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We grow, including the intellectual and the spiritual, without being deeply aware of it. In fact, some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is what is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or person who explained it to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. I remember the waves of anxiety that used to engulf me at different periods in my life, always manifesting itself in physical disorders (sleeplessness, for instance) and how frightened I was because I did not understand how this was possible.

With age and experience, you will be happy to know, growth becomes a conscious, recognized process. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.

– pulitzer prize-winning author alice walker from her collection of essays living by the word.

alice-in-her-garden

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alice walker on the sometimes confusing process of growth

08/28/13

7 questions you are too scared to ask

08/20/13 1 Comment

7-questions-scared

introspection can be a scary thing sometimes.  people are afraid of what they’ll find in their subconscious.  other times, we know our problems (maybe even the answers) but it’s easier to not think about them.  whatever the reasoning, it’s always best to work out our difficulties in order to progress.

marc chernoff of marc and angel hack life poses some great questions to help us assess where we are right now and what we can do to move forward.  check them out below:

1.  Based on my daily routines and actions, where can I expect to be in five years?

This is your life story and you are the only author.  If you’re feeling like you’ve been stuck in the same setting for too long, it’s time to start writing a new chapter of your life.  The plot structure is simple:  Doing nothing gets you nothing.  Doing the wrong things gets you the wrong things.  Doing the same things gets you the same things.  Your story only changes when you make changes.

If you have an idea about what you want the next chapter of your life to look like, you have to DO things that support this idea.  An idea, after all, isn’t going to do anything for you until you do something productive with it.  In fact, as long as that great idea is just sitting around in your head it’s probably doing far more harm than good.

Your subconscious mind knows you’re procrastinating on something that’s important to you.  The necessary work that you keep postponing causes stress, anxiety, fear, and usually more procrastination – a vicious cycle that continues to worsen until you interrupt it with ACTION.

Progress in life is always measured by the fact that you’ve taken new action.  If there’s no new action, you haven’t truly made any progress.

2.  Are the people around me helping me or hurting me?

A big part of who you become in life has to do with who you choose to surround yourself with.  And as you know, it is better to be alone than in bad company.  You simply cannot expect to live a positive, fulfilling life if you surround yourself with negative people.

Distancing yourself from these people is never easy, but it’s a lot harder when they happen to be close friends or family members.  As hard as it may be, it’s something you need to address.  To a certain degree, luck controls who walks into your life, especially as it relates to your family and childhood friends, but you decide who you spend the majority of your time with.

If someone close to you is truly draining you, be honest about it.  Be kind, but communicate your point of view.  Tell them you love them, and that you want to be around them, but you need their help.  Remember, most problems, big and small, within a family and close friends, start with bad communication.  If this other person is draining you, and you haven’t talked about it, they may not even know.

At the end of the day, you should surround yourself with people who make you a better person and distance yourself those who don’t.  (Read The How of Happiness.)

3.  How have I been draining my own happiness?

In life, you become what you repeatedly think about.  If your thoughts and behaviors aren’t helping you, they’re hurting you.  Other people and outside events can influence you, but happiness is ultimately an inside job.  You have to disconnect external influences and achievements from happiness and give yourself permission to be happy, in each moment, without the need for anything more.

This isn’t to say that you should be complacent.  You can still set goals, work hard, interact with others, and grow, but you must learn to indulge joyously in the journey, not the destination.

What you need to realize is that all you ever truly have are your thoughts towards the present moment.  Every moment is very similar; the details are just details.  If you say something like, “If I had more than what I have now, I would be happier,” you are sadly mistaken.  Because if you are not at all happy with what you have now, you will not be any happier if it were doubled.  It’s just more of the same.

The bottom line is that you have everything you need to be happy or unhappy right now.  It just depends on how you think about it.  Will you be grateful for what you have, and find joy in it?  Or will concentrate on what you don’t have, and never, ever feel like you have enough?  The choice is yours to make.

4.  What excuses am I making?

As George Washington once said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

Truth be told, if you are good at making excuses, you will never be good at anything else.  No matter what the obstacles are that you see in front of you, the only thing truly standing between you and what you want is the excuse you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.

When something is a priority, it gets done.  Period.  And it’s not what we claim are our priorities, but how we spend our time each day that reveals the truth.  You can make excuses.  You can always try to wait for the perfect moment, the perfect this, the perfect that… but it won’t get you anywhere.

