Wisdom

A little perspective after a long time

*Note: There are some elements of this entry that some may find disturbing, or possibly even trigger-worthy.  Read (or don’t) with caution if you are the sensitive type.

I know, I know… I’ve been gone a long time.  Life is like that;  It ebbs and flows.  It’s probably a good thing I don’t write professionally (at least not on a creative level) or I would be accused of following after a certain author of thrones.  Anyway, It took a couple years for this cycle to settle, and now that it has… everything is fine.  And that’s it.  Nothing is wrong, and new stuff happens from time to time, but for the most part, I’m just doing my thing; day in and day out. My companions from my previous cycle (and even the “adjustment” period) have almost all fallen away.  Some will come back eventually, and some will not.  But for the time being I have my new cave by the lake, my work in the contrasting enormous palace nearby, my cats, some friends I see every so often (whom, I’m growing a greater appreciation for as others move on) and… me.
It’s not about time any more.  I have time.  I finally caught up on The Walking Dead (holy shit…) and I’ve been addicted to certain mobile games involving hunting small creatures in the real world and fantasies that are final at home.  So time is there… money is still in recovery but improving daily. What I realized is missing (much like in my personal relationships) is passion.  I don’t feel inspired by anything.  The world is beautiful, and I am privy to exceptional sunsets on a daily basis.  These bring me peace, but they do not light a fire.  There is no fire.  I’m not depressed, things are generally good, I’m just… here.  It’s kept me from writing because I need to have something I feel strongly enough to write about.  It’s kept me from photography because I’m still backlogged almost a year (sorry Jess.. I put some more up yesterday but I realize my pace is horrible…) and while I love the photos I put up when I do work on them, it’s honestly a struggle to get myself to sit down and focus on them.

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At least sometimes I look alright doing it…

I know, this is a lot of whining and problems that are really not problems.  A year ago at this time I was trying to figure out if I was going to have a place to live next month, so I understand that I’m not really having real problems.  Ironically, it might be the intense focus that work requires of me that keeps the inspiration from showing up at the end of the day.  Chicken or the egg?  Be that as it may, I am virtually alone and uninspired at the moment, and while I’m making an effort to branch out a bit, it may be some time before life picks back up again.

With that said I want to share a story with you.  This story makes all of the above whining seem even more ridiculous.  The point is not to shock you or make you feel bad, the point is to help people like me, who are really doing pretty okay, keep perspective and be grateful for the blessings they have, even if inspiration feels a little short.  Having time to worry about inspiration or passion IS a blessing in itself.

As mentioned above, I work in a literal mansion.  My boss is such that he parks his seaplane (yes, seaplane) in the back yard, on the very nice lake that is shared among the local (rich) community.  Though it is not the point of this article, I want to make a point of assuring you that my boss is 1. Generally a good man.  2. Gives a GREAT deal of charity and pays a great deal of taxes without complaint.  -and- 3. Does not come from a wealthy family.  He’s built and earned what he has, more than once.

Anyway, as his Executive Assistant (you can call me Alfred) I assist in running his business, finances, calendar, estate, grounds, etc.  So as mentioned I spend the majority of my time in this huge, immaculate home.  Another staff member of ours – let’s call her Jan – comes once a week with an associate of hers to do a full cleaning of the house, laundry, etc. She is originally from Jamaica, in her late-40s, and her and I have a friendly, joking, semi-abusive relationship.  My boss has known her for over a decade (before he even moved into this mansion) and has treated/paid her well consistently.  He is even looking into the best way to provide for her retirement in the future, as she has never had her own means of obtaining one.   Not that she’ll need it anytime soon, because while she’s easygoing and friendly, she’s also tough, I mean really tough.

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Our cleaning lady would kill you son.

I’ve visited Jamaica before via cruise ship.  I know, I know, that’s not the “real” Jamaica. But all you need to do is book an excursion that takes you out of the tourist area and if you’re paying attention you very quickly get an impression of the reality many native Jamaicans face.  While there are most certainly well-developed, colorful, historical towns, hotels, and restaurants, just outside the walls of the tourist area in Falmouth, things get progressively bleaker until the reality of literal poverty is staring you in the face.  They make the best of it; You could see people smiling, laughing, and living, but they have adjusted, or have never know the extent of the comforts and security we have here in the US (despite us needing to be made great… again…)

Jan, and her family are from that kind of life.  She’s happy to be here with her longtime friend, making a life for herself and her daughter here in the US that would be near impossible for the rest of her family back in Jamaica.  She sends them money and support, and shows me pictures of the gatherings she attends when she goes to visit them.  She is especially proud of their Sunday clothes, when they get dressed up for church.

