At Least the Thorns Grow Roses

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”

— Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

There is no doubt that this past year has been a hard one. Were more divided than ever and growing increasingly exhausted by the repetition of disagreements and offenses. We all just want to be heard. We want to be a little happier. We want it all to be a little easier already, and somehow, in our warped minds, we’ve decided instead to go on making the world more horrible and then to give up on it, and each other. We’ve grown collectively cynical. We’ve resigned ourselves to a permanent state of outrage and hopelessness about everything.

It should change, but it won’t. We could change it, but we won’t. We want to be better, but we can’t. It’s too late. I’m too tired. I hate you, and that and I don’t care to deal with it. It’s not my problem. It’s not my place. Nothing is going to change anyway. That’s just the way the world works. Life sucks, and then you die, and I’m just here to make a buck, make a name, and leave.

That’s how I feel sometimes. That’s how a lot of people I know feel too. Every day they wake up, go to jobs they hate, eat food that doesn’t make them feel good, and fill up on coffee to get through. Then they go home to spouses they forgot how to love, watch shows they don’t even like, avoid the news because it makes them angry even though they have no idea why. They go to bed too late even though they have to wake up too early the next day and do it all over again.

They get sad, they get lonely, and no one cares. They want things, need things, and no one cares. They want to do more, and no one will let them. The last time they were happy, truly happy, was grade school and even then, now that they think about it, that wasn’t such a great time either.

Nothing good has happened to them since, and now they can’t imagine anything good happening ever again. There are no miracles, and the bad guys always win. Dreams don’t come true and happily ever after is a lie. So what’s the point?

I don’t have an answer for that friends. I wish I did because I am struggling just as much as you. I have so much doubt and fear, and there are days when I envy those who were never conceived. They never have to deal with being a person, and they never have to deal with disappointment or death. But, most days, I don’t feel that way. Most days, I can see that even though life is hard and painful, its beautiful too.

Most days I’m happy to be here, to breath, to laugh, to eat good food, and to be among other people. Most days I can remember that I am loved and that things are just as good as they are bad. I can see I am lucky, to have a job I hate and a home that needs so much work, and friends who get busy but still care about me. I can see I am lucky to be in love and to have a chance to grow old with someone, even if it means a life of little frustrations, misunderstandings, and mistakes. Life has books, and sunshine, and puppies, and the smell of honeysuckle, and the taste of barbecue ribs and creme brûlée. Life has science, and history, and good people fighting every day to make it better.

We can all join that fight by learning to love life again. When you love life, when you can see all the good there is in it, you can see that it’s worth making better for everyone. You have to see the roses!

That doesn’t mean you should ignore the thorns. This world is certainly going to shit. You have certainly fucked up and failed. The universe is wholly indifferent to your needs or pleas. There will be no breaks, and what you have you have only out of pure chance and hard, dirty work. It will go on like this, people burning down their one home in the universe and burning bridges with the ones they ought to love, and you will be no exception.

But as embarrassing, confusing, and terrifying as a human life is, it’s the most beautiful thing there is. All of it. Look outside right now, the sun, the trees, the people walking here and there, it’s all beautiful. You are lucky to get a chance to see it at all. You are lucky to be so angry and afraid. You are lucky to be here, to love to laugh, to run, and to shout how much you love, hate, or damn it all to hell.

It could be worse, there could be nothing but pain. It could be a hell of a lot better too if we tried. If we looked around and found less reason to be angry and hateful. Imagine if we all found less time to complain and more time to change. Let’s try it. This week just acknowledging that yes, a whole lot of all of this life is shit, but a whole lot of it is good, and right, and rich, and gorgeous, and fucking amazing to be a part of too.

The thorns hurt. People hurt, life hurts, we hurt ourselves, and we never get to do it over, but the roses! The roses in all their colors and sweet smells. The feeling you get of seeing one, and the face of the lover you give one to are all well worth a few scrapes and scratches if you ask me.

Life isn’t fair. Not one of us was promised a rose garden, and we certainly shouldn’t take for granted that we were given one despite everything. It’s no one’s fault but ours that we never tended it and it’s no one’s fault but ours that what we’re left with if more pain than pretty. But we can fix it. We can care for what we have and do the hard work of growing more.

