I see them. I see their glowing eyes nervously peeking over your shoulder as you pass me on the street. I look back, just for a moment, and give them a reassuring smile. My eyes tell them they can never die. It makes them curious. Usually my kind don’t notice their presence. They are intrigued, but they do not trust me. I look too much like one of them – like one of you. They quickly return their frail bodies to the safety of your cardigan.
I see them. Once as big as mountains, they have become a collection of pebbles that you squeeze into your pocket. Caged since infancy, they no longer remember what it means to be free. They have forgotten the summer. Knowing only the darkness of the winter you’ve banished them to, they do not dream of spring. They can hope only of hope.
I see them. I cannot hear them though, for they speak only in whispers. They mustn’t disturb you. They know they shouldn’t be out at this time. It’s against your rules. They should never be awake at the same time as you are. Now is the time for work not for their silly games. It’s time for grown up stuff. They’ve been told before: they have no place in the real world.
I see them. Yet you can barely remember what they look like. You’d have forgotten them completely if not for their little visits. They like to say hello. Even though you’ve given up on them, they remember you fondly and will stay with you always. They are everywhere. Under the burning of the sun, they drift on the breeze gently caressing your face. Sitting on the beach, they surf on the waves lapping at your feet. They are the dancing flames of passion in the deep and dark eyes of a lover.
I see them. You met them as a child. You used to lay in the grass and laugh with them. You were best friends. Sometimes you would spend all day together talking of days to come. You believed in one another.
One day, not so long ago, you were told you could no longer see each other. Your parents wouldn’t allow it. Your teachers forbade it. You could no longer be friends.
But I still see them. They are your dreams.
I see you, too.
You who has walked with giants. You who has braved the darkness. You who is born of the light.
I’ve seen the stardust in your bones and the sunlight in your eyes. Ancestors who protect you course through your veins. Your roots run deep into mother earth, and she holds you with care and love. The knowledge inside of you is as deep as the ocean, and your soul is as vast as its murky depths. You possess the strength of a God – you are one.
You have inside of you all that you need to chase your dreams.
Have you ever had THE moment? I think we all have, at some point in our lives. The moment we observe genius and we’re lifted into action on the wings of inspiration.
It might have been the first time we set our eyes on Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies.” For some of us, it was the first time we heard the angelic voice of Freddie Mercury singing “Somebody to Love.” It could have been the first time we read a poem by Sylvia Plath, the first Steven Spielberg film we watched, or the first time we saw Meryl Streep on the big screen.
Regardless of what the moment looked like, that was your inner artist showing itself.
I’ve had many such moments in my life, but I remember the first time with absolute clarity.
When I was growing up, hockey didn’t appeal to me much. It was very un-Canadian of me, I know. I hated getting up before sunrise in the middle of winter to skate in an arena with ice on the walls. I didn’t like how my feet would be frozen for hours after I took off my skates. I didn’t like how much it hurt when I fell on the hard ice. I decided hockey wasn’t for me.
One night my family was watching hockey on T.V. A guy named Mario Lemieux was playing, and I was instantly hypnotized by him. He was a magician. His stick as his wand, he cast spells no other human could. Every time he stepped onto the ice, he created something from nothing. He made everything look effortless.
To this day, he’s still the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a unicorn. I didn’t understand it then, but I was witnessing genius in motion.
Needless to say, my little heart was inspired. I gave hockey another chance. Suddenly, the arena didn’t seem so cold. The broken bones didn’t take so long to heal. The frozen feet thawed a little quicker.
So why does the witnessing of genius inspire us the way it does?
Art – in all of its forms – comes from a place we’ve forgotten. It comes from the higher realms of the self; it comes from the same place as our souls. We give it many names: heaven, the cosmos, the universe, Valhalla, source, Olympus, and the list goes on. From the moment we’re born, the deepest parts of ourselves call us to return to that place.
This is why a masterpiece inspires us. It gives us a glimpse of the divine; a glimpse of the divine within all of us. For it is only when we see God in another that we come to realize that God is in ourselves. We stop seeing ourselves as separate from the universe around us, and start seeing the cosmos as a part of ourselves.
That is why it lifts our hearts when we express ourselves with creation. Our soul sings when we dance and paint because, for a moment, we are opening ourselves up to the higher realms that we came from. For a moment we remember that we are Gods.
You don’t have to paint the Mona Lisa, or write Romeo and Juliet to find that place. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. The most intimate parts of ourselves don’t care for acclamation or praise. Our souls only long for us to remember who we are; to remember the divine perfection in all of us.
A soul – personified as the artist – is in each of us.
It is why Michelangelo spent over four years painting the Sistine Chapel.
