Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Happiness: Alex

All people must deal with unhappiness, and separately, the idea of all happiness as a fleeting emotion, something we can’t grasp. Nothing lasts forever, and for most of us, happiness is no exception. This doesn’t, however, mean that we can’t be happy people. Happiness, like anger, sadness or any other emotion, is simply a product of the mind’s constant wandering. Focusing on events of the past or possible events of the future can bring an emotion to the forefront of our consciousness, while other emotions are constantly present, our mind focuses on particular facets of our past and future in order to make one emotion, or one mixture of emotions dominant.

The seven primary colors are capable of being mixed in varying amounts with one another to make innumerable new and different colors. Our emotional spectrums as human beings are incredibly similar. Just as blue and yellow can be mixed to make green, sadness and anger can mix to create an emotion that’s altogether different than each as an individual. These emotions are taken from the palette of our psyches and mixed by our mind’s perspective of occurrences, but our mind is only capable of doing so because all emotions, good and bad, are constantly present within us. Even in the happiest of moments, a wandering mind can bring forth images of loss and unhappiness. This is the bittersweet reality of our consciousness. Equally so, thoughts of good times and happiness can often lighten the weight in our chests in the most trying of time.

God created memory so that we may have roses in winter.

It’s because of our memory’s ability to effect the present that in order to find prolonged happiness we must learn to do two particular things. The first is to have without possessing. The second is to learn to live in the present.

To have is a beautiful thing. To possess is emotionally detrimental. We must learn to appreciate things for what they are, in all things. Relationships, for instance, must be about mutual appreciation, not possession. To have is to appreciate the independence, the perfect imperfection of the thing without clinging to it, as it is or where it is. All things develop, all things change – to have is to appreciate change as a part of the beauty; to possess is to try to prevent such change, to keep something or someone as they are, as you are comfortable with it, him, or her.

If we can learn to accept that all things are fleeting, then we can learn to appreciate the magnificence of that which we have. The concept of possession is the non-acceptance of the reality of loss. Tim McGraw captured this concept in the song “Live Like You Were Dying.” If you knew you’re time on Earth was limited, if you knew that all that you know will soon be gone, you would allow yourself to love that which you have, uninhibited and honestly. Instead of clinging to ideals, you would value the reality of your life.

Allow me to enlighten you; your time on Earth is limited. All that you know, all that you love, will one day be gone. This isn’t meant to be a depressing realization, but a beautiful fact of life. All things end so new things can begin. Love the things and people that make you happy, as you would love a flower bud. As it sits in your open hand, you can cherish its beauty, if you clutch it tightly, you merely possess the crushed head of a flower, while materially the same, and only with an open hand can you appreciate the flower.

Living in the present comes in many levels. At times, it simply means recognizing each day as a new beginning, but there’s far more to it than that.

Many people believe that each person is put on Earth for a reason – we were born with a purpose. Whether this is true or not, it’s undeniable that the decisions that we make affect not only our lives, but the lives around us, and just as a the flap of a butterfly’s wings can set off a chain of events that brings about a tidal wave – the smallest of decisions can set off a chain of events that could shape another’s life. Whether you’re aware of it or not, the moment you were born to live, the moment that defines your existence will occur; it’ll pass just like each one before it, and you may never be the wiser. There’s no dramatic music, no slow motion cinematography to point out what makes you great, and the reality of the world is that your crowning achievement could be any moment now, even this one. Such a concept may not be easy to accept, that any moment, this one, or the next, could be the defining moment of your life, could change the path of your journey forever, but with acceptance comes the realization that every passing moment is of the utmost importance and deserves your full and completely attention.

“Life is a series of moments. In each, you are either awake or you are asleep- fully alive or relatively dead.”

