The Long-Awaited Goodbye

Letting Go - Simone Held Deviant Art

Photo Credit: Simone Held – Letting Go, on Deviant Art

Subtle are the cracks they excavate in
consciousness – to sabotage a mind;
the breach widens with every daunting 
twist in life’s unyielding plot we find.

They unleash such vengeful captives,
disturb the peace as they take flight.
A heart feels for the wrongly accused,
foolishly indulges in their plight.

In pursuit, repression and denial
apply cruel logic to dry the eyes.
Fugitives ardently deny their guilt –
flimsy grounds sustain fresh alibis.

Wisdom wades into murky waters,
offers up an emotional defence,
“They meant no harm in picking up
the sordid pieces after these events!”

The inmates’ revolt, it seems, was just;
each suppression wrought more shame.
We embraced before I let them go;
as they dispersed my freedom came.

Ho! Ho! Hold Your “Holiday Cups”!

Fuck It Santa Claus

This shit ain’t what it used to be Frosty!

It’s that time of year again. Christmas. I’ve never been keen on the consumerist, golden-calf worship that typifies much of the festivities. At an early age the shallowness and affected spirituality of the season rubbed me the wrong way, and compelled me to discount Christianity as a total sham. Since I was in my teens, the tidal wave of syrupy Christmas carols and the displacement of Jesus as a cultural icon by the likes of Santa Claus and his trademark slogan “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” struck me as cruel, secular perversions of something supposedly Divine.

Despite how I feel about the spectacle, I’ve taken it all in stride, save for one of the more recent hallmarks in the modern Christmas tradition: angry white people ranting about being unable to see, hear, and say “Merry Christmas” wherever they go. They never explicitly identify the object of their derision, but “political correctness” is offered as the culprit. It’s the usual canard for reactionaries who resent forces of moderation encouraging WASPs to be less intolerant, less disparaging than is our knee-jerk custom.

In this instance, the ire is roused by throngs of non-Christian visible minorities whose presence has forced them to keep the volume on their all-night Christmas party at a tolerable level so their beleaguered neighbors of other creeds can get some shut-eye. For the next two spirit-crushing months, not only will I have six hundred different versions of the seven most popular Christmas carols stabbed into my ears wherever I go, but I will also experience a daily barrage of witless protests by nearly every WASP over fifty-five decrying the total ruin of Christmas whenever they see the words “Happy Holidays.”

To mourn the degradation of Christmas, my social media feeds will be littered with videos by irate, aging white guys ranting about how, in the good old days before non-European immigration, folks could rifle off “Merry Christmas” without worrying it would hit the ears of a Hindu and make them feel like a heel. Already, I’ve seen renowned Christian scholar Donald Trump blasting Starbucks for their “Holiday Cups.” It’s only November and my highly-reactive, bleeding-heart-liberal spleen has suffered countless beatings from this nonsense.

Me not caring about what Starbucks puts on cupsIn addition to sermons from Monsignor Trump, I will see loads of internet memes with pictures of Christmas icons like Bing Crosby juxtaposed with lame, racially-tinged quotes wistful at the sad fact Christmas will never be as white as it once was. In the stores and malls I will hear indignant, Baby Boomer whites huffing under their breath when they hear a store cashier say “Season’s Greetings” to the brown customer they’ve just served. There will be much indignant pondering as to why there is no Christmas tree in the lobby at work.

I understand how odd it must feel for those who, for much of their lives, didn’t have to concern themselves with these issues. I admit, it does require a mental shift to accept the new reality of all these non-Christians we knew were “out there” before, but who are now in our stores and workplaces today, forcing us to tone down our carnal urge to break out into spontaneous choruses of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Change, especially when it concerns something cherished, like the birth of your religion’s namesake, can be difficult to fathom.

But that’s not really what we are talking about with this grievance is it? We are talking about guarding the sanctity, not of the words of Christ our Lord, but the slogan of Santa Claus, the pagan idol, second-stringer who’s been quarterbacking the Christmas season in place of Jesus for the last fifty years.

Using “Merry Christmas” sparingly in favour of more neutral language reflects an awareness and sensitivity to the existence of so many people among us raised in different traditions. It is enough that in every facet of their lives outside their home, non-Christians are forced to participate to a degree in a tradition they do not share. They experience Christmas at the store, at work, at the restaurant – virtually everywhere. Why not spare them the experience of shoving our “Merry Christmas” cream pie in their face? Christians should easily concede the slogan has no real connection with genuine Christianity – other than the word Christ. Its cultural significance was stamped in our minds not by its association with Jesus in the Gospels, but by its identification with Santa Claus.

Given this reality, the decline of this slogan in favour of more neutral language is a small, conciliatory gesture of respect to those non-Christians among us. It is a way to acknowledge the existence of other faiths by moderating our conduct, just a tad. Such a minor adjustment does nothing to degrade the Christian faith. That degradation was well underway as Santa Claus, his reindeer, and elves at the North Pole became the true cultural icons at Christmas time. The putrefaction intensified, ironically, as Santa’s “Merry Christmas” slogan became more synonymous with Christmas than anything authentically Christian.

Certainly, those disconsolate about the fact of millions from different cultures and creeds living among us have had plenty of time to adjust to the realities of global migration that stirs their fears. The Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, and others in our communities weren’t dropped off by the millions in an airlift yesterday afternoon. They’ve been coming in waves for decades and have set down roots. It is their home too. Dare I say, maybe it is also time to finally tip our hats to those of the Jewish faith who have gracefully endured our unbridled winter paganism for generations. I think they are due for a break. If anything, those fearful of losing Santa Claus could benefit from the Jewish example about how to sustain true faith and spirituality without having to resort to shallowness and bombast.

How the f*ck am I supposed to know what season it is if they don't plaster

How the heck am I supposed to know what season it is if they don’t plaster “Merry Christmas” all over my coffee cup? Starbucks. Bunch of Jesus-haters.
(PHOTO CREDIT – Starbucks)

I say this with the hope that those publicly airing their grievances about this issue will understand how foolish and, sadly, racist they appear. I do not really think legions of grown adults genuinely believe that, since we began letting in hordes of un-Christian immigrants, everything that held our national spirits together – Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – has gone to pieces. It is something else about the issue that stirs them.

Whether they realize it or not, their anger betrays a variant of racially-motivated nostalgia that is unhealthy in a pluralistic, democratic society. Those who do not keep this emotion in check ignore the destruction the very same sentiments caused in the early 20th century. Every time there is a terrorist attack linked to Islamic extremists, the same people angered about the “Merry Christmas” issue are posting videos or commentaries on my social media feeds deriding Islam, open immigration policies, and everything else that is foreign in the eyes of a WASP. It is disappointing to behold people I otherwise deeply respect sharing media that are profoundly ignorant and intolerant. I know they are good people who are obviously unable to contain their fears about a world that seems in chaos. They need now, more than ever, to work harder to keep perspective; to maintain the goodness I know is in their hearts. I confess, I’d rather not have to engage in such moral reconciliations about friends at Christmas time.

