You Don’t Have To Do Something To Be Someone
February 25, 2015 § 12 Comments
“Waiting to arrive—we’ve been here all along.” ~ Barry Spacks
At a fourth of July yard party, several years ago, a friend of a friend asked to speak with me; a soft-spoken gentleman whose penetrating blue eyes looked at once both illuminated & haunted.
He said he was a clairvoyant, and sometimes this happened—someone on “the other side” tried to get a message through him. This time it was me. Would I like to hear the message?
Paul Landers Benzin, “Talking With Spirits.”
I LIVE for these moments! Happily, I accepted & we strolled to the far side of the lawn, away from the buzz of party conversation, to a quiet patch of grass. We sat down & he told me that a woman was speaking to him from the other side, my grandmother.
He described an image projected in black & white against a cinema screen, a classic Hollywood beauty in black lace.
He did not know me, but he was describing my grandmother, Margo, exactly—a film actress from the 1930s who was, indeed, fond of black lace.
He chuckled, saying it was funny and odd to have a spirit so insistent on getting his attention, when the message wasn’t an urgent warning of physical danger. He told me:
“She wants you to know that you don’t have to do something to be someone.”
He continued: “She says right now you think you need to do things to be someone, like they did. She says you’re hard on yourself, wanting to be more like your family, but you’re already doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You already are someone.”
What he said struck me. I got chills.
My grandfather, Eddie Albert, was a respected & successful actor, inventor, war-hero & noted humanitarian. He made a difference. Margo, too, was an actress, beloved acting teacher & cultural activist; creator of Plaza de la Rasa, a non-profit inner city arts center. These guys did stuff.
Next to their accomplishments, my blog & small book of poetry seemed a measly offering. I was constantly feeling behind, rushing to catch up; my life felt like sand in an hourglass, the whisper of its grains, a perpetual white noise.
“She says you’re a healer, but not with your hands. You heal by connecting with people, by being yourself, by giving them your energy and attention. By being. She wants you to embrace who you are and be happy with yourself. Feel peace.”
It was a powerful thing to be told by a total stranger. Whether or not you believe that he was receiving messages from my dead grandmother (which, personally, I do) it’s undeniably synchronistic that someone who knew nothing about me should feel compelled to single me out of a party and tell me exactly what I most needed to hear, sacrificing his own time with his friends, wanting nothing in return.
Since then, my personal sense of peace has deepened radically, taking root.
Those simple words restored a significant piece of my fragmented personal power. I share them with you today because I think this message applies to us all.
Our power lies in our presence, our authenticity. Not mere physical presence but intentional emotional, psychological, energetic self-inhabiting. To be fully grounded & embodied—not distracted or mentally fragmented—is the best gift we can give ourselves and each human with whom we interface, from the grocery store clerk to our best friend.
I think we can all heal through human connection, being ourselves, giving others sincere energy and attention. By being.
Living as most of us do in a capitalist, consumer-based society, we are focused on output, productivity, as a measure of personal worth. What have you done? the World seems to ask. Who are you? By which it means, what have you produced?
Now, as an artist I think creation is important; I personally do intend to leave as many thoughtful offerings as possible behind when I die, but the fixation on production can become pathological. As the Western world is famous for doing, it sets the focus on action over being.
Action is important—I’m not talking about “The Secret”-based brand of so-called human potential, where vision boards & belief trump action & hard work. I’m moving a level deeper, more primal, than the basic fact that action is eventually essential. I’m saying, underneath that truth is another truth: the truth that we are nothing without presence.
Without our essence, our awareness, we are meat & bones; zombies inhabiting the Earth, sleepwalking through life, cogs in the machine of industry, role-players, people-pleasers. Without truly inhabiting ourselves, we are lost.
And so the more I integrated focus on inhabiting my body—of being actually having meaning—the better my life got. The better I felt, and (sweet cosmic irony!) my productivity became much more inspired. Because my personal power had been restored.