The other day she pulled out her phone and was showing me pictures of her son and some of their extended family still living in Jamaica.  She has never married, and when I asked her if her children were intentional she just smiled at me as if I were Jon Snow and knew nothing.  In this particular photo set though, I commented on her son’s sense of style.  Even by US standards, he was decked out in a dark suit with a light purple tie, matching vest and sunglasses to complete the look.

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That style.

That was when she casually showed me the next picture.  It was of a young boy (I think she said he was thirteen) hanging from a tree by a rope tied around his neck.  Her nephew had decided that his life there wasn’t worth continuing, and… before they took him down, they took photos.  She continued that her son was wearing his best to that boy’s funeral because he had been like a brother, and it was the best way to honor his life.  The whole time she spoke casually and easy about this, as if this were just another part of life like a thunder storm or the flu.  But then, for a lot of people in the world, possibly even the majority, it is.

Many of us in the US live blessed lives.  Absolutely we have poverty, I’ve shared with you before that I was homeless at times growing up and have memories of getting food from the food bank to eat.  But much harder than I ever had it is the racism that is still coming to light, when growing up as a minority here (especially if you’re poor) can be, literally, deadly.  And while a lot of us see it on the news here, and it is wrong anytime, anywhere, in some places it’s so common that it’s not even a headline.

My point is not to say that we don’t need to get better as a culture in the United States (or wherever I end up should Emporer Trump come to power,) because we do.  We have to be better because we have infinitely more opportunity than so many more places in the world.  If there’s anything the human race is good at, it’s squandering its available advantages by focusing on trivial things (like… not feeling inspired…)  But that photo of the boy hanging from a tree, because life was actually very hard there and he couldn’t make it, is something that reminds me of this responsibility.  It gives a lot of perspective to how blessed the majority of us are here and reminds me that, at the very least, first and foremost, I (we) need to do our best to not be a part of the problems in our own culture.

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This.. should be appreciated.

People like Jan can come here, and work hard, and probably never have a life as decadent as my boss (or possibly even me.)  But because she has an inherently different perspective, and the appreciation for the many things we take for granted (including our way of life itself,) there’s a good chance that she may often be happier than those of us that lose our perspective from time to time.  Happiness is relative.  That’s why people with far more money than a windbag like Trump are secretly (or not so secretly) miserable.  Meanwhile those who give away what little they have beyond their own survival enjoy happiness that eludes the majority of the world.

There’s no recipe for it either. It’s individual… relative. Giving away everything or becoming a monk won’t make everyone happy.  Nor will winning the lottery (as people have demonstrated over and over) or becoming famous.  I believe the secret (even if I’m having trouble with it currently) exists in curbing your expectations and being as grateful as possible for the blessings you have. We deserve the good things that happen to us, on whatever level (so long as you do not intentionally harm somebody for those things.) There is no need for guilt, just gratitude for whatever good things come (as opposed to the trap of being sad about what does not.)

It is an unavoidable truth of this world that some people live through horrible circumstances, and maybe the silver lining (no, I’m not saying it’s ever worth it…  it never is) for those who can overcome those things is the ease with which they appreciate simple things that others might well take for granted.  Everyone has a story, and sometimes by learning about others, it helps you put your own in perspective.

The Fading Magic Of Love

Admittedly the following thoughts are my own (somewhat emo) individual observations and feelings, so take them with a grain of salt, this has not be researched by any means.  In fact, hopefully I’m very off-base overall… but it occurs to me that a great deal of what traditionally considered “romantic” or proactive in terms of somebody pursuing another person romantically is now considered “creepy”, “stalker-ish”, or “harassment”. (Which, in many cases it actually is, I’m in no way disputing that, and nobody should be harassed regardless.)

Thus is the plight of modern romance. Unless the stars align and you cross paths and are introduced organically through social situations, folks are more or less forced to use social media style apps like Tinder or various dating sites to create a pre-existing context to meeting a stranger.

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Ahh… romance (though points for the HP reference.)

There is no more “love at first sight” for a stranger or acquaintance because nine times out of ten (especially, but not always, if it’s a man pursuing a woman) randomly approaching or attempting to talk to / get to know somebody that you have no (or very limited) preexisting context with will be met with suspicion, scorn and a label of one of the above terms.

Further, even if met with courtesy, attempting to pursue the matter usually breeds discomfort and is quickly reclassified into one of the above categories.

But that said, it’s true that such things (when unwanted, which initially, before people get to know each other, they almost always will be…) ARE in fact harassment and a lot of the tactics that folks in the “old days” used to employ to get a potential partner’s attention ARE in fact a form of stalking. And it’s absolutely correct that nobody should have to put up with harassment or stalking on any level, even with good intentions.

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Stalker!