-Dan Millman

The Zen concept of Satori takes living in the moment to the next level, a level very few are capable of reaching for a prolonged period of time. Satori is the art of living entirely in the present instant, without any thought of the past or future; Satori is losing your mind, and coming to your senses. If someone were to throw a rock at you, you would recognize the action of them throwing the rock as an impending threat. In the time between the rock leaving that person’s hand and it landing past you, you were reacting – living completely within that instant. You had no thoughts of the past, no concepts of the future, only stimulus and reaction. Your conscious self acting in complete unison with your basic self in the interest of your well being. Athletes often experience such brief moments of Satori during sporting events. When you put up a shot from the top of the key, drop back to pass, break toward the goal or set up a spike your thoughts are only of the present moment – this clarity, this Satori moment, is the very essence of enlightenment.

Lao-tzu, an older contemporary of Confucius, wrote a book called the Tao te Ching, loosely translated to The Book of the Way, that explains the philosophy of living in the present somewhat differently, but to the same effect. Lao-tzu preached the practice of action through non-action, a concept that is lost in many translations and confused with the idea of literally not acting. However, the true meaning of his teachings on non-action were to emphasize the importance of entering the realm of “body awareness,” wherein you are not an individual putting forth effort toward action, but rather you are one with the action. You don’t think to act, you simply act, in this way; non-action is the paradigm for action. Non-action is action in its purest form. A portion of the book translates as such:

Less and less do you need to force things,

Until finally you arrive at non-action

When nothing is done

Nothing is left undone

This concept of living entirely in the moment, of vanishing into your action is best analogized by Stephen Mitchell when referring to the Tao’s lessons of non-action as “the fuel being completely transformed into the flame,” representing the disappearance of any discernment between the person and the act. Masters of the Tao live in this realm of non-action, just as Zen masters experienced the world through the eyes of Satori.

Such concepts may not be conceivable, practical, or even possible, but as is the way of idealistic teachings. I’ve found the best way to learn from such things is to take all things into account, while constantly searching for what pertains to me. You may not feel capable of living in a satori-like state, or of mastering the action of non-action, but you are entirely capable of living a happy life by consciously putting forth an effort toward improving your own perspective. The world will remain changing, as it was, is and forever will be; the best way to cope with life is to not cope at all, but rather to appreciate all things, in all moments to the best of our abilities.

Life is a flower bud that we mustn’t grasp too tightly, for this and every moment is your moment of truth, your reason for being. It’s fleeting; appreciate it.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Regret, Dani

I'm sure that you are familiar with that feeling of walking out of a room and knowing deep inside, on the tip of your tongue, the insides of your lips, and the forefront of your very thoughts...that you have said the absolutely wrong thing. There is something so admirable about knowing what you have said was wrong even if after the fact.But like it or not, you have gone and done it, and for me that statement always ends in "again". I say admirable, only because I honestly believe if that I didn't have faith in the idea that the recognition of what you have done is half the battle in ensuring that maybe next time you may have a bit more tact than I would probably drown in a sea of unintentional comments that will forever plague my conscience. Ahh, tact, sometimes I think I lack it altogether but I would like to think that as I get older and with each "stick my foot in my own mouth experience" I am learning slowly how to keep my trap shut or in recent cases at least mindfully filtered.
What I regret in my life has never been a question of what I have or have not done. In the words of the great female vocalist Beth Orton, "What's the use in regret, its just things we haven't done yet." If you don't believe in that, good luck with pursuing optimism as a general disposition. However, when it comes to what you say there are so many levels of "what if I had said" and "what I can say now to fix it" that one might go truly crazy trying to contemplate them all. All I regret is having to always learn the hard way when it comes to what I should and should not say to persons. Humor that is not particularly appreciated, things they don't want me to share, and of course topics of discussion that I cant help to want and squeeze every juicy bit out of. Now, please do not take this as a sincere apology for my having said something less than appropriate in your presence, but please know that I probably would have taken it back if I could have.
I am not speaking of particularly venomous reproaches because I never seem to be capable of those. In fact, I think that I may be incapable of speaking to those I am angry at, much less approaching them with a slew of well executed verbal attacks. Nor, would I want to be endowed with such a gift. What it is that I regret is that I often make people uncomfortable when I am. If I say something crude it is usually because I am looking for an easy laugh in order to make myself feel at ease. If I hit someone "below the belt" with an unkind observation it is probably because I feel attacked by them and all I have is my limited wit in which to assault them back. Along those lines, so on and so forth.
While I am on the topic of speaking and its effect on others, I suppose it may be appropriate to take a moment and reflect on my experiences with Political Correctness. Like all things I only believe in it in moderation, and I often have a hard time trying to figure out how much is moderate in which crowd. I will be the first one to glare intently when the racial slur pops up... but the "c" word has decidedly been overtaken by woman as empowering or at least that is what the Vagina Monologues seem to drill into every young college girl's brain. Why is this? Better yet, How do I figure out what and what not to say? The answer is that I don't and no one can. I'd love to say that if I say something "off key" than I don't really care how those around me are reacting to it after the fact. But that would be lying. This is NOT insecurity. This is what being a sensitive person means. I know if I've said something wrong the moment it comes out by the look and or the movement of the person I am speaking with, but most of the time there is no way to judge what their reaction will be before that point. So I try to assume that they will be offended until I know them better and then test the water from there. The testing the water is where I back myself into rather unfortunate corners. I'm not saying that I cant talk to someone without being obscene, I just would rather not offend them with some of my views of the world and its people until I get to know them better. But once I do, I cant help but take the ice pick and drive right in. There you have it folks, my most unbecoming quality,point blank. So All I can do is accept it and try ( and I do try very hard) to correct said problem.
In conclusion I think that all we can really regret is words, outside of murder and the like. In the same vein words are also the worst way in which we can hurt others. But in most cases the opposite also holds true although this reversal can easily be forgotten. Words can mend, words can create,and words can develop and give new life to all sorts of relationships. Obvious, I know, but important nonetheless. So I give up regretting even those things which I shouldn't have been so free in spouting and move on to a cleaner happier world where I can speak as though every sentence is my first.

