Wednesday, June 30, 2010

That Awesome Beauty

That awesome Beauty gives us everything
Whose fault is it
if we go away empty-handed?

Rumi

* * *

The fucked are beggars at a feast who refuse to eat.
The fucked drown in bathtubs rather than stand up to save themselves.
The fucked are perpetually angry at external circumstances and perpetually wounded by internal doubt.

The fucked are, in a word, fucked.

Borges said that any object suggested its opposite, and its opposite was the entire world. I can't write about the fucked life without suggesting its opposite, and its opposite is not simply an unfucked life, but also its source, its headwaters - the thing before Life, Rumi's awesome Beauty.

A story and a metaphor.

In Hesse's Siddhartha the hero rests alongside a river bank and it occurs to him that once the element of Time is removed a great opening emerges: the river where he sees it is the Present, but at the same time, up river there are waters yet to reach him - the future - and down river is his past, but at each point along the way it is always Present, always emerging, always the past at the same time.

The only constant is The River. Everything else is ephemeral.

The fucked life is a stuck life. You have to enter the stream; you have to be moved by currents more ancient than human memory; you have to bank the quarry riverswim; you have to be The River's partner to unfuck your life. Resisting it, staying on shore, bitching about getting wet keeps you where you are: no-fucking-where.

The River is my metaphor for God, for the force that through the green fuse drives the flower - not religious, not dogmatic, but suffused with Life.

* * *

Who is to blame if you walk away from that awesome Beauty empty-handed? your belly un-filled? your life as pig-fucked as can be?

No one but you.

I can offer no proofs to the skeptical. I can offer no comfort to believers. The River isn't a specimen on a lab table that offers up its internal workings with a few incisions - no matter how bright the scalpel. It is, however, the ground floor of Life, your life, every life regardless of how fucked and furious that life may be.

The River doesn't need you. It is you who needs The River.

The fucked life is a dry life.

__________

Monday, June 28, 2010

Weep For Yourself

Weep for yourself, my man
You'll never be what is in your heart
Weep little lion man
You're not as brave as you were at the start
Rate yourself and rake yourself
Take all the courage you have left
And waste it on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head


Mumford & Sons, Little Lion Man

* * *

We are fools to waste one minute of our lives in fear, in anger, in the dolor of love turned to mucilage, of love distorted into manipulation and the misery of longing for the past, or for what we only dreamed of doing but could never quite riddle out the tumblers to unlock that door.

And yet, and yet this is what passes for life.

It is a question of courage, a question of faith, a question of your willingness to let go of those things, those dear, dear things, that weigh you down, hold you back, still your voice.

Scream.
Rage.
Storm.
Engulf your life with life. What are you waiting for? Perfection? It doesn't exist. Has it all worked out so well taking half steps, of giving yourself self-imposed limits on your imagination, your life, that you would risk none of it for life on the bone?

Maybe you don't need to rage or scream. Maybe you need to laugh and run. Maybe you need to sit still, but whatever it is don't live an awful half-life, of your true self hidden behind the masks others tell you to wear. It strikes clear through me, a cold and brilliant light, that so much of what I've seen, so much of what I've done, so much of what I dream is the ruin of abdication, of life fucked by fear, of boldness being another false god, of surfaces hiding shallows, of something having always been missing in the equation.

I saw it in my father. I saw it in my mother. I see it in those close to me. I see it in the mirror. I see it in you.

* * *

We don't have the time we think we do. It is the great illusion of the living to be unable to image their death - the surity of it, its non-negotiable nature. I grew up in funeral homes. My father was an embalmer and death was our dinner conversation. Not its metaphysics, but its plainness, its economic underpinning to our lives. I thought I had mastered the fear of death quite young, but it stormed through me in my thirties and shattered my ability to think without thinking of death. I am closing in on fifty and death is no longer a fearful thing.

The frightening thing is not dying.
The frightening thing is not living.

Death is the necessary closed parenthesis on our time, and our time is to be spent learning how to use this gift of life, how to use it fully. But just the way science tells us we only use 10% of our brain's capacity, so, too, do we barely plumb the depths, barely imagine the breadth of what is possible simply by being alive.

