Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Planet Heaven

"I tend to be busier than I should be
And I tend to think that time is gonna wait for me
Sometimes I forget
And take for granted
That it's a beautiful life
We live
I don't wanna miss
The moments like this
This is a beautiful life
You give"
            I would never have imagined that one day I would have the relationship I have with my Father. It's not that we didn't have a good rapport before, but it was primarily paternal in its makeup. We got along, we even talked on occasion, but it was strictly a Father and son thing. Up until the death of my Mother, I just assumed the way things had been would remain as the status quo. When I made an investment towards making things different, as I had with my Mother, the entire dynamic changed. It is a complete joy for me to know him as a person. Almost daily I learn something new about him or my family, something I recognize would not have come to light if our relationship had been as it was before. I understand what he is going through. He knows I know. There is a camaraderie where there was little before. Considering his age, and current state of health, I cannot conceive that he will live another 10 or 20 years.  I most certainly am not going to let a moment pass by without considering this reality. What we have evolved into together remains one of the best parts of my life thus far. When he has gone and reunited with my Mother, I will reaffirm that I could not have asked for more.

"You're the reason for
Every good thing
Every heartbeat
Every day we get to breathe
You're the reason for
Anything that lasts
Every second chance
Every laugh
Life is so sweet
You're the reason for
Every good thing"

            It was your standard August day for Ontario, Canada. The high temperature and UV index only added to the extreme heat and humidity. As we climbed the sand dunes, I kept sliding and slipping on my sandals. Taking them off to finish the way was like frying eggs on a sun-baked rooftop. As with most pain, I just got used to it. At the peak, you could see the beauty of Lake Erie stretch out beyond what the eye could see. The water was darker blue, shades of autumn and the changes to come. I sat down on a hillside (there were many to choose from), made myself comfortable, while Ben sojourned into the water. Concentrated in a cove, the dunes act like a net or catch basin, trapping all kinds of vile things from the lake. I will never forget the smell of that day. I will never forget the multi-coloured foam that floated wherever it pleased. I can still see that rank and rather bloated fish swimming like a dead man. Just beyond the tide, out into someplace deeper, he swam up to his shoulders, cooling in the lagoon. I watched him as the sun reflected off his shaven head. He splashed around like a 10 year old. The heat was intense but I had seen enough. There would be no swimming for me this day. We sat in that sun until he was bone dry, and as red as a ripe tomato would be. In the silence, we sat there together. I don't know if I could have asked for more.

"There will be days that give me more than I can take
But I know that You always make
Beauty from my heartache
Don't wanna forget
Or take for granted
That it's a beautiful life
We live
I'm not gonna miss
The moments like this
This is a beautiful life
You give"
            I don't like being Diabetic. I can handle it for the most part, but when my sugars get low, I feel like I could pass out. My least favourite place for this to happen is while I am driving. I pulled over just to be safe. When I got back from the variety store across the street, I settled in for a good 15 minutes until it was safe for me to drive again. Leading from the lot I had parked in was a pathway, heading deep into a wooded area. With only time to waste, I chugged my Coke and locked things up tight. Across the pavement and down the way, the path was ever so friendly. Ivy dangled heavy off a wooden fence. You could tell it had been there for quite some time.  A meagre patch of grassy green met me on the other side. A single line of dirt and wear told tales of those who had passed before me. It was a no man's land. The space before the space. Suddenly, dense and yet shadowy, a forest of pine and spruce and fir stood up in proclamation. Down on my level, billions of fine brown needles covered the forest floor. It looked like some strong wind had blustered and blown the first 5 feet of prickles on those trees straight to hell. There was a beauty in all that litter, a sense of peace in all that decay. I just stood there, a few feet inside but surrounded nonetheless. I could smell life all around me. I could feel the trees and the whispers of earth in the air. For a moment, I was immersed in the depth of it. I felt so alive I could barely breathe or think. I thought I heard Him whisper. It was just a moment, as simple as a silly woods on the side of the road, but I could not have asked for more.       

"You're the reason for
Every good thing
Every heartbeat
Every day we get to breathe
You're the reason for
Anything that lasts
Every second chance
Every laugh
Life is so sweet
You're the reason for
Every good thing"
            I've spent most of my life either whining or complaining about all the crap that has happened to me. Regardless of whether it was true or not, it always seemed to me that God was punishing me or chastising me for something I had or had not done. Welcome to Christianity. I never felt good enough so I was simply receiving my just reward. This was an easy deduction for me to make considering I rarely stopped to look at my own actions and any resulting consequences. Along the way, I ceased torturing myself. I started learning rather than kvetching. I paid attention. I had never noticed how truly rich and wonderful my life was. I never stopped to appreciate anything, let alone to smell some roses. While I now understand that it was life that was so tough on me, I also have come to realize that the good things of this life were right there with me all along, just like God. Every good thing is God. These "rewards" are not handed out like assignments in class, but rather are sewn into the very fabric of the life we lead. With every good thing will come bad things and with every bad will come some good. It really is all in how you view this world around you that will determine what you get from it. There aren't answered wishes, or gifts from above, only possibilities. It is up to us whether we make our time here a heaven or a hell.
            You make the choice inside your head, inside of your soul. Do you pay attention to all the negative that comes with life or do you focus on the positives already in your life? If you can find even one thing to be happy about then you have much to be happy about. If God dwells in everything, then when we actually find some semblance of what we hope for, it is not fate or chance, I believe it is God acting within us. Happiness isn't about getting what you want whenever you want it. Happiness comes when we recognize what we already have and are grateful for it. This is the greatest milestone of all. Start counting your blessings and to hell with all the sheep. If those blessings are a reflection of God's love for us, then I could not ask for more.