It needs to be said that immigrants didn’t choose our countries to get in on the Christmas festivities. Many of those living among us with different faiths had no choice but to leave their homelands in search of safety and economic security. The newcomers came, not to crowd-out the Christian faith, or spread their own, but so they and their families could survive.

Given the underlying spirit of the season, this reality should encourage us to embrace those whose presence signifies something hopeful and new; something unique and different than existed before. We should each do our part in fostering harmony between the cultures in our community and helping each other to succeed. Our presence here shares a common narrative with those who’ve more recently arrived; that of leaving hardships behind to forge a better life for generations to come. For some of us, our ancestors got here earlier, and look at our good fortune.

It is this universal human story, when juxtaposed against the stridency and the triviality that belies this seasonal protest, which drives me mad. Good people should not be so pissed off at fellow humans whose presence is predicated by the realities of hardship we all share. Those who raise the demise of “Merry Christmas” as a cultural lightning rod are losing their minds to something absolutely inane, and it makes them unable to contain a latent chauvinism that taints their otherwise good-nature. To publicly air such sentiments is contemptuous of the generosity of spirit and boundless love for all creatures Jesus extols, so you should stop. It’s bloody Christmas, after all.

The decline of genuine Christian affinity that is the sub-text of this hysteria long pre-dates the influx of people living among us of other faiths. Christianity won’t be watered-down any more than it already has by a less profligate use of secular slogans on our coffee cups or in our workplaces. Christianity, at least in North America, has long been a gaunt spiritual force in our societies; the nutriments to sustain an authentic faith leeched into the same gutter at the locus of our much stronger affinity to unbounded greed and capitalism.

Those yelling at the top of their lungs imploring the brown masses of other faiths to embrace Santa Claus and exhort “Merry Christmas” with the rest of us pagans, might instead be advised to heed the teachings of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much more rewarding it is to persuade with exemplary actions rather than angry words?

I will let Jesus himself have the final word about the season. The wisdom below is taken from the Bible, which I doubt most have ever read; too exhausted as they are from shopping, drinking, binge-eating, and singing Christmas carols. I know, by din of the racially-motivated invective despoiling the season, many are not heeding its words. The excerpts are from the Gospel of Mark, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which appears in Chapters five through seven.

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to all!

I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Remember to Laugh, Otherwise it’s Ashes to Ashes

David Bowie - Ashes to AshesI am amazed by the insights my children often share with me. One afternoon, as we drove to a local nature reserve tucked in among a city suburb, my son Owen observed of the scattered mansions dotting the road we traveled “Why do people need such big houses? It’s such a waste of natural habitat.” I had never coached him in the environmentalist’s creed, largely because I am a carbon-sucking sloth like everyone else in North America. We were driving in my compact SUV to the nature reserve, after all. The observation was his alone, which made me proud.

Another time, he had a fascination with supernovas, piqued by the Ray LaMontagne song by that name. He seemed awed by the idea such energies exist in the universe, that there was nothing we could do to influence them in any way. For weeks he would ask me about the prospects of a supernova jeopardizing earth’s existence. I said “nah,” without having a clue. He consulted Wikipedia on the subject, and learned there is geological evidence of gamma rays from supernovas, a belief the effects on the ozone layer may have caused massive extinctions of oceanic life. No matter the risks to earth, a supernova definitely obliterated my son’s faith in his learned father as a source of edification, which was all that mattered to me. I hate supernovas now.

These are just a couple of examples that scream to me in the starkest terms possible that my child is no longer really a child; that he’s reflecting deeply about things in his experience. It’s a harrowing prospect if he’s anywhere near as skeptical, self-critical, and emotionally mistrusting as I was at his age. Innocently, out of the blue the other day, he said “I notice I don’t laugh uncontrollably at certain funny things like I used to when I was a kid. Why is that?”

My first thought was ‘I think that makes me want to curl up and die, son.’ It is disheartening to realize he’s lost some of his childhood bliss, but it’s to be expected, to a degree. My second thought was I should say something like “It’s sad you’re thinking this way, but don’t worry, the sun will come out tomorrow.” I refrained, but it was not easy. I just said “Maybe you’re applying a little more opinion than feeling to certain things as you grow older. I don’t know. What do you think?”

Owen just turned thirteen. Sometimes he wanders into the living room without me noticing, curious about the not kid-friendly movie he’s overhearing from his bedroom. I continue to forget – or am still in denial – about the fact my kids aren’t nine; that, at ten o’clock they probably aren’t fast asleep dreaming of dancing in lollipop fields. Inevitably, a scene with nudity or violence propels him to reveal his presence “I guess I shouldn’t be watching this, hey Dad?”

After a few instances of this, it strikes me that he is genuinely interested in these movies. It’s not just the sensation of flesh and gore that piques his imagination, it’s the existence of social dynamics so utterly foreign to him that fascinates. He’s curious; the situations are so much more emotionally nuanced, the characters not so one-dimensional in their psychological métier, unlike the cardboard cut-out characters he’s been exposed to in kids’ movies. There are no clear good guys and bad guys; there are good people doing bad things and vice versa. There is no easy fix, no clearly self-interested aims to see through. The world is not flat, and its problems are bigger than who will become king.

Supernova. Obliterated my son's faith in his father's as a learned figure in his life.

Supernova. Obliterated my son’s faith in his father as a learned figure in his life.

I can see his mind swirling with questions about what he sees in the movies I’m watching, or what he sees and hears on the news of the world. People are dying all over the place. Bombs are going off with intent to kill and maim. There is rampant, abject poverty and crass wealth. The polar ice-cap is shrinking every year. Things aren’t turning out peachy in the world, at least not for most of us. These create conflicts in a young mind cradled in simple, easy-to-digest fictions, who is possessed of a body reeling with hormones and exploding from clothes he fit just yesterday. It’s all a bit unsettling.

It’s unfortunate he’s no longer laughing with the same uninhibited abandon he once did, and I wonder if there’s a sadness or trepidation at what he is learning about the world that is partly responsible. I will never forget the sheer force of that laugh several years ago; a laugh which energized a theatre of movie-goers as we watched Kung Fu Panda. By the end of the movie I could feel the entire audience watching Owen watch the movie. His amusement at what was unfolding on screen was infectious and intensified others’ delight in the experience.