“The rose’s rarest essence lives in the thorns.”

— Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi

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Featured photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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To Be Cynical is to be Human

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.”

― Mike Royko

We are living in the age of positivity. We are living by the rule of mind over matter and the fight fight fight for hope and optimism. We are walking around smiling, hoping, and telling ourselves and everyone we know that it’s all going to be all right, and it’s exhausting.

Yeah, it’s nice to always be positive. I am always trying to be positive too, but honestly, expecting to live a life where you wake up every day full of optimism is not going to end in anything but disappointment. You can’t do it every day.

It’s good to see the best in people, and it’s good not to be blind to the worst. It’s good to know you can make a difference and it’s ok to be exhausted and infuriated by how hard it is. It’s ok to see all the pain of the past and worry that we’ll go on repeating ourselves into the future. It’s ok to have a less than perfect view of our future, and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed and discouraged too.

And yeah, it’s nice to want to change the world for the better every day. I want to do that too but honestly, sometimes I want to step back and just worry about myself for a while too. Expecting to give yourself day in and day out to other people without ever wanting to give up or give in lead directly to exhaustion and disappointment too.

The fact is, no person can sustain one emotion or one way of feeling or expressing themselves forever. We do our best to keep to the middle when we can but often before we can recognize it, let alone stop it, we are swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other. This is normal. This is okay. Being positive all the time sounds nice, but that does not mean it is the best way or the healthiest way to live. It might not be the right way for most people. And that is okay.

We all want to believe the best of the world, and every day so many of us are fighting to make the belief into a reality, but sometimes we have to take a break. Sometimes we just have to be real with ourselves. The world is shitty, people are shitty, and the whole damn system is set up so that you have to work so damn hard just to feel like you aren’t going to your grave feeling useless and forgotten. It’s a hard life. It’s unfair, and it hurts, and no amount of positivity changes that for everyone. I might not even change it for you.

Here at Zen and Pi, I advocate for feeling the full spectrum of human emotion in ways that are heathy for each individual. That means sometimes being angry, sad, and yes, even cynical. Sometimes, because we are human, no matter how hard we try we want to feel bad, and we want to express that too. Sometimes we are mean, or indifferent, or unforgiving. Sometimes we just can’t be the bigger person. It’s understandable! We are hopelessly flawed. It’s okay!

They say cynics can’t learn, can’t grow, can’t change or help anything or anyone, and maybe that is true, but the perpetually positive are just as blind and stunted if you ask me. Each one lives with only half the story, half the human experience. Each condemns the other, and both are fools.

To be human is to hope, and to be human is to be hopeless too. Both stem from having an accurate view of the world and the people inhabiting it.

So, this week, if you can’t always smile, say nice things, pay it forward, or let it all slide, it’s ok. Do your best and fuck the rest, you know?

I know I’ve had a pretty hard time keeping my chin up, putting one foot in front of the other, and smiling while the world seems to be burning all around me. There is so much going wrong in the world, and there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot we can do about it right now. Some days I’m pissed! I’m disappointed! I’m fucking tired! And I’m going to be, off and on, forever because that’s what people do.

So, I’m buckling in and turning on my frown y’all. I may have to sit through this, but I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to be chipper, and I do not have to start every morning with telling myself that it’s all down to my attitude because sometimes that is nothing but a dirty lie and here at Zen and Pi we do not lie to ourselves.

I’m not saying give up hope. I’m not saying give up the fight. I’m not saying happiness is impossible or that real change will never happen. I’m just saying it’s ok to let your cynical flag fly because the world is a shitty place sometimes and being a human is hard. It’s ok to be less than enthusiastic about society and human potential at the moment. We are all disappointed, still, and we will be for a long time. Let it out. Express it, share it, and don’t feel bad or apologize for it.

Give yourself permission to be a Negative Nancy if you need to until you don’t need to. Don’t let the world tell you how to feel about whatever you are going through. Don’t let the world tell you that suppressing or denying emotions they deem unnecessary, or “wrong” is in your best interest. Just feel, and be real, that’s all I’m asking.

Fight when you can, smile when you can, and step back and curse it all when you want to too.

It’s all human, and it’s all right.

