Ending the Cycle of Abuse

“You’re nothing without me”
“If you even think about leaving me…”
“You don’t deserve me”
“You’ll never find anyone as good as me”
“You brought this upon yourself”
“I know best”
“You’re a terrible person, and you need me to be better.”
“You’re not worthy of my love”
“I’m only doing this because I love you”
“Don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t understand what we have, they are just trying to poison you”

Abused men, women, and children hear these phases every day, all over the world from the sad, broken people who victimize them.

These statements undermine a person’s self-esteem and their capacity for rational thought. They lead to depression, and create a perverse dependency on the abuser, who continues to undermine the victims.

It’s a tragic cycle and it’s very difficult to break. Even if the victims escape, the deep conditioning they receive lingers. It twists their thoughts and relationships, potentially forever. The feeling of despair, emptiness, and brokenness can stay with a person long after they are separated from the abuser.

Here’s the left hook:

Christ the Redeemer

Everything I wrote above is true, but these actually aren’t phrases out of the Abuser’s Handbook. All of those quotes are actually Christian teachings.

From childhood in the church, we are taught that we are broken and wretched. That we’re nothing without Jesus’ love and forgiveness. That if we stray from the light of the church, we’ll burn in hell. That we’re not worthy of Jesus’ love or forgiveness, but he’s awesome, so he gives it anyway… as long as we submit to his loving will. Anyway, it’s because we’re shitty and we can’t stop sinning, so we need him or we’ll die an eternal death. He’s doing us a favor. And to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise, that’s just Satan trying to tempt you away, so expect it, and guard against it.

And it’s a cycle. Very few pastors, priests, bishops, etc., wake up one morning and decide to break and demoralize others. They do it because they’ve internalized it so very deeply that they don’t know anything else, and the thought of anything else scares the shit out of them. That’s why it’s a generational cycle.

It’s not just Christians, this is essentially how dogmatic religion must operate to remain “in business.” Throughout history the most quickly expanding religious sects have taken it as a sign from God that they doing good, but really all it means is that their brand of religion is the most aggressive and abusive (and have the strongest “make babies” norms). The brand that hooks people most deeply, scares them the most thoroughly, and renders them the most compliant. I think Mormonism is the fastest at the moment, but that’s not really important. It’s a fundamental feature of all similar ideologies.

Expansion

Here’s a conundrum for free thinkers who want to spread light, love, and reason. By their nature, freer forms of thought and spirituality do not spread as aggressively as the abusive ones, because they do not as strongly create a cycle. Combine that with thinking people having fewer children than religious people, and you have a generational abuse expansion problem. The abusers are multiplying faster than the lovers.

What can we do about that?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but maybe there’s some way we can subvert or commandeer the machinery of fear and turn it into a force for good.

Brainwashing Instructions

What we’re talking about here is essentially brainwashing. The basic steps of brainwashing are:

  1. Assault on identity. “You were born with sin, and you’re a sinner unworthy of His love”
  2. Guilt. “Jesus died on the Cross for you. You owe him!”
  3. Self-Betrayal. “Admit that you’re unworthy of his love!”
  4. Breaking Point. “Who am I? Maybe I am going to Hell.”
  5. Leniency. “But it’s ok… We can help you walk with Christ and have a place in Heaven.”
  6. Compulsion to Confess. “I’ve lived a life of sin…”
  7. Channeling of Guilt. “It’s not you, it’s Satan’s grip that led you to a life of sin.”
  8. Releasing of Guilt. “Maybe it is Satan who encourages my sin… maybe Jesus will set me free”
  9. Progress and Harmony. “Let us show you how you can be born again and enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
  10. Final Confession and Rebirth. “I invite Jesus into my heart!”

But how can light and goodwill harness such a fundamentally negative approach? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that just playing defense by inoculating our children against blind faith, and congratulating each other for how open our eyes are isn’t going to cut it. I do know that if we don’t learn to powerfully mobilize, this hopeful era of people opening their eyes will be washed away in a storm of ignorance, hatred, and fear.