To get where you want to go you just have to start DOING.  It makes all the difference.  Making excuses takes the same amount of time as making progress.  (Read The Power of Habit.)

5.  What mistakes do I fear most?

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

When you find your path, and you know what needs to be done, you must not be scared.  You need to find the courage to make mistakes.  Mistakes lead to disappointments and defeat in the short term, but they also teach you what you need to know in the long-term.  Mistakes are the tools life uses to show you the way forward.

Someday when you look back over your life you’ll realize that nearly all of your worries and anxious fears never came to fruition – they were completely unfounded.  So why not wake up and realize this right now.  When you look back over the last few years, how many opportunities for joy did you destroy with needless fear about making a mistake?  Although there’s nothing you can do about these lost joys, there’s plenty you can do about the ones that are still to come.

6.  How have past rejections lowered my self-confidence?

NOT believing that you CAN is the biggest trap of them all.  If you don’t know your own greatness is possible, you won’t bother attempting anything great.  Period.

All too often we let the rejections of our past dictate every move we make thereafter.  We literally do not know ourselves to be any better than what some opinionated person or narrow circumstance once told us was true.  Of course, this old rejection doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough; it means the other person or circumstance failed to align with what we have to offer.  It means we have more time to improve our thing – to build upon our ideas, to perfect our craft, and indulge deeper in to the work that moves us

Don’t let old rejections take up permanent residence in your head.  Kick them out on the street.  Realize that you sometimes you have to try to do what you think you can’t do, so you realize that you actually CAN.  And sometimes it takes more than one attempt.  If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out, don’t fret; the alphabet has another 25 letters that would be happy to give you a chance to get it right.  The wrong choices usually bring us to the right places, eventually.  You just have to believe in your own potential to get there.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Relationships” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

7.  When did my life fall so far out of balance?

Be diligent and committed to what you’re trying to achieve, but also make sure you leave time for pleasure and exploration in other areas of your life as well.  It is not enough to succeed at one specific goal or to conquer one particular area of expertise; you also have to take part in the different, beautiful dimensions of your life… while you can, while there’s still time.

Lift your head up from your work every now and then and take a long walk, hold hands with your beloved, go fishing, spend time with your friends, swim, bask in the sunlight, try something new, meditate, breathe deep, or sit quietly for a while and contemplate the goodness around you.

In other words, balance yourself – work diligently toward your goals and dreams, but don’t ignore every other aspect of your life.  Keep your mind fresh, your body active and alive, and your relationships nurtured.  Do so, and the things you want most in life will come more naturally.

Afterthoughts

Life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to ask enough of the right ones that ultimately leads you to an understanding of yourself and your purpose.

You can spend your life wallowing in fear by avoiding the obvious, or asking negative questions like, “Why me?”  Or you can be grateful that you’ve made it this far – that you’re strong enough to breathe, walk and think for yourself – and then ask, “Where do I want to go next?”

Your turn…

We would love to hear your perspective.  Please pick one or more of the seven questions above and leave a comment below with your answer.

related: 7 reasons why you’re not maxing out your potential

so let’s talk about suicide

08/02/13 4 Comments

recently, i read mary karr‘s poem “suicide’s note: an annual”, which she wrote in response to her friend david foster wallace hanging himself.  i wanted to share it with you just for literary reasons.  however, i thought it might be a good opportunity to discuss the larger issue of suicide.  i know it’s an uncomfortable topic for some, but we should devote some attention/thought to it instead of ignoring/avoiding.

let’s start by reading karr’s poem over a few times below (via poetry mag).  i’ll use some of the lines as a springboard into the broader talk:

Suicide’s Note: An Annual
Mary Karr

I hope you’ve been taken up by Jesus
though so many decades have passed, so far apart we’d grown
     between love transmogrifying into hate and those sad letters
           and phone calls and your face vanishing into a noose that
I couldn’t
     today name the gods
           you at the end worshipped, if any, praise being
impossible for the devoutly miserable. And screw my church who’d
     roast in Hell poor suffering
           bastards like you, unable to bear the masks
of their own faces. With words you sought to shape
     a world alternate to the one that dared
           inscribe itself so ruthlessly across your eyes, for you
could not, could never
     fully refute the actual or justify the sad heft of your body, earn
           your rightful space or pay for the parcels of oxygen you
inherited. More than once you asked
     that I breathe into your lungs like the soprano in the opera
           I loved so my ghost might inhabit you and you ingest my belief
in your otherwise-only-probable soul. I wonder does your
     death feel like failure to everybody who ever
           loved you as if our collective CPR stopped
too soon, the defib paddles lost charge, the corpse
     punished us by never sitting up. And forgive my conviction
           that every suicide’s an asshole. There is a good reason I am not
God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.
     I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite
           your best efforts you are every second
alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in,
     each set of lungs, those rosy implanted wings, pink balloons.
          We sigh you out into air and watch you rise like rain.

