We waited outside of our bungalow. Our drivers pulled up fifteen minutes late. The van – formerly white but now the colour of a frozen cheesecake – was loud and leaking a curious brown fluid everywhere. The van carried a wonderfully blended smell of a gas station and burnt toast. The exhaust pipe was choking out ink-black fumes.
Isn’t the story already writing itself for you? Something bad is about to happen, right?
The driver stayed in his seat while his compatriot jumped out to greet us. His English was the best I had heard from a Balinese person since I landed on the island. He had a bright smile. I liked that he was going to be our guide for the day.
But I couldn’t stop looking at the driver. The ash from his cigarette was longer than the actual cigarette. The smoke rising from it danced into his bloodshot eyes. He had an Iron Maiden shirt on, which one could presume he wore to the bar the night before. His bed-head hair might have been evidence that he was the reason why they were late to pick us up.
Like Tom Cruise about to jump into a Grumman F-14 Tomcat, he coolly slid sunglasses over his sleepless eyes. Go time, we must have both thought at the exact same time. Danger Zone was playing in my mind.
We took our seats and I reached for my seat belt, except (of course) there wasn’t one.
Perfect, I thought. We were about to drive up the side of Mount Doom on an island which has little in terms of road rules. We would be attempting this task in a death-trap built in the 1980’s, driven by the Balinese version of Otto from The Simpsons. No seat belts. One might assume this is how it would all end for me.
The kicker? We still had to stop and pick up eight more people. To, you know, make sure death bus was full so we could all burn together.
Fast forward; miraculously, we had all survived.
But now I was mountain biking down the side of the volcano. I was doing this on roads without dividing lines, and without enough space for more than one car. I was accompanied by a group of inexperienced cyclists that were a far greater threat to my health than the speeding scooters or farm trucks I was attempting to share the road with. In the villages rabid dogs barked as I passed by, and the streets were even more congested than in the countryside.
Fast forward a second time; we made it. Sure, I had a couple bruises and cuts from some of the girls slamming their bikes into my leg. And yeah, it was hot enough to cook an egg on my bike helmet (I wondered how my driver – the hungover Balinese Maverick – was feeling in this heat). But all of us were just fine.
The thing is, we were always going to be okay. We didn’t put ourselves at some great risk that day. It’s only the stories we hear in our own society that make us feel fear in new experiences.
We see an old van and our consumerist conditioning tells us it’s not safe because it isn’t new and sparkling. We see the Balinese Iceman in his heavy medal t-shirt and remember what we’ve been told about a man who looks and dresses like that. That he is somehow more reckless and dangerous than a man in a suit. In reality it was probably his van, and his eyes were bloodshot because he probably stayed up late making sure it was running well for our trip. Maybe not.
The point is, the stories we tell ourselves will often be the only difference between a truly enjoyable and memorable experience in Bali, or being terrified the entire time and never getting to enjoy it. The entire experience that day, from the van ride to the bike down the side of the mountain, was one of my favourite Bali experiences.
But I certainly could have ruined it by telling myself fearful stories about not being safe.
We all have the “grass is greener” person in our lives.
“I hate this place,” they might say, “once I save up enough to move to (insert location here), I’ll start fresh and everything will be okay.”
I grew up around them my whole life.
Constantly blaming suburbia for their discontent, their lack of meaning in life, their lack of total stimulation. They were too big for such small places. They needed the bright lights of the city, or the warm beaches of a far off, exotic place.
A lot of them made it there. Most of them remained unhappy and unfulfilled.
That isn’t to stay travelling or moving your roots is a bad thing. I think travelling is essential for destroying much of the ignorance there is in the world.
The problem becomes when a place serves the same external function as any other material desire.
As soon as you get that corner office life will get better. As soon as you get to Bahamas life will get easier. They are all obtainable desires that will have us perpetually chasing our tails, but cannot give us what we think they can.
The destination will be exciting and new to start, much like the new car or home. New people will help you forget old ones, all the while not knowing exactly who you are. The beautiful location makes it easy to fall in love, or forget old lovers.
For a moment, the escape seems to be going exactly as planned.
Eventually, the new bright lights will dim. The people of the place will feel very much like the ones you left behind. Other travellers will have moved on, romances will have burned out in a pile of dust and lust. You’ll start to feel like you always have.
