I See Human Beings

My apologies.  I know I’m taking a risk here, but I posted this the other day and then I took it down.  I’m torn.  I want to leave the past in the past and so I thought I’d put it out there and let it go, but then I thought, by putting it out there, it regains energy.  I had a great conversation with a wise person, who told me its okay to put it out there, let it go, and be done with it.  So, here it is again.  I will not take it down. Namaste.  

Charles Bukowski once said, “I walked around the block twice, passed 200 people and failed to see a human being.”

The block I grew up on was pretty bad.  I walked around it countless times.  I witnessed and experienced things I shouldn’t have at an early age.  At any age, really.  I greeted the prostitutes on the corner as I walked by, witnessed horrible violence and incredible kindness.  A bloody lifeless body on my sidewalk and a two-year old boy innocently playing with a toy truck.  I went to sleep to the cacophony of gun shots, sirens, the elevated train, people yelling and screaming, and … a dog barking.  You get used it.

I learned street diplomacy in my single digits, got into and out of violent confrontations and maintained a delicate relationship between decent people and the criminal element.

Mentally, physically, and psychologically processing that stuff has its effects.  For so many, the atmosphere becomes them and I completely understand.  The pressure to align with this group or that group, because standing alone is dangerous.  So is aligning with a group.  Catch 22.  What does it mean to be a man?  As a young teenager, successfully navigating that atmosphere was next to impossible.

Due to the surrounding violence, my dad enrolled me in martial arts when I was twelve.  Real martial arts.  Not kiddie karate.  Blood, pain, injury, and a bit of Zen.  I could have gotten three of those on the streets at no cost.  Actually, I did.  Something I asked my dad was … “Can’t we just move, instead?”  But that wasn’t in the cards.

That neighborhood heightened my sense of awareness and information processing speed.  My decision making skills are quick and quite decisive.  I learned to read situations, verbal exchanges, tone, demeanor, mood, movement, and things that just don’t feel right. I don’t recommend it.

And the martial arts?  That militaristic dojo taught me how to embrace the suck, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and focus.  It helped me to see myself.  And because of that, it helped me to see the human beings.

Back to the Bukowski quote.  I saw the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful on that block.  I saw the humans.  All of them.  A person.  A life.  I think that’s what helped me navigate those streets.  I genuinely saw the person and they saw that I saw them and so … they saw me.  Some didn’t, no matter what.  That’s just the way it goes and that relationship got handled differently.

Whatever, whenever, and wherever the block; literal or metaphorical, seeing the human beings helps a lot.  It can hurt sometimes too.  But, the alternative is just going through the motions.  No feeling to it.  No soul.

I know what Bukowski was trying to say and I get it.  Life, atmosphere, circumstances, and shitty people can cause us to lose our faith in fellow humans; jaded, frustrated, guarded, and disheartened.  It happens and we all have our days, but we can’t live there.  That would be a miserable existence.  No joy.  No peace.

I see human beings, but I first had to truly see myself.

Photo by Fredy Martinez on Unsplash 

That One Time, On Barney Miller

When I was a kid, one of my Dad’s favorite TV shows, was Barney Miller.  My dad was a hard-working kind of guy.  Old school.  He came home dirty every night and times were tough.  But, when he watched Barney Miller, he would laugh.  So, I watched with him.  I liked seeing my dad laugh.

But, one particular episode left me thinking for the rest of that evening.  It’s where detective Chano accidently shoots and kills a kid and he’s left devastated.  His Captain, Barney Miller comes to his apartment to visit him and talk.  As Captain Miller is leaving, he stops and says to Chano, “Did you ever wonder why, the sperm whale, which is one of the largest mammals on the face of the earth, has a throat about that size (with one hand, he makes a circle with his fingers and thumb)?”

Chano replies, “Yeah, I always did wonder; why is that?”

And Captain Miller says, “Because that’s the way it is.  And there ain’t anything you can do about it.”

