Sybil

Fearful little feet 
following nervously behind
trembling innocence and dewey eyes
my tutor in unconditional love

Sleek and inky black
the most primal parts
of my personality personified
precious mirror to my own soul

A plume of dark smoke turned solid
manifestation of the void
gifting sweet kisses that say
fear, trust, and love can coexist

Plump imp of the universe
my heart beating outside my body
forever tethered and bound together
thank you for healing all my hollow places

Fresh Memory

Crystalline structures of familiar chords 
take me on nostalgic tours
through the old forgotten caverns
of my heart's youthful years

Fresh citrus drops
that sting you with sweetness
refurbishing faded memories
until I feel transported

Through the violent veil of time
that contorts and distorts
the continuous current of energy
that is me

What harm is there
in having a snack 
of the sweet, supple story
stitched together in my soul

To allow myself to believe the fiction
that I've chosen to cherish
and buried deep beneath the bedrock
of my being

The bittersweet bite of memory
never bothers me
hot tears and catching breath
can still feel like home

Permanent pillars of my past
are supports that assure me
some things will never change
a perfect picture of stillness inside

That will not cease to create
prickles beneath my ribcage
or train me to build up a tolerance
to the days that trail behind

When I find nothing but fear before me
I can always run my fingers over
the smooth shape of those experiences
that are mine forever to carry

A natural resource for me to drink from
and subconsciously stitch together
into fresh dreams of you at night
to fill me again with gratitude and delicate devotion

Patient Separation

This time apart
was meant for me
I'm not yet ready
to have you

There are so many things
this solitude is teaching me
preparing me for
our perfect reunion

I can wait
I can be patient in this pain
for as long as it takes
for you to return to me

Perhaps this is my punishment
for proving I couldn't appreciate you
or the way we were back then
to be fair, I deserve far worse

But if this is all that's left
if I linger on in loneliness
with only the memories
to keep me company

That's enough
your fading image
these pangs of pure feeling
are gifts that I will continue to cherish

Leftovers, mementos of better times
breathe life into me still
the ghostly gifts
of all that you've given me 

Having Enough

There is purpose in pain
there is salvation in suffering
there is peace is powerlessness
teetering on the edge of oblivion
is a balancing act that brings great strength
blessings disguised as burdens
bring unsuspecting hearts new perspectives
sometimes joy is hard to find
in a life of lavish excess
the simple soothing sensations
of aching needs finally met
are lost in the gratuitous gamut 
of wealth and superfluous luxury
even small happinesses are enough
to feed a truly hungry heart
there is no need to fear the fall
it offers us cleansing from distraction
a chance to uncover the real pleasures
of a life unclouded by greed
we flee from the emptiness
clinging desperately to all we have
forgetting that letting go is a lesson
that teaches us we were enough all along

Connected

Why do I see this body
as the limits of my container
the pieces of matter that comprise me
continue on into the cosmos

even the air between you and I 
is saturated with shifting energy
carrying currents of information
through supposed emptiness

connection is everywhere I look
from the veins and tissues of this body
to the veins of mycelium and root systems underground
to the streams and rivers snaking across the earth

the illusion of separation is still poignant somehow
despite the new science that shows we are one
could I learn to feel beyond this form?
can I lift the veil of this life?

to recognize myself in all that I see
is to relinquish this unruly fear of reality
freedom is remembering a fate intertwined
uncovering a deep compassion for all of existence

To love myself is to love the world
to love the world is to love myself
we are inextricably intertwined
we are one in the same

Love, Nature, Humor, & Suffering

Have you ever noticed something very particular and seemingly random suddenly coming up again and again in your everyday life? Almost as if the universe is calling you to pay attention to this specific thing? I know some people have this sensation often, even to the extent they start making every little thing extremely meaningful in some way. For me, this hardly ever happens. I have a very weak sense of my intuition. I never really think much of the strange coincidences that happen in my life. That made it all the more poignant to me how much this sign stuck out and refused to be silenced.