"It's our family
It's our friends
It's the feeling that I get when I see ... children smile
You're the reason for this life
Everything we love
It's You
Alive in us
You're alive in us"
(Every Good Thing, The Afters 2013)



Romans 8:31
"If God is for us, who can be against us?"


End of Chapter Eight


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

At Last

"This is the moment I’ve waited for all my life
To open my heart and show you I’ve nothing to hide
You see the best in me and I owe it all to you
Take a look at me now
Living out my dreams now
Sure as I am standing here tonight
Make this last forever
You and me together
Living all my dreams out loud tonight"
(Living Out My Dreams, Roch Voisine 2014)
            It seems pious when people claim to be enlightened. Although I know what the term implies, I find it difficult to claim it as my own. If somehow I have achieved it along my way, no one bothered to tell me. Outside the academic definition, I question what this state means for me and my life. I cannot be sure that those who arrogate the term to their persona aren't just indulging, somehow pseudo in the nature of the experience. I suppose that faithful cliché applies. If you have to say it, then you're not. True enlightenment is a cognitive form of "Intellectual evolution" (Tesla), a sense of awareness and learning that results in both personal understanding and the distribution of knowledge. It is often characterized as the extinction of one's desire, separation from one's suffering and a progression away from individual consciousness. The modern distinction derives from an 18th century movement which advocated the use of reason when examining social establishments and recognized ideas of that time. Rather than a status symbol, or an acquired sense, the term refers to internal dialogue and development, allowing for a continual exposure and absorption "of new and greater prospects" (Tesla).
            Enlightenment is a subjective experience leading to an objective awareness. Once maintained, through it we are supposed to become cognizant of our limitations. It is this understanding and our relationship with clarity that allows us to find some form of personal insight. We may become aware of others and gain wisdom and knowledge, but when we know ourselves, we have purportedly gained enlightenment. This is a paradox. The more we think we know, the more we recognize we do not know. In our awareness, there is ignorance. My experience has not only been tactile and intellectual, but also uniquely spiritual in its revelation. Any true awareness I have achieved was initially abstruse in its nature. Recognizing that this "absolute sense" (Tesla) of something must be achieved little by little, only cemented my own restrictions in my mind. Any other way would have overwhelmed me in my seeking. It took time and application, study and contemplation, for me to even discover the first steps in freeing who I was. Embarking on a course of self-discovery, intellectual emancipation and, primarily, spiritual validation was somewhat out of my hands. Every benchmark has a catalyst.
            Despite my sins, I had always tried to be a good and proper Christian. The lessons and examples of Love and Grace which once held me, I have brought with me into my new way of thinking and being. There was a time in my life when I wanted nothing more than to serve and please Jesus. Any problem I had with Christianity did not only come from what I felt God demanded of me but also the lack of consistency with those same expectations on the part of the entity I worshipped. I have always maintained that if God requires something from us then we should expect the very same things from God. To chastise and punish someone for murder is one thing, but when the very same expectation is not met by the object of our devotion (does God kill?), you have to ask yourself if that is really something the true God would do or say or enforce. I was so afraid to question, ashamed to doubt that when I did just that, I was only flagellating myself. Religion convinced me that I had no right to inquire, no need to have anything but what I had been told to expect from my Faith. This lowly and undeserving sinner merited forgiveness but only if I towed the line and met the criteria. Salvation comes but at the expense of free will. Eventually, the price became more than I was willing to pay.

"Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may. By attempting to rigidly classify ethereal concepts like faith, we end up debating semantics to the point where we entirely miss the obvious - that is, that we are all trying to decipher life's big mysteries, and we're each following our own paths of enlightenment."
(Dan Brown, American author)

