A Little List of Awesome & Not-So Awesome!

Things that bother me intensely:

*Dishonesty – Boom, right up at the top there.

*Elitism – that is, considering you and your approved peers as better than other rejected individuals or groups, affording your consideration to this very small circle of friends, and forming your sense of identity (incredibly!) around the exclusion of others.

*Cutting Off Communication – Yep. It’s called not being a jackass.

*Littering – There are more than just Native American’s crying because of your ignorant and self-absorbed dumbass.

*Apathy – Yeah, apathy is pretty cool right now in a lot of circles, principle among them the hipster, that amorphous, stand-for-nothing type of person that floats among the sea of options, whether activist or entertainment, much like how they go shopping. What activist issue best expresses ME? None of them? Op, oh well. Maybe I’ll try on a pair of these ridiculously over-sized sunglasses. Because that’s what matters.

*Fake agreeableness, compliments and smiles (also called insincerity) – If you want to talk about creepy this takes the cake.

*Ego Games – Though, I gotta admit, if you can see the cosmic drama of life in a comedic light, and aren’t overly attached to your particular ego in the play, they can be pretty damn funny sometimes.

Things I like a Lot:

Well, the opposite of all of the above, really.

*Authentic Being-ness, for starters – No false fronts. No masks. You are you yourself, just as you are. Part of this comes from 2:

*Deep Communication – Being able to express your desires, needs, intentions, issues, hang ups you’re grappling with, beauties, joys, and dreams all with honesty and up-front transparency.

*Compassion – Ahhh yeah. This one doesn’t get a lot of play in the fashion or lifestyle magazines, but it’s pretty awesome. Loving someone when it may not necessarily fulfill one of your own desires may not be sexy. It may not promise the on-demand satisfaction and entertainment value that a more selfish, material-oriented world-view can offer, but I think it offers the difference between the instant satisfaction of Taco Bell verses the slow satisfaction of growing, cooking, and eating food you made yourself. Tasty!

*Mindfulness – Mmm, yeah I could devote a whole book to this… but fortunately someone already has. It’s called Teachings On Love by Thich Nhat Hanh. Read it and be amazed.

*Ego Relativism – Did I just make this term up? If so I’m putting a copyright on this term. Feel free to use it and send royalties to my home address. Haha. So what is Ego Relativism? It’s realizing that every conscious being on the planet earth has an ego, and that, as it was so finely put in Earthlings, we are all the psychological centers of a life that is uniquely our own.

That part we all understand. Here’s the crazy part: Our ego is not more or less deserving of happiness than any other ego. We all view life through the filters of our own ego’s needs and desires, but an ego relativist often steps outside of this filter to see a situation from all the other egos involved.

An example would be good here. Let’s say you’re dating a woman and she loves you but also still has feelings for her ex. The default habit here would be to put our own considerations above the considerations of the other two people, and especially the ex. The ex becomes a threat to our own ego’s happiness, so we get intensely jealous and possessive and may get angry and hate the ex and get mad at our partner for having any feelings that might threaten our own wants. An ego relativist, on the other hand, can see that their own wants are no more valid and deserving than their partner or their partner’s ex. Their egos are thinking exactly what you’re thinking. They want to be happy. You want to be happy. And from this realization, the only inevitable reaction becomes to work towards fulfilling the happiness of everyone involved – as best as you possibly can.

Now when I told my friend Eli about this, the first thing he asked was, “Well what if you’re in a situation where everyone’s needs can’t all be met? What do you do then? What if one of them is staunchly monogamous?” And I said, well, if you are firmly an ego relativist, then a flexibility to explore possibilities flows naturally from this original logic. Their happiness is your happiness. Their suffering is your suffering. From this understanding, a willingness to explore third-dimensional options beyond the usual 2D, black and white monogamous option becomes second nature. You might even attempt these explorations without even knowing there is a name for it. You just do it because it makes sense.

But, if you or the other two people are definitely not into an open-relationship situation, and there is no way for the needs of all three people to be met, then an ego relativist would handle the situation in the following two ways. Ultimately, your partner is put into the undesirable and tricky position of having to choose (a real tragedy in my opinion, but hey, it’s their choice to go this route).

If they choose you, then you can simply try to be as loving and considerate to the ex as you possibly can. You will probably experience deep empathy and ambivalence because you’ve been on that end of the equation many times before. You share their suffering as if it was your own, and whatever you can do to lighten this suffering, you do it.

If she chooses her ex, it is difficult, but you can experience some peace knowing that her ex is happier now that he can be with her, and that she is happy with him. Their happiness IS your happiness, too. Their happiness is equally as deserving as your happiness, and the dice just happened to come up snake eyes for you – this time. Next time it will probably come up sevens, and that’s just the nature of life.

Another question Eli asked, playing Devil’s Advocate at this point, “What about when two countries want the same oil?” And I said, simply, “They share.” It’s called the Oil Depletion Protocol, an international treaty that has not been put into place, but follows the same logic of Ego Relativism on an international level as it follows on an individual level.

Now as some might have guessed by now, when we believe that no ego is any more deserving of happiness than any other ego, this applies not just to human egos, but every conscious ego on planet earth – anything with a nervous system, in other words. Suddenly, consenting to the mass slaughter and suffering of chickens, cows, and pigs at the moment of our purchase and consumption of meat seems entirely unethical.

Of course, my decision to become vegetarian came from many angles, but what sealed the deal was the realization that the human-centered view that puts human interests above the interests of all other species was not based on any objective truth, but definitively a culturally conditioned mythology. It is speciesism – a step up from sexism and racism in the moral hierarchy of today’s culture, but a form of baseless and selfish discrimination nonetheless. It seems like if we are to follow Ego Relativism to its conclusion, then fighting for the rights and happiness of all animals seems to arise organically.

Hmm, I’m wondering how many people reading this were gung ho about Ego Relativism right up until this moment. Our eating habits are certainly a sensitive topic. It puts us face to face with our own limits to compassion – “Yea I’ll be compassionate all you want until you start talking about what I like to eat! Then we gotta a problem here.”

Well, fortunately, a side-effect of Ego Relativism is a good degree of moral relativism. I believe in being vegetarian and I hope someday all humans are, at least 90%, but I don’t hold it against anyone that isn’t. Everyone’s got to make their own choices in life. It’s why I’ve never held it against anyone I’ve dated that wasn’t a vegetarian, either.

Ah, trying to harmonize a strong belief in social justice and compassion with not judging people or cutting off my heart from them – it is one of the most beautifully complex balances to find, but it makes for a great life adventure!

Ah ha! Well. I seemed to have went on a bit of an unproportional tangent on that one. What’s the last thing I really like a lot you ask?

*The willingness and desire to learn and grow from every situation. – Yea, without this one, the rest seem pretty hard to achieve.


Lessons From a Future Self

Talking to one of my past relationship partners, I’ve felt on several occasions like I’m talking to a former self of mine from five years ago. I’m trying to smack some sense into him, trying to get him to not make the same mistakes.

If I could say something to myself five years ago it would be this: When seeking a life partner, be careful to not chase after an illusory “ideal” that may not even exist. You may have found someone great. You’re 70-80% compatible with them, could easily marry them, but they don’t have some things you want, so you break up to keep looking for that perfect person with the extra 10% compatibility.

