Listen For The Helpful Voices

Another popular artist, this time Chester Bennington of Linkin Park has been lost to death by suicide. Whenever there is news of a death by suicide of a highly successful celebrity a voice in my head impulsively says, “How can someone so rich, successful, and creative, do this? What do they have to be so unhappy about?”

I am aware how this minimizes the tragic loss of human life their story tells; how the comparison of my life to that of the celebrity stirs resentment and fear instead of compassion. I see a lot of this in the social media frenzy that tends to follow these stories. The focus is more on the celebrity than the illness that caused their death; the one linked to the other in absurd ways. These aren’t stories about celebrities, not necessarily, but of human beings who suffered a terrible illness that claimed their lives. We make more out of the celebrity status than is helpful in discussions about the mental illness their untimely death provokes. 

I myself have suffered immense sadness, have endured bouts of spirit-crushing depression. It is frightening to think that death by suicide is where it may one day lead. This is why, in the face of such tragic news, there’s an impulse to harbour ideas that attempt to explain and rationalize away these senseless deaths. On self-reflection, it strikes me as a way to distance myself from the fear, and the reality of just how harrowing the human condition can become, especially when its ebbs-and-flows are intensified by mental illness. 

None of us is immune, despite our collective efforts to posit and reinforce ideas about how success equals happiness, which we seem to need as a shield to the possibility of psychological defeat in the face of countless threats in the human experience. I don’t think any of us is any more or less vulnerable to this illness given the right circumstances. When a celebrity dies by suicide, it is an affront to our childish ideas about happiness, and shines a revealing light on how stridently we deny and repress the realities of mental illness. It also shines a bright light on the true harshness of the human experience. 

In this respect the tragic death by suicide of Robin Williams is illustrative. Many fans and admirers were genuinely saddened at his death. Many more could not help but betray a profound fear at what it said about “happiness”, their comments expressing the sentiment “if he is vulnerable, what does that say about me?” That is it exactly. 

This is why I stop that voice of resentment in its tracks, why I don’t express “shock” that another human being has succumbed to the West’s silent killer, just because they were a celebrity. Celebrities are human just like you and I, no matter how hard we try to put them on a pedestal to satiate our psychological need for a panacea to human woe. Denial is unhealthy in the face of tragedies that warrant compassion, not just for those who have died, but for ourselves and others in our life who are struggling right now. 

It is dangerous to plaster ill-conceived ideas about why celebrities shouldn’t be mentally ill, or why suicide is “selfish”, either on social media feeds or comment walls wherever news of these deaths is published. Why? Because people who are surviving with mental illness are reading those threads. To deny the humanity of the celebrity who succumbed is to deny the humanity of the anonymous who struggle day by day to survive, but may yet still die by suicide. For anyone who has mental illness despite outward appearances of success, however shallow and feckless our society measures it, this is the last thing they need to hear. It is a refrain that surely risks causing more guilt or shame for their illness. 

Our society already does a stellar job of shaming and stigmatizing those with mental illness, without also having the occasion of another death increasing their burden. When mental illness claims another life, the last thing a person with the same illness needs to hear is assertions about how their illness is a figment of their imagination that doesn’t – or shouldn’t – exist, just because they are successful or have an ostensibly charmed life. 

As a person with ADD, I know how hurtful it is to hear how every arm-chair, ignoramus shrink with a PhD from Twitter-Internet College believes the condition that has nearly ruined my life, that is at times the bane of my existence, is “a conspiracy invented by drug companies.” No, it is bloody well not and I know because I live my life despite it. It is a condition that afflicts my brain, and is manifest by dysregulating the balance and flow of certain neurotransmitters needed to propel functional thoughts and behaviours. In that way, my ADD shares a biological antecedent similar to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or other neuro-psychological conditions. Just because science does not yet know how or why, does not make it any less true. 

To those who knew and loved Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, I am truly sorry for your loss. My heart aches and my spirit weeps for those who have lost someone they cherish to suicide. It is sad, on a profound, metaphysical level, that these lives ended in one of the most tragic ways imaginable for a human being. I am sorry for the legions who suffer this wicked mental illness and for the pain they have to live with every day. I am sorry the illness made it too difficult for those who ultimately succumbed to have seen another way; one that would have kept them alive. 

For others out there struggling, no matter how society may tell you your illness is “all in your head” or makes you feel it is cured by an “attitude adjustment”, know that these notions are false and you should not heed those voices.  Mental illness is real, it is biologically-rooted, and it doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, famous or living in ignominy. It does not care what ignorant falsehoods our mindless society clings to about mental illness. There are professionals and other helpers who know better and are trained and eager to help. Turn your focus to them and, at the very least, listen to those whose knowledge about mental illness is real. Cover your eyes and ears to the foolish voices who say things to appease their own fear and shock; who are well intentioned but extremely unhelpful in their clumsiness. 

Nobody who suffers an illness – be it cancer, ALS, or Parkinson’s – is to blame for their affliction. Mental illness is not the fault of those afflicted, and it does not have to be a lonely struggle. If you are living with mental illness, seek out the experts to provide the help and supports you need to continue living a fruitful life; to help you cope despite the illness; to ensure you are a survivor. 

Peace and love to you. You are not alone. 

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.

Keep Your DICK in a Box Well Away From the Top Shelf

Dick With Balls

The one who started it all. The Dick of all Dicks, Dick Cheney. “Hello underlings, I am a DICK, and blah blah bullshit lie half-truth blah blah America blah blah War blah lie lie lie I eat babies blah blah blah I own shares in weapons companies blah blah blah I am the real President blah blah blah blah lie bullshit posturing blah blah blah …”

A toxic form of humanity is advancing rapidly through the white-collar ranks of large North American organizations. It drains the life of so many innocents trying their best to make a living in the workplace jungle. The scientific name for the phenomenon: Douchebaggus Ignoramus Corporatio Kleptomaniac, otherwise known as DICK.

Dick exists in droves where hierarchies create cadres of executives whose pay and decision-making responsibilities vastly outstrip the ranks at the bottom. In lucky organizations, the top echelons reflect the qualities of an individual you’d expect to have responsibility for so many lives and so much financial capital. Good leaders started at the bottom somewhere, and stayed there long enough to learn the ropes. They know what it’s like to be low man on the totem pole and can point to real achievements instead of lofty position titles along their career path. They are intelligent, humble, and treat people well, regardless of their rank.

Unfortunately in many large organizations there is an inverse relationship between the competency, personality, skills and high rank of the individuals occupying the upper-middle and top shelves of the org chart. Dick knows how to fly like an eagle in a place like this. With his prospects of advancing the ranks not limited by his incompetence and execrable personality, he tirelessly tramples over the well-being of his co-workers as he employs douchebag subterfuge to crawl his way to the top.

The screening criteria to diagnose whether that misery-inducing jerk in your workforce is a Dick are below:

1. Extremes in intelligence: either a profound lack of intelligence, curiosity, or lack of insight; Hyper-intelligence

OR

2.  Male, usually small (literally and figuratively)

AND, one of the following:

3.  Profoundly stunted emotional intelligence, as if his six year-old emotional self wandered into the forest and was never found again, but still controls the behaviours of the adult from somewhere in the deep, dark, and frightening woods.