            It was a hard rain of observation and analysis to pass through the storm of condemnation and conditioning that came with letting go. I had to find a new path and I had to be deprogrammed. While I have a good idea where I am going now, I realize I am not there yet. I can only assume that enlightenment may never come, considering all of my flaws as a human being. This does not deter me from trying, from looking, from listening and from thinking for myself.  As a Christian, I didn't have to think. I was trained, read to, and told how to be. The first step away was not even something I had planned. It just happened and all the dominos fell into my face. The voice of one woman changed my entire life. I will never meet her, I will never speak to her again, but her example opened my eyes. If she only knew. Rather than saving me for her Lord, she sent me further from Him than at any point in my life.
            I had called the Christian help line because I needed someone to talk to. All the questions running in my head were coupled with the grief I still battled over great loss. I was confused, contrite and rather void at the time. I barely got out a full sentence. Instead of talking to her, I listened as she coined off one formula after another. I should have hung up. It was her responsibility to dictate what was required of me. When she touched on salvation, she hit a nerve. Informing me that only born-again Christians, no one else, could receive the kingdom of Heaven was like smacking me in the face with my own assurance.  Every Catholic, Muslim, every Jew, every Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, every unbaptized child, anyone who completes suicide, all separated not for what they do but what they believe. Without Jesus, all hope is lost. I knew it like the back of my hand but I never really took the time to consider this sweeping generalization made in God's name.
            As a human being, I recognized quickly just how wrong she was. The claims were not new to me but they never shook me to the core before. Perhaps it was the grief, perhaps I was just ready, but her warped display of divine love snapped me out of it. One moment of Christian ignorance led to complete apostasy. As the years passed by, I essentially took the best parts of my birth faith and left the rest to the bigots, racists and those closed minded. If the truth be told, that woman was correct, at least from her point of view. Scripturally, you are either with Jesus or against him. I just could no longer accept that the God I knew was like that. All the terrible, hypocritical actions taken by the Abrahamic god had proven my mistake in it all. I made an exemption when it came to my own Faith. I believed it was right because I was told it was right. It was clear to me that this was not the case. No longer manifesting these delusions was a huge step towards any level of enlightenment that I might one day achieve.
            It was almost expected of me to return to the Shepherd like a lost black lamb. Then came the anticipation of finding a new Faith to adhere to. Although I wanted to believe in something, I no longer saw God the same way.  As I evolved, so did my understanding. It became rather clear to me that almost all religions are basically the same. They may express themselves culturally, they may seem savage and unnecessary, but their messages are essentially identical. I began to recognize them as the tools rather than the carpenter. It was okay to use the essence of a religious teaching without the anthropomorphic and projected biases of mankind. I could engage with ideas more freely, I had to refine myself, escape the coercive persuasion and  retrain my belief into something else, if anything at all. Once I could breathe in and sense that I was alive, really feel alive, then I knew I was going in the right direction. An entirely new world appeared before my eyes. As I changed, so did my thinking. So did my God.

"Quantum physics tells us that the world is composed of one underlying field of intelligence that manifests as the infinite diversity of the universe. The field of intelligence experienced objectively is the world of material objects. Mind and matter are not separate entities; mind and matter are essentially the same. Our essential being, stripped of the superficial layers of the mind and body, is neither mind nor matter but the source of both. In other words, the human body is the human mind at the same time. We are actually a body-mind; we can't really separate the two. Nor can we confine the mind to the brain or even to the body, because the mind extends beyond our body into the whole universe."
(Deepak Chopra, Indian-American New-Age advocate)

            Human beings are deeply flawed. We believe that enlightenment will make us better, more rational, even reasonable, but this is not true. Most of the time, people are none of those things. Being aware of how rotten I really am does little to encourage me. True enlightenment is not something one gains or accomplishes. It is not something you achieve. Enlightenment is "the absence of something" (Beck). What we push for and reach for, always wanting, striving, holding to, these are the things we must let go. Since we cannot possibly know anything, not really, then God becomes unknowable. Just because something cannot be known does not mean it is not there. In striving for enlightenment, I gained freedom. I will not be tricked. To expect that any level of greater awareness will change the essential me is foolishness. This thing we reach for will open your eyes, but it is you that must see.  To find the possibilities, despite yourself, this is to attain Nirvana. To understand that you are part of the love, part of the order and the chaos that is "underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment" (Tolle).
            I may not know but I most certainly believe, even if the idea of a God, the very notion, can seem quite laughable at the best of times. To recognize the limitations "men" face when trying to relay His message seems to be the biggest problem. If God is unknowable, then most if not all that has been reported about Him filters through blindness. It should be okay to move yourself away from something when you discover it just isn't true. After all, the truth is relative. I do know that for me, letting go of god became the catalyst to finding God. I see Him in the flowers and in the night sky. I can hear Him in the wind and through my Father speaking. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can feel Him all around me. I can breathe for the first time. Somehow all the trying to get somewhere got me nowhere but here. All I have is now. I may not be some enlightened creature, but I 'm finally starting to see.   

"At last
My love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song"
(At Last, Etta James 1960)







Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Beautiful Ride

"I always think tomorrow will be better
That there will come a day when I arrive
That the list of everything I've got to do
Will be a page of empty lines
I apologize
To myself for living in the future
And letting what’s ahead get in the way
Because if happiness is always down the road
Then I'm missing it today

 Breathe in, Breathe out
Slow down, slow down
Everybody look around
Life is where we are now
so Breathe in, Breathe out"
(Breathe In Breathe Out, The Afters 2013)

            We are the things we know. We are every book that we have ever read and every song that we have sung. We are our favourite television program and the movie we just saw on the weekend. All the people that we have met and each conversation we have had are part of our makeup. What you gather from these things becomes a portion of who you are. You are the smell of fall in the air and the snowflake falling softly to the ground. You are the sun you see and the stars that shine and the breaking dawn. You are what you eat and you are what you speak. You are the words that are spoken to you. You are your family and your friends, your mother and your father and your spouse. You are the stranger you gave change to on the street and the child you tuck into bed at night. You are what you think and feel and reject. You are a collection, the sum of everything you have experienced. You are what you acknowledge and what you have learned. You are the totality of all things that have met you in this life.
            It's no wonder people seem to be so screwed up. There appears to be more violence, apathy and disregard than I can ever remember. Perhaps the rise in population explains it. On some statistical level, there just seems to be more chaos. There are just far too many people in this world where we live. It is hard to find your way when you are constantly battling the masses for air. All the hate, all the anger, all the senseless selfish existing we do, they are part of us as well. We are a mixture, an ever-evolving, ever-growing mass of this and that. When we hurt, we are. When we love, we are. Every second, every moment, from the time you wake in the morning to the last flicker as you fade to rest, each contact, every dream makes up more of you. The hopeless, the priceless, the pretty and the sour, these are the things that prove we are alive.
            I have learned to pay attention to the things that cross my path on a daily basis. I am aware of where I am, who I meet each day and any interaction I may have with someone else. I am all the good and all the bad and all the ugly. Some may claim I am awake, or enlightened, or whatever, but the truth is I just don't want to miss a thing. I refuse to allow a moment to pass me by without at least trying to catch it. I am constantly watching and observing this life. This transformation from a once dull bulb into something slightly brighter came at quite a cost. I evolved because I adapted. The amalgam of all my experience turned me into something else, someone else. The milestones from our lives tend to build into higher walls. Each supporting the other until we feel that we are safe. We are the sum of our benchmarks, not to note them, but to live better because of them. To find beauty in the ugliness, peace in the chaos and God in all the hate is the only way I have learned to have some semblance of happiness. I am convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that life is beautiful. 
"A father's love
A wedding dance
New Year's dreams
A toast with friends
A soldier coming home from war
The faith the hope of so much more
A brand new life, a mother's prayer
Shooting stars, ocean air
A lover's kiss, and hard goodbyes
Fireworks, Christmas lights
These are things that make us feel alive
These are the times that make us realize
Life is beautiful"
(Life is Beautiful, The Afters 2013)

