Saturday, December 29, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

The B.S. of the "Selfish" Label, or, "Do You!"

It's so darkly hilarious to me that we live in a society which, despite its purported valuing of "the individual" (especially in contrast with some Eastern cultures which purportedly value the collective), is so damn quick to demand conformity, and so damn quick to label non-conformist activities in service of personal fulfillment as "bad," somehow, or "selfish."

What the hell does that even mean? It's stupid, this bandied-about label of selfishness. Its misuse only serves to incite reluctance to take care of one's needs, and yes, to hold one's needs in the highest possible esteem -- and, God forbid, to put one's needs first, A-Numero-Uno, atop one's life priorities list. What's the problem with that? We've got this notion, reinforced by the myriad (ancient) social institutions which thrive on their adherents' subordination, that actions not involving self-sacrifice, subserviance, inattention to self, and even self-shaming, are "bad."

What's wrong with living one's life in freedom from the shackles of putting too much stock in others' opinions about how one OUGHT to live one's life? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no amoralist. We're social creatures, and we live in a society (as I've said before in this blog). We are, therefore, exposed to other's opinions and ways of life, and we will inevitably be strongly influenced by society-at-large. That's fine: it's natural, and it's good. Furthermore, there are certain core, near-universal human-rights-related values to which we have collectively agreed, and to which, therefore, we must adhere. For example, it's not okay to kill someone. It's not okay to steal other people's belongings. It's not okay to physically or psychologically abuse other people. Etc.

That leads me to my real point here. Namely, putting one's needs first, and maintaining a strong moral, socially responsible code of ethics, are NOT mutually exclusive; that is, we don't have to be all in one camp or all in the other. They can, and should, co-exist. Life, of course, requires some degree of sacrifice at times. But to persistently sacrifice one's identity, one's hopes and dreams, and one's senses of happiness, fulfillment, progress, and well-being in service of what other people want/expect/demand/hope of one is harmful -- on the individual and collective levels. It does nobody ANY good whatsoever, and it is, furthermore, madness. It is unnatural.

We are at our best when we feel good about what we're doing on a deep, personal level. We are at our best when we're "doing our thing," as only we know how. And I'll tell you what: if other people disapprove of that, or if they threaten to abandon you or leave you behind because you're daring to reclaim your well-being, then they are clearly on a path which is tangential to yours, and not parallel. Take the reins of your life -- of your life's purpose, as only you understand it -- back. Take back your power. "Do you," as the saying goes. By doing so, you will be freeing yourself to do what you probably hoped to do anyway by sacrificing yourself so fully: helping others along their journeys.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Have I written about forgiveness here? I think I've mentioned it, but I haven't really delved into it as a topic. I think this is a good time to start.

Forgiveness, both of others and of oneself, is one of those concepts that isn't often really explained or examined; it's taken for granted. You don't need to dig too deep into literature, spiritual/religious texts and sermons, or even conversations to hear about it; and yet, what is it, really? How does it work? How do I do it?

My take on it all is that, when it is discussed, forgiveness is often represented as a rather finite, cut-and-dried act, as if one simply forgives another person or oneself of a transgression, right then and there, and moves on. I don't think that really cuts the mustard, especially for the big stuff.

Coming back to those angst-addled questions above: I think the process of forgiveness is deeply personal, and largely undefinable in general terms. I think it's a messy, confusing process, featuring cycles of peace, conflict, progress, and regression, not necessarily in that order, and occurring, often, simultaneously. Our logical, conscious reasoning, as I'm sure you know, can be astonishingly out of step with our feelings -- in general, yes, but certainly while we're in the process of forgiving: we might be able to put the transgression(s) into perspective logically, grasping the fact that we should (beware that word) release it and put it behind us, but find ourselves angry, hurt, and ruminative nonetheless.


The thing about forgiveness, though, is that we can fuel its progress with our intention. If we continue to choose to seek forgiveness, we will find that we're ultimately moving in its direction. Perhaps one day the forgiver will find that something has "clicked," and that they have, in fact, utterly forgiven the transgression. Or perhaps it will remain a struggle that requires periodic fine-tuning and revisiting, sort of like how a car requires a tune-up every so often.