Now what’s the trouble with this approach? First, do we even know what we want? Do we know what that 90% consists of? Figuring this out can take some time, and it often changes with age. But this perfect person you seek might have the 10% you were looking for, but they will likely lack qualities that you valued with previous partners.

So just be careful. Be careful you don’t get greedy or get lost seeking a fantasy ideal that does not exist. It’s true your current partner may not be “one of the ones.”They may not have one or three of the qualities that you have decided is absolutely important to have in a life partner. Just be careful you’re not taking them for granted and are simply lusting after the possibility of “more.” It’s the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome. A problem, I realize, that is more temperamental when you’re young and still lacking experience. You may not know what you have when you find it, and you may not know what really matters, because you just haven’t lived long enough to get it – not intellectually, but in your core being. What “really matters” I’ve found tends to change as you get older.

But knowing the wisdom that I do now, I realize it’s possible I still might make the same decision. “I gotta date others before I settle down.” It doesn’t matter if I’ve met one of the ones. I simply haven’t dated enough people, haven’t absorbed enough life experience from a diversity of people yet, and I want to bring that kind of diversity of experience, wisdom and maturity to whatever life partner I do eventually find myself with.

But if this is the case, and my current partner and I are meant to part ways, I should like to hope that we can change the form of relationship like adults. Not break-up like high-schoolers and fall into the same predictable clichés of most breakups, with all the expectations about how to act towards our ex’s, putting them into a narrow category – ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend.

If you’re still really compatible and nothing’s changed on that level – if you still get along great – why should we close off our hearts just because they’re an “ex”? Where is there room for the possibility of intimate friendships?

Well, I think it is a question worth exploring. But either way we want to go about it, I think we just have to be careful about the expectations we have about finding “the one” – this perfect person that will fulfill all our needs and wants forever. Yes maybe the two of you aren’t meant to be together forever, but so what? I think this special focus on finding “the one” can really prevent us from enjoying the beauty and uniqueness of each person. Our focus on the future and the constant comparisons we make really keep us from appreciating the present moment.

When you think about it, we put pressure on our partners to fulfill some very unrealistic expectations. That is, we always think the last one wasn’t the one, or the one before that, or the one before that, but we always expect that this new person will *definitely* be the one. And if they’re not, then we better figure that out soon so we can move on and keep looking. It’s kind of like speed-dating but on the macro-life level.

I think it’s worth considering that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’re not going to be “the one.” It is a simple statistical truth of life. And when we desire that every person we meet fulfill these hopelessly ridiculous expectations, we inevitably will end up disappointing ourselves, getting hurt and hurting others one time after another, for at least a decade or more of our life. Realizing this, I have to wonder if there is a better way to approach our relationships early on in life.

When our main relationship goal is finding “the one,” I think it takes a lot of the fun and adventure out of life. At least, I feel like it eliminates so many other beautiful possibilities, possibilities that open up when we can finally stop judging and evaluating our relationships for “the one” potential and simply start loving our partners for whoever they are. We may find that throwing off the burden of this romantic goal may be incredibly liberating.

Who knows what kind of deep, meaningful love two people could discover when they can love each other fully but also know and accept they aren’t meant to be together forever?

Imagine that for just a second.

You can love them completely, right now, knowing they aren’t the one. As I found with the person I dated last year, when I let go of my expectations of who I’d like her to be, suddenly it became possible to appreciate her just as she is, and nothing more was necessary. If I had approached this person with my usual attitude, I probably would have checked her off my “the one” list after a few dates. I’m glad I didn’t, because I would have lost out on a lot.

It seems each choice offers us different lessons and different experiences. Whether we decide to simply break up when we decide they aren’t the one, or we decide to explore third-dimensional possibilities, they will both offer different life experiences. If we decide to go the usual route, the potential for a beautiful and unique relationship that could have lasted many more meaningful years will definitely be lost.

In fact, choosing to seek this fantasy of “the one” almost guarantees that most of us will get to enjoy at least ten to fifteen years or more of cyclical hook ups and break-ups, broken hearts and dashed hopes. Our love life becomes this pattern of starting a new relationship, cutting it off to start something new and then starting all over again. Cut and stop and go; cut and stop and go. Add. Repeat.

I have to wonder if there are other ways to approaching life that are worth exploring. Considering that it is statistically a fact that most of the people we date, by definition will not be “the one” maybe there is a way to redefine the rules of the game during this period in our youth, so that we can maximize the mutual happiness of ourselves and the people we get into relationships with, and minimize the levels of drama and disappointment.
Instead of seeking the “one” when we’re young, what else could be our goal?

Wanting to learn from people different from us could be a goal. Being open to seeing what we can learn from someone, even if it’s not what we “want” to learn could be a goal – just to expand our horizons. For those that like traveling, it’s like going on a vacation, but instead of having to pack any bags, it’s an inter-personal journey into the imagination of the mind. Infinite personality combinations creating a rubix cube of unique experiences, like a Swedish massage for your brain.

Sounds good right? I knowww…

Focusing on other aspects of life could be another goal, with no hurry to find the one. You could accept that because life is continually changing, the one that’s perfect for you now will often be changing. You might believe that being with someone who’s good for you – someone who supports you and compels you to grow and challenge yourself is the most important thing right now in life. If they support your current life goals and your personal direction in life, even if it isn’t their own, that could be all that matters.

What’s really funny is that “the one” you might find perfect for you in five years might not be right for you right now in your life. You might break up with her if you met her now. For people in their early twenties, it’s a pretty crazy time; people are changing directions rapidly. “The one” that you want now may not be right for you when you decide you want to live someplace else, or move back, or you change a lot personally, or you pick a career. To make a legitimately serious commitment to someone, you’re mutually agreeing to take the same life path together, that you are both accepting who you are, as you are right now. You’re promising, to some degree, not to change – that you will stay enough the same to follow the same path together. It’s a big life choice. You will be moving from having many possibilities before you, to having chosen one possibility over others, and knowing that looking back, that will be one of the forks in the road that determined the shape of your life.

It’s a crazy trip. You’re baking your bread. You’re putting the soft and moldable dough of your youth into the oven, and out of the oven is gonna come some of the finest bread, you are gonna love it! At least that’s what we all hope. But truthfully, the shape of our bread will be determined by the choices we make in life now.

What kind of bread do we want to bake?

How Relationships Are Like Muffins, and Why I Enjoy Building With Blocks

Why do we seek out relationships? Well, really that is pretty obvious – for the companionship, for the sexual intimacy, for the support and joy of sharing your life with another. But of course, for many people there are several other fruits to be found from our relationships, not just the ones we enjoy in the traditional sense. Personally, I see our relationships as a continual source for growing and learning.

I want to learn something new from every relationship I’m in. Everyone is unique. Everyone can challenge us, often times without them meaning to, if we have the ears and eyes to listen. There are amazing lessons to be learned tucked away and hidden in every experience, especially the more difficult ones, if we are open to finding them.

Our intimate partners can teach us so much about ourselves, our short-comings, our beauties, things we didn’t even know there were to learn. Our partner is like a mirror, holding up to us a clear view of ourselves, and all the ways we can still improve.