No matter how many events and new people we surround ourselves with, we’ll still have those silent moments by ourselves. Even if we find someone to fill the empty space next to us in bed, they’ll still be times when we have to face ourselves.
Because that’s where the real magic will happen.
That’s where it was always going to happen.
Fact is, happiness, enlightenment, and fulfilment are not things you will ever find externally.
There is no magical island that has special air that induces happiness. Just like there is no special elixir or tonic that will give us everlasting life.
As long as you’re searching for answers externally, you’ll always feel lost and unsettled.
Everything you need is right there, inside of you.
You have the ability to choose happiness. You have the ability to choose love.
The lake was so still that the sun’s reflection was a perfect mirror image; it looked like the morning had two suns rising at the same time.
Our chairs were still firmly entrenched around the fire. Our toes were still stuck in the sand.
Our once roaring fire had been reduced to barely-smoking ashes, but not one of us had noticed. It had been a warm evening and we had been distracted.
For the past hour or so, two of our friends had been engaged in a heated exchange of words. I say “heated” in the traditional sense, as this is a pretty common and socially accepted practice amongst my group of friends.
The five of us that were not involved pulled up a chair and listened to the insults being traded. As always, we served as the referees, judges of style, and the crowd – all at the same time.
It wasn’t Canada Day, but there was certainly some fireworks that night/early morning.
The battle had ended with the sunrise, and both combatants had felt they had gotten the better of their opponent.
One of the word warriors got up and headed back to the cottage, presumably to grab himself an ice cold James Ready for breakfast.
The other gladiator sat in silence, with a very strange grin on his face.
We took the bait. We asked him why he was smiling.
He told us he had an ace up his sleeve the entire time in case his victory was ever in question. He said it was lucky for his opponent that he hadn’t felt the need to use it.
We huddled around. We wanted to know what his secret weapon had been.
He leaned in a whispered and few words to us. He howled with laughter into the morning air.
A few of us released nervous laughs. Others just exchanged looks of shock. Maybe it was the hangover setting in, but some of us looked sick. I couldn’t help but ask:
Was this too far, even for us? Did we even have a “too far”?
Growing up with these guys, I used to wonder if we were even actually friends.
How could people who claimed to love one another – even to like one another – constantly go at it the way we did.
At first I presumed it was some sort of struggle of machoism; putting each other down to get to the top.
I later took comfort in the belief that it was a natural occurrence within a team, a sort of humbling system to ensure no single ego rose above the interests of the group.
But here we are, some of us twenty years later, and we’re still very much the same.
Like most of us, my biggest problem in understanding friendship was my definition of a friend.
I had confused acquaintances, schoolmates, and co-workers as my friends. I had confused people that I co-existed with, with people I flourished with.
It wasn’t until I realised the key element of a friendship that I truly understood why my group of friends had stuck together as long as it had.
This is because a true friendship is for the sake of friendship itself.
You are required to give no more to the relationship than your friendship, and expect nothing more in return.
As soon as the friendship is based upon other intentions or motives, it ceases to be a friendship at all.
Take your high school experience, for example. Some of the people you considered your friends you considered them so only because they were a part of your social group.
The intention of the relationship was founded on the motive of maintaining cohesion and harmony in your group of friends – not on the friendship itself.
Odds are you no longer maintain a relationship with those people.
We had a team of practically the same 17-18 guys every season for a decade, and yet only 8 or 9 of us are still close. Some were friends for the sake of the team, the ones who stayed close were friends for the sake of friendship.
It’s not to say we don’t love them. I’m personally fond of all of the guys I played with. Our relationship simply wasn’t built on something that lasts. It served a lesser purpose.
When there is no expectation in a friendship other than the friendship itself, we attain a certain freedom.
We don’t have to fall into line, wear certain clothes, or perform desired functions. We’re accepted exactly how we are.
We don’t have to be someone we’re not.
We don’t have to hide.
Friends see us exactly as we are, and they love us for it.
This is why my group of friends could constantly joke about each other’s idiosyncrasies, faults, habits, and mistakes, without anyone getting too bent out of shape about it.
We all inherently knew that the group wasn’t trying to change us as people. The group was confirming our own humanity.
We were telling each other that who we were was good enough. We were laughing at each other’s faults because they were normal; our mistakes were human.
We forced each other to look in the mirror, and be perfectly okay with what we saw.
Does anything truly exist if no one is witness to its existence?
