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Ideology Unleashed

My wife and I got a dog recently, and one of the most fun yet terrifying things to do with a new dog is take him to the dog park. The first time we went, all we could think of was all of the things that could go wrong: What if he manages to do a Houdini through that chain link fence? Or doesn’t want to have anything to do with us? What if he likes another family better, and decides to go home with them, and we’re left weeping…?

Ok, that’s admittedly unlikely. But it does cross one’s mind as a paranoid new dog parent. Because the most stand-out feature of a dog park, is that the dog must be let off his

LEASH

We live in a somewhat urban neighborhood. Cars park everywhere, houses are close together, everyone has a beast at the threshold (usually a dog, or cat, or several of both). Doggie danger is lurking around every corner. Leashes exist to keep your dog under firm control in a place where he could probably take care of himself, but just in case you want to be able to jerk him back when it’s clear you know best. That squirrel, for instance, is not worth becoming roadkill- obvious to you, less obvious to your furry friend.

What I discovered at the dog park, though, is that while at first our dog launched himself into the woods and disappeared (cue panic! panic! panic!), his adorable loping self came bounding out of the treeline shortly thereafter. He wanted to make sure that WE were safe (he is, after all, our protector. In his mind.) From then on, he would wander about, sniffing and socializing, doing what dogs doo, and occasionally getting run over by a bigger dog he felt (incorrectly) that he was a match for in size and could outrun. But he would always have an eye towards us to make sure we were available. He would circle back occasionally to smile a hello, and more rarely to snuggle for protection from the aforementioned big dogs (who were, in fact, both bigger and faster- surprise!). The fact that he was “free”, and yet at the end of the day still inexorably “leashed” to us by family connection, got me thinking…

Think of the dog as the average, run-of-the-mill person (don’t get too insulted, our dog is extremely cute- there are worse things I could compare a person to; besides, I’m sure you don’t think of yourself as run-of-the-mill anyway). And think of the person holding the leash, the “owner” if you will, as any large, ideological entity. Examples would include political parties, institutions such as universities, organizations such as (dare I mention it? eh why not) the NRA, or religions (yeah, I went there too).

You probably see where I’m going with this, but let me explain anyway. Many, many people, consciously or not, sit and let one of these entities harness them up and put them on a leash. This isn’t inherently a problem, if the person has chosen to follow the entity. After all, a dog on a leash can’t get lost, and is protected from all sorts of terrible dangers. Our “leashed” persons are protected too, from getting hit by metaphorical cars or bitten by metaphorical snakes. This is great, right? Well, sure, if the “owner” is like us: we unconditionally love our dog (even if he is psychotic at times) and would never lead him astray.

However, one can imagine a scenario with a negligent owner- one who holds the leash but never lets Fido sniff about; or worse, ties his leash to a tree and just leaves him alone for a bit. Or a harsh, punishing owner- one who jerks the leash and uses it against poor Fido (who, bless his heart, just wants to pee on that hydrant). Or even worse, an abusive owner- one who leashes Fido and deprives him of food, or water, or exercise, or makes him fight other similarly abused Fidos who he didn’t actually have any beef with in the first place.

When people “leash” themselves to ideological groups, it is usually (though not always) an expression of personal choice at the beginning. The problem arises when the “owner’s” behavior deviates from the original idea; or the “leash” changes hands without the person’s permission; or the person sees another, potentially much kinder and loving, “owner” across the ideological street but has no hope of going to them. These people might rebel a little in these cases, but they are bound so tightly to the group that their guilt, family, colleagues, or group leadership is able to use the “leash” to pull them back into line.

Nazi Germany and Westboro Baptist Church come to mind as organizations which had/have extraordinarily tight leashes on their followers. These followers, whether they harnessed up voluntarily or when they were too young to know the difference, end up having a hell of a time breaking free from the leash if they decide the time has come for a new owner. Now, obviously, most organizations aren’t quite this astringent to their followers. But we all know people who, for reasons entirely their own, follow organizations with whom they are affiliated blindly, even when we know these people well enough to know that the organization’s direction and their own may not be in sync. That’s the thing about being on a leash. When you’re on that leash, you and your owner are one entity. To attempt to break away is to be a “bad dog”, to one degree or another. Compliance is good, even if it hurts inside.

Now go back to the dog park with me. As I said, our dog will wander about and explore, but it is as if he is still attached to us on a leash- just one that’s much longer and able to pass through inconvenient obstructions like people and trees. But he is still our dog, fiercely loyal and willing to forego even chasing a squirrel to make sure he hasn’t lost us. I have no doubt he’d do the same in the neighborhood. There, the actual leash is necessary to make sure he doesn’t have a momentary lapse and run out into the street; for the most part, he rarely pulls against the leash, since we’re going the same way and doing the same thing anyway. The connection that keeps him around even when he’s free to run is built on love, mutual trust, and respect (insofar as these things are possible for a dog, even a genius dog like ours). I feel sure if we started beating him and yelling at him, that invisible leash would be nonexistent. In that case, I would run too if I was him. Run away and never return.