            I had always loved my Mother deeply, but I had never taken the chance to tell her in good time. It took her almost dying to open my eyes. Long before the breast cancer and that fatal heart attack, we almost lost her back in the mid 1980s. She herself talked about the shadowy Reaper who stood in the doorway of her ICU room. When she finally was able to return home, my notions of her began to change. I suppose that the idea of losing her was a catalyst for me to take notice. We spent hours on the phone talking, almost daily. We would sit and play cribbage on a hot summer afternoon. We laughed, we cried, then we laughed right from the start again.  Although we had always been close, a friendship formed. It was unique. It was special. It was the only way I could get past the idea of eventually losing her for good. I pulled her closer, I made an investment. I took the time to take her to Costco or made daytrips just to see her face. With every encounter over the last years leading up to her death, I catalogued my Mother.
            It was important for me to have no regrets when it came to my Mom. The same instinct drives me still regarding my Father. Both their stories are significant to me. They will always be part of this wonderful universe and I was privileged to share some of their time here  with them. I try to view the world around me in the same manner. I don't just see something, I look at it. This art of observation would not have been had I not known my Mother. It was through the fear of losing her that I discovered  the joy of seeing in the now. At the end of every day, I still think of her. Sometimes I use the city lights to look upon her face, framed for goodnight. Her challenges, her death taught me so much, but only because I was listening. One of the most important milestones of my life was realizing that I can see God the very same way. I suppose one might say that when one door flew open, all the windows did too!

"Light up the sky
You light up the sky to show me
You are with me
I can't deny
No I can't deny that You are right here with me
You've opened my eyes
So I can see You all around me
Light up the sky
You light up the sky to show me
That You are with me"
(Light Up the Sky, The Afters 2010)
            I have not failed to notice my sensitivities. I have moments of such bliss that I am frozen in place. Through years of trial and error, I have finally reached a plateau where I know that everything will be okay in the long run. I will be okay, whatever comes. Life used to be a lonely thing for me, an ache that never went away. These days, I am overflowing. It is everywhere. It is the moon, the dust and the spider, twirling and spinning in a cosmic display. We are all a part of this vast unknowable, also tumbling around but only by chance. When I stop myself and I focus, I can feel the world alive around me. My eyes have been opened. All the things that I had been looking for were right here with me all along. I started to pay attention to the people in my life, then I started to pay attention to this life. Like rapids, harsh and strong and flowing, one moved into another until the entire spectrum of it all found me. At dead centre, no matter how I didn't want to see, I discovered those things most Holy. I recognized that God is the underlying consciousness that binds all reality. I am not a Deist, but I have come to understand that God speaks to us through the things we know. It is not only through pages, or voices from up high. The words are mostly silent so you must train yourself to hear them. You must train yourself to listen.
           Every person on this planet, every rock, all the cosmos are but a collective, a forward moving mass of energy, matter and darkness. We are one, I suppose. This is why it is so important to experience as much as you can while you can. We need to stop and take the time. It is only how we love that really matters. Life is fleeting and I for one don't want to miss a thing. Every tear I cry, every moment of laughter is a tiny part of something greater than what we can know. Every person's story, their mere existence, makes them unique and special, no matter how the pages read. From a tiny fly on the window pane to the death of my Mother, all things ebb and flow into each other. Each moment of the pain, all of the splendour blend together at the heart of it all. Every moment, every second of existence cries out that there is more. There is more to find in moments like this. Being aware of the world around you is an open door to the universe. There is no limit to what you might uncover. If God speaks to us through the things we know, then He is part of the things we know. He is waiting to be discovered, to show you that you don't need permission to be happy. You are supposed to have love and to be free. It's okay to make mistakes. You are allowed to hurt, to think and to scream. Stop and smell the roses or cry yourself to sleep, but there is no need for us to be downtrodden. This universe flows through us. Even God is within. There need be no fear, no cause; there is so much more to this world than what we know. Take it all in. You can take it fast or you can take it slow, but either way life is a beautiful ride.

