Compassion, Depression, Friends, Human Nature, Humor, Kindness, Life, Living, Love, Lovers, Mental and Emotional Health, Play, Poetry, Resilience, Sadness

A Flock of Sparrows for Majel: Would You be so Tender, My love

A Flock of Sparrows for Majel

(About a 2 minute read)

In my gloomier evenings, my love,
Or even in my darker nights,

The nights when my sun threatens
To implode into a neutron star
From which so little of me can escape
To be with you — even in my darker nights,

Continue reading “A Flock of Sparrows for Majel: Would You be so Tender, My love”

Alienation From Self, Angst, Anhedonism, Anxiety, Attached Love, Attachment, Buddhism, Delusion, Depression, Emotional Dependency, Emotions, Fear, Fun, Gluttony, Greed, Happiness, Human Nature, Life, Love, Lovers, Marriage, New Love, Quality of Life, Romantic Love, Self, Self-Knowledge, Sex, Wisdom

Pleasure is Like a Fire: It Warms You or it Burns

(About a 6 minute read)

I will be among the last people on earth to become an ascetic.   The idea of rejecting pleasure — all pleasure — for any reason gut-punches me.  It’s alien, it’s unnecessary, it’s outrageous.

Or at least that’s what my instincts tell me.  Whatever the reason, I simply wasn’t born to be an ascetic.  Not my path at all.  Someone else may “get” asceticism, benefit from it, but not me.

So it might seem curious to some of you that I have gone a full two years in my life without even once laughing out loud.  Not once in two years.

Continue reading “Pleasure is Like a Fire: It Warms You or it Burns”

Alison, Depression, Free Spirit, Human Nature, Humor, Life, Mental and Emotional Health, Poetry, Self, Spirituality

Late Night Thoughts: Poets, Compliments, Change, Tragedy, and More

(About a 9 minute read) 

Boyd Stace-Walters (a self-described “worldly epistemologist and logician”, and an  occasional guest blogger on Café Philos) is quite right about the nature of poets, I think.

As he put it to me just days ago, “They can possess astonishing insights, turn the old and familiar truths into something new again with their heretical alchemy, but — alas! — they are fundamentally to the very last one of them irresponsible.

“You have only to conduct an experiment:  Simply put a dozen of them in a room together; tell them their chore — their obligation — their sacred responsibility, is to contemplate ‘truth’; throw in a case of wine so they will be content to stay in the room; then wait a few hours before you return.

“You won’t find they’ve formulated a single decent epistemology between them!  Not a one!  And not even with all that wine to lubricated the flow of logic.  Wasted that.  Far more likely they’ll all be naked and piled into a writhing heap, I dare say, more selfishly concerned with staying warm from their own body heat or something, than with a dispassionate inquiry into the nature of truth at all.”

I dare say Boyd Stace-Walters is right.  Scandalous people, poets.  Simply scandalous.

◊◊◊

Their dreams and visions poets take
And freeze them into words
To thaw the hearts and minds
Of men and women,
So they can be reborn.

Yet never ask that poets keep
A journal of their logics
For never will a poet stay
Nobly focused on such projects.

◊◊◊

The blogger known to many of us, and hopefully to Interpol, as “Mindfump” has published on the blog, 25,000 Light Years, as well as on his own blog, a rather dark post that intelligently analyzes his thoughts and feelings about compliments.

As it happens, he finds compliments to be highly problematic, and has very little praise for them.  The post is nevertheless a worthwhile read, I believe, for the frank and honest insights it provides into how compliments might be misused by those who  inflict them in bad faith, as well as how they might be understood by those who suffer from depression.

My own take on compliments is, so far as I know, as unique as it is wacky.  I seldom, very seldom, mean to flatter, curry favor with, or obligate someone by complimenting them. If I ever wish to do one of those things, I am knowledgeable enough of human nature to know how to flatter, curry, and oblige using far more effective means than compliments.

But I almost never feel a need for such nonsense because I have no one in my life I need to flatter, curry, or oblige: No boss, no wife, and my friends are a remarkably tolerant and accepting lot.   Yet, on the whole, I compliment people quite a bit.

