or focusing on the road instead of one’s mobile device. All of these things get me quite worked up. But obviously these minor things are indicative of a greater battle I have been fighting most of my adult life with managing anger. I’ve gotten better in the last couple years, but anger is a devil that one never completely vanquishes once it has a hook into your emotions.
One thing I’ve noticed lately in particular is that little inconsequential things have been getting to me. Like not even anything worth speaking of. So small, I can’t even articulate a proper example accurately. It might be something like my phone taking an extra couple of seconds to execute whatever command i’ve just issued it. Or missing a yellow light when I’m not even in a hurry to be anywhere. But these little things happen, my blood pressure faintly and momentarily spikes, and I inexcusably might let a quick, unnecessary obscenity fly. There’s no reason for it, and it means nothing, but for half a moment, a mild form of tourette’s appears to take over, and the anger monster makes a brief appearance before disappearing back into its prison cell of domestication.
By most accounts, this seems like a victimless crime. There’s usually no one around, and the moment passes and I move on. But I can’t let go of why I allow this to happen. Perhaps it’s just a side effect of how hard I’ve been focusing on getting back into shape with extreme diet and exercise (seriously, I’ve never worked as hard in my life at watching what i eat and working my ass off in the gym as i have in the last 45 days), and moments of low blood sugar yielding short bouts of “hangry” are breaking through like some sort of micro seizure. Or maybe I’ve just been experiencing moments of weakness a little more frequently lately.
When the calendar flipped to February, I was both wary and excited to see that “Emotions” would be a theme. Excited, because i relished the chance to focus on improvement, and wary because growth is rarely comfortable. I am enthused by the opportunity to turn a weakness into a strength, but aware that such a mission will be painful.
Just two days ago, the topic for the day was “Did that make you feel better?” …Rather than recap it, I’ll just quote directly:
“The next time someone gets upset near you — crying, yelling, breaking something, being pointed or cruel — watch how quickly this statement will stop them cold: “I hope this is making you feel better.” Because, of course, it isn’t.”
On my first thought after reading this, the theatre of my mind played this scenario out and I laughed out loud at how much worse saying something like this would likely make things. But on the 2nd reading, I felt shame. Shame of the knowledge that this piece was specifically for people like me. Why? Because a logical examination of this behavior yields only one result: that losing your cool simply does not accomplish anything. And if it does not accomplish anything, why should it make one feel any better? If I look back, I can’t say that behaving badly has ever made me feel better. In point of fact, it has always led me to regret something.
But the best part of this learning process is the strategies and tactics for improvement you gain when doing the work, and for this topic, the latter half of the writing suggested the following:
“The next time you find yourself in the middle of a freakout… just ask: is this actually making me feel better?”
The answer will undoubtedly be “no.” I won’t feel any better in that moment. And the shame won’t suddenly evaporate. But I will be using this new tool, this strategy to improve. And I’ll suddenly be aware. And I’ll be doing the work. And that will make me feel a little better.