So I wonder then what the fix is? What if everyone you come across organically isn’t the right one for you? What if you come across a relative stranger and feel the magical pull of what was once love at first sight, but there’s no real way to pursue it? What if all the “dating” apps yield a few great friends but then mostly contribute to losing your faith in humanity?

More and more people are staying single, and that’s okay because we need to be our own strong, independent people… but I feel like romance and whatever magic that love once held is becoming more and more scarce because the rules have changed and people either don’t want to play the game any more, or don’t really know how to operate in the new rule set. Or maybe the new rule set just doesn’t lend itself well to spark of a real, long-term love.

It’s a social evolution in that people’s rights are being respected on equal levels (ideally anyway), but in doing away with the archaic misogyny and religion – based social constructs, we may have also discarded some of the attached old-school charm and courtship that led to a small percentage (among many failed…) of happy, long-term, adorable couples/families. These days I see families and couples, but a large majority of them have settled, I don’t see the love. Some admit it, others don’t and in some cases my observation is wrong… but in others it has been proven to me, through action, confession or simply watching it fall apart.

I suppose it’s too early to tell, and I can only speak for my immediate bubble, but I see even less potential for those true, long-term connections now than I did with the old ways. We reduced the suffering of millions, and there’s no question that it’s worth it, but I think that the increasing rarity of classic, old-school style love actually makes me sad. It’s as easy as it has ever been to find somebody to hook-up with, but the problem is some part of me always wanted the idealized classic, stable, happy family with the “picket fence” or some version of it and I’m beginning to think that for somebody like me in a world like this, I can’t build it. I can build me, but everything else is like playing the social lottery, and the odds are very much not in my favor.

(Note: This wasn’t supposed to be a blog post,  it started out as a facebook post… I guess I just had a lot to say.)

You don’t know who you are

You will never completely know or understand who you are. There’s a whole unknown you floating in your subconscious that only shows itself through dreams and surreal moments when you act in ways you thought you never would or could.  In some ways it represents your potential and depending on how you develop yourself that potential could be amazing, but it could also be disastrous.  Sigmund Freud would probably say that trying to get to know yourself on this level is trying to get more in touch with your Id and Super-Ego at the same time.

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“There are no mistakes.”

It’s a bit ironic actually, because the Ego (the moderator between those two) can be such a robust and confident thing when it really has no right to be.  The truth is we spend the majority of our lives trying to figure ourselves out (and that’s okay!)  I should actually say that the smart folks spend their days trying to better figure themselves out.  Unfortunately far too many people are busy looking outward than inward.  So they define things (especially the shitty stuff) by what their environment and those that inhabit it have shown them, instead of trying to figure out what they’re doing in that environment to begin with.

Don’t misunderstand me, I realize that people are often born into very unfortunate environments and circumstances.  As I’ve illustrated in previous posts, my own circumstances weren’t exactly roses and rainbows.  Some people don’t get to learn about themselves. It’s Maslow’s pyramid and they don’t make it past the first level.

An old friend of mine and I were discussing Maslow’s pyramid the other day and it both complimented and derailed what I intended to write about.  For those of you uninitiated, the essential idea is that human needs and progression happen on five levels.  The base of this pyramid are basic needs: food, water, sleep, sex (though.. I believe this transcends a bit… let’s call it “reproduction”,) oxygen, etc.

Once you’ve got your basic needs covered,the next level involved safety on every level.  Protection from the elements, security in your job/income/lifestyle, and basic personal safety.  All the things that lay the foundation for some level of confidence in your life.  But once you get all that figured out, you get to start on the advanced stuff.

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“Shit.. was that level 1 or level 3?”

Level three of Maslow’s pyramid consists of social developmental needs. This fuels the desire for popularity in high school and then evolves into being accepted and respected by your peers at work while simultaneously developing friendship, intimacy (there’s that sex again!), affection and, of course, love in your personal life.  Each step of this pyramid can be a life-long endeavor for many individuals, but I would wager that a very large percentage get stuck here (including, it seems, me.)

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to achieve any of these levels in any sort of traditional manner to begin work on the next level.  Hell, I’m relatively sure you don’t even have to make it halfway.  As long as you have a basic understanding of achievement on any given level, you can probably grasp the next level as well.  But that’s dangerous, because the point of the pyramid is to illustrated how to form a solid foundation for each level and building on an unfinished foundation can (obviously) end up in disaster.

But let’s say you jump to the next level and go for the really advanced stuff. Level four of Maslow’s pyramid is all about going from being accepted, to leading and transcending the pack.  Achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others are the needs this level presents.  By this time, you’ve figured out how to play the game of life, and now you need to do better than just play well, you need to excel at it.

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Maslow’s pyramid for the modern age.

