So many of us live day to day in a constant state of overwhelm. We excuse it by saying, “Once I finish “blank”, I’ll be able to settle down a bit. Unfortunately, sometimes what we proudly and consciously spend our time on, becomes a complete waste when we look back in hindsight. I’ve always loved the quote, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I know when I look back to those days, I wish I’d had the maturity and the foresight to spend time on what matters to me today and let go of what was quite meaningless in the long run. I had so much to prove to so many who most likely weren’t even paying attention, never mind keeping score.
One could argue that what you spent your time on in your youth defined who you are today; “you reap what you sow”. And I do believe that for the most part that is true. But when you reach mid-life, you wonder how much of it got you to where you truly wanted to be, versus where you thought you ought to be. And then the reality of how much time you have left begins to sink in. You begin to realize it is crucial, now more than ever, to leave society’s constructs behind and do what matters, to you.
A crucial part of defining what matters, is defining what doesn’t. This is where a close scrutiny of time spent day to day begins to reveal your priorities, and this is where the disconnect becomes quickly and surprisingly apparent. How much are we doing out of habit, how much from obligation, how much from competition, pressure or otherwise unhealthy sources? Each brick you lay now, builds the path that leads you to your final resting place. If you remain on this course, will it lead you to where you want to end up? If someone were to ask you what truly matters, would you find yourself devoting any time whatsoever to those tenets on a day to day basis?
Reflection matters, especially in a day and age where we are constantly bombarded by messages and demands not of our choosing. Silence is one of the only places where you can gain true clarity. The other safe harbor is where you engage in the things that truly make your soul happy. It is upon arrival at both of those mental destinations that you start to realize true happiness as defined not by others, but by you. We will all have to cut out the things that don’t matter, little by little, if we are to be true to ourselves in the long run.
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The latest horrific incident of violence through yet another shooting spree at a school has of course spurred the debates about to how to solve this issue. I scroll through my facebook feed and see good friends on both sides of the gun control issue. There are manifestos regarding the need for tougher gun control and there are manifestos that tout that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. There are the ever-present discussions regarding the state of mental health. There are articles that cite that more children are killed by guns in the US than any other country in the world.
To me, the issue is far larger than all described above. Thoughts began to swirl around my head that led me to research society within our country as well as cultures throughout the world. I have been researching violence as a whole throughout history. I read articles describing anthropologists’ and biologists’ conflicting arguments on whether or not violence is inherent and whether it is something which can be overcome. I have found research those shows there are at least 70 societies worldwide that resolve issues peacefully to the point where violence simply does not exist.
While it has been shown quite convincingly that violence can be inherently wired within us, whether you are studying chimpanzees or studying humans, the actual normalization of violence within cultures is the true culprit of the propagation, continuation and cyclical nature of continued and sustained terror. What was so disturbing about my research on violence is how many categories have been defined. There is interpersonal, intimate partner, societal, domestic, youth, elder, sexual, financial, psychological… and the list goes on and on. Violence begets violence.
Unfortunately, this current political climate and administration has done nothing but bring more violence to the forefront, as aggression has been continuously explained away and even celebrated. I will forever defend my position that any violence or aggression whether in word or in deed must not be tolerated. We live in a world and a culture that celebrates and is constantly normalizing brutality. There are people in this county and on this planet that live in constant fear of their next violent episode. As a human race, we must rise above and evolve to the peaceful creatures we know we can be. It will take generations, but we must forever push ourselves in the right direction.
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- “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” -Aristotle
I remember the first time I found the self-help section at Barnes & Noble. I was living by myself on Long Island, commuting to my new job in New York City. I had no car and lived by myself. I exhausted myself enough during the week between my commute and the job to crash early every night. But the weekends during which I did not travel were long and lonely. Sometimes I would travel in to spend a day exploring all the wonderful nooks and crannies of New York City. But during the days I wanted to remain local, I would walk to the local B&N Bookstore and lose myself in the hope of all those shiny new books promising me a shiny and perfect life.
With all the self-help books I have read during the past twenty one years, you would think I would have the peace, fortitude and stability of the Dalai Lama. I’ve read countless books about being happier, being skinnier, being stronger, being bolder, being a better manager, being a better leader, being a better friend, being a better listener, being more in control of my destiny and of course, being a faster reader so that I could read more self-help books! I should be so fabulously perfect by now that you’d be able to crown me God.
Unfortunately, that large investment in all those books never quite got me to where I wanted to be. One and a half years of therapy has gotten me further than another twenty would have in the self-help aisle. What’s funny is that I have surfaced far more questions than answers. But the best part is, I have more hope that ever, that the answers I’ve been looking for are not out there, but are actually buried deep within myself, underneath all of the rubble I have piled on to myself for the last 42 years.
I suspect it will take at least another ten years to answer all my questions, unearth all my issues, comb through my anxieties and surface my depressions. But for all the nights that I woke up at 3am in a panic or hid underneath a blanket in the middle of the day, I believe that true happiness and infinite peace do exist. I know enlightenment as I’ve read about for so many years is attainable. We are all on a journey and this is mine. You happen to be coming along with me for the ride. And somewhere within the best version of me, will be the power to give back to the planet and make this world a better place.
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