“With words you sought to shape/ a world alternate to the one that dared/ inscribe itself so ruthlessly across your eyes”: wallace’s 2005 commencement speech @ kenyon college continues to inspire to this day.  here’s a fancy clip from it (directed by matthew friedell).

that wallace was able to uplift others while being bogged down by a depression that ultimately pushed him to end his life is inspiring in its own right.  also, when you think about the times when people are shocked by a suicide, it shows how people’s words or expressions could be part of a world that they’re trying to create (for themselves & others) but not always a complete depiction of the world that they personally see & feel every day.

“More than once you asked/ that I breathe into your lungs like the soprano in the opera/ I loved so my ghost might inhabit you and you ingest my belief/ in your otherwise-only-probable soul”: breathing is an important theme throughout the poem.  love (as people, words & feelings) is inhaled like air, showing its bond & the high degree of necessity to a person.  at times, depression can sap not just one’s desire to live, but the mere ability to live as well by cutting off such love.  self-esteem boosts from friends and family can serve as cpr for the soul, breathing fresh belief into the depressed.  however also like cpr, sometimes those boosts aren’t always enough to ensure survival.

“There is a good reason I am not/ God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten”: maybe my favorite line.  i love the idea of thinking about good reasons why you’re not god.  there’s also a raw anger here that echoes the confusion, the frustration, the loss of those left behind by the “self-smitten.” at the same time, the speaker’s acknowledgment that it’s good for her not to have the almighty power to act on those emotions (added to her hoping the deceased is with jesus & later requesting forgiveness for her “asshole conviction”) makes me read more compassion than the words might show on the surface.

sometimes when people say that they want to die, i think they really want their specific way of living to end instead of life in general.  they’re in a rut of some design that they desperately need to escape and death looks like the way to freedom.  as wallace points out in the video above, there are everyday choices available to us that we can exercise to change our trajectory and improve our outlook on life.  however, sometimes that’s not enough.  in that case, having a support system is critical.  whatever combination of god, loved ones, counselors, and medication that works best.  and yet still for some, that too isn’t enough (or worse, the necessary support system isn’t always available).

this is important to remember for those looking at the suicide from the outside.  personally, i think suicide is wrong.  you can focus on your value to the people around you (even if that value hasn’t been fully realized yet).  you can think about how you’re throwing away breaths that the terminally ill would kill for.  however way you wanna slice it, your life is precious.  your life is worth protecting.  as long as you’re alive, your life can get better.  that said, without fully knowing the depths of one’s despair and torment, it’s not right for me to judge the depressed/suicidal as weak, selfish assholes who will roast in hell.  ultimately, that’s something between the person and god.

i want to hear from you.  what are your thoughts on suicide, from the perspective of the depressed and of those close to the depressed?  how do your views mesh with those depicted in the poem?

related: an interesting read on suicide and why we should talk more about it (via harpers) | the full audio of wallace’s 2005 commencement speech | “feed your faith…”

how to fight racial bias when it’s silent and subtle

podcast above hosted by rene montagne & david greene; accompanying article below written by shankar vedantam. both via npr:

In the popular imagination and in conventional discourse — especially in the context of highly charged news events such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin — prejudice is all about hatred and animosity.

Scientists agree there’s little doubt that hate-filled racism is real, but a growing body of social science research suggests that racial disparities and other biased outcomes in the criminal justice system, in medicine and in professional settings can be explained by unconscious attitudes and stereotypes.

Subtle biases are linked to police cadets being more likely to shoot unarmed black men than they are unarmed white men. (Some academics have also linked the research into unconscious bias to the Trayvon Martin case.)

Calvin Lai and Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia recently challenged scientists to come up with ways to ameliorate such biases. The idea, said Harvard University psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, one of the researchers, was to evaluate whether there were rapid-fire ways to disable stereotypes. Groups of scientists “raced” one another to see if their favorite techniques worked. All the scientists focused on reducing unconscious racial bias against blacks.