4.  An unnatural, hyper-inflated self-assessment that entitles them to whatever they desire: promotions, perks, to treat people like dirt, to have a tantrum, to say whatever small and petty thing pops into their douchey mind …

5. Hyper-aggressivity rooted in unexplored feelings of Ill-will, guile, rage, or hostility toward humanity

A Dick with all of the above traits would be in jail had they been born in an unstable home of less than an upper middle-class income. Even though Dick is a crime against humanity, his co-workers are the ones imprisoned in a living hell of his making. Every day they fight the feeling of having been entrapped like a dime-bag dealer on a police sting when they were sold on the opportunities in a job that was open clearly because nobody wanted work with “the asshole.”

As a child, Dick had people putting ideas of being a “professional” in his mind. One or both of his parents was a professional of some type – a corporate executive, lawyer, doctor, engineer, or academic – who instilled the idea that a profession was the only viable career choice for success. They made him believe achievement was rooted in status and rank rather than something tangible, like good work and skill.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick's a bit of a reckless bastard.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick’s a bit of a reckless bastard.

Some Dicks showed early on they weren’t inclined to the knowledge professions, but their parents were in denial about what this meant for their child’s white-collar prospects. They pushed the career aspirations on him anyway knowing they could always intervene with their network of high-powered friends to help him along. It never crossed their minds to push him toward a skilled trade, reflecting an ignorant bias harboured by many white-collar professionals.

Dick could have devoted himself to honing his skills as a tradesman, which would provide an outstanding living if he applied his time and effort to that enterprise. Like many people with practical skills he could have had his own small business and have been a real master of his own destiny. Sure, he wouldn’t be a CEO of thousands of people, but he’d be financially successful and would be his own boss. He wouldn’t have stolen his high rank away from others with his dirt-bag behaviour; he would have achieved success with honest, hard work.

Instead, Dick went to college with ideas of becoming as financially successful and prestigious as his parents in a profession he was not suited for. Realizing quickly he wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, lawyer, US President, engineer, or accountant, he joined a frat, partied, gang-banged sorority girls, and squeaked by to get his degree in Phys Ed. He entered the white-collar workforce intent on running the show, but found himself in the unenviable position of seeking to advance through the ranks over peers with minds and abilities more suited to the work.

Smart Dick, Dumb DickHe could have decided then to focus on his strengths as a people-person. One quality that Dick seems to have in spades is high energy and affability – sometimes genuine, most times fake. He wasn’t born a Dick, and if he had chosen an environment that didn’t constantly tap into his insecurities about his lack of book-smarts or social ineptitude, he probably could have avoided becoming one. He could have leveraged his people skills to build alliances – a vital skill in an organization with a bunch of big minds who often lack soft skills required to manage groups of people.

In relying on shrewdness, aggressiveness, and posturing to beat back others before they cottoned on to his limited intelligence, he chose to get ahead along the dirt road leading through Dicks-ville. Ever since, he’s been like a virus in the workplace. His colleagues can barely avoid violent fits of projectile vomiting from having to stomach Dick’s over-weening sense of self-importance and generous self-assessment of his capabilities.

In the early days his professionally competent colleagues ignored and avoided the confrontations required to put his bad behaviour in its place, dismissing him as a total moron who would easily be weeded out. What they didn’t see is how this re-inforced his blatant misbehaviour. Nobody realizes until it is too late that a Dick has risen to occupy a rank that vastly outpaces his abilities. But once a Dick has inserted himself, by hook and crook, into the organization’s power structure he has to be forcefully pulled out.

Since childhood, everyone told the hyper-intelligent Dick their brains were going to win them “great things” for the future. Instead of accepting the low-ranking social status of a teen of above-average intelligence and socializing with other gifted peers, they pined for acceptance and failed miserably, which fueled their pathological resentment. They spent evenings and weekends obsessively-compulsively masturbating to Ayn Rand novels in quiet solitude charting the course of their revenge against all the mean mediocrities of the world. Their emotional intelligence wilted on the vine with the total absence of a meaningful social life. They did not have even nerdy friends; they did not get laid. No matter. His prestigious credentials in hand, the world would deliver what was due including the money to buy a social life and all the pick-up artist videos needed to get laid without paying by the hour. See Dick be a Dick

From day one of his ascendant career path, Dick could never to stay long enough in a chair to keep it warm; there was always a nicer chair in an office closer to the top floor with his name on it. He’d finagle ways to be in the same place as influential people in the organization to learn where the opportunities to advance were and kiss their ass incessantly to get it. He’d find the emotionally weak and destroy their will with hectoring and condescension to crush their spirit and make himself look more dynamic.

He yelled and screamed when things didn’t go his way and kicked his co-workers in the gut like helpless dogs when he was in a mood. He always acted out when his insecurities ran high, making everyone else pay the price for his errors instead of owning up and using them as learning experience to help him improve. Dick’s mantra: always move forward, fake it if you have to, this place needs you.

As he begins the climb, Dick befriends those who are smarter and uses these contacts to click into networks of other smart-types. The smart-nerds he keeps close are those who cultivate and care about their reputation as experts. They keep Dick supplied with a steady, reliable stream of novel ideas to pass off as his own when he’s among senior people who will take notice. Once he’s on top, he’ll find a way to marginalize his former brainy confreres, knowing what a pain in his ass they’ll be.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

Dick does everything to position himself as a prospect for any opportunity to advance in the organization chart. Everything that is, except really investing the time learning any of his jobs to be good at them. For the hyper-intelligent Dick, this would have been easy, had it not been for his sense of entitlement, which makes him too impatient to actually learn a job or to care about honing his people skills. Dick probably got an MBA, which requires more cash than brains, to help him chop twelve years of working in the real world to demonstrate his perceived right to an executive rank. For a Dick, smart or dumb, everything is a temporary stepping-stone on the ascent to out-rank everyone else.

God help the organization that re-inforces this shithead’s ideas of advancing the ladder before he’s really earned it. The moment Dick ascends the ranks he becomes an obnoxious, condescending ingrate who harbours delusions of grandeur. The higher he climbs despite his incompetence and maladjusted behaviour, the more insufferable he becomes. He is possessed by the delusion his abilities, or worse, his attributes as a Dick, warranted him the promotions. There is no incentive to curb the sociopathy in his behaviour. All is lost.

In those rare and fleeting moments of self-reflectiveness – usually when Dick is publicly upstaged by someone smarter than him or who knows more about his job than he does – Dick is momentarily seized by the idea he’s in over his head. “Fuck that” Dick says to collect himself, and then lobs a flurry of passive-aggressive, man-splaining tirades to attack the very being of the weisen-heimer who made him look stupid. He’ll keep up the rear assaults until ‘Mr/Ms Bookworm’ backs down or suddenly finds themselves blacklisted by Dick who knows how to slander with malicious intent better than the best Republican political strategist.

Most interesting man on ... DouchebagsThis is also how Dick deals with what he sees as obstructionist criticism – he shouts it down so hard the other person concedes defeat to spare themselves his incessant blowhard tactics. He has no tolerance for a diversity of views, nor does he see the value in a collegial exchange of disparate ideas to hash out a middle ground on a problem. He is too uncurious to care about other possibilities besides the ill-informed, blinkered one he believes is correct. He sees those who forward alternative perspectives as guilty of insubordination, flouting gratuitous negativity; as Cassandras who won’t follow the pack.

