We all struggle at one time or another. Human beings, wealthy and impoverished alike, meet adversity on their own terms, on an ongoing basis. The first noble truth of Buddhism states that; “Life is suffering, pain, and misery.” There you have it! Ironically, upon closer inspection, the weight of the difficulty life presents often seems most evident in those who most concertedly deny its presence. Of course, we all have good days. Many of us have them in spades, but none can deny that without darkness light would have no meaning. The veil of night eventually falls on even the sunniest day.
Few things shut down a room faster than open discourse on the topic of personal struggle, pain, or misery. Its as though admission of the obvious is the ultimate taboo. “How are you?” “Oh, great! All good,” Win the day in casual banter because let’s face it, few are ready for the authenticity of reality-based ‘banter.’ The very question, “How are you?” is not an invitation; it’s a social contract. “Please don’t toxify my day with an unpleasant response,” is the unspoken subtext woven into the question itself.
My life is a party compared to those I see on the news (Disclaimer: I don’t actually watch the news), but that doesn’t mean I’m not forced to dance with demons at their behest. Not my idea of a good time, but some dances are, as it turns out, unavoidable. I don’t talk about that much when people ask how I’m doing. I share the bits they want to hear for the most part, because I understand the social contract. That said, I wonder why we, as a people, find it so disquieting to lend and shoulder to those facing times of discomfort.
Perhaps in bearing the weight of our own realities, there is little strength left to heft the burdens of others, but that’s not the point is it? Listening and empathizing does not have to become an infectious ordeal. Hearing someone, where they are, good place or bad is a gift that can be given without loss.
Being ‘heard’ is a rarity that can change the mind of a person in need. Why are we here? A personal question with infinite, experienced-based answers to be sure. I feel we are here to make the world a better place, to address the first noble truth of Buddhism, to be the sounding board for growth, change, and healing. Next time we have the opportunity to ask how someone is doing, perhaps we could do so knowing full well from personal experience, that the struggle is real.
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
Stick around long enough, and the code starts to bleed through the mirage. Look closely, you can see the making behind the look in peoples eyes as you pass them on the street; visualize the stories that lead them to this moment. Repeatable, definable and relatively predictable. The programing that fuels reactions in the faces that fill our days courses just beneath the surface, whispering through the veneer of humanity.
Fear, envy, loathing, or joy, kindness, and warmth begin to reveal their making in the lines of code that run at the core of us all. The same elaborate programming can make some wealthy while leaving others destitute. It forms skyscrapers and homeless camps alike. Inherently this Matrix is neither evil nor righteous, it simply is. It has no nature but that which we give it. It can be altered but only when we ourselves accept its presence. I did not see it until recently, now glimmers and threads appear everywhere I look.
The Matrix is all around us, even now. Can you see it?
Time is an illusion, or so say theoretical physicists, some Buddhists, and a few uncredentialed randos. Change, on the other hand, is palpable. On the cosmic continuum, our human lives are laughably short, unless of course one throws caring for a newborn baby into the mix at which point each moment takes on the guise of eternity.
What to do with such a minuscule timeframe?Establish an identity?Wear it as a mantle, or suit of armor?Perhaps.On a more interesting tack, might we open our minds to the so-called illusion of time and embrace the challenge of change?
That sound we hear at night when we cannot fall asleep, that jarring metaphorical thunder strike that suddenly and unexpectedly transgresses our imagined force field of normalcy, that ominous silence which becomes deafening during unwanted moments of solitude; that is the sound of inevitability.It is the specter or the hope of change. It knocks at the door when we do not expect a visitor, or claws at the window on a stormy night as we toss and turn, tangled in our sweat-soaked sheets.It is the ‘inescapable,’ taunting the prisoner.
Some folks make peace with change, even crave it. Others purposefully oppose it in archetypal ‘arch-rival’ fashion. One path leads to some manner of peace with what is going to be, the other leads to voluntary disappointment. Each is a fine perspective, though one opens new doors while the other bars them. Either way, the drama is short lived.
A dam with no floodgate cannot contain a relentless downpour forever.So it is with the ‘illusory’ incubus we call ‘time.’The waters will crest, the dam will fail, the future will wrench historical normalcy from the hands of every true believer and cleanse the land with the as yet unknown.
Holding tight to the past, or even the present will give the illusion of effectiveness for a decade or two. ‘The more things same, the more they stay the change,’ but only for so long. Nostalgia is bittersweet as is the inevitability of change, but only one of them is optional. Onward!