It is why Mario Lemieux spent tens of thousands of hours on frozen ponds.
It is the reason that I write.
Art is the language of our soul and the artist is the one who speaks it. So take some time to create something, big or small. Paint a self portrait, build a tree house, or write a ballad. Take a dance or yoga class. Write a song, or learn an instrument. Find a way to express the soul trapped inside of you. Remind yourself of that feeling you get when you open yourself up to the heavens.
Remind yourself of your own divinity.
Because you are as infinite and as sacred as the stars we look upon.
How many of us can claim we haven’t felt the painful sting of true loss in our lives?
Of course, none of us can. Even the old monk who has nothing to lose has, at some point in time, lost a teacher or has left a family that meant the world to him.
In fact, most of us have recently lost someone (or something) dear to us. It could have been a grandparent, a cat, a job (that you loved), a sibling, or a significant other.
Obviously loss comes in varying degrees. We could have lost a great aunt that we happened to get along with well, or we could have lost the person we believed with all of our hearts that we would someday grow old with.
Most of you probably had a specific name or a face pop into your head as you were reading this. The memory of that person or thing instantly triggered a pain somewhere inside of us. The more intricately entwined with our soul that person or thing was (or is), the deeper and more astonishing that pain would have been.
We’ve all gone through it. The loss of someone unmeasurably important to us. The subsequent days in bed, looking out the window at a landscape that always seems to be dark and rainy. We sit in front of computer screens watching cartoons or scrolling Facebook. We do anything we can instead of facing that pain.
We desperately try to escape it, but we can’t. We buy our favourite foods only to realise we have no appetite. We organise a girls’ night only to realise we’re not really in the mood for company or the notion of changing out of our sweat pants. Some of us need to switch to stronger medicine. We binge drink or we get high. We seek out pleasures of the flesh.
Some of us chase a feeling – any feeling – other than pain. Some of us are happy just to numb ourselves. Some of us even like a bit of a blend, the numbing of our minds and souls but the good old stimulation of the physical senses. No matter our medicine, we close our hearts to the world.
But what happens to our heart when this happens? Where does it go?
Some say our pain is the risk we take, and a symptom of loving someone fully and completely. Others claim is it a symptom of loving foolishly, and with crippling dependence on that which we’ve lost.
I think of everything I’ve lost in my life and it’s easy to see where the pain comes from. I saw my grandmothers very infrequently, and my dependence on them was extremely limited. The pain of losing them, however, was great. I would say the same of the loss of my favourite dog growing up.
That is because the pain of our loss is directly related to how much love we put into a relationship, and how open and vulnerable we allow ourselves to be in order to receive the return of that love. It is in this understanding we can solace in dark times.
I’ve said it before, I know very little about this crazy world we’re caught spinning in. I know even less about that blinding force which we call love. In many ways, I’m hopeless when it comes to these things. But I look at the history of humanity and I see that humans inherently understand the beauty that can come with losing the people and things that we love.
I think of John Keats, of Dante Alighieri, Andy Warhol, and countless other poets, artists, and writers who used the power of loss in order to create something beautiful. Since the dawn of time, humanity has found ways to turn our losses into our gains. Destruction into construction. Pain into the inherent pleasure of creation. We’ve taken the holes left by loss and we’ve planted and nurtured seeds of beauty in them.
Life has many ways of taking those we love from us. Death, break-ups, situations of long distance or bad timing, and many other pressures of life. In this life, loss comes at us from all angles. We should expect for the agents of loss at every turn.
We cannot control who, or what, we lose. We cannot control when we lose them.
But we can always control how we react to it. As long as we consciously recognise and accept our grief, then it is in our power to limit and indulge in it as we see fit.
It seems funny that our natural response to losing something or someone is to sit still. To mourn. To hold our breath. To try and cease existing entirely. On the most simple of levels, mourning a loss is compounding our grief. We add loss to loss. We lose days and weeks. We lose our connection to the world around us, to the people who love us, and – most importantly – we lose the connection to ourselves.
If we’ve already lost someone special to us, why lose another moment, or experience, or chance to indulge in life?
Why not indulge in that pain as so many creative humans have before us? We can use that powerful energy and turn it into something that serves us rather than something that cripples us. Something that banishes us to the dark corners of the mind.
For mother time is a huntress who has never hunted a prey she could not track. She always catches her target. And she comes for us all.
This is why we need to keep moving forward, because time always moves on without us. We don’t have to get out of bed, but the world keeps spinning. We don’t have to pass the time, but the time will pass us by. Eventually our time will be up, and we will be taken away from those who cherish us.