We hide in fear and hurt those we'd love because we misunderstand what our lives are for.

You were made to meet your maker. You were made to find your name. You were made to live before you died.

Now go and fuck it up no more.

__________

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Caretake This Moment

Caretake this moment.

Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed.

Quit the evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble.

It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Participate. Exert yourself.


Epictetus, The Art Of Living

* * *

I was told by a very conservative, very scholarly and very decent man that if I was to more fully understand the work of Viktor Frankl I had to see his work as part of a continuum that begins with the Stoic philosopher's of Rome. I had a bit of Marcus Aurelius and thought I had a foot hold, but the conservative scholar said Frankl's writing more closely resembled Epictetus, wouldn't I agree? I had never heard the name before and mumbled an assent.

Part of the fucked life includes an element of willful ignorance, safely hiding behind the truism that "You don't know what you don't know." For the fucked this is taken as a note written by their mom to excuse them from gym class because Bobby doesn't like to get sweaty at school; it is the end of curiosity, the end of inquiry, the end of looking. It says, because you don't know there is nothing to know.

It isn't possible to know all you need to know at once. Wisdom is accrued. The fucked are usually smart, but never wise. When I was asked about Epictetus and had nothing to say I wrote his name into a notebook I keep near by. I went to the store and bought his works. I read all I could find out about him. I am no scholar, but like the wanderers at the end of Fahrenheit 451, I now "have" Epictetus.

Epictetus was a former slave. He was lame of foot, possibly made so by his servitude. He taught from a school he'd established in northwestern Greece after being exiled from Rome. He never married and in his old age he adopted an orphan and so did not die alone. I mention this because it is easy to dismiss, or not even notice the humanity behind a name like Epictetus. I mention this because his story is our story; I mention this because he died almost 2000 years ago and his work is still alive; I mention this because he is part of a continuum that preceded him and has extended far beyond him - a continuum that now includes me, that now includes you.

* * *

There are some who move through their lives hardly noticing they are alive. Others fear the mystery of consciousness, and others still can neither make head nor tail of the situation they happen to find themselves in. When you don't know, or don't care to know, when you cannot muster the energy to immerse yourself in this one moment, to be present and accounted for, you are fucked. You cannot begin to unfuck your life until you decide otherwise.

Caretake this moment.
Quit the evasions.
Stop giving yourself needless trouble.
It is time to really live.
Participate.
Exert yourself.
Unfuck yourself.

* * *

The last words in The Art of Living are these:

Give your best and always be kind.


Do that and your life is forever unfucked. Now get to it.

__________

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Mushy Brown

A mushy, brown peach is lifted from the garbage and placed on the table to pinken. It pinkens, it turns hard, it is carried in a shopping sack to the grocer's, put on a shelf, removed and crated, returned to the tree with pink blossoms. In this world, time flows backwards.

Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams

* * *

If you have never read Einstein's Dreams, I strongly urge you to do so. It is a narrative of the imagined dreams of Albert Einstein as he wends his way to his Theory of Relativity. Each dream is a different telling of time, of the various possible natures of time. The one I quoted above is one that has haunted me since I first came upon it.

It is a sweet, sweet telling of death undone.

It is also the fevered dream of the fucked.

* * *

Regret, the "if only I had..." reflex of having lived at all, is one of those emotional, psychological, spiritual nesting dolls that can always reveal one more layer of over the shoulder thinking. You begin with one thought that your life would have been better, or at least very different, if you had turned left instead of right that day, if you had been five minutes earlier, or later to catch that train, or an infinitude of minor decisions that somehow would have saved you from the life you re living.

A hundred thousand hundred thousand choices made, or unmade and your unhappiness is located at one of those decisions in the sequence. If you could unwind time, if you could reverse the flow of time you might be able to stop your fate.

Except it isn't your fate. You chose it.

The fucked can't see forward. Their eyes are in the back of their head. They can only see where they have been and spend inordinate amounts of (more) time trying to riddle out a way to go back.

Heraclitus said: "You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing on."

