In this moment, I will not make assumptions about the next moment

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Never confuse yourself by visions of an entire lifetime at once. That is, do not let your thoughts range over the whole multitude and variety of the misfortunes that may befall you, but rather, as you encounter each one, ask yourself,

“What is there unendurable, so insupportable, in this?”

You will find that you are ashamed  to admit defeat. Again, remember that it is not the weight of the future or the past that is pressing upon you, but ever that of the present alone. Even this burden, too, can be lessened if you confine it strictly to its own limits, and are severe enough with your mind’s inability to bear such a trifle.

-Marcus Aurelius

Of those events  out of my control, I can control my reaction to them.

Of those actions in my control, I can thoughtfully and passionately pursue them.

I have complete control- if only I choose to exercise it.

I don’t believe in “signs.” I don’t believe in fate- and I don’t believe that things happen for a reason.

Things happen, or else I make them happen for myself. Events overlap- and there I find beauty, causation, fortunate coincidences. I admire nature, and thank chaos, in these moments. But at no point will I give up, choose a different route, or take  action because I saw a figure in the clouds that looks like jesus christ the same day I lost my job.

My brain is drawn to patterns- I understand that. It’s advantageous to my survival. But this function, when used in extreme and  misleading ways,  is now detrimental to my survival and to my happiness.

In this moment, I choose to exercise my intent, my effort, my determination- my will.

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If there is one thing I can change, it’s myself

I am 10 years old. I think my best friend is a bully.

We do everything together, and we’re the most popular people at school. But she bullies me, and I let her. I’m not sure why. Me and my other close friends talk about her- we all agree, she is rude to all of us at times. No one will stand up to her.

Today, we were in the library and I told her how I felt. When I told her that she hurts our feelings sometimes, she looked confused, turned angry, and smiled. She said, “you guys are so sensitive. You can’t take some jokes?” This was the first time that I had stood up for myself. It was also the last, up until 3 years later.

I’m 11 years old. I come home from school, walk in the door, and see my dad sipping beer out of a coffee cup. I know what this means. My parents are fighting. Immediately I feel tense. Although I haven’t heard yelling yet, I feel my entire body contract. I feel my shoulders drop. My eyes meet the floor. I just want to curl up in a ball and plug my ears, in preparation for an evening of fighting.

I either stay out in the living room and try to solve the argument, which never works- or I hide in my room and plug my ears. I keep quiet until I hear my mom cry. And then I meet her in her room and hug her.

I already know my dad is gone. I hear his car door close every day sometime between 5-7 pm. I wish I was exaggerating. Not sure where he goes. Ten years later I still don’t have a clue. But I’ve sure learned one way to deal with disagreement: run.

I’m 13 years old. I’m still best friends with the same girl. We’re the most popular people in school. We’re the best at sports, we’re on the school counsel. Friends with the teachers. I say this because I was comfortable. I was not desperate to have friends, and at the same time I needed everyone to be my friend. Including those who took advantage of me.

I had nice friends with the exception of the one who bullied me. Everyone was hurt by what she said. One morning, when I told her she hurt my feelings, she smiled and asked what’s wrong with me. Even though I was speaking the mind of the entire school, she made me doubt the impression she had on me. I kept quiet for 8 years.

I’m 13 years old. I do think my parents will divorce. On a side note, my sister comes home late almost every night, turns on the light, makes noise, wakes me up, and doesn’t care. Even when I ask her nicely. Even when I cry.

She doesn’t care to change how she treats me. I keep quiet, and bottle anger. At home with my sister, if I say she’s hurting me, apparently I’m in a “bad mood” because she doesn’t want look at herself.

I go to school, and there, too, I feel I can’t stand up for myself when my best friend degrades me. I feel trapped, in every sense of the word. Trapped by my parents arguing, trapped by my emotions. All I really want to do is tell them exactly how I feel. But I can’t- because I’m trapped by one more thing: my need to please others.

I’m 15 years old. My mom- her hearing is almost completely gone. This exacerbates my parents’ fights- not because they’ve become louder, but because they’ve become quieter. My dad doesn’t care to fight anymore. He won’t waste his breath when she can’t hear him. He won’t repeat himself. He walks away.

When this happens I want to scream and I want to grab him, make him stand still, make him repeat himself, make him care. I want to control him. But I keep quiet. And I repeat what he said to my mom. My unofficial job when I get home from school: repeat what dad says. This is the job I gave myself. I feel bad for my mom- she can’t help being deaf. I feel it is my job to moderate the arguments. And I am bitter about it. I victimized myself for 5 years.

I kept quiet. I never held anyone else responsible for their behavior. I thought they were doing their best. But now I know: they can’t do their best if I’m enabling them to do their worst.