It is a big thing I’m in to apparently. Challenging myself and the other. Learning. Great stuff!

And you know, the best parts come after you’ve known them for awhile. To really be able to challenge your partner, offer something insightful that they hadn’t thought of, and for them to do the same, you’ve really got to get to know the person well. The best lessons come when you sustain that spirit of friendship over a long time, especially even after you’ve decided to just be friends, or change the relationship form in some other way.

I suppose that’s why it’s unfortunate when I meet people who are only interested in the relationship part, and not so much with the growing and learning part. When they want to break up, they’re done. See ya. The only real “learning” to be had is in the context of the honey-moon phase of the relationship. It is like people who only want to eat the soft, top part of the muffin, and once it’s gone, they throw the rest away and move on to the next. Agh! So wasteful!

The best lessons come from long-term relationship. It’s a great feeling to be able to offer someone an insight that they missed because of their own blind-spots, and it’s amazing to have this revelation yourself, when a friend points out something you missed in your own line of thinking.

That’s why it just seems like a terrible waste to cut off a relationship when it “ends.” You lose out on so much, and it takes a lot of time to build back up to that point with someone new.

Until then, you’re back to your old self with all its conclusions and established narratives. It’s pretty easy to pretend to be whoever you want to be when the person doesn’t know you at all yet. You can usually do a pretty good job of only showing people the side you want to show, until your belt loosens and your true self inevitably hangs out. Until then, you could appear to be a totally positive, good-natured person. You could have that idea yourself. There’s no way they could know that you actually have problems communicating your true feelings with people, and that due to your established “reputation” as an always positive, bubbly person, you feel a great pressure to be agreeable and complimentary, and have trouble expressing deeper emotions – of doubt, of needs not being fulfilled, of annoyances. So honesty becomes this difficult thing for this person, but they see themselves as honest. They have other rationalizations for their behavior, and it becomes a blind-spot.

Of course, being able to see this, their past partner could point this out, but this person has already moved on and cut their ex out of their life, and thus, no lessons to be learned. They’ll go on to their next partner, make similar mistakes, not learn from them and move on once more, burning along a long path of desires, not likely to grow up until some truly hard lessons are learned.

Another variation on this is when the person is aware of their own flaws, but rather than try to change themselves, they break up with their current partner in the hopes of finding someone else who will accept their flaw. It may take two years in the relationship for this flaw to even reveal itself. It may be an attitude or behavior that only comes to the surface after they’ve been in the relationship for awhile, but that causes conflict in the relationship great enough to need addressing. Some of the biggest lessons we can learn are the ones that only come to the surface after a couple years with someone, and if we break up then, or do not make an effort to stay friends, then we have squandered the opportunity to learn and improve ourselves in that particular way for another two years, until it inevitably comes up in the next relationship.

Building long-term relationships with people is a lot like stacking wooden blocks on top of each other. New lessons don’t become available until we have stacked up a lot of blocks. And if we abandon those blocks when we start a new relationship, we are starting from scratch, not able to reach the higher lessons for a long time. Unless the relationship turned horribly abusive or unhealthy, in which case cutting the person out of your life would be the healthiest choice, we should never abandon our past blocks. We should continue to build on them – for the growth of ourselves, for the growth of the other, and for a greater mutual happiness for everyone we will come in contact with in our life.

What’s It Going to Take to Heal the Apathy in Our Society?

With a growing awareness of mounting ecological, economic, political, and social problems, there exists many growing currents of response.

On one hand, more people are waking up. They’re getting involved. They’re saying, “Not another day! This is where I mark the line.” Their desire to change the world is turning from simple wishful thinking on Monday mornings into tangible action. The thoughts they used to have only occasionally about their relationship to the rest of the world now occurs to them all the time. They’re beginning to see activism not as something that is done only at non-profit meetings and at protests, but that activism is a way of life – that it represents nothing less than our personal, spiritual choice to choose determination over defeat, and compassion over apathy. Ultimately, in some way, it is the choice to reject our culture’s post-modern slide into narcissism. It is to reject the modern consumer philosophy that true happiness and joy comes from personal material accumulation, from seeking personal desires and needs. It is the realization that the joy that comes from connecting to our relationship with the planet blows the old way of seeking joy out of the water.

These people are realizing that humans are social animals; we crave connection and community; we crave a wide, encompassing identity that connects us with the whole humanity of the world – not just our friends and family, not just our city, our country, our species – but every living being on Earth – plant, animal, and human.

It is a new philosophy, perhaps a very, very ancient philosophy, one that sees everyone on this planet as one family – that everything is interconnected, that the whole humanity and life of all beings resides in each one of our hearts, and that we reside in theirs. There is no “I” and “them.” Truly, honestly.

The happiness of another is my happiness. The suffering of another is my suffering.

There is no separation. For millions and millions of people growing around the planet, the problems of the world are their problems; the happiness others find as we collectively realize a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world is their happiness. It is the most profound and meaningful happiness one could possibly experience.

You can’t buy that kind of happiness at a store. You can’t get it from beating the last level of a video game. It doesn’t come out of the end of a pipe or at the bottom of a bottle. It doesn’t come from watching sports. It doesn’t come from how you dress or what kind of car you drive. It doesn’t come from getting a college degree or from getting a fatter paycheck.

It comes directly from the final and profound realization that there truly is no “self” and there is no “other.” We are inter-connected with everything. We are all of it.

To paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki:

If the world did not exist, I could not exist.
If I do not exist, then nothing exists.

Scientifically, this is true, but our culture makes it hard to see. But it is what Martin Luther King saw; it is what Gandhi saw. It is what every person that works to change the world in some way experiences – not in words, but in conviction. It is what animates the life of every person that has committed to not giving up until the last person has the same opportunity for happiness that everyone else has.

It is this realization, how ever it might be described (it has been described in hundreds of ways) that gave every inspirational person in our history the personal, spiritual power to face the most impossible odds and to succeed.

To quote from the documentary that Films For Action screened at Liberty Hall on April 26th, it is what “Martin Luther King called ‘Love in Action’, and Gandhi called ‘Soul Force’; what Velcrow Ripper is calling ‘Fierce Light.’”

It is what has made me want to dedicate my life to improving the world. It is why I do not feel like I have a choice anymore in the matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s impossible. It doesn’t matter if everyone around me says it’s hopeless. I’ve got to do it because my inner-most nature wants me to do it.

I’m not sure when it happened. I’m not sure how it happened, but at some point, reading more news about how the world is falling apart, watching more documentaries about how urgent and dire our situation has become doesn’t shut me down. I’ve watched over 150 documentaries at this point, absorbed an ungodly amount of “depressing” information, and I have not become jaded. I’ve been burnt out before, several times in fact. And over time I have come to see that if we don’t know how to absorb this information we will undoubtedly be crushed by it. I’ve seen this happen to many of my friends. They just shut down, not because they don’t care, but because there is too much to care about, and we just don’t know how to deal with it.

In an age where we receive more information from one edition of the New York Times than a man in the Renaissance might receive in his entire life, it is simply too easy to become overwhelmed by the barrage of stimulus, the barrage of causes and problems that beg us to care about them and to help out.