This came about because I no longer felt reliant on external achievement to reflect my value. I had ceased to hang my sense of purpose & self-worth on creating something (for instance a book) that I then would desperately proffer to a faceless slew of middlemen & women, hoping—just hoping!—they might see something where I had struggled & toiled for years to create an artistic offering of value.
And then, if—wonder of wonders!—a single eye sparkled amid that slew of faceless agents at that certain-something in my writing, then still, more external acceptance awaited, a hall of doors! Would a publisher see what the agent saw? And then—miraculous fortune!—should a publisher deign to invest thousands in my Offering, would “the public” care? Would they even know?
Modern society’s emphasis on personal value based on external, acceptance-based factors, such as status & productivity, would make emotional beggars of us all.
We must reclaim ourselves.
Please don’t misunderstand. To say that merely by existing we are helping the world, on its own is the height of myopic, grotesque self-absorption & delusion. Clearly, action is both ethically & personally essential. But focusing entirely on action without first grounding in being, diminishes the return of said action.
Being must proceed doing, or we become fragmented, anxious, lost—in short, modern humans.
And I’m still totally working on several books with the intention of proffering it brazenly to a faceless slew of agents, who hold the keys to the world of publishing, who hold the moneybags & the printing presses….I’m just not waiting until all of that happens to feel that I am someone. That I’ve “arrived.” Sometimes I have to remind myself of this, but as a touchstone it works wonders. I am here. I am inhabiting my body with awareness. This matters.
When I interface with other humans, I do my best to look deeply into their eyes & see the soul behind their defenses. I try to be a good listener. I try to listen, too, within myself for what wants to be said, what seems, indeed, to need saying—my intuition on what wants to come through our exchange. Like a living radio antenna, I try to tune to the highest potential truth of the moment. Of course, I do it with varying degrees of success—but when I do it right, it works! There is a guiding flow to every moment, waiting to carry us through on its back like a wave.
Oriol Angrill Jordà, “Stellarscapes.”
If we truly lay aside our personal agendas & abstract mental focuses (as best we can) and tune into the wide open space between our molecules, the immense breathing room inside us—the breath flowing through us!—the dancing essence of aliveness in our fingertips & toes, chest, legs, arms, belly…first of all, it feels good. It’s like coming home. Second of all, we become more present & embodied, which in turn has a grounding affect on others—supporting their own self-reclamation—as well as opening us up to increased inspiration & intuition in the moment.
Focusing on being before doing fosters this embodiment. And embodiment is a very achievable goal, because all of the power to realize it lies within us, dependent on no one else.
When present within ourselves and the moment, we are more easily able feel the other, empathetically. We tune in; they feel seen, it becomes a more beautiful world, a more joyful exchange. We are living tuning forks, made of flesh, bone & a mysterious, sentient aliveness; our purpose, I believe, lies in increasing world harmony, one moment, one exchange, at a time. Let us start where we are. Here.
First, it helps to see that we have clearly already arrived.
The Pursuit of Happiness
August 3, 2011 § 40 Comments
“You’re happiest while you’re making the greatest contribution.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy
“The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” ~ Eric Hoffer
“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
“If you want to be happy, be.” ~Leo Tolstoy
We all want to be happy. The question is, how? As philosopher John Stuart Mill pointed out: “Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.”
Certainly, this holds truth, as anyone who has become preoccupied with the question can attest. Yet the question must be asked. After all, we are given this one life as we know it, and to spend it unhappily seems a terrible waste.
We often confuse happiness with its showier cousin: pleasure. Pleasure and fun can mimic happiness for a time, perhaps even stimulate it, but since it comes from an external source — a good meal, a good time, making love, making money — once the experience is gone, so is the feeling.
And then we are left chasing it, wanting more food, more fun, more love, more money. This can become compulsive. We become like drug addicts always looking for our next fix of circumstantially induced happiness.
But a life spent running after fleeting pleasures wears down the body and starves the soul.
In the Republic, Plato addresses this issue, distinguishing between the pleasures of the flesh and the joys of the intellect. We must choose to live well, he says, if we want to experience true happiness.
