There are two painfully self-restricting words we humans have a habit of using too much. I hear them all of the time.
Anytime we use those words, there is some form of self restriction at play. We’re applying a sense of duty, of honour, of what’s expected of us, of guilt, of shame, of caution, or a lack of confidence to our decisions. We think we should study medicine because our parents have high hopes for us. We don’t think we should quit our job because we’re not sure if we can make our dreams work. We should push away loved ones because we don’t feel deserving or worthy of it. We shouldn’t take a chance because it might not work out.
Every time we use the word should, a story is being repeated to ourselves. Ones we learned from teachers, parents, mentors, friends, and celebrities. Stories of the status quo. Stories that were meant to keep you safe, but actually keep you feeling small and afraid.
Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should have a code. Everyone should know and keep their own boundaries. But there is a difference between healthy boundaries and self imprisonment.
But the word “should” is one that is much better used to free yourself of your own prison, rather than keep yourself in chains.
You should open your heart to love, because you deserve that special someone who loves and cherishes you. You should chase than dream, because you were born to do just that. You should quit that job sucking the life out of you, because you deserve happiness in this life.
Men think. A lot. Sometimes, thinking too much doesn’t allow much room for feeling.
When we’re sick or something is broken, we try to figure out the problem. We look at the issue systematically. What’s broken? What can we use as a replacement? How do we fix it? Finally, after identifying the cause of the issue, we decide on a solution.
Eventually, depending on the problem, we buy new brake pads, take some antibiotics, or smash twelve shots of whiskey and put an irresponsible bet on the number six horse. Just like that, the problem is solved.
The brakes aren’t screeching anymore, our head cold is gone, or we blew off the steam we needed to blow off – even if we lost our rent money for the week in the process.
When we relate to women, our problems start when we try to approach issues in the same way. When we try to force our way of doing things onto the women we love.
We have plans with her in the evening. When we arrive at her house, we’re instantly aware that she’s in a shitty mood. She’s wearing a permanent frown and won’t speak to us. We watch as the storm brews inside of her. The room goes dark with her anger. We’re a bit put off by the entire situation. There’s something repulsive about her wrath. An ancient piece of ourselves is a little afraid at the dreadful power of our wild woman.
What’s HER problem? We think as we immediately go into problem fixing mode. Like virtually every other problem in our lives, we assume there is a single problem we can find and fix to make this situation better.
We think and think and think, but can’t come up with anything. We don’t know what we said, or did, or didn’t say, or didn’t do that caused this issue. What’s worse is, no matter how much we ask her what’s the matter, she constantly tells us it’s nothing.
Why does she have to be so COMPLICATED, we ask ourselves.
Eventually we become sick of asking what’s wrong, so we simply sit next to her without speaking. Maybe she breaks the silence by lashing out at us for not knowing what’s really going on. Maybe we make the very dumb mistake of saying “calm down.” The storm finally breaks, and we feel as though we’re forced to duck for cover.
We walk out, telling her to call us when she’s willing to talk about things calmly. At this point we’ve not only failed our woman, but we’ve failed ourselves as men.
We’ve wrongly assumed our woman’s situation is the same as a bike with a broken chain. We’ve wrongly assumed it’s as simple as finding the piece we need to fix. We’ve wrongly assumed – like all other problems in our lives – that it’s our time as men to TAKE CONTROL of the situation. Like a ship’s captain that finds his vessel has strayed off course, we attempt to change her direction.
We’ve tried to steer her, but our woman is not our ship. She’s the ocean that we’re sailing in. Vast and mighty, if we try to wrestle her immense waves we will lose every time. We will drown. She might not even know she’s doing it, but she will swallow us.
Our job is not to be the captain, or a ship. Our job is to be the rock, standing strong off the coast of the ocean that we love. Our job is to be there, and to be there for no reason other than our love for her waters.
Like any body of water, there will be days when she crashes against us. Wave after wave, it might feel like the ocean will never again be calm. When her tide is high we may feel like we’re close to drowning. Sometimes she hits us so hard we think we might crack. But if we remain full and abundant in our love for her, and constantly present in our masculinity, it will pass.