It is a problem unique to our generation (and I have to laugh as we throw one more on top of the list). But it is one that if we do not discover the solution to, frankly, we’re all gonna be screwed. Figuring out how to turn apathy into action is one of the most important and vexing problems we can try to figure out.

Because as I mentioned at the beginning, there are many ways people are responding to our mounting environmental and social problems, and among all the people that are waking up and getting involved, there are many that have responded by shutting down. The empathy center in their brains has short-circuited: too many images of oil-soaked baby seals, too many images of starving children in foreign countries, too much political corruption rampant in Washington, too many examples of the media failing to do their job on The Daily Show, too many ingrained and inter-locked institutions upholding the status quo. Logically, they could make quite a case for saying that trying to change anything is pointless. And it seems that the logical side of their brains has won over and suppressed the voice in their heart. Or maybe not.

But in either case, they have given up before they have even started. They’ve accepted that the world is spinning out of control and have resigned themselves to enjoy what little of the party pie is left before it’s all gone. There may be a deep seated rage in many of today’s youth, that goes suppressed, a rage from simply being born into these problems – that it was already out of control before they were even born.

And from the way it’s looking, the world they will inherit has already been squandered. Our parents generation grew up in a time of unprecedented growth, the age of cheap oil – a 100 year paradigm that fueled all the rich affluence that we have enjoyed up to today. But the 21st century, the young are realizing, will be a century of decline – declining supplies of cheap energy, fresh water, arable soil, and clean air; declining mental clarity in a world saturated by commercial noise, declining security in an age of climate change and growing resource wars. For the youth of today that have not responded by becoming incredibly pissed off, they have responded by becoming incredibly despondent – birthing the kind of philosophical narcissism and ironic distance that is so perfectly embodied by the modern “hipster.”

Of course, billions of people all over the world never even got a taste of the party that we in the affluent West have gotten to enjoy. Can you imagine the rage and anger one would feel knowing how so few in the West could enjoy so much while so many in the rest of the world will not benefit from any of it before it’s gone? And some people have trouble understanding (not condoning mind you, but understanding) why kids in the Middle East would dream of blowing us up.

We’ve got to listen to this rage, not fight it but listen to it. So many people in our society are apathetic towards politics or social change. How can we turn the tide? What’s the secret to transforming apathy into resolve?

I mean, what do you say to a person that says “everything is pointless”?

Like I said before, I’ve felt burnt out and depressed about our situation many times, but every time, a spark was lit and my enthusiasm regenerated. Now, it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt jaded. Something happened to me that made “pessimistic realism” completely unacceptable to me. Now, I get depressed if I play video-games or party too much, and I feel more alive than ever when I’m “working” on activist projects. I don’t even feel like I have a choice about it anymore. I do it because there’s simply nothing else to do. Anything less just feels like I’m denying reality. I know that a world of incredible potential and beauty exists if I will simply work to find it.

That’s the conclusion, but like many core convictions that we accumulate over life, I cannot remember how I got here. I know millions of people all over the world have had this same kind of conclusion. I know many of my friends have had this conclusion. They’ve felt jaded about the state of the world, and then something happens to them, and suddenly their old view of the world seems entirely unacceptable. A spark ignites inside them, a passion to engage with the world rather than insulate oneself from it. And the beautiful thing is, whatever this spark is, it is self-sustaining. It is the furnace that burns in you the rest of your life, and the more you use of it, the more of it you have.

So I would like to ask everyone reading this, what was the spark that lit the fire for you? If you felt jaded once but found your way out of it, what was the catalyst? What gives you the energy to not just care intellectually, but in action?

I would love to hear your stories and thoughts on this. Because if we can figure this out, then I think we’ll have found the key to riding this tsunami of growing problems like a surfer rides a wave. We can engage with the reality of the world without being drowned by it.

From this, I think we can discover a philosophy on how to live one’s short life on this planet with passion and vigor, with unconquerable determination. And from here, a whole other world becomes possible.

What Are these Monogamous Rules You Have Invented?

Monogamy!As time goes on, the logic of monogamous relationships become increasingly foreign to me, always a bit more curious, always a bit puzzling. But at the same time, viewing monogamous relationships from a distance, as seen from an outsider, I feel like I can perceive monogamy in its pure sense, on a level deeper than someone who is so absolved into its logic and customs that they do not have any perspective on it. It is much like the fish that cannot perceive the water all around it.

Seeing monogamous relationships from a detached perspective, the logic of it seems fairly straightforward. What makes monogamy desirable? For most of us it is the security. Being accepted for who you are, regardless of your flaws. This is what everybody wants in the ideal monogamous relationship – safety, certainty, security, and – most importantly, having the person that provides these feelings all to yourself. And being aware of this, when I try out a monogamous relationship, my actions and words actually tailor to fit this. If I’m with someone who’s in to monogamous relationships, I tailor my language to fit the paradigm. Somewhat subconsciously, I find myself saying things like, “you’ve got me,” which is a way of saying, “Don’t worry. You can feel safe.” And when I say it, I do mean it. I take care to say only what I mean. And if I say, “you’ve got me,” then I accept the responsibility that this entails. It means they can let their guard down without worrying that I will be careless with that trust – that even if the relationship changes, their feelings will be looked after with care.

The interesting thing is, people usually take this “you’ve got me” statement to have more serious “dropping the big words” kind of significance, a unique monogamous connotation. The reality is, I would feel this way towards anyone I was dating, whether it’s been for two weeks or two years.

So I kind of wonder what unique impression these last few people have had about me, seeing only a partial side – one version of Tim chosen among many. Because, the irony is – choosing this path seems completely arbitrary. I adapt to the paradigm I’m living in, and most people today want a monogamous relationship. But I could just as easily not be monogamous. I could just as easily be in an open relationship. If my partner wants that, great. It’s no trouble. My consciousness is open to following the logic and “rules” of either monogamy or polyamory.

In a monogamous context, I may get attached. It seems like that is not only likely, but it’s the goal in most cases in the long term. After the honey-moon phase dies down, however, the passion you feel is accompanied with attachment, and when it’s mutual – security, which is what everybody wants.

Of course, for the true monogamous game players, it’s more complicated than that. You don’t try to make someone feel secure immediately. You don’t show the person love and long-term consideration immediately, if ever. You’ve got to “play hard to get.” You want to be nice and thoughtful but not too nice and thoughtful. You’ve got to keep them uncertain. Don’t act too interested. He who says “I love you” first, loses. I have literally heard people say this. It is all a big mind-fuck, in my opinion – bullshit game playing for a culture that still has a lot of growing up to do.

I say, fuck playing games. I want to be real.

When you know everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, then that should be the goal. Accept people for who they are. Don’t judge them. Judging others only breeds fear in yourself, because ultimately people will judge you just as harshly.

In today’s dating environment, I can understand why some people might think it wise to judge and reject first to avoid the possibility of getting hurt yourself; so many people are careless with others feelings today. Has anyone reading this ever seen Jersey Shore on Cable TV? Case in point. Really there are too many examples to choose from.

Of course, some people might enjoy these games – the drama, the betrayals, the extreme ups and downs. But if you’re not into that kind of thing, I think we might enjoy the possibility of letting go of the script – letting go of the to-do list and game rules that everyone follows when moving through the dating-to-marriage cycle. “Don’t say I love you until the 50 yard line, oh! Fumble!”