For Plato, “living well,” entails cultivating the virtues of wisdom (morality, intellect,) courage (how we face adversity, how we stand by our values,) moderation (self-control, temperance of unhealthy desires,) and justice (fighting for it and demonstrating it.) According to Plato, developing these traits will lead to a good character, which creates a balanced and happy soul.
Plato sees the soul as having three parts: the appetitive, which seeks pleasure via food, sex and drink; the spirited, which seeks victory, honor and social status; and finally, the rational, which seeks knowledge, and truth. To be happy, Plato says the rational element must rule.
The other aspects have their role, but the highest element, the rational, must discern when to pursue the lesser desires, and to what degree. For Plato, cultivating the virtues of good character will allow a soul to experience eudaimonia, or happiness, which, tellingly, translates from the ancient Greek as ‘flourishing.’
Though we typically think that achievement and success will bring us what we want –and working towards goals we care about does give us a sense of purpose — to think that lasting happiness will be granted to us once we achieve those goals is a mistake.
Statistics (and the all too common tragedy of celebrity suicide and drug overdose) show that this proves true only temporarily. Like other short-lived joys in the “external source” category, the experience giveth, and the experience taketh away.
According to Psychology Today the clamor to understand happiness and its recipe has reached a fever pitch: in 2000 just 50 books on the subject were published, while in 2008, 4000 books on the pursuit of happiness hit the shelves.
A new branch of psychology has developed over the past two decades: Positive Psychology, which aims to study the healthy thriving human, rather than making the neurotic mind its research model. The Positive Psychology approach expands upon Plato’s theory of the cultivation of virtues as the recipe for happiness:
1) Wisdom and Knowledge (creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation.)
2) Courage (bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality)
3) Humanity (love, kindness, social intelligence)
4) Justice (citizenship, fairness, leadership)
5) Temperance (forgiveness, mercy, humility, prudence, self control)
6) Transcendence (appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality.)
Positive psychologist Dr. Ben-Shahar believes our greatest obstacle in achieving happiness lies in our desire for perfection. Drawing on the idea of Plato’s Theory of Forms (wherein there exists a perfect, ideal abstract version of each flawed form within the material world,) Dr. Ben-Shahar maintains that our constant measuring of things as they are against their imagined ideal leads us to unhappiness.
The perfectionist within us all is convinced that not only is it possible to attain this ideal version of our circumstance, but often we feel entitled to it. When we do this we are doing ourselves and our circumstance a twofold disservice:
1) we are being mindless, i.e. not present in the moment, appreciating and experiencing what we truly do have; and 2) we are setting ourselves up for inevitable failure, as we are never going to be happy with what we have, comparing it to a fictitious, mental ideal.
According to Dr. Ben-Shahar, the pursuit of perfection is the downfall of our quest for happiness. In his book, The Pursuit of Perfect, he distinguishes between what he terms Perfectionists and Optimalists.
The ideals of the Perfectionist (also known in psychology as a negative perfectionist) are unrealistic, based in fantasy. Perfectionists are extremely uncomfortable with failure, and tend to turn on themselves and/or others when their expectations are not met. This rejection of failure and painful emotions in turn leads them to anxiety and more pain.
Conversely, Optimalists (also known as positive perfectionists) have attainable goals, and base their high standards in reality. They accept failure as inevitable and instructive. With this awareness, and by adjusting our attitudes accordingly, we can move from Perfectionism to Optimalism, and, theoretically, from distress to the happiness we seek.
Psychology Today writer Carlin Flora observes, “Happiness is not about smiling all of the time. It’s not about eliminating bad moods, or trading your Tolstoy-inspired nuance and ambivalence toward people and situations for cheery pronouncements devoid of critical judgment.”
Which brings up the question…what is happiness?
“The most useful definition,” details Flora, “—and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioral economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks—is more like satisfied or content than ‘happy’ in its strict bursting-with-glee sense. It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.
“It’s maximized when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace. It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort.