Over a month ago, I was in a training and one of the instructors mentioned the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. As she said it, I glanced at my bookshelf and realized, I had that very book! I hadn’t purchased it. I had gotten it secondhand from a psychologist that retired from my last job and left piles of books to give away to whoever was interested. I took a lot of those books, but hadn’t read many of them yet. I decided that I just had to read it now, but I was in the middle of another book so I put it off. Then I heard it mentioned on a few podcasts. One podcast host, just as I was thinking it, made a comment to the effect of “if I was playing sign’s from the universe bingo, two of the squares would have to be Viktor Frankl and neuroplasticity.” Chills immediately ran down my spine. Neuroplasticity was another pivotal concept I’d learned about in school that had changed my life and seemed to be endlessly talked about wherever I went afterward. I knew this book had something for me, maybe exactly what I was needing.

It’s not a very long book so I got through it pretty swiftly. Much to my delight, there were even notes in the margins from the psychologist that I had inherited the copy from. I took my own notes as well, and this is what I’ve taken away from Frankl’s text. What is the meaning of life? Or rather, what things give life meaning? Love, nature, humor, and suffering. These are the things that make life meaningful.

Frankl brought me to tears with his descriptions about how even in the face of the most horrific suffering anyone can imagine, inside the concentration camps of Auschwitz, with seemingly nothing left to live for, the image of his wife’s face in his memory was enough to give him strength and keep him going. It wasn’t necessarily that he felt he had to survive to see her again. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. But it didn’t matter. The love he had for her was real and could not be taken from him. The love itself was enough to keep living. I think we’ve all tasted the incredible power that love gives us, but his descriptions really drove home how inherently meaningful love is, that it truly can conquer all, even our own immense suffering and hopelessness.

He went on to explain, that despite the numbness the prisoners succumbed to after so much time engulfed in pain and suffering, the beauty and majesty of nature was still able to grip them. As they stood in agony in a filthy train car, supposing they were on their way to the gas chambers, they still crowded around the tiny window just to see the breathtaking image of the distant mountains against the horizon. He also recounts the story of one prisoner that tells him before she dies that the scraggly limb of a tree that she could see through the window at camp kept her going. She said the tree spoke to her. It said, “I am here. I am here. I am life, eternal life.”

As morbid as it may seem, Frankl also recounts the humor he and his fellows found even in suffering. Starvation, pain, humiliation, death, and disease were not enough to take away their ability to make light of it all somehow. Regardless of the situation, no matter how dire it may seem, we still have the power of perspective, even if only in fleeting moments. We can find the humor in even our darkest hours. And sometimes that is enough to get us through. No one is demanding we take life so seriously. There is so much power in laughter, especially dark humor and laughter at our own misfortune. The gift of humor is transcendent.

Finally, Frankl explains that there is meaning even in suffering itself. Although we try to find happiness and avoid suffering as all living beings do, there is still inherent value in the suffering that touches each and every one of our lives to some extent. Suffering can be seen as an opportunity. It can be a fortifying fire that turns iron into steel. Sometimes our suffering can be seen as a sacrifice, a way to protect someone else from the fate we now bear. What could be more meaningful than that? Love can make even the most bitter suffering a beautiful gift. While we don’t wish for suffering to stain our lives, it is not an evil if we can transmute it into a source of strength and spiritual transformation.

Near the very end of the book, when I thought I had already seen what the universe had directed me here for, I was moved more deeply still. A concept I had been incubating for a while now was presented to me in the most perfect phrasing, in words I hadn’t quite been able to grasp yet myself. Frankl used the example of a chimp being experimented on for a cure, but as this left a bad taste in my mouth, I thought of a better one. Consider a honeybee and its life’s work. As it flies from flower to flower, the bee is only concerned with collecting pollen to make honey for its hive. It has no hope of becoming privy to the larger significance of its daily labors. The bee will never know that in addition to providing for its fellow bees, it is pollenating the plants it visits. It is making it possible for an unimaginable abundance of life. It is giving life not only to the flowers and vegetation, but also the beings that consume them to survive. The bee is unwittingly the humble servant of all Earth’s life.

