Thursday, July 27, 2017

Those Who Restrain

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or Reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling. And being restrain'd, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire.

- Wm. Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

* * *

It is the function and purpose of life, all life, to be as it is: complete, unconstrained in its expression, without apology or the notion that one might be required. 

William, again: The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

Things are as they are: eagles, crows, William. Nothing is absent for the eagle. Nothing absent for the crow. William was the rare, incendiary man for whom nothing was absent from his mind, spirit, work. All were twined and twisted into a mobius skein of ceaseless experimentation, work, audacity and courting the condemnation of the powers and wights cropped on top of the pile in early Nineteenth century London. He died penniless, it is true, but oh, how he lived.

You and I are not Blake and nor should we be. He did a fine job of it. No, for you and I the question remains: who are you? Are you the sum of culture, the sum of a family's yearning, the sum of your experience? Where are you in the midst of the life you are living? Can you tell? How? Where is the line where others' expectations end and yours begin? Or is that, too, twined and twisted with no beginning or end?

I'm asking for a friend.

The question inherent in William's statement is, what is desire? Where are its origins? If this seems a repeat of the questions surrounding who you are, well, that is as it should be. You are your desires, you are the forces inside you, you are wind and sail and that truth cannot be avoided, though it can be sullied.

Take a minute and think about why you swing your legs out of bed in the morning. Take a minute and do some back of the envelope math and estimate how many mornings you've seen. Now ask yourself how many mornings have you really seen, been awake to, been glad to see - no matter what lay ahead - and felt plugged into the power of your life, your desires, your sense of being in the world. Don't be too hard on yourself. Not all of us are incendiary all the time. That is why Blake is Blake and Whitman is Whitman. It is also why you are you. The work of your life is lit by the fire you keep burning (even when there's nothing left to burn). This fire is desire: animal, spirit, heart. Too often desire is defined down to mean base. Nothing could be further from the truth. Desire is being suffused with life and light and power and intuition where your mind and body move with surety, a surety bred in the bone, deeper than consciousness: the product of life honing itself over millennia.

You are it. Thou art that. Tat tvam asi. Act accordingly.

* * *

The half-life, the awful half-life of seeing your freedom from across the way but not knowing how to cross over is the plight of all us fucked fuckers. We are restrained, constrained by forces we cannot master though with all our being we don't want to be half men and women. As far as I can see, the problem lays in how we think about those constraints, how we restrain ourselves because we've estimated the costs of action and choice and found them too high to pay. It might end a marriage. It could cost you a job. It will likely disappoint family. You are convinced you can't move until there is certainty in the outcome. Risk becomes doubt. Doubt become inaction. Inaction becomes bitterness, and thus we become fucked - not by any outside actor, but by our own hand.

Why?

Consider this: we have a shitty understanding of desire. We assume mayhem. We assume desire is more of the groin and not the mind. We believe desire is an unleashing and we have been taught in a million large and small ways by our family, our culture, that danger lies in that direction. And that is true, though not how such admonitions are intended. They mean wildness. I mean freedom. Remember, you are wind AND sail. You are the force itself and you are the means to direct it, to shape it, to use it to find out what it means to swing your legs out of bed and feel the floor electric with possibilities. There is nothing more dangerous to others than a soul that has found its freedom and refused to relinquish it. This is a love to hold against all the gods.

* * *

None can restrain your desire except by your permission, your acquiescence. None can shape your desire or use it without your leave to do so. William tells it bluntly: Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.

Surely, the gift of your life is not so weak. Surely, it pulses with genius, the animating spirit of your days. If you have been laid low, if you have suffered, if you have stumbled, if tragedy has found you, if you have let beauty slip by unnoticed, unattended, you use all of that to find your freedom, to lift the chains of what might have been, of what was, for what might yet be. It is not too late. Your gifts are not too small. It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity, to sing high and clear, to glide through days. But a greater thing is to rejoice in the world as it is, to sing with a voice cracked by experience, to refuse to glide, but walk instead among those who need your encouragement, your example of overcoming your losses and griefs by unshackling your desire and using it to carry you on to the next and the next and the next.

This is the genius of the fucked: we overcome and in so doing become kinder for the trials we have known. The undaring, shadow life isn't worth the paper it is printed on.

* * *

May your well run deep.

__________


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It Is Not

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.