Persecuting underlings is one of Dick’s most conspicuous traits, especially when he’s reached a certain rank and has had a taste of authority, which he is unable to handle intelligently. He cannot understand how his abrasiveness would constantly undermine the morale of people who invest a high degree of job satisfaction in obtaining feedback about a job well-done. Dick’s definition of job satisfaction is having a job.

If Dick is a man, which he usually is, his unceasing torments are more a pathological aspect of a reactive personality completely devoid of empathy, than a calculated campaign of abuse. It’s how he operates, and he thinks people should realise that. It’s not personal, he’s just a tough cookie with high expectations. He cannot relate to what it feels like to be on the other end of his asshole antics.

In the rare case that Dick is a woman, the torment is probably calculated, less openly hostile, but absolutely eviscerating. The most dangerous person in an organization is an intelligent she-Dick, a person so frightening I’m too afraid to lampoon them in this blog post. She-Dick will find me and destroy my life. Did I mention she-Dick is really intelligent?

As a senior person in the organization, Dick’s incessant criticism, lack of encouragement, caustic demeanour, and capricious, panic-stricken series of unreasonable demands throws shards of glass beneath the feet of his direct reports. For years he has sub-consciously learned that a hierarchical corporate culture spawns legions of people-pleasers who respond to aggressive posturing, giving people like him the powers of a puppeteer. With a few churlish displays the shrinking violets scatter frantically to appease the angry ogre, dispatched as they are with meaningless chores of little value to the organization, meant to allay the ill-effects and smooth over the damage wrought by his incompetence.

Cameraman: "Hey Stu, how about you take your shirt off to have one of the last pictures with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies" Stu: "No way bro' I love this fuckin' shirt. I wanna remember me an my mom havin' a laugh. Take the fuckin' picture"

Cameraman: “Hey Stu, you wanna take your shirt off so the last picture with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies isn’t with the ‘Dick with the shirt’?”
Stu: “Hey bro’ I have a fuckin’ tattoo on my neck, cuz I don’t give-a-shit. I got this shirt my first day outta prison, so I got sense-a-mental value to it. Now, take the fuckin’ picture. Say cheese Ma!”

Here is the million dollar question: if Dicks are so bad, why do they keep rising to the top?

The easiest answer is Dicks love to do the circle jerk with other Dicks. At the top of an organization teeming with Dicks the boardroom is a bro-culture in pin-striped suits. It’s hard to continue being an asshole if the emotional intelligence, brains, and human decency among your colleagues holds a mirror the size of the moon to your stunted being. Even though a Dick at the top is advised to hire people to accommodate his profound shortcomings, he can’t help but promote one of his own because he’s too stupid or arrogant to believe more than his talents are needed. He possesses talent for a whole executive team and really only needs more sets of hands to carry through all the earth-shattering ideas oozing from his ego. In the end, a total Dick looks like the best candidate in the eyes of a total Dick.

His urge to remain unchallenged, to have obsequious subordinates to go along with disastrous errors in his judgement far outweighs his desire to hire competent people who can actually do a good job. They’ll make him look bad. They’ll constantly challenge his shallow decrees with arcane appeals to law, policy, or reason.

This is why it’s taken more than forty years of feminism for women to even begin to crack the glass ceilings across the corporate world. Bros before ho’s, as they say. The lack of women and introverted, brainy types is an historical Dick-slap to the axiom that calls for the upper echelons of large, complex organizations to be dominated by people of bona fide skill and competence. Instead, too many Dicks have risen to the top ranks with bluster, self-aggrandizement, and charm but little else of substance.

The adage is true, when it comes to Dicks, size does matter. Even when the top echelons of an organization is filled with competent and capable leaders, the size of the organization will be a cover for Dick’s misbehaviour. Because of scale alone, legions of influential people won’t really know how Dick operates. Dick is expert at spotting, and ingratiating himself into some fairly opportune glory-holes and hitting paydirt, knowing his reputation will benefit by sheer association. Dick can keep his malevolence in line to ingratiate himself with senior people in a functional division if it means he’ll win advancement. He can peel off his fluffy sheep’s clothing later on when he’s got the power and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits getting their thizzang on with some gangsta shit.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits doing their thizzang with some gangsta shit.

Organizations that rhetorically value competency, that have complex, challenging goals to achieve, will pay the price in poor performance if there are too many feeble-minded, megalomaniacal Dicks in the boxes near the top of the organization chart. Large organizations of knowledge-workers rely on the collaborative efforts of its human capital to succeed, which is totally undermined with the hyper-aggressive, childish, morale-killing behaviours of a hyper-ambitious, emotionally stunted leadership cadre. They will crush the will and spirit of competent, capable human assets wherever they exist in the organization. These valuable would-be leaders will leave before they deign to ascend the ranks, avoiding having to withstand the nightmare of working more often with so many Dicks in their face.

Nobody with genuine abilities to speak of will invest their sweat equity only to have it beaten down to nothing in the self-interested grabby-hands of a bunch of Dicks. That’s why organizations need to get a good grip on those Dicks and yank ‘em out; let the Dicks have a taste of what it’s like to get the shaft for once. Do it now, to preserve the long-term viability of the organization and restore sanity to your workforce.

This is My Yoga

Practice and all is coming

– Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

My Yoga - Stillness

I’ve come to love yoga for so many reasons. I wish more people would give it a try because it has helped me with some of the anxiety and focus issues I’ve grappled with for much of my life; that many Type-As like me suffer from in our busy-obsessed culture. On any given day, there are countless unseemly interactions I have with strangers that suggest a lot of people are in need of something – anything – to calm them down; to give perspective to the insularity and self-importance that seem to drive a lot of ignorant behaviour. Most days, I’m pretty forgiving of it; it’s how I used to be, after all, and I’m not such a bad person, even if sometimes I do crappy things.

Yoga saved my skin when it felt like my life was falling apart and scattering in many directions. But it also helped soften my attitude toward things; things about myself and of others. It’s helped keep me solid and whole through some discombobulating upheavals in recent years. It’s given me the tools to mine the brightness amidst the reactivity that was my default; that in the past would have powered the negativity spinning outwardly from my reeling, pissed-off mind.

Just this morning I watched a facebook post that was so full of joy it brought me to tears. In the past I would have mentally vomited as my intellect summed up the whole thing as trite, common, gratuitous sentimentality. The kind of bile underneath the pit of negativity I used to wallow in makes me shudder. But I forgive myself because I wasn’t really aware of what was going on, at least not consciously. I did the best I could with the limited means to tap into wisdom I had. I am sorry for those who were unlucky in the past to have consumed my toxic sludge energy. I am sorry for those who, on a bad day, will be doused with it in the future. Trust me, I am working on it. I’ve got yoga on my side.

Many days I bounce around the office with a goofball air in my step. I like to be silly and share that with others, whether they ask for it or not. I respond to the feeling of joy and lightness that overcomes my body when I encounter it. I never used to feel that before because I was so taut with anxiety and striving. Actually, I think now, I was constantly fearful, perhaps of the consequences of simply being myself. That fear is still there at times, but far less so than in the past.