Friendship is both the confirmation of our existenc
– exactly how we are – and the complete acceptance of it.
True friendships are an integral part of a happy life.
Not only because we – as humans – are social creatures, but friendships help us to understand ourselves and the world around us.
Instead of living in those big beautiful brains of ours, we can talk with someone deeply without fear of judgement.
We can express our fears of things like death, inadequacy, flying, or clowns. Through these connections we learn our fears are perfectly normal and, more often than not, we work through these fears together.
We can hear each other’s ideas on the afterlife, on happiness, on love. We can help each other to grow.
This is why the greatest lovers are those who founded their relationship upon strong friendships.
It is why you so often hear couples in their 90’s call one another their best friend.
Beginning a relationship around lust is the same as beginning a friendship with the person from your social group in high school.
It’s the same as a friendship based on a professional connection.
It is the same as a friendship based on money, popularity, protection, or benefits of any kind.
They all serve ends that can be obtained.
You can attain harmony of the social group; you can attain the pleasures of the flesh; you can attain that promotion, you can attain the acceptance of a gang.
If the friendship – or relationship – is based on desires that can be attained, they are doomed.
The relationship ceases to meaningfully exist once it serves its purpose.
A friendship, on the other hand, will always have the friendship to aspire to.
I remember how damp the basement apartment felt. Part of me was worried the harsh Ontario winter might even freeze the moisture in the air.
I had decided that I wanted to die, but freezing to death wasn’t how I would do it.
Funny time to be picky, now that I think about it, but it wasn’t the only thing I was being fussy about.
This was the end of my life, after all, and it had become about the finer details for me. Tying up the loose ends.
I had made peace with anyone that I felt I had parted with on less than favourable terms in the past. I said my apologies, my goodbyes, and every last “I love you”.
I made sure I had two notes. One note detailed where I wanted all my things to go once I had left. Even then I reflected about how many things I owned, and yet I felt like I had nothing.
The other note told my parents not to blame themselves, my sisters that I was always with them, and demanded my friends to have one last party in my honour. I didn’t want to hurt anymore, but I didn’t want them to hurt either.
The bottle of stolen Tylenol 3’s were waiting, all I had to do was settle into bed one last time.
I wasn’t sure what happened next, but I was certain that it couldn’t be worse than the pain I woke up to every morning. The confusion. The sadness. The lack of motivation or caring.
I wasn’t afraid of a hell, because I was burning in one each day I got out of bed.
But I was afraid.
I was afraid of fucking it up.
I was afraid of what my friends might think if they found out that I was in the hospital because I tried to kill myself.
I was afraid of what that first conversation with my mom might sound like after I woke up.
I was afraid I might have to look my father in the eyes, or that my little sister might finally stop looking up into mine.
I couldn’t even stand to think of my grandparents.
But most of all, I was afraid of people’s pity. I was afraid of the stigma that would follow me everywhere I went.
The scarlet letter of our age.
That, to me, was a fate surely worse than death.
I took the note to my family back out. I scribbled something down about me having had a good life. I gave it the ol’ college try.
It was a good kick at the can.
It made me feel a bit better about the whole situation, like I had done enough. Like I had earned this sleep.
My mask was quickly falling apart and it was time to leave the masquerade.
My parents were still moving around above me, but I took solace in the fact they would be in bed soon.
How pathetic, I thought, still living with your parents at 24 years old.
It was one of the many times a day I spoke negatively to myself. No wonder we didn’t like each other. That negative self-talk is a slow poison that will make you sick.
I decided to log onto my Facebook while I was waiting. I wanted to see my sisters one last time. I wanted to see a few old friends.
I even thought of saying goodbye to the world with a status change, but in the end couldn’t jeopardize the plan. Someone might see or – worse – tell.
That’s when I got the message.
It was one of my best friends, and someone I went to York University with.
“Are you okay man? I know we joke a lot, but I’m asking you for real. Are you okay?” He told me I was worrying him.
He told me I wasn’t the usual ball of light in his life that he had become accustomed to.
He told me I wasn’t alone.
It’s funny, because the thought had actually not entered my mind. Up until that point, I truly believed I was alone.
When he told me that I wasn’t, I felt like a man treading water in the ocean. Drowning with no ships in sight, I had magically found my hand on a life raft.
I told him no, I wasn’t okay. I told him I didn’t feel like waking up tomorrow morning.
He talked me into telling my dad.