"Here we are on top of the stars
Never thought we'd ever get this far
We live for moments like this
We come alive in moments like this
Here we are this is the time
Like a dream coming to life
We live for moments like these
We come alive in moments like these"
(Moments Like This, The Afters 2013)
             I think the only thing that got me through the death of my Mother I had already set in place years before. I made an effort to be not only a good son but also a friend and confidant. I spent time with her. I made an investment. You could argue that her cancer scare the year before her death drove my commitment, but I had been applying myself for years to this pleasure. The last moments I spent with her are bittersweet in my mind. The memory of her lifeless form on that cold table continues to haunt me when I let it. She is a finite story only she can write and a mixing of sadness and joy at the thought of her. The words "I miss you" cannot convey the pain I must hold deep inside. I could not bear it any other way. I have to tell myself how lucky I was. I remind myself how much less this life would have been without her and how beautiful she made my way. When I need her, when the emptiness comes for me, I remember. For a moment, we were here together.

"We can't own it
We just get to hold it for a while.
This Life.
We can't keep it
Or save it for another time.
This Life.
What we give is all we have.
How we love is what will last.
And this hope we know will carry us through
This life."
(This Life, The Afters 2014)



Mount Nemo
Ontario, Canada
October 10th 2013

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Necessary Evil

"Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better."
(Maya Angelou, American author and poet)
            When I was a little boy, I used to get so angry, especially if I didn't get my way. The tales I could tell.  Throughout my life, I carried my temper with me. I used to justify my surges, telling myself that people get what they deserve. I was always hostile, although usually under my skin. This unpredictability got me in a lot of trouble.  It was reported to me by my Mother that at the age of three my fury started. Angered and jealous over the metal hockey board game my older brothers got for Christmas, I hid away in the basement until the coast was clear and I rampaged against it. With only my bare feet as a weapon, I took to stomping on that hard, cold frame. With my right foot, I attempted to crush the tin hockey men attached to the board with grey steel pins. Apparently, they cut through my appendage like it was butter. Blood gushed everywhere, each one was a razor  just waiting to happen. I don't remember the hospital room or the stitches or the repairs made over time. I don't even remember the object of my resentment, but I know there was never another hockey game like that one about our home for the rest of my restless childhood. I cannot imagine being so stupid, but I never really had to imagine. When it came to anger, to losing my temper, to recklessness, stupid was my middle name. I have never been one to hold anything in.
            Throughout my life, I have had one brother who was more nemesis than sibling. I cannot recall how many times when I was a kid that I smashed him in the face with a golf club or tossed a paint brush at his head from across the basement. I have never hated him, but I have never been quite sure just why I held him in such disregard. The lack of relationship we have now is a testament to how it has always been. Where I grew up, in the late 1960s to mid-1970s, there was a large abandoned riverbed and woods just on the other side of the Don Valley Parkway, a main thoroughfare in Toronto. We played fantasy games like werewolves in this area and it was familiar to each of the involved neighbourhood kids. We built forts to play in and set booby traps to keep strangers and other unwanted trespassers away from them.  One such trap was a large heavy branch which we whittled down to a point of six inches or so. It was sharp, and strong, and pulled back to lock against another branch. The slightest touch would send it smashing into the air or any person who happened to be standing in its trajectory. My sister Tracey, the brother to whom I refer and myself tried to enter our getaway one sunny summer day in 1974. I rushed ahead a little and as they approached, I sprung their own trap upon them. It caught my brother full in the face, ripping him an extra nostril. Blood gushed everywhere so I ran ahead to alert my Mother of the dilemma following back behind me. I don't remember why I did it. I don't even recall if I slapped the branch on purpose or not. What I do remember is running home, leaving my sister behind to care for my brother, all the while laughing out loud and rather pleased with myself.
            I have always possessed a volatile nature. Whether I was telling teachers to stick it or fighting with kids in my neck of the woods, controlling my temper has always been an issue for me. In my last year of public school, my rage came to a nasty head. Being my ex-girlfriend did not exempt you should you cross the invisible line that was my indignation. Having a girlfriend, even way back in Grade 8, was more for irony than anything pleasurable. It was just something I conformed to rather than being driven to by impulse or attraction.  My first relationship, although I didn't realize it at the time, was one of many disguises I used to draw attention away from my blossoming sexual deviation. Breaking up with Judy Wardell was like training camp, preparing me for every woman I used as a beard. When I gave her no reason other than her appearance for my withdrawal (so to speak), her craze met me in the middle of the Colborne Street football field. As I tossed a pigskin around with a few of my friends, she approached me and quickly pulled down my pants, right there in the centre of the grassy plain. My reaction was more vocal than anything I really wanted to do. The next day when she kicked my schoolbooks into a lingering puddle outside of our classroom portable, she became the focus of my seething nature. A few hours later, as she sat in the desk next to me, I filled the pen well on that aging surface with an entire tube of Krazy Glue. Resting her arm in it mere minutes later produced exactly the result I was going for.  Our teacher Mr. Salts was less impressed with the outcome. Apparently, I was not the only one with anger issues in the class that day. He hit me so hard on top of my head that the wooden pointer left a permanent dent in my cranium. I may have been sent to the principal's office, and then suspended and sent home, but it was my Mother's storm against Mr. Salts and his archaic methods that was the real experiment in terror that day.
"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."
(The Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama)