Perspective, a personal view that we use to define the world; our individual interpretation of “life as we know it.” Outlook is for better or worse the determining factor in our assessment of reality. A proactive, positive outlook will undoubtedly set studier groundwork for one’s future than a negative one. I’m not suggesting that the changing of mind will completely change one’s circumstance, at least not immediately. However, I do believe that taking charge of perspective is powerful. If you’re happy and you know it…Awesome for you!If you are not, shaking up your perspective inventory may be an excellent first step toward finding a better way to start, embrace and live the day.
I’ve taken a lot of modern life at face value. I’m trusting that way, which is not necessarily a ‘best practices’ approach. Conspiracy theories abound about government, food sourcing, education, family planning, etc.. It’s easy to laugh them off if you’re not prone to such leanings. I imagine though that some of the less absurd assertions in this realm hold at least modicum of truth.We are consumers of information, entertainment, calories, fashion, drama, propaganda, medicine, and escape, to name a few. These ‘goods,’ for better or worse, find their way into our personal ecosystems.Taking a closer look, a more analytical, research-based appraisal of what we take in, consume or adopt, often on blind faith, may be the key to avoiding pitfalls on the road to a ‘best life.’But who has the time for that?
As far as I know, I’ve only been here once so I’ll have to rely on historical data and perception to tease out an approximation of the facts. It seems to me that a few too many cars on the road sport some form or another of “Fight such and such form of Cancer” stickers. No, we don’t see ‘Fight the Black Plague’ stickers, yet, but something seems off with the current state of treat vs. prevent. Big business benefits from both pesticide use and miracle cures.Coincidence?Possibly.
Historically speaking life is more comfortable and less violence now than it has ever been, current prison system enrollment notwithstanding.That doesn’t mean it’s time to clock out and accept the lot we’ve been given right? The advent of the information age means that taking responsibility for our own health and happiness has never been easier.Of course, there is the specter of the disinformation revolution to consider. The first American president was treated for his final illness by being bled with leeches, cutting edge medical tech at the time.We have access to far more information than his medical team could have imagined.Is this current library of bio-wisdom more accurate?Hopefully.
Questioning the status quo seems a brilliant starting point in the goal of achieving unimpeachable personal health and contentment. The questioning our motives, perspectives, and assumptions ranks a close second in this quest, should we choose to take on the responsibility of thinking outside the drive-through box. We can sleep when we die, and the one certainty is that though we may dodge taxes, ultimately we will all sleep.While we still breathe it is vigilance, interest, and inquisitiveness that will bend the arc of our lives closest to an outcome that is defined as Happy-ish, Healthy-ish and mostly at Peace. May the quest for these treasures be defined in my life and your’s by fortitude, patience and a super-sized pinch of good luck.
It all begins with raising a healthy child I suppose. A child with a well-balanced sense of right and wrong, the ability to care, commit, engage and admit when they are wrong, and an understanding of reasonable boundaries for starters. These seem fitting attributes for one charged with the making of a new world. Where will this metaphorical child look for cues?
Caregivers/parents set the tone for every coming act on the global stage. Every parental behavior, no matter how small creates a butterfly effect that sends ripples through yet unwritten history. Therefore our responsibility as adults is not merely to our children but to an entire generation and the generations which they, in turn, will bring to pass. Our responsibility that is, if we have a legitimate interest in our legacy; our gift, or blight on the years to come.
“Respect your elders.” The popular expression makes my stomach turn. While I do believe respect is an important lesson I do not believe it can be instilled in a ‘one-way street’ fashion. In my experience, children learn far more from our actions than our ‘teachings.’ If we treat a child with respect, they come to understand it’s true nature, and more importantly its value. Seeing is believing.
“Do as I say, not as I do,” another gem. While listeners are sometimes hard to come by, mimics abound in the realm of childhood. The essence of a healthy future is founded on the understanding that “do as I do” is the curriculum far more likely to take hold.
Leading by example then is the forge on which tomorrow is wrought. What imperative does that place on this generation of caregivers? Will we pass on that which we learned as children? Were those lessons ideal? Are they all we have, the best we can do? Will we even know we are repeating the sins of the father or mother upon the son or daughter? Handing the wheel to the platitude “When I was a kid…” isn’t necessarily good enough is it? If it were, the psychotherapeutic business would not be enjoying its meteoric and seemingly endless growth trajectory.
Self-respect starts at home, as does healthy self-appreciation. These positive self-image elements spread like ‘good weeds’ from those who possess them. If as a child you were deprived of the installation of these qualities the accession from childhood to the role of parenting provides an opportunity to break the cycle, glitch the matrix, to rewrite the future. It takes effort, focus and commitment to step outside the negative experiences that shaped our collective past, but on the wings of counting to ten and choosing to be active rather than reactive it is the path to a legacy we can be proud of.
