HALFWAY TO DEAD

“Most peoveilple die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”  -Benjamin Franklin

It was the damndest thing.  I was at the mall, eeling my way through a school of teenagers when I heard a snatch of conversation between two boys that stopped me dead in the water:

“Dude, she’s like 40 years old!  That’s like halfway to dead!”

Mind you, they were talking about a pop singer, but for some reason his words resonated in my brain like John Donne’s proverbial bell.

To be perfectly honest, at first I couldn’t believe what I’d heard and my initial reaction was simply to brush aside the comment.  After all, what did it matter that a fifteen year old punk thought that a singer over forty wasn’t worth listening to because she was “halfway to dead?”

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that this one random piece of overheard conservation is indicative of everything that is wrong with our culture; of the prevailing attitude regarding anyone or anything that doesn’t provide instant satisfaction and gratification; of the tendency to view anyone over the age of forty (or anything that hasn’t been written, produced, published, aired, designed or conceptualized in the last 24 months) to be irrelevant; of the “me first!” mentality that has turned our society into a self-centered, ego-centric parody of itself.

We live in a take-out world of fast food, quick fixes, one minute makeovers; a world where if you either learn to adapt to the rapidly changing social structure or you get left in the dust; a world where old age is seen as a curse, education is seen as a joke and the answer to all of life’s problems lies in drinking from the fountain of youth and being able to fit into our skinny jeans even after we’ve had two children. And it is this youth-obsessed, egocentric culture that has generated the idea of the mid-life crises as joke; as a desperate bid by those past their prime to hold on to the glory of youth and try one last time to make their mark on the world.

Everyone has seen the characterization of the aging middle-aged man combing his hair over his bald spot, buying a sports car, and trading in his wife for a younger, perkier model.  For women this same time frame is portrayed as the 40-something year old woman or “cougar” getting plastic surgery and headed out on the prowl for a younger, virile man, because don’t you know, it’s all about the sex and, in a youth-obsessed culture – it is understandable (if laughable) that older men and women would be so scared of getting old that they would do whatever it takes to make themselves desirable once again.

The Mid-Life Re-Evaluation

You see, what it really comes down to is the mis-use of the term “crisis” for what happens to so many people at the mid-point of their lives is not so much about fearing death – about trying to regain their youth or proving their virility by taking on younger lovers as it is about the realization that they are at the half-point of their lives and have not yet begun to live.

Most people in western society settle down in their mid-twenties.  They acquire a full-time job, a spouse, and, over the years, children, a mortgage, credit card bills, social standing in the community and even positions of responsibility and respect in their churches.  But while for all intents and purposes they appear to have a “good life” too many are just going through the motions.  Far too many people are dying inside.

For their whole lives they have been living for the weekends, for vacations, intent on getting the next promotion, the bigger house, getting the kids out of school and into the right colleges, for retirement, convinced that eventually they will reach a plateau of happiness where they can finally draw a deep breath and where their lives will finally have meaning, where they can finally relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The only problem is, it never arrives.  There is always another bill, another event, another concern, another upcoming event; a web of responsibilities and obligations that keep them tethered to the soul-less job and the loveless marriage.  And so, many people “break out” of the mold in an act of almost teenage rebellion.  Having been immersed in a consumer society where the acquisition of things is equated with elevated happiness, most of those who hit this crises point do something stereotypical, like quitting their job, taking a younger lover, buying a flashy car thinking that these things will somehow give their lives meaning.

energy2And then there are those who instinctively understand that there is more going on than meets the eye; that this isn’t about things.  This isn’t even about reclaiming their youth.  This is about stripping away all of the layers of veneer and varnish that society insists that they wear in order to be considered acceptable.  This is learning how to reconnect with the authentic self.  This is about moving past what religions and governments and even friends or family expect from them.  This is about remembering who and what they really are while there is still enough time to experience life; while there is still enough time to appreciate the wonder and mystery that surround them.  This is nature’s wake up call.  This isn’t about being “halfway to dead.”  This is a clarion call to those who hear it and who have the wisdom to understand that it is time to stop going through the motions and truly start to live.