Her waters will quiet. She will once again lovingly caress us, her waves gently lapping at our ankles. She will completely open her heart in response to our stubborn love. She will trust in our strength, and feel safe in showing us the depths of her dark and healing waters. She’ll let us dive into her completely and we will taste her salty kiss. She’ll show us just how much we have to learn from the mysterious gifts she has to give us.
Until, of course, another storm shows itself on the horizon. But our job as the rock never ends.
So, if you cannot love her sunrise as much as you love her stormy weather, she isn’t the woman for you.
If you cannot find humour in the situation and need to lash out or walk away, you’re not the man for her.
If you cannot give unconditional love to her when her waters get rough, you’re treading in waters too deep and powerful for your abilities. It is better for you both if you find a smaller pool to dip your timid feet in, and for her to find a man willing to embrace her inherently wild and endlessly passionate nature.
We’ve all heard it before. We’ve heard it from our friends, our parents, our siblings, and our teachers.
Don’t get TOO excited.”
It doesn’t even seem to matter what the scenario is;
Trying out for a team and you made the first cut? Don’t get too excited.
Applying for a job and got an interview? Don’t get too excited.
Had the most amazing day with the person you love? Don’t get too excited.
Finished the second year of a three year degree? Don’t get too excited.
Lost a couple pounds of body fat? Don’t get too excited.
The excitement police is ever vigilant. But my question is this: When, exactly, are we supposed to get excited? The “don’t get too excited” warning – in my opinion – has two negative suggestions that accompany it.
The first is the suggestion that something may yet go wrong. You could still be cut from the team, you could still be passed over for the job, your loved one could leave you, or you could still fail out of your degree. You might slip up and eat some cake, putting those pounds back on. “Don’t get too excited” suggests we shouldn’t be excited about these things because they can still be taken from us – as though there is anything in this life that is permanent.
The problem is, the “may yet go wrong” mentality never ends. Once you make the team, you can still be benched, released, or break your femur in a thousand places and never play again. Once you get that job, you can still be fired. Once you get married, or start a family, you can still lose that loved one to death, or divorce, or circumstance. Once you get that degree, you can still be jobless or considered under qualified. A lack of permanence is in no way related to your ability to enjoy and be excited about a moment.
If you’re waiting to celebrate something permanent, you’ll be waiting a very long time. Laying on your deathbed, many years from now, you’ll realize nothing can be truly grasped in this life. So, no matter how fleeting or small the moment, get excited about it. It is these tiny moments of success, progress, and joy that – when their tiny parts are finally collected and assembled – we look back on and remember the life we created for ourselves. You’ll never get a second chance to get excited along the way, so do it now and do it every chance you can.
The second suggestion that comes with the “don’t get too excited” warning is that you somehow haven’t finished yet. You’re not at your goal or your destination. It carries the dastardly assumption that there IS a destination in the first place. But what if, at the end of all of your days, you realize there never really was a destination. What if you looked back on all the little steps you made along the way, and realized life was about the journey? Would you wish you got excited about and celebrated the little moments a little more?
Thinking about life as the destination leads to false regrets. You’ll always focus on the places you didn’t reach rather than the joys and growth you were lucky enough to experience. You’ll see yourself as never have making it to the big leagues, rather than seeing all the friends and mentors you met along the way, and the positive experiences you shared with them. Even if you do eventually reach that destination, you’ll replace it with a new one.
I’m not saying having goals or dreams is a bad thing. I think we’re all born with dreams and we should all let that call of our soul guide us.
What I am saying is this life is inherently exciting. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The small moments and the grand ones. It’s all part of this journey we call life. The journey naturally excites us – so allow yourself to get excited about it.
Get TOO excited about it, even.
Be good to each other,
Featured photo courteousy of forums.marvelheroes.com
There’s always something about the first words you type onto a blank page. It’s like splashing paint onto a crisp-white canvas. I believe we all have words pent up inside of ourselves. Those first ones break the pressure. You kind of just let the words fall onto the paper as they naturally would. Your soul is the bursting cloud, allowing droplets of inner wisdom to sprinkle the land underneath it.
It seems much too rare these days that we allow our soul the ability to speak its truth. Too often we are stifled by social and cultural concerns. I think its a pretty sad notion that our individuality is being suffocated by the very people that should be celebrating it: ourselves.