I’m really looking for actionable insight here, what do you think?

Quality Problems vs Safe Problems

1.

An anonymous poster asked a question on reddit:

My GF has genital herpes and I don’t. I love her with all my heart, but I live day to day wondering if I should stay with her

So from the very beginning of the relationship she was honest about her condition. Her ex cheated on her and got it and then gave it to her. I was a little bit weirded out about it at first but that didn’t stop me from wanting to be her friend. Long story short I fell for her deeply and we started dating. It’s been a year and a half now and I’ve been using protection every single time we have sex but it’s just been coming to the point where it’s hard to move pass the fact that she will always have that. We’ve been talking about marriage and possibly having kids but it’s just so far fetched for me. Bottom line is, I don’t want to risk my health but I don’t want to lose the woman I’ve always wanted in my life. I don’t know where to go with this relationship. We are both 30 and yes I have brought it up to her. She says to do what’s best for me. She would understand. This woman is my other half, no doubt. It’s just that I know if I stay with her, I’ll continue to see her in a different light. I hate feeling like this.

Here is my response:

You’re full of shit.

Hear me out: I know you think you’re serious and sincere, but I’ve heard this story a billion times in my practice, and it’s never what you think it is.

You’ve been with your woman for 18 months, and you claim you are ambivalent about staying with her “because she has herpes,” but you’re full of shit. How do I know? You’ve been with her 18 months, yet a thread on reddit is shedding new light on the condition for you. All the information you could ever want about herpes is a google search away, and you don’t know jack about the disease that you claim is the central sticking point of your long term relationship. That tells me it’s an excuse.

And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a GREAT excuse! It’s nothing that anyone can solve, and it’s not really your woman’s fault, and certainly not your fault, and yet there it is, lingering forever.

She’s the woman you’ve always wanted–she’s your other half! If only it weren’t for this big, bad, unsolvable problem that you haven’t even begun researching in 18 months and that you have no responsibility for, you could commit to her fully and spend the rest of your life with her.

Total bullshit. And now that it’s in black and white like that, I think you’re man enough to realize you’ve been bullshitting yourself about this issue, and you’ve been acting like a pussy and hurting your woman unfairly.
I’m going to make a few guesses here, and they are speculation because I don’t know you, but I’m completing the pattern, so I bet I’m right:

  1. You’re afraid of commitment
  2. You’re afraid your youth is slipping away, as you move into your 30s
  3. You’re afraid she’s not really the one you spend the rest of your life with
  4. You’re afraid of telling her because you don’t want to hurt her
  5. You’re afraid of telling her because you’re afraid she’ll be mad at you
  6. The real reason you’re ambivalent is something you’re too ashamed to admit to her, and probably to yourself as well. Maybe she’s not physically attractive to you, maybe you’re questioning your sexuality, it could be anything

So you make a safe excuse, that you pretend is not really solvable. It’s safe because no one can blame you for being concerned about “your health” re: a disease that has stigma. If this were really the problem, you would’ve researched it to death and made a final decision within days of starting to fall for her, 18 months ago.
When your woman tells you that you need to make your own decision, and she wouldn’t blame you, she’s fucking dying inside. You are acting like too much of a pussy to just own your real thoughts and feelings and be real with her, and it’s tearing her up.

What can she say other than what she’s said? If she blames you, then you get to tell everyone what an unreasonable, diseased bitch she is when you leave her. If she begs you to stay, then you get to hold this over her head forever. And I think you sort of like that because it gives you power in the relationship: you have a free pass to leave her on a whim, guilt free. Who would give up a sweet deal like that?

I’ll tell you who: a real man. The man who deserves her will do right by her and make a fucking decision.

Get real about the reasons that you have cold feet, man up and be honest with your woman about those reasons, and stop pretending tiny, infrequent cold sores are the reason you can’t commit. Also, when you’re done, if your woman keeps you, apologize to her for being such a pussy and putting her through that bullshit. She deserves better.

2.

