If We Were Having Coffee // A New Normal to Get Used To

Hello dear readers. Welcome, happy Sunday, and thank you for stopping by for a bit of coffee and catching up. I’m in my usual Sunday panic dashing around the house trying to get everything ready for the work week and feeling guilty that more time won’t be spent enjoying what time I get to myself.

It’s like the weekend is all of Friday night and Saturday and Sundays are just pre-work days. Your body may get to be home, but your mind is on tomorrow and already feeling the first twinges of anxiety and longing for your next day off. Sigh, at least the sun is shining, and you are here, and there is coffee to brighten the mood, yes?

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup”

― Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that last week was my first back to work since Spring Break and of course, as always, I was thrown into some last-minute, and extensive, schedule changes. We ended up having a class of new employees start, and I ended up working overtime to train them. I’m wasn’t at all happy about it either. I was feeling grouchy and down, worried and restless the whole week.

It wasn’t a particularly large class or difficult compared to any in the past, I just wasn’t feeling all that great, and I had so much else I would rather have been doing. I think the unstable weather contributed to my bad mood too. We’d have days that felt like summer was just around the corner, plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, and some days we were plunged back into winter with snow and temperatures near freezing. It’s exhausting.

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I had a hard conversation with my doctor. My health has been declining again, and I think she’s a little peeved at me for not listening to her nearly a year ago and switching my medications. It’s hard though when you are teetering between “not quite what you were but feeling okay” and “extreme fatigue, pain, and a host of other alarming symptoms.” It’s hard to know when what you are doing isn’t working when you don’t know what your new normal is, you know?

So, now I will have some new medication, new side effects to watch for, and a new normal to get used to. I’m so thankful for the support and understanding of my fiance, my family, and my friends. I’m thankful for their willingness to listen, to check in on me, and to make me do all the things I don’t want to do. I’m thankful they are willing to put up with my whining and my frustration. They are more patient with me than I am with myself.

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this week I had a scare. I almost lost someone who means a lot to me, and who I had been taking for granted for too long.

My grandmother was rushed to the hospital early last week with chest pain they found was caused by a tear in an artery. She endured some 6 or 8 hours of open heart surgery and came out ready to begin her recovery. I went to visit her and was so inspired by her resilience and her sense of humor and love for me. She asked me to come around more and to get her pictures of my girlfriend and I, and I promised her I would.

I realized that she is where I come from and she holds a ton of knowledge about my past and my family. She holds all the secrets and stories. I found myself panicked worrying that if I were to lose her, I would lose the answers to so many questions I haven’t had the chance or the courage to ask.

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If we were having coffee I would tell you that because of work, and my health, and my moods, and my panic, I fell behind on my A to Z posts, but I’m very close to catching up.

I know that most people write their posts well in advance of the challenge, but I had been hoping to cultivate a daily blogging habit starting with this challenge. I thought beginning with a theme and having at least an idea for each post might help. It might also help if I wasn’t so wordy and long-winded. Hopefully, that will get better with time.

I have worked out a few kinks and settled into a flow, and I have learned how to write first and edit later, though it is a lesson I have to keep learning again and again. I’m writing every day and scheduling my posts for the next. That doesn’t feel too much like cheating.

Unfortunately, any hope I had of an easier week to write in have already been dashed though I still think I’ll be able to keep the overtime in check. I may fall behind a few times before the end of this month, but I am not for a second entertaining the idea of giving up.

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If we were having coffee I would tell you the best news of all, this week is my birthday week! And this birthday is an extra special one, this year my birthday falls on a Friday. This year my birthday falls on a Friday the 13th. I’ve been waiting so many years for this one, and I’ve decided to get a new tattoo to mark the occasion.

Many of the tattoo shops around me do Friday the 13th tattoo specials in which you choose a pre-drawn piece of flash to adorn your body with for only $13 (or $31, or $62, or some other flat rate). I have a tattoo or two I’ve gotten spontaneously on a Friday the 13th just for the fun of it, and this year won’t be any different. I’ve already scouted the offerings from some local shops, and I think I’ve settled on one that feels right.

As for the rest of my plans, We’ll go out to lunch, we’ll cook a special dinner at home. I’m hoping for crab legs and a good bottle of wine. A close friend’s birthday falls the next day so Saturday will be the night for hard partying and Sunday will be spent in recovery. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

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If we were having coffee, I would tell you that the day is wearing on and I have at least two more posts to write before the day ends, plus laundry and dinner, not to mention the afternoon nap I hope to squeeze in.