It’s funny how certain things resonate with even a kid of my age, at the time.  And obviously, that scene is still with me today.  At first, I felt betrayed; like, this show is supposed to be funny, not tragedy and drama.  You’re supposed to make my dad laugh.  What are you doing?!  But, the next episode was funny again, so we all moved on.

Back to Chano though: We tend to torture ourselves with what should be or could’ve been, longing for a reality that doesn’t exist.  We’re complicated emotional beings with empathy and a soul, but at the same time, we’re logical.  Simply saying, “… that’s the way it is”, is a logical approach, but it’s not very comforting.  It’s not comforting, because of its closed-ended finality with a zero percent chance of hope.

But, hope can be a form of torture as well.

Dealing with tragedy is a process and even if we successfully pass through all five stages of grief, including acceptance, it’s never actually over.  Captain Miller’s logic was to skip over denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to acknowledge reality; “that’s the way it is.  And there ain’t anything you can do about it.”  Get your shit together and move on.

I understand Captain Miller’s approach.  If I see a nail sticking out, I grab a hammer and bam!  The nail isn’t sticking out anymore.  Fixed.  That’s how most guys function.  We want to fix things, so that we can move on.

But, why was that nail sticking out in the first place?  “What?!  Do you want the wall to tell me about its feelings and its relationship with the nail?”  Sort of; yeah.  Because, nails don’t just push out of a wall for no reason.  A plumbing pipe shifted inside the wall, pushing the nail forward and when it was hammered back in, it punctured the pipe and now there are bigger problems.  Oops.

Anecdotally, we’ve all been there, done that.

“Did you ever wonder why humans have a yin and yang brain, where the limbic system operates on emotion and instinct, yet the neo cortex is all about logic and calculation?”

“Yeah, why is that?”

“Because that’s the way it is.  And the best we can do is learn how to operate both systems in harmony.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m still working on that.

That Time I Met My Childhood Self

One night, in Yoga Teacher Training, our instructor took us through meditation.  Nothing unusual, but this time, we were to go back and meet our childhood selves as we are right now.  I never thought of doing this before and I thought, “Oh, this will be a fun experiment.”  Maybe, I’d give him a high-five and ask him how school is going; that sort of thing.

But, then I saw him and it hit me in an unexpected way.

There I was; eh … me.  He.  We.  Whatever. When I came up to him, I immediately realized that the high-five thing was a dumb idea.  Neither one of us said anything, but he knew who I was and just looked at me with no judgement.  Just observing me, with a welcoming expression.

And this bothered me, because it was like I wanted him to judge me.  I expected it.  He should, dammit!  I felt unworthy of his acceptance and it made me uncomfortable.  Then it made me sad and I did my best to hold back the tears.  I was among my classmates and they can’t see me like that.  You know?

That kid was awesome.  He was naïve, innocent, and okay.  I felt like I fucked that up and that he should push me or punch me or something!  But nothing. He was cool.

I wanted to give him all the excuses about life, reality, circumstances, and survival.  I felt like I should vomit explanations: The first time I saw my parents have one of those fights where they throw shit; and then … the twentieth time.  All those fights I got into.  That time I saw my first dead body.  I was way too young to see a bullet-riddled bleeding corpse.  That time I got jumped and beaten in the projects.  Oh, and that other time and what I had to do to make it home.  That time my cousin died in his sleep.  That car accident.  That time I had to decide to put my mother in hospice and then have her cremated.  And then my father as well.  Or, that time I had two guns pressed into my skull by bank robbers?  Are you kidding me?!  Fucking bank robbers!

And … you know; a bunch of life, multiplied by decades.  I lost my hair.  His hair.  Sorry kid.

But, he just looked at me with that face.  Like … as if he liked me.