A lot of people took exception to my abrasive tone, my sexist language, and my presumption that I knew so much about this anonymous guy who had barely posted more than a paragraph.

My tone, and my words were all carefully chosen to drill into this man’s soul and change his life. I was confident I was right, but the proof is in the pudding:

The poster of the question responded within minutes, saying I’d hit the nail on the head, and he had a lot to think about. He followed up in another post thanking me again.

How did I know?

3.

You might have noticed a phrase in my response: “safe excuse.” That’s kind of a code word, the usual phrase is “safe problem.” A Safe Problem is the opposite of a Quality Problem.

A Quality Problem is a forward thinking decision that could have a significant impact on our identity, circumstances, or quality of our lives, so they feel risky.

Examples of Quality Problems:

  • Moving to a new area
  • Career Change
  • Committing to a Relationship
  • Leaving a Relationship
  • Starting a Family

A Safe Problem is an issue that lingers even though, strictly speaking, the solution is in our control.

Examples of Safe Problems:

  • Communication problems or bickering
  • Procrastination
  • Blaming Others
  • Addictions
  • Avoiding making decisions
  • Time management issues

When someone is terrified of the risk of solving a quality problem, they will often replace that quality problem with a smoke screen of safe problems, that they can use so they never have to face the real, underlying issue. They never have to take any risk or face their fear, because they make themselves powerless and paralyzed by “problems” that apparently have no solution.

4.

I knew Mr. Anonymous was full of shit, because everything about his “problem” reeked of safety, in all the ways I outlined in my response to him. All I had to do was ask myself: if this problem went away, what real problem would he have to face? And I gave him a bullet point list of the real issues that I had a strong inclination to believe were underlying his question.

That’s how I knew he was using herpes as a safe problem to avoid the real issues like fear of aging and commitment.

So I put it to him to him in a way that would interrupt his pattern of using the safe crutch (shocking and abrasive language), and that supported his essentially heterosexual, gender normative frame of the world. Luckily he was honest enough with himself to take that punch and say “You know what? It’s true, I’m afraid of something else.”

That insight, combined with his level of honesty means this guy has a fighting chance to grow and change and maybe have a long, happy marriage.

What safe problems are you hiding behind?

How to Radically Change Your Life

I have a friend named Layla who is one of the best people I know; when she was about 20 years old, in the 50s, she left her nice little home in Britain, and went by herself, literally wading through the jungles of Central Africa. Chest deep in muck, elephant gun held high above her head, she found the famous explorer she’d been looking for and spent the following years Indiana-Jones’ing with him.

The problem with tips and tricks is that incremental improvements won’t solve your malaise. You read articles about how to improve your life all the time, right? So why does your life still seem like 90% sitting around on the internet reading articles? When is the last time there was a seriously tangible difference in the quality of your daily life?

This is to all the people who are stuck and have been for a while, you know who you are.

I say this shit all the time, and you think I’m joking or that it doesn’t apply to you, but here it is people: If you want change then change, goddammit. Radically and permanently alter your daily life. Leave everything behind and literally, not figuratively, join the peace corps, or move to a commune, or travel the world. Cut yourself off from old patterns and old baggage.

The excuses welling up in your brain right now are so loud, I can hear them from here—shut your trap. Break your lease, quit your job, kiss your mama goodbye, and piss off into the wild blue yonder.

Come back in a little while for all I care. I’m not saying you should live the life of a hermit or vagabond forever. Layla isn’t a vagabond. She came back from Africa, and now she’s a real estate mogul in California. Why is she among the best people I know? Because she’s alive, she’s had among the best experiences I know.

There is probably something you’re working toward. You tell yourself that’s what makes the grind worth it. You want to be a big actor or writer, or a successful business person, and you’re diligently working through that between checking facebook and reddit. But if you’re honest, you’re frustrated and burned out. It’s because that one goal you have requires a huge infrastructure of other investments. Living a middle class lifestyle requires a respectable house (with, like, plumbing), a livable income, friends you can relate to and the rest. You can’t just “be an actor” because you have to maintain the rest of the web of requirements that seem to be a prerequisite, and you only have the sliver left over to act with.