Regret: Alex

“On coping with the march of time: It's like a fire. It goes through a journey, and each stage is interesting. I don't regret the passing of time. I try to live in the present, which should mean my life's full."

~ Francesca Annis (1944-)

As I draw closer to my twentieth birthday, I find myself looking back upon my life in retrospect. Retrospect, in itself is rarely such a negative experience, as hindsight can often provide lessons to us that we were blind to in the present; however, hindsight walks hand in hand with regret, and as I look back upon my life, I’m overwhelmed by the weight of my regret of bad decisions. Thinking hard upon a list of my worst moments can be incredibly demoralizing, but it’s most important at times such as these to recognize the present. Not the present day, but the moment.

The organ in your skull, the physical mass that makes you who you are, is your brain. Your mind does not exist in a physical sense. The mind is a phantom, soaring through your past and future, focusing on past events or the possibility of future ones in order to bring about emotion. Emotion is, as I’ve stated before, healthy – and important to embrace – however, when one can’t help but cling to an emotional state, a sad one, for instance, that emotion can develop into regret. Regret is a reflection of our unwillingness to accept the past as it occurred; it’s a depression we create based on how we feel the future could have been. Regret exists not in the present, but in the past and future, not in the brain, but in the mind.

As I look back on my life, I regret little of my childhood, as childhood is a period of our lives when we do nothing but learn. Children make decisions without the perversion of age’s cynicism, they learn from their mistakes, and accept the world as it is. It’s as we grow older that we find ourselves in situations that we refuse to accept. Our teenage years are filled with attempts at adulthood, relationships, and catastrophe. Our longing for companionship is never stronger than in the twilight of one’s adolescence, and it finds us in positions where our actions do not affect only our own emotional well being, but also that of someone else. With a mere twenty years under my belt, I have only a few years worth of legitimate regret, however, I’ve already made enough bad decisions to fill what seems like a lifetime.

When I think back to my experiences in High School, I tend to ignore my first few years, as I only came into my own in the second half of my stay at Mount Anthony Union High. My memories of High School are nearly all positive ones, all of which revolve around three things – my friends, football, and a particular person whom I shared a great deal of time with. My senior year, however, was burdened with the realization that I would never play football again, and it was as a result of this injury that I learned the reality of regret for the first time.