            Growing up with a gender neutral name such as mine was like tossing this child into a boxing ring and letting me spar for a few years. By the time I was seven years old, I was ready to punch anyone who said, "Kelly, that's a girl's name." This is just not true. The name Kelly started out as a surname and it was only in the latter half of the 20th century that people began to use it as both the masculine and the feminine. I have always reacted with hostility to this constantly occurring lapse in knowledge regarding the etymology of my name. The given name Kelly is used as a baby boy name meaning "war, lively, aggressive." When I was born, I had to fight my way back from death so my parents gave me the American version, which simply means "warrior."  How apropos. I learned to fistfight due to this unending onslaught of ignorance.  From the first time I was assaulted in this manner, I struck out in anger. My temper has always been hardwired to it. Whenever someone makes the claim, and they still do (all the time), I roar within, leaving little room for things like empathy and compassion. I have learned to control the flare, but this does not decommission my temperament. It might seem silly to someone else, but even one well-placed "that's a girl's name" sends me into a tizzy. I have not always carried this anger in a safe place. 
            I was quite the partier throughout the years of my post-secondary education. Drinking, barhopping and experimenting with drugs seemed a very normal thing for me to do. Everyone else was doing it. First year Radio Broadcasting was the worst influence on me. It was common, and often promoted, this "guy next door" lifestyle. Every Thursday, without fail, all the 'cool' first year radio students would gather at O'Toole's Irish Pub, which was within walking distance of the college. Into the wee hours we would flagellate ourselves with a shot, then a beer and repeat. By midnight, most of us had crossed over into The Twilight Zone.  With no class until 1 PM the next day, we bathed in our own crapulence. Friends mingled with friends and their friends met our friends and so on and so forth. I was drunk as a skunk when some roommate of someone I met in the hall offered his hand in greeting. Once I had pronounced my name, it only took a few seconds for him to say it. The words had barely flown out of his mouth when my fist tried to enter it. I hit him so hard he landed flat on his butt. I still have the scar made when my knuckle met his teeth. I had no excuse when they escorted me out. All I could do was venture away out the door, sit on a curb, then laugh and laugh and laugh. I spent the rest of my Thursday nights that semester studying in the safety of my own home.
            The Black Eagle is a niche/leather bar located in the heart of the gay Village in Toronto, Ontario. It attracts seedier clientele who, generally speaking, favour more kinky and extreme types of sexual pleasure. The outdoor area, located on the second floor, holds a smorgasbord of patrons eager to quench their appetite. Bikers, bears and the occasional twink scatter throughout the lower billiards room and the upstairs bar. Old men watch from the lower drinking area as mostly males wander in and out of the dimly lit entrance.  I didn't frequent this establishment very much when I partook of this culture. Occasionally, I would spend an evening walking from bar to bar, testing out the water at different locales throughout the area. The Black Eagle was always a hoot for an hour or so. I never really understood the need to post your sexual identity all over yourself so I tend to chuckle when I see someone in chaps and the standard fetish regalia.  I often felt as if I was at a zoo, entertained by all the different and strange creatures lurking about their cages. Sadomasochism has never really worked for me. If I want to be humiliated, I can just read the Bible. I did not enter the Black Eagle cruising for sex. It was more like sport without the target practice. I can't remember how many times I have been banned.
            At first I thought he was an Oompa-Loompa, but the imagery of a chocolate factory did not sit well with me in this bar. Like some overgrown Arab munchkin, he walked up to me liked he owned me. I have never been fooled into seeing confidence in someone smaller than Barney Rubble. I towered over him. His attempts at small talk almost tricked me into believing he was worth my time. When he asked my name, I never imagined he meant to perpetuate the deed. As the last consonant dripped out from his face, I reacted and punched him right on the nose. Blood flowed like snot on a winter's day. It dripped all over him, down his leather vest and onto the floor. I was shown the door, but not before I heard him screaming. If I had not left the place immediately, I would have been charged for sure. I am in no way trying to justify my temper, or the fact that I punched the little fellow, but who tries to pick someone up by insulting them in a BDSM and leather bar? I suppose I should have expected no less. 

"What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny. One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements.” (The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1, Anaïs Nin 1931-34)

            I spent most of the last twenty years trying to be a nice person. Considering the state of humanity, this has not been an easy task. Almost daily, someone does something that makes me want to smash their face in. Whether the driver who pulled out in front of me as I did 100 km down a country road or the woman who attacked me in a grocery store, it has been a struggle for me to control my temper. I do not wish to be the kind of person who gets angry every time someone sneezes in my direction. I want to have control over my impulses and not be a victim to whimsy. I have made great effort to adapt my responses to my sense of peace and goodwill. I have attempted to turn my rage into a productive reaction rather than something that really serves no purpose.  Violence never does anyone any good and hostility is best left to children. It is important to me that my disposition remain intact. Most days, this is far easier said than done.  
            Sometimes I feel hypocritical and two-faced being nice to people I normally wouldn't give the time of day. Truth be told, most fellow human beings I have contact with in a public forum make me wish I had remained more aggressive.  Religious people in particular frustrate the hell out of me. I deal with so many self-righteous souls who refuse to even consider that there is more to this world than they have been conditioned to believe. Their opinion is all that matters. You cannot effectively communicate with someone who knows that they are always right. In my past, I would not hesitate to tell them just how to stick their scriptures where the sun don't shine. I find I have this damn obligation to love other people, regardless of how I would like to see them tarred and feathered. People never surprise me when they attempt to take advantage of my kindness. A few tender words to a stranger and the next thing you know they are knocking at your door looking for one thing or the other.