I’m really thankful for the ability to connect with my own neurosis the moment it occurs and to let it go in the moment as well. I feel the seething much more readily in my body now, and the discomfort kick starts adjustments that restore the ease – in both mind and body. It saves me having to fend off the regret later on because I could not get my agitated mind and body under control.

It’s still a work in progress. I still have fragile ego and still do set my antenna seeking perceived slights and fighting imaginary injustices. I still fight dissatisfaction, perfectionism, and impatience with people and things that I find stultifying. I work in a bureaucracy and some days there aren’t enough down-dogs in me to ward off the feeling that it’d be better if I shoved my head through a wall.

But the calm is starting to really take hold, I feel as much every day; a lightness I have not fully known since childhood. Even those bad days are not nearly as frequent or as intense as they once were. When I slip up I am aware more quickly of how it happened and how not to let it spiral out of control and light a fire through the day. For now, the nearby walls are safe, I suspect. I hope.

What helps is the increased ability to breathe deeply, paired with a much greater awareness of what my entire body feels like when it is too tense and reactive, and how this differs from how I feel when I am calm. I’ve been meditating for years, and I was able to connect with my mental sense of calm, but I did not register the degree of tension throughout the rest of my body. It was there, but it never struck me that it ought to be different. I assumed my burning knees were a necessary – if evil – aspect of sitting in meditation. Yoga has been essential in making my insight much more complete – and for alleviating my pain when I sit to meditate.

I am eternally grateful for the practice. Grateful to be here in one whole piece and not fragmented and feeling pulled in so many different directions by life. I am grateful to be capable of gratitude at all, instead of filled with cynicism. So, I’d like to share the insights I’ve had in my yoga practice with the hope if you’re struggling to find some peace of mind you will start down the path to changing that for yourself. Or, if you’re looking to be grateful for something when it seems like your habit is to be agitated or filled with dissatisfaction or ill-will, here’s something that may help with that. Maybe there’s some appeal in my experiences of yoga that encourage you to take actions to move beyond whatever it is within yourself that stands in the way of your joy and equanimity.

My Yoga - Anjali MudraUnity and Goodness

We tend to see the body and mind as two distinct spheres of our being, especially in the West. We are a mind over matter kind of people, a people who takes the body for granted and rests on the laurels of the mind’s ingenuity. We unconsciously abuse and mistreat our bodies for years and then rely on the techniques of mind – medicines, medical procedures and devices – to heal us when it breaks.

In reality the mind and body are inextricably linked; the body an almost perfect reflection of the mind, and certainly not something the will of the rationalizing mind is capable of mastering. Instead of dominating our bodies and willing our body to do as we please, yoga aims to strengthen harmony and awareness of ourselves by softening the clinging, externalizing mind with practices that “go inward.”

This should be a source of encouragement, even if your body seems ill-equipped for whatever it is you believe is yoga. You do not have to do poses that put your leg behind your head or have you balancing on your arms.There are steps well before that impressive end well worth taking. Just because some of us live to ninety and others live to fifty doesn’t mean you throw your hands up living. Do what you can with what you have. That is the principle. If you can open your eyes and breathe, you can do yoga.

The point is we can unravel the inner workings of our mind through conscious effort, without need of an MRI, or other technologies that require a direct examination of the brain to know what’s going on. We don’t need to look amazing in a photograph of ourselves posing. That is not the point of yoga.

The point is to gain awareness of ourselves by practices that orient our gaze away from externality and inward toward our bodies. This re-establishes awareness of the connection between body and mind and helps us to understand who we really are when we are free from the reactivity – which can be witnessed throughout our bodies. It takes lots of practice to get to that point but it is worth it because you begin to see far more similarities between yourself and others and all things if you stick to it. It softens the feelings of separation and alienation we can sometimes learn in this individualist culture we live in, which lead us into feeling as though we have to engage in combat with the universe to further our aims.

So, if we desire to feel good and be happy, one way to achieve that result is to cultivate good intentions within ourselves, doing so with diligent, regular practice and honest effort with that very simple aim in mind. The intention to practice. Simple. Not so simple once you start and see what lazy, novelty-starved, quick results-oriented Westerners we are.

In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga we begin with an opening chant to affirm the intention of practice. We are trying to get beyond the crazy un-reality of modern human life, to become more grand as beings than the impermanent artifacts of our material lives. The more we habituate to keeping the focus close to ourselves the more tenuous are the attachments tethering our feelings of happiness to external things. Most of all, we affirm and take responsibility for tending to ourselves, for being our own healers by practicing.

When you practice yoga with spiritual intention and not to achieve a nice body or to snap pictures of yourself doing cool asanas, you discover the fleeting and empty nature of the things you identify with; how they leave you with tension and agitation in your body for so long, for such little in return. In that respect, yoga can be a discovery, at least if practiced with a constant focus and effort. Just be careful to remain abreast of the intentions. At the start, be simple. Say to yourself ‘I intend to expend the effort, keep an open mind, and trust the process.’ Leave it at that.

The number of people injured in Ashtanga yoga attests to right intentions gone a awry because we bring our Western, goal-seeking egos to it. Just listen to your body as you practice diligently. Nobody has a body that lets them stretch until they tear a ligament. We do that by ignoring the signs our body is sending saying ‘please don’t’ and force our bodies to do the will of our striving mind. In this, the goal becomes about perfecting the pose on our timelines to the detriment of our bodies.

I’ve fought two major injuries since practicing that nobody except me is responsible for inflicting. It wasn’t the nature of the yoga, it wasn’t my teacher. It was me. My teacher can’t feel what my knee is telling me, he can only ask ‘is this okay?’ and trust when I say ‘oh yeah, it’s fine’ that I am really paying attention. I wasn’t. I was striving to finish Primary Series. That messed with my intentions and misguided my efforts.

Attentive listening and focus will guard against other, sometimes harmful intentions creeping into your practice. Erase the pictures you’ve seen of experienced yogis doing the asana in the Primary Series and focus on where your body is in the poses as you learn them (preferably Mysore style – sorry that’s my bias). Start with being good to yourself in this small way regularly and goodness will blossom from there outward. Be good to yourself first. Nothing teaches you how to approach that more than some of the poses in the Primary Series of Ashtanga. This is especially so if you’re like me tend to be self-critical, for reasons you’ll discover as you see yourself trying too hard – of not being nice to your body and inflicting needless pain – and then lightening up to really delve further into the poses.

You are Infinite

An antidote to the conditioning and reactivity, the constant motion of modern life is to still yourself long enough to get a good look at what’s going on inside your body and mind, to discover the essence of your being as it is, not to identify with the self who is engaged in the fast-paced auto-pilot that emerges from living among such busyness. You can see how your conditioned mind, your ego, has fashioned certain patterns of thinking, perceiving and behaving to help you cope and function in the world. You realize that identity is merely a relative thing, it isn’t real. It is the person we’ve erected through our experiences, by cherry-picking attributes we believe are most functional in the environment we typically find ourselves in. They help us get through, but they are not who we are; not entirely, at least.

This is where it begins.

This is where it begins. Those are feet, by the way. If you practice you will be surprised how distant you and your feet have grown over the years. I just met my feet a few months ago. They’re not bad peeps, actually.