That latter example speaks to me. I find that the anguish of certain transgressions rear up in my heart sometimes, and require that I take a little time to accept my discomfort, give it a think, give it some compassion, and move on with my day.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Touchstone: "A Christmas Carol"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew, "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round-apart from... the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"'

--Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol"

Whether it's Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or another holiday you celebrate at this time of year, I hope it reminds you of the peace, love, and sense of brotherhood which dwells within us all, and unites us as a human family. For me, tonight, I am reminded that we are all connected by an unseen tapestry of love and beauty. I am honored to be part of this human family, and I am grateful to have the facility to say so. May you all have a blessed evening, and may you all enjoy this beautiful life with spirits renewed.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I'll throw my hat in the ring of this Mayan Apocalypse business. (Why not?) Many folks were anticipating some version or other of End of Days yesterday, featuring the snuffing-out of life on Earth as we know it, or some other, well, apocalyptic transmogrification, via alpha-meteors, earthquakes, volcanoes, strange and sudden shifts in our magnetic field, mass hysteria, etc. etc. (You know, "cats and dogs living together" kind of stuff. Horrible.) I'll admit that I, too, was curious to see what, if anything, happened -- not because I believed any of the items on that Disaster Laundry List were going to occur, but rather because so much had been made of that day; that is, so many people seemed to believe something was going to happen. That collective belief and anticipation carried a lot of power. And it got me thinking.

Our species, and life on earth as we know it, appear to have survived December 21st without incident. We can now forget about fiery Apocalypses, and luxuriate in the business of living without Imminent Fiery Doom hanging over our heads. But what if we took a second, harder look at ourselves, and decided that an apocalypse of sorts is, in fact, occurring -- if we want it to? What if we decided to undergo an apocalypse of meaning, understanding, and intention?

On one level, surviving an apocalypse should teach those of us who expected something to happen about, well, expectations. It is my belief that we should take note of our expectations, our attachments to them, and their influence on our psychology. Expectations, and the degree to which we put stock in, or ascribe truth to them, profoundly affect us. Furthermore, when our expectations go unfulfilled -- as in the case, perhaps, of a Mayan Apocalypse -- we should take note, and think a little about it.

Many of us expect the worst in a given situation, no? We expect "everything" (whatever that is) to fall apart; we expect the most painful, hideous things. Life involves pain and suffering at times, sure -- but beware of the words "everything" and "always." If you find yourself beholden to that always-everything mindset of negative expectations, I encourage you to start to actively seek and take note of the countless examples to the contrary which Life undoubtedly presents you.

I digress. My hidden point is to suggest that we can always seek to change our perspective. We can always seek to transform the way we look at the world, or the way we filter life's events through our perspectives. We can do this on an individual and collective level. And we can use life's events, even a Mayan Apocalypse, to propel us into our personal transformations.

Nobody says it better than Joseph Campbell:

Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. Our divided, schizophrenic worldview, with no mythology adequate to coordinate our conscious and unconscious -- that is what is coming to an end. The exclusivism of there being only one way in which we can be saved, the idea that there is a single religious group that is in sole possession of the truth -- that is the world as we know it that must pass away. What is the kingdom? It lies in our realization of the ubiquity of the divine presence in our neighbors, in our enemies, in all of us. — Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p. 107

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Habits and Passion

A 9-to-5 work schedule -- or any work schedule, for that matter -- can leave one feeling drained, and as if there is no time in the day for oneself. Given that discomfort, it is no wonder, then, that many people slip into a comfortable routine that helps them manage their stress and fatigue. Let me be clear about what reads as a critical undertone in that last sentence: I don't think there is anything wrong with a comfortable routine, in and of itself. It is important to find balance, and if vegging out at the end of the day helps a person achieve that balance, well, Mazel Tov.