It was the longest walk upstairs that I’ve ever had to do. They were the hardest words that I’ve ever forced out of my mouth.
But my dad took one look at me and he knew. He saw a look on my face that I usually kept locked inside of my bedroom. He saw the face without the mask.
I don’t think I had even finished telling him everything I was feeling before he had me in the car on the way to the hospital, telling me the entire time it was going to be okay. Letting me know I wasn’t crazy, or weak, or any of those things I had labelled myself.
And you know what? Everything was going to be okay. But that was only the start of my struggle.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after, and put a range of drugs to numb my mind and soul. Uppers, downers, inhibitors, I quickly became a zombie.
After months of shuffling around completely number, I realized that my friends and family had still lost that little ball of light that they had grown up with. I didn’t want to be a zombie any more than I wanted to be dead.
Luckily my family doctor was against the medication I had been put on, and prescribed for me a simple regiment of training and eating properly. Over the years, I’ve made the additions of yoga and meditation. I stopped talking myself down. I stopped blaming myself. I started actively learning to love myself. We became friends again.
I started a practice of happiness.
** I want to note that I do believe pharmaceuticals can help people. It certainly helped balance me out after I had let things get out of control. It’s about what works for you. Everyone’s struggle is different. There is no shame in using any and all avenues of help – medication included. **
But the greatest gift I’ve given myself was a change in perspective.
At first, I saw depression as the disease. I saw it as something I had, like a virus.
But after I started practising happiness every single day, my perspective changed.
Depression is not the disease, it is the most overwhelming symptom of the disease.
The disease is our western way of life. The disease is society.
The disease is believing we need to own things to be valuable. We need school degrees to have knowledge, or an opinion. We need a small waist or large biceps to be desirable. We need that nose job or chiseled jawline to be beautiful. We need a house with the picket fence and the office job to be happy. That we’re anything less than perfect exactly how we are.
And unfortunately we’ve all been born with the same disease.
Some of us handle it better, some of us make it work. Some of us are capable of finding happiness in this society and that’s a beautiful thing. But some of us need more.
Think about when you have the flu and your symptom is vomiting. Do you take something to attack the vomit, or do you take something to attack the flu virus? Attacking the vomit on the floor doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? At least, it didn’t for me.
So instead of treating my bipolar disorder with a cycle of pills like a sexually transmitted disease, I stopped attacking the symptom altogether.
Instead, I attacked my desire to own a big house in the suburbs. I started to pursue a calling that made my heart sing, rather than one that seemed prestigious or would pay me a lot of money. I left the bubble I was told would keep me safe and happy.
I kept myself in a gym and started playing hockey again, so my body could move the way it was designed. By the same token, I kept myself away from sitting at a desk in a position that is unnatural and harmful.
I ate the food that would nourish my body and soul, the food my body was designed to process and to use as energy. I avoided the food that would destroy my body and my mind.
I meditated on negative thoughts to find their source, and then I broke apart that socially created stigma or fear. I stopped looking for the woman I thought I was supposed to have, and instead left it up to chance to give me the one I had always dreamed of.
I stopped trying to force things.
I gave up the fight against depression, but I attack its source. I destroy that virus a little bit every day. It will always fight back, until the day I die, but already it’s power is a shadow of its former self. And, as suspected, its greatest symptom – depression – has not shown its ugly face in many years.
I look back now and think of how absolutely insane it is that I was one hour and one conversation away from no longer being on this earth.
I think of the people I’ve met, all the memories I’ve made, all the wonders of nature I’ve seen, and all the love I’ve experienced since that night. I’m so grateful to be in this life that I was willing to discard not so long ago.
I have chosen happiness for this life. And you can too.
Remember you are not alone. We are all one humanity and, in the west, we are all born into this sickness.
I’ve never been the best with goodbyes; I don’t think many of us are.
It might be why I’ve come to dislike airports as much as I do. If you’re in an airport, you’re saying goodbye to someone, or something, in some way or another.
And yet here I am, in another airport, after saying the toughest goodbye of my life. Part of me wonders why we put ourselves through these types of feelings.
I’m looking around and watching the goodbyes everywhere. Sisters holding each other tightly in an embrace. A father holds his little boy who is crying because he’s leaving. Lovers hold hands until that final, desperate moment.
The older I get, the more I realize that every goodbye could be the last we have with that person.