Thank you again for stopping by. I was in greater need of the caffeine and conversation than I knew. I hope your week was productive and your weekend peaceful. I hope Spring has found you wherever you are, and you have found time to enjoy some sun.

Until next time.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the #WeekendCoffeeShare link-up hosted by Eclectic Alli

Photo by Izzy Rivi on Unsplash

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Fear

“Man goes constantly in fear of himself.”

— Georges Bataille

Human fear is ancient. It speaks in the tongues of ancestors we wouldn’t recognize and keeps alive by the old ways we no longer understand. 

Fear is the oldest part of us. Humans survive by fear. We came together because of fear. We fought, massacred, and enslaved one another and then plundered and destroyed nature all because we were afraid. We found religion and our we found our courage because of fear. This world is a cruel and confusing place, our fear led us to remove ourselves from what was dark and dangerous, and to make a new world in our image, and still, we are haunted by our fear. 

We’ve been on a journey to conquer fear but in all the wrong ways. We strive to rid the world of fear rather than to face what terrifies us. Humans have forgotten that fear was once regarded as a kind of wisdom, now we see only weakness, and feel only contempt. Our fears have been regulated to the parts of the mind we no longer listen to and so our terrors manifest in strange ways in the new world. We no longer know what exactly it is we are afraid of, only that where ever we go there is the threat of danger, of suffering, and of loss.

“The amygdala is the part of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear. It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. So potent is the amygdala’s response to potential threats that once turned on, it’s almost impossible to shut off, and this is a problem in the modern world.”

Peter Diamandis

We fear our own fear foremost and go to great lengths to avoid it. Fear is an unpleasant emotion, it’s completely understandable. At the first sign of pain, emotional or physical, we learn the first lesson, do not do that again. Do not go near anything that looks like that, that makes you feel like that, that can remotely be linked or lead to pain like that. A hot stove, a knife in an outlet, a car accident, a heartbreak, an assault, a movie scene, the death of a loved one, and so much more. Fear erects boundaries and restricts you from your own life all in the name of keeping you and the ones you love safe.

Fear has no other purpose.

It is rare that fear is a positive force in the human life. Fear seems to bring out the very worst in us. It forces us into a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, or fall. Fear draws us in, warps desire, and hijacks the ego. You become a primitive version of yourself, ignorant, resentful, trapped. You lash out, you blame, you become suspicious. Sometimes you become delusional and see enemies where there are none and wish to strike out before you have to strike back. We fear suffering, pain, and loss but what does that mean in a world where our needs are now are so easily met ad we are so far from becoming meals for animals bigger and faster than us. What we are afraid of now no longer looks the way it did when the amygdala was being formed.

The parts of our brains that process fear do not understand statistics or proportion. This is why we hate to fly in planes but drive cars. This is why some of can’t drive cars at all. This is why we manipulate one another and fight wars based on the flimsiest of differences. We are seeking out things to fear now, new dangers and horrors to escape from and there is no shortage.

Like desire, fear can be hijacked. It is to the benefit of government and economy to keep you in a perpetual state of panic. You fear are prayed and played up to keep you under control, to keep you working, and to keep you consuming. This is not a conspiracy theory. It isn’t personal, and I don’t believe it is even intentional or conscious for most public figures or companies. We are only doing what works to make a living and keep the peace, but we are approaching a society so full of fear that no one is able to fully live their lives anymore.

“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Most things we fear we’ve never seen, but we can imagine all the worst things in our minds day and night. Fear grows in the unknown and thrives in the imagination. We fear most what we cannot control and the more we try to protect ourselves the more fearful we become. Fear follows right behind us as fast as we can run gaining strength and power.

In the last year or two, maybe more, maybe my whole life on some level, I have suffered from intense death anxiety. I’ve spent countless nights wide awake wondering if this day was my last. I worried when I might die and how. I worried about leaving my loved ones behind, or worse, them dying and leaving me behind instead. I was afraid never to see my girlfriend again. I laid awake worried I had been wrong, and hell was real, or reincarnation, or something darker. What is there was nothing but darkness, loneliness, and the mind going slowly insane for eternity?

The thoughts started to creep up on me during the day while I worked, while I cooked, while I sat talking with my girlfriend. I would think “what if I died right now?” and I would be in a panic all over again. So I did something that seemed to make no sense, I downloaded an app that reminded me 5 times a day that I was going to die and shared a bit of wisdom from a historical figure or book.

Five times a day, Every day for months now I have clicked a notification that says “Hey, don’t forget you are going to die,” and you know what happened? I stopped lying awake at night in terror. The thoughts stopped intruding while I was just trying to live my life. I took control of my fear. Instead of trying to avoid it, which was making it worse, I found validation and let myself feel it, and it lost its power.