“It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in. It’s not joy, a temporary exhilaration, or even pleasure, that sensual rush—though a steady supply of those feelings course through those who seize each day.”
She also points out that happiness is not our reward for escaping pain, but rather demands that we confront negative feelings head on.
In The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris calls popular conceptions of happiness dangerous, as they set people up for a “struggle against reality.” Real life is full of disappointments, loss, and struggle. “If you’re going to live a rich and meaningful life,” Harris says, “you’re going to feel a full range of emotions.”
For Viktor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist, writer and Holocaust surviver, happiness is having a sense of personal meaning:
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankle describes how he survived the horrors of Auschwitz by finding personal meaning in the experience. He recalls a moment, amidst the brutal, demoralizing conditions, when he suddenly conjured the mental image of his wife’s face:
“…my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness […] A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.
“The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
The Role of the Dreamer & The Falseness of Civilization
December 24, 2010 § 32 Comments
“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
~ Arthur O’Shaughnessy
We were born into a world built on dead men’s dreams.
Our reality, the society that has been conditioning our perception from the day of our birth, is a construction built on a construction built on ideas from minds long dead. Their creations compose our world and make up the maps of our psyches, a collective human inheritance.
[Artist: Jasper James]
Today, staring at a red traffic signal in the shape of an arrow, waiting to get on the freeway, I was struck by my—and everyone’s—trance-like acceptance of the symbol.
I noted how automatic my responses to the direction had been. I stopped calmly and waited for the light to turn green. A perfectly reasonable thing to do. Except, in that moment, I felt unusually aware of the lab-rat-like nature of my obedience. Stranger still, I realized I had never noticed the phenomenon before, because it had always been that way.
Green light, go. Red light, stop. Yellow, slow.
It’s as if we are placed on a motorized conveyor belt at birth, with an endless array of arrows telling us where to go.
Apart from the occasional miscalculation, our roads, our cities, our skies, run like the inside of a well-oiled machine. Stop. Go. Cogs and wheels. The machine of the city, like the inside of a clock.
Our education starts young. We are groomed for the world: sit quietly, yield to authority and accept the consensus reality. Anything that falls outside of this perimeter is systematically dismissed.
We aren’t taught to ask questions but to regurgitate articulately. We go to school and learn the rules. Then, when we’re of age, we get a job and try to play the learned rules as good as or better than our peers, to make money to survive.
In a basic sense, this rule-playing to survive is the only option given us. The alternative is homelessness, insanity, exile.
There are other options, of course, and many brave souls live the unfettered life of the irrepressible spirit within the thinly populated margins of the cultural fringe.
But it’s damn hard, against the grain, and the majority of us get funneled into the general conveyor belt of The System–because our survival depends on it.
Spending all day at work to afford the house or apartment we leave empty five days a week to go to work.
As we all know—but rarely stop to consider the wild absurdity of—part of The Education involves some very highly regarded paper notes printed by The System to represent worth.
We are told that some of these notes are worth more than others. Some are worth enough to exchange for a yacht and others are worth enough for only a cup of coffee. The only difference between these two notes is a symbol.
Despite our Education, I think everyone has had the passing thought that we’ve been duped. As we all know, this Monopoly money isn’t even backed by its worth in gold anymore.
And gold has its own hollow ring—you can’t eat it. It provides no information, functioning solely as a signifier—at least it has a tangibility. But the System ran out of gold years ago, and just kept printing bills. So, after spending all day at work we are given a handful of Monopoly money for our trouble.
“Here ya go!” says The System, patting Its worker bee on the head. “Some nice, crisp, colored paper. Don’t spend it all at once! Or do…”
Once we are equipped with our colored paper symbols, we are bombarded by advertisers who seek to steal our image of ourselves as we exist without their product and sell it back to us, “upgraded,” in exchange for the paper notes we have earned with our labor.
We are encouraged by media everywhere to overeat bad food and shop our cares away. It’s not personal, it’s marketing. And yet how many commercials does an average American watch in a lifetime? Billions. It would be impossible to be unaffected by such a bombardment.