No, I say, let’s forget about all of those conventions. Start with a new premise. One that starts with loving the person, being totally real with them from the very start, not 6 months to a year down the line.

Love them, just as they are, without discrimination. Love them regardless of whether they are right for you. Love them for them. Open your heart to them – today! – even if you know you won’t be together forever.

I think it’s a beautiful thing when two people involved have the emotional maturity to love deeply but be able to let their beloved go when the time is right. And until then, love them 100%. Isn’t that the deepest form of love? To love 100%, even when you know it’s not going to last? Isn’t that true of all relationships? We love, even knowing everyone we love one day will die, or move away, or want to share their life with someone else.

But until then – in this moment – you can love them like this moment is all there is.

How Am I to Live? How Am I to Be?

This question has been elusive to me since I was seventeen. There are so many ways of being in a given situation. If someone betrays your trust, for example, I could see many ways to act. I often feel differently about the situation at different times. Sometimes I feel anger and I want to express that anger towards the person. Sometimes I feel compassion. Sometimes I feel forgiveness. Sometimes I feel acceptance. Sometimes again I feel pissed off. Sometimes I just want to love them, despite it all. Sometimes I just want to be able to hate them and forget them, like so many other people seem to be able to do.

What’s the right response? Looking at the situation from a raw human perspective, or from a Buddhist perspective, each way of responding has its own justification. Each path can find sympathy, praise, and understanding with different people. Each path seems like the right way to go at different times. I feel like I have no “fixed self.”

Each choice seems attractive in its own way. I have this sense that nothing really matters. Each option seems more or less equal. So you can be whoever you want to be. You could be compassionate and they wouldn’t notice. People aren’t used to compassion. People are often selfish. They could just take advantage of your kindness and not learn anything – go on doing their thing, hurting others.

Getting angry and putting them in their place might be the most appropriate and beneficial way to handle the situation. Some people don’t respond to the language of love and mindfulness. They only respond to what they’re used to. Angry, or frank words, may be the only language they can hear.

I often thought when I was seventeen that if someone was being a total jerk or an asshole to me, I should not hesitate to punch them in the face. This, of course, coming from someone who is studying Zen Buddhism may be surprising. After all, if we are truly all one, then the person who is being an asshole is also myself. I am not separate from him. We share the same basic desires, hopes, fears, sufferings and dreams – the same basic humanity.

But even though I can see myself in the asshole, and the whole universe can be considered “the self,” sometimes we all need a good punch in the face! Yes, I am punching myself in the face. But hopefully, if I was ever being an asshole, or was incredibly hurtful, someone else would do the same in kind to me, and I would have the good sense to thank him for it.

Truly, it’s the fake friends that smile and nod and then gossip to others. Your true friends won’t hesitate to set you straight, if the need arises.

Of course, I’m only really kidding about physically punching someone. What they need is an emotional punch, a spiritual punch – something to wake them up and get them to pay attention to their actions. If people hurt others and do not realize they are doing this (or admit that they know but don’t care), does it benefit them or others to leave them alone? Until they learn the lessons they need to learn, they will continue to make the same careless mistake, burning a long path of tears and heartache for others, and eventually, themselves.

It is the reason why I do not simply want to accept others. I do not want to have the same attitude as a good German. I do not want to sit quietly and let an injustice stand unchecked. Whether it be a friend, a relationship, a stranger, a politician, or a corporate CEO, life is too short to not say something, to not school a person when they need to be schooled.

Again, I feel like if there is any commonality among humans to want to learn and grow, we could only hope others would care enough to do the same for us, when our own blind-spots mislead us.

At the same time, try as we might, it is very difficult to change people if they have no inward desire to change and improve themselves. Some people may need to suffer greatly and cause others to suffer greatly before they finally learn the lesson they had originally been offered. There is some old wisdom from the book Siddhartha, which is that people will always learn the lessons they need to earn in their own time. While you may try, while you may earnestly want to spare your friend, ex partner, spouse, or child the same lessons you yourself learned with much strife and difficulty, ultimately, you cannot change their path. They are the only ones who can do that, and we cannot know if it will take five months or five decades.

This is why the ancient masters talk abut letting events take their course, and not trying to force things. It is why Thich Nhat Hanh says, “If you do not understand, you will think not getting angry to be the act of a fool.”

When Siddhartha ran to find his son, his friend looked at him and smiled with sincere consideration, but he did not hinder Siddhartha’s path. Vasudeva knew that Siddhartha’s search to find his son would be futile (because his son did not want to be found), but that Siddhartha had to come to accept this himself. He had to seek and find despair before he could finally accept, ultimately, what he already knew. It is a moment that speaks truth and wisdom to me. Vasudeva knew how to yield, how to love without interfering.

Of course, this choice is satisfying to us because we, the reader, can share in his wisdom. In real life, the other we have in mind has no idea we have decided to love them from afar, to let them find their way in their own time. They move past their experience with you in very traditional terms, thinking they were right and totally justified, whatever it is they’re thinking. This may be an example of my own struggles with this path, but I find it hard to let a situation go in this way when I know their ego has probably thought of all kinds of justifications to put themselves above the other. In their minds they have created a “version of events” that somehow always puts them definitively in the right.

So from another perspective, Vasudeva’s choice could be seen as overly passive. Not doing something is the same as doing something. What is the right action to take in each moment?

Be true to yourself and express yourself, but learn to let things go.
Be definitive, but know how to yield.
Reflect on all this, but be spontaneous!

Hopefully by now you can get a sense of the predicament I’m in. Let events take their course and be mindful of the wisdom of Vasudeva’s non-action, or take a more direct stance and say fully what you feel and believe? That’s the predicament. Which self, which way of being am I too choose?

February 2010

What is Polyamory? It’s Not Exactly What You Might Think

The root of polyamory means literally “many loves.” Now, immediately people often think this only relates to our intimate relationships, but at the heart of it, it is about every kind of love – platonic, family, friend, intimate, social – the whole spectrum. It is about not seeing love as something we can feel towards our partners only, and opening our hearts (that is, our compassion and kindness) to a much wider circle of people.

It’s funny then, that when this kind of aim becomes our goal, the openness and naturalness to have lovingly intimate relationships with more than one person seems to arise organically. That doesn’t always happen, of course; it depends on the person, but that was my experience.

Now, I think it’s worth stressing. Even though the multiple, loving intimate-relationships thing is what usually takes all the spot-light in the discussion, it is really just one effect of this philosophy. It is not the essential purpose. Whether you prefer to have intimate relationships with one or more people is not the point. If you’re not interested in loving people and you just want to have sex, you can call that kind of situation swinging, or openly dating, or a free lunch, but it’s not polyamory. Polyamory is a philosophy on love. It includes the love we have towards one partner, towards two or three partners, towards our friends, strangers, and society as a whole. But maybe we need to take a step back a minute.