“Within five minutes, you have to do something to somebody’s mind so that at the end of those five minutes you will now show a lower association of black with bad. And so this was run really like a competition to see which ones of them might work to reduce race bias and which ones don’t,” Banaji said.

The results were as surprising for what they didn’t find as for what they did. Teaching people about the injustice of discrimination or asking them to be empathetic toward others was ineffective. What worked, at least temporarily, Banaji said, was providing volunteers with “counterstereotypical” messages.

“People were shown images or words or phrases that in some way bucked the trend of what we end up seeing in our culture,” she said. “So if black and bad have been repeatedly associated in our society, then in this intervention, the opposite association was made.”

Banaji, who has been a pioneer in studying unconscious biases, said she has taken such results to heart and tried to find ways to expose herself to counterstereotypical messages, as a way to limit her own unconscious biases.

One image in particular, she said, has had an especially powerful effect: “My favorite example is a picture of a woman who is clearly a construction worker wearing a hard hat, but she is breast-feeding her baby at lunchtime, and that image pulls my expectations in so many different directions that it was my feeling that seeing something like that would also allow me in other contexts to perhaps have an open mind about new ideas that might come from people who are not traditionally the ones I hear from.”

related: the hunted and the hated: a look at the nypd’s stop-and-frisk policy

07/21/13 1 Comment

how to use your alone time more productively (and actually enjoy it)

07/05/13

pic by david broderick

pic by david broderick

written by adam dachis for lifehacker:

Few people enjoy being alone, or at least feel somewhat socially rejected if they do. Nevertheless, solitude can make you more self-sufficient, add to your confidence, and help you get to know yourself a lot better. If being alone scares you, bores you, or just isn’t your favorite thing, here’s how you can fix that and make your time more productive.

You, like many people, might get stuck on the idea that being alone is like having some sort of disease—even if you’re the kind of person that prefers being alone. You might skip movies in the theater if you have to attend in solitude. Or maybe you criticize yourself for eating lunch at your desks instead of with coworkers or friends. Perhaps you spend too much of our time out with others because you just don’t know what to do when you’re by yourself. With a little work, however, you can make your alone time much more productive. With the help of Roger S. Gil, a clinician specializing in marriage and family therapy, and Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at NYU and author of Going Solo, we’ll look at the benefits of solitude and how you can use them to your advantage.

(more…)

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.

real talk from author cheryl strayed (via nikyatu).

related: scars for happiness | 8 ways to let go

crossing the bridge to healing

06/22/13 1 Comment

j. cole “crooked smile” f/ tlc

j. cole’s latest single is a shot of self-esteem, encouraging listeners to be happy with how god made them.  the surviving members of tlc are featured on the track (which is fitting since this song shares a similar message as their single “unpretty”).  full lyrics below.  cole’s sophomore album born sinner comes out in 2 weeks (pre-order it here):

[Hook: TLC]
I’m on my way, on my way, on my way down (x2)
You’re the one that was tryna keep me way down
But like the sun know you know I found my way back round

[Verse 1: J. Cole]
Look
They tell me I should fix my grill cause I got money now
I ain’t gon’ sit around and front like I ain’t thought about it
A perfect smile is more appealing but it’s funny how
My shit is crooked look at how far I done got without it
I keep my twisted grill, just to show them kids it’s real
We ain’t picture perfect but we worth the picture still
I got smart, I got rich, and I got bitches still
And they all look like my eyebrows: thick as hell
Love yourself, girl, or nobody will
Oh, you a woman? I don’t know how you deal
With all the pressure to look impressive and go out in heels
I feel for you
Killing yourself to find a man that’ll kill for you
You wake up, put makeup on
Stare in the mirror but its clear that you can’t face what’s wrong
No need to fix what God already put his paint brush on
Your roommate yelling, “Why you gotta take so long?”
What it’s like to have a crooked smile
This crooked smile

[Hook]