The bottom line is that if you are stuck in your life, you have a choice between keeping all the shit that’s burning you out, and staying exactly as you are, or throwing it all away, all at once, right now, and grabbing life by the scruff. There’s nothing stopping you, just do it.

Fundamental Needs #3: Massive Ink

Lucky Diamond Rich is most tattooed man in the world. He has tattoos across 100% of his body, including the insides of his eye lids and foreskin. When his whole body was filled, he began tattooing over the black ink with white ink, and various other colors. As if not risking enough infection, he also has large, subdermal implants variously placed on his body.

I’ve personally never wanted tattoos—or bumper stickers for that matter. Why?

Significance is a fundamental human need. We all want to feel special, different, and important in some way. We want other people to notice us, appreciate us, and think about us. The lengths we go to stand out depend on how independent we are, how secure we are in ourselves, how deeply we need to belong. But we all display our positive characteristics, achievements, and associations somehow and to some degree.

Do you honestly think your COEXIST bumper sticker convinces anyone to be more tolerant than they are already prone to being? So why do you have it on your car? It’s a signal that you’re a tolerant person, which in some sense makes you special. It’s branding. It’s a broadcast to the world that you’re significant, and a symbol of the special way that you are significant.

It’s why punks have mohawks, and hipsters have handlebar mustaches, and why Lucky Diamond Rich has more ink in him than Office Max.

(If they are trying to stand out, why do they all look the same? That’s the next essay, keep your pants on.)

But maybe Lucky is just a normal guy who wants to express himself artistically, and I’m projecting something onto him that’s not really present. Maybe he leads a normal life other than his body modifications. Let’s examine his other jobs and pass times: fire eating, sword swallowing, chainsaw juggling, and unicycling. Yeah.

This is a man who has designed his life and appearance from the bottom up to draw attention to himself, and to separate himself from “normal” people. Something about the way Lucky grew up made significance a top priority for him.

I don’t know Lucky, but many people for whom significance is top priority are narcissists.

Extremes

Narcissism doesn’t mean what you think it means. A narcissist actually lacks self esteem, but not in the sense of having low self esteem. They lack self esteem in the sense of not having the necessary psychological development to have or understand “self esteem” in the way a healthy person does. They are missing the mechanism that let’s them see who they are at their core.

Instead, they simulate self esteem by projecting a persona into their social environment and using the “reflections” to decide whether they are worthy or not. So they might project high achievement or intelligence, regardless of whether they’ve achieved or are intelligent, and when they get validation by people reacting to them as though they have achieved or are intelligent, then they feel good.

So most of what a narcissist does is a projection of significance, meant to reflect back at them and tell them they are special and worthy people. I don’t know if Lucky is narcissistic, but he sure spends a lot of time signalling to everyone that he’s different and weird and special and unique.

But let’s stop picking on narcissists for a moment and realize that everyone needs to feel significant, and that the pathological cases are just a few degrees more wound up than we are with our high-minded bumper stickers and “Mom” tattoos.

I’ve personally never wanted tattoos—or bumper stickers for that matter. Why?

We are largely shaped as adults by the experiences we have as children. I spent many years wishing to God that I could slip into the crowd unnoticed. I was painfully reminded throughout my childhood that I was different, special, unique, and horrible. Through no special talent or skill of my own, I had an early overdose of significance, and it took me my teens and early adulthood to recalibrate from that. Now I don’t need a tattoo or bumper sticker, I feel just special enough.

But I’m a case in point. The problem with being weird and special, with having tattoos from god is that you become alienated and isolated from everyone around you.

When it’s party time
like 1999
I’ll party by myself
because I’m such a special guy.