Excuse Me, My Life is Waiting

walk“Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

 

Does purposefully surrounding yourself with people who will lift you higher; people who encourage you and strengthen you sound like a selfish thing to do?  Can you imagine the alternative?

No, most of us don’t have to imagine the alternative, because most of us live it.  I know I do.  Or, rather, up until now, I have.

When I was little it was family members who would discourage me from my dreams, telling me that I really didn’t have the talent or skill for this or that endeavor, or that what I was attempting was not something that a “good Christian girl” would do.  If I pursued my activities I would then have to put up with the disappointment of those same family members and see the hurt and pain in their eyes that I wasn’t living up to their expectations.  And so I would sigh and tuck away my dreams.

When I was older it was my teachers, friends or boyfriends that would discourage me from attempting what they saw as ill-conceived or inadvisable options.  And what did I do?  I would go ahead with them anyway, until of course someone looked at me again with that pain in their eyes, and then I would crumble. OK, ok.  I’ll fold.  Just stop looking at me like that.  I want you to LIKE me, to LOVE me, not to be disappointed by me. And then I got married and the whole process started over again. 

So why am I speaking in the past tense?  Because I have decided that I am finished with the negativity.  I have to be.

You see, the negativity of those who discourage, demean or belittle me and my desire to become the truest version of myself are not serving me.  And there – right there – is where I usually get a twinge of guilt.  The very term “not serving me” just reeks of self-centeredness, doesn’t it?

But there comes a point in your life where you realize that as much as you care about the people in your life; and as much as you want them to be happy, there is something that is more important, and that is that you be true to your real self no matter how others feel about it.

This isn’t selfishness; at least it isn’t selfishness in the traditional definition of the word.  No, this is taking care of what you need in order to learn and grow and become, and let’s face it, without growth things tend to stagnate and grow stale. That includes everything from your personal life to your relationships with others, so no matter what, there really is no point in spending your energy trying to maintain the status quo.

Of course those negative individuals in your life who encourage you NOT to change would be glad of change IF (and only if) you were to change in the direction that they wish to see you go.  What scares them is that you are changing in ways that make them uncomfortable, which is why they fight against it so hard. But a moment of reflection should show you that change to make someone else happy is actually counterproductive.  Yes, the other person may rest easier knowing that you will not break out in ways that they cannot or will not allow themselves to understand.  But you will be just as unhappy having changed into something that you are NOT as you were unhappy to remain in a stagnant or stale situation.

Actually, you will be unhappier having changed in a direction that is at odds with your soul purpose; even unhappier than you would be simply staying put and resisting the urge to become who and what you really are.

No.  The truth of the matter is that you HAVE to follow your instincts and intuition if you are going to truly live your life and not simply treat it as some sort of spectator sport.

At the risk of sounding cliché, you have to follow your heart.  If it leads you in a direction that others find uncomfortable enough, they will move on or move out of your life to a place where they feel more comfortable and where the people and things live up to their expectations.

So when I talk about surrounding yourself with those who will lift you up (and not pull you down) I’m not talking about walking away from people or situations that do not serve you.  Instead, what I am saying is that you need to stop giving those people and situations that you find energy draining or negative to the point of depression, your attention.

Just stop.  They are not worth the effort of either fighting their negativity or the effort of changing yourself in order to please them.  They do not serve you.

So focus on what does serve you; on those things that bring you joy and that fill your life with the wonder and mystery that feeds your soul.  Focus on those things that encourage you to grow and become who and what you truly are, and watch your life as it changes for the better.

How to Be Happy

“Happiness is not something that someone hands you, like a sweater or a scarf.  It’s not something that you find hanging on some random hook and which can be ripped off of you by ill-intentioned people or ripped when it catches on a thorn of meanness or misunderstanding.  Happiness is something that you ARE not something that is done to you.  It’s like drinking a glass of water.  Once that water is inside of you it can’t be taken away.  It becomes a part of your body finding its way into every cell and molecule.  Of course you do have to choose to drink the water in order to reap its benefits.”  ~ SSHenry

Are you happy?

No, seriously.  Are you happy?  Do you wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and hope in your heart?  Does your unfettered enthusiasm for life fallow you through the day and spill over onto those around you without you even trying?  Do you see the good in everything and hope for the best in every situation no matter how grim the circumstances may seem?