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30-Day Minimalism Challenge // Day 4: No Complaining

Throughout the month of January, I am doing a 30-day minimalism challenge in an attempt to start the year off fresh by practicing mindfulness, learning to enjoy solitude, and embracing simplicity. Feel free to join in if you want, I posted an image with all the challenges for you at the bottom of this post for reference.

Minimalism and Zen go hand in hand. Minimalism is about not making life too cluttered, nor too busy. Minimalism is about not being wasteful. It’s about figuring out what true happiness is, not what advertising tells you it is. Anything that is unnecessary is wasteful, and in a world where the trash is piling up and none of us is any better for it, maybe it’s time to try a new way.

I’m starting with doing 30 days, just to give it a try. What I like, I’ll keep, what I don’t, I’ll toss.

No-complaint day

Complaining is never productive and a catalyst for negative thought patterns. Challenge yourself to not complain about small stuff today. Either accept the situation and move on, or find a solution.

Yesterday’s task was to have a whole day of no complaints. I really did do my best but I won’t say that I did it 100%. I do think I did pretty good, especially considering it was the first day back to work after a break from my usual routine. Some of my major complaints were:

Having to get up early to go to work. This is my #1 complaint Monday thru Friday. I am not at all a morning person and I don’t think I ever really will be. Having to get up before I am ready is guaranteed to put me in a bad mood.

I have been working on this one for years and honestly it might just be something I deal with for as long as I continue to work a job that requires me to get up early. What I can do is learn not to let this complaint go ruin my mood and morning. I have resolved to keep this negativity to myself and to do my best to steer myself toward positive thoughts as the morning goes on.

Having to be at work at all. Everyone I know hates their job so I thought it was normal for me to hate mine too. I get to the circle of complaints and I find myself joining in and encouraging others to see the place in a wholly negative way and to drag our feet and be miserable as a sign of solidarity. I hate when I get like that because a lot of the problems are exaggerated or even made up in our heads. We just can’t think rationally about it when we are in a group like that.

I mean, no, my day job isn’t my dream job but compared to the rest of the world’s income levels it does pay well and doesn’t require too much of me. I’ve worked here for almost 10 years and I am secure in the knowledge that I will have this job for as long as I want it. I work with my friends (and my girlfriend)  and I have earned respect from my peers and my bosses. Sounds like I have it pretty good, don’t I?

I try to remember that I have very little to complain about when it comes to my employment situation. That is usually enough to shame me into gratitude and a better outlook.

Work that requires me to do anything physical. I woke up yesterday morning knowing that the day was going to be an easy one. Schools weren’t going so all I was doing was going in to look busy (organizing files, filling out paperwork, walking around with a clipboard, that sort of thing) and only for a half a day. Yeah, turns out I was wrong about that.

When I came in I saw that “the guys” had started a project, organizing one of the sheds out back. The sheds are full of very dirty, very heavy, and very old equipment. Some of this stuff has been in there since before I started working here. I had to help out or else I would look really bad and I was pissed about it. I complained a lot!

But you know what, after all, that moving around, I felt pretty good. We had worked on a project that had been on our to-do list for a very long time. We had done work that no one else had wanted to do, and we did it well.

And finally, I’m tired. At the end of every day, I come home feeling drained. I really think it’s more of a mental exhaustion than a physical one and I truly believe it has a lot to do with my negativity and the negativity of those around me wearing me down.

When I get home I try my best to do something I really want to do, something that makes me happy. I try to make time for my girlfriend too. Time to talk with her and get my feelings off of my chest or maybe make her laugh if I can. I make an effort to play with the dog, the exercise gets my blood moving again and perks me up.

Sometimes I realize I’m not as tired as I thought, other times I ending going to bed early. Either way, I end the night happier than I would if I just complained the whole time.

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Complaining is not only a bad habit most of us have, it’s also one we encourage in others. I’m not talking about when we voice our fears or pains, I’m talking about when you are bringing yourself nd those around you down for no reason other than you’re grouchy.

Some complaints are important, valid, or address a really big issue and some complaints are just a bad habit reinforced by the connections we have built with others through shared negativity. There is a better way and life can be a little bit better when you remind yourself that things aren’t as bad as your mind makes them out to be.