So get out of bed, and put away the tub of Ben and Jerry’s. Turn your loss and your pain into something wonderful.
You can turn that loss of your dream job into that European vacation you fantasized about since you first saw photos of Rome. You can transform the death of your brother into a piece of literature that honours and immortalises him for all of time. You turn your loss of innocence into paintings which inspire emotions in people so powerful that it tells your story without using words. You can take getting dumped as a sign it’s time to start fresh and experience the thrill of living in a new city, or country.
Loss is a part of opening your heart to the amazing experiences of life. Unfortunately, it is unavoidable. The more fulfilling of a life we live, the more we’ll feel that familiar pain of loss. That pain is ours. We can run from it, or we can turn it into something that lifts the soul to the higher realms of creation. It takes courage, but I promise you have that courage inside of you.
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.
It has an astounding ability to filter the way we see the world. By shaping our values and norms, it can directly affect our appreciation for the little miracles in life.
Take pizza for example.
Our social conditioning has rendered the ordering of a pizza into something routine and relatively unimpressive. It’s something that is generally accepted aslogistically simple. It’s become a completely unappreciated achievement of humanity.
But if someone was to do exactly the same thing – that is, get on their phone and press a few buttons – but expect a baby, it would be absolutely absurd.
Think about what goes into the making of a pizza.
If the pizza has pepperoni on it, an animal has to give birth to another animal, which must survive childhood and reach adulthood, that animal must then be murdered, processed, shipped, and cooked before finally appearing as part of your pizza.
If it has olives on it, an olive tree had to be planted somewhere, probably the Mediterranean, had to mature enough over several years to bear fruit (is that what olives are?), be shipped across an ocean, and find its way to meet the pepperoni in a perfect union of infinitesimal coincidence in order to appear as another part of your pizza.
But you also love a bit of mozzarella. No problem. A cow must be born and raised. That cow has to first be forcefully impregnated and must carry her calf full term. In the meantime, she will be permanently chained to a milking device before having her calf taken from her at birth. This process will repeat itself until that cow can no longer get pregnant or produce milk.
The milk is then separated into curds and whey using acid and rennet. The curd sets, is drained and salted. Mozzarella is stretched and kneaded in hot water to give it that special texture a pizza lover has come to expect. It’s packaged and sent to meet it’s fate in that fiery oven with its new brothers the pepperoni and the olives.
This doesn’t take into account how the dough came to be, labour employed in the creation and cooking of the pizza and it’s elements, the delivery man, the electronic exchange of energy in monetary form, or the mind power you put into essentially manifesting a pizza by pressing buttons on a little magic box that fits in your hand.
To put things into perspective, the cheese on your pizza and the pepperoni on your pizza is made up of stardust from two completely different stars. Those stars had to both be born, act as nuclear fusion plants for billions of years, burn out in a beautiful blazing supernova, and have their tiny particles spread across the universe.
They joined the trillions of such like particles that formed earth, before those particles partook in a million year cycle of being born, dying, and being reborn again, before it finally ended up as part of your pizza – at the same time as the other stardust from a different star.
A baby by comparison only takes 2 humans and 9 months to make, compared to the many humans and collective decades the clockwork of pieces your pizza represents – pieces of pizza, no pun intended.
Yet the idea of ordering a baby would appear absurd, when logistically and energetically it’s much less absurd than the ordering a pizza.
This doesn’t even take into consideration the evolution of food, cooking processes, transportation efficiency, technological advancements, harvesting capabilities, and overarching factors of globalisation that were required to develop in order for the ordering of pizza to become common place.
The art of making a baby hasn’t changed since the dawn of time.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but I do not value the making of a pizza above that of a newborn child. We value a baby because it represents life in it’s most beautiful and fragile form. A new soul has come to this planet to experience it’s journey.
In meditation, there’s a few different reasons as to why the mantra is used.
Some sects of Buddhism or Hinduism believe that muttering certain words manifests change. The words plant a little seed in the plan of the universe which is then nurtured by our positive deeds, good intentions, and dedication to our practice.
Other sects believe that the mantra is a set of arbitrary words used to numb the mind.
This is because when we take any word, and say it over and over and over and over again, it loses all meaning.
When the word eventually fades into the realm of meaninglessness, we are essentially muttering nothing at all. We have short circuited our way to an empty mind. A quiet mind.
A mind content in its meaninglessness.
An integral element of turning a word or a mantra meaningless is that there must not and can not be anything behind the words. We have to say the words without putting any feeling behind it.
We may have originally known the intention of our mantra, and we may have started our chants with intense purpose and sincerity, but somewhere along the way we must lose that intent and meaning in order for words, and their meaning, to fade into oblivion.