I have other fears too. I have a driving phobia. Last month my girlfriend went out of town, and I was forced through my anxiety to drive myself where I needed to go. I’m still somewhat scared, but I’ve gained confidence by leaps and bounds. I see my fear for what it is, and I know now for a fact I am stronger than it. When I am afraid, I ask myself what the worst case might be and what would happen to me. If someone I love dies, I will be sad. If I lose my job, I will find another. If I am afraid of war, or terrorism, or sinkholes, or the earth escaping the gravitational pull of the sun, I tell myself I will survive.

Fear is part of who we are, and like all things human it is better to accept it, explore it, and, as humans do, conquer it. Better to make it your friend. Better to give it space to exist in your life. You can’t escape it anyway.

In between everything you want to do and the things you find yourself doing instead is fear. The things you think about before you drift off to sleep, the thoughts that come to you without prompt and set your heart racing, face them. Think about them, write about them, talk about them, immerse yourself in your fears, find their source and you will find out who you truly are.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

— Marie Curie

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging ChallengeLetter F under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

Ego

“That which comes and goes, rises and sets, is born and dies is the ego.”

― Ramana Maharshi

Existing as a human being requires navigating not only the dangerous landscape of nature but the complex and challenging labyrinth of human society and culture. We have to be able to find our place in time, in this world and the hierarchy of humans. When your mind makes a map of the world around you with all the people and all the object and concepts that exist the ego is the big red dot that signals “you are here!”.

We have to be able to remember and anticipate, plan and execute, make friends, make war, make families, and governments. We have to be able to fit in, and we have to be able to lie. All of this requires a sense of who we are relative to everything we aren’t. We require a sense of continuity with ourselves despite our changing bodies and nature. We require the ego self.

Think of the self as an onion the ego is composed of the outer third or so of layers. It is your identity. It is who you tell people you are, who you tell yourself you are. For most of us, it’s our job, our nationality, our race, gender, sexual orientation, and marital status. It’s your culture and your upbringing. It’s how much power we wield and how much we much we must yield to others.

It’s your favorite movie genre, your hobbies, your dreams, and aspirations. It is your memories and who you love. It is who and what we hate and who and what we fight for. It is who you speak of when you say “I am…” and the answer to the question “Who am I?”. It is where you consciously see and experience the world from, and it is what people consciously experience of you too.

The ego is what endures. It is why you can look at a picture of yourself as a baby or remember your favorite cartoon as a kid or your first love in high school and know that person is the same one that you are now. It is why you can picture yourself in the future and feel a connection. The ego is the person you know best and the part of yourself you have the best chance of understanding, though few of us do.

“If a man thinks he is not conceited, he is very conceited indeed.”

― C.S. Lewis

To most of us, the ego is a bad thing. We think of the egocentric, egotistical, the egomaniac, the selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, arrogant, and vain. We think of the conceited types who treat the rest of us as if we were only minor characters in their great story. We are just a means to their ends.

Then again, aren’t we all a little conceited? Aren’t we all naturally self-absorbed, self-servicing, and vain. Of course we are, how could we not be? Isn’t the world around us just setting and the people plot devices, minor characters, and extras?

Everything you think, do, and say is about you, even the things you tell yourself aren’t. We’re all more than a little narcissistic. We’re all completely self-absorbed. Conceit is our truth. It is our reality. We have a natural and inevitable obsession with the self because ours is the only perspective we can see from. We are the main character of the story. The reason the story exists. We are each the dead center of the universe. Conceit is common and completely understandable.

I mean, none of us can be truly sure that other people really exist the way that we do. How do I know you feel and think as deeply as me? I do I know I’m really not the center of the universe? From this perspective, all evidence tells me that I am.

“Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.”

― John Lennon

Our egos are inflated, not some egos, all egos. The ego, you, are in incessant need of soothing and stroking. You are a baby and a beast, spoiled and raging deep down. You don’t always show it, but it is in you. The ego’s job is to help you contain it, mask it, and direct it, but you are always putting yourself first.

Our egos may be large, but they are also deceptively weak. Which means we are weak and at the whim of it cowardice. The ego functions best when functions unnoticed. The ego is a liar. It masks itself. It shapeshifts and gaslights. It’s a slippery thing. It blends in and hides in plain sight. It tricks us into becoming someone we may not really be in order to fulfill our deeper desires.

For most of us, the self is cobbled together from bits and pieces of our parents, our friends, media, culture, and religion. It’s made without our input or direction. We never put much thought into what we are made of, and as a result, many of us are made simply of suffering, superstition, anger, and fear.