One reason I do so is simply to signal to others — especially those who don’t know me — that “I mean no harm to you”.  But there’s a wholly more important (to me) reason I so frequently compliment others.  And that reason comes in two parts.

First — and this might admittedly be the wackiest reason for complimenting anyone that I myself have ever heard of — I enjoy figuring out positive things about people.  It’s even sort of a game that I play with myself.   The goal is to be spot on.  To be positive, but highly accurate.  I take pride in my ability, not to compliment people, but to see right into them.

I first started doing that — started looking for positives in folks — back when I employed people.  I noticed that I was at the time quite negative about my employees, that I saw their weaknesses much more readily than their strengths.

And I had the wits to recognize how that affected my bottom line.  In any leadership position, you accomplish far more if you assign tasks according to people’s strengths, than you accomplish if you don’t.  It’s almost just as simple as that.

So I realized that not seeing my employees in a positive light was very likely costing me dollars.  I solved the problem by carefully assessing each employee’s strengths in turn, and then memorizing those strengths so well that I could in an instant recite to myself at any given moment at least five work-related strengths for each person in my employ.

After leaving business, I retained that habit, and expanded considerably on it.  But none of that answers the question of why I bother to mention my assessments to others.   The short answer to that is: Because human lives are all too often tragic.

Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. –John Watson (the quote is often mistakenly attributed to Plato).

◊◊◊

Next time I’m in a bar — at some crucial moment in the evening — I want to lean close to whoever I’m with and then, as if confiding some deeply personal thing,  whisper, “The sciences are communal efforts to arrive at reliably intersubjectively verifiable facts and predictive hypotheses”.  Then lean back, wink at them knowingly and say, “But please keep that just between us”.  And then, abruptly change the subject.

◊◊◊

I like to meditate in nature, perhaps while overlooking a river or a lake.  Water seems to draw me into meditation.   Such settings make me often acutely aware of how transient is everything, every experience, whether internal or external.  And how so often things come and go while leaving no more evidence of their passing than a ripple in the water, or a bird in flight.

Yet, at the same time, the beauty of nature affirms life despite its transience.  Transience becomes then, not an occasion for regret or sadness, but the essence of renewal, rebirth moment by moment.

Clinton Lake Before the Night

I can see the setting sun
Burning colors in your hair.

There’s nothing we can do
To keep those colors there.

I can see the raven cross
The liquid changing sky,

And in my heart I know
We too must pass on by.

I will not make you promises
That life itself will surely break,

But I can be with you this moment
In these fires on Clinton Lake.

◊◊◊

About 40 years ago I was at uni studying (as one of my two minors) Comparative Religion.  One day, after class, my professor, another student, and I got into a discussion during which I said something that startled the other student.

He was taking Comparative Religion because he aimed to be a Baptist minister like his father someday.  And although I no longer recall now what startled him, I remember the dismay on his face and the aggressive tone of voice in which he asked me, “Are you a Christian?”  It was more challenge than question.

I can only suppose he had at some point that semester concluded I was a fellow believer.  What else could explain such a strong reaction at discovering the truth?  Before I could answer, our professor turned to him and said, “Paul is not a Christian.  He’s a pre-Christian.  His worldview is as if he’s not yet heard of Christianity. Try thinking of him as an ancient Greek with a tragic worldview.”

Now and then in my life, an older, more knowledgeable or experienced person, has said something to me that I sensed was true, but that I was clueless how it was true.  That was one of those times.  I could see our professor’s words puzzled the other student, too.  But at the moment, I was more grateful that they shut him up.

Today, I believe I can make a reasonably good guess what my professor had in mind.  For about a generation and a half, tragedy flourished in ancient Athens. I don’t specifically mean here tragic plays — although those were a significant part of it all — but more comprehensively, I mean the tragic worldview.

In a nutshell, the tragic worldview consists of the notion that humans have an inherent flaw, a flaw they can never fully escape, that tends them towards self-defeat and even destruction.

The precise nature of that flaw is hotly debated among scholars, and I have my views of it, too.  I think the flaw is embedded in the nature of human intelligence.  The easiest way to describe it is, “We are smart enough to get ourselves into troubles we are not smart enough to get ourselves out of”.