I’m 17 years old. I come home. But it’s not a home. It’s a kind of hell- the less obvious kind. One that releases a poisonous gas that you can’t see the presence of. The gas expands throughout the entire “home,” and pollutes breathable, healthy air. What’s left is poison. From the moment I  walk through the door, it paralyzes me. Although I should be used to it by now, the aroma engulfs me with as much force as it did the first time I heard them arguing. If anything, the force has become more powerful over time. It has accumulated bad memories, negative energy, and has built up strength.

My home is not here…

It’s at the end of the driveway, with ears plugged.

It’s in my car, with the music up loud.

It’s at my friends’ homes, when I hear their parents talking in the early morning. Just talking. That’s it- a normal conversation about what to make for dinner.

I keep quiet. I comfort my mom. I speak slowly for her. I don’t like my dad because he doesn’t try his best. He is halfway here and halfway somewhere else. Always leaving. He never tries to even talk to my mom slowly. He just leaves. He could have a second family and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Come to think of it, he probably does. But I don’t say anything, and I don’t ask him questions. Because he lies to my face. And I can’t withstand any more tension. I keep quiet.

I’m 17 years old. My mom kicked my dad out of the house today. I want him gone, but I tell her to bring him back. I want him gone though. I’m afraid of more conflict.

Somehow, all I care about is putting band-aids on an arm that needs to be amputated. I know the operation needs to happen, but I’m too overwhelmed by the immediate pain- I can’t bring myself to endure any more. I am too inundated by the tension in this home; I can’t see the big picture. I can’t endure any more conflict. I will run away from a serious procedure on my family, even if it is necessary. I keep quiet.

I’m 22 years old. My parents have been divorced for about 2 years. I haven’t seen my “best friend” in 4 years. I tell my sister when she is hurting my feelings, and if her behavior doesn’t change I tell her I need space until she treats me with respect.

My goal is to, some day, wake up and be clear minded, loving, gentle, thankful, and helpful. And on that same day, be ready to pounce: to, on instinct, be self-respecting enough to confront those who wrong me.

My goal is to let my personality run free, to no longer be intimidated by the tension of everyday conflict.

My goal is to preserve kindness, and simultaneously harbor a fierce, passionate, pursuit of life- one that does not need the approval of others.

My goal is to be a lioness. A lioness does not wonder what others are thinking or saying about her. When a lioness hunts, she does so with a calculated plan. She sees something she wants and she confidently pursues it. She may injure other animals but she’s only doing what’s necessary for her survival and that of her family’s.

The lion appears friendly, fluffy, and cute. But it’s not for this reason that I love the lion so much. One is deceivingly adorable on the outside; on the inside, one is always ready to become fierce if it is demanded of him or her.  My goal is to feel at peace with with the animal inside me.

Love is impatient, love is unkind, love is pain. . . and I don’t want it to be

I think of love and I think of tension. All I know is tension. I think of love and I feel comfortable when it’s uncomfortable.

I think of love and I think of one- sidedness.

I think of love and I think of a challenge.

The scariest part is I might not accept love when it’s easy, comfortable, clear, obvious, functional, and beautiful. I’m drawn to the excitement of dysfunction. When I feel pain or confusion 70% of the time, joy feels like a hot bath,  like a drug that brightens everything around me, and one which allows me to appreciate simple pleasures.  Among all the confusion, a moment of clarity overwhelms me with unrivaled happiness. Among misunderstandings, understanding is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

On one hand, I experience a potent shot of life just by witnessing a smile a midst all the arguing. This mindset has allowed me to fully embrace life and I do not wish it were any other way. I look at the sky and I can smile to myself for a half hour. I’ve been able to think deeply and critically about the world, in search of small, potent sources of amazement and joy, to somehow combat all the disorder surrounding me.

On the other hand, how do I recognize what’s good for me? How do I know what’s healthy for me? I seek out a challenge in all facets of life, even endeavors that I fail at over and over again. I believe I even purposefully fail at achieving goals, just to create disorder and inflict pain on myself. This is because I’m searching for a shot, a climax of joy after I feel I’ve endured enough pain. After I’ve hurt myself enough, I no longer deny myself happiness. This is messed up, I think.

I wonder if I’ll ever stop looking for pain and confusion. I can’t… if I stop, I won’t be challenged. If I’m not challenged I lose the opportunity to feel periodic, amazing relief and appreciation.

However, in losing someone, I’m not only losing potential for joy but potential for immense pain. There is not one person I can connect with. There are many.

I experience joy now- the only thing that has changed is the face I’m looking at, the voice I’m hearing, the touch I’m feeling.  It’s not your face, but I still feel connection. It’s not your voice, but I still hear love. Your touch… i don’t feel it. But I still sense comfort.

The Perfection of Character

To live each day as though one’s last, never flustered, never apathetic, never attitudinizing – here is the perfection of character. 