Most of us are made of weak egos, a weak sense of the self, and an identity that is unstable. We don’t know our place in this world, and we don’t know who we are. We avoid challenging situations and loath to change. Reality can be hard to cope with for the weak ego.

“Humility is, in a sense, admitting how egotistical you are.”

― Criss Jami, Killosophy

But to strengthen the ego feels wrong. To be consciously self-obsessed feels wrong, but remember you already are all about you may as well admit it and control it. A strong and healthy ego isn’t the same as having an over-inflated ego. A strong ego is the sum of a reasonable amount of self-esteem, a strong drive to examine and know the self, and to present a true image of the self to the world with courage.

A strong ego can accept reality readily. The strong ego can control and shape the self and offer peace and stability. Having a strong sense of self and a solid knowledge of who you requires a great deal of humility. A strong ego-self means accepting the reality that you are both the main character and an extra in the background of another person’s universe.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging ChallengeLetter E under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

 

Desire

“All suffering originates from craving, from attachment, from desire.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

We are born, and then we die, and in between, we desire.

Desire is in all of us. The desire for food and water, the desire for health, the desire for love, family, and community, for a home, the desire for beauty, for knowledge, for money, success, and fame that lasts beyond our days. We desire power and control. We desire perfection.

We desire to be good, and sometimes we desire to be bad too. We desire the bodies of others, the lives of others, to be other than what we are. We desire pain upon the ones who have wronged us. We desire the destruction of those who possess what we desire most.

We desire people, things, and results. We crave, we covet, we yearn, and we long for. We are desperate. We’re excited by the very thought of having our hearts desire. Our every move is to be nearer to the thing we want most. We wish, we hope we toil, plot, and scheme endlessly, and we are never fulfilled.

There is none among us who can say they are beyond desire. Even the enlightened had to desire to move beyond such base needs as these to attain such a state, and for this reason, I believe we all, even the so-called enlightened, suffer in this world.

To be human is to live with a black hole of need inside of you that can never be filled. This is simply who we are. We want more than another other creature on this planet, and this is why we have come so far, conquered so much, and destroyed everything we have touched. Not even the best of us can say they are utterly beyond the owning and devouring of their home and their fellow humans. Each of us has felt some incessant need, and each of us has headed its call.

Each of us has suffered for it too.

“Why was I holding on to something that would never be mine? But isn’t that what people do?”

― Bret Easton Ellis, Lunar Park

To want is not inherently bad. Desire wakes us up, it moves us to imagine and act, but desire without thought, self-control, or direction can mean disaster. We have good and bad desires, and the pursuit of fulfillment is a positive and negative too.

We may long for a world with more peace, justice, and prosperity of all humans. We may desire awareness, equality, and wisdom for ourselves and others. We may desire that other people will have what they desire and that what they desire might be as positive too, but wanting is still wanting, and the world, for good or bad, will always fall short and leave us frustrated, anxious, and depressed.

Desire denied is the cause of suffering but desire denied is simply our reality. In all our longing and dreaming we never stop to consider the inherent imperfection and impermanence of reality.

What you want just does not exist. The woman you want, she has flaws. The relationship you long for will be fraught with disagreement and misunderstanding. That job won’t pay you enough and will ask more of you than you will have to give. That house will fall apart, and you will find you hate yard work. Your children will not love nor respect you as much as you wish. Something will always be missing. Some part of your world will not live up to what you had imagined it would be, and you will go on trying to get it. You won’t be able to stop yourself.

Even if for a moment you get ahold of what you desire you will still be left unsatisfied because everything is always changing. The world changes, we change, the things own, control, and covet change too. Nothing is permanent, consistent, or fixed. Nothing lasts exactly as it is in any moment and your failure to accept this fact leads to your frustration and sorrow. Life changes and your desires must change with it. You will not have everything you want and what you will have will not be as you want it.

So how do you find peace? How do you let go of all this wanting? The short answer, you can’t. The long answer, desire is always in you, but it is nothing to repress or be ashamed of. Desire is in you for a reason. To be human is to want. You should not want to rid yourself of desire, you should want to observe, understand, and direct it.

“It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.”

― Aristotle, Politics

It is beneficial for human survival that desire be put, for the most part, beyond consciousness. The body needs the mind to work for it, for food, for water, for shelter, for family and community, and desire is what keeps us working. Desire makes machines of us. If the mind cannot easily stop wanting it can’t easily stop achieving and in turn benefitting the biological needs. Evolution found a way to trick us all by giving us a drive we couldn’t turn off and if we tried we would feel uneasy, bored, depressed, useless, and stressed.