THE TAKE-AWAY

What I’m trying to get across is that our dog follows us at the dog park because he chooses to do so. We’ve welcomed him into our home and care for him, and in return he stays nearby at the dog park and lets us do invasive things like take him to the vet and give him a bath. People can choose to relate to organizations and ideologies the same way- if you’ve been welcomed, treated well, and have been able to meaningfully contribute to and receive benefit from such an entity, there is no reason for you to run. You can always go sniff out other ideas, and you’re free to judge whether to follow them or to turn up your nose and return home. And if your owner starts to yell or otherwise mistreat you, there is nothing stopping you from escaping a bad situation. In other words,

Choose affiliations which reflect your views and beliefs and which you are proud to associate with. Such a choice should be made independently of external pressures. That way, if your affiliation starts to go down a wrong path, these pressures won’t prevent you from distancing yourself from your “owner” and finding a better fit.

It comes down to being independent and grounded even as you plug into communities. Communities are important- they are necessary to connect with many people who are “like us” on the grounds of interests and beliefs, and at their best can help us learn and grow as individuals in a supportive environment. You can protect yourself, and your reputation, by basing who and what you associate yourself with on your own personal values and beliefs- which are unique to you and your experience- rather than attaching yourself to a belief and holding it because someone told you to.

And for those of you wondering what happens if, flush with your newfound independence, you stray away from an “owner” who actually meant you only good? Here’s a story for you: When we first got our dog, he got off his leash when I had taken him out. I didn’t know the ins and outs of dog ownership yet, and he led me on a merry chase through the neighborhood, dashing in front of cars and getting into all sorts of dangerous (or so it seemed to me) situations in the night. I finally found enough strangers on the streets to corral him. Funnily enough, when he felt like these other people were coming after him (which they were, since I asked them to), he turned and ran back to me and rolled over for a reassuring belly rub.

The point is, the best “owners”- the ones worth being associated with- will keep after you and (at least attempt to) watch over you as you fumble through this process of choosing. And when you run into the dangers of the world and recognize your mistake, they’ll be right there waiting to pick you up and bring you safely home if you choose to return to them.

WHAT’S IT TO YOU?

This topic is near and dear to me because it causes me physical pain when people maniacally defend ideas they know must be wrong, just because some group said it and thus made it “right” in their minds. To agree internally and affiliate based on that agreement is one thing. But to let your affiliations define your beliefs? That’s a different thing altogether, and can be dangerous not only to you, but to society as a whole.

So take a moment and evaluate your own affiliations, even ones you might never have thought to question before. Do you buy into the ideas and actions of the organizations you follow? If not, consider that you might be on a “leash”, and allow yourself to question whether it’s time to break free. Even if you decide to stay, you’ll be glad to know you’re free to chase that squirrel at any time!

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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Individualism, Life, Purpose, Relationship

 

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Torn

This is a bonus post- a poem I put together for something else but felt like sharing here. It deviates a bit from the usual lighthearted tone, but I feel it is in keeping with the overall theme of the search for Truth.

Torn

In the dimly lit hours I came to you
Yearning for your voice, your touch
But dragging my feet all the same
Fearing what I would find

You clasped my hand and said
“Everything will be ok”
I believed you desperately
And despaired

The sounds you made keep me up nights
Yet I sleep to escape my pangs of pain
Still, the quiet was worse- even then
My soul is lost, now, in your silence

I journeyed through grief as a warrior
Wisdom my shield, new perspective my sword
Never knowing the shadow I fought
Was the little child in me, sobbing to be back in your arms

Exhausted I lay, on the floor of the valley of the shadow
Unbidden thoughts took me into the heart of God
Unchained desires left me washed up, desiccated
On shores devoid of the divine

Among the shattered pieces I found my reflection
Reflected to myself, I saw myself anew
Compassionate, confused soul, waiting, trembling
As a breathless twilight awaits the dawn

In the dimly lit hours, you came to me
Your silent presence whispered comfort to my soul
I sat and lost myself in your fleeting embrace
Your spirit passed into me, and I was whole

 

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Pop Goes the Perfectionist

100_4592Perfectionism.  We are all affected by it, either in ourselves or in a loved one.  It is despicable in the way cancer is despicable- and almost as hard to get rid of.  I could bore your eyes off writing a million pages on the offenses of perfectionism and defense against them, but I won’t.  At least, not all at once.  Instead I’d like to draw your attention to an item that I think is perfect to float out as an initial perfectionism metaphor:

BALLOONS

Balloons are round.  Balloons are pretty.  Balloons can be large, or small, or weirdly shaped.  But the balloon I’m talking about is bad news.  A balloon, for those of you who have never had fun, is a piece of fantastically elastic plastic into which air can be blown to expand it into a bright, often round, symbol of joy and exuberance.  The plastic is in a constant state of tension, stretched to a thin layer.  The air (or helium for all you chipmunks out there) is trapped inside when the plastic tail is tied off.  It’s a beautiful thing, dancing at the end of its string for all to see or falling from the sky in a cascade of congratulatory excitement.  But what if you just kept filling it instead of tying it off, or poked it with sharp objects, or heated it up (I know you wouldn’t do such things to our friendly balloon, but what if someone did?)?