We fuck ourselves when we try to find the same river twice. The question begs itself: why do we do this, why the desire to go back and not forward? In a word: fear. Our past is known, even if it is unpleasant. The future is fraught with potential mistakes and a further fucking of an already fucked up life. We recoil from the one and bind ourselves to the other and the unfucking never arrives.

* * *

In Einstein's Dreams, in the story I quoted above we see an old woman alone in her apartment. Slowly she loses some lines in her face. Her hair loses its whiteness and is streaked with darker brown and her husband in carried into her home, cold and dead. In a few hours he rises and they have dinner together. They go for walks and she loses all signs of aging. He is no longer stooped, but youthful and strong. They make love for the first time. They meet each other for the first time. She is a school girl dreaming of love. She is a baby being nursed. And then... she is gone.

Even if one could reverse the river of time. It still only flows in one direction.

Wake up.

__________

Thursday, June 24, 2010

There Is A

There is a Buddhist meditation practice that encourages novices who despair of ever being able to still their thoughts and meditate. It says, If your mind wanders a thousand times, return it one thousand and one.

It took me some time before I understood that meditation was simply the endless return of my wandering mind. It is the soul of mindfulness: I am awake and I am aware.

The fucked on the other hand are forever asleep.

* * *

When I have been confronted by high stress, by intense emotions I sleep. I fall asleep swiftly and soundly. It is a most unusual feeling. When I resist it I feel drugged, the effort to keep myself awake a weak bolus of adrenaline against the onslaught of night. But when I don't resist it, when I simply let the emotions, the stress move through me without comment, without fear, when I let it go, I feel no such draw of sleep. The clarity in my mind relieves my body of all its stress.

Listen:

Hamlet:
What have you, my good friends, deserv'd at the hands of
Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?

Guildenstern:
Prison, my lord?

Hamlet:
Denmark's a prison.

Rosencrantz:
Then is the world one.

Hamlet:
A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and
dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.

Rosencrantz:
We think not so, my lord.

Hamlet:
Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 239–251


Is not Hamlet trapped in the prison of the court, of the fratricide of his stepfather, the incestuousness of his mother? Yes, but he is also trapped in his thoughts - it's what makes for the tragedy.

Don't read that wrong: not wanting Hamlet re-written. But the traps and snares of our thoughts are the things that fuck us so deeply and without any of the pleasure of a good fuck. When your mind wanders a thousand times, return it 1001. When sleep tugs at your sleeve promising relief from the difficulties of living, don't resist it, let it pass through and so be freed of your self-made prison; and when your thinking fucks you the only way to unfuck yourself is to change how you think about the events of your life.

Again, don't read that wrong: not asking to sugar-coat or deny anything, but rather to concern yourself with what you can control - your thoughts, your actions - and let the rest go.

* * *

Thinking makes it all so.

__________

Monday, June 21, 2010

Constantly Struggling The

Constantly struggling: the mark of Cain among the fucked.

A friend was describing to me what she was looking for in a man. She'd been widowed suddenly in her mid-thirties and now, a few years removed from her husband's death, with her children in high school, she wanted to meet someone for she'd been alone too long. She is beautiful, determined and fierce, but also weary of meeting half-men. She said: "I just want to meet someone who isn't constantly struggling - with money, with their ex, with their life. I had no options but to get on with life after Hank died. Life is short and these guys dick around with useless shit. I want a man, not a boy."

* * *

They say that life is struggle, but that is a Darwinian construct for it assumes the survival of the fittest, that those who make it through the maw of time are uniquely adapted to the world. It extends out of biology and also has a home as social Darwinism. But is being fucked a successful adaptation to the rigors of life? Is there some social benefit that accrues to the population by being fucked, by fucking up your life, by simply being a fucker?

Apparently so, for the world is filled with the fucked.

But why the constant struggle to live? Why Ann's complaint about men in the middle of their lives constantly struggling to put one foot in front of the other (emotionally, economically, spiritually, physically) when she had to face the death of her spouse and the shepherding of her children across that chasm without the luxury of dithering?

Because we misunderstand life. The fucked are immature in that they possess the child-like belief that there is all the time in the world to get it going, to get it on, to get it right. And once the fucked reach their middle-age and sense the speed of the calendar, they lock up, freeze, paralyze themselves with fear - fear of their death, fear of their lack, fear of having fucked it all up, but fear writ large and so they continue to drain away their days in futility.

