Some years, lessons should go public. Some of these were presented to me this year. Others have been ongoing for a handful of years. There is no “final test” in life, only the completion of the old to make way for the new. Here’s what I’ve learnt this year, in no particular order:
* HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE…BUT SO IS HEAVEN *
“Hell is other people”, Jean-Paul Sartre said. But our dear existentialist was also a privileged communist with no first hand experience of what some of us truly consider “hell”. I’ve shut myself off a small number of times in my life. Once when I was 14, a short while 9 years ago, once 6 years ago, and once this year. In all instances I wanted no contact with other people, but in all instances, it’s people that got me out of it. Sure some people don’t really understand how to handle a depressed friend, but that’s ok, because others really do. I’ve learnt that while space and introspection is healthy, isolation is not. We need other people to ground us, to protect us, and to love us. Even if some want to do anything but that….which leads me to….
* IT’S NOT MY FAULT, BUT I’M TAKING RESPONSIBILITY *
The majority of pain on earth is blamed on others. Poverty (“if the system were different, we’d have something to eat”), Heartbreak (“Someone hurt me and now I’m unable to love.”), Failure (“If I had been raised better, I wouldn’t be such a f* up.”) In such accusatory thinking , it’s no wonder that when we reach a point where there’s no one else to blame, it’s overwhelming. Some of us choosing to go inside ourselves and cut communication with the world or worse. But blaming yourself shouldn’t be such an devastatingly isolating experience. If you change the wording from “it was my fault” to “I’m taking responsibility”, then you have a call-to-action. CTAs are important (ask a social media strategist!), and they’re even more important when you talk to yourself. Life is action. By taking responsibility, you gave way to making things better for yourself in the future. It goes from being a sad revelation, to a lesson….and that’s what all this is about. Keep moving.
* HALF FULL VS. HALF EMPTY *
When you spend days, months, years, “deciding” whether or not you have a legit reason to be happy or to be sad, you completely miss awareness of the fact that there is now room to add vodka.
* WE’RE CONSTANTLY EVOLVING. NO ONE KNOWS YOU BETTER THAN YOURSELF. *
I used to be afraid of microwaves. By this, I mean, I really thought microwaves changed the chemicals in my food and could somehow transfer harmful radiation to my body. This was a conviction I could taste! Add some time in basic physics courses and you come to know that it’s actually non-ionizing radiation, basically meaning atoms are not broken apart. Laying in the sun is actually substantially more dangerous than eating a microwaved chicken nugget or talking on your cellphone…but yet, you don’t hear people going nuts over sunlight. Why am I even mentioning all of this random trivia?! Because at one point, I had a belief that I now don’t have. We all have these. It’s why we can’t be defined by them. But there will be people in your life that will throw these sorts of things in your face. And usually, they mean well. They just feel they no longer know you and will try everything in their power of argument to tell you they know you better. Limit your time with these people. Anyone who claims to know you better than yourself will never allow you to grow in any other way than the way that makes sense to them. Equally, you don’t know your friends more than they do themselves. We’re all constantly evolving and with enough growth, we’re all constantly gaining bravery to expose sides of us we felt too shy to in the past.
* NO ONE IS A GIFT *
If you want to stop taking people for granted, then you must stop seeing people as gifts. Your wife is not a gift. Your boyfriend is not a gift. Your child is not a gift. Not even your OWN LIFE is a gift! Nothing living appears to you and stays there without hard work and constant appreciation.
* TRUTH COMES IN THREES *
“What I tell you three times is true” – Lewis Carroll
Take with a grain of salt whatever is said to you until it is said three times; then there is greater possibility. Unless those three times were uttered in the course of one day; then there is even less possibility.
I’m a hopeful person. I tattooed a fleur-de-lys behind my neck in ’08 because a New Orleanian told me the story of a brave city that keeps rebuilding after hurricanes. However, while hope has saved my life, it’s also caused me a lot of pain over the years. Hope is something you create when you hear of happy endings, or when things seem to be headed in a certain direction. The detrimental aspect of hope is that it’s very specific….and that’s what leaves room for disappointment. With faith (I’m not necessarily speaking religious here), there is a more broad trust in life. Trust in a positive outcome that is not specific. Faith frees you from disappointment because the course of life (plain statistics even!) show that something good is ALWAYS on its way.
