Capitalism

Capitalism slinks through filthy city streets
with bloodied paws and heaving breath
snarling at the huddled masses
it had once offered hope

There are plenty of those
who still believe the lie
we were all promised
of possibility and upward mobility
productivity and endless progress

Hungry eyes follow trim and tailored suits
down the avenue of ivory towers 
chapped lips mouth the words
"if only I was good enough"
from sallow faces with sunken cheeks

The flurry of chaos
a flock of flapping pigeons
fighting over forgotten french fries
idolizing the eagles
they were told they might someday be

The sickening inward momentum
spurred onward by imagined sins
stealing the joy out of simple pleasures
productivity and profit
replaced purpose long ago

Corruption and greed infiltrate everything
every soul a commodity to be exploited and consumed
egregious inequality passed off as objective justice
sour, scornful faces point fingers
at the people who are suffering

It's your fault if you fail
the mantra of Manhattan
sowing self hatred within misfortune
the cruel optimism of the elite
blame handed out as bread

Don't fall for the fiction
that this system is fair
the land of the free is stained
with red blood, green bills,
and the rusty metallic taste of coins 

Politics

No one deserves to suffer
I thought this was something
we could all agree on
someone working full-time
should not have to live in poverty
this too, I assumed was an opinion
we would all share with pride
oh, how horrified I am to know the truth
that these thoughts are controversial
that so many actually disagree
there are really people
that think suffering is right and just
when it's others, that is,
never in regard to themselves
because they know the intricate details
of why they made their worst decisions
while looking outward, they assume
steps are taken for shameful reasons
selfishness, laziness, carelessness, and malice
are explanations for other's actions
even though the same acts 
are certainly due to different motivations
by those who lay these heavy accusations
against their fellow men
for some people its very important
to know that someone else is below them
fuel for the fire of their delusion
that despite it all, circumstance, genetics, environment
it was their indominable spirit that overcame
that they are special, strong, resilient
that others simply don't have the will power or desire
to make a better life for themselves
and that they should suffer for their shortcomings
if only as a reminder that life is fair
by some warped definition of the word
it's more important to believe
they earned their good fortune
than to acknowledge
the random, cruel hand of fate
and use their blessings
to lift others up into the light

Sisters, I See You

I see myself
in these young girls
passing by with downcast eyes
half-heartedly hiding superficial scars
lost inside churning, troubled minds

I understand
is what I want to say, but hesitate
I feel the venom behind my own voice
hissing hatred at those who once
presumed to know me

you can't build a bridge
to an identity centered on
being misunderstood
any attempt is an insult, an assault
to a fragile, fearful ego

all seeds sown of love
remain inert and soon sour
in dry, distrustful soil
no external light can reach us
in those dark inner places

so what planted the seed
that has since blossomed
in my own heart?
was there something that snuck through?
or was it there all along?

what brought me to the river
and laid my soul bare to the blinding light?
what lured me from the thick forest
of my addictive inner agony?
was time really all it took?

despite my desperate longing
to pluck my sisters from their suffering
I surrender to that unknown force
that found me from within
so long ago

I trust
that they are strong enough
to navigate their own private pain
and uncover their own stillness
that peaceful place inside us all

some burdens we must bear alone
because they make us who we are
shouldering that impossible weight
is what gives us the strength
to transcend it someday

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

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.

A Thousand Deaths

A morbid fixation on death overcomes me from time to time. Usually I don’t think much about it. Death hasn’t touched my life much at all in these 28 years. Somehow I haven’t really lost many close family members or friends. The death of beloved animals has been the majority of my encounters with this grim shadow that lingers on the edge of life. It’s been easy for me to live in denial of this unpleasant reality.

Last night as I was reading through the terrible ends of characters in books, I couldn’t escape the contemplation of my own inevitable departure from this world. I was petrified at the idea that I would die alone in some unimaginable form of physical, emotional, and psychological suffering. I don’t have any children, nor will I. I’m also the youngest person in my family. I only have a few close friends. It’s hard for me to picture how I would even avoid a horrific demise besides my near certain assumption that the earth with end before I have to worry about dying of old age or disease.