And yet I realized today that it’s for that reason exactly that goodbyes are a beautiful thing.
In a little over an hour waiting to board my plane, a million memories of the person I had just said goodbye to flooded my mind.
I felt a strong appreciation for all of the times I was lucky enough to spend with her. I laughed aloud at the many good memories, and replayed with understanding and compassion the uncomfortable ones. I found myself momentarily regretting all of the times I wasn’t completely present in the moment with her.
The experiences with our loved ones are special because we have to, at some time or another, say goodbye to them. With this in mind, each moment becomes a singular treasure to be cherished and appreciated.
I used to want to live forever. I wanted my friends and family to live forever. I wanted to stay close to home. I didn’t want to say goodbye.
But what would relationships be worth if we were not doomed to one day say goodbye?
So spend time with those you love. Connect with them on the deepest levels. Laugh off the perceived issues and embrace the great times.
Stay completely present, because one day you’ll say goodbye.
The human experience can provide many opportunities for frustration. At times it can feel like the entire world has turned its powers of gravity against us; nothing is going our way.
We struggle against this tide, and yet it grows stronger.
And yet I call them “opportunities” for frustration, because as much as they seem like inescapable issues at the time, every single one is the result of actively choosing to be frustrated by something.
I think back to my childhood. I would be minding my own business, swimming through Super Mario Bros 3 in my frog suit, when my sisters would decide to start a conversation with me, or show me the hairstyle they gave Barbie.
Next thing I know, I’m dead and the frog suit is a thing of the past. I would immediately lash out at them, claiming they “made me die.”
As we grew a bit older, both sisters still provided daily doses of frustrations. One would play music that annoyed me, the other would watch television shows precisely when my show of choice was on.
We all have that guy in the gym who “distracts” us with his grunting, or the construction crew that has been working a little to long just outside our apartment window.
Just as I did with my sisters, we take these inconveniences as personal slights.
We see the guy in the gym as purposely grunting for attention, or the construction crew making noise just to bother us.
The guy who cut us off made us miss that light to make us late for work. The cop gave us that ticket to ruin our weekend.
As though I was the centre of the universe, I believed my sisters intentionally infringed on my comfort.
The fact is, people are doing their thing. They are the pilots of the spacecraft navigating their own little personal universe.
The moment I stopped taking things personally, the easier it was to let things go.
The construction crew doesn’t know we exist. The guy in the gym is in the zone. My sisters had no idea I was home from hockey, or school, or hanging out with friends. The cop was doing his job.
Things will happen to us every day, and that’s a good thing. I would feel like I had been robbed of this amazing experience we call life if every day wasn’t a complete random series of events.
But it’s how we interpret these events that matter.
We can struggle against the current, and fight it until we’re tired, frustrated, and angry at the world.
Or, we can float downstream and worry about the things we can control.
For nothing can frustrate or annoy us without our complete and explicit permission.
I’m not sure when we’ll meet. I’m not sure what you’ll look like. I’m not sure what your name will be.
I am almost certain, however, that it will be difficult to find a wife that will let me name you Germanicus, Octavia, Aurelius, Augusta, or any other name of my choosing.
I’m unsure if you’ll take an interest to sport, art, or literature. I’m unsure about your sexual orientation or you skin colour. None of these things are, or will be, a concern to me.
I couldn’t possibly love you any more or any less than I already do. Existence and creation are love, after all, and you will spring from that very same eternal source of life – but I digress.
You’ll quickly learn that we humans have a cruel obsession with guarantees. We dislike when the world around us isn’t concrete and stable. We constantly fight against the perpetual uncertainty that is life. Guarantees create an illusion of safety for us, and we are content to live our lives in that illusion.
Though I don’t remember mine personally, I’m sure your birth will be a difficult time for you. You are uncertain what to expect, you are completely dependant on others, and you are unable to defend yourself. It is for this reason that I search for guarantees to give you to put your thoughts to rest; to create an illusion of safety for you.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed there isn’t many I can give you.
I can’t promise you protection. Danger comes hand in hand with stepping outside of your comfort zone and truly experiencing life. I don’t want you to play it safe. I want you to climb mountains and travel the world. To protect you would be to keep you close. To protect you would be to smother you. I want you to come, to see, and to conquer.