- Seneca, Moral Epistles, 104.26

* * *

Aphorisms can be maddening. They tend to be turns of phrase, clever word play to reveal a supposed truth. They simplify what is otherwise convoluted, complicated and thorny with contradictions. But they endure and attach themselves because of this selfsame madness. We call them memes these days, but once they were the work of philosophers, not trolls, and they helped explain our human nature, however imperfectly.

* * *

I have been taken with this idea lately: creativity is motion. For anyone who is fucked and stuck and going nowhere, the idea of motion, of being able to move again is as a glass of cool water to a thirsty man: the promise of relief. But if you're stuck, if the gears are mucked with sand, the notion of movement is more mirage than relief. How to move again? How to overcome the inertia and gravity bearing down on you and stretch your legs? The weight of our troubles makes it difficult to imagine. Despair and fear compound the merely difficult and make it impossible.

As real as that is in its effects, it is, in truth, an illusion: a trick of the mind deployed to protect ourselves. That's not to say our circumstances can't be dire, or tragic, or filled with stupifying loss. What it does say is that our response to those losses (our defensive crouch, the fetal ball, the dolor of inaction) is based on the past - where we've been hurt, rather than what comes next - where who and what we are is yet to be determined. We look at the past and project the difficulties into the future as if there can be no change and so find we cannot move. We are mired, stuck, unmoving. In a word: fucked. We add to our difficulties when we do so and we do so because the pain is familiar and we know a response: defend the illusion that we are victims, or are helpless, or somehow incapable of meeting the moment.

It is wildly human of us to do so, even though it adds a further weight and pain to our circumstance.

The tonic, the get-out-of-hell-free-card is found in any act of creation, creativity or making.

But, but, but, didn't I just say we're stuck and unable to move? Yes. But that was a lie.

It is impossible to be stuck. It is impossible to be inert. Your thoughts can grind to a halt and you can convince yourself you can't move, but the truth is you are an on-going act of creation and re-creation that is without end. Here's the idea I've been playing with: everything in the universe is in motion, from the sub-atomic to the vastness of the visible universe, everything moves, hums, vibrates, changes, morphs, dies and is re-used in other forms. Now I know this not as a physicist would but as a poet. It is a metaphor that happens to be actual. When we cease to participate in the dongs of our lives, our times because we've lost the thread of our soul or had it yanked from us by chance or neglect, we do not cease to be. We remain verbs though our spirit is freighted with confusion and therein lies the escape route. We, despite ourselves, continue to feed ourselves, to bathe and clothe ourselves. There may be no joy in it, but we continue in these basic forms. Surely, you have felt the odd wonder of cleaning the dishes in your sink as a vast accomplishment. Why would that be so? Because we are of the universe, the carbon in our bodies the gift of dead stars, and the universe is in motion. When we move, we are met by further motion. It may seem reciprocal or not, but when you can recognize that despite your suffering you are in motion still then you have a template for extending that idea: create.

It doesn't have to be art, though that's cool. It can be the creation of a clean sink or flossed teeth. But there is an objection to define creation down to include such mundane things. Yes, if you only think of creation as works of fine art. That is utterly limiting and misses the point: you are creation itself because you live. You are here and regardless of what has held you in its grasp, you are still contributing to the further creation of your life despite feeling lost. It is impossible not to. It is however, possible to not believe it and to act on that non-belief in such a way that the world does pass you by like a rock in a stream: over, under and around.

What's gotten fucked is your sense of movement. Stagnation is easy. Daring to test the strength in your legs is hard. But Seneca was right: it is hard because there is no daring. Fear of failing, of embarrassment ride high in the mind. But there is also this: the fear of losing what is known, even if it is difficult, can be the most powerful force in play. Without your losses, who are you? What will you be responsible for? Inertia keeps those questions at bay.

* * *

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly wrote in Flow: "It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were."
 
We become more when we take action for no reason other than to be in motion. No other reward, no motive, no nothing other than the will to take action. If you are fucked and stuck any action will do (see "clean dishes" above). It is re-orients you to the basic truth of being alive: you are in motion as everything around you is in motion and the most flexible muscle is not found in your body, but in your mind and is your consciousness.  

Unfucking your life is unfucking your mind. It takes the habit of being open to what's next to get there. The way to instill that habit is to move.

* * 

I found this note among some older writings of mine:

Why do I seek God? 
Because you refuse to see that God is already here, immanent, in motion, part of you.