So then, I realized where I am now, which is a pretty damn good place.  It took a lot of work, sacrifice, loss, pain, setbacks, eating ramen noodles, self-responsibility, letting the bad shit go, striving for the good things, loving and being loved, and trying to be a better version of myself this day than I was yesterday, multiplied by decades.  I have a soul to protect.  I’m grateful for that, every day.

He saw me.  For real.  All of it.  And he’s proud of me; eh … himself. Us. Whatever.

Thanks buddy.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Wabi Sabi

Pure driven snow looks almost perfect, but with one set of footprints, it becomes a story; something more.  The snow is no longer “perfect”, but somehow it’s even better.

The darkness is appreciated for the light.  The good is better, because of a touch of bad.  The blank canvas becomes art with the first splatter of paint.  That scar, dent, wrinkle, hardship, worn and weathered, driven off the lot, dog-eared imperfection illuminates the beauty.

Basically, wabi sabi means it’s perfect, because it’s a little fucked up.

We’ve been through some shit, which can make us more attractive.  Or … less.  Some of us let the scratches become our story, rather than enrich it and that’s a real shame.  Some have gotten hit pretty hard.  Knocked down.  Several times.  And we need to process through that.  Not an easy thing.  But, we can’t get stuck in the sorrow, pain, and scars.

I hear The Doors in the background, “… no time to wallow in the mire.”

Staying in the mire is neglect of the self.  Don’t mistake neglect for imperfection.  It’s simply neglect and there’s no beauty in that.  Care is the opposite of neglect.  If we take care in the face of tribulation and because of it, well … it can be a beautiful thing.  Not in spite of it though.  Spite comes from and fuels anger, resentment, and darkness.  The results of spite are quite different than those of benevolence.

Like Zen, Wabi Sabi encourages us to celebrate the way things are, rather than how they should be.  Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve is not reality.  It’s a miserable fantasyland, because we never allow ourselves to be content in what truly is.

To clarify, being content is not about sitting in the mud and saying “fuck it” with a fake smile on our face.  It’s about being happy in our pursuit.

“Wabi Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” – Richard Powell

Yes … authenticity.  Because beauty is in the imperfections.

Photo by Manish Kumar on Unsplash

In the Face of Nostalgia and Regret

“Nostalgia is a seductive liar.” – George Ball

It’s been my experience thus far, that some of the most unhappy people live nostalgically.  Nothing wrong with visiting, but many among us try to live there.  They remember and talk of the past as if it was some magical place; a half-smile with a distant stare.  Meanwhile, they’re missing the Now, where life is happening.

Seeing things nostalgically thirty or so years after the fact, can look like a Hollywood movie.  The problem is that our mind remembers not so much what, but how it wants to remember.  The past isn’t real.  Not now.  It was, when it was Now, but now it’s just a memory.  We filter out the circumstances that were in play at that time, including our own motivations, thought process, values, beliefs, psychology, relationships, and a million other things, including all the bad parts.

Billy Joel is singing, “The good ole days weren’t always good and the future ain’t as bad as it seems.”

The popular story-line lately, about how people on their death bed regret, not so much the things they did, but the things they didn’t do.  Like it’s supposed to be motivational, right?  Inspiring?  As if, by hearing these stories, we’ll quit our job, sell our shit, and tour the world with a backpack.

But, we don’t.  Why?  Because for 99% of us, it doesn’t make any fucking sense.  It may sound romantic, but it’s not really what we want, nor need.  So, we don’t do it.

Because what happens?  What; one day we’re on our deathbed regretting what we didn’t do and say to some young soul, “My biggest regret is that I didn’t leave society to homestead in northern Alaska”?  “I didn’t quit that six figure job to volunteer in a third-world country.”  “I never bought that Ferrari.”  Okay, that’s a bad example.  You really should have bought that Ferrari.  What’s a matter with you?!  Life is short!

Nostalgia can suck, but so does regret.  So … we didn’t do that thing, even though we thought we wanted to at the time and now, we regret it.  No.  We didn’t do it for all the reasons we didn’t and never did and that is that.  Remember?