Perfectionism is the balloon.  Or, for a more perfect metaphor, the balloon is you on perfectionism.  See, the point of perfectionism (yes, to be perfect, we know) is to render something both successful and flawless.  This can be a relationship, a report, the cleanliness of a room, your GPA, whether you stubbed your toe trying to get ready in the morning, whether everyone you know likes you, whether other people are judging you for saying that one word wrong, whether the color of the rectangle in the graph matches the border of… you get the idea.  Whatever it is, it has to be good.  And “good” here means “if it has a speck of fail on it, it gets tossed.”  My grandmother once threw out a perfectly good cake because it had a black speck on it- the speck was a tiny burnt cake crumb.  That’s perfectionism.

How is that even remotely like the balloon?  Well, in order for a balloon to perform its function (to be perfectly round, bright, and flawless) it has to enter a state of extreme tension.  And while it does this very well, being that tense makes it quite vulnerable to, well, everything.  The same goes for you perfectionists out there.  In order for the perfectionist to achieve his ideals, he must constantly and relentlessly compare what he is doing to the ideal, and adjust if necessary.  This is extremely stressful.  Not only is he constantly having to adjust his thoughts and behaviors, he’s trying to match something that’s all in his head.  It might be distorted.  It might literally be IMPOSSIBLE to match.  Set your air conditioner to 50 when it’s 120 outside and then listen to your air conditioner.  Hear that?  That’s the kind of stress a perfectionist might have to endure every single day.

That’s not a big deal, the perfectionist says.  I’ve been doing it my whole life, I’m good at it!  It kind of defines who I am at this point.  If I relaxed my standards, people would know I changed, and not for the better.  No, I can handle this tension.  It doesn’t bother me—I must be really good at this!

Bully for you, theoretical perfectionist.  You’re right (as usual, right?), but if you are right it’s only because you haven’t been overpressurized, or left out in the hot sun, or heaven forbid stuck with a pin.  Because even if you’re a badass perfectionist who’s learned to manage her stress under all that tense behavior management, your tension is still there.  You’re vulnerable.  And sooner or later…

POP.

I can say this because I’ve lived it, and I’ve lived it because I am, in fact, a perfectionist.  In the fall of 2008 I was awesome.  I was an academic badass, had landed an overseas internship, was in a great relationship, had lots of friends.  I identified with all of these things, all of these things were good, and therefore I was awesome.  Then my balloon drifted into one of those dressing rooms, the one labeled 2009, where those awkward little pins stick out from that board thing, and…  January 1, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer…. May 23, she breathed her last.  Pop.

For a while my perspective shifted.  My balloon deflated, the initial wave of grief subsided somewhat, and I was able to develop more meaningful relationships with people, live life more fully.  I had brilliant philosophical revelations, meditated regularly, and let my perfectionist tension go for a time while I dealt with the tension of grief and an overturned worldview.  But as time went on, as I graduated, moved away, got a job, got married… my balloon filled back up again, stretched thinner than before, and this time with a patch on the hole of that pinprick.  The tension of all those changes got to me.  I became a wreck, terrified of the next pin, of not being able to inflate the balloon again.  But I have finally come to the realization that is at once the perfectionist’s salvation and greatest fear: you don’t need the balloon.

For whatever reason, we perfectionists see the balloon as the most important thing.  It’s beautiful and smooth and round, and as long as it stays that way we will be loved and admired and so can love ourselves.  But if you’ve ever loved a perfectionist, you know a secret they don’t: far from loving it, you hate that damn balloon.  Sure it’s pretty, and perfect in its narrow-minded way, but you see the futility of it and the energy it takes to keep it inflated.  What you love is the air inside it, the substance of your loved one’s life- her aspirations and talents and quiet wisdom; his suppressed compassion and unique genius- and you yearn for them to LET IT GO.  Untie the balloon and let themselves float free.  As beautiful as the balloon is, is it more beautiful than a gentle breeze, a soft cloud at sunset, a deep breath, a kind whisper?  That is what you see in them, and what is so hard for perfectionists to see in themselves: the balloon is not a showcase, but a prison.  They can be as great and perfect as they dream they can be, and still lock away their natural gifts and talents in pursuit of the ideal.  And stress themselves to the point of bursting while doing it.  That is the tragedy of the perfectionist.