We’ve seen the unique nature of each human being oppressed in many different ways by many different tyrants.
We saw it masterfully done by the Catholic church after the dark ages. We were told we were all beautiful children of God who loved us infinitely. God would love us until the end of our days, unless we looked upon the stars with our own eyes and suggested, perhaps, that our solar system wasn’t exactly structured as the church had taught us it was. That, maybe, we weren’t the centre of it all. Then we were heretics; we were blasphemous, spoiled spawns of darkness.
We were loved by God so long as we accepted our fate as peasants, farming for dukes and bishops we would never see. Don’t worry, we were told, if we allowed ourselves to be powerless and impoverished in this life, the next one would have rainbows and beds made of clouds. Our sons were loved by God as long as they didn’t love other men. Our daughters were loved by God as long as they didn’t stay connected to their feminine nature or the earth. As long as they didn’t embrace their sexual power and remained subservient to men, our daughters were wonderful indeed.
We saw it done by Hitler and the Nazis, who told us we were perfect specimens of greatness. Unless, of course, our hair and eyes were too dark or our skin produced a higher amount of pigmentation. Then we were somehow sullied; we were somehow corrupt. Capitalism told us we were successful and smart, as long as our car was new and we had the latest smart phone. We were always perfect as long as we fulfilled someone else’s definition of it.
You would think after all of the great individuals, the great men and women who stood in defiance of the oppression of the uniqueness of humanity, that we would learn to celebrate the diversity of one another and of ourselves.
We are shape shifters by nature. We are flexible and bendy. We can wear many different hats. We are water.
Our ability to bend and twist and move and flow is proof enough that none of us were made to be packed into rigid little boxes of conformity.
And yet still we act as our own corrupter. We still restrict our own freedom to be individuals. We are still barbarically behind in a deeper understanding of who we are as individuals and as a species. From the very time we are school children, we speak and act harshly toward those who stand out, instead of celebrating them.
Celebrate who you are, and support others who do the same.
Because you’re all pretty fucking awesome.
Be good to each other,
Featured Image: inesperkovic.com
Geocentric Solar System: pics-about-space.com
Witch Hunt: hiduth.com
Hitler Youth: spartacus-educational.com
Every year during this month, on the eleventh day, at the eleventh hour, we remember.
But what, exactly, are we remembering?
Not one veteran of the first world war is still living. Of the over sixty-five million central and allied soldiers who fired a shot in that war, there is not one of them who still draws breath. Think about that.
There is not a single person alive who experienced the horror of the battlefield first hand. Of the hundreds of millions of bullets and shells exchanged in the first world war, there is no longer anyone who actually remembers pulling a trigger.
For our part, we remember statistics, dates, key players, and usually a story or two regarding a distant relative who fought in the war.
Our countries remember glorious victories and heroic deeds. We remember who “won” and “lost”. We remember the names of leaders and generals who led the troops. We remember the rhetoric about our freedom. Men gave up their lives so that we could live free ones.
But are we missing something? Is there something else we should remember?
Too often do we forget it was not statistics fighting the war. It was not the generals and leaders who were up to their stomach in mud, blood and human waste.These were fellow humans, living through terrifying nightmares that our lives of comfort cannot allow us to comprehend.
These were people like you and I, thrown into the 20th century version of a meat grinder. This was the future generation of an entire world being gambled like poker chips.
In forcing ourselves to face the human element of war, we force ourselves to remember what we have.
Roughly 18 million people died in the first world war alone. To put that into perspective, take the two biggest cities in North America (Mexico City and New York) and then imagine every single person in both cities being wiped off of the face of the earth. Our minds simply cannot conceive how much life was lost during those four years.
Entire neighbourhoods of men signed up together, and were slaughtered together. Think of a group of your closest friends, people you grew up with and love like family. Brothers from another mother; sisters from another mister. You may think of team-mates, neighbourhood besties, dance-mates, the list goes on. I think of a group of brothers I grew up with in the cold rinks of Canada.