Since then, I assume it’s been an increasing sense of ‘been there, done that.’ Things may be funny, but they’re not that funny. As we watch movie after movie specifically made for kids his age, he displays a growing weariness about the lack of imagination, depth, and substance in the characters and situations that typify these stories. I wonder if he detects how little they challenge convention. He has been saying repeatedly for about a year now, ‘filled with clichés,’ which suggests he does. He prefers to watch the enormous selection of nature documentaries available on Netflix, which suits me fine. At least there are no questions about gratuitous drugs, sex, or violence I have to dance around, and I get to make fun of David Attenborough’s aristocratic British accent.

It’s clear my son is really beginning to filter his experience via his emerging sense of judgement. For most teenagers there are two crude dimensions of this faculty: “Suck” and “Does not suck.” In my son’s case, I worry he will inherit a yardstick with the taint of my own skeptical, idealist bent; one that is quick to detect, denounce, and despair of the cruelty, duplicity, and corruption that defile humanity. Thus far, he’s only gone so far as casting aspersions at the preponderance of clichés we seem to live by, but it’s a slippery slope.

I’ve tried to raise my son without over-indulging him with my opinions about everything under the sun to spare him the perils of my own cynicism. I was raised that way by well-meaning, ideologically zealous family members. The approach robs a child of trust in their own instincts and renders them emotionally rudderless. Despite my struggle to exercise ideological forbearance in his life, my son sees certain things critically in his own right. I swear, there have only been a few minor slips from his father’s stadium-sized, navel-gazing peanut gallery, hardly enough to have prod him unwillingly along that path. At least that is my hope.

I am glad my son is intellectually curious and takes the time to follow up on the big questions in a conscientious way. It’s encouraging to see him chasing after his own sophisticated view of things. I respect his brains and ideas about the world he sees, and am relieved he isn’t applying the “Sucks/Does not suck” dichotomy to that world. That will be his salvation from the neurosis that began to imprison me at his age.

Most of all, I am relieved he expends the energy to frame his world without relying on others to do it for him. The habit of looking outward turns a potentially infinite mind into an intellectually lazy, ignorant, dull mind; one that merely parrots whatever has been served for mass consumption. It also cultivates a strong affinity for axioms that appease fear and anxiety, no matter how false they may be, which as a consequence blunts the mind’s capacity to perceive wisdom.

John Cleese, aka Minister of Silly Walks

John Cleese, aka Minister of Silly Walks

The habit of looking beyond ourselves for truth is tragic, because it severs the connection with our inner source of freedom and intensifies feelings of powerlessness. It is ironic the vast freedom to pursue and transmit knowledge in our societies has failed to free our minds from the sway of cultural media extolling idealizations of reality that are compelling less by their moral force than by the intensity of their appeal to our crudest emotions. I am glad my son already shows signs of seeing through such demagoguery; that he is inclined to reflect inward and explore sources of wisdom outside the traditional cultural bellwethers.

The day after my son asked me that question I was sitting in my living room when David Bowie’s song “Ashes to Ashes” came on the radio. I remember vividly when I first heard it in the summer of 1981. My best friend’s older brother, who had exquisite taste in music, filled their home with the elegiac yearning of that song. I was instantly overwhelmed with wonder in the experience; that something so simple as a song could be so strange and wonderful at the same time; that it could penetrate my bones with its true meaning, if not in a way that I could understand intellectually.

I fought back tears as the song ended. It reaffirmed my adoration for Bowie, who so transcendently encapsulates the indescribable repercussions of loss; lost childhood, or lost youth, at least. To me, the song is wistful about how our spirit smoulders under the emotional weight of adult lives too often tilled from the ashes of forsaken youth. The drugs and excess of so many successful people are a failed attempt to prop up perpetually wilting egos heavy from the artifice. It seems to me the better solution would be to exhume the child buried beneath the ashes. The notion gave me pause; I think of children my son’s age crafting their identities, one judgement at a time, stoking the flames that engulf their true essence to fit the cultural mold of adulthood.

What dies in the process is the wonder that keeps the spirit yearning for more of the simple graces this life has to offer – that fuels the curiosity and energy to see it fulfilled in authentic ways. The richness of life can’t be experienced fully by those entangled in the spiritless life of most adults. It is essential to leave the confines of that existence to cultivate a connection to the feeling in our bodies telling us what the world reveals in our experience, and to trust the wisdom arising from that.

Uncontrollable laughter is as all-consuming within our bodies as crippling sadness. The truth in those experiences is undeniable, despite the qualification our minds impart to temper our psyches. I want to say to my son ‘If something’s really not funny don’t laugh; if it is, do so fully. Let go to how it feels in your heart, not your mind.’ Trust is maintained in that purity of feeling by holding up the mirror to ourselves daily, with spiritual intention, to ensure what is reflected remains the person we knew intimately as children; that the view isn’t dulled by the ashes and dust of abandonment to adulthood.

Hey Angry Couch-guy, Genghis, Meet Faith

“Hey moron, look at that guy’s snazzy car. He must be makin’ a mint, unlike you, the nine-year payment-plan to buy a Hyundai putz. Hey, move your under-achieving ass and get me the remote. While you’re up I need another beer,” says my inner critic, always.

I’ve been struggling in my Mysore yoga practice for a long while. At first, I was saddled with self-inflicted injuries that dogged me nearly a year. Lately, I’ve been battling frustration at how incompetent I am in so many of the poses in my practice, despite how long I’ve been doing them; or, how long I have been trying to do them without much success.

These realities point to many things, paramount among them, at least in my mind, being the undeniable fact I am not a young man anymore. If I am being honest, I try to be noble and graceful about aging, but in truth I hate that prospect. It sucks. There are other aspects of my life that suck besides aging. I wonder if the struggle am experiencing in my yoga is a reflection of my conflicted feelings about where I currently stand in life; whether it portends anxiety at the thought of more grim realities in store.

I am aware the toll aging will have on my body. It’s an inevitable facet of existence. Up until recently, the reality remained in the realm of abstraction. I am in better shape now than I was in my late twenties and thirties. People aren’t just being polite when they express shock at hearing my age. I sense at times they are thinking “this guy’s pretty immature for a forty-something,” which I’ll take as a compliment. No matter how youthful the image staring back at me in the mirror appears, the duration of time my injuries linger – from yoga, of all things – is certain proof that aging has caught up with me.

Even though I appear young, am not flabby, and don’t have grey hair, at least on my head, teenaged employees at the grocery store call me ‘sir.’ The young and cute marketing reps downtown giving away energy drinks or other stuff to get young folks hooked on don’t even bother giving me a freebie. I’m not in the cool target demographic anymore, which basically means I am in the segment of society whose existence no longer really matters. ‘Is there a smell that betrays my age?’ I wonder.