Now that is fucked.

And I should know.

* * *

The fucked struggle because there is a payoff for that struggle, there is a Darwinian benefit (but only in the short term - like the span of one's life) for being incapable of living a complete life: the absence of responsibility.

The fucked want nothing to do with owning their lives.

Many years ago I was given a great gift by a great and uncluttered man. He told me, "We are constantly being called into our name. Every moment is ready for you to embrace it." My life was pretty well fucked when he told me that. In the years that followed those words stayed with me and have been a tonic, a balm to my own mistakes.

The constant struggle ends when you decide it ends. When you decide there is no longer any benefit in being absent from your life and are willing to learn how to walk upright and feed yourself.

"The first steps toward wisdom are the most strenuous, because our weak and stubborn souls dread exertion (without absolute guarantee of reward) and the unfamiliar. As you progress in your efforts, your resolve is fortified and self-improvement comes easier. By and by it actually becomes difficult to work counter to your own best interest.

By the steady but patient commitment to removing unsound beliefs from our souls, we become increasingly adept at seeing through our flimsy fears, our bewilderment in love, and our lack of self control. We stop trying to look good to others. One day, we contentedly realize we've stopped playing to the crowd."


Epictetus, The Art of Living

* * *

Only the fucked have the luxury of wasting their time.

The rest of us must content ourselves with living.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I Did All

I did all I could
I did it right there and then
I've already confessed
No need to confess again

Bob Dylan, Thunder on the Mountain

* * *

I was driving home last night from work - a massive, black and roiling thunderstorm was hanging over my town. I could see the steady staccato of lightning moving between the clouds and stabbing its way to the ground. There was no where to go but straight into it. Not that I would have missed it for the world. I had the windows down and my arm out the window trying to reach out and grab me some of that storm. At just that moment Bob comes blaring out of the stereo singing about thunder on the mountain and I laughed my fucking ass off as the rain fell like a sheet of broken glass.

* * *

There are two things about that storm and Bob and their connection to the fucked life that are rattling around my brain.

First, Bob.

One of the habits of fucked up fuckers is the masochistic pleasure they derive from endlessly blaming themselves for the fucked nature of their lives. They become stultified in the face of their mistakes. They are cognizant that their choices have fucked them, but can't quite see that different choices will unfuck them, and instead beat their breast moaning mea culpa, mea culpa.

One confession will do. Holding onto and repeating a confession of one's failings is antithetical to purpose of confession (to yourself, your church, your mother, whom ever), which is freedom, which is letting the weight drop from your shoulders. Rewinding the effort keeps you locked, keeps you fucked. If you've already confessed, there's no need to confess again.

Trust me, and if you can't trust me, trust Bob.

Next: What Storms Mean.

I have always believed in storms. As a punk-assed kid I used to run outside when it rained, and if there was the prospect of a tornado - stillness, a sick and orange sky - I was outside waiting for the winds to increase. I wanted to feel that power and let it move through me. Later, after studying literary theory, I added another element to the elements: rain and storms meant change.

Whenever rain, sleet, snow, storm came through I'd claim that storm for myself. The weather was asking me: what's changing, Mark? What needs to change? I believed those storms were sent just for me, just to comfort me, just to change me.

And then came last night's storm.

The clouds were low, heavy, and boiling - turning in on themselves over and over, and I smiled to myself because some positive change had just came my way and this storm was my reward, a reminder to keep the changes coming, tumbling one after the other. And then I looked at those clouds again: impassive and powerful, beyond concern for me or anything but the force of lightning.

And then the metaphor extended itself.

While I always believed the storms were for me I was only fractionally right. Storms are change - they cleanse the sky, and from time to time tear up the ground. There are no human values or virtues in storms for destruction is a stripe of change as well. What I realized then, and what I want you to know now is this: the storm sets change in motion and it is up to you to use for your benefit. If I believed the storm was bringing change to my life, then it did. That is what I brought to the storm: the willingness and desire for change.