Yes, I know, I’ve just defined an optimist (or, as some people tend to call them, a Pollyanna).  You know the story of Pollyanna don’t you?  It is the story of a little girl who had every reason in the world to be unhappy.  She was an orphan.  She was sent to live with a cold and unfeeling aunt.  She didn’t fit in with anyone around her.  And yet, she always saw the good in everything to the point that she nearly drove everyone around her crazy with her relentless upbeat attitude.  People actually got upset with her because she was always so positive about everything.  This is probably because they have no idea what happiness actually is.

“Happiness isn’t optimism” a friend told me once when the topic came up in conversation.   But he was wrong.  Well.  Not totally wrong.  Unlike optimism which tends, at least in most people, to be a conscious choice (choosing to see the good in every situation), happiness is something that you are.  You don’t choose to see the best in every situation; you just see the best in every situation.  You don’t choose to be enthusiastic, you are enthusiastic.  You don’t choose to follow your joy, you are your joy.  This happiness radiates from every pore in your body because it is part and parcel of who and what you are.   Of course, before you can BE happy, you have to CHOOSE to be happy.

Confused yet?  It’s really not as difficult as it may seem.

You see, happiness is not something that someone hands you, like a sweater or a scarf.  It’s not something that you find hanging on some random hook and which can be ripped off of you by ill-intentioned people or ripped when it catches on a thorn of meanness or misunderstanding.  Happiness is something that you ARE not something that is done to you.  It’s like drinking a glass of water.  Once that water is inside of you it can’t be taken away.  It becomes a part of your body finding its way into every cell and molecule.  Of course you do have to choose to drink the water in order to reap its benefits  and there are always those who would rather let themselves become dehydrated rather than deal with the “sloshy” feeling that comes from a surfeit of joy and contentment, and this is where the concept of happiness being a choice comes in.

Like choosing to drink the water, if you choose happiness it becomes a part of you; diffusing through every system and cell in your body making everything run smoother and more efficiently.   It’s true!  The happier you are; the more enthusiastic and positive you are about what is happening in your life and the more content and productive you will be.

No, this does not mean that you ignore the bad things that happen around you or the mean and hurtful things that are said or done to you or even how much pressure is being put on you to accomplish certain things within a certain timeframe.  It simply means that once you have drunk from this fountain of happiness; once you have chosen to make it a part of you, you understand that there is nothing outside of yourself that can take it away from you.

No matter what is happening.  No matter what is being said.  No matter what is being done; you are happy.  This happiness may not always express itself in unbridled enthusiasm or excitement; it may at times simply be a core of peace and contentment that burns steady and bright inside of your heart keeping you warm even in the coldest of times.  But it is there, and it can make all the difference.

The White Knight Complex

“Don’t get dependent on that Knight in Shining Armor.  All being rescued does is remove you from your immediate circumstances.  It does nothing to address the question of how the devil you ended up in that situation to begin with.”  ~SSHenry

Why is it that in every fairy tale that features a princess there is always a knight in shining armor (or sometimes tarnished armor, black leather or blue jeans and a cowboy hat) waiting right around the corner to rescue her?

God I find the princesses annoying; all perfect hair and fluffy dresses (usually long to inhibit freedom of movement) and more often than not under some sort of a spell that keeps them from escaping on their own or even realizing that they are just a pawn in some dark and evil chess game.

Yes, yes, I know, the princess is symbolic of innocence and purity and the knight is supposed to symbolize the noble instinct to protect and preserve those qualities.  But honestly, as a culture we’ve taken this to heart so deeply that we’ve ingrained the idea of the noble knight; the belief in there being someone or something out there that will “save” the princess (or the innocent child, or the weak and willful sinner) into our collective unconscious.

More disturbing to me than the idea of a savior, however, is the thought that so many people who are capable of saving themselves believe that they need someone to do it for them.  Why is that?  Why can’t they see that they have the power within themselves to not only to take care of the problem at hand but to take responsibility for themselves; for today’s thoughts and beliefs; these choices and actions that will become tomorrow’s reality?