I don’t know why, but I thought I’d be dead by now. I’m not a gangster; never been a coal miner, high-rise window-washer, or test-pilot. I’ve never been addicted to anything harder than Zesty Cheese Doritos. I just had a feeling when I was fifteen that forty-something was as doomed as ninety-one. There was no forethought to mentally prepare me for the age I’ve managed to acquire, despite myself. It’s the second time arriving at a place in my existence – ostensibly because I wanted to – without a plan for enjoying it or an expectation that it could actually be enjoyed. The first time I was struck by the feeling was the day after I got married.

I tend to push myself in everything I do. I am desperately trying to be better than everyone else; the thinking being that, once I stand alone at the pinnacle, there will only be one person instead of legions to make me feel inferior. Since self-loathing is the quintessence of loneliness I may as well be at the top. So far, neurosis has undermined my ascendancy with perfectly placed banana peels I can’t ever seem to avoid.

When I started doing yoga seriously, the intention was to do the poses I had seen in posters of the Primary Series. I didn’t really take much heed of the possibility my meaty legs, barrel chest, and tight ass might not be able to compress or bend accordingly. It never occurred to me the waifs in the pictures I was trying to mimic didn’t look like they’d been eating bacon and binge-eating their neuroses away in their spare time. No matter, my mind was intent on making it happen, body be damned.

After about a year of that nonsense, my body had had enough. Even the simplest movements were punctuated with pain. My body would not allow me to bend as I had done countless times before.  I’ve been paying penance ever since, wondering when I will be forgiven. Every time it seems I’ve got a foot out of the dog house, my body throws a twinge here or a throb there to remind me: you pushed too hard, asshole.

I get frustrated quickly, with myself, with the shenanigans at work, with senseless violence in the streets, with the lack of world peace; with the fact an unapologetic douche-bag like Donald Trump is a genuine contender in the GOP race. I am a habitually impatient person. I’ve never suffered fools very well. It disturbs me profoundly that so much of our society’s wealth and power is in the hands of utter douche-bags; that the wealth we generate is not easing the suffering of so many millions, but increasingly lines the pockets of cretins intent on using their influence to immiserate the lives of the majority.

I have difficulties with focus, my mind wanders madly. I’m often grappling disappointment with many things in the world, especially myself. When I struggle with all these emotions I redouble my efforts to fix the shit out of that negativity. l’m grimacing, pushing, squeezing, wincing, forcing myself to be happy if it kills me. There is no letting go; there is no acceptance of the way things are. There is no trusting in the wisdom of time; no memory of how often it has whittled away the sharp edges of adversity, how it has carried me through in the past. There is no belief in the power of a graceful approach when the intense heat of the present seems unbearable.

It’s hard not to notice all of these mind-states when you’re doing a self-practice based yoga. There are no sultry instructors to listen to, no people to follow along with; nothing to steal your focus – other than your own raging mind. With practice after practice swirling in a mental cesspool of frustration and self-recrimination, there is residual anger at the cruel alchemy of cosmic forces that made me this way.

“I don’t like how this shit is going! I am gonna siege and plunder my external reality to quell my inner angst!” says my ego, always.

I imagine in another life I was either Genghis Khan or his caustic side-kick – plundering and ransacking the world with brutality to fill some gap in his soul. There is difficulty with relaxing into my yoga; or into my life. My preference is to force the issue; to push too hard. In the past, the victories arising from this approach were pyrrhic; I don’t know why I still cling to it, but I do. Hence the feelings of constant struggle. All this self-awareness can be difficult, because the revelations aren’t brimming with the positivity and bliss we tend to expect from yoga.

Several months ago, I was sitting with my legs out on my yoga mat, doing nothing. The sludge had bubbled over in my head and drowned out my yoga practice. I battled the urge to call it quits, fought back tears, and was tormented by feelings of being a total fuck-up; a cruel tenor of self-reproach that’s dogged me for years.

My teacher came to me and said, “Just keep moving. Don’t stop in the thoughts. Have faith in the breath and follow it with your focus.”

I said, “but I’m just so … ” gassed, I may have said, or something like it. He replied “take it easy, but keep the practice moving.”

But how? It’s not in my nature to take it easy when I’m in the throes of total, abject failure. I can’t fail, yet again. I need a success.

After doing this kind of yoga for almost three years, I am beginning to understand what makes yoga a “spiritual” practice. There’s no escaping the outer layers of self when you’re trying to bend, twist, or bind and you can’t stop clenching to allow it to happen. The fact I persist, despite the struggles, the self-inflicted injuries, and the doubts about the point of continuing, is my first foray into the kind of faith my teacher was pointing to. Larger truths transcend our limited prior notions about the content of those glimpses of wisdom. In my case the insights have been more often humbling than blissful.

For once in my life, I am not as threatened with being honest about some of my shortcomings. That honesty has allowed me to see the good things too, which were hidden beneath all the anger, indignation, and striving undertaken to please my inner critic. When I practice yoga, it’s me on my rug. The inner chatter, opinions, and negative judgements emerge from a mind conditioned to do just that. It’s not really me, as much as it is a pernicious habit I can’t seem to relinquish despite its drawbacks.

The moment I sense a struggle, my mind reacts quickly with frustration or anger to push through the problem. It’s so automatic I don’t even notice my eyes shifting around and my breath stultified. The angry voice fears failure; it doesn’t trust that something as simple and soft as a breath can solve the problem. My mind, body, and breath have no history of working together. The integration was lost from all the years I gave exclusive reign to my discursive mind.

This highly reactive mind of mine has countless times thrown me under the bus. It has ruined or severely strained countless relationships; I’ve said and done things to cause damage that I can’t take back. And yet there I am, doing it even when I practice yoga. It is irrefutable proof how deep are the ruts, how effectively they carry the rivers of distorted narratives to my consciousness, how routine it seems to drink the poison cup.

It is a profound lesson in humility for a grown man of my age to accept. It is easy to understand how I became injured, why I’m so hotly agitated with things, and why I periodically think of calling it quits with yoga. I cannot stop the affliction despite how pernicious and counter-productive it is to a positive outlook. Sometimes I wish I did not have to see it, but if I go back to denial and distraction it will return as a force in my life again, which I no longer want.

In times of trouble my inner voice is like an unwanted, angry old friend who arrives unannounced to crash on my couch. He fritters away my money, drinks my beer, and binges on junk food as he slouches in my couch, robbing my soul with his incessant put-downs and naysaying. Like a drill-sergeant, he believes the abusive hectoring is needed to light a fire under my waning spirit. In reality he’s fanning the flames of psychic self-immolation. Despite his penchant for destruction, he’s got a set of keys to my mental space, and creates a dour mood when he’s around, which is more often than I would wish.