THE TAKE-AWAY

I could go on and on (and plan to at a later date!), but to wrap up an already long post I leave you, my brothers and sisters in perfectionism, with these two thoughts:

Think of someone you love who has a tendency toward perfectionism, and recognize how much you love them, and how little of your love is predicated on the things they are trying to make perfect.

Got that?  Now,

Love yourself the same way.

That’s it.  Because when you love yourself, you realize that the inherent worth of a person, what makes that person lovable at all, has literally nothing to do with all the things we work so hard to make perfect in our lives.  And if it does?  Well, that isn’t actually love at all (more on that later too!)

Deflating the balloon of perfectionism, letting go of that tension, learning to love ourselves in a way that allows us to express our nature without needing to put up a perfect reputation for fear of judgment- it is a difficult challenge for all of us, but for the perfectionist it can be the difference between a stressful life of success and a life free to live up to its fullest potential.  It can be a lifelong journey, and I too am only just beginning it.  The imperfections of a life well lived, expressing who you are, flaws alongside talents, mistakes beside successes- those “imperfections” are what will make your life perfect… for you.

WHAT’S IT TO YOU?

I started this blog with the intention of sharing my observations on life with the world, by turning silly everyday objects, emotions, and occurrences into deep philosophical reflections.  The more readers I got and the more positive feedback I received, the more pressure I put on myself for perfection.  I wrote post after post… until I couldn’t think of a post that was good enough one week.  And then the next.  And rather than put up an imperfect post, I retreated altogether.  My balloon was a beautiful blog floating up into a WordPress sky, waiting to float into space, pop, and fall to Earth forgotten.

As part of my journey into the foreign land of imperfectionism, I’ve decided to throw that old balloon away and return to the blog.  It may well be flawed (there might even be some grammer errors!), but it will be real.  And if it brings one smile, or sparks a new thought, or, miracle of miracles, changes a life for the better?  Then I will have proven my point about the balloon, and this post won’t have been a total waste of… oh wait.  Not supposed to be hung up on results.  It doesn’t have to be world-changing.  Man, this stuff is hard.

And that’s why it’s worth it.

Is there something in your life that you’re good at or interested in doing, but you’ve been holding back from for fear of failure or judgment (by yourself or others)?  This week, take a look at what “balloon” you’ve inflated that brought on that tension… and start taking steps to deflate it!

 

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Just the highlights!

Highlighter

Sometimes, when your thoughts get way too complicated, you yearn for only the important stuff. And one simple way to identify and remember what’s important is with a

HIGHLIGHTER

You tech-savvy computer users out there might be more familiar with the highlighting button than our good old-fashioned marker friends, but the idea is the same. You’re confronted with a huge (or maybe just tedious) body of text. There’s a lot of info there; you start to feel overwhelmed and your palms start to sweat. So you reach for that little [insert favorite color—mine’s orange] highlighter and suddenly you feel empowered. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the highlighter is mightier than the pen. Your eyes start scanning, and you lash out with your strokes of color and rapidly make sense of your document.

Highlighters are great because they have a clear function: to simplify. Whether you are identifying only important things, or things to change, or things that don’t make sense, you are narrowing a LOT of information down to a more manageable amount. And unlike summarizing, where you cut out all but the most important information, all the other information is still there! You can access it immediately, but your eye and the eyes of future readers are drawn to the colorful highlights.

This isn’t meant to send you rushing excitedly to the nearest office superstore in search of a stock of highlighters (although you are more than welcome to go once you’re done reading). Highlighters, like many seemingly mundane items in our lives, have a lesson to teach us.

How often do your thoughts feel like a 120-page document filled with 8-pt text and no pictures? Probably more often than you’d like, between work, family, friends, goals, fun, bills…. there’s a lot going on! People tell you to organize your thoughts: use lists, charts, calendars, reminders, etc. YES, By all means do that! It’s vitally important to your busy life if you want to keep everything from crashing down around your ears.

But sometimes you’ve got a decision to make, and WAAAY too much information with which to make it. You can organize and summarize everything you know: long lists of pros and cons, dos and don’ts, he said, she said, etc. But those lists can severely limit the information you’re working with, and not necessarily in a good way. A lot of times what you really need is to highlight aspects of the information in the context of everything else. How? Conversation.