To me, that’s a slightly superficial, but workable definition of the tragic flaw.  But do I really have a tragic worldview, as perhaps my professor was getting at?

In so far as I might actually know myself, the answer is yes, but with the qualification that it’s just one of a half-dozen or so worldviews that I shift between when trying to make sense of life and the world.

◊◊◊

Once I knew a woman people could not praise enough for her beauty.  Some would say, “She is beautiful!”, and place such huge weight and emphasis on their words that you felt they were trying to scorch the words on your brain with a hot iron in their enthusiasm to communicate.  And they seemed very much to mean both her body and her personality.

I knew her well enough to make a study of her, and I came to the careful conclusion that — if one were perfectly dispassionate about it — she was only a little bit above average in looks, but that she moved with such poise and grace you might never notice her more or less average features.

Yet, I also thought the full truth of her beauty lay beyond even that: She was mindful, you see.  She spoke to you with sheer attentiveness, an attentiveness that made you feel you were at that moment the most important person in the world to her, and that she cherished every second she had with you.  In the off-beat way in which I define “spirituality”, she was eminently spiritual.

What makes us feel someone is physically beautiful?  I learned from her that we can sometimes honestly believe a person is physically extraordinary because of nothing more physical than the impression left on us by her spirituality.

Abuse, Alienation, Angst, Anxiety, Authenticity, Compassion, Courage, Depression, Evolution, Fear, Free Spirit, Health, Human Nature, Kindness, Late Night Thoughts, Mental and Emotional Health, Oppression, Quality of Life, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-Integration, Sexuality, Spiritual Alienation, Spirituality, Teacher, Values

Can a Person Who is Alienated from Themselves find Happiness?

Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

–Oscar Wilde

In Artic Dreams, Barry Lopez somewhere talks about an Inuit word for a wise person.  The word, if I recall, means “someone who through their behavior creates an atmosphere in which wisdom is made tangible.”  When I read Lopez a few years ago, I thought of Paul Mundschenk.  As I recall, I never once heard him claim to possess, say, compassion, good faith in others, or kindness.  Yet, he embodied those virtues, as well as others: He made them visible.

Mundschenk was a professor of Comparative Religious Studies, and, as you might imagine, I discovered he was inspiring.  But not inspiring in the sense that I wanted to be like him.  Rather, inspiring in the sense he showed me that certain virtues could be honest and authentic. I was a bit too cynical as a young man to see much value in compassion, good faith, kindness, and so forth.  I thought intelligence mattered an order of magnitude more than those things.  Yet, because of Mundschenk, and a small handful of other adults, I could only deny the value of those virtues; not their authenticity.

I can see in hindsight how I naively assumed at the time that we all grow up to be true to ourselves.  Isn’t that normal for a young man or woman to make that assumption, though?  Aren’t most youth slightly shocked each time they discover that yet another adult is, in some way important to them as a youth, a fake?

Perhaps it’s only when we ourselves become an adult that we eventually accept most of us are less than true to ourselves, for by that time, we so often have discovered what we consider are good reasons not to be true to ourselves.

If that’s the case, then I think there might be a sense in which Mundschenk never grew up.  That is, he just gave you the impression of a man who has never accepted the common wisdom that he must put on a front to get on in the world. He had an air of innocence about him, as if it had somehow simply escaped his notice that he ought to conform to the expectations of others, and that any of us who refuses to do so is asking for all sorts of trouble.

Now, to be as precise as a dentist when untangling the inexplicably tangled braces of a couple of kids the morning after prom night, Mundschenk did not seem a defiant man.  He was anything but confrontational.  Rather, his notably open and honest individualism seemed deeply rooted in a remarkable indifference to putting on any fronts or airs.  He simply couldn’t be bothered to conform.

Often, when I remember Mundschenk, I remember the way he shrugged.  I remember some folks for their smiles, others for their voices, but Mundschenk for his shrug.  It seemed to hint of Nature’s indifference, but without the coldness.  Which, I guess, makes me wonder: Is there anything unusual about someone who is both notably indifferent to himself and notably true to himself?

I was put in mind of Paul Mundschenk this morning because of a  post I wrote for this blog three years ago.  The post was intended to be humorous, but I titled it, “An Advantage of Being Cold and Heartless?“.   Consequently, the post gets two or three hits each day from people looking for advice on how to make themselves cold and heartless.