MBG recently underwent some criticism for creating a commercial that literally burned the image of their logo onto the inside of movie-goers retinas. Utilizing the phenomenon that happens when you look at the sun and close your eyes, the effect left an after-image on the inside of the viewers’ eyelids for several moments after they had stopped viewing the advertisement.
But how different is this from what regular commercials are doing every day? In this world of advertisers who steal our images of ourselves, this time of speedy soundbites and cheap entertainment, a newer, bigger, faster culture of diversion has taken us hostage on its runaway train.
Writer Nicholas Carr speculates that our constant Internet trolling is remodeling our brains, making it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing. He posits that modern humans’ addiction to technology may be weakening our ability to engage in deep thought.
Tests show that internet perusal activates the “seeker” instinct in humans, leftover from foraging days, so that when a quest for online information is initiated, the promise of obtaining a new nugget of social interaction or trivia sets the dopamine flowing in our brains.
But research suggest that, chemically, the payoff is less exciting than anticipated. An obsessive loop can be activated, leaving us continually pressing the lever for another crumb.
In our tick-tock world we are encouraged to function like clockwork, prescribed medication when we aren’t integrating well with society [See “The Politics of Normalcy”] and given our mollifying diversions in many forms. As Jim Morrison said:
“We have been metamorphosised from a mad body dancing on hillsides to a pair of eyes staring in the dark.”
Photo by John Shearer]
For centuries, the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures have utilized disassociative substances to step outside the hive mind & brush with other dimensions of reality. They have taken psychotropic plants to travel through inner space, bringing back dreams & stories to stimulate the imagination of the tribe.
It’s noteworthy and suspicious that substances which might open up new ways of thinking are illegal in our culture, but consumption of the cancer-causing distraction of cigarettes and the numbing agent of alcohol is legal and actively encouraged (shades of “1984‘s” Victory Gin.)
What is to be done then, once it becomes clear that we are living in a reality inherited by long dead others?
The first thing is to step outside of the consensus spell, as much as possible. Awareness is key.
And then what, after deconstruction? Endless analysis? What really can be done? Society will not disappear.
Enter, the Dreamer. ..
The role of the Dreamer is the same as the philosopher, the artist, the mystic, the shaman, the monk, the poet, the sage, the writer, the dancer.
The Dreamer has the same noble destiny throughout the ages: to stimulate the imagination of society. To act as a bridge between consensus reality and the greater mystery of existence.
During times when philosophical complacency runs high and value for the arts and the humanities runs low, it is the moral and spiritual obligation of every Dreamer to speak their truth as best they can in whatever medium most excites them.
It is the destiny of every Dreamer to bring aliveness to the mechanized time, provocation to the complacent culture.
In order to engage in the original thinking necessary to provide the world with stimulating observations, the Dreamer must effectively step outside of the mental framework of society and perceive the world from a bird’s eye view.
We must question everything we have been taught and hereto assumed. We must seek new information of worth and be on a constant mission to set the imagination on fire.
There is so much beauty available, so many notes left behind by Dreamers before us who have questioned the way we live.
To combat the alienation and emptiness produced by the mechanized, disposable, consumeristic, materialistic worldview infiltrating our minds everyday from the outside world, we must consciously cultivate contact with our inner spirit and feed our soul.
We must give ourselves time to dream, to exist in undisturbed silence and nature, to ruminate on our lives and question reality.
As the advertisement-driven Western World slowly succeeds in covering the globe with McDonald arches and brand name blurbs—as people become more and more addicted to the instant gratification of pop technology—we are increasingly in danger of losing the impulse to dream.
Without vision, without self-questioning, we lose our way.
Dreamers are in high demand these days. This is a call to arms. Can you be a professional dreamer? I, for one, am certainly going to try.
“The Outsider As Visionary”
“The Mad Cult Of The World”
“Creative Connections & The Science Of Inner Space”
“The Art Of Madness”