* LOVE! *
After countless arguments with people over what love is, I’ve come to the point where I believe everyone is going to have their own interpretations. It’s kind of like trying to define pain. The most painful moment in one persons life is not even measurable in another’s. Every experience of love is different, because intensity varies from relationship to relationship (of any sort) as well as biological events that can take place simultaneously and make it ricochet off a person differently. Then of course there is the subject of attachment, habit, and the collection of idiosyncrasies over time that you build with a long-term partner blahblahblahblahblahblahhhhhhh….
So what’s universal or “complete” love? There’s been a few fleeting descriptions I’ve heard in songs, books, or movies (Interstellar has a really nice line from Anne Hathaway’s character), but none really do it justice because it’s not really something you can explain or put down on paper. You can make it sound pretty and convincing, but words will never really define. That being said, I shall try, in the least words possible.
Love is an energy that wills you to commit to something regardless of benefit to you. You don’t step down. You could see that as unconditional, but I actually don’t believe in that in the traditional sense. There are definitely conditions that a person can place on you for you not to actively love them….but even that is just pealing back layers. A mother loves her child even if they are a murderer. It doesn’t mean she would condone it, or that she wouldn’t lock him up or not live in a torment of having known she gave birth to a monster. The unconditional part is energy, not irrationality.
When you think of “unconditional love”, thoughts immediately go to blindly making an ass out of yourself again and again. Love is NOT blind. Love is not losing your dignity. Love is not sitting in a corner weeping and begging for someone to stop hurting you or getting to a point where you enjoy the pain. That’s Stockholm syndrome, not love. Real unconditional love means that you care with the same strength there was in the beginning and nor time, nor circumstance, nor death can break it.
“Being deeply loved gives you strength, loving deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu
I forgot what it felt like to have courage. Courage with no strength makes you do some wild things but it’s like running into a battle with no sword…you die a little. But having all the strength in the world with no courage and you are just as good as dead. A rock with no purpose.
I suppose this is also the year I discovered that love, like other beautiful energies in this world, can be redirected. One of the saddest feelings in the world is having a lot of love to give and having nowhere to put it. But there are places to put it. There are so many places and people that need it.
Give it purpose.
* Absurdism and Suicide *
“In all chaos there is a cosmos; in all disorder a secret order” – Carl Jung
I used to be heavily into existentialism, constantly mulling over my own existence, free-will, and my own personal meaning of things. A roommate in New York told me that existentialism is a philosophy of the privileged. He said to me, “who else could have the time to ponder what we are rather than what we need, but someone who is not in need?” No longer than a month or two after that, I started spinning off into the absurd (something that Albert Camus was repeatedly about in his early writings). While sharing some commonalities with existentialism (which is, after all, its mother), Absurdism doesn’t care what the meaning of it all is. And thus began a series of years of not giving a flying F*ck.
Physicist, Brian Greene, wrote a sequel to his notable book, “An Elegant Universe”. I decided to finally read it this year, as it’s been collecting dust. The sequel is a lot less mathematical, and a bit more of an easy read for non-scientists. However, what struck me in this book was his very personal opening. He quotes The Myth of Sisyphus : “There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Whether or not the world has three dimensions or the mind has 9 or 12 categories, comes afterward.” Brian goes on to talk about what an impact that book had on him; constantly wondering if anyone he would meet could answer the question of suicide. He recounts how much he agreed with the absurdist thought, that one can analyze forever, and learn all there is to know about the universe, but that the real question is whether or not what you find convinces you that life is worth living. He pulled my heartstrings from this very first page…but what came after, made me rethink a lot of the disconnect I felt for the past few years.
“To this aspiring physicist, it seemed that an informed appraisal of life absolutely required a full understanding of life’s arena – the universe.” – Brian Greene
Had humans developed without eyes, or without hearing, or without fully developed brains, we’d have (as Brian puts it) “a paltry portrait of reality”. Our concept of life would be vastly compromised. Camus himself seemed to slowly be abandoning his very own school of thought, before being killed in a crash, when he made the argument that metaphysical rebellion is the answer to absurdism.
It’s not that this abandonment of absurdity or revelation that there are more patterns and facets to life means I, (or any of the names mentioned for that matter), found Jesus or a great meaning of life. It’s just that, to me at least, suicide is due to a very personal loss of meaning. We’re all born with a natural, innate will to live. Then at some point we die. That’s the silent order of things. Everything fights till the end until something new takes over to fight again. The absurdism comes with the question, what for?
The answer is, to rebel.
Have an incredible, 2015.