Now picture the group of you, walking miles in a wasteland. Think Mordor, the aftermath of Hiroshima and Dresden, or the Moon. You shiver as the cold spring rain beats down on your group. Bullets whiz past your heads, and shells are exploding all around you.
On the first day, half of your group is killed by a single shell. Their body parts litter your trench but you’re uncertain what leg belongs with what torso, so you don’t bother with the pieces of them.
Your closest friend of the group goes insane within days of your arrival because of the constant pounding of artillery and screaming of machine gun fire. That friend is accused of cowardice by your superiors for his refusal to control himself, and is executed for it. You know he wasn’t a coward, his mind had just been incapable of accepting the horrors all around him.
The rest of you are sent over the top of the trench which, like the last fourteen attempts, ends in complete failure. You fall into a hole carved into the earth by an explosion and hide there, hoping the enemy doesn’t jump into the cavity and gut you with his shiny new Nahkampfmesser made of the finest German steel.
At dusk, you hear one of your last remaining friends screaming in pain and crying for help. He’s bleeding out in no-man’s land. Just as you build up the courage to try to save him, you see another friend you had no idea was still alive dart across the barren waste in your injured friend’s direction. He is immediately cut to pieces from machine gun fire. You lose your nerve.
Darkness falls. You rush out into the field while the artillery fireworks light up the night sky. You find the friend who had been crying. He’s dead. His own fist is shoved down his throat. You realise that he had seen one friend die because of his screams, and didn’t want to see another, so he gagged himself with his own hand. You remove the letter he wrote to his fiancée back home, who is pregnant with a baby girl, and you run back to the trenches.
Everyone you arrived with is now dead. It hasn’t been a week.
By the end of the war, this will happen to thousands of people. Some will witness people grasping at their throats, eyes bulging, as they fight for the air that chlorine gas is suffocating out of them.
Some will look into the tear filled eyes of barely eighteen year old boys gasping their final breaths. Some will see men wrapped up in barbed wire and covered in bullet holes. Most will smell the stench of millions of rotting corpses. Many will starve or freeze to death. This is the human element.
And yet, for the most part, these people dug in their heels and kept fighting. The romance of war had long been shattered by the horrific scenes they were forced to endure, and yet these men trudged on. They weren’t stupid, but they felt they had no choice. They were terrified. They believed they would die.
And yet they showed a resilience that is the truest testament to the strength of the human spirit. Let us remember that these were the people that, after witnessing humanity completely shatter itself, had to pull up their boots after the fighting was done and put the pieces of civilisation back together again.
But I can’t help but ask, how would we have handled it? We in the west have lived in relative peace for a long time. We have no great war to fight, no existential threat to truly fear.
In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”Herodotus, The Histories.
We think poor WiFi signal is a problem, or that it’s preposterous when we don’t get a strong cell phone signal in our apartment. We think the weekly grind is a struggle, and our weekend spin class is torture. We think we’re hungry when it’s 6 pm and we haven’t yet had our third meal. Many of us can hardly handle the loss of a dog or a cat, how would we react to witnessing millions of humans being slaughtered in front of us?
So what, exactly, are we supposed to remember?
We remember all that they lost – in the most tragic and sickening of ways – so that we may appreciate all that we have. We remember the darkness they were forced to endure, so that we may embrace the light. We remember the senseless hatred and violence so that we may promote love and laughter.
Let us remember the horror our fellow humans endured, so that we may never again do it to each other.
In putting ourselves, as best as we can, into the shoes of those who walked in the trenches, we’ll realise that we actually have a lot to be thankful for.
And to the soldiers who walked through hell, we thank you and we remember.
Everywhere we look, we see each other in pain. Flicking through a newspaper or television channels, we can regularly find a striking example of someone bearing one of the many crosses we are forced to carry in our lifetime.
None of us can escape the suffering that is the human experience. Our lives will be defined by those struggles which we have found the strength to overcome. All of us the phoenix, our individual suffering our ashes.
And yet we insist on turning these struggles into an issue of race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, or culture. We relate to these issues not as humans, but as a colour of skin, a possessor of certain genitalia, a sexual preference, a place in society, or a zealot of a certain God or Goddess.
We continue to break ourselves apart into smaller and smaller pieces until we fit into tiny, exclusive boxes. We are a black, upper-class, Protestant, heterosexual female. We are a white, blue-collared, atheist, homosexual male.