As I've mentioned, however, behavior exists on a continuum; and what begins as benign actions and routines can quickly become habits. Again, I don't think there's anything wrong with habits in and of themselves: we all have them, and many of them serve our well-being. The nature of habits, however, is that they are automatic; i.e., we don't have to think critically about them -- we just do them. And because they are automatic, and because we are all busy, the potential exists to coast along rather thoughtlessly for days, weeks, months, and even years at a time without taking a look at whether those habits still serve us.

The aforementioned habit or routine of comfort, then, can be problematic, especially if it persists at the expense of a person's sense of vitality and fulfillment. To wit, I worry about people who spend all day working in unsatisfying jobs, and all evening pursuing mindless activities that are designed to be comfortable and passive. I worry about this, because I believe we are designed to do more than that. We need to earn a living, to be sure, and not everyone is necessarily going to work in their dream job. But each and every one of us is creative. Each and every one of us has deep, even hidden, interests: things that captivate us, ignite our curiosity, energize us, and bring us to life.

My hope, then, is that we all find ways to integrate our creative interests into our routines. Such interests, passions, or whatever you want to call them, are the vitality of our souls. They make us human. They help us to connect with ourselves and others, and to live fulfilling lives. So if this resonates with you, maybe take a critical look at your comfort zones, and give yourself a few minutes of your routine to fan the flames of your interests. This is your life -- go out and live it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Taking my(your)self too damn seriously

I know I certainly do. It's easy for me -- it's my wheelhouse, even -- to take myself so damn seriously. Too damn seriously. A human life features experiences of so many different varieties, and a lot of them are mundane, silly, confusing, sloppy, or absurd. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was, "You've got to live life on different levels, Nate, you know?" (Thanks, Dad.) He told me that because I tend to default to deep and thoughtful. That's fine, because it's a big part of who I am. But I sometimes miss out on a lot of life -- that is, a lot of what's happening around me -- because I'm so immersed in my own seriousness that I can't step into, yeah, maybe a shallower way of being. I must have decided a long time ago -- pretty sure I did, actually -- that Shallow = Bad; Deep Thinking/Seriousness = Good. It's just not true, not as axiom, anyway. It's all about the context, the situation: some situations call for seriousness, and others call for silliness. Some situations call for humor, and thoughtlessness, and selfishness. And all of life calls for LIVING, which naturally entails making some damn mistakes.

So, right here and now, I'm reminding myself -- and I invite you to participate -- to take a step back from Serious Gulley, and just enjoy the damn ride. Enjoy the damn ride. Enjoy this absurd, hilarious ride. :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

James Altucher: Fear of the Future

There isn't much I can add -- James says it all. (And very succinctly, I might add.) If you're interested in hearing about being present (here and now), your goals, prosperity, and attitudes, check this out:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Befriend Yourself

Be a friend to yourself. Actually, be your own best friend. Give yourself the patience, support, acknowledgment, attention, positive regard, and love that others may not always be able to give you.  Befriend the parts of yourself you wish didn't exist, or those you try to avoid, or to push away. Be a compassionate mentor to yourself, and seek information, support, peace, and imagination. Seek life, in other words. We all feel the fear of uncertainty at times -- maybe even much of the time. But we can move through it, if we can only trust ourselves to do so. And to do so, we must be our own staunchest friend and ally.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

More Hamlet; The Dance of Consciousness

The slings and arrows of the external world are nothing in comparison with the demons within. Our beliefs, assumptions of reality, and impressions, all at the subconscious level, give birth to our thoughts, which in turn either soothe or torture us. Our subconscious has a direct influence on the shape and feel of our lives. It tells us what we can and cannot do; it limits us or sets us free. To live the life we want, we must each find a way to allow the dust of our conscious minds to settle -- for who can see clearly through a storm? Indeed, we must allow our conscious minds to settle into the bedrock of our unknowable spirit; and we must trust that our spirit will lead us into the promised land, so to speak, if we do so. And thus, we will become alchemists in our own right, conjuring our consciousness into the form and dance of our spirits.