And there's this, too. I've been so fucked for so long that I've needed every storm in my life.

How about you? What does rain mean to you?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

These Things You

"These things you keep
You better throw 'em away.
You want to turn your back
On your soulless days."


Mike Scott/The Waterboys, This Is The Sea

* * *

There is a difference between memory and stasis, a difference between love of where you've been and staying there. The fucked know no such differentiation. I would say this: the only way to honor the past is to let it go. The dead are forever in their dying, but you have only a short time to live.

On January 5th, 1993 my sad, beautiful father died. Cancer and its attendant miseries swept him away six months after his diagnosis. I mourned him daily, viciously for seven years. It was a keening without end. I could not let him go for I had so little of him while he lived. It is the way of some fathers to always be at a remove from their children. Of those the majority are too self absorbed to notice, but others, like my dad, are helpless in front of the mystery of fatherhood, of creation and have no means to express themselves and so linger at the edges of the very thing that fills them with life.

I became the keeper of my father's flotsam and jetsam, the odd objects that he'd touched and had outlived him: tools (especially an awl), a leather bound wastebasket, his Boy Scouts First-Aid tin, a box of bullets wrapped in twine from his 14th year, pipes, a tin of tobacco, and his childhood scrapbooks. I spent my days trying to conjure him again, for I feared not simply losing his presence, but his memory as well.

I could not have chosen any worse.

We fuck ourselves mostly because of love, or at least a wildly immature notion of what love is and is made for.

Listen: We're supposed to give it away. If you keep it, it ain't love.

Do you not know yet? - Fling the emptiness out of your arms
into the spaces we breathe - maybe that the birds
will feel the extended air in more intimate flight.


RM Rilke, "The First Elegy," Duino Elegies

* * *

I fucked myself good by feverishly clinging to the ghost of my father. The birth of my first two children did nothing to lessen that grip as I could only see what he had missed. And then I realized I was repeating his mistakes. I was an observer, a hovering daemon of paternal claptrap. I was anything but myself. The unrequited attachment to the past warps you, turns you into a caricature of your potential, and when you finally feel this disconnect years may have flown.

Wake up!

If fidelity to the past could make the dead live, my father would be having coffee with me this morning. No, let it go. Let it all go. You'll be okay. You can only prove your love by being here, now, attending to the life emerging at every moment.

Death, of course, is the ultimate example, but it applies to broken hearts, children leaving home, and your own fucked up self. The past cannot return. You can either repeat its mistakes and miseries, cling to its happier days, or find your way to the place where grief is a falling leaf, where past happiness isn't an impediment for what lies ahead, and you find that miracle of miracles, you've unfucked your life.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Will Devote

"I will devote my first lecture to the opposition between lightness and weight, and will uphold the values of lightness."

Italo Calvino, Six Memos For The Next Millennium

* * *

When you are fucked everything becomes heavy, thick, slowed, lugubrious. Your thoughts move like tree sap in winter. Everywhere there are reminders of lightness, movement, zeal, which only further serves to slow you down and eventually stop you. You envy birds and you mourn for the wings you never had.

Misery, self-pity, jealousy all point to a rupture in how the fucked refuse the basic, ground floor reality of our days: things change with or without you.

In Calvino's last, great work (he'd planned six lectures on the virtues he would give to writers of this millennium - Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity and Consistency - but died before the sixth could be completed) he outlines a view of literature that speaks to the same ideas I am working with here: it is the active mind, the active life, the mind engaged with life not swamped by it that creates meaning, that creates the world.

In writing about the great medieval Italian poet, Guido Cavalcanti, a contemporary, friend and rival of Dante's, Calvino names Cavalcanti as the poet of lightness. In talking about his poems, Calvino says: "In short, in every case we are concerned with something marked by three characteristics: (1) it is to the highest degree light; (2) it is in motion; (3) it is a vector of information."

Now take this and overlay it on the fucked life, your fucked life. It is its opposite.

Your fuckedness, your stuckness, your unwillingness to recognize change is to the lowest degree heavy - you want to stop the world from spinning because you are in pain, you are hurt or suffering. The ball and chain required to stop time is something more than weight and you manage to stop only yourself. The world moves on without noticing you've stopped.