I can imagine all sorts of reasons someone might want to make themselves cold and heartless.  Perhaps someone they are on intimate terms with — a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a partner — is wounding them.  Or perhaps they are among the social outcasts of their school.  But whatever their reasons, they google search strings like, “How do I make myself cold and heartless?”

Nowadays, I think it is a mistake to try to make yourself tough, cold, heartless, or otherwise insensitive.  But I certainly didn’t think it was a mistake 30 years ago, when I was a young man.

Yet, I see now how my values and priorities in those days were not largely derived from myself, but from others. The weight I placed on intelligence, for instance, was from fear that others might take advantage of me if I was in anyway less intelligent than them.  I valued cleverness more than compassion and kindness because I thought cleverness less vulnerable than compassion and kindness.  And I carried such things to absurd extremes: I can even recall thinking — or rather, vaguely feeling — that rocks were in some sense more valuable than flowers because rocks were less vulnerable than flowers.  The truth never once occurred to me: What we fear owns us.

It seems likely that when someone seeks to make themselves insensitive, they are seeking to protect themselves, rather than seeking to be true to themselves.   If that’s the case, then anyone who tries to make themselves less sensitive than they naturally are runs the risk of alienating themselves from themselves.

Can a person who is significantly alienated from themselves be genuinely happy?  I have no doubt they can experience moments of pleasure or joy, but can they be deeply happy?  It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?  Perhaps a little bit like asking whether someone who wants a melon will feel just as happy with a pepper instead.

Anger, Angst, Anhedonism, Anxiety, Attachment, Consciousness, Delusion, Depression, Emotions, Fear, Happiness, Health, Meaning, Mental and Emotional Health, Obsession, Quality of Life, Quotes, Religion, Self, Spirituality, Wisdom

Letting Go

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Anatole France

Sometime ago I wrote about myself (but I think it could in essence be about many of us):

At thirty-seven, I lost nearly everything I owned, including everything I’d built my self-identity on, and consequently discovered the art of dying. I haven’t felt afraid of death since.

“The art of dying.”  I often think of it today as “letting go.”

I know that at times in our lives, we must let go of who we are in order to make way for who we shall become.  But some people say letting go is something a very wise person practices — not just now and then — but moment to moment.  I believe them, but I myself am not wise enough to know how to do that.  The only times I have come close to letting go moment to moment have been when I was forced to.

That does not surprise me.  In general, the closest I come to being a wise person is when I am dragged kicking and protesting into wisdom. I sometimes think that’s true of many wise people.

I do know that when we cling to ourselves we create all sorts of problems.  It’s a good thing when we are quickly forced by circumstances to give up the old, because the longer we are able to cling to the old, the more problems we create (both inside of us and in the world too), the more we suffer, and the more difficult it becomes for us to get out of the messes we’ve made.

Besides, how do we know when to let go of ourselves — or let go of some aspect of ourselves — except that circumstances tell us when?

All the same, the temptation and tendency to cling to ourselves beyond when it might be appropriate is understandable, isn’t it?  For one thing, I bet an instinct or predisposition to self-preservation is hardwired into our genes.  For another, it can be emotionally painful to loose even a relatively minor and comparatively unimportant part of our self identity, let alone anything very important to us.  I know someone who once broke into frantic tears upon discovering he’d misplaced his favorite belt.  Letting go can be very difficult.  Even minor changes in who we think we are can at times upset us.

The threat of a huge change to our self identity can sometimes provoke us to cling to ourselves with a ferocity usually seen only in the largest tigers and lions.   Growing up, I spent four or five years painfully infatuated with a certain girl.  She was the emotional center of my life.  Indeed, I suffered most days and every night for years.   It wasn’t until much later in life that I had the experience to see how I had nursed and cultivated that infatuation — despite the almost crippling emotional pain it caused me — because I was so frightened to let go of my image of myself as her lover.

During those years of merciless clinging, I was usually heavy, depressed, spiritless, and controlling.  You could have been forgiven if you had mistaken me for a religious fanatic.  I had difficulty seeing more than one aspect of a thing, more than one point of view.  I seldom — with a few exceptions — struck out on a new path, did anything different.  Nursing and cultivating that infatuation took most of what I had.