Then as I was falling asleep that night, a truth I have known for quite some time, but never fully felt in this way crashed over me. It is utterly pointless for me to spend my time and energy playing out this possible future in my head. If this is my fate, if my life ends in isolation and agony, so be it. Thinking about that will never be able to prevent it or change it. Yes, it’s hard to accept that death will find me one day. Even harder to accept that my final moments may be particularly sad and full of suffering. But making myself sick with fear from these thoughts will not spare me this death. Instead it will cause me to experience a thousand deaths rather than just one.

Unworthy

The fear of not being worthy of what my torn and bleeding heart so longed to do was the most frightening fear of all.

David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

Mental healthy is a slippery thing. One day I’ll feel like I’m doing great things, living a beautiful life, surrounded by love and opportunity. Then next I’m silently screaming in the shower as my body crumples convulsively in on itself in an attempt to disappear. The thought that grips me most violently in these moments is that I am alone. I am so alone. I’ve always been alone. I will always be alone.

My mind scrambles searching for the people that I love. Where are they? Where have they gone? They dissolve into floating masks, colorful fictions. A door slams in the face of my heart. It feels like these people never knew me, don’t like me, don’t care for me at all. Worst of all, I can’t convince myself that this is not true. Even on my good days this feeling is there, I just don’t look at it closely so it doesn’t hurt as much.

Depression and anxiety play tricks on you. Tag teaming tormentors of the soul. They twist and contort the world around you until it becomes unbearable and grotesque. They block out the light and tell you you’ve always been in darkness. Pinholes poked through a shrouded sky reveal only the most painful parts of your reality. Suffocating. All consuming. Looming large on a jet black horizon that seems to be closing in faster and faster.

When I find myself in this desperate state, my already poor social ability breaks down even further. A drowning man violently grasping and grabbing, trying to pull everyone around down with them in a blind attempt at salvation. When my clawing hand is pushed away, it is a confirmation that I’m not worthy of the oxygen I need. The world becomes a funhouse mirror. I can’t bear to look.

I’ve often heard people saying “it’s not you, it’s me” is just a line, a cop out. That no one really means this when they break up with someone. I’ve never felt so sure of that. I’ve felt the truth of these words in my own throat. It is because I love the people in my life that I feel compelled to sever all ties with them. I am nothing but a burden, a leaden weight pulling them underwater with me. I’m a chore, an annoyance, something they would be happier and better off without. When someone ends their own life, everyone gasps, “How could they do that to their family?” Not realizing they probably did it for their family.

I’ve felt unworthy since the moment I conceptualized that was something one could feel. I’m sure other people feel this way, but I wonder if they feel it in the same sense that I do. I wonder if they hold it up to the light of justice and feel these pangs with that additional intensity. The added weight of taking what is not yours, of doing something vile and criminal, something sickeningly selfish.

All the bonds in my life feel tinged with injustice. I don’t deserve to be loved. I couldn’t possibly be loved. I am doing a disservice to everyone I meet by allowing them to pretend for the sake of my own neediness, to dissuade my heavy sense of self pity. The melodrama is thick, but it’s genuine. This is how I feel. When I push someone away, there is never even a moment’s consideration of whether that has hurt them, whether they are sad, whether they might miss me or want me in their life. These questions seem ridiculous to me. I’m clearly not worthy of remembrance or tenderness. You don’t miss a rock that has finally tumbled out of your shoe when you shake it.

When I begin to feel better, when my agitated state of mind starts to settle, I still don’t believe these things to be any less true. I never feel worthy of love. I just feel less guilty about receiving it. I never lose that sense of being utterly alone. Being alone just doesn’t seem to hurt as badly. I’m left with only a sense of embarrassment and shame for showing the world my suffering. For being selfish and conceited enough to think that anyone else should or would care, for bothering everyone by asking them to, for being so ungrateful when I already have so much more than I’ve ever deserved.

I’m just left wondering: How can you move forward, how can you be happy, find love, love yourself, when you feel so certain that you are unworthy of all of it? When you feel guilty for even wanting to?

Positive Pain

Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.

When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”

There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.

I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.

In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.