I can’t promise you happiness. I can give you comfort. I can give you warmth, bread, and a roof over your head. I can give you private schools or new hockey gear, but nothing I can give you will ever make you happy. You are, and always will be, responsible for your own happiness. I will help you down that path as much as I can, but happiness is your choice.
I can’t promise you I’ll know the answers. I’m a human, just like you. We are fallible; we make mistakes. I want you to never be afraid to fail. It’s okay to make a mistake. Too often do parents play the charade of perfection in front of their children, and reprimand them for not being perfect themselves. I’ll be as new to being a parent as you will be to being a child. We’ll both mess up along the way, but we’re in this together.
I can’t promise you I’ll always be there. I want you to embrace your independence and to realize how efficient you truly are. I’m going to let you figure some things out on your own. I’ll probably find it difficult and will intervene more than I should, but that’s part of my learning experience.
Big picture, we’re all mortal. One day I’ll pass on from this silly dream. When that happens, the more I’ve let you trip and fall along the way the more you’ll be ready to face this world alone. I need you know to how strong and capable you are.
I can’t promise you’ll be popular. Kids can be mean. They grow up in a society that makes them feel extremely uneasy in their own skin. Many of them will project those insecurities onto you. It will hurt.
I’ll take the time to show your true worth. You’ll learn, as a child of the stars, how perfect you are. I can’t promise you’ll be popular, but you’ll be in a place to take pity on insecure bullies rather than being hurt by them.
“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt, Great Speeches.
In the end, the only thing I can really promise you is that I won’t promise you anything – except for my eternal and undying love.
I’ve always found the term “social media” to be a curious one.
Admittedly, if you break the word down into its respective body parts – “social” and “media” – it’s a word that makes perfect sense. Yet it’s not its pieces that make it a puzzle.
The term feels like a misnomer. It doesn’t feel right. I look at social media and I fail to see anything social about it.
Media is not an inherently social entity. From newspapers to Fox News, there is no social interaction actually involved.
We may feel as though we’re socially interacting. Like we’re connecting with that horoscope columnist who just really seems to “get” us, or the newscaster covering our sports team who seems to always agree with our opinion of the new head coach.
But we’re not.
We’re still sitting alone at the kitchen table, keeping our eyes on the newspaper while we hurriedly force down the coffee we burnt before work.
We’re still messily finishing that crossword on the train with the stranger in a brown suit next to us as our only companion. And no, it doesn’t count as social interaction because we asked him for a four-lettered word for a famous son of Chronos.
The media doesn’t want to interact with us. It wants us to read, to listen, and to watch their version of what’s happening all around you. It wants to tell us what perception of reality to accept.
Social media, in turn, has taken us one slippery step further down this path of human isolation.
Social media has stolen from us our innate love of society; we have never been more antisocial than we are this very moment.
There was a time, before bullet trains and water spraying jet packs (which are pretty awesome for the record), when our nearest neighbours were fifteen kilometres away and the fastest method of travelling was on horseback. Yet we called on each other weekly, if not daily, to fulfil that natural desire to truly interact with other human beings.
Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” – Aristotle, The Politics.
Fast forward to today, and I haven’t called on my neighbour since before the first Jurassic Park movie came out.
Social media has negatively affected every (formerly) social activity.
I see us capturing moments – beautiful sunrises and breathtaking full moons – through Instagram filters instead of capturing them with our eyes and keeping them in our souls.
We write those moments as Snapchat stories instead of writing them across our hearts, as part of our own stories that are constantly unfolding.
We use the check in button on Facebook to let our friends know where we are and what we’re doing, instead of checking in with a call or catching up with a visit.
We’ve mastered messaging with “abreeves” but forgotten how to carry a face-to-face conversation.
We live tweet sports events from our couch instead of taking a road trip to catch a live sporting event with some friends.
We text acquaintances while we sit around a table with our actual friends.
We don’t notice the love of our life next to us in the cafe because our eyes are down on our phone as we try to find love on Tinder. They walk in and out of our lives while we’re swiping right and left.
We’ve exchanged real friends for followers and lovers for “matches.”
And yet, don’t we think it’s a little strange that, in a world of nearly seven and a half billion (7 383 900 000) people, so many of us feel like we’re alone?
It’s because we are alone. Every social media platform offers an additional layer to a wall we’re building between ourselves and those around us. Another filter. More paint on our masks.
We’re given the means to limit and skew the images of ourselves that we put out there, and everyone else is doing the same. It becomes a terrifying idea to show people who we really are, so we don’t. Everyone tries to be like everyone else.