I didn’t experience the intense pain and sorrow of real regret again for more than a year, and despite my incredible love for the sport of football, I was hit even harder by my second bout of regret; for the first time, I regretted not only putting myself in the position I was in, but I regretted hurting another with my actions. The guilt that comes from making such a person cry can be overwhelming at times, but it was because of this regret, this guilt, that I was forced to reconsider my perspective of life.

I’ve learned a lot in my time, some lessons will probably hold true for the rest of my life, much of what I know will probably be subject to some revision, but the only thing I’ve found that I’m utterly certain of is that the best of things can come from the worst, and, in turn, the absolute worst things can come from the best. Breaking my leg was the worst thing that had ever happened to me at the time and it completely changed the direction of my life; some time later I found myself in a similar situation, a turning point, and instead of ignoring the lessons made available to me, I’ve chosen accept that I am flawed, as are we all, and I’ve decided to learn from what I’ve done to myself, and to others.

Lessons that we choose to ignore will continue to arise, over and over, louder and louder until we get the point.

Regret, however, isn’t a healthy emotion. Just the opposite, in fact, as regret will hinder your actions. Instead, recognize what you’ve done not as mistakes, but as opportunities to learn – if you learn from what you’ve done, you won’t doom yourself into a path of repeated failure, repeated sadness. In order to live in the present with an open heart, one must be ready to release their grip on the past and the possible or impossible concepts we have of the future. We must get past the shallow depth of the mind and use our brains. Forgive those who have hurt you, and recognize that you will be hurt again. Ask forgiveness with pure intent – don’t ask it to comfort you in your regret, but ask it in the interest of helping those you’ve hurt come to peace with their past. Perhaps most difficult, we must also forgive ourselves for the mistakes that we’ve made. You’re going to hurt again; you’re going to hurt others. That’s life. We are all on a path that’s headed up the mountain, when our eyes are fixed on the summit, we may trip occasionally, but it’s important that we never lose sight of our goal.

To those I’ve hurt, I ask your forgiveness. I need not know that I’ve been forgiven, I just ask for the allowance in your heart of a forgiven man, that your memories of me not be tainted by my weakness.

I leave you with wisdom from Souza, but presented to me by a person who taught me more about life than I thought anyone could.

Dance as though no one is watching you.
Love as though you have never been hurt before.
Sing as though no one can hear you.
Live as though heaven is on earth.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Restlessness: Alex

"In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay a colder winter."

The winter has a way of making life feel that much harder, making the world seem that much bigger, and smaller, all at once. That general feeling of anxiety and unhappiness that you can't quite put you finger on arises with more vigor than you may be accustomed to and you find yourself longing for something bigger... or maybe just anything at all. This restless feeling is common in all people, but perhaps most prominent in college students, as we're bound not only by social obligations and economics, but also by our very status as students. We're left with few options but to stew. Or drink. Or stew and drink.
Restlessness is the word we use to describe the combination of anger, depression and anxiety that we experience when we feel as if our creative potential is being hindered by our surroundings: cabin fever for the soul. Like all emotions, everyone has his or her own method of ignoring, overlooking, or learning to tolerate restlessness, despite how frustrating and futile it can seem. I know that the overcast Vermont sky combined with my constantly underlying, general dissatisfaction with my life often can overwhelm my better judgment and leave me depressed, angry, or acting in a self destructive manner. We all deal in our own ways, maybe it's a few beers, some weed, Madden, or a pint of Ben & Jerry's. These methods of distraction have excellent, short term perks; however, the underlying unhappiness remains.
This unhappiness, like all emotions, isn't to be ignored. Hawaiian healers who practice the ways of Huna recognize emotions as a component of a human's basic self, your inner child, or animal, if you will. These healers believe that all humans are comprised of three parts: your basic self, your conscious self, and your higher self. You basic self is attuned to all that is around you, but is often ignored by the reasoning and logic of your conscious mind. As a result, your basic self-expresses itself through emotional and physical pain. Pain is an alert from your basic self, telling you that what you're doing is wrong. Our internal monologue and reasoning, our conscious selves, should not simply overlook emotions like anger, sadness, happiness or restlessness, nor should we cling to such states. Instead, we should recognize each emotion, or combination thereof, as a storm with a purpose.
Like thunder storms, our emotions will come and go. We will be angry, we will be sad, we will be restless. These emotions aren't to be ignored, but rather heeded in the interest of becoming a better person in the only eyes that matter, our own. Emotion can be the greatest of all tools available to man, as passionate emotion, particularly variations of anger, can be the best way to create change.
That restless feeling, that angry, depressed, anxiety can create the strength within you to take the next, of many, steps on the path of life. In order to do so, however, one must first be able to step back and look at their lives with a clear perspective. Recognize your restless state, but don't pander to it. Instead, use the energy created by your passion to give you the ambition to take pause, and honestly reflect on where you are. Don't look at your life through the biased vision of your emotion, but rather embrace your emotion as a passing storm, and recognize that it arose for a reason. Look at who you are, and allow yourself to change. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are why we’re all here. Don’t spend your restless nights wishing for something bigger to come along – such ideals often are met only with disappointment. Instead, harness that restless energy and use to create something bigger within yourself.