Get Real

The skill is being aware of what you do to gain significance (I’m tolerant! I play guitar!), and make sure it’s

  1. Congruent,
  2. and In balance with your competing need for love and connection.

I’ll talk about love and connection in the next one, but congruence is important. It’s fine to talk a talk if you walk the accompanying walk, but empty projection alienates you not only from other people (because trust me, they all know you’re full of shit) but also from yourself. You can spend so much time projecting a false image that you forget what the real one looks like. Teenagers get a free pass to try on identities and see how they feel, in adulthood that’s called narcissism.

By all means, signal. Signal to everyone, as much as you feel comfortable, all the ways you’re special and different and unique. Stand up and be noticed. But make sure those signals are consistent with the reality of who you are at your core. If you want something to be true, first make it true, then signal it. And realize that the more special and unique you are, the less connection you have with the people around you. Why? I’ll talk about that in the essay number four.

Making Others Happy

Doing what everyone else wants has its perks.

I graduated from high school right around my 15th birthday. I never liked school and I got nothing but mediocre grades until I skipped from 5th grade into high school. Impressive (to whom?). Then I continued getting mediocre grades until I graduated. It was all very disappointing (to whom?), and I was rejected from LSU when I applied. I wrote a letter to the Dean of Admissions to convince him to let me in anyway, and he did. I kicked ass in college. I was always on the Dean’s list, and I was in the honors program, writing a thesis about international logistics chains in Mexico. Very impressive! (to whom?)

When you do well in school, your parents give you pizza. Everyone nods approvingly when you tell them you’re a Junior at Yale studying “whatever”. Did you ever notice that people in college always say “I’m in grad school,” instead of “I’m learning about botany”? Unless it’s something impressive, then they say “I’m in grad school for physics.” Wow, neat.

So it was all very disappointing (to whom?) when I dropped out of college as a senior. But I made up for it by quickly landing a job at Acme Corp writing software. I had never intended to write software for a living even though everyone assumed I would since that’s what I spent a lot of my time doing as a teen. I was a Senior Application Developer on the “Appdev Team” which was the prestigious team, as opposed to the “Proddev Team.” Neat.

When you start your career as a banker for Goldman or engineer for Lockeed, your grandparents are happy. They gloat to their friends, “Our little Timmy is all grown up! He graduated from Generic U., and now he’s a neurosurgeon!” Did you ever notice how when people talk about what they want to be when they grow up, they say “I want to be a firefighter!” instead of “I want to rescue people.” “I want to be a blogger!” instead of “I want to write.”

It turned out that I was really good at climbing the ladder and getting increasingly high profile and lucrative jobs. When I was 23, I was the head of development at a $28 million dollar software company. The CEO hired me to help him either sell the business or go public.

And it feels kind of good once you’re there. If you ignore the long hours and cloying sense that something isn’t quite right, it’s fun to have stuff. You know you can pay your mortgage, and that feels good. It feels even better if it’s a big mortgage—the bigger the better—because having money to spend means you’re winning.

You can tell how much you’re winning by how much money you spend. It feels good to pay your mortgage, then buy a surround sound system that you pay someone else to install. That way you can casually tell your friends “Oh yeah, the guy I hired to put in my surround sound he was great, I can give you his number if you want.” You’ve come a long way from telling your 5th grade buddy that your 12-speed bike is better than his 10-speed.

All the officers and top sales guys at the company drove Porches, one of them had the most suped-up Ford GT in the world (featured in car magazines, and banned from racing). I drove a car that cost me more per month than all my current bills combined cost me now. It was part of the culture, it’s just what you did there.

Smoke and Mirrors

But that’s the smoke and mirrors of it all. At some point all these facts come together.

You did well in school as a signal to your parents that they could approve of you. When you stopped caring about what your parents thought, you went to grad school because being a grad student signals to your peers that you’re smart and going places.

Who gives a shit what you studied (unless that was part of the signal), or what you plan to do with it, that’s not the point. It’s not for you, it’s a signal to other people that you’re the type of person who does the right things.

Also not for you: hiring a guy who put in your surround sound that you either never use, or constantly use in lieu of meaningful human contact. It was a signal to your peers that you’re the type of person who can afford to have workers install frivolous things on your behalf, because you have money, which means you win.