The mystery: you and it are one - though you don't trust that. That is why you PRETEND TO SEARCH.

* * *

You're not stuck, love. You are pretending to be because you fear what happens next. But happens next is unwritten. You get to create it and with every breath you already are.

* * 

I wish you well.

__________




Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Power To The

Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people
Power to the people, right on 


- John Lennon, Power To The People 

* * *

Sometimes, when you're trying to make some headway, when you are pushing at the door to open, the best you can manage is to open it a crack. Sometimes that is enough for it gives you hope that, yes, the door does move. Other times the door simply flies open without you doing a thing other than standing in front of it. Now, it may have taken you years to get there, to stand in that place, but the door knows none of that. All it knows is how to open.

* * *

A brilliant woman I know said this to me: "People choose all the wrong things trying to reclaim their power." We'd been talking about road rage, frat boys, the Klan, gun violence in Chicago, gun violence anywhere, MAGA voters, corporate greed, plain old greed, religious tests, the NRA, Fox News, white privilege,.. The conversation wasn't as dire as that appears to be on the page. It was a conversation filled with wonder at what we come to believe, as in wondering how is it we come to choose to believe and act on things that are plainly not in anyone's self interest. And then this brilliant and beautiful woman said, "People choose all the wrong things trying to reclaim their power."

And the door I'd been standing in front of for years flew open.

The premise behind writing this blog, this on-going inquiry into unfucking one's life is that we fuck ourselves when we cede authority for our lives to others, to cultural prerogatives, to pressure from our families, to the love we hope to get in exchange. To be fucked is to be without autonomy, is to be powerless in the way you respond to the circumstances of your life. Man's ultimate freedom, the one  that he can retain despite all outward circumstance is the freedom to choose how to respond to those circumstances. So says Viktor Frankl. So say I. But what happens when that too is ceded? What sort of life is lived without that singular authority, the last freedom? 

One that chooses all the wrong things trying to reclaim its power, its authority, its inherent freedom.

We take on ready-made identities. We become tribal. We wear badges identifying ourselves not simply to join with others who wear the same badges, but to stand in opposition to those who do not. The work of our days is reduced to a zero-sum battle: if I hold the gun, I hold the power; cut me off in traffic and I'll endanger everyone on the road to get back at you; take my job and I'll exclude your family from this country, even though they had nothing to do with it. We spend our days burying what was lost in the shallow comfort of power politics. 

We choose all the wrong things and wonder why everything is so fucking hard.

We grow addictions the way fallen trees grow moss and mushrooms: multitudinous, myriad, insistent. We excuse our behavior because "whatabouthim." We so relinquish authority for our lives that the ones whom we have identified as our tormentors dictate our actions instead of determining for ourselves what is the right thing to do. It is easier to be fucked than unfucked. It is easier to wear a uniform than to dress yourself. It is easier to believe you are righteous than to consider your self-righteousness. 

Why is this so?

Here's my answer: fear at being found out that one is afraid and shame that it could ever be so.

* * *

Fear is latent. It lies below the surface. It is born from the story of absence: you lack x therefore you are deficient. Perhaps this x factor is something familial, perhaps physical, mostly though it is an emotional gap, a disconnect between the life you know exists in your veins and the feedback you get from the world around you. You can succumb to it, resist it, bury it, deny it, but until you face it you cannot make peace with yourself.  You can feel its power over you, over your choices, yet it is hard to name the thing driving you. Many folks don't bother and simply assume the identity that is offered to them, that is born out of the time and place of their birth, of their family's expectations. By not questioning their faith, their assumptions and expectations they must, by needs be, stand in opposition to those who are not like them. It is the first step to dehumanizing others, to counting their lives as cheap, to discounting their lived experience.

To ever move away from the attempt to reclaim authority by demonizing others, the other in what ever shape most sets your teeth on edge, you must somehow know that you've traded what was best in you, what was possible in your days, for the cheap thrill of being an ass.

* * *

I don't want to buy the world a Coke and I don't sing kumbaya.

No, the aim is not universal love (that's just another come on), but universal respect. It begins inside you when you are able to respect the still, quiet voice of your conscience, your soul, calling out through the mire of your fear and building everything else around that voice. Act from the deepest well, not the shallowest ease, and nothing you do will harm another. Least of all yourself. 