Remembering what it was like to be a child, the newness of the world in the absence of experience and accumulated wisdom is the bridge that allows for patience and the acceptance of childish behavior. How the hell else are they supposed to act for god’s sake? I submit that the showing of respect, the looking for the positive and offering affirmation, setting clear, reasonable boundaries, the giving of hugs and speaking the words “I love you” as often as humanly possible are the keys to achieving the sacred mandate of raising of a healthy world.
I’ve heard it said that “life imitates art.” Times being what they are, with cinematic tools in the pockets of nearly every breathing soul, it appears that art or at least the cultural obsession with captured visual representations of some form of it now shape life. The advent of the personal documentary, whether we acquire imagery while looking through the lens or turn it on ourselves does not allow for life to unfold as it would in the absence of the distraction, or opportunity, or perhaps most importantly self-consciousness.
Personal marketing is ubiquitous. Social media and crowdsourced opinion are the new forms of connection, interpretation, and validation. This validity is assumed based on ‘homegrown’ legitimacy in contrast to traditional marketing and advertising which is widely presumed to be manipulative in nature. Are they really so different? We now package ourselves, consciously or unconsciously as products. To the best of our ability, we remove blemishes and imperfections before posting. Flaws and imperfection that exist, endure, and with time increase in scope.
I don’t post the nine unflattering shots of my family, the ones where someone made a face or blinked. I especially don’t post the pix that highlight that one crooked front tooth that’s always trying to get in the shot. I post the tenth pic where I don’t look like I need emergency adult orthodontia and my sons don’t look like they are recovering from blunt force trauma to the head. Am I posting a lie, or am I simply a savvy marketing wiz?
Our flaws can be perceived as components of character, unwelcome sidekicks or both. All the botox and plastic surgery in the world won’t fix the ones that truly define us. Our enduring flaws are the ones that we reveal, or that force their way into the limelight once the honeymoon has ended. Can those we’ve lured in with our polished documentary stylings live with them? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Documentary films are sometimes interesting, sometimes not. Some are important, some life-changing, some difficult to watch for the brutal truths they reveal about human nature. Some are fluff, some sweet, and many fall short of their intended effect. These outcomes are of course in no small way co-created by the viewer. So it is with our individual forays into self-serving cinema. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, so it goes.
Personal Documentaries are here to stay. A scroll session through Facebook, Instagram, etc. can light up the brain neurons like eating a quart of Death By Chocolate ice cream, minus the calories. These shared stories are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes provocative. Personally, I enjoy the voyeuristic distraction of it all and participate regularly. However, as I upload virtual interpretations of my life and/or witness the lives of others across the ether, I often wonder if the real art of looking another human being in the eye and making a connection in the moment may be the horse-drawn carriage faced with the imminent rise of the motorcar.
Thanksgiving fast approaches.Bringing with it all the joy, or discomfort that our memories allow.Gratitude for what we have, or eating all we can hold depending on one’s persuasion, define the day.Such disparate perspectives all find their way to some moment between noon and 6:00pm-ish on this most American holiday, (unless you are Canadian, they have one too you know, different day though) when we sit down with people we love, or tolerate, or loathe to “give thanks.”
Growing up I remember seeing paintings of the pilgrims (bless their sexually repressed hearts) sharing a meal with the native Americans whose kindness and wisdom made that very moment, the very survival of the colonists possible.I have no idea if the scenes depicted actually happened, but I do know that from the native perspective things definitely went downhill from there.Not until the advent of reservation land casinos did that cultural nose dive take a turn.Finally, something for which the true North Americans can be thankful.Too little, too late?Probably.
I usually spend Thanksgiving morning in the woods, either hiking or mountain biking, most often I make this “pilgrimage” alone.During this holiday opportunity for reflection, I will pause to take in the majesty of this world that we are so fortunate to call home.I am truly grateful for my one chance here on earth.Grateful for my wonderful family, my dear friends, a roof over my head and the unlikely outcome that is me, or you and every being issuing a breath even for a moment on this planet.
On this day some will share laughter with loved ones, others will issue volatile political challenges, purposefully foisting discord on innocents who only wish to celebrate the moment.Thanksgiving political discussions are the shit, right?Ha!On the other side of the relational tracks many will be alone; of those, some will be so by choice, others by unfortunate circumstance.For the solitary, it can be a challenging day to endure without a place to find welcome.Holidays are societally bipolar, no?
Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving I wish you peace, joy and most importantly a window in your world through which you can see with crystal clear clarity, something worth being thankful for.
“Freestyle,” now there’s a vocab jack in the box bursting with “what the hell!” The term Freestyle can be ascribed to a variant version of almost anything we humans do. Let’s say for the purposes of this rant that “freestyle” means “acting in the absence of rules or generally accepted protocol.” Now that’s a relief unless one happens to be a rule hugger, in which case it would, of course, be disconcerting.
