Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tilting at Windmills

I have always been drawn to the melancholy. The stark scenes from the westerns where the hero rides slowly against the empty and barren landscape. The warrior poets who understand that their lot in life is not one for enjoyment, but to withstand through sheer force of character. But deep down they know what they are missing and have consciously chosen the harder road simply because they are built that way. And someone must bear the burden.

I wonder at times what happens when they realize that they have borne these struggles wrongly. That their raison d'etre was misguided or just plain wrong. In the movies there is good and there is evil and they rarely mix. Perhaps once in a great while will the good guy turn out to be bad, or more often the bad guy will turn out to be good. These are themes that we are all familiar with. But rarely do we understand the good AND bad in a single character.

For it is within us all. The gray mixture of lust and honor. Or anger and pity. Of self indulgence and empathy. Beyond the walls of fiction is the constant moral wave that ebbs and flows inside of us. These are the what-ifs... what would I do IF. Would you kill to protect your children? Would you give up your morals for a million dollars? Ten million? Would you risk alienating friends and family for an bacchanalian evening?

But the what if moments are rare. More often the lines are not hard and fast but blurry patches when empathy gets lost, and our own needs or frustrations get in the way.

I was born with a hard wired empathy gene. My default is to attempt to understand the needs of others, sometimes to the detriment of my own. When I was young this seemed an honorable way to live and I felt that I made a difference in the lives of those around me. As I have aged, the chronic skepticism has grown like moss on me and made me doubt that anything makes too profound of a difference. And that I kid myself with my own abilities to influence. It is ego speaking, I tell myself. Perhaps this is a thing learned as we age. That we can't fix the world.

And so we stop trying.

And then what is life for if we have stopped trying. And when does the fixer get fixed?

Perhaps the archetypes or imagery that draw me in is simply a reflection... the mirror of a life spent tilting at windmills. And that feeling I have is just the sudden and daunting realization that these structures are not evil knights for us to vanquish, but simply harmless wooden buildings.

Or perhaps, like Don Quixote, I'm just near sighted.

Friday, April 15, 2011


My friend Buddha Mama has been preaching the gospel of “right speak” recently in her blog. I have been thinking about right speak’s cousin “acceptance” a great deal of late. This is mostly because I find myself trapped in a world of whiners who battle to come up with the best whine of the day.

“I’m so busy.” And then they proceed to prove to you how busy they are and stew about it.

“The kids are slobs.” And then they proceed to stew over cleaning up after them.

“I never get any time for myself” And then they proceed to stew over the lack of me time.

We are a culture that emphasizes stewing. Of being unhappy with where we are because everyone else is someplace better.

“I hate my job.” “I hate my house.” “I hate my neighbors”. We all have something that we don’t like. “I hate my weight.” “I hate my school.”

We throw the word “hate” around like nobody’s business. Which is where the right speak thing comes into play. And even if you aren’t feeling it, there is the theory that right speaking will help you pretend until it becomes habit. The old, fake it, ‘til you make it theory.

But the thing that I face every time I read something along the right speaking path is that I off-load. I deflect. I think to myself… my god… if only so and so would read this and start thinking that way. Now, I believe that I am fairly self aware and I am certainly aware of my flaws. But it is a natural tendency to deflect. To see the specks in the eyes around you while missing the log in your own eye.

But the disease that lies beneath our way of speaking or stewing is bred from a world where we deserve more. We are angry with our lot in life because we were meant for great things. Not this absurd life of fighting for promotions, or fighting to raise our kids the right way, or fighting to keep the house from falling down around us. It is all so banal. So common. And we were meant for greater things. And thus the root of all mid-life crises.

I have… of late… been trying to combat this in my own life by doing everything that I need to do, but with a more positive attitude. An internal version of “right-speak” if you will. I try not to hate my kids as I drive them from place to place. I try not to judge my neighbor when they do their best to annoy me. I try not to hate my job because I travel constantly. I try not to think of the what-ifs and stay focused on the what is.

The danger of acceptance is always in settling for something without striving for more. This can lead to awful problems. The difference in what I am advocating is striving to do more and be better every day, but not stewing over how things are now. For there will always be things to strive for. More things than there are days. And happiness can only be found if we make peace with a road that does not end, and enjoy the view on the walk without worry about the destination.

Monday, March 28, 2011


There is a beauty in silence. A profound tranquility that comes upon us as we sit out among nature, or hide away in our secret cloister. This silence is one that must be sought after. Striven for. Found. It does not come to us unbidden any longer. There is too much noise. Too much clutter. Too many competing points of view bidding for our time.

News. Music. Emails. Texts. Calls. I can see the Grinch in my head with drum sticks beating on each side, and “Noise, noise, noise, noise…” ringing in my own eardrums. But the reality is that we can’t stand the silence and we augment our world to fill in the gaps in sound, perhaps afraid of that awkward pause in conversation.

The profound truth is that no matter how much noise I can take in… none of it helps me connect. Connection can only happen in the quiet moments. Connecting with one’s self or connecting with a loved one. All attempts to use the tools of “connection” are merely hollow copies of the real thing, much the way watching a travel log of the Alps can not replace actually traveling to the Alps.

More and more we subjugate our relations to electronic go-betweens. And more and more those relationships lose their color and fade. I am complicit in this subjugation, however. Do not get me wrong. I do not seek to pass the blame. I find it easy to relate via email. My own discomfort with my own skin makes the electronic barrier an easier means with which to relate.

It avoids all that bloody and messy reality of looking someone in the eye and knowing, with absolute fact, that you are wrong. Or right. Or just profoundly different in the way that you think. Because this difference is what causes us to feel like we are the only people on Earth that think the way we do. And that thought is a lonely one.

But this way of living also avoids that deep and knowing connection that is only possible in person, whether it be a secret moment of divine bliss with a lover, or a moment of existential connectivity on a deep thought.

But too often we give up the beauty of reality for a misguided attempt to water down the pain of being separate. And we fill our lives with noise so we can avoid that utter sense of loneliness which is often found in the silence.

And the joke is thus complete, because only in the silence can we find ourselves… and in so finding ourselves can we find the connection to others.