"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
(Julius Caesar, Act I, Sc. 2, 136-142, William Shakespeare)

            It has taken me half a lifetime to conquer the beast. I would say it is more a caged and heavily medicated threat these days. The very idea that my temper may relate to my Bi-Polar imbalance doesn't deter me from constantly trying to be better. I use it as a challenge rather than an excuse. I came to a point in my life where I saw myself for who I was and I didn't like very much of me. My anger was the first thing that I wanted to go. Anger, of course, is a natural emotion, part of this human condition. It may have been a necessary evil, but that has never stood as good enough in my mind. Changing this part of me was of fundamental importance to me, both socially and spiritually. I was getting mad for all the wrong reasons. I had to stop blaming the world around me and take responsibility for how I reacted in these circumstances. No matter what the books say, or others have said, it was never an acceptable behaviour.  
            Sometimes I am so sweet and endearing to others that it makes me want to puke all over my conscience. This method of gentler interaction doesn't come easy for me and it still  pisses me off when I really want to drill someone and I can't. I do mean only in a criminal capacity. I am spiritually obligated to at least attempt to control my anger. No matter how I have evolved, no matter how far I have come, there lies within me an angry young man waiting to burst past this middle-aged fool. It is important to me that when my life is over and they set me on fire, that I will be remembered for the love I shared, not the blackened eyes I passed around. I am not alone. The world is full of people who feel too much, lack self-control, and on occasion, lose it in spite of themselves. Self- moderation is not an easy thing to achieve, especially if you don't value yourself.

“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect,
and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”
(The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides 431 BCE)

            Sometimes you cannot always put a finger on when you changed into a better person. I believe that quite often, it just happens over time. Milestones can occur when you least expect them. They can take different forms which build slowly over that time. Recognizing my limitations was a process but an important realization nonetheless. It is within myself that I find the key to containment. I have power over my mind. I may not be able to control the world around me, but I can control myself. Yes, I am haunted by the rage that was. I deal with it every day. Whether I am in my car or on Facebook, someone always manages to get on my last nerve. This stands as proof that I am alive and fully human. I can only assume that frustration, contempt and anger will always be a part of who I am as a person. Someone is bound to piss me off. I refuse to allow this reality to confine me. Perhaps, it has been necessary all along.

"I must learn to love the fool in me - the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries."
(Theodore Isaac Rubin, American psychiatrist and author)






Tuesday, March 3, 2015

C'est la vie

"It must be Monday
What a dumb day
Can't drag my butt outta bed
Somebody stop me
I need another coffee
Like a hole in my head
When every day begins this way
Gets you down and can drive you mad
The daily grind can freak your mind
But life isn't all that bad"

             I learned a long time ago not to take life personally. The important thing is to claim each day and make each day your own. Today is a benchmark. This is your moment. A world of possibilities can make it your very own reward. Every day can be a milestone if you make it to be. Despite all the hurdles that get in the way, embracing now is a surefire way of facing tomorrow. I have no illusions regarding just how trying the act of getting through each of those days can seem. Everyone wants to bury their head in the sand on occasion. Life is chaotic at the best of times. The path to where we are going is covered with jagged rocks and invisible potholes. Waking up in the morning is quite often more than enough to make one wish they could go back to bed. The fortitude required to carry on can be lost to the very weight of the world on your shoulders. It can be a challenge to live each day and make each day and seize each day.

            It is important to never surrender to the struggle. Seizing the day does not mean you have no worries. Strife does not disappear just because you want it to. Whether we like it or not, that's life. With the good comes the bad, but with the bad comes some good. Apparently that's the way things work. Just when you have overcome, then over comes more trauma, more drama and more noise. Life becomes the test you didn't study for. The door that just won't open. The pile you step in. Some days there is nothing you can do but close your eyes and wait for its passing. Existence is this routine, made up of both perfect and imperfect moments. Life offers no guarantee. Pretending that everything will be okay and that by making the most of every given instance you can escape from suffering is pure imagination. It seems to me that's just how the universes functions.

"Don't let it get to you
C'est la vie! That's life
And that's how it's gonna be
C'est la vie! Hold tight
It comes right eventually"

            When I was a much younger man, people would tell me to make the most of the time I had left. Carpe diem was more of an echo than an instruction. I used to wonder what the hell they were talking about. All this garbage about seizing today felt like the promise of Santa Claus or the Rapture. From what I understood, today was not something you cherished or embraced, it was something you had to get through so you could put it behind you and deal with tomorrow. It took me some time to realize that every today is tomorrow. It's true, tomorrow never comes, it is always today. Still, I felt patronized when people urged me to live in this way. Well meaning religious people, from every faith structure I have encountered, compelled me to learn this lesson and use it for growth. They assured me that life has a way of working things out just when you think that it never will. At the time, I didn't believe them. I had no reason to. I didn't know what world they where talking about but I, without question, knew it wasn't mine. I figured that people who thought that way were either liars or fools.
            The problem was not them or their ideas. The problem was me and my inability to see beyond my own experiences. I did not understand what they were trying to tell me. I could not conceive of the notion in my own mind because I could not relate to anything but the constructs of my reality at that time. I'm not sure I even wanted to understand them. It just seemed like so much work to grab hold and appreciate something, every day, all the time. I kept telling myself that I wasn't a Buddhist. My world at this time was more nightmare than dreamy and I found little reason to want to become more aware of it, let alone clutch it to my heart. "Easy for the rest of you to say," I'd say. I spent so much time looking for something that would change my wretched life that I missed out. I didn't comprehend that life is how we make it. Conveniently, I had been told life was based on how God made things. If you didn't like the way He set things in motion, then tough. If I could not follow His rules then I was offending Him and got everything I deserved. Life was not fair and God seemed not to care. It was all my fault, regardless.