Should you manage to develop yourself to the point of excelling at life in terms of what you want to achieve and what you want your peers to recognize about you, you’re ready for the supposed pinnacle of the pyramid: Total self-actualization. Now we’re getting into super-human territory that involves setting world records, becoming billionaires, scaling Mt. Everest, or becoming the President. Fortunately for a fair percentage of the people who are trying to fulfill this need also realize this potential by helping others find their way up the pyramid.  On the flip-side though, this is where the world’s absolute worst humans do the worst damage.

The point of that quick overview though was to illustrate a point: you’ll never reach total self-actualization because you will never completely know and understand yourself.  Even if you somehow thought you did, you can’t, because it’s fluid.  That’s actually one of the great joys of life.  One of the greatest strengths of humanity is it’s fluidity and adaptability.  Some very smart, very enlightened people close to me struggle with this a lot and admittedly I do as well because it’s frankly exhausting if you don’t step back to recognize it for what it really is: growth.  Not only is it growth, but it’s advanced growth that only a certain percentage of people in the world have the luxury of knowing.

It’s a given that people reach the fifth level of Maslow’s pyramid all the time, but as I

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Oh…

mentioned earlier, a lot of those people left an essential level undeveloped… some skipped it entirely and paid for it.  They are easy to see, the people who seem to have everything, experienced so much, but are still miserable.  They act out, break down, and sometimes die far too early and sometimes by their own hand.

The point in all this psycho-babble is that I’ve realized that the biggest mistake we can make is attempting to rush through or force our personal development.  We seek to master our environment and to balance that out we must seek to master ourselves.  But both are fluid and can never really be mastered, so we have to realize that it’s enough to continue learning, continue developing and build our foundations strong on each level so we have a solid base when we someday reach the top of our own personal pyramid.

You don’t know who you are, and you never will, but the point is continuing to get to know yourself.  When you do, you get to the fun part: Being pleasantly surprised and amazed at what you can do… and then being able to live happily with it.

 

You Don’t Have To “Follow Your Dreams”

“What do you want to do?”  “What do you want to be?”  “What’s your passion?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What do you dream of being?”

Rich.  And Happy.  With Kids.

Oh, you want to know how?  Well fuck off, I don’t know.  Except I do, and that is: whatever I can do that will get me there while keeping me happy, letting me live my life, and allowing me to keep my dignity intact/stay true to myself.

I suppose that’s awfully specific for somebody that doesn’t know, but as a thirty-six year old single male that achieved “full yuppie”, and then spent months unemployed until just recently, I’ve had a lot of experience and a fair amount of time to mull this over.  What I figured out is that all those questions above seem encouraging and productive, but they can, in fact, be exactly the opposite.  They can demotivate and even create insecurity where there doesn’t need to be any.

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Obviously they had different priorities…

The thing is, some people have dreams when they are little, but as we grow, we change and (hopefully) so do our priorities.  When we’re kids, a lot of us really hate taking naps.  Sleep is so boring!  But years later, as an adult, nap time is a close second (and let’s face it, depending on the person, it’s possibly not second) to the horizontal mambo.  We grow, we learn, priorities change, and so does what we dream of.

When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a fighter pilot so badly that I studied different aircraft, their capabilities, their combat roles, and even the engines that powered them and who made them.  I thought the SR-71 Blackbird was the coolest thing in the world.  I grew up, took the ASVAB, aced it, and made the Marines love me (yes, I know I should’ve talked to the Air Force first, but that Staff Sergeant talked a good game.)  They told me I could take my pick of assignments between the AV-8B Harrier II (the jet that can take off vertically and hover) or the F-18 Hornet (The fastest and most maneuverable mainstream fighter the US produced at the time.) I was sold on the F-18 and made a soft commitment to enlist   I trained with Staff Sergeant Johnson to prepare for boot camp while learning more and more about the program.  It would entail military “basic” school, the Naval Academy, and then Flight School specializing (in my case) in fixed-wing aviation.  The long and the short of this was a minimum of a fourteen year commitment once I signed on the dotted line.  And when that day came, my eighteen-year-old self thought about my friends, my girlfriend, and the person I thought I would become, and I walked away (Sorry Staff Sergeant Johnson.)  Once I got realistic about my childhood dream, I didn’t want it any more, and that as okay.

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Most dreams seem to involve mountains and sunsets…

But especially in recent years, society has moved to this obsession with goals/dreams.  People who don’t have a specific one are in danger of being labeled as unfocused, distracted, lacking direction, drifters, or any number of relatively negative terms.  This, in turn, can make people who don’t really have a specific dream feel insecure about the lack of that dream.  They can begin to think there might be something wrong with them and feel like they need to invent a “passion” to define themselves.  This can have the opposite effect, and lead to an abundance of wasted time pretending to care about something that is ultimately unfulfilling.  Such a situation is much more common that we might think and can easily lead to a number of psychological issues.  Ironically, inventing your passion is a very effective way of stifling a real passion you may not know you have yet.