Give a no-complaining day a try, decide to either fix what is upsetting you, or to accept it and move on. Maybe it will help, and maybe it won’t, but it will be a step toward figuring out what works for you.

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The idea for this challenge came from Into Mind. The rules for the challenge: Do one assignment every day, the order is your call. Don’t skip a day. That’s it.

30-Day Minimalism Challenge Calendar

How Are You Hurting Other People?

I was scrolling Tumblr the other day and came across a text post that really made me think:

I really fucking hate the fact that there are rarely any posts on here that talk about how YOU can negatively affect people. Yes, it’s important to space yourself out from people who hurt you but you also have to recognize how you are hurting people. Take some responsibility for your actions.

melissaahhsss

Wow, now there is something that doesn’t cross my mind everyday, how do I hurt other people? My first thought was that, to my knowledge I haven’t hurt anyone badly in a long time, but I do wonder in what ways I am a negative influence in other’s lives. I make a lot of effort to distance myself from people who affect me negatively but now I wonder if there are people who might distance themselves from me because I have have be a negative influence in their lives.

I mean, I’m sure the people who I think need to get their act together don’t know what they are doing or why so it is quite possible that I could be doing the same to others and not know it. The only way to find out for sure would be to ask but I think I should start by assessing myself and what ways I do know I can be a negative influence in the lives of others.

I can be very condescending and dismissive. I have always been afraid that I make people feel bad by talking down to them as if they were stupid. I never mean to do this of course but there have been many instances in my life when a person has come to me and said that I have made them feel stupid or was dismissive of their opinions.

When I feel like I am right I state my case and then, for me, that is the end of it. It doesn’t happen often, and only in cases of debates over social issues and in the workplace when working with a team on a project. Once I see something as the “right way” anything anyone else says means nothing. In here is nothing the other person could say that would top a point I have already made. I am right and that is the end of it.

I know this is incredibly egotistical and I know I shouldn’t think like this but it is my nature and as much as I try to change I do fall into old habits sometimes. I need to hear other people out and be more of a listener and not continually dismissing the thoughts and feelings of others. For one, I hate when someone does it to me and we should always treat others the way we would want to be treated. And two, I am not so smart that there is nothing I could learn from others if only I would give them a chance.

I think I have a corner on suffering. I have been through a lot of hard times. Not a lot, but more than most. When I hear others complain about their lives and I feel I have picked myself up from worse my first thought is that they are whiney cry-babies. It pains me to write this about myself because deep in my heart of hearts I respect everyone’s struggle, but I am human and I think bad things sometimes too. Sometimes these feelings may show on my face and I tend to make other’s feel like their suffering is small.

There are times when I believe this is justified, such as in the case of what we call a “first-world” problems. Starbucks being out of hazelnut syrup or your charger cord snapping is a first-world problem and I do not feel sorry for you. But where when people complain that they are really having a hard time in their relationships, in their finances, or in their work life and I feel they have gone on long enough I will often tell them, in the nicest way I can, that it’s not that bad and either fix it or shut up. This is extremely invalidating and, once again, I would hate it if it someone did it to me.

And lastly, I am a chronic enabler. On the surface this doesn’t seem like it’s so bad but I really have trouble with telling people no and setting boundaries. While this may seem like it only creates a negative effect on my end, after awhile it does start to impact the other person when I begin to resent them.

The pattern is always the same,I tend to try my best to be nice and accommodating to another person. They begin asking me for more and more of my time or my money. I give them the benefit of the doubt even when others tell me to say no or to talk to the other person about what they are asking of me. Of course I don’t because I hate confrontation and don’t want the other person to feel bad. Then they push me too far but by that point I am so confused about why I am helping this person anymore that I don’t know how to explain how I feel, so I start being passive aggressive.

I make snide remarks, I get short with them, I joking tell them thing I think but not in a way that they could ever understand what I really want from them, which is to give me a break. Eventually I get so frustrated that they haven’t gotten any of my “hints” that I blow up and make them feel like crap. Then I feel terrible and say I am sorry and do something nice for them and they think every thing is ok so they go back to asking for more than I can give and the cycle begins all over again.