"If only I could sleep in
And wake up on the weekend
What a dream that would be
But fat chance for that one
It ain't gonna happen
Better get back to reality
I could be a slob or keep my job
That is the choice we have
The daily grind can freak your mind
But life isn't all that bad"
            Everything I know about the secret of life and the existence of God I can sum up in one word: intangible. You can look and look, searching here and there. You can study and explore, questioning everything. You will never find an answer. At this stage I would argue that there aren't any answers, just more questions. Nothing makes sense even when it does. Hunting down the possibilities is like trying to catch a ghost. You know there is something there but you cannot touch it, or hold it, or tame it. If you are sincere in your quest, you come to understand rather quickly that everyone is in the same place that you are. No one knows, no one has one iota of anything other than that. We speculate. We accumulate. We theorize. It all slips through our fingers for we cannot reach it. Life is simple. It is human beings who complicated it. God is simple, it is human beings who refuse to listen. The questions are the closest thing to answers we will ever get.  
            With nothing else, all that's left then is to thrive in today. There is  nothing else you can count on but right now. This moment is the answer we all are looking for. Believing that life is worthwhile can promote that possibility. If you tell yourself that your life has value then it does by default. Take today for today and leave the rest to the day after. As Jesus said, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:34, NIV). I know better than most that just existing makes dying look easy. I know how hard it is to find a reason to go on. A life spent learning from mistakes and pain is more utile than one spent learning from nothing. One can never be content with today if you search for tomorrow. People spend their entire life trying to track down the meaning of life only to miss out on living. Happiness is not tangible. 

"Everybody's got to do it
Everybody's got to earn their way
Come on now
You gotta work your own way through it
Everybody's got their dues to pay
The daily grind can freak your mind
But life isn't all that bad"
            To live in the moment requires discipline and focus. You have to train yourself, conditioning your mind and even your spirit. If you can do this, your body will follow in kind. Remember at all times that growing older each day is a privilege denied to many. You must be thankful to be alive in order to be fully alive. You have to recognize that problems don't just go away because we wish they would. You must tell yourself that this too shall pass. All the energy you put into the problem will determine the hold the problem has over you. There is nothing wrong with a good dose of denial and ignoring something is one way to deal with it when you are ready. What you put into something is what you will get out of it. I tell myself this whenever anything goes wrong.
            If I am singing, I concentrate on singing. I do the task at hand. Whether I am eating dinner, or writing, I try to stick to one thing at a time. I am deliberate in my focus. When someone is easily distracted, they have usually put too much on their plate. Slow down and take the time. You can't notice a flower if you run right past it. I have minimized my life. I set aside time to determine what is important to me and I give little time to the things that are not important. I have learned to let go of things that are not good for me. I tend to separate, keeping things from bunching up. Activities and appointments can pile up on us, but regulating things apart from each other can relieve stress and turn each one into a pleasure rather than a pain. Several times a day I turn away from the computer, turn off my music and I do absolutely nothing at all. I try my best to not even think. I enjoy the world around me. I stop to smell the roses and savour the food I am eating. The more you enjoy the small things around you, the more you become aware of yourself. Concentrating on your breathing, your thoughts, can help you to notice the natural world around you. When you awaken those senses, you automatically slow down your pace. Stop and drink it all in.  
            I think meditation is important but I don't really enjoy the standard process. I hate it when my ass falls to sleep. I primarily work from home so I have been able to find alternative measures. I break down my day into scheduled tasks. Between each task I perform one duty or another from around the house. Housework has become my meditation. Whether I am dusting or vacuuming or even brushing the cats, I find balance and peace in focusing on the job before me. Focusing can clear your mind. I learned this trick many years ago when I worked with my Dad at the high school in our hometown. For almost two years, I polished and shined the 300s section. All alone, for eight hours every night, I tuned out the world and  focalized. Room to room, I moved without disruption. It was relaxing and I grew to appreciate the silence. For a brief period of time, I even enjoyed this type of manual labour. This trick has become an indispensable tool allowing me to focus on here and now.
            Time is now. Today is your milestone. Accept responsibility for your life. Take the time to love someone. Show others that you care. Feel the breeze. Smell the field. Take advantage of the sunshine. Only you can take you where you want to go. Try not to regret the things you have done. Learn or you might just end up regretting the things you didn't do when you had the chance. Life is short so embrace it. Be aware. Love is rare so cherish it. Memories are sustenance so use them. Try to remember there is always someone, somewhere suffering more than you. Be grateful for what you don't have and recognize that others would be happy with half of what you do have. It is okay to have feelings. It is okay to indulge in life's pleasures. Take the time and enjoy the decadent, passionate, inspiring, depressing, and incredible life that you have been given to live. Life is a song. Sing it. Pay attention. Never forget that this world owes you nothing. That's just life. It was here first. As time goes by, don't miss each benchmark.


"C'est la vie! That's life,
That's how it's gonna be
Come on now
C'est la vie! Hold tight,
It comes right eventually
C'est la vie"
(C'est La Vie, Shania Twain 2002)