All this feels great, in an empty sort of way. Our society reinforces every part of this system, all the way down the line, from telling us what a successful life should look like, to programming us to respond to our friends and family in ways that reinforce the status quo. Parents are happy you’re getting good grades, so they can tell their friends about how great you’re doing, so their friends know what great parents they are. Everyone has skin in the game, so no one can just stop playing.

Unless they do.

Letting Go

I used to stress about my car. Keeping it clean, and being paranoid about it getting scratched or damaged. My 4 year old son was riding in the back seat. I stopped at a stop light, and glanced back. My heart jumped into my throat, demanding to exit my body so it could strangle the little shit who was shoving a rusty nail he had found through the fine leather upholstery over and over.

Then it all came into view for me. This car didn’t matter. It wasn’t even for me, it was for my buddies at the company to know that I was one of them. I sold the car, and bought a Cadillac DeVille for $3,200 in cash, less than one month payment for the expensive one.

The car is great and fine. I still drive it today. I drove it from Florida to Austin.

And then I told the president of the heath company that he was full of shit in the middle of a big meeting, which I knew would get me fired. When I was fired, I got a job that suited me better, making plenty of money and working from home.

I’ll spare you the play by play, the point is that every time I threw something away that I had or did for other people, I felt better.

Grasping On

There’s a tipping point in that process though, and since you’re reading this, you’re probably at it, and maybe have been at it for a long time. It’s the point where you’ve let go of the impressive school and big shot title, where you’re ready to live “authentically.” So you’ve dropped everything to follow your path and then… nothing.

What do you do now? There’s no map, there are no mentors. All the signs along this road say “Wrong Way. Go Back.”

You’ve been going through the motions for other people for so long that you don’t know who you are or what you want. Worse, you don’t have the tools to figure it out. You’re just lost.

You have a choice about how to deal with this.

  • I think the ideal way is also the hard way. You’ll cut ties, drop everything, and spend a year doing nothing and everything. You backpack through India, or you ride the rails in your own country. You’re a vagabond, floating in space, totally disengaged with the daily grind of our society. At some point you’ll become reacquainted with yourself and something will grab your heart. And you’ll be free to pursue whatever it is because you have nothing tying you down.
  • The more realistic but less effective (and less scary) approach is to ween off the things that you do for others, and slowly replace them with fulfilling activities. The important part here is that you drop each thing, and you don’t fill the void with anything for at least a little while. Create a vacuum in your mind and life for the meaningful stuff to fill in. It can’t fit if your life is already filled with nonsense and distractions. You’ll know when something grabs your heart, and if nothing comes to fill that void, just keeping making the void bigger as you drop more nonsense, and eventually you’ll have enough to space to fit your heart’s desire.

Young and Dumb

1.

I was a precocious kid, the kind that’s remarkably well-spoken for a 6 year old, and everyone thinks it’s cute. At that time I figured, since I got along with adults so well, I must be pretty much on par. I knew I had facts and figures to learn, but obviously I operated on a similar level.

But then I turned 10, and I could plainly see how much sophistication I lacked when I was only 6. I’ll skip the montage, you get it, this is an ongoing process.

But think about this. Now that you’re an adult, when is the last time you can remember being young and dumb? What is the oldest you can remember being, when you were a categorically different person?

I remember turning 18, and I’m talking to this girl online for a couple months, and fast forward a year and I’ve eloped with her. That was dumb.

I’m 21, I’m spending a lot of my week as an officer in this “business fraternity” at my third tier business school because I have this vague idea that it’s a “great networking opportunity,” whatever the fuck that means. That was pretty dumb.

It gets fuzzier at that point. As an adult you have fewer growth experiences than you do as a child, so it takes longer. The gap between now and when you were young and dumb gets longer and longer.

That’s a bad thing.

I have a theory that you should strive to keep that gap as short as possible. Every year you should look back and think about what a dumbass you were a year ago. That way, you know you’re growing.

To phrase it another way, if you look back and don’t see how much of a dumbass you were a year ago, then you’re still the same dumbass from a year ago.