Zen Buddhist master Suzuki-roshi speaks of the need for a “don’t know mind.” In meditation as in life, the adage is to practice being in the world as if we were beginners, dispensing with our expectations and understandings of the way things are supposed to be. These ideas narrow our perception and close our eyes to endless possibilities.

In our culture, we engage in relentless pursuit of competence to avoid a “beginner mind.” The idea is anathema to how we’re conditioned from an early age. We are told it’s in our best interest to acquire the education, skills and wealth to navigate life successfully. Nobody wants to be a beginner; nobody reveres a beginner; being a beginner doesn’t pay the bills. The greed, indifference, and ethical abyss our societies have descended so clearly attest to just how hollow our ideas of competence truly are.

Okay then, back to the beginning. In this case, this blog post, where I attributed my inability to do Mysore yoga to my increasing age. Clinging to the idea makes it easier for me to remain foreclosed to the possibility of good things ahead despite the inevitability of aging and the certainty of more experiences I will struggle with. The negativity stirs my mind to dispatch its mental army of resistance against reality on a quest to preserve my youth and conquer life’s obstacles with brute force, instead of accepting things as they are and charting a path with heart through them.

Maybe the angst has been a motivator in the past, but mounting such resistance is as exhausting as it is futile in the end. I need a new approach; more openness, less anguish, no expectations. Maybe I’ll learn to just see what happens without all the agitation, and patiently wait to see what comes with a more easy-going effort. It’s a hard shift to make; it’s been the acerbic couch-surfer, Genghis, and I manipulating the tragic, dysfunctional fable that has been my life for such a long time.

When I stand at the edge of my mat tomorrow morning, and the morning after, and the morning after that, I’ll thank my prognosticators for doing their best in trying to prevent me drowning in complacency and resignation. I’ll mean it too. But I’ll have to let them go so my practice, and my life, are imbued with greater freedom, even in the struggle. I will do my best to breathe, focus, and keep moving through it, as the teacher says, instead of fighting it with stridency or conceding defeat.

None of us really knows what lies ahead. Life’s constant flux, the fear of being overwhelmed by the next unseemly circumstance, is at the source of my struggle for control. The uncertainty compels me to reach for my sword. With a little faith I sense a better future; the softening of my mind invites a wider range of possibilities to make it so.

Good Things Come to Those Who Don’t Wait (For Death)

This costs nothing and means everything when you're gone.

This costs nothing and means everything when you’re gone.

We’re all going to die. Not necessarily soon, but eventually. I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise.

We have to remind ourselves sometimes, especially when we’re being unreasonably harsh, either on ourselves or toward others we know and love. Denial about the inevitable keeps the poker flame well-lit, especially when life is spending a little too much time in the fast lane.

When we’re in that head-space we’re not really enjoying the gift. Sometimes a bucket of cold, hard truth can snap us out of the ignorant funk.

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. You’re so wrapped up in the process of ‘doing’ you forget yourself.  You forget why you’re so engrossed, but since you’re in it, you’re in it. Even if you know you’re being a shithead, you don’t know how else to operate to get you through.

You believe you are what you are; that fundamental change is impossible and you’re stuck on the path you put yourself on long ago. You’re going to react as you’ve always done, even if sometimes you wish you hadn’t, because it’s got you where you are.

There’s a pang inside you suggesting something’s not right, but you can’t figure out what it is or how to shift gears. You’ll stay on your hamster wheel even though it may be crushing your spirit and literally killing you. Don’t wait until you’re facing death to come to realizations needed to stir change.

Think about death. It will help clarify what needs to change in time for you to reap the benefits in your life. Maybe you’ll spread some of the grace from your awareness to others who could use a kick in the ass. You won’t regret it when you are really about to die. You won’t regret it now either, if you can get going.

Because you’re still living like a teenager who thinks they’re going to live forever, small, insignificant problems are amplified in your mind. Let’s say you’re running late. Not late to save a dying patient on an operating table, but late for a meeting. Late for a haircut. Late for work at your office job.

You’re worried about inconveniencing someone, how that makes you come off in their eyes. You fear your boss sending you a passive aggressive e-mail for not showing up to the office on time. Your boss needs to get a grip too. Since you’re going to die, you shouldn’t be so afraid to tell them that.

But you worry about those things because you take your mortality for granted. Those worries translate into self-absorption – pressing into the world so firmly as to make it align with your neurotic vision of where everything ought to be. It sucks you dry, and your dessicated spirit sucks the life out of others around you.

Today, it’s because you’re late. Another day you got in a fight with your spouse, or someone didn’t give you what you thought was your entitlement. Someone took umbrage with you for no good reason. It’s always something.

You jump in your car, speeding through town like a maniac. You zip past school zones, cut people off, weave in and out of traffic. You don’t let the buses into traffic. They’re carrying dozens of passengers who are too poor to own a car, or who are trying to keep their SUV off the roads to spare the earth a few metric tonnes of extra pollution.

You give people the finger, honk your horn, blast through red lights, and flout public safety. You text to say ‘you’re on your way’ as if everyone else’s life depended on it. You’re a total menace to society. Why? Because you are late. Or you’ve just got to see the text that’s come in. Those incoming texts or tweets are always so riven with epiphanies as to make risking your total destruction worthwhile.

Perspective has been lost. It’s made you wilfully ignorant of the serious harm you invite on others because you cheapen life with your habit of forgetting about where it’s all headed. If that isn’t your intention, perspective needs to be re-acquired. Here’s something: you won’t care about any of the things that get you riled up when you’re dead.

Holding hands silhouette

Laugh. Dance. Play. Love. Fall in love too, even if there’s a risk. Do these things because the intentions are pure and simple. They make life remarkable.

When you are facing death the important things crystallize. Why wait? Put yourself in that head-space now to sharpen your thinking.

You will see how important it is your kids know you really love them. It will matter you have great, loving relationships. It will matter if you can look in the mirror and honestly say your presence on this planet is, on the whole, mostly positive. It will matter how you treat others, including strangers.

The only way these meaningful things can really resonate in your life is if you invest your time and energy in cultivating them now. Later may never come if you die unexpectedly.

It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and you get an urgent, out-of-the-blue task from a higher-up saying they “need” that such-and-such thing done by tomorrow at noon. You know he’s been sitting on the issue for weeks. Now it’s come to a head – your head, in fact.

You know in your heart the demand is extremely unreasonable. You know you’re going to be at the office until late and maybe have to do the work at home when you’d rather be tucking your kids into bed. The idea the higher up doesn’t care fuels your fire. Say something. Don’t just say “yes.” Let them know what they’ve asked of you. Maybe they genuinely weren’t aware.