Faith for me is learning to trust that this grander scale of significance also exists for human kind, even if I’ll never see it or be able to understand. “What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life; but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.” This quote, right here, is the reason I believe the universe directed me to this book. This is the confirmation of the inner truth that I have been searching for. This was the universe patting me on the back and saying, “You finally got it. You’re on the right path.” My task in life is not to understand it all, like I once thought. My task is to keep going despite my lack of understanding, to learn to trust in something beyond myself. When I lost the belief in God, I also thought that I lost this higher purpose. But that isn’t true. I may not see an omnipotent being beyond myself, but there is still something. I don’t need to give it a name to feel the truth behind it. There is peace and beauty and strength in learning to surrender to the unknowable meaningfulness of life.

Through the Eyes of Another

I don’t concern myself much with what other people think about me. I can never really know what they think, or have any control over it. For me, it’s always seemed like people think better of me than I think of myself anyway. It often feels like everyone around me believes in me more than I believe in myself. If anything, considering what other people think about me makes me feel guilty, as if I’ve been deceiving them. They don’t know how incompetent and weak I truly am. I’ve somehow given them the impression that I’m worthy of respect and admiration.

There are very few people in my life whose opinion I genuinely value. When it comes to most people, I assume they are just not smart enough to realize how worthless I really am. Recently I’ve started to spend more time considering the high regard those closest to me still maintain. Surely I don’t think they are too stupid, or don’t know me enough. Some of them might even know me better or in a different way than I know myself. So what am I to make of their perception of me?

I may not have much confidence in myself, but realizing that people that mean a lot to me do have confidence in me, has been transformative. I’ve been trying to think of myself from this outside perspective whenever I begin doubting or getting down on myself. When I’m faced with something that I don’t think I’m capable of, I think of how a loved one might see things differently. For instance, my friend at work, whom I deeply respect and admire, has complete and utter confidence that I’ll be able to do what he does and interview the kids we see. He seems so sure that I’ll be a great interviewer one day and be just as important in the lives of our clients as he has been over the years. When I begin to feel crushed under the weight of my own disbelief and self-doubt, I think of him reassuring me.

I may not have faith in my own abilities, but when I remember that those I have complete faith in do, I feel so much better. If you’ve never tested out this fun thought experiment for yourself, I would highly recommend it. The next time you are facing an intimidating goal or task, try to imagine someone you love and admire knowing that you can do it. Their confidence will surely be a great support. If nothing else, thoughts like these inspire me to do my very best and exceed my own expectations just to make the people who believe in me proud. It gives me the courage to try despite the intense fear of failure that would normally hold me back.

Attachment Style & Love Language Overlap

Observing and researching my own attachment style and preferred love language over the years has taught me a lot about myself and the types of partners that I gravitate towards. When I read about all of the different attachment styles I always end up classifying myself into the fourth and arguable worst form of attachment: anxious-avoidant attachment. Perhaps this is normally expressed in a more self-destructive and unhealthy way than I exhibit, but nevertheless none of the others seem to fit the way I feel. Here a short breakdown of the four basic attachment styles and how they present:

  1. Secure: This is the ideal attachment style. You love and allow yourself to be loved freely with little to no inhibition and typically have healthy, well-balanced relationships with others.
  2. Anxious: People with an anxious attachment style constantly fear being abandoned and need endless reassurance and affection from their partner. These would be the “clingy” partners.
  3. Avoidant: The avoidant attachment style leads to people being aloof or resistance to forming close emotional bonds with others. They prefer to remain independent and have a hard to being vulnerable and trusting others.
  4. Anxious-avoidant: This style is considered a disorganized attachment style. It is a mixture of the anxious and the avoidant styles. People with this style oscillate back and forth between fear of abandonment and fear of commitment.