THE TAKE-AWAY

It occurred to me recently why talking something out with someone is so powerful in making decisions and honing goals.  When you have something weighing on your mind, say a big career move or a relationship issue, there are thousands of thoughts flitting around. Things people said, previous conversations, something you read, past experience, emotional responses: all of these are fighting for your attention. It would probably take you a year to write it all out and organize it in a way that encompasses everything. But why would you? You already have everything in one place: your mind. And your mind is working feverishly trying to organize it for you. At that point, you can think and think and think and wait until your mind comes to a conclusion. But ask yourself, do you really need ALL the available information at once, equally, to make a decision? Chances are, you can get away with just highlighting the important points, but allowing your mind to take them in the context of everything around them.

When we talk to someone, especially when we explain a dilemma, we can really only give them a very finite amount of information. Even if you’re the type of person who spills everything and tends to drone, there are only so many hours in the day. So if you are contemplating a major decision and you want someone’s advice, you aren’t going to burden them with every single point about that decision. You can only give them the most important information, and you have to give the information in a way that they can understand and respond to. And you really only have a split second to do this. After all, you can come to a conversation with a list of things you want to cover, but conversations are impossible to completely plan out. Based on the other person’s response, you have to decide what to dole out next.

If done mindfully, this process of explaining a complex situation to another person serves the same purpose as highlighting a document. It accentuates and clarifies the key information you want to convey. And in the course of the conversation, you can draw from the surrounding “documenting” thoughts to back it up or provide more information. This is useful to whoever you’re talking to, but it’s invaluable to you. Why? Because when you go back and review that conversation in your mind, you have certain thoughts that you know you emphasized. And you also have notes or additional “highlights” that the other person may have provided.

Conversing mindfully and decisively about a complex problem or decision can help highlight what is most important to you while allowing you to solicit insight about key thoughts or points.

With enough of these conversations, you have yourself a mental “document” which you can scan through quickly and decisively to gain the most relevant information. You can cut the worrying and stop mulling over things in circles because everything you need to know stands out. With that kind of clarity, it will be much easier to make a decision.

WHAT’S IT TO YOU?

Think of a major issue or pending decision in your life. Do you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and going over the same points with yourself again and again? Try talking it out and see what comes to mind when you try to explain the problem to someone else. If you feel like you’ve tried this and it hasn’t worked, try talking to someone else (maybe someone farther removed from the issue, an objective third party). Or, try talking to the same people again but be mindful of the points you are bringing up, the lines of conversation that seem to come up most, or the aspects that you are most passionate or clear about. You might find that the answer has been written there all along, it just needed to stand out a little more. Happy highlighting!

 

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All you need is…

Love

I read something last week that struck me as fundamentally True. It said that the only truly significant thing you can do in life is to love. I realize that “only” is a strong word, but think about this for a moment. What is more significant in life than love? Love of others, love of self, love of whatever God or higher being you believe in: I would bet that just about everything you do in life stems from these things. Anything that doesn’t is probably something you want to change, whether or not you recognize why. People spend a lot of time looking for meaning, purpose, and Truth. Not only do they not always find it, but all too often they come away feeling worse than they did when they started! To find the Truth, and for it to mean anything, you have to look in the right place. So I want to spend some time exploring that place, which happens to be the most important thing in your life:

LOVE

I get that it’s actually Valentine’s Day as I post this, and I doubt I’ll convince you that it’s a coincidence. Unfortunately, when most people think of love, they think of Valentine’s Day. Or sex. Or at the very least, a romantic relationship of some kind. That’s great, and if done correctly, these are very powerful aspects and expressions of love.

But that’s not the Love I’m talking about. Love is greater than all these things, and it can be very difficult to define. Most everyone, religious or not, is familiar with St. Paul’s well-known description of love in 1 Corinthians 4-8. This is essentially what I’m talking about, but it’s still very vague and poetic. What does it actually mean that love is patient, always trusts, or never fails?

Love, at its core, is about connection. Religions from every time and place have venerated this universal connection, whether through a God or gods, an all-pervading life force, or a powerful spiritual state. But believe it or not, atheists often talk about the same thing when asked about the meaning in life. They just describe it differently, usually with more personal and less specific language. Even science, through studies of quantum phenomena and consciousness, is beginning to explore and validate this connection, both on a global scale and between individuals. You may be surprised or angry, and you may disagree, but whatever you believe about it, Love matters to you.

Once you see love as a connection, it’s easier to see it that it comes in many forms that aren’t “romantic.” The love between parent and child is one of the most potent, as is the love that exists between siblings (once they get over fighting with each other). Love exists between friends who open up and share their experiences, from inside jokes and mutual fun to struggles with grief and stress. Listening to your friend vent, supporting them at a relative’s funeral, and throwing them a surprise party are all expressions of love. And though it may be hard to realize, allowing a friend to do these things for you, to accept and be grateful for their love, is equally important.

Is love only between friends and family then? That’s a resounding no; the key we are talking about here is connection, which can apply to anyone. You might think of random acts of kindness. Smiling at a stranger who looks upset, holding a door, giving a genuine compliment, even rushing to someone’s rescue are ways to cultivate a connection to the “outside world” beyond your circle of friends and family. This is still “direct” love between you and another person.