Sometimes we want things we cannot understand. The meaning and origin of the goals we set often beyond our comprehension and control. We can have desires we aren’t even aware of and act to fulfill needs and achieve goals that make no sense to us. Worse still, our desires can be manipulated. Our desires for love, happy homes, attention, belonging, and material things are twisted, warped, and redirected every day by politicians, social media companies, and ad agencies. Wherever we go want are told to want something but no matter where we turn, by natures accident or by human design we are taunted and never given release or peace.

Desire denied or unfulfilled makes us feel unsettled, uncomfortable, and often, angry. Who hasn’t lashed out or acted in cruel or shameful ways to get what they wanted. What compromises have you made with your soul and with society to fulfill your desires? What have you done to others and let them do to you to fill a need? What do you give up, what do you put yourself through? What have you pretended to be? Who among us can say they haven’t operated under less than honorable standards to manipulate or force a person, an object, or an outcome?

“Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”

― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Still, I reject that all desire is detrimental. Desire is what got us this far. What is detrimental is desire unchecked, desire undirected, and desire misplaced. I say only that you must choose your desires wisely.

Work to understand your desires and be aware of the price you pay to chase them. Consider what you might be missing about the objects, people, and an outcome you yearn for and ask yourself what flaws, unforeseen stresses, and frustrations might come with achievement. Ask yourself why you want what you want and what benefit anyone might have in convincing you that you want it?

Most of all, be aware that being human means never being satisfied. Humans want what they can’t have and in their quest devour and destroy everything they live including what they progress to love and long for, including themselves, but the truth is, the desire to live without desires is futile.

Freedom from desire is not possible, and even if it were, it might not be what you want. Wanting is part of who we are, and attachment is key to our happiness. To stop desiring would require you to cut yourself off from your humanity. It is through longing and wanting that we strive to be better, build better, and learn all that we can. Your desires do not make you weak or evil. Your desires give your life meaning and lead you through growth to wisdom. Your search for happiness—no matter how futile—is what your life is made of.

“Though surely to avoid attachments for fear of loss is to avoid life.”

― Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

 

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter D under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Choice

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre

We are alive, though we’d rather not feel so. We are our bodies, though we’d rather not be so. We have free-will, though we’d rather not act so.

Humans posssess the gift of choice, but we’ve been cursed with linear time, memory, humiliation, and regret all working against us. It’s hard to choose when you might make a mistake, and it’s hard to make a mistake when you can’t go back. It’s easier to go with the flow, let fate take its course, let Jesus take the wheel, and let people made of stronger stuff than you choose the course. Better to simply forget you ever had a choice in the first place, right?

Most of our choices are considered arbitrary or unimportant. What color shirt to wear, what to have for dinner tonight, read a book or watch a movie, coffee or tea, text back or not. We make those without thinking much. These choices are more like habits and are made without us even being conscious of them, but too often we make our big choices this way too.

We do what we are used to, what is easy, what everyone else is doing or expects us to do. The jobs we take, the things we buy, the debt we rack up, the friends we make, the way we vote, the way we raise our kids, the way we treat people, the way we let people treat us, these are just a few of the choices people make every day without a conscious thought. And every day we lie to ourselves and say “that’s just the way it is. I have no choice”.

The truth is there is always a choice and only you can make it, or not, and no matter what you decide, or don’t, you are responsible.

Sometimes both options cause you pain, sure. Sometimes the pressure of biology, psychology, or society is too great, sure. Sometimes it is your own fear that is getting in the way. Sometimes you feel too connected to family or faith to see a choice but look closer, look here it hurts, where there is shame, where the unthinkable exists, and you’ll see there is most certainly is. There is always a choice.

I’m not talking about the legal definition of freedom or freedom from morality, what I’m talking about goes beyond all that. I am talking about you recognizing that you are free no matter what anyone tells you. No one can reduce you to one course. Even when the choice is life and death, you still have a choice.

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”

― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

A friend of mine, J, once told me a story in which another friend of his was lamenting over her station in life. She was sad that she had been so unlucky and had gotten pregnant and become a single mother while she was young. She hadn’t been able to finish high school, go to college, or work in a field that paid better wages and now she was struggling. While J was sympathetic to her situation, he didn’t see her as entirely blameless in it.

She had made choices that led her along the path she’d lived. She’d chosen not to use protection when she and her boyfriend became sexually active. She’d chosen to have her baby and to keep her baby. She’d chosen not to seek help from the father through the court system or other means. She’d chosen not to pursue her education, even part-time. She’d chosen not to seek help from friends, family, or social programs. She may have been impacted by family, society, education, and peer pressures, but she’d had some choices. He told her all this, and she couldn’t accept it.