[Verse 2: J. Cole]
To all the women with the flaws, know it’s hard my darling
You wonder why you’re lonely and your man’s not calling
You keep falling victim cause you’re insecure
And when I tell you that you’re beautiful you can’t be sure
Cause you see that no one wants you back and it got you asking
So all you see is what you lacking, not what you packing
Take it from a man that loves what you got
And baby you’re a star, don’t let ’em tell you you’re not
Now is it real? Eyebrows, fingernails, hair
Is it real? if it’s not, girl you don’t care
Cause what’s real is something that the eyes can’t see
That the hands can’t touch, that them broads can’t be, and that’s you
Never let ’em see you frown
And if you need a friend to pick you up, I’ll be around
And we can ride with the windows down, the music loud
I can tell you ain’t laughed in a while
But I wanna see that crooked smile

[Hook]

[Bridge 1: J. Cole (TLC)]
Crooked smile, we could style on ’em (back ’round)
Crooked smile, we could style on ’em (back ’round)
(You’re the one that was trying to keep me way down.
Like the sun, I know you know I found my way back round..)

[Verse 3: J. Cole]
We don’t look nothing like the people on the screen
You know them movie stars, picture perfect beauty queens
But we got dreams and we got the right to chase ‘em
Look at the nation, that’s a crooked smile braces couldn’t even straighten
Seem like half the race is either on probation, or in jail
Wonder why we inhale, cause we in hell already
I asked if my skin pale, would I then sell like Eminem or Adele?
Yo one more time for the ‘Ville
And fuck all of that beef shit, nigga let’s make a mil
Hey officer man, we don’t want nobody getting killed
Just open up that cell, let my brother out of jail
I got money for the bail now, well now
If you asking will I tell now? Hell naw
I ain’t snitching cause
Man, they get them niggas stitches now
If you was around, then you wouldn’t need a witness now
How you like this crooked smile?

[Hook]

[Bridge 2]

related: j. cole “i’m a fool” | beauty isn’t only skin deep

06/04/13 1 Comment

how to create your reason

04/11/13 3 Comments

a must-read piece written by umair haque for hbr. think about the question at the end & answer it in the comments:

Here’s a tiny question: what do you do when reach the edge of heartbreak? Consider the story of my good friend Priya. Let go from a successful career in finance, with no new opportunities on the horizon, Priya bravely decided to write a book about careers and meaning. One long year later, Priya’s blown through her savings, broken up with her partner, moved back to her parents’ place, and generally feels like her so-called future just went Vesuvius.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of…whatever. Ah, screw it: what’s the point, anyways? In that sentiment, Priya’s hardly alone. If you’re under the age of 35 and/or worth less than a few dozens of millions, you probably get the sinking feeling, by now, that you’re being written off by today’s leaders. Here’s the inconvenient truth…you are.

I don’t mean to get post-Bieber power ballad emo on you, but the great danger of this great hurricane of a never-ending crisis is that our will to live is quietly diminished. Not in the sense of jumping screaming off the nearest bridge — but in the less noticeable yet perhaps more lethal sense of resigning ourselves to mediocrity, triviality, lives we don’t want because they don’t feel they count. Hence: the great obligation you and I have right here, right now, then, children of the hurricane, isn’t merely to give up on life — but precisely the opposite: to redouble our furious pursuit of lives well lived.

I believe that each and every one us is here for a reason. Go ahead: get it out of your system. Roll your eyes, purse your lips, LOL, luxuriously wallow in cynicism for a moment — and then consider what tends to happen to those that have no great, abiding reason to be here. They sink, ineluctably, into depression; life seems to pass them by; they feel powerless, hopeless, fatalistic, and finally, come to see themselves as refugees from life; not creators of lives.

You and I know: homo economicus is about as good a role model as the love child of Freddy Krueger and Alien. Each and every one of us needs more than mere stuff and trinkets if we are to fully pursue happiness. We know: we need friends, security, stability, status, respect if we are to have a fighting chance at glimmers of contentment, delight, joy. Yet there is a truer need still: a reason to live fully, wholly, searingly; a reason that elevates us, at our best, past the mundane, and into the noble, good, and true. And unless this need is answered, our lives will always feel somehow reduced, lessened, blunted, a masterpiece seen through a veil of gauze, achingly incomplete. Each and every one of us is here for a reason; and it is that reason that anchors our stretching branches firmly in the soil of life.

So here’s the deal, broski. You and I don’t need a reason merely for romantic reasons; to add a celestial veneer of bogus miracle to the dreary predictability of our lives. Each and every one needs a reason for the most pragmatic of reasons: to evoke the best, noblest, and truest in us; and so to persevere in the pursuit of lives well lived. The tiny miracle of life is us — and whom we can choose to become.

So here are my five tiny rules for creating your reason.