That is how it works you know.  It is the thoughts we entertained yesterday; the beliefs we held to be true; the choices we made and the actions that we took that determine where we find ourselves today.

Every thought that enters your head (and more importantly, those thoughts that you tend to dwell on) impacts the beliefs that you hold to be true.  These beliefs in turn affect the choices that we make on a day-to-day basis.  And, just as one domino is responsible for knocking down the next in the line; the choices that we make directly impact our actions; actions which determine the look, feel and flavor of the reality that we will find ourselves in tomorrow.

Ah yes, I know there will be some of you that say that this is far too simplistic of a view; that it can’t possibly be this easy.  It can’t possibly be that all a person has to do is to pay attention to the thoughts that are passing through their minds and to select those that they want to bring into their reality (this is called mindfulness by the way).  I can hear the questions now; “What about the bad things that happen to us; those things that we have no choice in?” or maybe “What about the influence of god or the devil; of good or evil?”

It is true that we do not get to choose all of yesterday’s circumstances (well, true that is unless you believe in reincarnation and soul destiny, but without going into all of that we can still address the issue).  There are things that happen to us that we have no direct control over.  But even so, this does not mean that choices we made in the distant (or not so distant) past may not have some impact on whether or not we put ourselves in a position to have those particular experiences.

And yes, there are some things that are done to you; things over which you have absolutely no control.  But what we do have control over (at least outside of those extreme situations where the trauma is so extreme that the mind disconnects from reality altogether and makes it impossible for the person to change their thought patterns) is how we choose to react and respond to those experiences that we did not consciously choose to participate in.

We can choose to react from fear; allowing those circumstances to control our lives and seeing them as obstacles on our path to happiness, or we can change our perspective and choose to see those circumstances as opportunities to prove that we are in control of our own destinies.

Of course if we do not acknowledge the fact that it is our thoughts as well as the beliefs that are spawned by our thoughts, the decisions we make due to these beliefs and the actions that we take that even in regard to those circumstances that are beyond our control, then it is perfectly understandable that we would look around desperately for someone or something that will rescue us from the tangle our lives have become; a white knight in shining armor who will cut through the crap and free us from the mess that we have gotten ourselves into through our thoughts and words and actions.

Of course relying on these knights opens up its own can of worms; like dealing with the fact that until we learn how to take responsibility for our own lives we will continue to revert back to those thoughts and beliefs and actions that got us into trouble in the first place (and we’ll have to call on the white knight once again to work his magic).

How much simpler to simply acknowledge the fact that it is ourselves and ourselves alone that have the power to change our lives for the better; that by accepting responsibility for everything our lives are right now at this moment in time that we can take positive action to ensure that today’s thoughts, beliefs and actions will work together to create a tomorrow that is everything we could have hoped for.

When Only the Moon Howls

“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”

~ George Carlin

We’ve all had those nights; nights when logic and reason abandon us to those thoughts that we usually keep locked up deep in the untouchable places of our minds. You know the thoughts I’m talking about.  The kind that we keep locked up so tight that we somehow manage to convince ourselves that we never entertained them.

It’s on nights like these that we wander around the house searching for something; unsure of what it is that we are looking for but finding nothing but frustration and abandoned hopes scattered like overlooked dust bunnies beneath the larger pieces of our mental furniture.

If you are anything like me you wander from room to room; switching on lights, computers, making a cup of hot tea, running a futile Google search (and usually for random phrases that keep running through your mind), perhaps skulking around the yard in hopes of encountering something unusual to keep us occupied, maybe listening to some music or attempting to read a few chapters in your current book until finally you crawl back into bed and close your eyes in hopes that sleep will finally find you.

It is then of course that they come.

But it isn’t sleep that creeps into the silent spaces in your mind.

It isn’t sleep that seeps into the corners of your heart and congeals in oil-slick pools that make your stomach turn over just looking at them.

It is those dark contemplations; those self-doubts and depreciations and fears that we keep locked away in the daylight; buried deep in air tight caskets like so many vampires relegated to the dungeons beneath our waking thoughts.

For some reason they thrive in the moonlight and bask in the play of shadows that fall across the living room floor.  You can see them slithering along the baseboards and skulking in the darkness under the stairs and worming their way across the landscape of your mind.