For instance, I remember looking at characters in movies that weren’t the good or bad guy, but were the “right-hand man” and thinking “That would be neat… I could totally be THAT guy rather than the main good/bad guy.”  It wasn’t a dream, it was just a respect for that sort of person that I identified with passively. A couple of decades later that’s the majority of my recent professional experience.  Even better is that I (generally) like it and have made as much, or more than most of the people I know who are “following their passions”.  I never thought to myself  “Someday I’m going to be this awesome Executive Assistant!” but by being open to it and accepting the natural evolution of my career in that direction, I realized that I was, in fact, actualizing something I had passively envisioned more than a few times.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on people who have and follow their dreams.  I have a ton of respect for them.  Many of my very close friends have pursued their dreams and passions and are reaping the rewards of their dedication over the years.  They worked hard, put in their time, (most) suffered to some degree, and are rewarded by the option of doing what they always wanted to do.  But that’s not everyone, and more importantly it doesn’t have to be everyone.  We have to dispel the idea that dreams = life success.  They can most certainly create motivation to succeed, but they are not a requirement.  There are a number of other ways to motivate yourself.

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And that’s OKAY!

Achievement and/or success often breeds motivation, and sometimes it takes a whole lot of trying things and failing to find it.  Further, you may very well find that what you succeed at is something you never even considered before.  That’s where business roles that I call “tool” types come from.  They aren’t what you typically think of when you dream of what you want to become.  Therefore they often aren’t “visionaries” or well-known business leaders.  But instead of having their own dream, they enable/assist the dreamers in order to grow and take their visions to whole new levels.

Maybe you never dreamed of being an accountant, but you find you’re naturally good at it, and it rewards you well leading to job satisfaction and general financial success.  That process can make people pretty happy.  The same can be said for what I do as an Executive Assistant.  I get to live vicariously through extremely successful CEOs, Inventors, Celebrities and other notable dreamers.  I am compensated well and often enjoy a number of (expensive) fringe benefits without the drawbacks of being imbalanced as said visionaries often are (out of necessity really.) I stay balanced and I help to balance them, leading to a great deal of personal and job satisfaction.

There are countless roles that can lead to professional success as an “enabler” or “tool”.  So I’m not saying don’t dream, I’m just saying that if you don’t have a specific dream, don’t stress it.  Provide for yourself (and those you need to provide for) and take pride in that accomplishment.  Just keep trying to improve yourself.  Try things, fail (more than) a few times if you need to, and focus on what you want for yourself.  You don’t have to have a direction  as long as you keep yourself moving forward in some way.  Keep making your own path, cutting through the jungle of life and you might just find that you look up and discover something that you or nobody else had thought of yet. Accidents like that have made a lot of people both rich and happy.

 

I don’t really know what this post is about (but it’s not sex.)

aka: Random semi-coherent abstract loosely connected somewhat-logical philosophical un-sexy musings and ramblings about living. 

There’s usually three different arguments in regards to the happenings in life.  The first goes something like “Heathen! Everything happens for a reason because it’s (**insert your god/gods/entity/demon/timelord here**) plan!” (Though if you chose timelord I can’t argue with you… because you’re awesome.)  Also in this category is “IT IS YOUR DESTINY!” type thinking.  Second is the opposite idea like “Idiots.  Nothing happens for any reason.  Our existence and everything that happens is just a random coincidence fueled by variables and probability.”  So then naturally the third possibility is the moderate approach of “Some things are meant to happen, but we have free will and can go in the direction we please.  We can make things happen, our future is yet unwritten.”  Simplified, it boils down to fate, coincidence, or a bit of a sandbox.

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Some Time Lords are better than others…

Based on what I’ve written before, you can assume I’m either the first type (cycles?) or the third.  Acknowledging any real system at all basically kills option two because it disagrees with anything that indicates an organized (by what?) system. Without ranting too much about religion (because I’m just not a fan of organized religion…) I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t want to believe in option one because, frankly, it’s a terrifying prospect to simply exist with no purpose other than going through predestined motions.  Fortunately it doesn’t make a lot of sense either though.  Why would god (Timelords don’t do that anyway…) bother giving the ability to reason and be creative to drones that are simply going to run their course anyway?  For an omniscient being that’s pretty wasteful, and quite honestly a shitty system design.

So let’s go with option 3: the “sandbox”.  This essentially says we belong to a system, probably one architected by something, somewhere that we don’t and possibly can’t understand.  This is a more comforting idea for a number of reasons.  It leaves room for a naked, white-beareded, benevolent man chilling up on a cloud surrounded by little winged babies with instruments.  It also leaves room for a lizard master race that wants to use us as slaves (fortunately the time lord will probably save us from that.)  But deities aside, what makes this ideal is the fact that it leaves room for both purpose, and reason.