This is exactly what happens in life when we go through the motions.
We get up every day and follow the same routine. Go to the same job, to perform the same functions, with the same faces surrounding us, who are also performing their own monotonous functions.
Too many of us call this life. Too many of us call this living.
Like the mantras that lose all meaning, along the way we’ve lost what’s behind our words and our actions.
We’re performing the action of living, without actually possessing the intent to live.
We’re just saying the words over and over and over again. Our actions are for the sake of action.
And in this way our lives become meaningless.
We confuse the action itself as being the crucial element of life, when in reality it is the intention behind our actions that matters the most.
Life isn’t about the vacation or the trip, it’s about why we’re going, what we’re getting from it, or what we’re running from.
It isn’t about the code we live by, it’s about why we’ve chosen that path. It’s about discovering the fears and the pressures that have convinced us to live life a certain way, and it’s about choosing – for your own reasons – to find a different code to follow.
It’s not about the corner office job, but why we get up and work there every day.
Once you lose the intention behind the action, it becomes meaningless.
One should therefore not rely on mere words, but everywhere search for the intention behind them.” Buddhist Scriptures.
And that goes for anything in life.
You can be a brilliant poet, painter, athlete, lover, worker, or mother, but if the intention behind it isn’t pure or has been forgotten, then your actions cease to have meaning.
Your actions become a mantra.
Your boss, your partner, your children, and your team mates will all begin to feel the insincerity behind those meaningless actions.
Life is never about the choices we make.
It’s about why we make those choices. It’s about those tiny moments of integrity, when we know we’ve made an unpopular choice but have stayed true to ourselves.
It’s about being fearless in the face of external pressures or socially constructed fears.
Life is the fire, intention is the oxygen that gives it strength and beauty.
So breathe some fresh air into your life.
Take some time to reflect on why you’re doing everything in your life. Look at everything you do today as a choice, and question the intention behind that choice.
That is where your power comes from.
You have the choice and the power to live life how you want to live it.
Don’t let any person or misplaced fear take that away from you.
I remember how damp the basement apartment felt. It was cold enough that I thought the harsh Ontario winter might freeze the moisture in the air.
I had already 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”. The family and friends I spoke to didn’t know it would be the last time we’d ever say those words to each other.
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 and a two six of vodka were waiting, all I had to do was settle into bed one last time.
I wasn’t sure what would happen 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.
It was a good kick at the can.
Writing down goodbyes made me feel a bit better about the whole situation. Like it would help the people I left behind.
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 soon be in bed.
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 – myself and I. That negative self-talk is a slow poison that will make you sick.
I decided to log onto my Facebook while I was waiting for my parents to go to sleep. I wanted to see photos of 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 someone who could stop me. So I decided against it.
That’s when I got the message.
It was one of my best friends, and someone I went to York University with in Toronto.
“Are you okay man?” The first messaged read. I could see he was still typing.
“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 he hadn’t seen my infectious smile in months, and couldn’t even remember the last time he heard my laugh. He told me he noticed I had been avoiding our usual Thursday night group gatherings for cheap drinks at Blueberry Hill on campus.
I hadn’t been to class in weeks and when I did show up, he said I looked like I hadn’t slept in weeks.
And then he told me I wasn’t alone.
It’s funny, because the thought had actually not entered my mind. Up until that point, I had just assumed I was alone. I took it for granted, and truly believed it.
When he told me that I wasn’t, I felt like a man treading water in the ocean who had just been given a glimmer of hope. 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. I told him I didn’t plan on waking up.
He eventually 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 of happiness I wore for everybody else.
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 trip to the hospital 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. A range of uppers, downers, and inhibitors, I quickly became a zombie.
After months of shuffling around completely numb, 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 our society, and what it teaches us about ourselves.
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 or a big ass to be desirable. We need those perfect teeth 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 symptoms altogether.
Instead, I attacked my desire to own shit I didn’t actually like to impress people I didn’t care about.
I started to pursue a blueprint for happiness of my own design. 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.
I started choosing the food that would nourish my body, the food my body was designed to process and to use as energy. I began avoiding the food that would destroy my body and mind.
I meditated on negative thoughts to find their source, and then I broke apart that socially created stigma or fear.
I stopped trying to force things. I let go of the things I couldn’t control.
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.
If you take one thing from this post, I want you to remember you are not alone.
I’m always here if you need to talk to someone. Seriously, no bullshit. Pick one of my various social media pages and reach out and let’s talk it out. I will never judge you for how you feel.
Because feeling sad is just as normal as feeling the opposite. And there’s no reason to hide it.