Stand up for the quality of your precious life and for that of others. Be brave. It’s a cliché but one that is all too suffused with truth to flout, especially when it’s your life on the line. When we’re facing death, all bets are off with fear. It doesn’t help then and it isn’t helping now.

It’s time to stop allowing yourself to become so apoplectic because of others. After a point, your outrage becomes more your fault than theirs. Try to be more measured in your righteous indignation. You’re going to die soon and you don’t want to go out like that – with your head swirling in acrimony. As Mr. T says “pity the fools.” Let people try to make their problems yours because they’re ignoramuses. Don’t let them succeed.

Ensure people respect your life in their dealings with you. Those who constantly violate your boundaries have to be met with the sound of your feet walking in the other direction. This will keep your sanity safely from their crosshairs. You are worth it.

If a person’s bad behaviour is uncharacteristic figure out what ails them and turn their tactics into an opportunity to enlighten. Let people have a bad day without making it worse by reacting to it poorly yourself. Nobody is born a jerk and a fool. Everyone is capable of change eventually. And sometimes, a fool needs a hug.

Living in the world as if it was your last days is liberating. You’ll say and do things that really, really matter and won’t waste your energies engaged in pointless battles with those facets of our wealthy, privileged Western existence that unconsciously spread misery. You won’t waste your time in places or with people who are disrespectful, ignorant, or foolish. You’ll feel sorry for them as you expunge them from your richer, fuller life.

The new-found lightness of your existence will be the graceful foil in their angry, ignorant faces. Gandhi stared down centuries of colonial rule with ahimsa, so you can probably withstand the indignities in your relatively fortunate life.

If you can’t help allowing things and people getting under your skin, or if you try to dominate and control your surroundings your life will become decidedly smaller for it. The legacy you’ll leave behind will be full of broken bridges and an earth scorched by so many misdeeds necessary to chase the pointless goal of cupping the whole world in your greedy, selfish hands.

Meanwhile, there are so many tangible, meaningful things that command your attention and withstand your neglect. Focus on the meaningful things in your life as if you’re never going to see them again. Don’t wait for the doctor to tell you you have cancer to start getting that done.

When you are fully conscious of how precious your life is, the potentially negative entanglements you are so easily hooked into are easily ignored. When someone you love says or does something hurtful, your heart will quickly trump your fragile, injured ego. Instead of reacting in defense and making things worse you’ll ask “are you okay?” swinging the whole encounter in a totally different direction for the better. When your child is out of line, instead of reacting with scorn, imagine it’s the last encounter you’ll have with them and let that guide your next action.

Your ego takes a back seat when you’re focused on doing what matters to make your remaining days on the planet peaceful and joyful. You will walk the earth differently if you think “maybe this will be the last,” and will find a way to enjoy things, even if they are unpleasant. At least you’re alive to have an opinion either way; a privilege deprived so many millions every day.

Make the time.

Make the time. It costs nothing and its value is infinite.

“Okay, so I’m supposed to act like my death is imminent. Do I go and quit my job and travel, climb Mount Everest, buy things I’ve always wanted, go skydiving, and exist on credit? I have responsibilities,” you say.

What a fucking cliché. You have what you need to make your life what you want it to be right now and still respect all your obligations. You aren’t obliged to live in a four thousand square foot home and make a million dollars a year. You aren’t obliged to spread insensitivity, greed, and acrimony as you set about to conquer the world. Your mind is still beholden to the common idea that the most sophisticated being in all of the natural world was evolved to amass wealth, subjugate the planet, and buy stuff.

Shame on you for steadfastly believing something so ruinous to your well-being and your relationship with the important people in your life; not to mention the planet and all the creatures on it. If you were dying tomorrow you know you wouldn’t spend your last days shopping or amassing more wealth.

You would want to share your precious love with those who care about you. The other things you typically fret over would slide off your consciousness. The beauty in the multitude of simple, little phenomena in your everyday life will not escape your notice. The need to acquire luxuriant adornments vanishes in an instant because you know they add nothing truly meaningful to your life.

Here is something to be afraid of: dying before you really, truly lived.

There is good news to be plucked right from the heart of the bad. You’re a homo sapiens, the only creature capable of pondering its own death and with the capacity for insight on how to chart the wisest way forward. You’re running late in the exercise, but make your steps a little more intentional from here on out, you dig?

So think about your death. It will help transform a life too often mired in the small and pointless into one that is infinite and rich with meaningful experience.

My Name is Edmund, and I Am a Very, Very Bad Man Who Loves Bacon

It's beautiful

My name is Edmund K Saunders, and I love bacon. There, I said it. Now I can dispense with all the lies and self-deceit about what a spiritual being I am, and come clean about the falsehood I treat my body as my temple.

Man, that felt good.

I know. Meat is full of dodgy things ingested to keep it alive long enough for a fateful trip to the abattoir and a final stop on my plate. It’s chock full of dead animals whose entire existence is predicated on sizzling on my grill. Bacon is worse. It’s full of dead animals that were once pigs, plus tons of salt and fat and – God, I am such a weak man.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I could eat bacon in moderation. But the truth is, I either have no bacon or enough to make me want to throw up. There is no “middle way.” Bacon has mocked all my principles, essentially.

Problem easily solved, you say? Become a vegetarian! Stop eating bacon! Peace in the Middle East! Homes for all the poor!!!

Yes, I’ve tried to go veggie many times. Bacon greased-up my slippy-slider under the bus of many thwarted stabs at vegetarianism. It’s not as rewarding, or easy, to stab an alfalfa salad as it is to stab a rib-eye. So, thanks to bacon, I’m a big fat failure at vegetarianism, which is why I refer to it as my “gateway meat.”

I’m nowhere near the gateway anymore. I ran far, far, away from the gates of meat-free wholesomeness chasing my next kill for dinner. I have been trundling through the forest tearing flesh from its loins, gaily uttering “Chicopee” ever since. There are no signs of a veggie-dog anywhere near my immediate future.

So if I’m going to eat meat, I gotta have me some bacon.

Because I love bacon, and I think you should love it too, I give this recipe, which has been in my family for generations, as my gift to you. May you do it justice.

Because I love bacon, and I think you should love it too, I give this recipe, which has been in my family for generations, as my gift to you. May you do it justice.

Since I am getting older, my will-power to resist the temptations of cholesterol-laden, salty, gut-sticking meat is getting weaker. My attachments to old, stupid habits I know are bad for me are feeling increasingly difficult to break. My mental craving for creature comforts is growing like a fungus in the rain forest. I am also actually starting to say without a hint of irony “what’s with kids these days.” I grow old, I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.