This may all sound completely crazy. It’s hard to say. What does it mean to try to love everyone, not just our romantic partners, but our friends – strangers? To disassociate sex with love and to love people completely, not just maybe 10 or 15 people in the world, but 50 people, 100 people – everyone we come in contact with in our life? Is it possible to even love like this? Now, if we’re talking about romantic love, I would say no. Physically that is probably not even possible. The kind of love I’m talking about is the kind of love we can feel towards anyone. Love, as I would define it, is the *will* to take kind actions; it is that quality inside of us that compels us to be compassionate and thoughtful towards the people in our life.

Now, usually the number of people that would make this list is pretty short. We usually afford our compassion and thoughtfulness to a fairly small group of friends and family, and of course, most prominently, our significant other. But for the longest time I’ve asked myself, why is it so easy to love someone I’m attracted to, but loving someone I don’t like that much is this incredibly difficult thing? I close my heart off to them, and everyone else does this as well, and so it becomes this accepted norm in our society.

Our capacity for empathy and compassion for others seems very limited. I can see this in myself, like most people I would have to guess, and I want to know if it is possible to love more than this small circle of people, to keep my heart open to more and more people in my life until one day I can feel in some real, physical sense a love for everyone in the world. I want to find out what the limit really is. The question is: how do we make the leap from loving this very small circle of people, to opening our hearts to everyone?

If I had to take a stab at it, I think loving others unconditionally is the secret. Loving someone, even knowing their flaws, even knowing their boring sides or whatever sides – you see them as you see yourself.

You can love them, knowing who they are, just the way they are, as if who they are doesn’t even matter.

Just by their existence, they are a part of you and all of it. I am not separate from him. I am not separate from her. We share the same basic desires, hopes, fears, sufferings and dreams – the same basic humanity. Intrinsically, just looking into someone’s eyes, while they’re talking or doing something very ordinary, without them knowing what you’re thinking about, just looking deeply into their eyes with mindfulness and that sort of conscious intention, aware of who we all truly are – it would seem hard not to love them.

It could be a moment like this.

You could look into one of these person’s eyes, and love inside them what is common in all of us, to appreciate the beauty of that. For me, the breakthrough came when I asked myself, “If I can love so-and-so with such ease, why not this person? Why not these people? What’s really the difference?”

It’s funny that it has always been easiest to work on opening my heart in this way to women whom I’ve been intimate with at some point in time (whether in a polyamorous or a monogamous context). That is just the way we are taught to love, so it is what feels the most natural for us.

Quietly, though, the voice inside my heart knows that my love must not be one-pointed. If I want to find out what it means to love fully, completely, not just to love sexually, in this very limited way, then I must love the world before it becomes particular shapes, or particular people.

Love the parts, because you understand the whole.

If I can love a woman in this way, should I not then be able to open my heart to others? Am I not able to love all my friends, strangers, acquaintances, and lovers in this way?

Using this love, this openness as a template, I can apply these feelings to everyone.

This to me, is what polyamory is about – opening our hearts to a wider and wider circle of people, no longer limiting our love to a select few, no longer cutting off existing loves when we meet someone new, no longer seeing love as a limited commodity. To explore polyamory is to tap into that deep, limitless well of loving energy that resides in all of us. And from this point, the desire and willingness to explore polyamory in our intimate relationships (when a good situation arises for it) becomes one of many new great adventures.

This last statement makes a subtle point. Many people are surprised when I tell them that, philosophically, I’m polyamorous, but that most of the time I prefer to pursue monogamous relationships. I’m sure some brains are exploding trying to compute this. 🙂 But the difference is flexibility. If monogamy is the best fit for the situation, awesome, I’m all for it. But if a situation arises where it would work better to explore third-dimensional options (which would bring a greater mutual happiness to everyone involved) then I’m all for that too. There are so many times that I’ve experienced or that I’ve heard about when being flexible in a situation can allow so many more joyous possibilities. And these possibilities are simply unattainable when we stick to the “one winner and one loser” outcome, where a person is stuck in the tragic dilemma of having to choose between two people she loves. And I find situations like this happen all the time.

But whether we prefer to be in monogamous relationships, or we want to actively work on cultivating loving, committed relationships with two or three people, that is simply our personal preference. What makes a person polyamorous is our desire to simply be a more loving person, to love everyone we come in contact with in our life, and to want to discover what is truly possible.

For me, it all starts from understanding the essence of the love that we all feel in our monogamous relationships, seeing the pathways that allowed us to open our heart to this person, and then working to apply this same path to everyone.

It’s a good template to work from.

Why Do We Do Drugs?

I suppose if you don’t do any drugs at all you can stop reading this. But for many of us, perhaps most of us, we all do something. When our drug of choice isn’t pot it’s certainly alcohol. And when it’s not either of those the national standards for our consumer society is, of course, shopping. More than likely it’s probably both or all of the above.

But for most Americans, shopping fills the void and thrills the would-be thrilled. In fact science now confirms this.  Several research studies have found that when people go shopping, a brain chemical known as Dopamine is released into the body, the same chemical that’s released when people drink alcohol, sniff cocaine or fall in love. Dopamine acts on the brain’s reward center, and is what gives people a “shoppers high” when looking for new things to buy. I’ve experienced this subtle euphoria many times while standing in the checkout isle at that final moment of purchase. It reminds me of the quick-cut shots in Requiem For A Dream: pupils dilating, chemicals hitting the bloodstream, eyes dimming as the drug washes over the user. Not surprisingly,  shopping provides a much more safe (though far more expensive) fix. Indeed, for the well-adjusted and law-abiding, shopping is one of America’s favorite past-times.

Not to say buying things, or smoking pot or drinking alcohol is bad in and of itself. They’re not. It’s our habit of getting addicted to them that’s cause for the question: why do we do drugs? Doesn’t matter if your personal drug is socially acceptable or not. Television, gambling, sex, video games, sports, eating, prescription drugs, work, Facebook, wealth accumulation, relationships – the point is that culturally, socially, very few of us are not addicted to something.

If you want to be cynical you could say that what you’re addicted to is what makes you – you. Truthfully, though, most people are addicted to the same things. From a social perspective, it’s what makes these addictions okay. It’s what makes them not seem like addictions.

But why do so many people get addicted to things in the first place? The benefit of getting addicted to something is, in essence: escape. We get so narrowly and compulsively focused on something that we block out the rest of reality. Now, why would be want to insulate ourselves from reality so fully that our behavior is destructive to other aspects of our lives?

I believe, inherently, that the structures of society are driving us mad. Though most of us believe ourselves to be fairly well-adjusted, healthy individuals, we are all patients in the asylum together now. Except for anthropologists, we don’t have the kind of broad cultural perspective necessary to see our society objectively. If a hunter-gatherer saw how we behave towards each other (at work, at school, in politics, with strangers), he’d think we’d all gone nuts. We lack the perspective to even question the sanity of things like banks, schools, bosses, employees, capitalist economics, and needing money in our society simply so you won’t starve. Modern life has become a frenzied, stressful, and overwhelming place. Our mental environment is polluted with advertisements and commercial intrusions of every kind.