In a valiant effort to save my marriage, I agreed to sign up for ballroom dance lessons. For context, up to that point in my life dancing had not been numbered among my strong suits. Relying on a glaring weakness to change the course of a dissolving marriage may not have been putting my best foot forward, ha, but I donned those creepy felt soled dance slipper shoe things and gave it my best.
Ballroom dance presented me with a calculus problem that, as it turns out I was ill-suited to solve, graphing calculator, youtube videos and hours of practice notwithstanding. I guess I’m a freestyle guy. I put in the effort though. I really did. However, the combination of regimented movement and rules left me shaking my head. Apparently, the head is not the right part of the body to be shaking in the genre. All that effort and money bore a shallow harvest, and that’s putting it politely.
Freestyle dancing is a natural gift that all humans, and many pets (see youtube) have at their disposal for the purpose of celebration. Freestyle skiing emerged when lovers of the sport found that the sanctioned practices of those “judging” the events did not fit their natural outpouring of self-expression while rocketing downhill on two snow supported slabs of glass/metal composite. Freestyle poetry, and then rap found the stage when traditional structure could not contain the expression of writers who needed undefined space to share their ideas. So it is that many of the constructs we as a culture use to define excellence have been bent or broken by a new wave of creators who have stretched a newly expanding canvas for the work of self-expression.
Let’s break it down.
Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.
A manner of doing something.
According to the combined definition: Freestyling is basically the outcome of deciding to do one’s own thing, regardless of the established norm. Freestyle expression in the aforementioned genres has survived and thrived long enough that they are now considered “established.” Once accepted, they too are subject to judgment. People enter “freestyle competitions!” Oxymoron?
I can distinctly remember “freestyle dancing” in the basement of St. Paul’s Catholic Church at an 8th-grade dance. I was dressed like an ass thanks to my complete lack of fashion sense. I was all in, having a blast. It wasn’t until the girl I was dancing with; I had used all my human courage credits to ask her, commented that I had a very “unique” style that I realized I was a pioneer. This 14-year-old Betty was making fun of me. She danced away to the next song with a football player, and that was that. Oh, judgment! For years I thought about it every time I danced sober, but unlike the dances that came soon after that incident, now I smile.
These days I freestyle in my living room, first thing in the morning. The scent of brewing coffee wafting through the house, glass of salt water and lemon in hand, tribal drums blasting over the Spotify airwaves, I dance, white boy freestyle. Sure, Beyonce won’t be tapping me for her next tour, but fuck it, why not let my awkward dance flag fly? I’m free!
Left to right: Steve Van Beek, Kevin Farenkopf, Paul Escoll, Dr. David Gyepes, Your’s Truly, Andy Logan, & Daryl Landy. (c.2001)
These days most things can be had with the well-ordered strike of a few keystrokes.They usually arrive within seconds digitally or a few days by truck, perhaps a week if there are shipping complications.Jobs can be found, romance born, business relationships forged in the ether of our modern internet biome.All these ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ ‘followers’ add up to…Something I suppose.However, no thing or connection that can be had so immediately compares with the feeling of finding oneself in the company of old friends.
Enduring relationships are created and perpetuated via the practices of patience, commitment, forgiveness, and a healthy dose of introspection.Old friends know us, often better than we know ourselves.They watch us break, and aid us when they are able in the process of picking up the pieces.They share our triumphs and offer a shoulder when we need a place to lean.
If you have old friends, you are blessed.If you have lost touch with someone you once held dear our modern world offers ample opportunity to reconnect.Few things on the average to do list can provide such reward.Some say that real connection is a dying art.Fortunately other say that history is cyclical.Wherever you find yourself on this wheel of life I wish you peace, love, and enduring friendships.In the words of Clarence the Angel, “No man is a failure who has friends.”
Parents! If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent! If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking. If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.
For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.Humanity, consisting primarily of me.Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.Ugh, so embarrassing!Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.
We all do our best right?No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.However, if we do our best, well done us!That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole? You decide.
These days I am a parent.Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.Attitude is everything!
Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.Ego talk? Probably. Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.As for my misread on the choice of life partners?Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.
I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?Could we have done better? Certainly.The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.No blaming or finger pointing here.
Back to my parents. They worked hard, or at least my pops did. On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included. Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect. To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics. Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps. My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life. The intensity must have been nearly unbearable. Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure. No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.
My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs. We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood. It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled. In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt. We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together. So it goes.
In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown. I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.“Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.Phew!
By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.Distance allows perspective.Perspective provides the chance for healing.Healing allows courage to blossom.Courage creates the possibility of change.Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.Forgiveness is a universal gift.
Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.
I love you, mom and dad!I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.