Ever since those years, when I think of what extremes a person might go to to preserve their self image, I am very likely to think of what I once put into preserving mine.

Ironically, those were the years in which Nietzsche was my hero — Nietzsche, the philosopher for light spirits:

“The Cosmic Dancer, declares Nietzsche, does not rest heavily in a single spot, but gaily, lightly, turns and leaps from one position to another. It is possible to speak from only one point [of view] at a time, but that does not invalidate the insights of the rest.” — Joseph Campbell

While it’s true Nietzsche never wrote precisely what Campbell attributes to him, Campbell’s “paraphrase” of Nietzsche’s views ranks as a sharp and accurate enough insight into Neitzsche’s thought.

As I learned the only way I’ve ever learned a spiritual truth — the hard way — there are no light spirits, no Cosmic Dancers, among those who take themselves so grimly and cling to themselves so tenaciously that they cannot let go, they cannot practice the art of dying.

It seems to me Bob Dylan puts a pretty, but significant, twist on the notion of letting go when he sings, “He’s not busy being born is busy dying”.  To me, Dylan’s lyric emphasizes the psychological or spiritual rebirth that so often follows upon our letting go of ourselves.

The dead cling to themselves beyond their expiration dates, so to speak, but those who are alive let go.

Depression, Emotions, Health, Love, Mental and Emotional Health, Psychology, Quality of Life, Quotes

Joanna Macy on “The Refusal to Feel”

“The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll. Not only is there an impoverishment of our emotional and sensory life, flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic, but this psychic numbing also impedes our capacity to process and respond to information. The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.”

Joanna Macy

Anhedonism, Depression, Emotions, Health, Mental and Emotional Health, Mysticism, Quality of Life, Spirituality, Therapy

The Albany and Mental Health

Sometime in the mid 90s,  I moved into an old hotel in downtown Colorado Springs that had been converted into tiny apartments.  The rents at the Albany were expensive — about twice what you would pay for the same space elsewhere — but the hotel accepted tenants with poor credit, and my credit was shot for a while after I had gone bankrupt when my business failed.

Since the Albany neither cared about your credit rating, nor your job, nor your character, nor how long you planned to stay,  it attracted people who had difficulty finding any other place to live — the newly released from prison, the working poor, the ill, and so forth.

Earlier on the same day I moved into the Albany, an unfortunate man had become enraged, entered the lobby, and chased several of the tenants with a machete.  He had not managed to harm anyone, and the police had taken him away by the time I showed up to rent a room.  I nevertheless heard about the incident from one of the tenants — a somewhat disheveled man who seemed excited to warn me about the kind of environment I was getting myself into.  However, my mental and emotional state in those days was so dominated by both apathy and a peculiar sense of fate that I didn’t much care whether people ran around the place with machetes.  I figured if the situation came up, I’d either handle it or not; and if not, then so be it.

During the two or three months prior to my moving into the Albany I had lived up in the mountains, in the National Forest that begins a 30 minute drive from Colorado Springs.  I would get up each morning with the dawn, bathe in a gallon or two of water poured from jugs I carried in my car,  and then drive into the Springs for breakfast at a restaurant, before going on to my job.  That uncomplicated lifestyle suited me at the time, but I knew winter was coming, and I recognized I lacked the know-how to spend it in the mountains.

On my last night in the forest, I stood outside my tent for sometime, watching the moon and, for no reason I can recall, chanting poetry to myself.  I didn’t know back then that I was afflicted with major depression.  Instead, I knew so little about mental and emotional illness that I thought I was only having something along the lines of a very protracted “religious” experience.

For instance, it seemed to me that my anhedonism — which is quite often a symptom of depression — only meant I was becoming more spiritual.  Again, I mistook the increasing poignancy of my depressed thoughts for increasing emotional profundity.  And I was unobservant of  the way the range of my emotions was narrowing down to just three or four feelings.  That night when I sang poems to myself in the mountains, I felt frustrated the beauty of the moon made no emotional impact on me — but rather than blame the fact on depression, I blamed it on my failure to be enlightened.  Depression can be very confusing at times.