I identify with the last style because I do feel that while I desperately want to be loved and to be close to someone, I’m also terrified of that idea. In some ways this leads to a lot of self-sabotage in my personal relationships. One day I will feel horrified at how much better my partner is than me and feel certain they will leave me and I won’t be able to bear being without them. The next day I feel chained to them and find myself searching for ways to escape the relationship/nitpicking all of their tiny flaws.

Another thing I’ve come to understand is my love language. It’s always been harder for me to pick up on subtle cues and appreciating the meaning behind physical gestures. That’s why I usually gravitate towards partners that are very vocal about their feelings for me. I love to be constantly complimented and praised and sweet-talked.

However, only very recently have I begun to notice a pattern in this. Sometimes I feel very lovey-dovey with my current partner and have no problem showering them with affection. But in the next moment, I will feel insecure and as though my feelings are not being reciprocated. When this happens the avoidant side of my attachment style takes over and I feel the need to push them away and prove to myself that I don’t need them anyway.

I asked myself the other day why it is that I often feel unsure of his feelings for me, despite having no real reason to doubt him. I believe the reason is that he does not really explicitly state his love for me with flowery, adoring language (words of affirmation). He says that he loves me of course, but he does not dote on me the way I am used to. When this is the only thing I am looking for to confirm his affection, I start to doubt. Yet, I’ve come to understand that while he may not say what I want to hear, he shows it more than any other partner I’ve been with (acts of service). And isn’t that more important?

While I always believed the undying praise past partners have given me, it seems like in the end I feel betrayed when their actions contradict those words. It may feel nice and exciting to be flattered, but flattery only takes you so far. If your actions say the opposite of your words, your words don’t really matter as much. While at first I may prefer to be spoken to lovingly, at the end of the day, I think actions speak louder than words when I’m willing to listen.

It’s much easier to exaggerate your feelings through charming words. The significance of your actions far outweigh this, and are much harder to fake. When I reflect on someone’s feelings for me, my natural inclination is to recall what they’ve said to me. I have been omitting all the things my partner has done that show me the way they value and appreciate me. When I also include this aspect, I find that I feel much happier and loved than ever before. Despite my inclination to worry and mistrust, over the last year, my partner has proved to me again and again their consistency and loving commitment in a way I’ve never experienced. I am so grateful to be learning to accept this new, reassuring form of love and start to recognize it more and more. I will do my best from now on to show my love in return as well as speak it, and to allow myself to trust again.

Sonder

Sonder — noun. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

The sun was just beginning to set as we walked up to the big double doors of the small venue. March had carried spring in tow, threatening to blossom into an early summer. The soft, warm air was a balm to my soul. The rays of sunlight falling below the skyline did a lot to soothe my seemingly constant inner agitation.

Unlike most buildings that remain ever frigid with artificially cooled air, breaking through the threshold of security exposed a room that was even warmer than the outdoor air. So many bodies packed so tightly together, waiting in eager anticipation of the show that was about to begin any minute, produced a strong human scented heat.

Drinks in hand, we found our place behind the sound booth. I couldn’t help but glance again and again at the beautiful human at my side. What a joy to be here, with him. To see him smile, to hold his hand, as we waited together happily. The first band, one neither of us knew, was just beginning to set up.

As the first chords rang out through the theatre, the loosely packed crowd began to swell and tighten, threatening to suffocate me. I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise as my heart resisted this perceived danger and discomfort. A few deep breaths and it was all okay again. A swirling sentiment of togetherness and companionship swelled within me. These people are all here, filled with hope and happiness and most likely alcohol, just like me, and right now, in this moment, I love them all.

Without the distraction of songs that held personal meaning for me, there was a budding curiosity that took hold. What a beautiful thing to see this small opening band standing in the spot light, living their dream. How lovely it is that I get to be here to see it, to support it. That we are all here, this crowd that is my family for one sensational night. Tears tottered on the edge of my eyelids. Each song felt like a message being sung just to me, just for my partner and I, as we swayed gently together in the darkness.