That’s it? you’re thinking. Tell me something I don’t know. This is way obvious.

Remember how I said love is the most important thing in your life? I meant it, and not in a weird, vague sense. Whether it’s challenging or easy for you, direct love is amazing, and the more naturally it comes the closer you are to really getting life. But Love goes even further, into parts of your life that you might not associate with it.

Have you ever sat down to a task that you absolutely hate? If you’re lucky, these tasks are few and far between. But you might feel this way about something that takes up a lot of your time, like work or school. Do you sit down and wonder why the heck you’re doing it? I bet I know why, and I bet it can be traced back to love.

You might think this statement is a stretch. Laundry? A crappy job with a low salary and no hope of advancement? Paying bills? And you’re telling me this is Love?

If you live with someone, either your parents or your significant other or your spouse or your kids, you might see what I’m getting at. You are working that job to support your dependents, or someone is doing the same for you and you’re grateful. You do laundry and dust to keep the environment clean, which improves your health and promotes a positive mindset. You pay the bills to provide for people. You go to school to improve your ability to do these things.

If you live alone, these reasons apply a little differently and bring another love, the love of self, into play. This gets a bad rap because most people replace self-love with selfish. But these are two different things. Brushing your teeth, getting a physical, making money to support yourself, eating well and exercising: do these scream “selfish” to you? Of course not, and yet you do these things out of a love of self. Why? Because taking care of your body, your mind, and your emotional state is critical to being able to relate to the world and to other people. How are you going to love anyone enough to share a smile or give your time if you’ve let yourself go and are miserable and unhealthy?

I could go on and on, but if you think about your life, anything you choose to do that you would rather not do can be traced back to love. What about things you DO want to do? Well, that’s a little tricky. Things like sex, splurging on food and luxuries, or venting your complaints to a friend are healthy and can contribute to a full, beautiful life. Done well and in moderation, they are important expressions of love. But you and I both know they can also tear a life apart if done in excess, and they underscore the fact that Love is deeper than just temporary gratification. Many things point to Love, but access to Love itself is more of a state of being, a mindset.

THE TAKE-AWAY

You might have come to this post expecting the keys to life, and might be feeling like I’ve given you a whole lot of nothing. The thing about love, which has been explained by generations of theologians, scientists, philosophers, and everyday people, is that it is both immensely complex and intensely personal. What I want you to come away with is just how important Love is to EVERY aspect of your life, from your daily commute to a romantic night out. To truly understand Love, take a step back and look at why you do what you do, every decision that you make. See your life objectively, and try to recognize how you feel about its various aspects.  Each of us has qualities about ourselves that we like.  Maybe you’re a good listener, a mentor, or generous with your time.  Chances are, these aspects of yourself, things that lead to satisfaction and fulfillment, are where Love is most present in your life.  Other qualities, like a self-destructive habit or quick temper, might indicate somewhere where your self-love is lacking, which adversely affects your ability to Love others.  Either way, I want you to leave this post and look at your life with this in mind:

Love is at the heart of everything you do. Your ability to recognize it, cultivate it, and truly live it is directly related to your openness, your perspective, and your attitude.

Keeping yourself oriented toward the positive, the meaningful, and the fulfilling aspects of your life is a struggle that we all share daily. The more you do this, the more you come to see drudgery as a time for reflection, setbacks as opportunities to reassess, tragedy as an unexpected instigator of love, and anger as a matter of perspective.

Victory in this internal struggle is never permanent. There is no magic cure-all and this struggle will take every fiber of your will and being to succeed. But once you’ve experienced this true Love, even for an hour or a day, you know it is the answer you’ve been looking for. To lose sight of it is the ultimate disappointment. And to regain it, though it may take years, is the sweetest joy and freedom. You will experience both. But what will determine the quality of your life is how relentlessly you seek to experience Love, and how dedicated you are to resisting the easy path of frustration, self-doubt, complaint, lack of discipline, and despair.

The ultimate expression of self-love is to seek out Love in every aspect of your life. The ultimate expression of love of others is to give of yourself, to recognize and live out your connection to the people around you. Only from an understanding of Love do you gain Purpose. And there is no greater contentment than to know that the Purpose for your life is Love.

What’s it to you?

For the last few months I’ve been discontent. I’ve been constantly looking at aspects of my life I want to change. I’ve been frustrated, anxious, quick to anger and complain, and frankly I became sick of it. That’s really what it took: choosing to be tired of the rut my life was in and it led me to take a step back and try to be more positive. And for the last week, that same life has left me optimistic, fulfilled, and positive. I’ve found myself more responsive to the emotional needs of others, and I’ve begun to recognize the relative unimportance of the stressors that I’d been allowing to define my attitude. And all it took was a decision.