Granted, this probably wasn’t a good time for J to inform his friend of her responsibility and blame, but in his defense, he thought he was helping. He thought he could show her that at any time she could take control of her life and change things. He wanted to show her that she’d had a choice all along and still did, she only needed to make it. He thought she would understand and maybe even thank him. Instead, she lashed out.

I believe at that moment his friend was confronted with anguish and anxiety. She was faced with guilt and regret and shame. Her choices had been hard ones, I’m sure, and she had been afraid too, I’m sure, and my guess is she found it easier to choose not to make them. Then she convinced herself that all of her choices had been taken from her.

We all do this. We lie to avoid regret. We lie because we are lazy. We lie to hide our cowardice, our weak wills, and our mistakes from ourselves. We give away our free agency because we’d rather do what is easy and never have to deal with what we should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve when there no chance to change it.

“To be or not to be. God’s gift to animals is they don’t get a choice.”

― Chuck Palahniuk, Zombie

A few weeks I watched an episode of Hate Thy Neighbor in which a Christian “hate preacher Ruben Israel” spreads intolerance and homophobia in the guise of helping his fellow man reach heaven. Every time his sermon was rejected he would announce that “a choice had been made” to put the onus of future damnation back on the condemned.

Of course, I don’t agree with this man’s message—me being a gay myself—but the phrase tickled me. At first, I went around repeating it to make a mockery of the man, but I grew to like it after a while. Every time I said it I saw clearly that I had indeed made a choice and the more I saw the choices I made, the more I could see opportunities in which I could make more choices, and it has been liberating, exciting, and terrifying.

Now that I can see it, I can’t stop seeing it. In my head, I hear a running monologue of choices I am making all the time.

(I’m choosing to write this now, to write about this now. I’m choosing to write from my phone because I did not choose to write this last night. I am choosing not to be upset about that and to continue writing these posts the day of because the pressure helps me think and a daily habit helps me grow.)

I’m not saying you always have the choices you want or that it’s easy to make choices. I’m not saying your choices aren’t limited by your surroundings, your upbringing, your education level, how much money you have or need, where you live—when you live—the color of your skin, or your gender. I’m simply saying you have at least two options at every moment. I’m saying you have some say in the course of your life and some responsibility for where it has been. I’m saying you need to harden your will, wake up your mind, let go of what you must and take control of what you can.

I’m saying you must give up this illusion that you are trapped and powerless.

Something can always be done. We may be denied any do-overs. We may he asked to make choices before we know better. We may make choices and then change our minds and find ourselves in a world we regret, but the ability to choose is worth it. You may not be able to go back there is always another move you can make. They can never pin you down or take away your freedom. You have to choose to give it away. Luckily, you can always choose to take it back.

Freedom of the mind and will is something that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We have the power to examine our base instincts and harmful patterns and override them if we choose. We have the power to choose our fate and with lives so short and time moving so fast, why would you ever—no matter how terrible or difficult it is—want to give that up?

“Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter C under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Body

“I’m literally always looking at my reflection not because I’m conceited but because I just think it feels kind of strange to have a physical form and I’m constantly trying to process who and what I am.”

zygoats

When I ask who you are, how might you answer? I would wager you might tell me your name, what you do for a living, list your likes and dislikes, your political leanings and your moral absolutes. You might tell me about your personality and about your spirit, but what would you say of your body? Do you consider it to be part of who you are? Maybe I should ask what you are you instead?

Do you believe in a soul? Do you believe it exists before, after, and apart from the body? Are you a body with a mind, or a mind with a body? I do not believe in a soul, and I do not believe I am more than the matter I am made of, and science seems to agree. Even the Gods who made us in their image of arose out of mere human brain matter themselves.

Without a frontal lobe, the limbic system, the pituitary gland, the thumbs, and even the gut flora, we wouldn’t recognize ourselves. If any part of the body had been different, you would be different. What you are may go beyond what can be touched or seen, but you are still made from matter. This matter is where your choices are directed, where your memories are kept, where your needs and pain are felt, and where your personality is shaped. Matter imagines the self, and that self is made to serve the body. The spirit was conjured to paint the prison into a paradise.

Even the intelligence we hold so dear and take so much pride in is nothing but well-placed neurons and our emotions merely coordinated releases of hormones. The soul is an electrical signal and a chemical reaction firmly rooted in the physical world. You are not just in your body, you are only your body.

“Body is a home, a prison and a grave.”