Almost every popular guide to religious or spiritual matters I’ve managed to read has neglected to mention the risks that come with pursuing spiritual practices.  Instead, those guides focus on the benefits alone, which I think is very much like discussing the health benefits of jogging without at all mentioning that joggers run an increased risk of damaged knees and arches.

Nevertheless, it’s the case that spiritual pursuits are just as likely to be accompanied by their own set of  “occupational hazards” as most everything else in this world.  Indeed, if you are not incurring an increased risk of fallen arches, then most likely you are not jogging very far.  And if you are not running an increased risk of developing depression — and perhaps other mental and emotional illnesses — then whatever it is you are doing is most likely removed from any serious spiritual pursuit or practice.

I don’t know for certain why it seems to be the case that pursuing a special kind of awareness — or at least a special set of insights into living — increases someone’s chances of developing depression and other mental and emotional illnesses.  I’m not sure anyone else does either.  But the fact that it does increase someone’s odds of becoming ill has been observed by many people.  Even the good things in life come with risks — anyone who tells you differently is either selling you something or thinks you’re a child.

The day I moved into the Albany, I was utterly naive about mental and emotional illnesses.  For instance, I could not have accurately recognized even common illnesses such as bipolar mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or major depression.  Again, I had no idea of what was involved in managing or curing such illnesses.  And, at the time,  I was intensely interested in developing a more spiritual awareness of life, so my ignorance should have concerned me — assuming I’d known enough to be concerned.

Somehow, though, I had managed to come to the right place to learn.  About 70 people lived in the Albany.  Probably over half of them were afflicted with at least one mental and emotional illness.  I stayed in the Albany for several years — much longer than I at first anticipated staying.  In those years, I gradually began to recognize when someone was ill and — often enough — the specific illness that afflicted them.  It helps in learning how to recognize an illness that you know a few people who have it.

Eventually, I came to the realization that I was afflicted with some kind of depression, and by then I knew enough to seek professional help in dealing with it.   So, nowadays, I’m pretty much of the opinion that anyone engaged in a serious spiritual practice owes it to themselves to get a psychiatric check up once a year.  That’s a good idea for anyone, actually, but I think it is an especially good idea for anyone engaged in a spiritual practice.

One of the most rewarding and fulfilling jobs I’ve held in my life was that of a fire fighter.  Naturally, it came with some risks.  At the time, I judged those risks warranted.  But that certainly didn’t mean I ever tried to make fire fighting riskier than it had to be.  These days, I’ve taken the same attitude towards spiritual practices.  Even though spiritual practices come with risks,  I believe those risks warranted.  But I refuse to make things riskier than they need to be — so, I think it’s worth my while to invest some care into my mental and emotional heath.

Depression, God(s), Happiness, Late Night Thoughts, Meaning, Purpose, Religion

Is there a God-Shaped Vacuum in All of Us?

Yesterday, someone on an internet forum (let’s call him, “Ralf”) asked the question, “Is there a ‘God-shaped vacuum’ in all of us?”

Ralf began by stating that so many different things — entertainment, financial pursuits, sensual pleasures, emotional attachments, social acceptance, and so forth — fail to bring us “a sense of purpose and fulfillment”.  He went on to say, because those things don’t bring us a sense of purpose and fulfillment, we have a “vacuum” in us.  And he concluded, the vacuum can only be filled by “God”.

I suspect most of us have heard someone make that sort of claim before.  It seems to be common enough.  Yet, I think it’s only partly accurate.

Here’s what might be accurate about it: It does seem true that some people feel their lives lack purpose; and, of course, without a sense of purpose there can be no sense of fulfillment.  If that’s the case with you, then you can have all sorts of things — entertainments, riches, sex, fame, praise, power, and so forth — and still feel your life is meaningless.  So, I think Ralf’s claim might be true enough in that respect.

Ralf and I part company, however, over how to best deal with that meaninglessness.  In my view, he wants to escape from it, and his chosen method of escape is to posit the existence of a deity who somehow gives his life meaning.  While I don’t know whether that really works for Ralf, I do know it doesn’t work for me.