No matter how your life is going, I urge you to do this. Take a look at your attitude toward your home life, your job, your relationships. Is there anything you don’t like about your relationship to these things rather than the things themselves? If the answer is yes, dare to change yourself, or more specifically, your perspective. It will give you the freedom to love others and take yourself less seriously, and if there are external things you want to change, you’ll be in a much better place to conquer these challenges.

No one does this Love stuff perfectly. In fact, I feel somewhat hypocritical for writing this because of my own constant shortcomings. But that is the heart of my message, and my greatest hope for this post and this blog. By sharing both my struggles and insights, which are all too often brought on by tragedy and hardship, I can give you perspective that can help in your life. By reading this and reflecting, by sharing, by commenting, you can hone these ideas and spread them. We are all in this together. Let’s make it mean something.

 

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wittytruth Redefined…

I started this blog with a grand (though perhaps vague) vision.  My life and experiences so far have given me a unique perspective on the “big topics” at a relatively young age.  I’ve experienced great joy and contentment, worked hard to achieve personal and academic success, and enjoyed the love and support of a wide circle of friends and family.  I have seen the Northern Lights and gotten stuck in a desert, ziplined through a rainforest and walked the Path of the Gods.  But I have also experienced tragic loss, disappointment, and betrayal while making plenty of my own mistakes.  Guilt, fear, and anxiety are no strangers to me.  But neither are peace, hope, and love.

So I decided to blog about the things I see, to share my small wisdom in a way that isn’t preachy, isn’t judgmental, and isn’t all about me.  Life has shown me two main things:

1)      Peace and harmony are within our grasp, and with them we can attain our highest callings and bring forth our greatest dreams in service to humanity.

2)      It is EXTREMELY difficult to keep (1) in mind and act on it on a day-to-day basis.  And let’s face it, continuously failing to do this just plain sucks.

That’s what I want to try to achieve: a bridge between the higher Truth of life that is within our reach, and the struggle we face in meshing this Truth with our daily routines. It’s admittedly a tall order, for a blog or for life. But the thing is, the Truth and the struggle are both critical parts of the journey.

At this writing, it has been a long time since my last post.  Call it lack of inspiration, stress, or apathy over a life that doesn’t seem to be as full as it once was.  Whatever it was, I felt it would be hypocritical to proclaim how to live life when I was having trouble getting up in the morning.  But when I reflected on my blog’s mission statement, it occurred to me that waiting to feel better wasn’t going to inspire me. Waiting till I had everything in my life in perfect order would mean waiting forever. And waiting until this blog “took off” to start writing about the important things in life didn’t make sense either.

So I decided to begin a new phase of wittytruth, and start with the blog post I’d been saving for the day I had your attention: Love.  I’ll continue to keep things as witty as possible, but I want these posts to be about Truth above all.  I want you to read each topic and compare it to your own life, and then I want you to comment and start a conversation.  Why? Because the meaning in life is tied up in the connection we share, the common ground of being human.  My goal, our goal, is to untie that knot and share it with the world in a way that’s funny, grounded, and just plain makes sense.  The Truth is in you.  Make it yours.

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Future, Life, Patience, Purpose, Tribulations

 

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Story of my life…

You hear it before you feel it, a brittle rustling of autumn’s last leaves just before the icy wind cuts through your coat. Shivering, you wrap it closer around you, fighting to hold in the warmth as you make your way home through the darkness. It is late; the end of an excruciatingly long day with very little to show for it. All your tired mind wants is to get home and curl up by the fire, but it seems so far. Too far. A siren calls out in the distance, clashing harshly with the soft hum of traffic on the slimy wet pavement, rushing home before the road turns to black ice. Your mood is black as the starless sky, and cold as the pale streetlamps illuminating the mist that seems to block your way.

*RING*

A new sound pierces the cold and fog surrounding you, and you fumble for your phone in your coat pocket, fearing the worst. Whoever would call at this hour could only bear bad news, but you figure it’s best to just get it over with. You answer gruffly, your voice muffled through a scarf.

“Hi. I’m sorry to call so late, I’m sure you’ve had a long day. I…I was just wondering…do you want to grab dinner and maybe go to a movie this weekend?”

The clouds roll back and stars shoot across the sky, golden warmth spreads through you from within, and the garish lamplight now seems as hopeful as a brilliant sunrise after a storm-filled night.

“Yes, absolutely, I’d love that!” you manage to splutter out. You’ve hoped for this for so long, and now the one whom you know is the love of your life is within reach.

“Great!” says the voice on the other end of the line…

Wait a minute, you’re thinking. What blog am I reading?