Your thoughts, opinions, tastes, preferences, job, role, gender, or ethnicity is not the totality of who you are as a human being. Those are merely the scaffolding for the identity you’ve built, which is instilled with traits, perhaps by others, perhaps re-inforced by your own behaviours, but which you continue to cling to for your own reasons. But identity seen in this way is the narrowest version of your true self.

Although our identities serve a purpose to help us function in the world, it is not necessary to cling to them as if they were permanent or real, especially in settings where it is unnecessary to maintain those roles, such as when at home with friends or loved ones, or when alone. To do so is to limit the range of possibilities that exist in your life; to perceive yourself, others, and the circumstances of your existence as though they were basically parts of the same narrow reality you’ve created in your mind.

To break this habit requires a different, wider perspective, which is how practicing something like yoga or other meditative, ego-softening practices can help. A new perspective is possible. This is of so much value to anyone suffering from emotional or psychological illness rooted in distortions in perception that emerge early in our formative years; that keep most of us repeating particular behaviours that stand in the way of our own growth and wisdom.

Your mind is reflected throughout your body

When in the middle of a stressful day, stop and notice your breath. When you’ve just received a terse, accusatory, or pushy e-mail and are in the midst of a mental reaction, notice your posture. You’re driving home and someone cuts you off, or honks at you for no reason. Is your breath shallow and quick? Is your face taut? Your shoulders hunched up and forward? Are you slouching in your seat? Do you have tightness in your chest and hips? Are your eyebrows raised? Are you hyperventilating? Is your finger raised and your mouth shouting the words “go fuck yourself asshole!” Even though you never set out to be an irate cabbie from the Bronx you’re suddenly an irate cabbie from the Bronx.

Watch a young child moving actively. Notice how supple they are as the bounce off walls and contort their bodies in unfathomable ways. We are not born inflexible, but made that way by our habits and conditioning. Everyone’s identity has varying degrees of reactivity, anger, anxiety, need for control, dominance, escape, denial, or avoidance of reality.

The patterns arise in our early emotional development and the defenses we erect to guard our psychic need for security become common features of how we relate to the world. The nature of these behaviours can be discerned right there in your taut hamstrings, your clenching jaw, your inability to breathe deeply, your inflexible hips, and your wandering eyes, especially in difficult poses. The asana reveal in unmistakeable ways the nature of how we deal with change, adversity, and even the joys in life. For this reason, asana can be discomforting, literally and figuratively.

Hold a challenging pose to the count of five deep breaths. If you can reach the count of five without an interceding thought or undulation in your body, you may very well be the next Buddha. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ll be struggling to perfect the pose, or thinking “shit, this hurts,” looking between your legs to see how well the next guy is posing, or trying to unclench a twitchy muscle.

You won’t be breathing fully; you won’t be relaxed or grounded, most likely. That is the nature of our minds. It loves to order reality, opine, stir you into action, control, react, resist, force things, stimulate, arouse or avoid, and it does so in infinitely clever ways. And most often, it does so with a sense of urgency that is unsettling; that is wrought with either too much tension or total capitulation to the gravity of the circumstances.

What would any article about spirituality be without an artful image involving a cat?

What would any article about spirituality be without an artful image invoking the cuteness of a cat? Meee-om. (Sorry, I could not resist)

Yoga can help you understand the flavour of those tendencies by connecting awareness of the thoughts to the tension or floundering in your body. By being able to relax the tension in some places, and bring energy and alertness to others you can lighten the urgency within the mind; which seized your body with its panic or fear. Body awareness is an alternate channel into consciousness when reality is highly arousing and has stirred the mind into habitual coping behaviours that bypass our consciousness, which limits our ability to impart wisdom into the circumstances.

That alternate gateway to an awareness of the mind’s instability can help introduce just a split second between the arousing event and behaviours propelled by reactivity. The awareness allows the opportunity to apply the techniques in yoga that re-introduce calm and stability to the mind by yoking our perception of things to our own true nature, rather than mooring it to external provocations that stir our egos into action. A mind that is pointed and alert, but calm and tethered to its own sense of morality and goodness, is much more attuned to the needs of any given moment than one that is overly aroused and easily caught in the grip of reactivity. The result is a being whose nature will be more happy and free, and whose conduct will be more skillful and wise.

Yoga is a spiritual practice that cultivates greater awareness and identification with our own intrinsic nature – understanding the nature of the energy we possess and the energy we project into the world through our actions and intentions. It isn’t just about mastering poses, and it isn’t just about ‘feeling good.’ It isn’t just one type of practice, but many. These methods connect the practitioner with his innate wisdom in order to relate to other beings and phenomena in the world in a spirit of harmony and goodness. The growth, an end that cannot be known at the outset, is in the process; the process of doing, and with focus and concentration, the discovery as the process unfolds.

So, just go do it. Go and practice, as guruji instructs. “Yoga is ninety-nine percent practice and one percent theory.”

Guruji. Namaste.

Guruji Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

 

Inner Peace. Who Wants a Piece?

In my early-thirties I became increasingly curious about spirituality and other practices that appeared to offer the promise of calm and inner peace. I’d spent most of my life mired in distractions, chasing achievements, self-improving; always fighting the feeling that I was late to the party and came wearing the wrong outfit. If I wasn’t spending late nights on the job to make my mark, I was frantically trying to raise my intellectual bar higher to cultivate an urbane mind to pad my accomplishments. I was a classic Type-A personality of the species hubris overachieveritas academicus. I was bright, clever, and capable, but also chronically unhappy, anxious and agitated. I never felt relaxed and constantly battled the urge to psychologically slip out of my own skin.

This is my old attitude. It's still kinda funny in an asshole-ish kinda way.

Sarcasm is hilarious – so long as it’s not you who’s pissed off enough to be unleashing it all the time.

I was aware of exotic “new-agey things” like yoga and buddhism, and attracted by the sense of calm and groundedness it offered, but was skeptical. I believed people who were outwardly calm were seething cauldrons of rage just waiting to boil over – like me. I was convinced the world was going to shit, that it was ruled by thugs, thieves, and troglodytes, and that all with a conscience were right to be pissed off about it. The idea of “mindfulness” and dubious fitness trends like yoga were soothing antidotes for personal setbacks, but weren’t contributing much to end the insanity I perceived as the undoing of the human race. It never occurred to me then that the locus of my perception of insanity, my grim outlook, was at the heart of the problem.

Today, I accept many things are beyond the grasp of reason, especially in human affairs. I don’t presume my mind is capable of accurately diagnosing the world’s ails or fabricating ideas to fix them. That project is flawed in intention and doomed by its very design. I aim to be one less active part of the problem by taking steps to become more mindful of how I conduct myself; a task which must necessarily begin by banishing a half dozen pathologies from my mind.

In my twenties, I was unknowingly doing my best to soil the planet with well-intentioned, but objectively dodgy ideas and conduct. These days I do my best to apply mindful restraint to prevent the unleashing of my culturally pre-ordained sociopathy on the world. I am aware of habits of mind that influence my perception of things, which leans far too readily to the grim and cynical. I began to let go of trying to fit the world in my mind and force it to unfold according to my plans. It’s made for a much more calm and peaceful existence, and yoga and meditation are what brought me to that place.