“Why are we here?” is one of the oldest questions out there, and lots of people (including me) think they have the reasons figured out.  But let’s try to avoid the overly-spiritual side for now and stick with the logical.  “Sandbox” logic says we exist in a self-sustaining system.  Which means, in fact, that we are a component of that system.  Could it go on without us?  Yep, it might even be better off, but it would be very very different.  A key component of a self-sustaining system is the ability to adapt.  We actually mirror that trait as self-sustaining, adapting systems ourselves.  So the basic answer is, we are here because we’re a part of an ever-adapting system, and we would continue to be, except that we have this silly free will that causes us to continuously add and change a great number of variables in this system.  The truth is that humans are really fucking things up. It should be utter chaos, and some people think it is, but it’s not really.  Instead, despite the massive disruptions we’ve caused, the system continues to adapt.  Maybe it won’t indefinitely, but for now it’s hanging in there.

Oops.

Oops.

But why would it?  Think about it: nature is beautiful, but it’s also harsh and unforgiving towards it’s predators.  If it were up to a mindless, instinctive system, I don’t believe humans would exist.  The only explanation is that the system was designed to allow for the bullshit humans pull.  So it becomes a matter of intelligent design (That said.. allowing humans to exist doesn’t seem that intelligent on the surface… but faith, ya know?)  But rather than shooting back to option A and saying everything is scripted (that would be really un-intelligent design…) this supports the idea that the system is set up for us, and parameters are set, but we get to navigate it the way we choose.  Some things are meant to happen on our individual paths, but if we really choose to, we can fight that… and usually face the consequences.   Consequences aren’t a punishment, it’s just what happens when you think you know what’s better for you than the supposed relatively omniscient mind that laid out your path.  The system is set up knowing that some people will always want to “fight the power”, even if it’s actually good for them.

Now (I know.. by now you’re like “Jesus.. get back to the sex posts…!”) let’s be optimistic and assume whatever charted your path did so with the idea you will experience what you need to.  The sad truth is, what people need to experience isn’t always happy.  In some cases it’s really, really fucked up.  The reasons for this on a spiritual and philosophical level could fill up a whole series of posts, but the reason for this on a logical level is pretty simple:  The system can’t support that sort of imbalance.  If nobody died, the system as it is now would crash catastrophically in a very short time.  The key element to any self-sustaining system (including ourselves) is balance.  When thrown out of balance, the system will do whatever it needs to (indifferently) to right itself.  That’s why bad things happen to good people, people die for no reason and sometimes people who really don’t deserve to get ahead do anyway.  In some way the system has to rebalance itself, and it quite frankly doesn’t care if you like how it does it or not.

But since you’re reading this, you’re one of the many who fall on the fortunate side of this system.  Thus far you might’ve had a hard path, but comparatively you are able to sit and spend time reading a blog rambling on about some obscure philosophy, so you’re not doing half bad.  Well, think of all the shit you got through to get here.  I’m willing to bet if you go only a couple years back, things have happened you never would’ve planned for.  Now if you think about all the steps that led you here, some of them made no sense at the time, and even seemed detrimental, and yet everything fell into place to get you here.  

I didn't say it would always be easy regardless...

I didn’t say it would always be easy regardless…

Perhaps where you are right now isn’t where you want to be.  Well, you do have the power to change it, and you have choices as to how.  You can try to abruptly change your direction and charge another way in blind defiance, but that very rarely helps anyone.  You can swim against a river for a while if you are strong enough, but you will go farther, faster, with less effort if you go with the current.  So another option is to charge forward with the current; head down and paddling with all your strength.  This will get you the farthest, fastest.  The problem with this is that you will eventually burn yourself out, and either sink or be at the mercy of the current.  So the obvious choice to me, is to flow with the river, using your energy to keep your head up, avoid dangers and grab what you can find to help you.  The other advantage to this is that it’s the easiest way to link up with others traveling the river in the same way.

All river metaphors aside, if you choose to believe you have paths laid out for you, driven by your choices, then you will also begin to see signs that give you some hint as to which path will go where.  All those seemingly random events and choices throughout your life have magically chained together to bring you to who and where you are now.  If you’re reading this, you’re not done.  The good news is, beyond all the endless complication and self-importance humans bring to their lives, there is only one thing any of the three options I mentioned earlier expect of you.  Choose, and act.

About Change and Where We Belong

It has been a busy holiday season and new year, but finally a chance to get back into routine, and that includes my blog!