2.

The perception of time passing is controlled by how many “salient events” take place during that time. For our purposes, salient events are events that we consciously notice. They might be novel in some way, either by being different and new, or by being exciting.

You can see this is true if you consider that a year backpacking abroad will seem in retrospect to have been a whole lifetime. So many new and exciting things happened during that year, that when your brain recreates the experience it feels subjectively “longer” than if you sat in a cubical filling out TPS reports the whole time.

When you’re a kid, time crawls by because every day you’re experiencing new and exciting things. As you age, you settle into routine and soon nothing much is new or exciting, and time is flying by.

When we are bored, we become aware of each passing second. Each agonizing moment becomes a salient event because we’re aware of them as they pass, and so time passes in a trickle. Later that day we sink four hours into World of Warcraft without a second thought.

3.

To be a new and better person means to have new and better experiences—events that shape who you are, and color your perception. Each new experience can potentially be the event horizon of being “young and dumb.” On one side of the horizon you see your young self, and on this side you find your new, better self.

The key ingredient to growth and the perception of a full and meaningful life is those salient events. Don’t sink into routine; seek out new ideas and new people, and new experiences.

The last time I clearly remember being young and dumb was a little over a year ago when I separated from my wife. That was a tremendous moment of growth for me, and I can confidently say that I’m a categorically different, better person now.

But that gap is getting too long, so I’m getting antsy. It’s time to up the ante, make a rukus, meet new people, go new places, start new projects. You should think about doing the same.

Life is a Sunset

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of being unattached to outcomes and someone commented that it was a very Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist see everything in this world as temporary and encourage people to disengage from temporary things to break the cycle of rebirth.

I don’t consider myself Buddhist, because I think disengagement isn’t the right answer. I think we’re here having a human experience, and we should revel in it and soak it up. I’d feel better jumping off Samsara if I knew what it was for.

Buddhists are right that your experiences as a human being are illusory and temporary, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We don’t spend our lives obsessing over a coming sunset, or living in existential dread for when the sunset is over. We just see it, and it’s beautiful, so we sit with it a while and enjoy it.

We enjoy the moments we have with it, and we fully expect and are at peace with its inevitable ending. We know it’s not really a “thing” in itself—it’s just an arrangement of the sun and the sky and the earth, with a certain type of light hitting our certain type of atmosphere at a certain angle that only people standing near us can see. All that makes a beautiful, meaningful, and temporary experience that really only exists from your particular vantage point in the universe.

When it’s over, nothing is lost, it just means you’ve moved out that vantage point. You also know that you’re part of an ongoing cycle and you’ll see a similar, maybe more beautiful sunset, when the time comes.

That’s my philosophy. I think any experience that you become consciously aware of has the capacity to look beautiful from your particular vantage point, if you want it to.

Success and failure, and love, and anger, and power outages, and travel, and sex, and everything you experience is beautiful, and you can give whatever meaning to it that you choose, and you will eventually move out of the vantage point from which its visible, and that’s perfectly fine.

You’re part of a larger cycle, and when the time is right, you’ll see it all again. And since you’re going to be wiser when that happens, maybe it’ll all be more beautiful and meaningful than you ever knew before.

Say Hello 2 Heaven

There’s a creeping bitterness that nips at my heels. I think I do a good job of keeping it at bay, but everyone knows the cliche of the bitter old person, and I can see how the gray get there. Not everyone can keep it at bay. They get disillusioned after being broken one too many times.

It’s hard to blame them for becoming cynical. There are only so many times you can die under your Dad’s car tire, grow up with a broken face, sink good years of your life into an abusive relationship, lose your father, your mother, your siblings, your children, your livelihood and legacy, and keep on trucking with clear eyes.

I guess it’s important to hit bottom at least once, for perspective, but the part that strikes me as really strange is that there’s nothing to do with all the heartbreak. It feels like there should be something, some outlet for it, and I think people get stuck—sometimes for their whole lives—trying to process their bad experiences, trying to find that outlet to get the hurt out of their bodies and spirits, trying to find the key that will make whatever happened acceptable so they can have permission to be happy again.