Restlessness, Dani

While forging through a new era in our lives countless persons have bestowed advice upon us, lectured into our minds both the importance of education and the importance of a-moral activities, and then at around eighteen, most of us are thrown into a vast sea of collegiate contradictions. I, for one, tremble at the excitement of a new semester arising here at my liberal arts institution, but after only one week of classes and over two hundred dollars in textbooks purchased, underneath I know this hopeful disposition will last only a few weeks, and then in a vast storm of emotion I will probably want to do anything to get out of higher education's most pedantic path.
One moment passes onto the next and I am content in knowing that I am preparing for a future that will, or at least I can hope it will, pay for these lazy four years. I, not unlike many others, do little more than wait for the future to come racing it's way toward me. I can't seem to get over this idea, for I feel as though myself and those who can sympathize with this sense of restlessness, are barely crawling their way toward the rest of our lives. Perhaps it is the sophomore slump, perhaps it is winter in New England, but I for one bravely entertain the idea that I have a problem. Affectionately termed "Locational ADD" by a California musician I know, It is a problem of all passionate persons- a question of what's on the other side of the fence. When I have an "attack" , all of a sudden I am turned into a mad woman,maniacally searching for answers and hidden meaning in everything I do merely because I cant explore the world that I live in. I want to explore and understand everything...really delve into life's every corner. I want to burn, I say this with the quintessential traveling text of Jack Kerouac placed neatly beside my desk. No, I don't particularly want to spend the next years of my life drinking, hitchhiking, screwing and doing drugs as he did. There is however, something to be said for merely getting out there. The college student, the cash starved, the literate, the typically party going youngster, has little opportunity to broaden their immediate horizons. The closest thing is investing interest in their new locale, local things of interest, and of course fellow students.
A really interesting point that my insightful and sometimes offbeat boss made to me in terms of "travel" the other day , was that the mere act of traveling isn't really accomplishing anything either. Jumping from place to place in search of excitement and new faces accomplishes little and perhaps leaves you even more empty. This seems to prove true to for even those friends of mine who are "abroad" in England, California or elsewhere. Yet, I cant seem to shake the feeling that I need to move. Maybe, Its because it is my calling to write about what I see, or at least I hope that is what my future is pointing to.
So what about learning new things? Does that stifle the urge to run as far as I can from everything I have ever known? This is helpful, yes, but proves to be little more than an artful distraction. Perhaps there is a patch for this that will intravenously drip the sights and sounds and peoples of new interesting places into my veins whenever I need its delectable pleasures. Along the same fundamental problem line is the question of the "tourist". How far must one go in a new arena to understand the bowels of its people and culture, and can you ever? Is that what I really want or do I just want to stay in a foreign bed and get drunk on the vapors of new smells and meals that I cant afford.
Although it may not sound like it, I love college because it gives me an outlet for my intellectual curiosities. But until they find a cure, I am currently taking donations for my next plane ticket.