And if there’s someone in your life who seems a little off, ask them about it. There’s no special day or time to reach out to someone you love. And, if your concern is real and genuine, it can save a life.
I’m the living proof.
You are loved and cherished by more people than you realise.
“Don’t do it,” my cousin warned. “Don’t get attached.”
I laughed at him. He obviously didn’t have to worry about that.
But my laugh didn’t seem to convince him.
“You have no idea who she is – she could be crazy.” His warnings continued.
Valid point, I thought. I hardly knew her.
I had met her only a week previous, on the night of her birthday.
The mood was festive. Her sister was visiting and her friends were with her. The weather was perfect. Anyone could be a pleasure to be around in such a perfect setting.
“You could get hurt.”
I hated to admit it, but that one struck a chord.
He’s right, I thought, I could get hurt.
But sometimes we can’t shake the feeling that it doesn’t matter.
Sometimes we just can’t shake the feeling that we’ve found someone that we want to be attached to.
So when did we start to correlate suffering with attachment?
It’s a thought that sort of worked it’s way into the western mentality from its distant origins in the east.
The idea of dis-attachment is nothing new. Various Buddhist and Hindu sects have always determined attachment to be a major source of human suffering.
Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.” The Dalai Lama at Harvard, 1988.
A very superficial understanding of the concept has worked its way into our psyche.
We see attachment as a bad thing.
It means opening up to the chance of losing something.
It means being vulnerable.
It means falling in love with a person who could take that love away from us at any time.
It means getting hurt.
But how much truth is there to this simple understanding of attachment?
I look around me, and I see that attachment makes up the very foundation of life.
On a purely molecular level, hydrogen molecules attach themselves to oxygen to form water – the elixir which makes life possible.
The biological attachment of man to woman creates life, and the attachment of a mother to her child is what allows that child to survive infancy – as her mother cares for the child out of that attachment.
The tides of our oceans are intricately attached to the gravitational pull of our moon, which in turn is attached to the pull of the earth, which spins happily in its attachment to the sun and our solar system.
The bloom of the African lilly is forever attached to the spring for the perfect conditions, the bees for its pollination, and the sun for it’s nurturing kiss.
In an infinitely interconnected universe, attachment is creation.
Attachment is life.
And yet attachment can be a dangerous thing.
It is when our attachments are based on reliance that it has a high propensity to cause suffering.
It is when we fill the void inside of ourselves with attachment that those attachments gain the power to hurt us.
It is when we attach ourselves to the love of others rather than the love of ourselves that our attachments become toxic.
It is when we attach ourselves to the acceptance of our peers rather than ourselves that our characters become weak and dependant.
Someone close to me always says that you have to fill your own cup. It is when our attachments fill our cups that they become dangerous, because at any moment we may lose them.
This leads to cycles of loss and gain, unbalanced relationships of power and reliance, and, for the most part, pain.
That is the lesson of the west, the lesson of the Buddhists and the Hindus. We mustn’t attach ourselves to sources of love and happiness that we should be getting from our own heart and souls.
But fearing attachments because we may lose them is only weakness.
It is a fear of loss.
It is a fear of being hurt.
It is a fear of not being worthy.
But we are worthy of love.
We are worthy of acceptance.
We are worthy of real, committed relationships.
Allowing ourselves to become attached is one of the greatest forms of vulnerability that we can demonstrate to each other.
The more attachments we have, the more we’ll lose.
The more we’ll suffer.
But that pain is the price we pay to live life to the fullest.
To avoid pain and live life in solitude is the life of a monk.
It is the absence of vulnerability, and it is the absence of the awe and wonder our indulgence in this human experience provides us.
It is human to be vulnerable.
It is human to attach.
The vulnerability that we demonstrate in attaching ourselves to another forces us to dive deeper into ourselves.
It is an essential journey into finding out all the intricate details about ourselves – the good, the (not so) bad, and the things we need to work on that we would have never noticed otherwise.
But finally, it teaches us acceptance.
It teaches us to accept ourselves as perfect just the way we are.
It teaches us to accept another as just as perfect.
It teaches us to accept that we may lose that person or thing at any moment, and that’s okay.
In fact, it makes that person or that thing even more valuable and beautiful because we may lose them tomorrow.
In the acceptance of eventual loss we find appreciation.
We find gratitude.
We’re not perfect. We never will be.
We will struggle to reach that higher place of existence for the rest of our lives.
But we can learn to be happy by ourselves.
We can learn to love and accept ourselves.
And along the way, when we get that undeniable feeling that we’ve found someone we want to attach ourselves to, we’ll be absolutely fearless when we do it.
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.
Part of me wonders why we put ourselves through these types of feelings.
And here I am, in another airport. 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.