Instead, I need to learn to say no and express my feelings better. I need to stop worrying so much about pleasing people and making them feel comfortable all the time. I don’t mean being mean I mean being honest. I think in the long run my relationships with other people would benefit from the boundaries and other people would respect me more. And, if nothing else, people wouldn’t be negatively affected by me being passive-aggressive and they might gain some awareness of the negative effects they have on other people.

I think there are ways that we all are, unintentionally, negatively affecting the people around us and it is a good exercise to occasionally look at ourselves and try to make changes to our own thoughts and behaviors. No one wants to be mean or to hurt others but we do, the important things is to take responsibility and do our best not do it again. We all want other people to be a good influence in our lives, we have to do it for other people too, right?

How might you be hurting other people?

The Result of the Things I Have Thought

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“The decision to be positive is not one that disregards or belittles the sadness that exists. It is rather a conscious choice to focus on the good and to cultivate happiness—genuine happiness. Happiness is not a limited resource. And when we devote our energy and time to trivial matters, and choose to stress over things that ultimately are insignificant. From that point, we perpetuate our own sadness, and we lose sight of the things that really make us happy and rationalize our way out of doing amazing things.”

― Christopher Aiff

I’ve struggled with my depression for a long time, but I’ve found that anymore I am almost choosing to be miserable. I am trying to fit in and I am trying to hold on to a part of me that I am afraid is all of me. Sadness and cynicism have been like a security blanket my whole life but I have noticed lately that things are changing. I am running out of things to be unhappy about and I see myself just making up reasons to be negative. I want to change though. I’ve had a small taste of happiness lately and finding that there is no need for the security blanket has changed me.

See I have everything to be happy about. I have a wonderful girlfriend that takes care of me and does her best to make me happy. I have a pretty easy job and even though it doesn’t pay a whole lot, it’s enough to pay the bills just fine. We have a home that is quiet and all our own. I have a good life and I want to feel good about it. So I started doing my best to DECIDE to be happy and positive and NOT allowing anyone or anything to bring me down. No negative thoughts or feelings are allowed to take up anymore of my time than absolutely necessary in order to figure out whether a problem can be solved or needs to be let go

Everyday, every moment I choose what I want to feel. I’ve decided that I will do my best to no longer allow my mood to be affected by other people, and I will not tolerate continually negative people in my life. I am learning that I am the result of the things I think and I can change my day and my mood just by changing my thoughts. I’ve been experimenting lately and I have noticed that when I decide that I want to be happy, or productive, all I have to do is summon the will and I can change my outlook.

It’s not a new concept at all. We’ve all heard that putting out positivity brings positivity back to you. Positive thoughts lead to positive vibes and, ultimately a positive life. It’s not magic and it’s not just some hippie bullshit, it’s real. I’ve, obviously, been reading more and more about being more zen and part of that is being mindful. There’s kind of a lot to it but part of it, to me, is not letting your mind wander away from you. If you let your mind wander too much you might find yourself somewhere you don’t want to be. This is where I am and I really want to find my way back.

“Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings & emotions”

― Will Smith

Through this effort I have noticed who around me is trying to keep me down. They say misery loves company and it is definitely true. There are people who want nothing more than to spread their crap around and they will do anything to make that happen. They will manipulate you into taking on their negativity, they will ask for more from you emotionally than is fair to ask, and they will act as if nothing is fun or worth smiling about until the next thing you know they have drug you down into their hole. The funny thing is once they have you there they will abandon you in the dark.

It’s not like I am positive all the time. I’m still learning and it does take a lot of effort. I am getting better everyday though! I see other people who are being negative or complaining and I try to be an example. I show them that things can be made at least a tiny bit better by trying to smile, by making someone else smile, or by doing a bit of good. If nothing else try being a little more productive, do a little something you can be proud of. I’m telling you it works!

I’m not saying every situation can be made better easily. After my dog passed away I was very depressed. Nothing really mattered and nothing anyone said could make it better. I had no motivation to even begin to try to climb out of the hole I was in. I had to give myself time. The moment I felt a tiny bit better I started trying again and everyday it gets better and easier.

So I encourage all of you, if you find yourself feeling down everyday, try a bit of experimenting for yourself. Try choosing to be happy for a day and see what happens :)