The impression of teeth; of claws extending from misshapen hands; hands that are reaching out to tear our self worth into shreds with one swipe and stand growling over the carcass of our sanity like a hell hound bent on tearing our soul right out of its shell. It’s enough to paralyze you; to leave you shivering on the couch with a blanket pulled around your shoulders, hunched against the chill of uncertainty and self-loathing, the tea congealing on the coffee table and every creak and groan in the floors and pipes only underscoring the sinister ambiance.

When these nights come – and they will come – you can either cower in fear and hiding your heart from the despair that they generate, or you can embrace them; pull them into the core of your heart and welcome them with open arms as long lost aspects of yourself.

You see, these unlovely thoughts; these fears and doubts and feelings of impotency and despair are just as much a part of you as the practical and upbeat aspects of your daytime self; the one who always knows just the right words to say and who others look to when they are in need of wisdom and emotional support.  Denying the truth will only give them more power each time that they manage to creep beyond the confines of those deep places to which you have relegated them.

If you embrace them however, if you welcome them as a part of yourself that has heretofore gone unacknowledged and greet them with love you will find a strange thing happening.  Like the early morning mist that dissipates as the sun creeps over the horizon, these dark and loathsome thoughts will melt away in the all-forgiving light of you love.  You will see them as they truly are, and they will lose what power they had over your heart and soul and mind.

 

My Desire

“They say that love is the fundamental core of the universe.  They were wrong.  It is not love that is the lynchpin of existence.  It is desire.”  ~ SSHenry

Have you ever known desire? Have you ever felt the pure unadulterated yearning; that all encompassing searing of the soul that is the heart of love, the inspiration of creativity and the igniter of passion?  If you have ever truly known desire – real desire then you will understand what I say when I tell you that it is the true sign of one whose heart is fully open to everything and everyone around them; to every experience, and to all that the universe has to offer.

Indeed, in order to love you have to have the desire to love; the desire to open your heart up to the possibility of being loved in return.

It doesn’t matter if the love being returned to you is genuine; temporary; or even a reflection or echo of the love that you have sent out.  It is the loving and the openness to receiving love that is important, and both are possibly only made possible by acting on the desire to love and opening up to being loved in return.

Yes, I know all the movies and romance novels portray desire as something deeply sexual; something that ignites physical attraction and brings the lovers together more often than not against their better judgment.  Either that or they portray desire as the first step to obsession.  But in truth is that while desire can indeed lead to passion of all kinds (physical, mental and even spiritual) that is not all it is, not by a long shot.  And yes, it can lead to obsession if one focuses all of one’s desire on one person or object or experience to the exclusion of everything else.

And it isn’t just love that is fueled by desire, though love is the most powerful of the emotions that desire generates.  Desire also powers the engines of creativity.  You have to have the desire to express yourself before you ever pick up a pen or a paintbrush and create something bigger than has ever been seen or read before.  You have to have the desire to play before you can pick up an instrument and make your heart-song heard.

Oh yes, with enough talent and training anyone can write a coherent sentence or draw a picture or play the notes as they are written.  But only desire can inspire you to express your soul through your artistic medium and to create something that expresses to the world the true nature of who and what you are and to open your heart up to the world in return.

But it is not only artists who use desire in their daily lives.  Every person who opens their heart up to another; every person who loves first without expecting anything back in return; each of these people is using desire  (the desire to be something more than someone who only gives if they get something of equal or greater value back) to make the world a better place.  They desperately desire that love be the underlying factor of their reality and they embody that in every action that they take and every word they speak.

And desire is not partial.  It can be used for good; to fuel love and strength; creativity and passion.  But it can also fuel obsession and greed as well.  Like the Tao it is not good or bad in and of itself.  It simply is.  It is how you choose to use it; how you choose to channel it that matters.

Which brings me to another point; true desire can’t be hoarded, as Yoda said “that way darkness lies.”  Keeping your desire bottled up inside of yourself is a sure way to turn your desire into an obsession.  To be fully functional desire has to be open to the elements and free, not only as something you do (desiring something) but as an experience (being desired) as well.