Somehow I ended up liking the opening bands even more than the headliner. While the main band played, I found myself becoming listless and distracted. How long had we been here? How many more songs would be played? Just as I began to fidget and fret, I shifted my focus back to my new family, this crowd of perfect strangers. I was overcome with that strange love once again as I watched them in rapturous, animated, happiness. What might these songs mean to them? What story brought them to this band? What is the significance of this night in their distant, unknown lives?

I was overcome with the fascinating reality of the many lives that pass by me everyday unnoticed. The feeling of connection and disconnection tangling around me simultaneously. The mystery hidden behind the eyes of my fellow humans. The heart opening experience of reveling in the joy of others we do not, nor will we ever, truly know.

As we filed quickly out of the crowd and stumbled down the packed streets to the car, my heart felt fuller than it had in a long, long time. It held a precious lesson to itself in silence. There is always happiness if you’re willing to look for it. There is no difference between my own happiness and that of another. Sometimes it’s just as enjoyable, perhaps even more so, to share the pleasure of another, especially when we find ourselves struggling. Human connection is a strange, magical thing, and the other party may not even realize it’s happening.

Large Scale Pessimist, Small Scale Optimist

It’s no secret that I am an extremely cynical person. On the surface this may seem confusing to those around me, given that I put so much effort into fighting for social change and self-improvement. Why bother if you don’t believe that there is any hope of creating any lasting, large scale impact? Why be vegan if you fully believe we’ll never be able to liberate animals, that the earth will perish long before human beings make the connection? Why do social work every day if you believe human beings are inherently bad, that the system is corrupt and won’t change? Why advocate for a leftist agenda if you also acknowledge any political system will inevitably be taken over and coopted by bad actors if given enough time?

The reason I keep fighting, isn’t because I think I can change the world. In fact, I feel completely confident that I won’t. I fight because I have to. Even if failure is the only possible outcome. Giving up is still not an option. As long as I am here, as long as I’m still breathing, I will keep advocating for the things I believe in. I will keep fighting for those that don’t even have the privilege of a voice of their own.

Despite my resignation to the hopelessness I feel on a large scale, I do find personal fulfillment and meaning on a smaller scale. Very few of the child abuse cases that I work on ever go to trial. My clients, my coworkers, and myself are constantly faced with the sobering reality that many of these pedophiles and domestic abusers will walk free, that they will go on to victimize more and more people, that they may never ultimately face justice. Even so, a criminal conviction is not the only outcome that I consider a success. I’ve had many kids tell me that my coworkers and I are the nicest people they’ve ever met. And they meant it. I believed them. Sometimes I get to be one of the ONLY people that would even listen to them, the first person that believed them. Sometimes this is all someone needs, more than they thought they would ever get. I get to hold their hand as they let go of the external repercussions and focus on the possibility of inner healing, the only thing that they actually do have the power to influence.

Even though I have no hope that I’ll see the end of animal agriculture, even though I believe I will, instead, see the end of the earth, I will continue to do everything in my power to spread the vegan message and protect animals. Every person that goes vegan, every person that buys an Impossible Whopper without mayo instead of a Whopper, every person that switches to plant based milks, makes a difference. Maybe not in the bigger picture of the oppressive, abusive industries across the world, but to even a single animal. That matters.

I may not believe that I can change the world, but I do believe that I can change the lives of the people I meet everyday, of the animals that I DON’T eat. Just because I can’t do it all, doesn’t mean what I can do doesn’t matter. Take pride in the small victories. Why should it matter than you couldn’t end all oppression? You were there for someone in a vulnerable moment, in their moment of need. Maybe you didn’t change the world. But you changed the world for one person and that’s just as good. All we can do is offer our love and compassion, and that’s enough.