M. Aurelius 

Today I choose to forgive others for their wrongdoings. I choose patience instead of anger- and I take the initiative to love others who don’t even love themselves. Today I strive to achieve the perfection of character.

Sources of Happiness are Relative

I’m in a car with a Taiwanese mother and daughter who do not speak English. We’re driving on roads I’ve never driven on, passing by mountains I’ve never seen. I’m eating food that, two weeks ago, I never knew existed. But these roads, these mountains, this food, is all most Taiwanese people know. It’s all they’ve ever seen, and it’s all some them will ever see.

Ninety-nine percent of the people I’ve asked tell me they’ve never been to the United States. Of those 99%, about half of them have never even left Taiwan. And they are happy. They are content with their familiar life-styles. Who am I to tell them they are “missing out” if they don’t visit the U.S.? What exactly are they lacking, if they are happy? Awareness? Maybe, but most of them do not even have the means to be aware. And by that I mean money. They are poor by U.S. standards.

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A beach In Tainan, Taiwan. A new friend took this picture without my knowledge. I stared at this photo for too long. I was taken back by how different our perspectives can be, even if we are at the same place at the same time.

I gaze out the window and I smile to myself, knowing that there are so many sources of happiness in this world, and that pure amazement is one of them. I stare out the window and I feel warm and appreciative of simple things-like the fact that I’m in a car with this mother and her daughter, who is a student in my classroom. And the fact that they are simply there, offering me awareness of another life’s course.

Frequently my surroundings stimulate a powerful realization, one that is becoming more and more apparent to me the longer I’m here: there are very few customs that can be universally defined as “good.” You can argue which customs make you happy- but they won’t please everyone. You can argue that a certain way of living is ethically good. But there will always be someone who disagrees with you. What I think I know is good and just- I will be re-evaluating, exploring, doubting for the rest of my life ( hopefully). I want to doubt. I want to reconsider. I want to welcome criticism and I want to know better so that I might be able to do better.

Start Over

I feel ashamed of who I am. I no longer see any part of me that is purely good. What happens when I cannot see beyond my failures? What happens when I can’t forgive myself for my mistakes? This is what happens: I give up.

But I don’t want to give up. I want to somehow focus on my successes- to somehow gain redemption.  But at times I feel like I’ve made too many damaging blows to my previously blameless life. I had morals. I had faith. I had a spotless record of treatment towards others. I had faultless academic progress. Now, I have none of this.

My assessment of who I am is blighted…it’s destroyed by shameful things I’ve done and said. I don’t want to be who I am anymore. How do I erase the egregious mark I’ve made on my “life”. How do I become someone new?

I can’t.  I am beyond hopeless,  beyond repair. Even if I correct mistakes, apologize for wrongdoings, refurbish perseverance,  my past will always be there to show people the darkness I’m capable of. The darkness that I will show if I’m pushed to uncomfortable limits.

I don’t want this darkness to reside here, but I don’t know where else to put it. I want courage to replace cowardice. I want optimism to replace apathy. I want love to replace selfishness. I want that. My actions say otherwise.  Even  so, there is no replacement.

I now know the hurt I can inflict on others. I now know the cruelest, most vulnerable side of me. I lie. I lie a lot. I lie to myself. And I lie to others. I lie to nature.

I long. I long a lot. I long for the attention of others. So much that it physically hurts. So much that I hurt the people I love in order to taste a sample of affection.

I give up. I give up a lot. I give up on others. I give up on myself more times than I can count. I give up on life…on my potential… on the light that periodically shines within me. I give up on maintaining the good in me.  I know there is good in me. Or there was good in me. I don’t think it exists anymore within a mindset like mine.

I am ashamed. Perhaps eternally. I don’t have the self-awarenes nor the knowledge to think otherwise. How can I forgive myself when others would never forgive me for the things I’ve done? How do I forgive myself without encouraging and propelling my own bad behavior? What is forgiveness?  I don’t want to be  here, in this body. I don’t want to live this life. I want to start over. I want to start over.

I know there is no way to do this. How I became this person, I have no idea. Maybe if I knew why I am so screwed up- maybe then I could forgive myself. But the people I love- they will not offer the same forgiveness. I just want to start over. I’d do anything to start over. Let me start over.

Control

This brain is all I have. All I know is known because of chemical bonds and electric connections. To sever those connections, to alter their efficiency- and to create new connections- is to change who I am.

I feel both powerful and powerless. While I possess the ability to discipline this electricity- one bad connection, one chemical imbalance, one spark, has the ability to blight my reality; a single malfunction can change who I thought I created, but who is actually at the mercy of a mind that created itself.  My reality belongs to me, for how long I cannot dwell on. I choose to exercise the illusion of control…afterall, it’s all I know.