Only when you are completely open to knowing and being known; to loving and being loved; to desiring and being desired can you truly be open to every experience that the universe has to offer you; to experiencing your full potential as a human being; to being more you than you ever thought possible.

I want that for you.  I want you to have the opportunity to experience desire in its truest and most open form.  I want you to become more than you ever thought possible.  I want you to experience the joy and wonder that comes from opening yourself up completely to experiencing each moment totally; to loving completely and to being loved in return.

That is my desire.

What’s yours?

 

 

 

 

The Big Picture

“Sometimes it is difficult to understand why certain things have to happen in our lives.  What may be even more difficult to believe is that everything; no matter how seemingly unfair or painful; is part of the larger picture a picture that is being created by a skilled and talented artist who knows exactly what they are doing.” ~ SSHenry

Have you ever watched an artist at work?  I’m not talking about the painter dude on PBS who whips his pictures out in a neat half hour show while talking to his audience about technique.  I’m talking about a painter who is creating something entirely new; something that has never been seen before; something straight out of their imagination.  It’s slow going and sometimes it is not always clear just what they are trying to do.  In fact, watching them step by step can be confusing to say the least.

Layers of primer and base coat colors give way to blotchy looking splotches which slowly meld themselves into vibrantly shaded backgrounds and open spaces.  Bold, angry looking lines and jagged chunks of seemingly pointless blackness become trees and rocks and valleys.

Sometimes it may seem as if the artist is moving quickly with broad strokes blending colors and creating textures in mere minutes.  But then they may let the painting sit for a long period of time while the layers cure, or they may leave one section of the painting to attend to another, leaving the one watching them in frustration as to how things are going to turn out and what exactly it is that is being created.

Sometimes the artist appears to attack the painting, using metal tools to cut through layers of already cured and dried paint in order to lend depth and texture where there was previously only smooth paint.  Sometimes they look as if they are attacking the painting with their brush; jabbing angrily at various patches where an object is slowly taking shape.  Sometimes the brushes slash; at other times they caress so gently and delicately that you could imagine that the artist is making love to the canvass, and sometimes the artist will use a spray bottle of paint thinner to remove entire sections in order to make room for something else.

Confusing?  Yes.  Especially for the one watching the painting take shape, but imagine for a moment that you are not merely watching the painting, but that you are the painting.

Doesn’t it feel that way sometimes?  Doesn’t it feel as if you are being manipulated by some master craftsman; some talented artist who doesn’t take your wishes into account at all but instead is manipulating the situations, events and people in your life in a way that you can’t even begin to understand?

Shall I tell you a secret?

It’s true.  You are being manipulated by a master craftsman; a master artist.  Your life is a canvass; a work in progress and I bet if you close your eyes you can feel the brush strokes on your soul; the colors coming together in vibrantly rich tapestries of detailed light and shadow.

You want to know something else?  This artist is no stranger.  This master artist is no separate and distinct god who is flagrantly manipulating your life for his own purposes.

You are the artist.

You are the artist and the canvass.

You are simultaneously the paint and the brush; the color and the texture; the light and the shadow.

All of it – all of it is you.

Every decision that you make – or don’t make; every action that you take – or don’t take; everything is part of the grand scheme; the big picture that your higher self is crafting out of your life.

You can fight it.  Of course you can.  You can wail and scream about the unfairness of the knife cutting through your perfectly laid paint layers.  You can gnash your teeth about the angry slashes that are marring up your background or the inexplicable color combinations that don’t go with the decorating scheme you chose for your life, or you can accept that there is a reason for what is happening, even if they don’t make logical sense in the here and now.

Or, you can accept that it is all part and parcel of the big picture.  You may not yet be able to see the picture in its entirety, but you can feel the canvass under your fingertips and smell the oils in the air and trust that you know what it is that you are doing and that as the painting begins to take shape you will feel things fall into place.

As long as you remember that every joy and ecstasy, every misadventure and painful goodbye and heartwarming hello is a necessary step towards the future that you are creating for yourself; as long as you remember that every personally painful experience and heart wrenching moment is adding shadow and depth to a work of art that would otherwise be flat and uninteresting you will be okay.