How about this: Santosha, the Niyama of contentment.  It’s not about how things should be or shouldn’t have been.  It’s about how things are and complete acceptance of our truth as it is here, in the now.  Once we acknowledge that, it’s up to us to figure out what we’re going to do or not and then do it.  Or not.  No regrets.

I’m in love with the idea of climbing Mount Everest.  These men and women; the Sherpas, the stories, the TV shows and movies.  It’s such an amazing thing, I can see myself doing that.  I’m not doing that.  I’m not, because from what I understand, it’s a bit chilly there and I could lose my fingers, lose $100,000 and/or die.  At the most basic level it would be quite selfish and irresponsible.  I don’t need something like that to feel good about being human; to feel … complete.  I will never regret not climbing Everest.  I am content with that.

I’m content with most things.  Some things I’m not and that’s on me.  Perfectly normal, by the way.  So I’m content with some of my discontent.  Something to work on.

And … until I buy that Ferrari, I’m content with browsing and the process of the journey.

Cheers.

Photo by Matt Antonioli on Unsplash

 

Threshold of Happiness

There I was, seat 21D, flying home from my annual performance review.  I got a nice bonus and was feeling pretty good.  I was surrounded by a group of people who worked for a large corporation and apparently they had a damn good year, considering this conversation: “I got a Porsche.  What am I going to do with a Porsche?  I don’t even like Porsches.”  “I got a Harley and I’m not a motorcycle guy.  Not sure what to do with it.”

Those two guys seemed to work it out; agreeing to trade the Porsche for the Harley.  Seemed a bit uneven to me, but whatever.

I got to thinking about my “nice” bonus.  A minute ago, I was feeling pretty good, but now, the whole Porsche/Harley thing.  There was a cacophony of conversations among this group throughout the flight, comparing bonuses, goals, expense budgets, and quotas.  Then about stress, pressure, bad management, and a negative culture.  I just listened and observed without intention or thought.

As I drove home from the airport, I didn’t even put music on.  I usually sing.  Feels good.  Hey, I’m not bad.  I kill it on Rockband.  It was dark and I had that thousand-yard stare. Quiet.  In bed, I wondered what their lives were like and replayed that scene on the plane in my head.  I woke up in a nice house with an awesome family; coffee brewing.  Home.  Feels good.

Is it a step down to take a position in another field, another company, or another career path that pays less?  Many would say, “yes”.  But what if this new path meant a better culture, a better atmosphere, less hours, or just made us happier through fulfillment, purpose, or passion?  What if it gave us more time to spend with our family or to pursue other endeavors that fed our soul?

“Ha!  Culture doesn’t butter the biscuit.  Atmosphere doesn’t pay the mortgage.  Less hours?!  Do you know what kind of responsibilities I have?  What pressure I’m under?”

Yep; social pressure.  A responsibility to the perception of our portrayal of self and status.  A job that pays less, a smaller house, and forgoing that Porsche for a Durango in this social construct seems outwardly, like a step down; a step backward.  What will people say?  Worse yet; what will they think?

Well … that’s on them, isn’t it?  Ah, if it were only that simple.

Mmm, but it is.  It’s not about work/life “balance”, as we like to say.  It’s about quality of life itself, deep and wide.  Hey, I like nice shit as much as the next guy, but there’s a threshold.  A threshold that maybe we trip over or never notice.  A threshold where we sacrifice spaghetti and meatballs with family in the living room for filet mignon with “important” clients at 7:30pm on a Tuesday.

Sure, there are exceptions to what I’m saying: entrepreneur trying to get a foothold; a family trying to get a leg up; a student trying to pay their way through school.  Done all three of those examples and there are many others, but I’m talking about that threshold.

How about this from The Fixx:

“So, give me your attention, I know it’s getting late.

While we were dreaming, something slipped away.

We’re drowning in possessions, playing tricks with our minds.