My forty-something self can’t compete with an upbringing where filling the belly with gobs of whatever hooved beast was lying around, topping it with gravy, and dignifying the meal with a sprig of parsley or a tomato were imprinted for years before I had a say in the matter. My thirty-something self really wanted to be a vegetarian and gave it a real college try. But for the weaker, flabbier, Homer-Simpson-like version of me I am today, bacon is like kryptonite, rendering me dumb to the inner voice of reason cautioning against eating such profoundly shitty food. Reason-shmeeson, ‘ME WANT PLEASURE IN MY BELLY.’

So yesterday bacon drowned any good intentions I had in its vat of grease. I began telling myself a barrage of bald-face lies without my better sense uttering a shred of incredulity. Here’s just a sample of the propaganda Edmund was unleashing as I reached into the freezer to grab that pound of my undoing:

Well, I should just cook the whole pack so I’ll have some bacon handy for BLTs, to add to my salad, or dip in my yogurt throughout the week.

Ooh, this pack is going to expire soon and it’ll free up some room in the freezer.

And my favourite:

You’re not seven. You’re a grown-up with self-control. You won’t over-indulge because you’ve got a handle on your gluttonous, avaricious ego. You’re not THAT guy anymore.

Edmund can be a douche-bag sometimes. I should never have listened to him. He’s the same guy who said while clothes shopping a few months ago “you look good in skinny jeans”; who repeatedly thought it was helpful to say to my ex-wife “I think you’d feel better if you lost weight.”

So yeah, I ate the whole pack. Much like other foods that are almost so bad for you they ought to be outlawed, bacon shares a mysterious quality that allows it to be eaten non-stop until either your heart stops or you run out, but with seemingly no hint of your stomach ever considering the words “cut that shit out, man!”

Then I did yoga this morning. That’s when the chickens came home to roost. Or, I should say, the pigs came home to oink.

Practice is always a struggle when your belly is bloated with rotting flesh. Every time I squeezed my body in a twist, my fellow yogis had to re-live my shame right there along with me. But that’s what a sangha is for, so I still felt loved. We support each other in our practice. I don’t laugh when they fart and they don’t look at me with disgust when I smell like a frying pan from Denny’s. Namaste broheems.

Except, bacon doesn’t smell as delicious when it’s oozing out the sweat glands in your groin as it does while it is filling your home with olfactory ecstasy. It’s much worse than the buckwheat farts and curried lentil-inspired halitosis of my fellow yogis and yoginis. Also, you don’t twist so effortlessly when you’ve got Porky Pig and his eviscerated family scraping along the hundred feet of dark caverns in your bowels desperate to find freedom. Even when I haven’t stuffed my face with pigs my twist poses are crappy so I’m not helping my practice by flouting sensible eating habits.

As I practiced, it became obvious why Edmund was coaxing me away from yoga this morning, “Uh, yeah. Dude, maybe you should meditate for an hour and a half today and skip the yoga. I think you need the extra sit. Om shanti, brother.”

My discipline is solid as a rock. I meditate and do yoga in the mornings. I don’t just lie in bed after first opening my eyes and scroll through social media sites to see how many cat videos I’ve missed. I don’t beat myself up for caving in to the evening sugar-rush with a barrel of Frosted Mini-Wheats just before bed, and then smite God for reeling with indigestion in the middle of the night. I am indifferent to the cat videos other than to condemn their existence after watching them. Unlike others, I obsessively check my social media for the educational content. Like in this post:

Did you know that Krishna is the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu? Neither did I. See, I AM disciplined. I do good things for myself every day, even when I’ve eaten a barn full of bacon for breakfast. The self-improvement continues unabated. I set my alarm with optimism that tomorrow I will wake up when it goes off and not sixteen snooze-buttons later. If not tomorrow then the day after that. Or the day after that. Or the day after the day after that.

Eventually, after the same ruminating I do every morning before finally leaving the warm, loving, non-judgmental place that is my comforter and pillow, I did my sit, and I did my yoga. During yoga I learned what a weak-minded, distracted, inflexible schlub I am. Again. But after yoga, I was feeling good about myself anyway.

That’s what it’s all about. Feeling good and loving myself in spite of the Mount Everest-sized pile of neuroses I need to overcome. Edmund can beat me up all he wants about that but he can’t shout down the calming, self-affirming power of asanas and meditation. Suck it Ed, I got me a couple of grade-A Sherpas.

So, ‘What do you do’, to Improve This Conversation?

Oh, Sweet Jesus don't let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

Oh, Sweet Baby Jesus don’t let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

It’s the time of year where obligation drags us to parties we could easily have blown off in April. It’s not in my introverted nature to enjoy the Christmas party ritual, but I’m philosophical about the phenomenon. They indicate you or your loved one has a job worth cultivating by your presence, a relatively positive thing to force your hand.

So we go along like good eggs and hope for the best. If you’re a skilled introvert you can survive this extroverted predicament by planting yourself strategically in a dead-zone to make yourself inconspicuous. You tuck in behind a tall plant without appearing as though you’re hiding, situate yourself directly opposite the bar and food table, or stand on the peripheries of a group engaged in conversation, nodding your head pointlessly from time-to-time to sustain the ruse you’re an active participant. There, you’ll sip your wine hoping to avoid being enveloped by the dull, dreary blanket of small-talk and ponder the book you’re in the middle of. You’ll daydream about the passion you’re forgoing to be among a swath of virtual strangers who won’t be seen again until next year’s party.

Without warning Fred, whose wife works with your partner, recognizes you from last year’s Christmas party as he piles fruit cake, seven-layer dip, and chicken wings on his plate. He turns to head in your direction, his sweater blinking intermittently to light his path. This year, he’s pulled out all the stops to win the tacky sweater contest, and by golly he’s gonna break the ice with you.

“So tell me, Edmund, what do you do?”

Smited by God, yet again, for my failure to believe in her. A vengeful shrew she is, to say the least.

I Love My Job Oh Yes I do, Now Let me Tell You of My PooI’m not ashamed of my job, but it’s like any other white-collar gig. I’m paid for a cognitive skill I honed with higher education and spend most of my workday putting my shiny-trained mind to the tasks at hand. I’m pretty good at what I do, according to those who sign my paycheque. It’s all pretty un-spectacular and fraught with disillusionment for falling short of the ideal, like much else in adult life.

It’s slightly embarrassing that a place consuming so much of our time is so banal in the description, but that is usually the case. Among close friends, the mundane oppressiveness of working life is dignified with cynical, witty tirades about the pettiness of office politics; with creative embellishments of professional achievements to justify the continued effort. Friends will empathize with the seething emotion beneath the affectation; they’ll see through the bravado and cheek, and will be supportive and entertained without attaching judgment to betray confidences.