Total surrender. Everyday for the last year, Priya’s gone to the café and…checked her Facebook. The self-help books and the mystical gurus will tell you: just imagine hard enough, and the life you so fervently desire will — poof!! — manifest. Let’s be honest: it’s a pleasant fairy tale for the nail-bitingly insecure. The simple truth is: If you want to live a life worth living, you have to do a lot (lot) more than merely wish for it: you have to work for it. And not merely in the brain-dead sense of “80 hours a week, at a job you hate, with people you hate, for a boss you want to stab, doing work that makes you want to projectile vomit, to benefit sociopathic shareholders that would rather see you miserable, fat, broke, and dead than fulfilled.” I mean work for it in a more profund sense: you must work to create a reason that demands from you nothing less than the furious, uncompromising pursuit of a life well lived; and if, like Priya, your so-called reason’s leading you to spin your wheels and go nowhere fast…it’s probably not one powerful enough to surrender to.

Absolute clarity. A reason is not a purpose. Priya’s real mistake is that she’s confused a purpose — writing books — with a reason: why the books must (not should, but absolutely, totally, must, or else your whole life will feel empty, wasted, pointless, over) be written. Imagine you were a master stonemason. Your purpose might be to build a great cathedral. But your reason might be to approach the divine, to leave a legacy, or simply to do great work. A purpose, then, is a set of accomplishments — but a reason is the animating force behind them; it is the “why” that gives sense to the “what”; and without it, all our “whats” may end up being empty, barren, senseless in the terms of a life that feels well lived. Priya, like many people I know, is a stonemason with a blueprint — but no incendiary, unstoppable, inescapable reason to begin building.

Real life. So if, like Priya, you can’t quite seem to put your finger on your reason, how do you begin? Here’s the trick. The reason isn’t found, or discovered. It is created. It is the great act of a life; the culminating act that joins our choices and decisions into a trajectory that resonates. A purpose is what you make: a book, a company, a bonus. A reason is what you live: knowledge, art, enlightenment, and more. What do you want your life to be? What is it that you want to live? When it comes not just to stuff, but to life, what is that you want to enact? You can’t answer this question like Priya’s been trying to: “books”. You must answer it in a more fundamental sense — “knowledge,” “art,” “education,” “enlightenment.” All these are better answers, in Priya’s case. They’re tiny steps beyond purpose, and towards the beginnings of a reason.

Radical simplicity. You can’t create your reason if your life is, pardon my French, full of bullshit. The answers above share one thing in common: they’re radically simple. Worthy, enduring, fulfilling reasons always are — because the timeless truths of life, which reasons exist to illuminate, are deceptively simple. So, forgive me, beancounters, but (as Priya still thinks) a reason is not a corporate mission statement (“To leverage my educational assets and optimize my career path!!”): it is the very opposite: a radically simple statement of why your life matters enough to you to fully, dangerously live it…past the edge.

Brutal honesty. You can’t create your reason if, pardon my French, you are full of shit. There are many reasons; but not all reasons are created equal. And you probably can’t create a worthy one if you’re not brutally honest with yourself about it. Raising a family and imbuing it with love; this is a grand and timeless reason; it elevates life. Vidal Sassoon’s reason: to bring art back to hairdressing? That’s a fantastic one. Pixar’s reason: creating heartwarming stories that bring people of all ages together? Works for me. Making minigames for advertisers to sell stuff to people they don’t really want to buy with money they don’t really have to live lives they don’t really feel? That’s a sucky reason, because it impoverishes life. Of course, the minigame maker might feel, in the moment, his work is rewarding — and it may be lucrative. But it isn’t likely to feel whole, for the simple reason that it’s reason is wanting in terms of meaningful human outcomes. The point here is not to create arbitrary divisions between which reasons are valid and which are lacking. The point is to start asking yourself, really: what is your reason? What would make it “good”? If you want to grab the top job at that megabank — why? If your reason is “to make a big pile of money,” you might want to think again. Why do you think, having made his billions, Bill Gates is trying to fix the world? He needs a bigger, better, truer reason.

Perhaps it’s true. Not all of us successfully create our reasons. But that is precisely why we must try. For it is in the reasonless that we see the power of life’s reason: the reason gives sense to life, and without sense, life feels like a maze, a trap, a game, an absurdity. We need a reason, because our reasons are what liberate us from lives that feel senseless.