― James Runcie, The Colour Of Heaven

None of us wants to be made of mud and air. None of us wants to be reduced to DNA and hormones. None of us want to be chained to a sad sack of meat and bones, and we surely don’t want to be dragged back to mud with it when it’s ceased functioning. So we ignore the body, compartmentalize who we are from what we hate and what we hate to be so limited. We hate to be so fragile and easily broken.

The immortal and transcendent soul has not been shown to exist, and when science deemed it unnecessary to our understanding of the mind, we needed a new illusion we placed ourselves at the top of the animal kingdom and announced we were the aim of the evolutionary arrow. We are biology at it’s best.

Look at this body, your body, any body at all. You think that is the peak of evolutionary excellence? Hardly! The human body made of “good enough” solutions. From the size of our skulls to the bones in your feet, you are made of weak points and inefficiencies. The knees are easily injured, the spine is stupid, each of our eyes contains a blind spot, your teeth are crowded, you can die if you don’t time breathing and swallowing right, and so much more. Your body is prone to problems and always aging. It was designed by chance with no forethought or care for the quality of human life. It’s a disappointment.

Worse, its delicate design is the end of us all. The truth is you are tied to something that is dying. You can prolong the inevitable with maintenance, medication, and mindfulness, but you cannot live forever. The smartest, most empathetic, prosperous, self-aware, and free among us will all be dragged, kicking and screaming, to nothingness right along with the body.

Death is not a being or a state that comes for you, death resides in your bones, in your heartbeat, in every cell of your body that is obliterated and replaced, obliterated and replaced, a little further from perfect every time. Eventually, the body just breaks down, from the bones in the feet to the lungs, to the limbic system, and everywhere else. The body is where you were born, it’s kept you alive, and it is where you will end. You will never leave this place.

“The body is the outermost layer of the mind.”

― David Mitchell, number9dream

But, for all its poor design and problems, isn’t just a prison, it’s our freedom too. The hips, knee, and ankle may be inefficient and fragile, but those bones carried humans all across the globe. Our opposable thumbs made tools and technology possible. Our large skull makes for painful childbirth, but the frontal lobe is worth it. We love with our bodies, we fight with our bodies, we feel heartbreak, loneliness, and fear in our bodies. The body is the boundary of your being and the interface through which you exist and interact with the world.

The human body is capable of many wondrous things but it has its limits, and the body’s limits, no matter how much you resist, no matter how much you fight, are your limits too. You cannot exchange it, and you cannot replace it. You may live in blissful ignorance for a time. You may even conquer it for a time, through rigorous workout and extreme discipline. You may take advantage of technology and surgery and mold it for a time to your vision of perfection but the fact remains and that facts catch up. You are limited to this space and resigned to the physical world, and it’s laws.

We are not beyond mere matter. We are trapped within the physical relm. We have limits, both in quality and quality of life that are set by the body, but there is freedom and great privilege in this body too. Realizing our limitations and your dependence on mere matter can be a hard reality to swallow, but doing so will help you face what is to come. You will get hurt. You will get sick. You will age. You will have to care for your body, for yourself, with acceptance and compassion.

The mind may recover some power, but care must be taken. Compassion and cooperation with the body are crucial. You will have to be patient, understanding, and ready for the body’s disappointments and betrayals. You must understand that what it goes through, so too, will you. You must accept that the body may die before the mind is ready, but the mind will still be taken too. You cannot separate the two.

Your body may not be what you wished it to be but is a prize to cherish. It has taken you this far and will surely take you further still. It has given you an identity and a universe all your own and shown you all you are capable of. Your body is a gift as much as it is a coffin, and you would do well to see it, and yourself, as both.

“Having a body is in itself the greatest threat to the mind… The body encloses the mind in a fortress; before long the mind is besieged on all sides, and in the end the mind has to give itself up.”

― Marcel Proust

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter B under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence” 

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Alive

“How wonderful to be alive, he thought. But why does it always hurt?”

― Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

The first condition of being a human being is, of course, being alive. Some humans were once alive, but are not now, some aren’t yet, but will be one day, but all of us will have been in this world physically, and mentally.

Being alive and consciously feeling alive are two different things. Many of us are alive but don’t put much thought into it. We follow the prompts and live life according to a script but never stop to consider what a strange thing it is to be a freely moving agent made of meat and bone with a self-contained inside who is capable of choosing things, imagining things, making things, and reflecting on its own existence and meaning.