We’re creating a world where no one will truly know anyone.
I think that’s a tragic thing, because the greatest protectors of the beautiful uniqueness and natural individuality we possess as humans should be all of us, together.
Governments and, further back, religions have always feared and denounced the individual; the threat to the status quo.
And yet, individuals such as Copernicus, da Vinci, Tesla, Picasso, and Einstein did amazing things by questioning that same status quo, by letting their unique thoughts and feelings be their compass.
They didn’t follow tradition, and we celebrated them for it.
I’m afraid we’re starting to lose that. We’re falling into line.
Not because of fear or oppression – those things could never break our powerful spirit – but because of distraction.
The irony of it all is that I’m communicating this via an outlet that was only born in the age of social media, and sharing it on multiple social media platforms.
I think our advances in technology and our ability to connect with one another is astounding.
I’m thankful for Skype, Instagram, and other means of keeping in touch with all of those that I love and miss at home.
I just think it’s important that in our quest to be more connected, we don’t severe our connection to each other; that we don’t become the snake that eats its own tail.
Recognize each other. Appreciate someone when they do something differently, wear something strange, or embrace their authentic self in any way at all.
You’ll find people start encouraging you to do the same.
Another year has gone by, and another birthday arrives to remind me. It’s funny to think how much things have changed since we were children. The world used to stop for our birthday. We were kings and queens for twenty four hours every year. I remember my twin sister and I would start counting down the days as soon as October came around. It was always the most exciting part of the year.
Then, slowly, birthdays became less exciting. The countdowns started later, and the parties became less extravagant. Eventually, we stopped caring. Some of us have started to dread the day we turn another year older.
For me, birthdays have become routine. It always involves a little bit of cake, some close friends, some family, and too many vodka shots. Lately, birthdays have been followed by a day or two of recovery (in bed, with Netflix). For the most part I couldn’t tell you a single thing that has separated one birthday from another. Except for this year.
Something happened that has never happened before; not a single person has asked me what I wanted for my birthday. It was with this realisation that something strange dawned on me. This was the first time in my life I could have answered that question from the bottom of my heart.
Growing up, we used to love the question of what we wanted for our birthday. It gave us a chance to voice all of the superficial and material desires that raced through our little minds. Race cars, Barbies, video games, shoes, a new hockey stick, the list goes on. We were shamelessly invested in the fantasy of our birthday. We were convinced the day was so magicalit might actually produce all of these things that we wanted.
But those weren’t the things we truly wanted, were they? Those wants were the result of targeted advertising aimed at the minds of tiny children and young adults. Those desires were what someone else convinced us we wanted and needed. Those wants came from being convinced we weren’t good enough the way we were. Those desires were someone else’s idea of happiness, a happiness of the material kind. Our birthday lists were so long because pursuing material happiness is endless. Material desires will always leave us searching, wanting, and needing more.
Part of my journey to Australia was inspired by the growing resistance against the idea of waking up one day and being sixty years old. I was terrified I’d work for the weekends for my entire young adulthood, scrape by with the money I earned over fifty hour work weeks, and spend it buying things I didn’t love or need in order to pursue somebody else’s idea of happiness.
And that’s not to say I don’t like the idea of the picket fence, walking in the garden with the girl of my dreams, with miniature versions of ourselves running around (hopefully stressing us out less than I did my parents), with a family dog chasing them around the yard.
BUT maybe that picket fence isn’t in the suburbs. Maybe it’s at the end of a long dirt road that twists and bends, with a few large evergreens on either side. Maybe my nearest neighbour is half a day’s walk away. Maybe the food we’re eating is picked from our own garden. Maybe I’m running around all day with the kids and the dog, because I don’t have to put on a suit every day and leave my family before the sun rises and come home after the sun sets. Maybe my kitchen smells like the jasmine, basil, and mint growing in small pots in the sunlight pouring in from the window. Maybe my wife laughs at me when I buy her a necklace, not because its not from Tiffany’s, but because we both know she’ll never wear it. We both know we’ve never measured or demonstrated our love in this manner. Maybe we can lay in the grass together like children, after ours have gone to bed, and look up at the starswithout a veil of light pollution obstructing our connection to the heavens. Maybe we’ll fall asleep under those stars because she feels so warm in my arms. Maybe my arm will fall asleep too, but maybe she looks too beautiful to disturb her when she’s sleeping.