Feel free to double check the web address and scroll down to check the other posts. Yes, you’re in the right place, at the right time, for an interesting and inspiring emotional moment. And that’s exactly my point! Because the topic of this post is tangled up in the idea of

STORIES

Looking past the obvious generic nature of the above scene, I’m guessing you can relate to the emotions therein. You can see yourself (or remember yourself) in a similar situation, and in your mind’s heart you can feel the bitterness, fatigue, worry, longing, excitement, nervousness, and sheer joy that comes with it.  Maybe you even hear a bit of soundtrack… a low cello line as you cross an abandoned street…mournful violins against the far-off blaring siren…angels singing as you recognize the voice on the phone and your mood begins to soar. It’s like you’re living in a movie. Which is of course ridiculous, right?

Let’s be honest, people don’t write books, plays, and movies out of nowhere, and readers and viewers don’t half-heartedly try to make their lives more like those stories. We create these forms of art to capture the way we feel about our lives and the episodes that make them so vibrant and special, both good and bad. Sure, life seems like a drag compared to epic films at times, but I like to put a song in the back of my head and think of those times as the montage toward the middle of the film. You know the one, where the hero is training for the big fight, or trudging across the wilderness, or waiting patiently (or not) for a lover to come back from some far-off place. You, unfortunately, have to actually experience every second of that, but isn’t that what makes those parts of movies mean something? You know what it’s like to have to do the hard stuff (it’s kind of like working out on a treadmill…), and so you relate to the main character in this and look forward to the action part, where it all starts to mean something.

Story

In the book (or movie) that is your life, you are the main character, the protagonist. The drama, the emotions, the character growth, the illustrations and soundtracks, the points of view and camera angles, all center on you in your mind. Your family and friends are your supporting cast of characters, and those “other” people out there are all extras cast by your life situation to fill in the realism of each scene. No matter how altruistic you are, the story is all about you. This is exciting! If you were to play it all back at the end of your life, you’d most likely see a series of stories underlying the main one, with development, conflict, climax and resolution in many layers and timescales. Every day you get to write a little bit more, except you are also at the mercy of what the other characters and settings throw at you.

It can be fun to think about your life as a book or movie, and sometimes you can learn a lot about yourself by organizing your thoughts about past, present, and future in this way. And that’s great! But it isn’t my point. Look at the above paragraph in which I state that it’s all about YOU, and then think about what that actually means. It means that everyone, everywhere, who has ever lived, has been the main character in his or her own story. That’s mind-boggling, because that’s a TON of material when you multiply the history of the world by that many points of view!

The real kicker, though, is YOUR relationship to those other stories. Maybe you’re a supporting role in your best friend’s life, but what are you to the guy who held the door open for you this morning, or the woman making your latte, or the CEO of Google? Barring any extreme circumstances, you’re likely just an extra, part of the background of a story that you’re a part of but will never know on an emotional level. Those people all have stories too, but they are like the books and DVDs that you glance at on the shelf before moving on.

THE TAKE-AWAY

So what? you ask. It would be impossible for me to get to know every single person out there just for the sake of “knowing their story.” 

It sure would, so why am I even bothering you with this? Because you are a PART OF THEIR STORIES whether you are paying attention to it or not. And as such, even if it’s just a minor part, you have a choice to make on how you play that role. Do you want to be the grumpy one who shoves aside the main character in the mall because you’re in a hurry? The ignorant one who cuts them off in traffic? Those episodes are important to their story, insofar as how they react, and important to yours as to why you did those things. But they don’t leave the reader feeling good about your character. Too much of that, and you could end up like the villain of the story.

Why, if this is your one bit part, would you want to be the bad guy? Instead, you could be the unexpected help, the inspiration or kind word from a stranger that turns the hero’s day around, the smile that sets the tone for their next scene. By bringing a bit of light to another person’s setting, you improve the mood of their story and set them up to do great things in the next chapter. And the great thing is, this is entirely your choice! Anyone watching the other person’s movie will think, wow, what a great moment in the story. And perhaps just as importantly, it’s bound to improve your own plot as well.

Everyone is the star of their life story, but the part you play in the stories of the people around you is just as important to their lives and yours.

So the next time you’re driving in traffic, busy at work, hanging out with friends or family, or meeting someone new, don’t just think about who that person is to you, but who you are to them and the part you play in making their life what it is. Be more than an extra and take the extra step to be a positive influence, and your story will be richer for it.

WHAT’S IT TO YOU?

If you haven’t before, think about your life in terms of a story. Look at it in the context of relationships with others, themes like sports or school, lessons you’ve learned, straight chronological events, or especially dramatic moments. Think about your “cast of characters” and the ways in which they have made your life story come to life. Then think about your role in the lives of others and what you can do as an extra or supporting role to make a positive impact on their stories.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Connection, Life, Perspective, Purpose, Relationship

 

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