Yet, Priya’s little parable tells us: reasons aren’t rational; they are larger than that: they are constructive. They aren’t tidy equations and models of life — yet nor are they mere wishes nor affirmations. They are the words in the language of life and death; words that come to compose the untidy, messy, often contradictory, thoroughly inconclusive stories we tell ourselves about what it means to have lived. And so they matter because they allow our lives, finally, to make startling glimmers of sense amidst the cruel senselessness and insensible beauty of the searing human experience. Only a reason has the magic to ignite, in the void, the spark; that comes to make a life feel that it has been more than accidents of fate colliding with chance.

And so it seems to me that you and I — the sons and daughters of the Lesser Depression, the orphans of modernity — we have three choices. We may retreat. We may revolt. Or we may rebel. We may retreat into digiphoria; the cold, joyless comfort of softly glowing screens. We may revolt, turning away in disgust, and become, in time, something like the leaders we scorn. Or we may rebel — and choose, here and now, even in the full fury of the storm, to answer the awesome challenge of lives well lived.

Reason is rebellion. It is through the creation of reasons to live fully that we rebel — and ignite lives worth living, instead of merely resigning ourselves to those that feel as if they aren’t. In reason, we rebel against immovable destiny, and gain a measure of freedom back from the stars.

Grace, then, is born in reason. And it is grace that gives us, finally, the power to love. To, through the heartbreak, the grief, and the joy, breathe life into possibility, and so breathe possibility into life. And that is what a life that feels burstingly whole, achingly full, timelessly true, is really all about: the power to love. And only a reason as solid and true as bedrock can give it to you.

So allow me to ask you again: what do you do when you reach the edge of heartbreak? Here’s my tiny answer: you create a reason to take you past the edge of heartbreak. And into big love, mighty grace, searing meaning, and limitless purpose. Hence, my question: what’s your reason?

previously: the great collision | how to live “meaningfully well”

when shouldn’t you trust love?

04/08/13 8 Comments

cryptogram

for today’s brain teaser, see if you can solve this cryptogram.  if you’re unfamiliar, cryptograms are messages veiled by a secret code.  to crack the code, you have to think about frequencies in a language (what letters come after an apostrophe?  what phrases look familiar based on the numbers of spaces?  see any common prefixes/suffixes?).

here, you’re looking for a quote on when love shouldn’t be trusted (click on it for a printable copy).  each number below the space represents a specific letter.  as you begin to figure out the number-letter combos, track it in the chart above and use it as a guide for solving the rest of the puzzle.  to help you get started, i’ll give you some clues on the person who said the quote (listed after the hyphen in the puzzle):

– celebrated 85th birthday last week

– name inspired from time spent as a calypso dancer/singer

– awarded the presidential medal of freedom in 2011

write the answer in the comments.  also, share your thoughts on the statement (does it ring true to you?)

more brain teasers: the stable marriage problemsee if you can solve this math square | who is right? the professor or the student? | the integer called bleen | genius logic | einstein’s riddle

not doing something wrong isn’t the same as doing something right

04/05/13 1 Comment

april, among other things, is national poetry month.  to celebrate, i will be posting more poems than usual over the next few weeks. check out this one by cristin o’keefe aptowicz (via pigmenting).  in it, the speaker tries to make sense of herself and the decisions she made about love/sex.  let me know what you think:

Not Doing Something Wrong Isn’t the Same as Doing Something Right
by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

In my defense, my forgotten breasts. In my defense, the hair
no one brushed from my face. In my defense, my hips.

Months earlier, I remembered thinking that sex was a ship retreating
on the horizon. I could do nothing but shove my feet in sand.

I missed all the things loneliness taught me: eyes that follow you
crossing a room, hands that find their home on you. To be noticed. Even.

In my defense, his hands. In my defense, his arms. In my defense,
how when we just sat listening to each other breathe, he said, This is enough.

My body was a house I had closed for the winter. It shouldn’t have been
that difficult, empty as it was. Still, I stared hard as I snapped off the lights.

My body was specter which haunted me, appearing when I stripped
in the bathroom, when I crawled into empty beds, when it rained.

My body was abandoned construction, restoration scaffolding
which became permanent. My body’s unfinished became its finished.

So in my defense, when he touched me the lights of my body came on.
In my defense, the windows were thrown open. In my defense, spring.

related: see/hear aptowicz perform some of her other work on her youtube page

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