We restrict our empathy when we latch onto these exclusive groups; they become the only ones who can understand the vastness our individual suffering.
We live in an age where we are surrounded by comparison and competition and, whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’ve started to live for it. We revel in it. We waste so much time in our self-comparison with others that giant online industries such as Facebook and Instagram were partially founded – and partially depend – upon it. The desire to compare our lives has literally become a multimillion dollar industry. Even our suffering – unique to our own journey – has not escaped our thirst for comparison and competition.
The problem does not lie in our desire for comparison. Our lives are inherently different from one another, and comparing differences in ourselves provides a means of recognizing and accepting one another despite our superficial differences.
There is also nothing inherently evil in a thirst for competition. I think of the teachings of various martial arts which insist on competition being a vital aspect on the path to self-awareness, self-respect, and personal growth.
Comparison and competition become issues when they are applied to our individual suffering. It arises when we invest in the idea that our suffering is somehow greater and more valid than the suffering of others.
This notion segregates us. It divides and ranks us based on an assumption we do not have the power to confirm or deny – unless someone eventually learns how to experience the lives of two different people, with different issues, simultaneously in order to compare them.
Who’s to say those of us who were born without fathers – whether we’ve lost them to death, jail, or another marriage – suffer more acutely than those who grow up with fathers who leave for work before the sun rises and come home after their bedtime, the fathers who are never around? The suffering for each is rooted in the same longing for paternal affection. Both examples are kids who just wish they could throw the ball around with their pops.
The examples are endless. Who are we to assume those that have lost a spouse to cancer suffer more deeply than those who have lost theirs to infidelity? That the little brother who loses his big brother to drugs suffers more than the little sister who loses her older sister to the popular group in college?
That the pressure to be of a certain sexuality is more excruciating than the pressure to pursue a traditional career? Both are instances of the person being pressured to live unhappily in a lie in order to please others. Both people are too terrified of social or parental judgements to be true to themselves. Both have somehow been convinced that who they are as a person is wrong.
We could spend an unlimited amount of energy arguing for one case or the other, but it is this exact determination to separate and rank our suffering that is driving us apart.
Instead of a division of suffering, I see the gay male – afraid to come out to his orthodox Christian parents – and the daughter of two Harvard law graduates – who wants to be an artist instead of a lawyer – as two people who are fighting the same battle of identity. I see two people struggling, in different ways, with who they are and the expectations about who they “should” be. I see two people who can show compassion and empathy for one another and who can unite in their suffering under a common thread.
The truth is we don’t know if our suffering is any greater or less than any one else, because it is not in our capacity to understand suffering that we do not know intimately ourselves. Our individual experience and perception only leads to assumption.
The truth is, we all have a different observable universe and our individual suffering is unique to our own story. Our suffering is different, yes, but it can never be assumed that we know what those differences feel like. We certainly cannot presume to know how those differences rank, no matter how obvious it seems.
It’s not about the differences themselves. It’s about the acceptance of those differences. It’s about doing our best to understand those differences. It’s about mutual respect. It’s about loving one another.
Every life history is the history of suffering.” – Arthur Schopenhauer,Manuscript Remains – Volume 3.
The one thing we know for sure is that we all are suffering. We suffer through battles with our identity, image, ego, and our place in the world. We all suffer heartbreak. We all struggle with self-love and acceptance. We suffer through unhappiness and the restlessness of our spirits. We’ve lost loved ones and lovers. We’ve felt alone and unworthy.
Why then, must we compare this suffering? Isn’t it enough to know that every person we pass in the street is fighting a battle of their own? Isn’t it enough to know we’re all in this together? Suffering is the one thing that connects us all.
To be human is to suffer. Instead of using our suffering to separate and rank us, let it unite us. There is no “I”, “me”, or “you.”
I had finally arrived home, just ahead of the sunset. Exhausted, I dropped onto the couch with a sigh.
The rain sputtering on the window reminded me that I was sitting in wet clothes, but I was too tired to care.
Looking around the room, a book on a nearby shelf that was collecting dust caught my eye. I had bought it some time ago, on a whim of no real design, and it had sat there neglected ever since.