Bluntly put, what Ralf has told me about his god doesn’t turn me on, for I don’t care if my god-given purpose on earth is to be tested for whether I merit an afterlife in a heaven or a hell.  Maybe that makes my life meaningful to Ralf’s god, but it’s inadequate to make my life meaningful to me. There is nothing in me that wants to bounce out of bed in the morning and cheerfully face the challenges of another day just because I’m put on this earth to be tested for whether I merit heaven or hell.

There’s no “God-shaped vacuum” in me.

So far as I can figure it out, the best way to deal with existential feelings of meaninglessness, as opposed to feelings of meaningless caused by some sort of psychological disorder such as depression, is to pursue your “boon”, “passion”, “life’s work”, or whatever you want to call it.

What that is varies from one person to the next, but once you find and pursue yours, you will almost certainly discover any existential feelings of meaninglessness are replaced by a profound sense of purpose.

At least, that’s been my experience.

Depression, Emotions, Gratitude, Health, Mental and Emotional Health, Spirituality

A Few Thoughts on Gratitude

Sometime last week, Becky said, “You need a haircut.  So do I.  I’ll make an appointment for us with Mildred on Saturday.”

For a while now, Becky has insisted Mildred cut my hair because she believes Mildred is the best stylist in town.  Becky is quite right about that, I think.   In all likelihood, Mildred gives me the best haircuts I’ve yet had in my 51 years. She’s a beautiful, petite woman with bronze skin whose eyes sparkle.  When I sat down in her chair yesterday, she promptly chided me for not coming in sooner.  “It’s been a while”, she said accusingly, “Tisk. Tisk. Tisk.”

After I’d made my obligatory promises to reform myself and lead a much better life from then on,  I spent a few moments allowing myself to feel gratitude to Becky for arranging a haircut, and gratitude to Mildred for the good work she does.  I’ve learned gratitude is a good feeling when it comes of its own accord and is not forced. It seems to lighten our hearts and leave us more upbeat, among other things.

Cicero valued gratitude so much that he said of it, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”  And Alfred Painter somewhere mentions that, “Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.”

There was a time when I couldn’t feel gratitude.  A few years back, I was afflicted with a depression that lasted nearly a decade because I allowed it to go untreated.  During that period, the emotions I could feel were considerably narrowed, and gratitude was not among the few left me.  Then, one evening a month or two after I’d begun therapy, I was crossing a street on my way home when I suddenly became aware of feeling gratitude again for the first time in years.

That event was a revelation. Until that evening, I wasn’t aware of how depression had taken away so much of my emotional life.  And it was also a victory of sorts: It was then I first understood I was going to get better.  Since then, I have considered it a gift to be able to feel gratitude.

Adolescence, Depression, Drug Abuse, Health, Law, Liars Lies and Lying, Mental and Emotional Health, Politics

The Latest Lies From the White House

Over the past two or three years, I’ve heard of some disturbing new studies that suggest adolescents can be harmed by using marijuana.

There might now be limited evidence marijuana can cause adolescents to develop depression, and perhaps in some cases psychosis.  Yet, so far as I know, the studies to date have been inconclusive.

So, I was dismayed this morning to learn the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a report yesterday that claims it’s fairly established marijuana can lead to mental illness, suicidal thoughts, and dependency in adolescents.

Dismayed because the report appears to be just as dishonest as most of the information coming out of the White House these days.

Indeed, it seems this time around, the White House has chosen to lie by deliberately confusing correlation with causation.  For instance, the report notes that “a teen who has been depressed at some point in the past year is more than twice as likely to have used marijuana as teens who have not reported being depressed — 25 percent compared with 12 percent.”  Now, all that indicates is a positive correlation in teens between depression and marijuana use.  It could be that marijuana use leads to depression.  Or it could just as well be that depression leads to marijuana use.  A fair reading of the information would admit that either scenario is a possibility.  So, why does the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy conclude marijuana use causes depression?

The short answer is the White House is once again lying to people as it has on so many other issues — from weapons of mass destruction to global warming.  But why is it lying this time, and what are the stakes?

About 40,000 people are currently incarcerated in the United States for having done nothing worse than possessed marijuana.  Those 40,000 people are the stakes.  At least some of the stakes. If marijuana is harmless, then it should be legal.  If it’s legal, then why incarcerate 40,000 people for possessing it?