Lost from one another, baby put your hand in mine.

Time is slipping away, but it’s not too late.

How much is enough?”

The pursuit of happiness?  What about being happy in our pursuit?  Maybe stepping back across that threshold is not a step back or down, but really a step up for the right things.

I don’t know.  Just asking.  For a friend.

Photo by Robert J. Soper on Unsplash

This is Us

The chance of you, me, or anyone ever being born and existing as we are, is one in four-quadrillion.  In simple mathematical terms, that means zero.  A zero chance, so the fact that we’re here means we won the biggest and most impossible lottery ever and we didn’t even buy a ticket.

However, … our importance is greatly over-imagined.  Wait … what?!

Our home; this earth is but a speck of dust in a universe so vast, it’s unimaginable.  Carl Sagan’s observation about this “Pale Blue Dot” we live on, provides some perspective.

He says, “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

We’re so intelligent and advanced with our technology, but we’re not very smart, when it comes to what really matters.

We commit gross atrocities against each other in the name of politics, religious beliefs, race, national origin and so on.  Some individuals and groups are affected so much that they’ll kill other humans and feel righteous about it as if they’re on the “good side”.  So much misery and darkness inside an improbable being on a speck of dust.

Hate, division, and racism is big business and the purveyors of this poison have a wider and deeper reach than ever.  It’s sick, twisted, and quite evil.  All forms of media selling us on how we should feel, why we should be angry, and what side to be on and whom to be against.  Telling us that we should be offended, ashamed, mad, repressed, or whatever else rows the oars of their massive ship.

My favorite sitcom used to be a place I could go for a healthy laugh.  Not anymore.  Now there’s a message and an agenda.  I thought this was a comedy?  I really liked that show.  I used to enjoy your talent, your music, your jokes, and/or your writing, but now its tainted with preachy manipulation.  And for that reason, I’m out.

Politicians, news media outlets of all genres, network television programs, movies and the actors who play in them, stand-up comedians, leaders, musical groups and individual singers, churches of all kinds on one side or another, newspapers, Universities and their staff, authors, social media, and … well, almost everywhere.

What ever happened to entertainment?  What happened to the “news”?  What happened to … us?

This planet is roughly 4.5 billion years old.  Us humans; a tiny, tiny fraction of that.  Somewhere around 200,000 years with civilization of any form having only been around for about 6,000.  That’s nothing.  When we’re gone; when this pale blue dot is gone, the universe will still be.

Our significance is minuscule in the grand scheme of things, yet our ego is immense.  Such an advanced species and yet, so greatly flawed.  There’s so much that we can’t truly know, yet we pretend we do.  “We believe that what we know is true and if you don’t agree, you’re wrong!”  Our party against yours, this religion against that one, and that “race” against another.

By the way, there’s only one race of humans, so we need to get our head out of our asses on that one.  Different colors, shapes, sizes, and sexes, but we are all the same animal.  Some are smart and some are quite stupid.  Some are good and some are bad.  Some have class, while others are classless.  Some are assholes while others are just very cool peeps.  Some cling to excuses, while others find solutions.  Some are lazy and some work hard to improve life on this speck of dust.  Some are selfish, while others do their best to help humanity as a whole.  Most of us are a mix of all of those things along a sliding grayscale.  And … we come in all colors.  Same race though.

We will never be perfect.  The mathematics make that an impossibility.  There will always be war, hate, division, atrocities, tragedies, and evil.  And there will always be peace, love, union, kindness, miracles, and good.  We will never have world peace, but there is peace on earth.  At this time however, the balance seems to be way off.  We are giving the negative all our energy and of course it’s spreading and perpetuating.  We need to quit feeding it.

We’re all on this dot together; 7.5 billion of us, yet alone in the cold, vast darkness of space.  It’s an incredible existence and I am grateful to be a part of it, however small.

Cheers.

Photo by Voyager 1.  Earth, from 3.7 Billion Miles.