We don’t like to feel alive it because the fact reminds us that we once weren’t, and eventually we won’t be. Being alive means time is running out. We don’t like to feel it because it’s confusing and terrifying to find yourself to be so awake and aware. You are a moving and breathing and thinking thing, but what are you? Why are you? You have all these sensations, warm, cold, hungry, tired, wanting. You have hands that grasp, eyes that see, and parts that you can’t see that do things that you can’t understand or control.

What are you?

“creatures smart enough and unlucky enough to have figured out we’re alive, and we’re going to die without ever knowing any purpose. We can pretend all we want and we can wish all we want, but that basic existential fact remains—we can’t know.”

― James Redfield, The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision

We don’t understand how we could come from chemicals and dirt and still feel so fierce and full of light. How does a heartbeat come from carbon and water? How does love come from DNA and oxygen? How can an I come out of gray matter and neurons? And where do we go when those parts stop working? We know we will no longer be so awake and aware, but where will we be?

Why must we be burdened with such knowledge, curiosity, and awareness, huh? No other animal seems to know or care whether they are alive or not so why should we? Why, even when we try to forget and live as best, we can, do these questions and uncertainties creep up on us while sitting at a red light or in the middle of the night when all we need is sleep. Why must our peace be so disturbed and why must I remind you now that you do know that you are alive, even if you don’t know what that means exactly, and that you do know that you are wasting your privilege by ignoring it and refusing to face it.

I know you don’t like to feel so alive or to examine the related implications associated with your condition. I know you’d rather not spend so much time facing that confusion and horror, but it’s time you did, and did so often.

“The human heart beats approximately 4,000 times per hour and each pulse, each throb, each palpitation is a trophy engraved with the words ‘you are still alive.’ You are still alive. Act like it.”

Rudy Francisco

Rocks exist. Dogs exist. The moon the wind, and theory of relativity exist, but they do not feel like we do. They do not know they exist the way that we do. Our existence is something we fear, celebrate, and grieve for. Our hearts swell at the reminder, and then quickly contracts from our fragility, our transience, our insignificance. We recoil with regret and panic. We simply can’t process what it means to be a living thing, it’s too disturbing, but you cannot escape it. You know the truth.  Somewhere we know the truth. We are alive. Against all odds and beyond all comprehension we are alive, but only right here and only for now…

The truth is it hurts to be so aware and yet so transient, so temporary. It hurts to be given this body and this mind and no time to really put either to much use. It hurts to be something you cannot be comfortable being. It hurts to be given an existence you have so little control of. Being alive is disappointing and draining. It’s a horrible weight on your chest. The weight is eons behind you, eons ahead of you, and the knowledge that all you will ever get out of it amounts nothing.

“Why don’t we have a little game? Let’s pretend that we’re human beings, and that we’re actually alive.”

― John Osborne, Look Back in Anger

Existing is a real pain sometimes, but it’s better than not existing, some would argue. Facing your existence isn’t easy, but it’s better than living your life on autopilot, maybe. It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves I suppose but I would advise that any time your existence looks you in the eyes, you look right back. To look away is the biggest waste of all, the biggest regret you may have. Being able to face that you are a living being and consider what that means is one of the few dignities we have been afforded in this universe. So let yourself feel it, the pain, the fear, the wonder, and all.

Us humans aren’t very good at separating the privilege of life from the burden of life, but feeling alive does not require acknowledgment of any of that baggage. I’m not asking you to take stock of where you are, or examine the choices you’ve made, or where you want to go. I’m not asking you to love life, or even to be especially grateful for it.

I’m asking you to look up and admit simply that you are here and that that fact is really something. All of it, the good, the bad, the ugly, it’s all such a rare privilege and each of should acknowledge and explore what that means. Each of us should breathe it in and wear our existence with dignity. Roll your existence around in your head, breath in and out, wiggle your toes, look up all the sky, take in the light, and call your own name aloud. Plant yourself in space and time, and with spirit, with pride, announce your existence to yourself and no one else. You are here. You are here. You are here!

“The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.”

— Carlos Castaneda

You can see, and smell, and touch things. You can move your body and you can shout, laugh, or cry. You can feel sunshine, pain, and time passing you by. You are a you, an I, and that is something special. Can you even fathom the astonishing odds of that were against you? Can you fathom all that had to happen to get you here?

Not many things get to be a thing, let alone an I. You should never fear your existence, regret it, or ignore it. It’s too curious and too temporary of a state to shy away from! You should feel proud and interested in your being, and you should try to be as alive, feel as alive, as you can be and as often as you can. It will be over before you know it and you will wish you had faced sooner.

“It felt so amazing to be alive I could never think of anything else.

― Marty Rubin

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletterfor inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter A under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence” 

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash