Home, Sweet Home

Growing up I heard the phrase “home, sweet home”, but it did not fit what I was experiencing.  I never felt much “sweet” where I lived during a difficult childhood. Only as an adult have I been able to realize the tranquility and safety that was possible in one’s own place.  That is why today “home” is my favorite place to be.  

Some of my early “home, sweet homes” were humble, but cool.  My first place I could afford to live without roommates was a little cottage in Manitou Springs, Colorado.  It sat up on the west side of a hill with parking way down below.  To reach the hillside cottage I had to use a footbridge across a small stream and then use a bunch of stairs to get up the hill.  Bringing home groceries and getting them to my place was good exercise!  This place was tiny, but it was mine; MY home.  I loved living there. 

Some friends who moved away owned an old Victorian house and rented it to me.  It had lots of faults including an upstairs bathroom that did not work.  Not a big deal until you realize the bedrooms were upstairs and the only working bathroom was downstairs way in the back by the kitchen.  The place needed a lot of work but it was my home.  I felt safe and protected there. 

Another residence vivid in memory is the home I shared with my new wife in huge high-rise in the middle of a big city. For a kid from the country, this was a fascinating experience.  My work was in the same building.  The bottom two floors contained a shopping mall that included a two screen theatre, a grocery store, a drug store and a food court.  Even my doctor and dentist were in the building.  Once I did not leave the building for ten days!  My home there was a cherished adventure. 

Since those times in my early 20’s, I have lived in over a dozen different homes in five states and one foreign country with each being my unique protected safe sanctuary from the world.  

Wikipedia defines a home as:  a place of residence or refuge.  It is usually a place in which an individual or a family can rest and store personal property.  That’s a bit “encyclopedia-ish” for my taste.    

  • Home is a place of safety from the elements and the outside world.  
  • Home is where I share life and my truest self with people I care most about.  
  • Home is where belongings collected from many points and times remind me of the wonderful life I am having. 
  • Home is a place of serenity even when once upon a time there was the noise of a child nearby. 
  • Home is the one place I don’t care if my hair is sticking up and fashion is my ratty, comfy clothes. 
  • Home is the place where I have done the most manual labor of my life as I worked on up-keep and to make each house uniquely a home.    
  • Home is where I really do live.  Here and there you will find shoes in the corner, blankets and pillows stacked by the fireplace, books and magazines strewn about, stacks of papers and magazines, my briefcase on the kitchen table, etc.   
  • Home is where I often lose coffee cups temporarily and later find them with interesting science experiments growing inside.
  • Home is where I have at least one or two “junk drawers” filled with things I just may need sometime. 
  • Home is where the books I love and the music I adore are.
  • Home is where many of my favorite smells can be found.  I love candles and incense of all sorts.  As I go room to room the scent landscape changes.
  • Home is where I can cook without regard for what others think of my cooking. 
  • Home is where I love to take Sunday afternoon naps with the windows open while it rains buckets outside. 
  • Home is slowing down.  Sitting down.  Lying down. 
  • Home is where I greet the morning, and where I bid another day good night.
  • Home is imperfection unlike the gorgeous houses in glossy magazines.  My home has never been and will never look perfect like that.  My home is “perfect” for me in its uniqueness and how it is an extension of who I am.  

There is no place on Earth I would rather be than at home.  I am extraordinarily blessed to live as I do so comfortably.  My gratitude for my home exceeds the words I can find to express it. 

A house is made of walls and beams
 a home is built with love and dreams. 
Unknown

Written Companions of My Life

This morning I sit here at my desk at home on a Monday morning; a time I would normally be in my office at work.  I am enjoying the first day of a week off for a stay at home vacation.  Of course there are things I need to do, but I plan on sleeping late, reading, listening to music and taking life a bit easier than usual.  (I smile from just writing that!). 

In the spirit of my first day off, my offering today is shorter than usual and consists of the borrowed words of others.  It is my hope that the lesser quantity of words will allow the meaning to be larger and easier to see.  The thoughts expressed have great meaning to me.  I am grateful for these favorite written companions of my life and the pronounced significance they have to me.  I hope you find them meaningful too.

Relationships – of all kinds – are like sand held in your hand. Held loosely, with an open hand, the sand remains where it is. The minute you close your hand and squeeze tightly to hold on, the sand trickles through your fingers. You may hold onto it, but most will be spilled. A relationship is like that. Held loosely, with respect and freedom for the other person, it is likely to remain intact. But hold too tightly, too possessively, and the relationship slips away and is lost. Kaleel Jamison, The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power 

 

Life, if you keep chasing it so hard, will drive you to death. Time – when pursued like a bandit – will behave like one, always remaining one county or one room ahead of you, changing its name and hair color to elude you, slipping out the back door of the motel just as you’re banging through the lobby with your newest search warrant, leaving only a burning cigarette in the ashtray to taunt you. At some point you have to stop because it won’t. You have to admit that you can’t catch it. That you’re not supposed to catch it. At some point, you gotta let go and sit still and allow contentment to come to you.”  Elizabeth Gilbert  

 

Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. Sir Cecil Beaton 

 

 I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  Maya Angelou

 

Every day’s a good day.  Some are just better than others!  I hope yours is a rewarding one.

A Substance of Great Value

While searching for something completely unrelated on the net this morning I came across a short piece about alchemists of myth and legend.  Among other points in the article was this definition of alchemy:  any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value. 

Reading the definition of alchemy reminded me of a story I had read, but could not remember its source off the top of my head.  After flipping through my books for a while I eventually found the fable where I had originally seen it in Melody Beattie’s book “The Lessons of Love”: 

In a mysterious land, not so far away, and in a time not that long ago, word spread of a man called the Alchemist.  In his presence, things transformed.  He could, some said, turn a single dry bone of a deer into a green forest, alive with rushing water, wind, sunshine, grass and a gentle doe nuzzling her fawn.  He could turn pain, tragedy, agony – spiritual voids and the angst of the worst kind – into laughter, healing, and a joy so gentle yet deep that it rocked the soul.  And hope the purest, sweetest gift of all.   He could turn the basest metal into gold. 

One day, having heard of his magic, an angry young man pounded on the Alchemist’s door, demanding that his ore be turned into gold.  “Why?” asked the Alchemist.  “I need money to pay bills.  Now hurry!” the young man huffed.  The Alchemist turned him away.

 A second time the young man returned, again demanding gold.  Asked why, he sputtered, “Why must you even ask?”  Again his request was denied. 

On this third visit, the young man knocked more gently.  “Please don’t turn me away,” he said, “I need gold to but a ring, a gift for my beloved.”  This time, his wish was granted. 

The message I get from the teaching tale is: any change I desire within myself can come only when my heart is humble and my mind is aligned with it in truth and honesty.  Certainly that speaks volumes about my life and why it was one way for so long.  Then in a matter of months living began to earnestly change to be now be so very different and much improved.  

“When the pain to stay the same, exceeds the pain to change, we change” is a saying dear to me found on a bulletin board about four years ago.  About that time, with lots of help and support, I was able to practice my own kind of “alchemy”.  Within I began to be changed from being driven by the baser of my desires to a man who more closely paralleled all, not just most of, the ideals I held true.

The point expressed more simply is, in regard to relationships, I began to not be so much of who I had been and started instead to be more of person I wanted to be.  My actions began to match my beliefs, not just some of the time but nearly all of the time.  I became an alchemist of my own desires and needs by applying potions of understanding, knowledge and help from others.  My “lead” became “gold”. 

With most any part of  my life I can apply a sort of ‘alchemy’ that can transmute what “is” into a substance of greater value.  Whether it is health, weight, spiritual lack, knowledge shortfall, emotional state, engrained habit or strong tendency, I have the power to change “is” into something of greater value.  The great weakness of my the past was not believing the power was inside to change my life.  

Much of my life was spent thinking I needed something outside of me, like an Alchemist of the fable, to make real changes my life.  In vain I tried many external things that did not work:  moving to different places, changing significant others, making new friends, new jobs, taking on demanding hobbies, consuming interests and even anesthetizing myself with money and what it can buy.  None worked.  Only when I was truly ready to face myself, ask for assistance and do the work inside could the “base metal” of dysfunction begin to be turned to gold.  

I am grateful to know the art of personal alchemy today.  All it took was a beginning and a first step which centered on “if it is to be, it is up to me”.   No matter how much help was offered and available, my new start had to originate internally.  From the pain that was, a joy to be alive has grown.  I am abundantly thankful. 

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.
W. H. Auden

Perfectly Imperfect: You Are Enough

This morning while searching in “My Documents” I came across something I wrote almost four years ago.  The “Recovery Letter” was originally hand-written while I was at The Meadows working past my childhood junk.  The assignment was to create a letter to one’s self that could be pulled out and read as an intervention tool in the event old practice and habit appeared to be trying to return.  My letter did come in handy once or twice in the months just after I returned to “real life”.  Since then times have been steadily better.  I have not read what I wrote in about three years.  It was unanticipated fortune to stumble upon the letter this morning.  The serendipitous re-reading and sharing it here renews and reaffirms the letter’s contents within me. 

October, 2007 

Dear James, 

Chances are if you are reading this you are going through a difficult time.  You may be hurt, stressed, lonely or suffering from old wounds.  But DON’T do what you have thought about.  Read this entire letter and think about what is being said here:

  • Your compulsion is a dead-end.
  • There is not anything good about it but momentary pleasure.
  • You will feel horrible and guilty like always, but especially now that you have worked so hard to recover.
  • Think of all those you will disappoint.
  • Think of how much you will be disappointing yourself!
  • Somewhere within it all you will begin to lie again and keep secrets.
  • Professionally your career could be hurt badly when others find out … and in time they will.
  • Think of what your son will think of you.
  • Your Mother and Father’s abuse will be alive within you once again.  THEY WILL WIN!!!!  YOU ARE NOT THEM!!!
  • You will worry about what you have done, shame will fill you and sleep will be difficult.

 So think about what you are considering.  Think long and hard.  Remember what you learned at the Meadows:

You are enough.   
You are NOT your past.
You are a good man.
You are perfectly imperfect
Think of the child within that needs you.
You are strong and can accomplish anything.
 
You deserve better.  You are worthy of having your needs met in a way that respects the ideals you stand for.  You are loved.   You are respected.  Keep your new spirituality intact.  Enjoy the peace you have searched for… for so very long.  Don’t mess up the grace you have found.
 
Somehow, someway PLEASE find a way to fill your need besides what you are thinking of doing.  Don’t do that one thing that messes up EVERYTHING.  You have worked so hard to be free.  I beg you, PLEASE DON’T do what you are thinking of.
 
Remember all you feel is the torture of your past.  It is not real anymore.  Don’t lie to yourself.  Remember your truth.  You love yourself.  Let it fill you.  Now call a friend, a peer, take a photograph, do affirmations, read a book, go for a ride or a walk… do whatever you need to do… BUT DON”T ACT OUT AGAIN.  I BEG YOU NOT TO DO IT.
 
I LOVE YOU, 
me

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. 
E. E. Cummings

What Is Love?

“What is love” is an ancient riddle that has been pondered for centuries without anything near a comprehensible answer.  I have no clearer explanation to articulate than the generations before me.  My best explanation contains only three words: “love just is”.  

Indian guri Paramahansa Yogananda who introduced many westerners to Eastern teachings and meditation, expressed clearly why trying to define love is like attempting to nail Jello to a tree when he said “to describe love is very difficult, for the same reason that words cannot fully describe the flavor of an orange. You have to taste the fruit to know its flavor…” 

Twenty years ago in a study done jointly by the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Tulane University they found examples of romantic love in at least 147 of the 166 cultures studied. This discovery in one swoop wiped out the idea that love is an invention of the Western mind rather than a biological fact.  Romantic love is a universal phenomenon and a human characteristic stretching across cultures.

Children have an almost clairvoyant ability to know and express the unabashed truth.  In their naïveté and innocence there can be a perceptual clarity that becomes largely lost with age.  A list of thoughts about “love” from four to nine-year olds has floated around for a while and it lends about as much accuracy as is humanly possible to the question “what is love?” Here are a few from that list:

”When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy – age 4

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”  Chrissy – age 6

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” Terri – age 4

“Love is when my Mommy makes coffee for my Daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny – age 7

“Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.” Noelle – age 7 

“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” Tommy – age 6

“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.”  Elaine – age 5
 
“Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.” Chris – age 7

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”  Jessica – age 8

 “It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them.” Lynette – 9

“If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” Leo – 7)

“I’m in favor of love as long as it doesn’t happen when “The Simpsons” is on television.” Anita – 6

“”It’s love if they order one of those desserts that are on fire. They like to order those because it’s just like how their hearts are on fire.” Christine – 9 

Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I have been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” Bobby – 8

Albert Einstein, said “How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”  Trying to answer the “what is love” question is a completely impossible undertaking.  If Albert Einstein says so, it must be true.  I may not be able to describe love with precise detail but I sure know it when I feel it.  That is enough for me and I am grateful. 

Love is a temporary madness.  It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides.  And when it subsides you have to make a decision.  You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.  Because this is what love is.  Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not a decree of promises of eternal passion.  That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are.  Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.  Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two
St. Augustine

Morning Letter to a Friend

Dear_________,

In many ways you and I are a mirror reflection of each other. What echoes between us is a near exact matching likeness of manner, attitude and beliefs, yet we are very different.  Each of us reflects to the other as a carnival mirror might reproduce an image.  What is emulated back is fully recognizable, yet the likeness is changed and does not match our own self-view.  That is the beauty of being close friends.  We can see one another clearly and are each able to give one another a different perspective of our self.

Often I assume since we are so close you know exactly how I feel about you.  There is much hope you do, but to make sure I am writing you this letter.  You are dear to me in a manner I can not put fully into words, but will try by making a list of how you matter to me:

  • You help keep me honest with myself. When I start fabricating crap you save me from my own BS.
  • You care enough to tell me the truth even when I am hiding from it.
  • You encourage me to go further than I think I can and to do things I am uncertain I can do.
  •  Whenever I need you, regardless of day or night, where I am or what the circumstances, you are there for me.
  • You make me laugh and you can touch me to tears in your own unique way.
  • You encourage me not to settle for less than I deserve even when I am ready to.
  •  I feel ageless with you. We can act like school kids one moment, be serious the next and never miss a beat.
  • When my courage is lacking, you give me some of yours.
  •  When I am ready to give up, you are always ready to give me a “jump start”.
  • You seem always to call or show up when I need you most. I don’t know how you do that.
  • You know my flaws and imperfections yet see value and worth in me that transcends them.
  • When we disagree or occasionally hurt each other, you apologize even when it was not your fault.
  • You openly express to me and others how you feel about me.
  • With you as my friend I know will never go hungry nor lack a place to sleep (nor will you!).
  •  We don’t always agree, but we always hear each other out and respect each other’s point of view.

There’s a saying that goes something like “friendship isn’t a big thing; it’s a million little things”.  That’s why even after writing my list I feel it is sorely inadequate.  There is so much more.  Much of what I know about the friendship we share is beyond my ability to express, yet I know the truth of it at the soul level.  I know it best when we can just sit silently and enjoy time together.  My life is so much richer because you are my friend and I will live this life always with gratitude for your presence.

And when we die and float away
Into the night, the Milky Way
You’ll hear me call, as we ascend
I’ll see you there, then once again
Thank you for being a friend
Lyrics to “Thank you for being a friend” by Andrew Gold

Soul Mates

If one goes looking for a definition of ‘soul mate’ you’ll find something like: two persons compatible with each other in disposition, point of view and sensitivity. Someone for whom you have a deep affinity, similarity, and compatibility and they for you.   

In his Plato’s dialogue “The Symposium”, Aristophanes presents a story about soul mates.  In it humans originally had four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces, but Zeus feared their power and split them all in half, condemning them to spend their lives searching for the other half to complete them.  It is from just such a lovely story that the concept of “split-aparts” and “soul mates” likely grew. 

Years and years are frequently spent by many searching for that one “soul mate”.  A deep yearning drives those for a near perfect match.  The common assumption is, if and when, that ideal counterpart is found; “happily-ever-after” comes true until parted by death. 

Over time my beliefs about soul mates has evolved and changed.  For years I labored under the concept there was one, and only one woman in the world that was meant just for me and I for them.  My belief in soul mates is still strong, but now it is clear to me some people may have several soul mates in a lifetime. 

My perfect fit in my 20’s ended up being quite different from the soul mate that fit me in my 40’s.  While the basic underpinnings of whom I am remained relatively constant, true needs and wants evolved and morphed over time.  It is that changing and growing, sometimes in different directions that can make what was once a union of soul mates into a union of two near strangers that ends a relationship.   A person may come into my life as a mutually perfect fit for a time and then not be later. 

Hindsight has a certain clarity that a short-term view does do not.  In retrospect I can see that my first wife was my soul mate at the time we met.  She brought to my life stability, compassion and my first real experience with adult love.  In many ways I flourished with her and that stability helped me to build a successful career and some degree of contentment.  There was seven years of a good marriage.  Things change, people evolve and relationships drift.  We did just that.  Habit and comfort replaced the originally shared intimacy and joy until there was no glue to hold us together anymore. 

My second marriage was also to a soul mate.  She brought to my life a sweetness of love with a sort of innocent and beautiful naïveté.  With her I learned to have good old-fashioned fun which I had mostly denied myself previously.  It was in this relationship I was able to let go and love with all my heart and soul, something I had been unable to do before.  The roller coaster manner of the relationship came from dysfunctions that were conditioned into us as children.  In some ways we never really had a long-term chance, but for a time joy reigned between us.  It is ironic that the destruction of the relationship ended up being the motivator to get the help I needed and to get into recovery from my childhood junk.  Life and love are both highly mysterious journeys.

For times more brief I believe there may have been others that I can look back on and honestly say we were for a time soul mates.  Some were not lovers and instead the truest of friends.  It is the concept of having more than one soul mate during a lifetime I have come around to seeing.  That brings me great encouragement as it opens the door to believe yet another soul mate is out there waiting for our mutual discovery of each other. 

Maybe if we humans were only spiritual beings, two could find each other and spend a blissful eternity together.  We are flesh and blood though, with our imperfections, quirks, accumulated pain and narrow perceptions.   We change, grow up and grow old.  We mature and evolve.  We find wisdom through the trial and error of experience and those lessons transform us.    

This morning I have a happy heart with bright hope in my soul.  For those who have walked my path with me on a soul level, I am deeply grateful.  I thank you for your love, kindness, support, caring and all the good we shared.  I will never forget it.  For the future, I have hope that another that moves my soul will once again find me.  I am grateful to be the most ready for such a gift I have ever been.

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants.  But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.  A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.  A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so out of control that you have to transform your life…  Elizabeth Gilbert

My BIG Wake Up Call

 As I walked from the secure area of the airport, there was a man holding a sign with my name on it like a limo driver might do.  It made no sense to me.  I was arriving home and expecting my wife to pick me up.  Having texted her after I made my connecting flight to let her know I would be arriving on time she had responded “OK”.  

My body language gave me away as I neared the man with the sign.  He looked directly at me and asked me “are you him” while pointing to my name.   I was bewildered as to what might be going on and my first thought was that something bad had happened to my wife.  I answered “yes, I’m him”.  He handed a large manila envelope to me and simply said “I’m sorry” and walked away. 

Quickly putting my bags down and opening the large envelope I started to read the note on top of a stack of legal looking papers.  It said:

The Aviator (car) is at Airport Parking under James Browning.  They have your keys.  I’ve moved your meds, closet belongings, stuff from your drawers, etc to the warehouse – right inside the door.   

Good-bye.  I do love you but am not able to trust you again after knowing what you have done.  I just can’t get over it.  I will hopefully be able to forgive you someday, but I will never be able to forget.  Good luck with your recovery, A.

Lifting the note underneath I saw “Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage”.  

The relationship preceding the marriage was troubled and the first year of the marriage was difficult as well.  The time ranged from near euphoric good moments to long days and nights filled with great anguish and pain.  We truly loved each other but our dysfunctions made coexistence arduously challenging.

Although I was faithful for five years while we dated and lived together, during a period of extreme pain and frustration I lost my direction completely and began an affair that I later partially admitted in marriage counseling.  My wife found that behavior unforgivable and I don’t blame her for feeling that way.  Had our roles been switched I would likely have felt the same.  

Looking back there is no complete explanation within of why the sex focused affair began and  the growing darkness surrounded me except through counseling I came to know I was sexually compulsive.  I learned that under duress an alcoholic drinks, an addict takes drugs and one sexually compulsive medicates with sex.  To each one the substance of choice is used to numb pain and alter reality, even if just for a short while.  Sharing that here is not intended as an excuse.  There are none for my actions. Rather, by public admission I am shining light into a dark corner of my life.  It is my hope by sharing my missteps I can find further relief for pain I still carry inside for the agony caused to my now ex-wife.  

The date I was legally served at the airport was Saturday, May 27, 2006 and I honestly don’t remember much specifically about the day.  Everything was surreal and felt if I was drifting within a very bad dream.  My recollection is that I went home to find the locks changed and no response to my knocks on the door.  After numerous tries I sat on the porch step for a good long while and eventually left.  The only place I could think to go was my office at work.  Thankfully it was a Saturday and no one saw me arrive.  I locked myself in my office without turning on the lights.  The next six hours were spent staring at the walls and changing passwords on-line with a good deal of crying interspersed.  

Somewhere near sundown the realization hit I had no place to spend the night and checked into a budget motel near my work which became my refuge for the next two weeks.  I slept little that night and those following with rest only coming when exhaustion overtook me.  

Since that time five years ago I have been deeply involved in counseling and recovery including five weeks at a wonderfully healing place in Arizona called “The Meadows”.  My time there was life changing beyond my ability to explain it.  Just before leaving my primary counselor there said to me “you came here to change your life.  Everyone can see it”.  She was correct and I am proud that growth continues today. 

The longest I have ever lived alone has been the last five years.  In a local recovery group I am active and attend two Codependence Anonymous meetings per week ( www.coda-tulsa.org ).  Today I am well, growing and happy and have healed a lot from the trauma of my difficult childhood where my dysfunctions are rooted.  I see my therapist only rarely.  She tells me I don’t need to see her anymore but I continue to check in with her a couple of times per year.  There is much gratitude for the great help she has been to me. 

Thinking about the day I was served divorce papers at the airport still conjures a hurt that is yet not completely healed.  Sharing here is a way of  letting go of “secrets” that are “poison” to my soul.  I thank you for being my witness.  There is much gratitude for the healing that has come into my life in recent years.  While I can find no specific thankfulness for the day I came home to find I had no home anymore, there will always be vast gratitude for the healing it served as a catalyst for.  

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.  Kenji Miyazawa

Conformist or Rebel?

Be neither a conformist nor a rebel, for they are really the same thing. 
Find your own path, and stay on it.  (Paul Vixie)

When those two lines crossed my path yesterday it gave rise to me it began a line of thinking about my tendency to rebel.  Whatever the norm has been I seem to always have to find a few ways to go against the grain.  Is it because I am uniquely original?  In at least a few ways how I act and what I do falls within the unique realm.  It is also clear to me that my nonconformist approach is actually a manner of conforming to some ideal I have set for myself that clouds a self-view of who and what I actually am.

There is within me a paradox of wanting to fit in and a desire to be different from every one else.  Those two forces pull me in opposing directions and stretch the center of my being where the “who and what” I truly am exists.  This pulling in opposite tracks has gone on for so long, it is frequently unclear where the boundaries of my own truth actually are.

To illustrate that point, I am uncertain if my lack of interest in sports is because I was never particularly good at them or I was never good at sports because I was never interested.  That began so long ago in childhood I have no idea what the clear answer is.  Whatever the root of behavior, my disinterest today in sports is real although I have no idea where it is rooted.

There is been a mustache, goatee or beard on my face for 31 years except for a few days here and there when I would cleanly shave everything off.  Immediately I would dislike seeing myself clean shave in the mirror and allow the whisker re-growth to begin.  Am I giving in to habit or personal taste?  I really don’t know as I began wearing facial hair so I did not look so much like my father who I strongly resemble except he was always clean shaven.

The clothing I wear today is mostly conventional and traditional.  Yet, I always have to have a few accents I think of as just being myself.  I wear my wrist watch upside down, a habit that began in 6th grade as a tribute of a beloved teacher who did the same.  I wear a short stand of mala beads on my right wrist and say it is to remind me of what I believe it.  Yet, I know part of wearing them is to make a statement about being different.  How much of each I am frankly uncertain.

The longer I thought about what I perceived as my rebellion, the more I have gotten in touch with how I had given in to conformity.  I remember well still wearing jeans to work in my late 20’s and not being taken seriously by upper management.  That was when I decided to cut my hair shorter and start wearing dress pants, blazers and ties.  Over time that played a part in changing the perception of others, but dressing up was not something I ever really cared for.  I was promoted, but I wonder how much was due to my self imposed dress code and how much was due to my change of outlook.  Today you will be hard pressed to ever find me in a tie unless circumstance dictates I have not other choice.  Does that mean I have at least in this instance found a little of my true self?

Realizing I am dating myself, I will readily admit I protested against the Vietnam War in the early 70’s and was a sign-carrying proud hippie at the time.  However, looking back I am hard pressed to sort how much was based on my true political beliefs and how much was to fit in and be a part of a group I identified with.  Even at this distance of years, I believe there was a measure of both in my behavior.

Certainly there are burdens that come with age, but for me there is also a benefit of a slow clearing of the fog that hides my self from “me”.   The “who am I” question was one I often asked in my younger years, but lacking long term experience of living an answer never echoed back in response.  With five decades plus of life knowledge, today when I ask myself “who am I” bits and pieces of answers actually do come if I am patient.  Slowly but surely I am discovering which parts of me that come from rebellion, which ones come from conformity and which parts has always been true and real to my nature.  While my view of self will always be incomplete and not completely in focus, I am grateful for the understanding as it comes.  Often this period of my life is the most unsettling and uncertain, but it is also the most rewarding as I find the peace of truly coming to know my self.  I am thankful for this bit of personal evolution!

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.  Anatole France

Why Your Life Sucks…

Late last week someone asked me to recommend one book that could help them learn how to be happier and more content.  What seemed like an easy question at first glance became a challenging one for me to narrow down to one single book.  I ended up saying let me think about it for a few days.

Over the weekend I spent a couple of hours in my library looking through my favorite self-help books.  The heavily underlined “one book” I ended up chosing is a great one with a not so great title, which could be a reason it is not better known:  “Why Your Life Sucks and What You Can Do About It”  by Alan H. Cohen.  I admire his non-nonsense and direct manner of writing that pushes a reader forward who is ready to grow and change.  What follows are twenty random points I pulled from my underlining in the book.

1.  If the same things keep happening to you over and over again, with different people in different places, the only thing in common is you.

2.  The reason you are not where you want to be is that you are doing things you do not want to do.  If that sounds simple, it is.

3.  Attention is energy.  Whatever you feed to it, will grow.  Attention is intention.  Whatever you think and talk about paves the runway for what you will create.  When you pay attention to things you want to happen, you increase the chances of them happening; the same dynamic applies for the things you do not want to happen.

4.  Problems are not bad at all; they are just the beginnings of solutions.

5.  Something is bubbling inside you that would bring you rich rewards to express.  Your mission is to get in touch with it and do it.  Until you do, you will sense that you are missing out on something big.

6.  The last thought you think before you go to sleep is the one that ruminates in your subconscious through the night and emerges as the first thought you think when you wake up – so make it a good one.

7.  Your real enemies are the self-defeating thoughts, paltry expectations, and beliefs that you must live at less than full throttle.  You will experience as much pain as you are willing to accept.  You do have control over how much you hurt.  Pain happens, suffering is optional.  You can choose thoughts that bring you relief rather than imprisonment.

8.  A healthy belief will stand in the face of challenge.  Illusions will evaporate.  If you do not test your beliefs, they will be come your ruler and you their hostage.

9.  If you settle for less than what you really want, you will get exactly that.  If you expect your life to suck, it will.

10.  To really live, let go of any idea that anything outside you determines your destiny.  The force that determines your destiny is you.

11. When you finally trust yourself, you will know how to live.

12. If you do not value who and what you are, you will seek to borrow worth from the outer world.  You will look for validation from people whom you believe know or have more than you.  But since everything you need is inside you and no one can know more about your path and purpose than you do, any power you ascribe to external authorities must eventually explode in your face and leave you feeling worst than when you started.

13.  An experience that leaves you feeling empty, less-than, or needy does so for only one reason:  You entered into it feeling empty, less-than, or needy.

14.  The illusion is that relationships will take away the pain that keeps you feeling small; the reality is that relationships magnify the pain that keeps you feeling small.

15.  Those who go searching for love only find their own lovelessness.  But the loveless never find love; only the loving find love and they never have to search for it.

16.  Analyzing the past evicts you from your heart and imprisons you in your brain. Retrospect is a good teacher, but a mean spirited roadhouse; visit it occasionally, but don’t check in.

17.  If you need to learn lessons from your past deeds, they will emerge.  Don’t sweat trying to find them; if they are significant, they will find you.  When you are able to give thanks for everything that has happened, you are free.

18.  The reasoning mind is never satisfied; it will keep seeking for things to dwell on like a car radio scanning for stations but never stopping on one.

19.  Looking good doesn’t always lead to feeling good.  Feeling good always leads to looking good.

20.  The purpose of life is not to arrive safely at death.  It is to live so well that death or the fear of it cannot remove joy.

Thank you Mr. Cohen!  Your book helped to change my life for the better since I discovered it about five years ago in a used book store.  I am grateful for what you shared and pick up the book often to read a few of my underlining’s done during two cover-to-cover reading’s so far.  I am about to begin doing so a third time!

Change yourself and fortune will change with you.
Portuguese Proverb