But there’s nothing there to find.

There’s no catharsis, there’s no movie ending where the bad guys get what’s coming, or the douchebag sees the errors of her ways. Life just rolls on, and you have to keep moving and just exist with whatever has happened, otherwise you stop living and growing, and burn out into one of those bitter, gray people.

Heaven & The Abyss

I was listening to that song that everyone loves “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” which is about a guy named Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose after battling with depression. One of the lines struck me:

“He hurt so bad, like his soul breaking
But he never said nothing to me”

And that’s what got me thinking about all this. I’ve been broken a few times, and come back mostly better and stronger, but I wonder where the line is between that bitterness nipping at your heels but being at bay, versus being broken and just not telling anyone in the hope that if you fake it long enough, you’ll make it.

I think my conclusion is to throw out the question. That is a question framed by inevitable bitterness, and the question is about what degree you let it affect you. But I reject that premise.

I’m saying that the advice I’d give to my younger self, is that you need to remain unattached to outcomes, and just learn to exist in a state of unconditional, childlike wonder. Horrors and atrocities and soul breaking tragedy will undoubtedly hit, and all you can do in the face of that titanic sadness is shine as brightly as you know how, as a reflection to others that there’s love and hope in the world, but also as a reflection to yourself.

Don’t fake it—I’ve wept until I couldn’t breathe, until my soul ground to a halt, until I had no light to give. If you’re there, be there. The worst thing you can do is exist in limbo, between gut-wrenching sadness and the veneer of normalcy. That limbo is where people get lost—they stumble through a fog of distractions, with that sadness at their heels forever, until the day they die.

I say plumb the depths of that darkness, and stare it in the face. There’s no movie ending, no catharsis. Just you and that abyss, looking back at you. When you can look into it and stop fighting against it existing, then it loses its power over you. It exists, you exist. That’s all.

You exist. Let that childlike wonder take over.

Now you can shine again, from a place so deep inside that tragedy cannot strike, so bright that darkness cannot exist.

Commander in Chief

Ok, look, hippies. There’s something New Agey people need to understand.

We’re always busy looking for signs from the universe about our path, and shit like that. We say that when we’re following our path, it gets easier because the universe says “yes” and helps us. It’s more complicated than that.

There’s a danger here of learning helplessness, groping through the dark, frustrated at not being able to figure out the path that our mother universe has laid out before us. This sense that we’re doing it wrong because we haven’t discovered it yet, and that when we do finally discover it, the mysteries of the world will unravel before us in a divine cacophony of insight. We just haven’t been perceptive enough to see the signs that are waiting out there for us.

But that groping, that clawing at the door of an imagined mother figure, is the very force in our lives that holds us back. I asked myself why, with the red carpet out before me, could I not grow and maintain a roster of clients large enough to give me a livable income?

The fire in my chest for helping people burned true, I didn’t just imagine it. But it didn’t burn because I stumbled into the sign that unlocked my life for me.

It burned because I set it on fire.

There are no signs, but those you create for yourself. Your guides aren’t your parents, and you their hapless child. Your guides are your advisers, and you are their president. You set the course. You call the shots. By your singular vision and determination you will succeed. Or by your ambivalence and uncertainty, you fail.

Your doors slam shut in your face because you are ambivalent, not because they are wrong according to some external authority or plan. Stuff doesn’t work because you change your mind, your attention drifts, and soon you’re focused on something other than the path that you had been traveling on.

There’s no trick, there’s no sign, and there’s no plan, except the one you create.

If you want something through to your core, and you focus on it with a fire in your gut that the world can’t douse, then you will create whatever you’re burning for.

Sick and Tired

I’m alive! It was touch and go for a while, but I made it through about a week of being sick. Aside from a persistent cough, I got better yesterday, which was my birthday, so this is the first day I’ve had to catch up on things. I owe people some readings and phone calls, you know who you are, I’m on it!