Unfortunately, there are other stakes.  Stacked against those 40,000 people are the interests of a very large number of other people.  Some people got paid to put them there.  And some other people are being paid to keep them there.  None of that counts the politicians and prosecutors who have made their reputations for being tough on crime off the backs of those 40,000 people.  And add to it all the bureaucrats working in the various law enforcement agencies.  A whole lot of people have a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal.

The White House is clearly on the side of those who want marijuana to remain illegal.  The White House has shown us time and again these past seven or eight years that it cannot be bothered with telling the truth when it wants something.  It’s lying is almost pathological.  So, while yesterday’s White House report dismayed me, it did not surprise me.  You can pretty much expect the White House to lie to you, and anyone who doesn’t know that by now hasn’t been paying attention.

I am genuinely saddened that something as important to me and most others in this country as the health of our teens is something the White House feels free to lie about.  If it eventually proves true that marijuana leads to mental and emotional disorders in adolescents, the lies the White House released yesterday will only become obstacles to reason in the national debate over what to do about it.

Last, please allow me to express a moment of frustration: I don’t know if anyone working in the White House these days has even the honest integrity of a bucket of spit, but if someone does, I wish they’d come forward.  I’d like to pin a medal on them.  They are an ant among lice.

Celibacy, Depression, Emotions, Happiness, Health, Late Night Thoughts, Mental and Emotional Health, People, Sexuality

Celibacy and the Single Sage

I was careening around the net this evening looking for inspiration when I bumped across two blog posts in a row dealing with celibacy. That’s when I thought, “Surely this is the start of something: I predict the next blog post will be titled, ‘Celibacy and the Single Sage'”.

It wasn’t.

“No matter”, I thought, “I shall take it as a sign to write about celibacy, for I have a title!” So, here I am, writing about celibacy on the theory I have a great deal to say about celibacy because I have a great title.

Well, although I’m not exactly a sage, I am celibate — so at least I’ve got that going for me here. Moreover, by coincidence, a couple of people asked me last month why I was celibate — so I now have some experience discussing it. How could anything go wrong with such a great title and — all that experience on my side?

So, let’s begin. Perhaps, like the folks last month, you wonder why anyone would choose to be celibate?

Actually, I don’t know an answer to that. Dang. Next question, please!

OK. What I do know is that, when I tried to answer the folks who asked me why I was celibate, I made a good faith effort to answer the question. Yet, the result was only my stumbling through six or seven possible reasons I choose to become celibate. And none of those reasons seemed very correct to me.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever begun answering someone only to realize you didn’t have any reasons for what you did — you were instead acting on your gut instinct? On your intuition?

It took me a while stumbling through the reasons I have often thought I had for becoming celibate, but eventually I recalled enough of the past to discern I was following my instincts — and not my head — at the time I choose to become celibate.

So, I cannot really answer the question of why I decided to become celibate. It was a gut decision. The reasons I’ve often fancied I had for my decision are really just afterthoughts. Near as I can figure it out, that’s far closer to the truth than the six or seven reasons I offered my friends in haste last month.

Those were challenging times — back when I decided to become celibate. That was the context.

I had only recently lost my business, my wife, my house, and much else. I had then gone on the road with no clear destination, looking for someplace to live. I’d come to Colorado Springs by quirk and circumstance. And though I didn’t know enough about mental health at that time to recognize it, I was afflicted with depression. It surprises me I didn’t shack up with someone.

I have known many people who went through something similar, and in most cases, they sought solace in sex and romance, religion, drugs, or alcohol. I went with my intuition and stayed away from those things.

That was 13 or 14 years ago. Except for a few one-night stands in the early years, I have been celibate ever since (Eventually, I even got therapy and treatment for the depression and became insufferably happy).

So I can’t really say I decided to become celibate for this or that reason, but only that I went with my gut, and that it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself. These past few years, after getting the depression under control, have been the happiest of my life.   Celibacy:  It’s not just for sages anymore!

Now, I’m curious to hear what life decisions you’ve made by going with your gut instincts? How did those decisions work out for you?