As we sometimes do, I flicked absent-mindedly through its pages; I landed on book number two. A certain paragraph seemed to stick out off of the page, a little further than the others.
I ran my fingers along the black lettering. It seemed to be bulging from the paper as though it was braille. I can still remember my eyes actually growing wider with a desperate gluttony as I began to hungrily devour the words presented before me:
Remember how long you have been putting this off, how many times you have been given a period of grace by the Gods and not used it. It is high time now for you to understand the universe of which you are a part, and the governor of that universe of whom you constitute an emanation: and that there is a limited circumscribed to your time – if you do not use it to clear away your clouds, it will be gone, and you will be gone, and the opportunity will not return.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.
I had always heard of people having a moment of clarity, which also happens to be my favourite Jay-Z song of all time, but I had never experienced one myself.
You always hear people say that when you’re truly in love, you’ll just “know” it. The same people say if you’re unsure if you’ve ever been in love, then you haven’t.
I believe the same distinguishing factors apply for a moment of clarity. Simple words, usually so easily manipulated in order to shape an idea in your head, suddenly fall short. Clarity is a poetry that is not written or spoken. It is felt with every fibre of your being.
I put down the book in complete disbelief after reading that simple paragraph. I was wordless and shapeless. That simple passage had an unbelievably powerful effect.
This is the point in the story when it ceases to resemble any sort of cliché Hollywood script.
As the protagonist, I didn’t go out that day and achieve greatness. I didn’t compose a masterpiece, save a drowning puppy, or help to end the suffering of one of the millions of children in need. I didn’t change the world, and I certainly wasn’t saving it. Put me in a spandex suit and I still wasn’t Superman.
I did, however, experience a moment of clarity that I will carry with me for the rest of my life; I saw things clearly and simply. Three things had suddenly become abundantly clear to me:
The first was that the universe is a system of infinitely complex and interrelated pieces. A clock with trillions of perfectly operating cogs and dials. As children of this universe, we are pieces of this puzzle. We are cogs and wheels in the clock of time and space. Each and every single one of us has a purpose. You and I have true meaning. We are each of us important.
The second was that our notion of time is an illusion. An illusion we’ve created. We’ve fabricated the idea of time as a quantity so we can count it and spend it and sell it and trade it the same way we do money and raw materials. Life is a single, uninterrupted and endless opportunity that we’ve for some reason separated into years, days, hours, minutes and seconds. When it comes to your true purpose, there is no fixed timeline or Monday deadline. It is never too late to pursue it. If we’ve wasted moments or decades, it does not change the opportunity that is our life. You can’t waste what doesn’t exist. Time doesn’t exist, but opportunity does as long as you draw breath.
The third, and most important, realization was that the universe had always been speaking to me, I just hadn’t been listening. It speaks to all of us.
The sun came up the morning you were born, and sunk that same evening. It’s done this every day of your life since.
Each sunrise does not represent the start of another day, a fragment of time the universe has no concept of. Each sunset does not represent another collection of wasted chances. The rising and setting sun is the universe’s constant reminder that nothing has changed while you slept. You fell asleep in a life of opportunity and you’ve woken up in its midst.
We need to stop thinking about the days that have passed. We need to stop thinking about the days that may or may not exist in our future. Think instead about how today, in this very moment, you can pursue your true calling. Today you can make a change, or make a difference. Today you can do anything.
I didn’t receive divine knowledge telling me my life’s purpose or how to pursue it that day. I was simply reminded of something I already knew. Something that, deep down, we all really know.
As miniature pieces of this wonderfully chaotic and perfect universe, we are perfectly designed for something. Every single one of us has a purpose.
We’re not too late or incapable. Those thoughts are just grey clouds in our sky as we’re chasing the sun – grey clouds that we’ve created.
So look up at the sun today. Close your eyes and let it warm your face. Let it remind you that you are basking in a perpetual moment of opportunity.
Think of the thing you’ve always wanted to do. Think of whatever it is that has always called to your soul. Then open your eyes and take that next step, big or small, in pursuing that purpose you were put on this earth for, whatever you feel it may be. You are strong enough. You are capable enough.