You no longer move. Motion is a betrayal of your misery and longing. Only by standing as still as possible, preferably flat on your back, can you remain faithful to whatever it is you are trying to hold onto. Should you stand and put one foot in front of the other, your fidelity to your fucked life is shattered.

Weighted down, motionless, you are a cipher, an emptiness. There is no information forthcoming from you. In Calvino's terms you are a vector of absence.

Is your fuckedness, your stuckness so fine a thing that you would reject the life you do have?

* * *

In his lecture on "Lightness," Calvino writes about Cyrano de Bergerac. He says:

"In pages where his irony cannot conceal a genuine cosmic excitement, Cyrano extols the unity of all things, animate or inanimate, the combinatoria of elementary figures that determine the variety of living forms; and above all he conveys his sense of the precariousness of the processes behind them. That is, how nearly man missed being man, and life, life, and the world, the world.

You marvel that this matter, shuffled pell-mell at the whim of Chance, could have made a man, seeing that so much was needed for the construction of his being. But you must realize that a hundred million times this matter, on the way to human shape, has been stopped to form now stone, now lead, now coral, now a flower, now a comet; and all because of more or fewer elements that were or were not necessary for designing a man. Little wonder if, within an infinite quantity of matter that ceaselessly changes and stirs, the few animals, vegetables and minerals we see should happen to be made; no more wonder than getting a royal pair in a hundred casts of the dice. Indeed it is equally impossible for all this stirring not to lead to something; and yet this something will always be wondered at by some blockhead who will never realize how small a change would have made it into something else."


When you opt out of the ceaseless stirring you are fucked. But know this as well: even the smallest change will begin the precarious process of unfucking your life.

Your call.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Then Virgil The

"Then Virgil, the personification of poetic insight, appeared and conducted him through the labyrinth of hell, which is the place of those fixed to their desires and fears, who can't pass through to eternity."

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

* * *

When you are fixed to your fears and desires, when those fears and desires occupy the entirety of your thought, your consciousness, when those desires and fears, cemented by habit, become walls, blocking out everything but the self-fulfilling misery of unquenchable desire and unmitigated fear, you are, in a word, fucked.

Hell is the place of the fucked. There is no fire-y furnace, no horned demon lord. There's just you fucking yourself because you can't let go of the hurt, the bewilderment, the loss, the longing, the stupefaction that comes when life doesn't unfold to meet your laziness and dolor. Being smart is no balm. In fact it makes it worse because you have the capacity to see the depth of your fuckedness, but have no ability to unwind it.

It is no sin, no stain, no judgment to be fucked; it becomes so only when you refuse to take the cure, when you refuse to let go of whatever it is that is keeping you locked in place, just as the lost souls at the bottom of Dante's hell are frozen in ice.

Viktor Frankl, in his seminal work, Man's Search For Meaning, in describing the condition of concentration camp prisoners says this:

"What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing man, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

As a man who has devoted hours and hours and years and years to talk and meditation and excluded the demand, the call to action, I can tell you it fucks you up right good. Right action, right conduct, right answers to the constancy of the tasks presented to you is the unfucking I am writing about. I am not dismissing the substantial benefits of meditation, or thought, or discourse - quite the opposite. The argument is that all such thought must be matched to action. How else will you know what the right answer is? But having figured it out in theory you have to have the balls to test it against reality.

Your unwillingness to grow a pair is the cowardice that fucks you.

* * *

One doesn't need to be captive to the horrors of a concentration camp to learn this. In fact, their suffering, humiliation and death are the prices paid for you to luxuriate in your fucked, stuck life. Another marker of the fucked is the paucity and dearth of an imagination that can see others have suffered more and worse and have overcome such suffering. It may have come at the point of blade, or the barrel of a gun, but freedom is something more than living.

You are going to die, my friend.

When will you live?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Habits Of

The habits of the fucked are all fucked up.

What is habit but a fixed state of mind? The habits we embody either work in our favor or work against us and all are the product of decisions made - fully aware or not - about what we expect out of life. It is here, at the point where expectation meets reality, that the fucked find their fucking.