Before I took up the practices I would have easily tried to intellectually shake down a Buddhist or a yogi to debate them about the virtues of their “religion.” I mostly thought of spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and Desmond Tutu as good people on the whole, but fatally flawed in a way that simply had been well hidden from public view. I gave them props for spreading a positive message – the left-of-centre ideologue in me was attracted to the rebellious, emancipatory spirit of “Free Tibet” – but I wasn’t buying what I they were selling. Christopher Hitchens’ bilious assault on the alleged fraud of Mother Teresa’s crusade against poverty was emblematic of the kind of cynicism I harboured about “spiritual” movements, which I viewed as one of many in a string of dangerous assaults on reason.

As much as I thought sitting on a cushion doing nothing but “relaxing” and putting my legs behind my head was – logically speaking – ridiculous I was still intrigued by the promise of inner peace to fully discount the ideas. By my mid-thirties, when life had handed me a few more disappointments and unexpected turns than I anticipated, the abysmal coping mechanisms of my “reason” had me desperately craving a piece of the Peace I heard was within my grasp but did not really believe. I may have been suspicious of the Dalai Lama, but his happiness and radiance, in spite of living in exile and witnessing the cultural genocide of his people, suggested he was doing something right. It seemed worth a try.

My initial curiousity was piqued by falling into an old habit: I did a lot of reading about buddhism, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness. I bought some buddha statues and put them around my home. I bought a couple yoga videos and went to a hot class or two. I even contemplated getting a buddha tattoo. I listened to Dalai Lama talks on CDs. Like a good North American I started the process of spiritual exploration by cultivating an identity around my sense of what it meant to be a peaceful dude without actually being a peaceful dude. However, the same basic message of the books I dug into over pints of beer and bags of chips was unavoidable: practice, practice, practice. Don’t read, don’t ponder, don’t muse and banter about meditation or yoga, they implored. Do a regular, disciplined practice.

I felt initially that this kind of approach was too soft to achieve much. Plus, I was reluctant to fully embrace being nice and mellow as a way to smooth over my abrasive persona. My ego had hardened around the idea that it was me against the world and I was apprehensive about softening the armour I’d put up, especially in my line of work at the time. I didn’t want to be a tree-hugging pushover. I was also an ardent rationalist, genuinely frightened of becoming a blinkered bliss junky. My identity was caught up in the idea that there was virtue in being a skilled, consummate critic. To a degree, maybe there is, but I found that it just dug me deeper and deeper into a pit of negativity that was difficult to crawl out of when I wanted relief; when I wanted to not be angry and indignant, to let loose, just for while.

In spite of my negative, cynical self, in 2006 I gave yoga and meditation a real college-try. I haven’t looked back. Sure, there have been ebbs and flows in the regularity of how I practice. I am a quick-fix Westerner, after all.

Certainly, I’ve slipped into old habits of negativity – they were thirty-some years in the making. But I’ve stuck with it and the practices have changed my life for the better. I am happy to report that I can still reason and judge, I just do so with a more open mind and come away from the exercise without being singed by a seething cauldron of outrage.

This Work is no Walk in the Park

Even now, seven years after exploring a meditation and yoga practice the thought “what

Marichyasana A. At first, me getting into this pose was like trying wrestle a wild boar to the ground. Now it's just like trying to hug a galloping pony.

Marichyasana A. At first, me getting into this pose was like trying wrestle a wild boar to the ground. Now it’s just like trying to hug a galloping pony.

bloody good is all this?” still creeps into my mind. The doubt is especially intense at six in the morning at Mysore, when I am falling over balancing on one leg while holding the other suspended in the air by the toe (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana). My pride is shaken when, from across the room, my instructor catches me stealing a furtive glance at the sublime curves of the down-dogging yogini in front of me and quietly, calmly exclaims “look at your nose, Edmund.” Many mornings as I struggle to get my arms to wrap behind me and around my knee and fold into a forward bend (Marichyasana A) I muse about the relative attractiveness of sleep in my cozy bed and curse myself for the decision to come so early to a room of organic farts, sweaty, unwashed bodies, and the amplified Darth Vader din so characteristic of Mysore class.

Some mornings I fantasize about driving back and forth over my zafu cushion as I sit in the wee hours, the sleep still in my eyes, with feet that have ceased to exist and knees that feel like they’ve been through a New York Yankees batting practice. I feel my frustration starting to build as I obsess about my grocery list, remember bills I have to pay, and re-hash conversations where I wish I’d said something more poignant, more funny to score points (usually with a woman who is much too young for me). I find myself repeatedly humming the same annoying jingle, or realize I am mentally masturbating on the image of the yogini in front of me at yesterday’s Mysore class and feeling embarrassed for having been busted by my teacher.

My timer rings and I have to fight the feeling of failure about the fact that, over the past thirty minutes, I’d had maybe three minutes of darn good focus on my breath and twenty seven in the jungle swinging from tree to tree, beating my chest and throwing shit like the unruly monkey my mind happens to be. The success is that I sat there. I got those three minutes, which is better than nothing. I also became a little more familiar with what makes my little Curious George throw shit and get jumpy. It’s insight I can use later on.

This inner-focused, meditative stuff is maddeningly difficult for me, and I’d bet its probably so for most constantly distracted, perpetually busy North Americans. It was much easier training to run half marathons than it is to sit and focus on the breath and mindfully set the body in various poses. It was hard to keep up a good practice when I was suffering emotionally during the early stages of my separation and sobbing in a perpetual state of semi-catatonia.

This is all to say that sometimes – often, frankly – it isn’t easy work. Yoga isn’t just “stretching” – especially if you choose Ashtanga or Vinyasa Flow. Meditation isn’t just “thinking.” Meditation definitely is not as glamourous as the posters of a peaceful saffron-robed monk sitting serenely in front of a giant Buddha statue in an exotic Asian locale. Yoga is not as glitzy as the photo-shoots of air-brushed naked toe-sock-wearing yoginis depict. Both are a lot more gritty than that in reality. There’s pain, and sweat and lots of frustration. There are tears, anger, and eventually, laughter.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose). Okay, I'm an Ashtanga purist in saying this, but she should really be holding her to and looking to her right, but you get the idea, the pose is an ego killer and makes for some fun times in a crowded class. Try it and see.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose). Okay, I’m an Ashtanga purist in saying this, but she should really be holding her toe and looking off her right shoulder, but you get the idea, the pose is an ego killer and makes for some fun times in a crowded class. Try it and see.

I am grateful for the serendipity that got me sun-saluting on the mat and sitting on the cushion; that compelled me to give it a try and to stick with it when at first it really sucked. When I was lamenting the fact that my life had turned to shit back in 2006 and I wanted to hurl myself off a bridge, instead of blanketing myself in booze or addiction I just said, “what do I have to lose with this buddhism and yoga stuff?” I started to regularly roll out my yoga mat at home and practiced to yoga videos from a box set that someone had given as a gift. We didn’t really do yoga and I remembered looking at the DVD box set thinking, “Isn’t Muriel Hemmingway an actress, and who is this Rodney Yee guy with the really long, healthy hair? What are these two waifs going to teach me about fitness?” I gave it a try anyway.