Most of us do not think there is a connection between the basic structure of our capitalist society and the increasing social and mental problems that we in the affluent West have become affected by. If you’re depressed, for example, the problem isn’t the environment that made you depressed. If you suddenly flip out and want to shoot up a school or fly a plane into a government building, the problem isn’t society. The problem is you. Fortunately, we have a capitalist solution for that, too, of course. It’s called Prozac. Let us know when you’re back to enjoying the work-and-spend cycle like the rest of us. 🙂

“I’m so scared of not having enough money, I can’t stop working.
Comfort, safety, company, security… the extent of my life’s needs. Even just security and company – that’s all I need.”
– Anonymous

Now, beyond the more visible examples, there is a much more subtle neurosis at play here that affects all of us. To get a handle on this, I believe we need to seriously question the fundamental insecurity that is caused by needing to “get a job” simply to survive. It is the basis of our entire civilized paradigm. We’re kicked out on our own when we’re 18. Our parents do this as a sort of “tough love” – to build character, of course, though really it only causes the adolescent anxiety and insecurity. Regardless, they’re forced to get a low-paying job to pay rent every month, sucking away monthly income that never allows them to get ahead. They get in to debt so they can go to school (a requirement now to get any decent-paying job). After graduating, they’ll hopefully have good enough credit and be able to to make enough money to buy a house (which means more debt). A mortgage on a house usually won’t be paid off for twenty years, keeping them in debt to the banks for half of their adult lives.  And all of this, all of this just so they can have a stable roof over their head – to fulfill the second most basic necessity in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

One of the most endearing memes in our society is that if you just work hard enough, anyone can make it. But despite how many people work earnestly in this system, it’s still not enough. We get in to debt with the hopes of graduating college and getting a good job. We keep paying rents or the mortgage, but millions of people still find themselves devastated by the loss of their home or their job or both.

When you add it all up, I just have to ask what kind of psychological harm this is doing us. With all the anxiety, stress, isolation and insecurity that stems from this basic fact of civilized life, it is no wonder so many of us become addicted to one form of drug or another.

So, here’s what I would really like to ask: would we feel the desire to use our drug of choice so much if the world was different? If there were fewer problems, both on a personal and global level, would we keep looking for happiness at the bottom of a bottle or in the halls of the shopping mall? If there were new mediums for our society to derive meaning and happiness, and less social oppressions conforming our lives into little boxes of paying rent and toilsome work – would we hold onto these drugs in our free time?

It may not be easy to imagine a world so amazing that smoking a joint or having a drink would somehow lesson the experience. For a moment though, let me argue that if we were to live in communities with radically different social and cultural structures, many of us, though not all I think, would have far less desire to take these consumer opiates, or at least not as much. If you are high from the excitement of a more spontaneous, authentic life – pot, alcohol, consumerism, TV and all the rest do, truly, make you “stoned” and more numb in the long run to more genuine forms of happiness.

Now, you might be saying, that’s great and all, but it doesn’t change the fact that we all have to work to live, the society around us is still mad and that’s not changing anytime soon. True. But here’s the problem: every time we use a synthetic or commercial means to produce a good time for us whenever we want to relax or escape for a while, we are giving up the possibility of a radically more positive and saner future – if not for us, then for our grand kids. Beyond that, on simply a personal level, we are giving up the means to find happiness from within ourselves. If we chose not to watch TV, drink, or go shopping when we wanted to have fun, we would have to think of some other activity, like going biking, or going to the lake with friends, or drawing, or countless other activities that require our participation to create the experience. Whatever it is that we like to do, they would be activities that would rely on ourselves to find contentment and fun, and I think there is a certain worth in being able to create happiness independent of external forces. Substances that do most of the work of creating happiness for us create dependencies. Granted, it’s certainly a lot less work, but I don’t think these solutions are very healthy.

It’s like when a person only feeds their body fast food. Because most fast food contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil, a fat that is synthetically manufactured and not found in nature, your body doesn’t know how to process the fat and convert it into energy. But if you eat fast food long enough your body will manage to process it, however inefficient, just the way we are learning to process the low-protein high-fat entertainment we take in everyday. Because it doesn’t really work that well, we just need more of it to satisfy us, more to find that moment of immersion. More infotainment, more intoxication, more personal Hollywood scandals, more absurd and violent TV shows, more shopping – more visual and physical stimulus.

Amazingly, the way these partially hydrogenated fats work, they also block the processing of healthy fats, making us more dependent on the bad ones. We are reaching this crisis in society today: where real hearty forms of joy and happiness are becoming more and more scarce. The beauty and joy once appreciated and gained from connecting with nature, for example: getting out into the wilderness and enjoying the intrinsic quality of a local place is becoming a rare and misunderstood outlet to finding more joy in life.

Kids today living in urban jungles are increasingly growing up without this fundamental connection. Nature is something “out there,” read about in textbooks and more and more seems boring and uninteresting in comparison to the frenetic entertainment of TV, video-games, and the cellphone-shopping mall life of today’s kids. Kids are fed a constant data-stream of media representations that are constantly addressing them, putting them at the center of attention. In the world of media representations, it’s all about You You You. Naturally, when a mediated child has their rare encounter with an umediated experience, out in the wilderness where nothing was created specifically for them, and things just are – the child may find themselves at a loss to know what to do with themselves. What’s the point of being out here again? The fun kids perceive they want to have nowadays is almost always commercialized, packaged, and purchased at a store.

Of course, this is true for all of us grown-up kids as well. The myriad forms of entertainment produced for us has become remarkably proficient at its task. A glossy shine packages all of the promises that the consumer/work/spend paradigm offers. Billion dollar ad agencies and the brightest young minds straight out of school have meticulously studied the art and science of stimulating our desires. The older we get, the more natural this mad society becomes, and the more content we are with what it has to offer. Conditioned to accept this culture’s escape routes for long enough, it’s possible we wouldn’t even recognize a better life if we saw it. And if we could see it, I’m wondering if it would appear so alien to us that we would choose the comfortable and familiar over the less known, even though we secretly hate it. What if we have gone too far, and lived so long this way that we now identify with our addictive habits so much that we see them as a part of ourselves? Toxic as our culture may be to our health – with all its drugs and distractions – if these drugs have become our comforting friend, could we let them go?

Ladies and gentlemen!: Has our bread has become baked?

Well, maybe. But if we were to wean ourselves from the fast-food opiates of our culture, I think it’s possible we could begin to discover new mediums for creating meaning in our lives, and possibly a source of joy that is far more valuable than any transient satisfaction.

Now if we want to dream big, let’s dream big. In the future, I see a society where the basic needs of every human being are guaranteed: food, shelter, health care – cradle to grave security. I see a future without the need for money, without the need for toilsome work, without nation-states, without rulers and ruled, hierarchy or war. You think this sounds like a fantasy, but it is possible now. The problem is not technical, nor creative. It is a problem of cultural lag – of the outdated institutions and values of our time not being able to keep pace with technological advancement.

But to realize this kind of future, however impossible  – to imagine anything better than what we presently have – it means we must wake up to the problems that our generation must deal with.

Part of the apathetic nature of our generation lies in our awareness of large problems and our in-action to do anything about them. Indeed, this behavior, this conflict of mental awareness and physical inaction is in large-part what creates apathy. When one has ideals but doesn’t live by them, it creates a subtle but long-term conflict of self, because it’s not authentic living. Apathy is a coping mechanism for this conflict. Either you have to take action or you have to stop caring. One has to happen for your inner psychology to not go nuts. To suppress that empathy and anger in the face of or awareness of oppression is usually the path of least resistance.