* * *

Love yourself and watch -
Today, tomorrow, always.

First establish yourself in the way,
Then teach,
And so defeat sorrow.

To straighten the crooked
You must first do a harder thing -
Straighten yourself.

You are your only master.
Who else?
Subdue yourself,
And discover your master.

Willfully you have fed
Your own mischief.
Soon it will crush you
As the diamond crushes stone.

By your own folly
You will be brought low
As your worst enemy wishes.
So the creeper takes the tree.

How hard it is to serve yourself,
How easy to lose yourself
In mischief and folly.

The kashta reed dies when it bears fruit,
So the fool,
Scorning the teachings of the awakened,
Spurning those who follow the law,
Perishes when his folly flowers.

Mischief is yours.
Sorrow is yours
But virtue also is yours,
And purity.

You are the source
Of all purity and impurity.

No one purifies another.

Never neglect your work
For another's,
However great his need.

Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
Give yourself to it.

The Dhammapada


* * *

I'm hardly original here. This is the very stuff of all religion, all philosophy: How are we to live?

Is it crazy to connect Siddhartha Gautama and Epictetus and Viktor Frankl? No. They are all saying the same thing. They are all leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that matched the times they lived in, but also because their words touched on the elemental processes of being human, they extend beyond time and echo and reinforce and harmonize with each other.

There is but one life. Being fucked out of fear, out of habit, out of a response to the world of things beyond your control is to waste the few days we get to live. Challenge yourself. Challenge your assumptions. Question your habits. Ask why your mind is fixed instead of fluid. Remember, the fucked life is a stuck life. If you are stuck it is because you will not change your mind.

The Buddha talks about each of us being the source of purity and impurity. Don't think of it in terms of Western morality or what is proper - those are external judgments. He is pointing inward at what affirms life and what shits on it - you, your thoughts and your actions.

Your work is to discover your work, my friends. No one can do it for you. And once you find it, once you give yourself to it (and these are no small feats, especially for the fucked) there is one more thing to do: give it all away.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Over The Years

Over the years a sort of rust can build up on your soul. If you've ever tried to loosen a bolt that's been rusted into place you know how much effort it takes to get the damn thing to budge. Being fucked is just like being that bolt: your soul is so heavily encrusted by disappointment, fear, loss, worry, anger and frustration that nothing moves. Just a slow decay.

Brothers, sisters, for the love of God, fuck that.

The monkey wrench for your soul (if I may extend the metaphor) is in your hands and it always has been: choice. When will you use it? When will you accept the responsibility for all that you have or don't have in your life? When will you decide and then act in accordance with that decision to live out the fullness of your name?

Now would be a good answer here.

You are creating the life you are living with each decision made, or left unmade. If you can't muster the energy to choose, then the choice will be made for you and you will have abdicated the one thing you were born to do - live. So much of what passes for life is simply combustion - food goes in and the machine runs until it craps out. It is inevitable that each of us will crap out, that the cold, cold ground is the great equalizer. If that is the case and all men are equal in death then the question is begged: how did you live?

* * *

I am living proof that being the smartest guy in the room is of little use if you don't act on what you have been given to work with. Yeah, others will always have a better hand to play, but the point is, you have no control over that. All you have is what you have and you have to find a way to make it work. You have to unfuck all that is fucked in your life so you can act, do, create, build, engage and embrace the life you've been given.

The clock is always ticking.

Don't wind up with a eulogy that talks about what might have been. Let death hit a moving target. Die with projects on your desk and in your hands. Unfuck your life so your death will have meaning, a positive, life-affirming meaning for those who loved you.

And in return for choosing, acting and doing life will reward you with ones who love you.

Only a fuckhead would pass on that deal.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Conflict The Pitting

Conflict, the pitting of one POV against another, sometimes in extreme displays, other times in more benign expressions, is entirely unavoidable. Another marker of the fucked life is an inability to manage conflict.

When I was growing up conflict was managed in our home by two routes: denial and explosion. The internal strife brought on by a sick and subservient relationship between my mother and her mother stained us all. It taught an ugly lesson: appease the wicked and when your soul gets sick of being associated with you for that appeasement, blow your top like a cartoon bad guy.