At the same time, I started going to dharma teachings and soon signed up for meditation retreats. I sat for a meditation session daily, no matter how short. For the first time in my life I started to experience genuine calm, even if only ephemerally. Old habits die hard. I wasn’t a walking dove and giving hugs to the homeless, but I could see changes in the way I was coping with things that had, in the past, sent my mind in a cycling frenzy.

I am glad I had the faith to just try it and stick with it, even though “results,” whatever I thought they’d be, were hard to come by. I am able to say without any equivocation that, if I had not spent the previous years cultivating a robust meditation practice before I separated from my wife in late 2011 I would not be writing this article today. I’d be in a pine box, or dust in the wind. I simply did not have a positive outlook or any functional method to bring me out of my tendency to stew in the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions that so easily germinated in my mind. When I first separated from my wife, a woman I’d been with eighteen years, the seeds spawned in my emotional garden were of the hemlock variety.

Negative thoughts and emotions still arise – that will never change – but after I’d taken up yoga and meditation I no longer instinctively repressed them under the din of activity or distraction. Nor did I get so wrapped up in them for as long as I had before. I became more able to confront my strong emotions about things and just let them be without needing to “do something” about them. It was extraordinary progress in my level of self-awareness and emotional growth.

I won’t tell a lie, I’m not even close to being the next buddha. I am still far too enamoured of bacon and the taste of other inhumanely slaughtered flesh tearing to pieces between my teeth; I am still neurotic, slightly compulsive, and just a tad more indulgent than I should be because of my Attention Deficit Disorder. I’d have to bribe someone on high to claim just a sliver of real estate on the spiritual pedestal. I am too flawed to be a sage, and I’m just fine with that. There aren’t any bodhi trees where I live anyway, so I’m out of luck.

At the same time, I am much less a slave to my neuroses and the dysfunction they perpetuate than I used to be. I am not the negative person I used to be, nor am I so easily attracted to other negative people. If I can change, anyone can. The change can occur without over-reliance on anti-depressants and psychotherapy, which leave you with wait gain, a loss in libido, and quite a few bucks lighter in the wallet. The point I want to make here is that there is something else to try. Work at it, and give it time, and see what happens.

Two months of unlimited yoga classes at my studio costs just a little more than one session with a shrink. Meditation is free – other than the one-time cost of a cushion – and a dharma class costs whatever you want to offer in terms of dana. These are modest investments for sake of one’s well-being and much more assured of results than anti-depressants and shrinks alone.

Carve just twenty minutes away from tweeting, facebooking, porn-surfing, gaming or any of the multiple distractions you’re using to titillate your stimulus-craving mind and use the time to sit in meditation. Instead of beating your body into submission at the gym or on the track, try yoga a few times a week; maybe repair some of the damage you’ve done to that vessel of yours because you’ve subjected it to so much stress and mindless activity.

Instead of hiding under the blanket of meds and psychoanalysis, go on a scavenger hunt. Suss out your demons and look them square in the eyes. See how they look when you’re not running away. All you’ve got to do is sit, or hold a pose and attend to your breath; wait for them to make an appearance. When you’ve done your sessions over and over again with your demons trying to spook you out of your practice, the realization that you’re okay, that you’re still in one piece, will diminish the their ability to mess with your mind. You will win, in your own way. Your monkey will be off your back and on your leash, I just know it.

Just Have Faith – In Yourself

What's it gonna be? Mindless distraction or meditation?

What’s gonna be better for ya, Snooki or meditation and yoga? It’s like the choice between heroin and a fruit salad, isn’t it?

Just do the practices and see for yourself, preferably without fettering your experience with a bunch of expectations about what it’s all supposed to be about. Most of us are conditioned to see every thing we do in the world instrumentally, in terms of how it suits our aims. Not everything worthwhile can be quantified and evaluated like a capital investment, and neither can we apprehend everything that is worthwhile in the world from the jumping off point of our own minds. It’s all really about the process, which you have to allow to unfold as it does for you.

It’s difficult to believe this at first because the practices are deceptively simple and yet extremely difficult in the application. They have to be done with energy, effort, and focus – end of story. Yoga and meditation aren’t rightly approached as part of an ego-project to chalk up another achievement – that of enlightenment. They are, simply put, transformative in such a profoundly positive, impactful way for each who practices.

The only faith required for this practice is in yourself and in the process. If you don’t have a clue what that process is, find a teacher and follow their instructions with diligence. A cautionary word of advice for anyone coming to the practice on the promise of a quick fix: that attitude will be the greatest hindrance to your practice. There is nothing to “fix”. You’re lost, not broken, and the rescue mission is going to take time, especially if you’ve been running away from yourself for a long while.

Practice to free your mind from the layers and layers of conditioning you’ve been subjected to your whole life, that have sent you grasping into the world with endless desire in your heart. You are not the sum total of your cravings and reactions to the frenzied drama of modernity; you are not the hungry ghost of your conditioning. The practice of looking closely into your body and mind will gradually unearth the human being you really are. Aren’t you the least bit curious to know who that person is, after all these years?

Dalai Lama on Love and Freedom

It’s wisdom we all feel in our hearts is true, but it takes practice to actually live this wisdom in our lives everyday.

Life: A Drama Worth Celebrating

It is easy to get swallowed up in the drama of our own lives, especially when you’ve suffered a series of setbacks. Over the past few years a combination of spiritual and physical practices have tenuously kept the seeds of disillusionment from blossoming and overtaking my spirit. At the same time, the state of my personal life has been in precipitous decline, coming to its nadir in 2012. I have to confess, it’s been a particularly diffident struggle to go beyond my safe bubble of neuroses to look for a bright side beyond those comfortable edges.

The year 2012 opened with the demise of my marriage to a woman I’d been with nearly nineteen years. Leaving the home I shared with she and my twins for the last time felt like the beginnings of a steep, treacherous climb over a mountain to an alien existence that awaited me on the other side. It felt as though I had to make the trek with missing limbs and an obliterated heart.

In late Spring I learned I was to lose my job. The ousting of dozens of colleagues who gave their lives to public service saved my skin, for now at least. It was all part of a purging by politicians harbouring a pathological disdain for civil servants. These ideologues are still my masters, at least in the abstract, and they crack the whip at the backs of my eviscerated co-workers and I who are left to tend our hollowed-out departments. I’m a black man, and I should have serious misgivings about working for a cadre of angry, craven white men who despise what I stand for. But it’s a paycheque, so I bury my head and plod on.

In late 2005, both of my twins were diagnosed with a developmental disorder with no known cause or cure. The diagnosis forced us to move away from a city and lives we loved to the city I grew up in so we could affordably access behavioural therapy. It was an uprooting predicated on the faint hope the non-medical therapy would pay off in the future. With that move I left a dream job in a city bustling with opportunity for a hometown I was all too happy to forever leave behind seven years earlier. My career has stalled ever since; it is a small, provincial, working-class place where a graduate liberal-arts education and experience in international affairs are as in-demand as butter knives in a butcher shop.

The strain of so many setbacks, so much hardship, and so much uncertainty about the future was too much for my marriage to withstand. I became detached and ambivalent; made so by the shabby circumstances that cast a cloud over my perception of what life had become. I shut out the world closest to me, maniacally pursuing one distraction after another to bury my anger and sadness in the haze of constant motion.