One of my best friends was visiting from her new home in Japan this last week.  She’s  stayed with me a couple nights while also visiting her other friends and we’ve been catching up on the changes in the sixteen months or so since she left.  I was a little concerned, because sometimes when people travel abroad and start a new life in a difficult, unfamiliar place, it’s easy to come back and latch on to what’s familiar.  So we were on our way to a friend’s house and I asked her if she was feeling at home again (more or less baiting her for my underlying question: “are you not going to want to go back?”  Her immediate answer was: “No.  I don’t belong here.”  Wow.  In that moment I realized how much she’s grown even since she left.

She looks Japanese.. right?

She looks Japanese.. right?

I should clarify that she’s one of my best friends because she’s always been wickedly intelligent, friendly and otherwise awesome as a person.  She took the time to get to know me better than anyone had in a very long time, and to this day reminds me when I’m repeating my cycles.  When she was accepted to the prestigious JET program, she had been scared and excited to leave everything she’d know.  But it was her dream to live in Japan someday and it won out over any fear she had.   When she arrived, the first few months were tough, and on and off she struggled with homesickness and bouts of depression. But now, that moment in the car she spoke with such resolution that I knew she’d gotten past it all.  She made her home in Japan, and she knows, she feels that where she is now is where she belongs.

So the new year is upon us, and though the dates and turning of the year are very often in the minds of those who recognize it, there’s something to be said about powerful tradition and the influence of so many minds on the same wavelength.  Our cycles are reflections of our minds, so it’s silly to think we have no influence over them.  We break and remake them as we learn and grow.  The predominant theme of a new year is (of course) new things, new lives, even a new you.  But while everyone wishes for “new”, many are hesitant to wish for the same thing: “change”.  New does not happen without change.  Even if you’re only adding to your existing life, it will inevitably change it.  People fear the idea of “change” because they are afraid to lose what they have and what they are comfortable with, but it’s all about your attitude.  Embrace change and the excitement and experience that come with it are your rewards.  What you should retain will stay with you in some form anyway, the only things you will truly lose are the things that are probably holding you back now anyway.

In a sense, my friend gave up her whole life here to travel to a new place and begin again.  But now she visited over a year later, and she has actually lost nothing.  She came back to friends, family and even pets and could easily have stepped back into her old life as if she’d never left.  However, many people (including myself) noticed she was different.  She has evolved, and further,  instead of sinking into routine, she felt far away from home among us.  It sounds bad, but in essence it means she has embraced her new self and her new life.  It means she has grown.  Some people embark on journeys or make resolutions to change, but many (probably the majority) end up sinking back to what is comfortable.  This involves locations, relationships and professions.  Comfort is easy, and that’s not always a bad thing, but if we rely on comfort too long and do not push our boundaries, we become stagnant and that gives rise to many major issues from boredom to depression.  In order to be fulfilled, we have to feel as if we are growing and/or working toward something.

It's hard not to feel like you belong in moments like these.

It’s hard not to feel like you belong in moments like these.

That’s why finding where you belong can be so difficult; often it’s not a specific place, it’s a situation… it’s a state of mind.  You belong where you can learn, and grow and be made to feel valued for your contributions.  In a comfortable situation, you are taken for granted as much as you take things for granted, but continuing to develop yourself and your situations prevents this on both sides.  That’s not to say that everyone has to uproot and move thousands of miles to find where they belong, sometimes it’s simply a new living or work situation.  But the point is, as hard as it is to to tell when you are there, If you’re honest with yourself, it’s easy to tell when you’re not there.  You feel it when you don’t belong in a situation.  Listen to that, and have the courage to make the change.  I’ve been guilty of clinging to things I was afraid to lose and delaying change in the past, but it turns out that when you embrace change and grow with it, you don’t lose nearly as much as you think.  Especially those who you are important to will make the effort to follow you on some level and reunite with you when possible.  If others fall to the wayside, they have other priorities and probably would have eventually anyway.

That’s the thing about change, be it a new year, a new place, a new relationship or a new profession:  It’s going to happen whether you like it or not.  So, embrace it, direct it and make the most of it with a great attitude. Grow, Change, Love and find where you belong.

Grateful Relationships

Five+ days later I finally get a moment to (hopefully) finish this.  A lot has happened, I drank entirely too much scotch at my company party (though I maintained my composure to the very end!)  I’m also now cat-sitting for some friends of mine who live a ways from me (some 30 min… not too bad), so the logistics are interesting.  But what’s been in my head recently is the idea of gratitude, and how a lot of people (including myself these days…) take important things for granted.  Especially in terms of your relationships (generally speaking, not just romantic) sometimes it’s hard to draw the line where you’re being grateful, or allowing somebody to take advantage of you, but I think if you can step back and try to see things objectively, it all boils down to the situation, and what you feel you owe somebody.  The fact of the matter is that personal debt (not financial) is just that: personal.  What has any particular relationship done for you, and what do you owe that relationship as a result of it?