Maybe I’ll find a way there. Maybe I’ll have my picket fence on a plot of land. Maybe I’ll be the boy of her dreams. Maybe I’ll be the loving father I know is inside of me. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’s not in the cards for me. Either way, I know which journey I want to take. At least it’s not someone else’s version of happiness. At least it’s not someone else’s vision of the perfect life. At least it’s my own dream that I’m chasing. At least I’m being honest about who I am.
There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman.
So, even though no one has asked me, I’ll tell you what I want for my birthday:
I want you to strip away all the of the influence society has had on your mind. I want you to search deep inside of your heart. Dive into the very depths of your soul. Find that child inside of you that was never convinced of being anyone other than exactly who you are. I want you to ask yourself – ask that child – what it is that you actually want in life.
It’s been said by many people in various ways that “money makes the world go round.” It goes without saying that it plays a large part in our lives. We see it everyday; we see it swap hands in the coffee shop, we throw it into piggy (or real) banks, and we spend most of our days working for it. We watch as experts trade it and predict its future value. We judge the value of material goods by how much money it costs; in the material world we live in, money is king.
And yet, there is nothing material about it.
So What Is It then?
Yes, money exists in the physical world; it has weight and density; we can feel it. At a point in the not-so-distant past, it was even made up of (materially) valuable resources. But the money we worship, as it is, is of no intrinsic value. It’s what that money becomes that gives it worth. Money is a shape-shifter; it is Mystique, The T-1000, Merlin, Professor Lupin; it can be anything.
It can be a night downtown, complete with bottle service and a booth to call your own. It can be a new book, the smell of fresh pages still intoxicating in their strength. It can be a water pump for a thirsty village in Africa. It can be a lady of the night, or a donation to the church. It can be tickets to the show, the game, or to get on the overnight train to visit an old friend. It can be a university education or a down payment on a house. Money, simply put, is a promise of the future.
And that is why it is such a terrifying thought to spend one’s life pursuing it.
There is nothing less material than money, since any coin whatsoever (let us say a coin worth twenty centavos) is, strictly speaking, a repertory of possible futures. Money is abstract, I repeated; money is the future tense.” – Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths.
I’m not so naive as to think money isn’t important. It serves its purpose, and can be put to use in some pretty amazing ways. I, like Epicurus, tend to believe money has a limited role to play in our happiness. It can give us the food and shelter we need to survive, or the education we require to follow our dreams. It can cover the cost of rent for your new yoga or art studio.
, as found in Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton
But it will never make us truly happy.
Why it’s crazy
It seems almost ludicrous to think money will lead to our happiness. Spending one’s life chasing the accumulation of money, or the material items that money can transform into, is perpetually pursuing the future. There is no life, no experiences, no love, or laughter in the future. Those things are found in the present moment; they are found in the here and the now.
It’s been said that the minute we fulfil a fantasy we can not, and will not, want it any longer. This is because it is never the material desire that we want, it is the fantasizing about that desire that we seek. Think of the time you fantasized about being single, getting a puppy, or buying that new car. If I could just obtain “x”, you thought, I`ll be happy – only to find out that happiness doesn’t work that way. Even a small child desires the shiny red ball or those magically rattling car keys, until he or she obtains them. We may get a brief fulfilment out of finding a new (or multiple new) partner(s), playing with the new pup, or wheeling around in the new whip – but that novelty will always fade. It fades because these things only serve to plug a hole inside of ourselves, a void that can only be filled from within.
This is why money – and the pursuance of it – it such a foolish prospect.
If we spend our days accumulating money, we’re spending that which gives money value in the first place – our future. We’ll have many coins that can turn into many things, but with no time left to perform such powerful magic. Our future, much like the money we attain by wasting it, is not something we can bring with us after we pass from this life.
A fulfilled life isn’t measured by the number of fantasies you fulfil or the material objects you obtain. It’s measured by the experiences you have, the people you share it with, and (most importantly) being fully present in those moments. Spend your time in the future, or chasing it, and you’ll miss the collection of moments that fulfil us, the ones that pave our way to happiness.
Don’t spend your life in a constant chase of the next future fantasy. Chase the present moment. Live in it fully, love in it fully, and laugh it in fully. Yourhappiness is not a fantasy to be fulfilled. It is right in front of you this very moment.