In my absence, my wife looked to others for support and we weathered the storm mostly in isolation, fortifying our castles of resentment and dredging deep moats of hostility along the way. Our focus was on getting by; attending to the kids’ special needs to forge a better future for them. The strong relationship we built over so many years was left unattended, and after years of steady decline it eventually crumbled from the neglect.

There is no silk purse to be made from the sow’s ear. In 2005, life burnt my happy house down. I took some embers from the ashes of my blissful existence and held them in my bitter heart. In the years that followed I scattered them far and wide until the earth all around me was scorched and those closest to me were singed by the inferno.

I contrast the path of mental destruction I chose to confront my setbacks to the tack taken by two women my age who have been diagnosed with cancer. One of these is a personal friend, the other an old school mate I knew several years ago, who I greatly admired and respected for her heart, her supreme intellect, and the fact she could play a mean bass in a punk band.

Catherine has taken to sharing her story about her treatment and the disruptions caused by her disease in candid, lengthy e-mails with her varied networks of friends. Over the past two years she’s undergone aggressive chemotherapy for a type of leukemia that rarely strikes forty year-olds. Initially she had it licked, but over the past half-year it has made a comeback and has forced her into a second round of chemotherapy. At the same time, she lost her job, got cut off by her long-term disability provider, and her mother passed away.

She writes with such frankness and humour about her ordeal, and I relish the chance she’s given me to be a fly on the wall through her experiences, even if it has been tough reading. Tough reading. It seems ridiculous to even write it out. I’m not the one throwing up and changing sweat-soaked sheets from a perpetual fever. It’s striking how active Catherine keeps herself, and how neither anger nor bitterness seem to trip her up as she goes. She’s not opting out of things, in spite of her sickness, and in spite of the people who’ve run away from she and her cancer. I assume her story is too difficult for some; maybe they don’t know what to say. It seems like the wrong approach.

Catherine’s had more of a life in recent years than I have; she is less dragged down by negativity. It’s an embarrassing reality given she’s had to overcome aggressive chemotherapy, anemia, fevers, nausea, all-encompassing fatigue and dozens upon dozens of tests, appointments, drainings and proddings. My only excuses are laziness, self-pity, dispiritedness, and apathy.

About a year ago I noticed some of Lisa’s facebook updates alluded to cancer, but the turmoil in my own affairs turned my mind away from social media, and I did not fully grasp the specifics. As I pulled out of my haze in summer I noticed regular updates of bike trips and other active adventures throughout Europe, which I took as encouraging news. If she had cancer, she must surely have it licked, and was savouring the normalcy re-gained. What a relief, I thought. A true champion in the battle against the world’s misanthropes had been restored to good health.

I was mistaken. In November Lisa decided to share her experience about the Stage IV cancer that has caught her in its grasp. She refers to herself as being in ‘Stage V’ cancer – “not just palliative, but writing a blog about it.” Wittiness and good humour, even in the face of such trying circumstances.

So there it was, in my facebook newsfeed. Lisa was gravely ill and in the fight of her life. She writes:

It’s been one year slash 12 months slash 366 days of cancer.  It’s been simultaneously the fastest year of my life and the slowest. Words that I never knew existed have become part of my everyday lexicon: pleurodesis, chemotherapy, gamma-knives.  My bathroom and bedroom are filled with medicines whose awkward names now roll easily off my tongue: metaclopamide, dexamethazone, cyclazine.  My previous life of teaching and libraries, conferences and abstracts, has been eclipsed by clinics and CT scans, second opinions and canulas. And an existence that was previously metered out in words per page has become one where writing, and even reading, has faded into the background.

I was despondent after reading her blog post. Lisa is thirty-seven, which is too young to be suffering from Stage IV lung cancer. It was the first time in a long while my sadness wasn’t brimming from the well of self-pity. Nothing in what I had faced this past year, or the years’ prior, was of the life-threatening variety. For now at least, I can count on the relative certainty of being alive to wallow in my misfortunes.

Well, enough of that, I should think.

At least I don’t have to face cancer like Lisa and Catherine. Not yet anyhow, and I shouldn’t squander the good fortune to have my health intact. My problems aren’t small, but they aren’t, relatively speaking, as grave as life and death.

With eyes open I can see the scale of my problems in their proper light. It isn’t a competition, but it is a fact that alters my perception of things. It makes me slightly ashamed for all the brooding I’ve been doing, for the volume of time that’s been gnashed away with angry teeth and spit out. I wish I could take it all back and give it to these two courageous women fighting cancer – or to the millions of others doing the same. They would put it to better use than I did.

The magnitude of the developments in 2005 was conflated in my mind because of all the changes it wrought. I am ashamed to admit my view of things until then had been remarkably self-referential. My eyes were gazing far into my navel when my troubles came, and I wasn’t habituated to looking for the positives when things got off track. It’s a vicious cycle that taints your worldview.

When you veer in this direction a resignation sets in your mind to the idea that you are a powerless victim of omnipotent forces. You tread water and leave your fate to the four winds instead of finding the determination to work with what life hands you. It’s taken time to come to the realization that, with focused effort, you can at least shape the direction of things. Sometimes you get to a better place, other times you end up somewhere else. The virtue is in the honest attempt to swim with the tide.

The truth is, the world is indifferent to your feelings about what unfolds; nothing happens to smite you or better your station. When calamity strikes, you’ve still got some control over how to approach things in your mind: with anger, denial, and bitterness, or acceptance and determination to prevail with dignity. It’s the lesson I take away from these women sharing their tumultuous cancer journey with the world.

The energy they put into living their lives to the fullest extent possible, to finding the positives wherever they can be found, is a genuine source of wisdom and truth. There is no boiling over with indignation at the hand they’ve been dealt. Instead it’s a business-like moving forward day by day. The outlook resonates at a time when the struggles in my own life have been intense. My heart wants to reach out in a meaningful way to embrace these women in their journey, and that spirit is a source of inner-strength for me. It’s what I need to pull up my socks.

Nothing in the world is meant to go right or wrong and nothing lasts forever, try as I might to hang on as if it were so. Things will go as they go, and I’ve got to go with them or end up in a haze of denial. It’s no way to live; with a mind resistant to reality because things didn’t go as expected, according to a blueprint sketched out by a blind man with lofty, unrealistic ideals. It’s easier, I think, to throw away the master plan than it is to keep coming to blows with a world that never seems to fall in line.

I’ll leave it to Catherine to remind me of a more fruitful approach to living life, however it comes:

Waiting is a BIG part of Cancer Life. A tremendous amount of patience is needed. I live day by day. I will admit that some days are better and easier than others. For my own overall health and happiness, I do my best not to worry about tomorrow. I have more than enough people in my life that do the worrying for me. I continue to take on each challenge, setback, and struggle as it comes. I mindfully pick and choose my battles. In the meantime, I embrace every aspect of Life. Even in moments of crisis, I can and am allowed to find reasons to celebrate. After having personally been to Cancer Hell, the good moments – no matter how big or small – are all worth a celebration. Life is a constant blessing. I have learned to celebrate and enjoy the little things in my Life; one day I may look back on all of this and realize they were big things.