Some relationships aren't about people...

Some relationships aren’t about people…

See what I did there?  I took it away from the people, and made it about the whole relationship.  I think this is important because the individuals in a relationship are two (or more…) major parts, but they are not the whole at any given moment. There are circumstances and history that come into play that contribute to a greater sum.  Very often extremely beneficial connections are damaged because somebody is angry or hurt in the moment and forgets to look at the big picture.  Though many of the strongest relationships involve very strong emotions, it’s those same emotions that threaten to undermine your gratitude for all that specific people or relationships have done for you.  Remembering your gratitude can save a lot of positive relationships.

I suppose key to this is remembering the times you’ve been indebted to any specific relationship.  When you get your paycheck, it’s because you indebted the company to you through your actions for them.  On a baseline level this is the core of a healthy personal relationship (whether it be friendship or something more.)  Naturally you are usually happy to help your friends, family or (some of…) your lovers.  For this you tell yourself you need no repayment, perhaps you’re simply grateful to have such a great friend, but it’s actually not that simple.  If this attitude is reciprocal, then you’re automatically getting your repayment in the from of their gratitude and generally equivalent actions towards you.  But if over time you give in this manner and you receive no gratitude, resentment naturally begins to build.63b1afb6e21cf632dc7bdffa2fb418c7

Some people accept this, they bury their resentment because they fear damaging the relationship.  They continue to do as much, or more, for less.  This is when somebody is being taken for granted.  One of the most damaging aspects of any relationship are when somebody involved stops feeling grateful for the same things they’ve been consistently receiving and (sometimes unknowingly) reduces what they return.  Perhaps it means a change is needed, and that can be brought about by communication, but even when that’s the case it’s very difficult for a relationship to break down when both parties are truly grateful for each other.   The unfortunate thing is, when you’re being taken for granted, that resentment doesn’t go anywhere, it builds and if it’s not addressed it will instead attack the person causing it.  Unfortunately, by allowing the relationship to continue in this manner the fault also shifts to you.  Now, you resent the person who is not grateful for you AND you resent yourself for continuing to show your gratitude when perhaps it is not deserved.  This is what sets nearly any relationship: friendship, professional and even love on a path to destruction.

The underlying issue is two-fold: First, the hedonic treadmill (elaborated in a previous post) applies to your relationships too, so over time the high they may have once given you returns to a base level of happiness if the routine stays the same.  So when once all you had to do was walk into your new office to feel fulfilled at work, now you need something more, and your appreciation for that office diminishes.   Second, along with routine and comfort often comes a breakdown of deep communication.  Surface communication is abundant, but many lose the talks about how people are feeling or what their personal priorities are.  Dreams, goals, feelings and life give away to routine, what to pick up at the store, what report to finish and what social media you need to update.  Your appreciation for surface communication diminishes quickly, and just talking about nothing loses it’s appeal.  The solutions to these things are simple and obvious, but not easy.

You really don't want to lose that...

You really don’t want to lose that…

The most obvious and direct way to appreciate anything again, is to lose it.  Human nature is very reliable in always wanting what you can’t have, especially if you already considered it yours and feel you deserve it.  However, this is also highly destructive and doesn’t fix anything in the long term.

Instead, to keep a relationship (again, on any level) alive, you have to invest in it.  Keep it fresh, positive, alive.  When most living things in this world go “stale”, they are dying or decaying.  The status of a relationship can be associated with that.  Individual lives can easily begin to feel stale and routine if they are not tended to, and it’s only natural that this will spill into the relationship if it’s not helping to fix the problem.  Comfort is a wonderful thing, but people lose their appreciation for all comfort all the time very quickly.  They get bored and take a good situation for granted.   But to keep it fresh, you have to have ideas, and those ideas come from real, deep communication.  I want to stress that though this absolutely applies to to romantic relationships, it is equally important in friendships and associates at work.  The best bosses are the ones that know who you are, where you want to be and allow you to be straightforward with them.  This helps keep them from taking you for granted.monday-quotes-gratitude-quotes-111

It’s easy to think “I just need to appreciate everything more, all the time!”  That’s absolutely right!  But it’s much, much harder than it sounds.  So while you’re reminding yourself to appreciate every little thing, actively to do things that help that appreciation happen naturally as well.  Change it up, try not to be bored (the world is too big!), and above all communicate so that you’re grateful to those around you that communicate back.  If you can do this and you’re still being taken for granted, then you might be in a toxic situation and you honestly might need to distance yourself.  But first, try, be the best you can be, do your part, be grateful for everything you can and see if maybe your appreciation will rub off on those around you.  Even if it doesn’t work for the relationship you want, it might just make some other great ones.