Among relative strangers, political imperatives dictate the safe path be maintained in discussing work, which sucks. If I can’t sarcastically mock the shortcomings of my workplace or vie for your sympathy in outlining the abjectness of my career plight I’d rather avoid the subject entirely. I’m not getting paid for this shit, after all, and I need to have some enjoyment in my personal time.

Since I’m fortunate to not be bogged down in an hourly-wage job, I have spare time to do things I like that are, dare I say, maybe a little sexy. I do yoga. I read books on all kinds of subjects and can sing arias in Italian, French, and German. I cry when I hear beautiful songs, like Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ or ‘Si, mi chiamano Mimi’ in La Boheme. I am a Buddhist and nearly have a black belt in Kung Fu. I lament my kids will soon be teenagers; I despised teenagers when I was one and worry the days of loving my children unconditionally will face serious challenges. I jot down fleeting, quaint musings about life in a blog.

Tuna Sandwich Named KevinWe should be talking about these things, not work. In the aggregate they say something far more interesting about me than my work could ever do. My work indicates to the world I have a job and an income. Maybe it says I’m ambitious and hard-working; that I know how to do stuff. Yawn.

Chances are there are similarly more interesting, unusual, or telling things about you than your job. The difference is in the details. That’s what would make this conversation interesting. Odds are, if you stop dithering about work we can weather this party without needing to get wasted and twerk on the tables in our thong underwear to feel as though it was all worthwhile.

Actually, I should qualify. If you came back from helping African countries fight the spread of Ebola, or spent last week snapping photos of earth from the International Space Station, I’d like to hear about that. If you build schools in Bolivia for the poor, or are working on a cure for cancer, I’d probably be interested in that too.

Having said all that, I need to be brutally honest. As much as I don’t want to talk about my job I really, really don’t give a shit about your job. I beg you not to talk about it unless it’s objectively amazing, which you know it isn’t. It sucks just like mine. If you had an amazing job I’d probably know about it and you wouldn’t be so intent on winning the “Christmas Sweater for Morons” contest, or whatever it’s called in your zany workplace.

I also don’t care if you make oodles of money being good at your job, or are high up in the pecking order where you work. The hierarchies that poison white-collar corporate environments are contemptible, but I understand why anyone would be proud to be a big-shot. That said, it doesn’t interest me. In fact, because I have a rebellious anti-authority bias, if one of the first things you tell me about yourself is that you’re a big-shot, I will probably passive aggressively cut-down whatever smug, mean-spirited, or inane thing you might say thereafter. Remember, I am not your friend, and I am trying to have fun here. To avoid all that, it’s best to steer clear of boring work talk and discuss opera, birding, salsa dancing or anything that will not risk glorifying what either of us believes is an exalted life.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don't get a life outside work.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don’t get a life.

For most adults, working life is kind of sad, pointless, and dull. It’s in the realm of necessity, like eating, drinking, sleeping, and defecating. If you’re socially adept, you don’t talk about your bowel movements or what you had for dinner last night, so I don’t see why you’re talking about your work, even if you really enjoy it. I had an enjoyable bowel movement last night, but I doubt you’re interested. What’s interesting and telling about a person are the things they do when liberated from necessity and are free to choose how they spend their time.

Nobody’s really dying to hear about another person’s job. The topic is raised as a feeble attempt to break the ice, make idle conversation, or pass the time. The desire to forge a bond is honourable in intention, but in the realm of small talk, a desperate appeal to banality to quell anxieties about our alleged separateness. It’s as deceptive and false as shopping and watching television in instilling the notion we’re engaged in a fulfilling use of our precious little time on this earth.

It is also sometimes a lame attempt to add a dash of ego primping to garnish a boring conversation. If we are resigned to the dullness of this experience we may as well stoke feelings of superiority. The question is asked, ‘what do you do?’ and when it’s our turn, we can describe in boring detail the facets of our more important job to others. At least our ego gets off this evening.

When a highly accomplished person asks a stranger point-blank ‘what do you do?’ it betrays an obvious lack of modesty. It is an ego-trip that may ultimately prove insensitive. To witness an unemployed person cobble together a face-saving response in a group of strangers is almost as horrifying as witnessing a woman whose precipitous weight-gain has elicited well-wishes on being pregnant with a child she is not expecting.

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days?

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days? Okay … I … um … can’t actually see who’s raising their hands. But if you are, I KNOW, right?

A person’s work situation may be temporary. They lost a job and were forced to take something quickly to keep ahead of the mortgage. The stranger’s wife may be a Doctor and the choice of who would be the stay-at-home parent was a no-brainer, but it still rouses feelings of discomfort because our society devalues child-rearing as a noble pursuit.

Maybe the stranger is slowly pursuing their passion on evenings and weekends. They work merely to cultivate their dream. Or, maybe their ambitions and energies are placed elsewhere because they don’t care about career pursuits. When so many marriages are destroyed, children neglected, and stress-related illnesses are suffered because of our culture’s work-obsession a focus on other things is a sensible life-choice.

All this is to say there are pitfalls with the question that need to be considered before it is put out there. The risk is a person you don’t know may find a question you’ve put to them extremely alienating. Until there is a real relationship, one not brokered with small-talk, it’s none of your business and shouldn’t be broached so directly.

The question also furthers the belief that career pursuits are the most definitive aspect of a human being. That is some self-serving logic for those who’ve forgone their youth to earn professional credentials and expend their time reaping the economic rewards by working. It is presumptuous to carry on as if the amassing of career achievements was a universally-shared priority. Nearly all North Americans are guilty of this conceit, which merely validates their choice to focus all their energies to the singular pursuit of wealth and status-acquisition to the detriment of all other aims in life. It sets us apart in the world as profoundly one-dimensional, uninteresting, and collectively ignorant human beings.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is so boring and dull, like when too much of it is spent at the office that pissing around in others' lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is boring and dull; when so much of it is spent at the office that messing around in others’ lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Modernity was forged to spare humanity the perils of so much time spent in toil. Those lucky to have been born in wealthy societies but choose to devote the vast majority of their time engaged in work seem to me either foolish or pathological. Either way, the time consumed by work, beyond a certain level, may actively invalidate a life given the luxury of other choices. Life is more important than work; a truth those who have been too career-focused realize only when the end of the precious life they squandered is imminent.

A buddhadharma teacher once said ‘do not speak unless it improves the silence.’ This holiday season, do so with a funny anecdote, or the sharing of a genuine passion. Speak as if your humanity was more vast than the changes in the weather, the ups-and-downs of the local sports team, or the trivial things you do to pay the bills.

Tell me something to improve the silence between us; something real about yourself. If work is all you have to talk about, you’ve got other, more self-enriching work to do in the new year. Get on with it. Get a life before it’s too late. At next year’s Christmas party, I’d love to hear all about it.