Yes, if we do seek the other path, we will get angry. Yes, there will be difficulties and we will be face to face with the true injustices of the world as they exist today. But ultimately, this anger can be a good thing. If we can channel it into creating new systems of living and cultivating the positive values we believe in it will be a hell of a good thing. So trust your instincts. Tap into the feelings you have in your gut, because an amazing thing happens when you do start to take action – your cynicism dissolves. Suddenly, everything isn’t hopeless, and you realize we can change the world. Suddenly, you have the power to choose for yourself. We can do it if we just work on doing it.

Now, let’s skip ahead a few years. You’ve gotten engaged. You’re reading alternative news. You’re involved in at least one local activist group and are working on projects that will affect change on multiple levels of society. You’re a damn awesome person! …in other words, and probably better in bed, too.

But, there’s a danger here. After a while, drugs can pose another potential problem. When we get fired up to change things and have begun to do the work that it’s going to take to make it happen, the changes we seek will still not come to fruition for some time. The large paradigm-shifting change we envision may be more than a generation away. What we will experience until then will be many small, sometimes large, but often immediately intangible differences that won’t be noticed until they have begun to stack up.

I noticed that after I had begun to do some of this work, it seemed like partaking in some of my old favorite hobbies was okay, now that it was accompanied by some more substance. I’d do the work, but a week later, many months later, now a couple years later, the big problems are still all there, so in the mean time it made sense to go out and party.

The danger is, when going out to “find release” from our Monday morning problems, or our global-local problems, we risk depleting the energies we could otherwise give to solving the problem. We need energy to solve issues or think creatively, and partying like a rock-star will very well make us energized for the night, but likely burnt out in the morning.

What is required for us to be successful is a sustained effort. Major powers have so far always won out because of their sheer momentum to keep on churning – it’s what led the hippie generation to burn out and finally pick up day jobs and it’s what has led the rave generation to become equally jaded and apathetic, among other sub-cultures.

What was once a groundswell of potential creative energy and fresh thinking has again been diminished to what looked to be a passing fad of idealistic youngsters. Again, I think because we did not have the sustained, patient effort to turn our ideals into reality, and because these sub-cultures spent more time on drugs than working on solving root causes.

By doing drugs, we have potentially committed a gigantic fraud upon ourselves. Like our parents of the hippie generation, we are close to subduing the vibrant and powerful spirit of our bodies to the point of quiet bickering, to complaining quietly until it may have almost found solace in the only mediums it has been offered. It may now have almost accepted small pleasures and transient moments of commercial entertainment as enough – as if this was all there ever was.

Our generation, whether they subscribe to higher ideals or not, is quickly and dangerously reaching the point where it is enough to “just get by”: to get a job, watch movies, have sex and buy more stuff. We can leave these problems to someone else. Content with the barrage of entertainment that consumer culture has to offer, and overwhelmed by the daunting challenge our generation faces, there are enough distractions to keep us comfortably numb well after we’ve forgotten what real life is all about.

Now, it’s true. Even eco-minded activists like to watch movies or get engrossed in the occasional videogame, go out for a few beers – whatever it is. It’s certainly fine to enjoy these things. It’s just important to keep these forms in balance with everything else in life.

For me, activism, drawing, making music, dancing, biking, photography, culture jamming, writing and other creative arts are forms of enjoyment that will resonate with me long after the activity itself. And more specifically, these are cyclical activities that rise like a spiral towards some goal unnecessary to define. That is the problem for me with ingestible or entertainment drugs. They lead only back to themselves. Taking the drugs, finding the escape and release we find temporary solace. Then Monday morning comes; we turn on the TV, and we are confronted with the same problems. We have not grown wiser. We have not sought progress towards any alternative. The only recourse is another drug, to find oblivion once again the next weekend and do it all over again, week after week after week.

This cycle is likely filled with inspirational moments, rousing declarative moments to change and wrestle away the bouts of apathy. The moment reading this may be another one. But affirmations are not useful by themselves. They must be followed by focused, practical action – action that reinforces our beliefs of who we are. To be aware of the traps that lead back to the same looping cycles is a good start. From there, we can choose what step we want to take next.

An Experiment: Loving More, Judging Less

The next time you think about rejecting someone, try loving them instead.

You’ll find it is more difficult than you might imagine. If you usually pride yourself on loving many people, you may be caught by the sudden contradiction of your behavior, when you find it hard to love someone when it does not come naturally.

Even after ten years reading books and working on myself, I still catch myself subtly making separating distinctions and judgments that offer me a rationalization to close off my heart. Only in the last year and a half can I say that I have loved others and acted responsibly towards all the people I’ve gotten involved with, even throughout changes in the relationship. Handling a change in the relationship form (what others might sometimes call a “break up”) is probably the most difficult time to maintain ones mindfulness and compassion.

And it is difficult, in this case, because loving this person would not be based on our own selfish desires. You see, loving someone is easy when it also fulfills our own selfish desires. That is not really true love. Loving someone in this way is a form of self-deception. We say, “I love you,” but we only say it because they make us feel good. When we try to love someone we may want to reject, we realize that true love isn’t selfish. It isn’t about us, and how they make us feel. True love is about showing kindness towards another despite how they make us feel – good or bad. If they are fundamentally a good, decent person, we have no excuse not to love them, other than for the want to fulfill our own desires.

Now, maybe you’re not interested in loving people in this way. If that is the case, please stop reading. Go on and drink your beers, party it up like nothing else matters, and keep pursuing your own little needs. This wasn’t meant for people with that kind of attitude. If you are still reading this, it’s because you have a desire to challenge yourself, to become a better person – to love more, to be kinder, to be less judgmental, to be less selfish and more other-oriented.

If you want to grow, evolve – then choose to love the next person you subconsciously or consciously want to judge and reject.

When our view of the other person is not filtered through our own desires, we realize they are just another person like ourselves. Equally deserving respect and kindness, just as we do, so long as we are not a jackass. If we act like a jackass towards our friends, towards our ex-partners, or to people we don’t know, then maybe we don’t deserve much extra consideration. But at its essence, we were all an innocent five-year-old child once, and we all fundamentally deserve respect and kindness on a basic level.

If you cannot do this, then all your words about how “I love lots of people” will ring hollow. It’s easy for our minds to congratulate ourselves with such narratives, when the behavior in actual practice falls short of the hype. The mind can easily create blind spots that hide our own contradictions, if we’re not mindful of what’s going on up there in our heads.

A true measurement of a person’s character can not be derived from how they treat those they like, but how they treat those they have written off. The act of writing someone off, in a way that lacks love and kindness, is proof enough, that that person has a lot of growing up to do.

February 2010

Everyone We Know is a Mirror of Ourselves

Every person we know and relate to is a mirror of ourselves. What we reject in someone else we reject in ourselves. What we love in others we love in ourselves. The outer is all a reflection of our own psychology. Our own hang-ups, our own aspirations, beliefs, attitudes – our shortcomings and beauties, joys and fears – they are all right there staring you in the face when you look into the eyes of everyone you know. This is especially true with those in our lives that we are closest to. With this realization I’m not sure what exactly happens… Maybe it is compassion.
March 2010

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