I have had two responses to the conflicts in my life - run from them or be chewed up by mis-placed anger. Friends, that is fucked.

Trying to avoid conflict is like trying to avoid air. It is impossible until you are taking a long dirt nap. The real question isn't about conflict, but rather it's about your character, your central self and how that is expressed in every situation.

* * *

Fear is a trembling thing. It distorts and hyper-attenuates the mind causing it to become so fixated on potential outcomes that it paralyzes our innate ability to choose. We become stuck in the mire of fear. If you have seen a cornered animal, its eyes filled with life-preserving fear, you know how dangerous that position is. It is also inherently futile.

The futility of fear has no effect on our willingness to be trapped by that fear. I grew up fearing what was possible, what I was capable of in a fight. There should have been a warning label on my forehead: CAUTION: Contents Under Pressure - Dispose Of Properly. This is a serious mindfuck and it fucks you up good and tight. To unfuck that part of my fucked life has been the greatest challenge I've faced over the last three years.

Divorce has a way of drawing out all of the festering resentments, slights and outrages of a failed relationship the way warm salt water can leech out the pus of wounds. It is all you can think about for a while. But it subsides as your new life insists on its place, taking your attention off the past and focusing on what is entering your life, not what is leaving it.

Except when that past won't leave because divorce, like marriage, takes two to make it work and if the other won't let go - out of hate, or misguided hope - all those resentments and outrages still need to be dealt with. And that right there is unavoidable and necessary conflict.

Necessary conflict is your Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free card. You have to learn to quit running from the battles in your life. The conflict won't go away until you engage it. Appeasement didn't work for Neville Chamberlain and it won't work for anyone else either.

UYL Rule #6: Appeasement never works and causes greater damage down the road. Face your conflicts as they arise, otherwise you are fucked from beginning to end.

Okay, so you've decided not to appease, but how do you fight? As Phil Jackson likes to say, "How you do anything is how you do everything." Go back to yesterday's entry. Re-read the quote from Epictetus. Only you can decide your spiritual program; only you can decide to live in accordance with that practice; only you can decide to take your life off hold and become your complete self. You are fucked until you choose, but having chosen the ability to face conflict without fear or distorting anger will be manifest in your life because you are no longer concerned with attempting to control that which is outside your control. Your only field of battle, your only field of play is your commitment to your own words and deeds.

It is the very stuff of liberation. The weight of carrying someone else's madness is dropped from your shoulders and you can breathe.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Alcoholics Earn Their

Alcoholics earn their sobriety everyday. It is how they unfuck themselves. If it is so for them, then it is so for me. Drink is not my issue, but my name is Mark, and I've been unfucked for one day. I let my attention slip a week ago - busy doing other things - and not adding to this page... well, that's fucked.

The thing about living a fucked life is the number of excuses right at hand to excuse your fucked self. I've been on the road: Albany to Cincinnati to Chicago. I've been re-furbishing the exterior of my home. I've been out trying to drum up work. And as true as all that is, the basic truth, the ground-floor truth, the primal one, the brain stem one is that I haven't written in a week and when that happens I am not living my life, but instead am being lived by it.

Fuck.

UYL Rule #5 - Treat your recovery the way alcoholics treat theirs: day by day, everyday.

* * *

Listen to this:

"Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. Once you have determined the spiritual principles you wish to exemplify, abide by these rules as if they were laws, as if it were sinful to compromise them.

Don't mind if others don't share your convictions. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer.

Put your principles into practice - now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! You aren't a child anymore. The sooner you set yourself to your spiritual program, the happier you will be. The longer you wait, the more you will be vulnerable to mediocrity and feel filled with shame and regret because you know you are capable of better.

From this instant on, vow to stop disappointing yourself. Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do - now."


That's from my old pal Epictetus and his book, The Art of Living.

The art of living, unfuck your life - same thing. Our lives become fucked when we stop creating them and instead pass that responsibility to others, or worse, as I just did, simply not make the effort to create. Look, I could have made the time to add to this blog. I didn't. That was my choice.

What are you choosing? Why are you wasting your time reading this? Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do. Now.