Sorrow Rising

Sorrow rises like smoke
from the ashes of a dying love
it wiggles and writhes through the air
mimicking my desperation to avoid 
to postpone these violent pangs of pain
could things really be different
should I reconsider this decision
or am I just searching for relief
from this reality I do not want
which self should I trust
the one that has been unsatisfied
the one feeling frustration and misunderstanding
or should I trust the self that feels this parting
as a small death, as a gaping wound
in the end I'm left wondering
watching the fading embers
with fear in my heart
unsure of whether to keep watching 
or try to stoke that flame, that love
that was once my life

Suffering in Silence

I learned early on that tears and tantrums are bad behavior. Showing these emotions causes displeasure and annoyance in those around us. Our first subconscious lesson to swallow those big emotions and keep them inside, those first seeds of unworthiness, are planted when we are very young. A lesson that others don’t have time for us, are not interested in our distress. Some of my most painful and poignant memories from childhood emphasize this lesson.

Looking backward in my memory I see a tiny child retreat to her bedroom when the world becomes too much. Perhaps an easily disregarded issue to the adults around, but a great source of pain to one so new and small. I see her shut herself away the first few times with a confidence that her mother will come to her, show compassion and concern for her suffering. It seems like hours as the child waits in the darkness for someone, anyone to show her that they care, that her presence is missed. Fits of crying come and go, some intentionally exaggerated to ensure they are heard. Still no one comes.

No one ever came. Many occasions like this ended in crying myself to sleep, feeling utterly alone and unloved. Even though I now understand this was so as not to encourage this behavior (i.e. crying and sulking in order to get attention) it doesn’t make the internalization of the initial message any less harmful. Nor has it helped to have this message reaffirmed throughout life.

I had bouts of extreme sadness in my high school years. I’ll never forget the week my first serious boyfriend broke up with me. I fell silent, kept my head down, hidden in my arms as I fought back tears for days on end. I wasn’t looking for attention. I wanted to disappear. But the realization that this would be so easy, that I would be utterly ignored was a sobering one. I quickly learned the meaning of the term “fair weather friend” and that most friends fit this definition. My best friend at the time did not try at all to console me or hold space for my sadness. She did not even seem to look in my direction that week. It felt as though I could drop off the face of the earth and no one would notice or mind my absence. Understandably this response served to compound my sadness ever further.

It’s not as though no one has ever extended a hand to me in my darkest hours. The best friend I have now is always there for me, through laughter as well as tears. I’ll never forget the day one childhood friend of mine made her boyfriend drive over to get me as I sat on the sidewalk in abject despair. She took me with them to Denny’s and did all that she could to make sure I was okay. These instances have pierced my soul in the most beautiful way. I’m so grateful for them even now.

Intellectually I understand that being present for another person’s suffering is hard. It’s not always that those around me don’t care, but they don’t know what to do. They are just trying to avoid their discomfort. They may even feel guilty and ashamed deep down. That being said, it doesn’t change the way it feels, especially when I am already so low.

As an adult, I really struggle with expressing myself due, in large part, to these experiences. When I’m struggling, I usually suppress the urge to reach out to anyone. I shrink away from the whole world. I choose to suffer in silence and put on a mask for everyone. It’s simply too painful to feel people pulling away from me when I need them most. It’s easier to pretend I don’t need them. My inner voice whispers, “No one cares what you’re going through. Don’t burden people with your problems. You’re only worth anything when you can make other people smile and laugh. If you show them how you really feel, they’ll all abandon you. Just keep it to yourself. Stay quiet.”

Not only does this perception greatly increase my pain and sense of isolation, it also pushes the people that do care away from me. I’m always in a weird spot when a negative event occurs in my life. I usually can’t muster the courage to tell anyone unless I absolutely have to or they directly ask me. I’m so afraid of their reaction, I’m so ashamed of making myself the focus of the conversation, that I just pretend everything is normal. But then when/if people discover what’s happened and realize that I didn’t share it with them, it makes them feel like I don’t consider them a friend. Which is understandable. I like to be kept up to date on the important events in my friends’ lives too. It does feel like a slight when they don’t confide in me.

I never want anyone else to experience the loneliness and pain I have gone through. I never want anyone to feel like no one cares for them when they are suffering. That is what I must believe all of these moments have been teaching me. I’m definitely someone that has the tendency to panic and avoid people that are crying or going through a tough time. I don’t know what to say or do. I feel awkward and uncomfortable. But this feeling I know so well, let it be my inspiration, my motivation to push through that fear and be there for others in their time of need. It doesn’t matter what I say or do. Just being there is the greatest comfort, just acknowledging that pain, sharing it, holding space, that is one of the few gifts I can offer. Let my own suffering give me the courage to do so.