The power, the authority for your life has never left you. It waits for you to embrace it.

* * *

I wish you well.

__________

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

One Is Too

One is too many
Billions ain't never enough
Don't take the easy road
There's no shortcuts
Spirit kingdom do
What we can't do for ourselves
Don't put nothin' down
Without lovin' everybody else


- Dr. John, The Night Tripper, "My Children, My Angels"

* * *

There is within us a desire to know and understand. For some this is cosmic, a desire to get to original causes. For others, it is borne out in the how and why of day to day survival. But this impulse to know is innate in the creatures we are: no claws, no hard shell defenses, just our minds to guide and protect us. Except when it doesn't. Except when the gift of our consciousness is weaponized against ourselves as doubt, fear and shame take up more space than we could have imagined was possible. 

We get lost. There is simply too great of a distance between who we are and what we've become.

When this happens, when you recognize that you've gone off the rails from what was possible in your life, when you see there is work to do to set things aright, when you see the distance you might despair of ever closing it and just give up; or, you might start on a program of self improvement: lose weight, exercise, read self-help books, go back to church, go back to nature, walk 10,000 steps a day.  It's all good, man. Any one will do, all won't make a difference if self improvement is the goal. The language is telling. Improvement is defined as "a thing that makes something better or is better than something else." There is judgment in it. Better implies worse. If you are to be self-improved, you must start from the proposition you are somehow worse to begin with. I know the intention is good, but this is horrific bullshit and does great harm. Don't fall for it.
Being lost is not a failing. Not knowing something is not a failure. Struggling does not mean you are deficient. You need no improvement, love. You need to be complete.
The word "complete" comes to us from the Latin word complere, which means to fill up, finish, fulfill. You need to fill yourself up. There's nothing to improve, only fulfill.

Following the track of improvement, of studying the habits of highly successful people, of being indoctrinated into the mysteries of religion, of learning the optimal combination of amino acids and protein to build muscle, of getting that MBA are fine in and of themselves, but no wholeness will arrive through them. When you place your identity outside of yourself, when it is tied to outcomes you are forever at the mercy of those outcomes. There is a distancing here. No matter how hard you work it is a distraction from the primary work of your days: to be who you are, as you are without judgment or shame.

Now, if training for a marathon, or getting an advanced degree, or turning to faith are expressions of your filling up, then all is well. Things move from the inside out. No one ever believes this because we live in a time and place that emphasizes the external, the accoutrements, the trappings of what is alleged to be the good life. The good life is the life waiting to be lived inside you right now. It has nothing to do with money, faith, sex or accomplishment. It solely has to do with restoring yourself to yourself, as you are, without the doubt that has plagued and tripped you, without shame for being the creature you are, without fear of judgment.

How is this done?

One is too many
Billions ain't never enough
Don't take the easy road
There's no shortcuts
Spirit kingdom do
What we can't do for ourselves
Don't put nothin' down
Without lovin' everybody else

* * *
Tell me 'bout your desires right now. Quick, before you start censoring them, filtering them through everyone else's expectations. Can you do it? Listen, the spark is there. It is in you because it is you. Your work is to uncover it and go where it leads you. Remember, improvement is useless without it. To improve without the spirit of being complete is harm itself, it makes you a hungry ghost, always searching, always finding the flaw, always being judged, always being judgmental. That don't serve you. Not a bit, love. 

Dr. John wants you to know there's no shortcut, but there is help. Every step you take in the direction of being whole, of being filled up is met with hundreds of steps rushing towards you to meet you, to lift you, to assure you, to dare you to take another.

From Joseph Campbell:

"For when the heart insists upon its destiny, resisting the general blandishments, then the agony is great; so too the danger. Forces, however, will have been set in motion beyond the reckoning of the senses. Sequences of events from the corners of the world will draw gradually together and miracles of coincidence bring the inevitable to pass."

Do you believe that? Do you believe that is possible, or is wishful thinking? I hate wishful thinking. It destroys, makes weak what could have been strong. No, this isn't wishful thinking. It is a description of how things fall into place when you abandon improvement for being who you are, no part left out. It doesn't mean riches or peace or health. It means you can finally be as you are and you can move and act and do from the deepest well of being. And here, if this is where you have gotten to, it is impossible to put something down without lovin' everybody else.

Honest.

It is why I keep at this.

* * *

Cheers.

__________