A slow crawl towards the sun transformation with no timeline progress and regression in quick succession cycles that skip and repeat indefinitely The frustration of moving forward with stumbling, unsure steps falling backwards feels like failure no matter how fast you reclaim your path No one else knows your answers each muddled moment is your own a miracle of confused light a secret spoken in a strange tongue Choose to rise to the challenge of another dawn outside your window the daunting idea, you can't be helped the revelation, you can do it alone
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
Spirituality is religion without shame detaching from the dogma to discover the true essence of the soul a soul that's not sinful and soiled but a small part of the grander perfection that swirls throughout the cosmos and stitches the universe into one cohesive cloth deconstructing the hierarchy propped up by people with impure intentions a recognition of my inner light in the eyes of all others a curious innocence allowing everyone to be their own guide, their own fractal of God energy not offering ultimate, immutable answers but instead offering peace and patience in the shared presence of the unknowable the loving awareness of uncertainty merged with a deep, yet inexpressible inner knowing a humble surrender to our own unanswered prayers
silencing the inner chatter to hear the soft hum of celestial wisdom lifting myself above the tumultuous tides of my own mistaken mind finding stillness in the radio static of consciousness to tune in to the salient source of everything surrendering the obsession for contemplating complex patterns in favor of opening to the energy trying to be channeled in life's challenge is a sweet irony a call to remember what we are amidst the chaos of time and space to pause long enough to transcend them humbling ourselves to the unknowable truth to trust in forces we cannot control to be guided by an unseen hand down a foggy, confused path learning to mirror the beauty of faith reflected back in the eyes of the innocent by the joyous confidence of children and small beings with blindly open hearts our trust will not be betrayed only the temptation to doubt will mislead us even so we are never lost only learning new lessons
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.
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.
Childhood and Developmental psychology classes helped me learn and understand the different stages that children pass through as they grow, particularly the stages of awareness and consciousness. Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development highlight the ways in which we all expand our perception of ourselves and the world around us as we age.
In the first stage, we gain object permanence, we begin to understand that we are separate entities from others, and that our actions affect the world around us. In the second stage we are largely only focused on ourselves and our own perspective. This stage is also where we first begin to be able to think symbolically, grasping that images can represent ideas and objects. We still think in concrete terms and struggle with abstract concepts. The third stage is where we begin to develop our logic and reasoning skills. The fourth and “final” stage is where we form the ability to think abstractly and contemplate hypothetical situations.
You may notice that I’ve put the word “final” in quotation marks, and I have good reason for that. It occurred to me the other day when I was thinking about the idea of faith and the many aspects of reality and life that we cannot know. I began to wonder why it is that it seems so absurd to consider there being more to reality than we can hope to conceive of in our current human state. Psychology has already laid out the ways that a child’s brain is different than an adult’s and has a more limited ability to process the world. Why do we assume then that a fully formed adult brain necessarily has overcome all of these cognitive limitations? In fact, based on Piaget’s theory, it seems logical to infer we may still not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to perceiving ourselves and the world around us.
It practical terms, it does us no good to try to operate in the world on this premise. All we can do is use the information available to us in order to live. However, this idea that there is potentially much more to this world than we are able to understand is one that brings me comfort. This is my rather garbled attempt to emphasize the fact that faith may not be as groundless as I, myself, once thought. It allows me to more easily surrender to that unknown aspect of this universe and trust that, even when I don’t understand it, there is some higher purpose, or meaning to all of this. There is much more going on than my brain is capable of grasping. Perhaps death is the final stage of cognitive development.
They gather like wolves on the boardwalk below. They’re howling for answers no wolf can know.Mewithoutyou – Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume
I’ve been reading War & Peace these last few weeks. Pretty ironic considering the state of affairs in the world right now. Nonetheless, the passages I read last night were very insightful. One of my favorite characters, Pierre, is talking about God, religion, and spirituality with an old freemason. The conversation goes as follows:
“He is attained not through reason, but through living.”
“I don’t understand,” said Pierre, dismayed at the doubts surging up inside of him. Put off by the vagueness and weakness of the freemason’s arguments, he felt the dread of unbelief. “I don’t understand,” he said, “why human reason cannot attain the knowledge you speak of.”
“The highest wisdom and truth is like unto the purest liquid which we try to absorb into ourselves,” he said. “Can I receive that pure liquid into an impure vessel and judge of its purity? Only through the inner purification of myself can I bring the liquid received within me to some degree of purity.”
While I still don’t believe in the Christian God or the Bible, and have a general distaste for this particular expression of spirituality, I do think these words have a certain truth to them. I may not be religious, but in recent years I have come to consider myself a spiritual person. Hidden inside the horrors of the churches that have cropped up around the world in various forms, is a poignant, important truth. I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence that all forms of religion seem to share very similar threads. There is wisdom to be obtained there. I once held logic and intellect above all else, scoffing at the idea of faith. Now I think there is a place for both.
I used to believe that everything could be understood through science and reason. My experiences with psychedelics, more than anything else, have opened my mind to the idea that there are things our minds are just not capable of grasping. There are states and perspectives we cannot even conceive of. I’ve always been a curious person. As a child I had so many questions that seemed beyond answers. I contented myself on the idea that after I died, I could ask God. Then I would finally know everything and nothing would be a mystery to me. When I lost my faith, I also lost that comforting thought of finding answers one day. Now part of me thinks that far away hope might not be entirely off.
“You’ll die and all will end. You’ll die and know all, or cease asking.”
Will the new view I tentatively hold of death, I think it’s possible I may still have all the answers some day. When this fragmented consciousness disconnects from my mortal form, it will be submerged once again in the larger ocean of all that is. I want to believe that there is peace in that dissolution. That I will once again understand and remember all that I have forgotten in order to take part in this earthly existence. Yet, even this explanation isn’t exactly right. Part of me feels sure that whatever the real answers are, the full truth of reality is something that we simply cannot comprehend or conceptualize in the brains we are currently working with as humans. That is why no answer appears sufficient or correct, testable, or provable. There are no satisfactory answers that we can obtain in this life regarding those large existential questions of who am I, what is this, why am I here.
These questions and our endless, futile search for definitive answers to them have caused suffering throughout all of human history. We wrestle constantly with the gnawing ache to know things that cannot be known. This is were I believe that faith becomes a valuable asset to us. Faith can be twisted and used to manipulate the masses to bow to corrupt authorities, and for most of my life, this seemed like its sole purpose, to trick and take advantage of people. Now I find myself longing for a more abstract and vague faith. Not a faith in some supreme, all-knowing being. Not faith in the institutions of mankind. But a faith in the idea that there are things at work in the universe that I cannot comprehend.
This form of faith is a great comfort. It is a surrender. It is the acknowledgement that I do not understand, that I can never understand, and that that’s okay. I don’t have to keep struggling and suffering for these important answers. I won’t find them. I may not even be asking the right questions. There is such peace in trusting that everything is as it should be. That everything is going to be alright, even if you can’t fathom how. There is a reason, an explanation for all of this seemingly random chaos out there somewhere. We must accept that we are only working off of very limited, myopic understanding. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all we’ve got to go by and we have to keep going despite not having the full picture.
In this way, faith is a necessary part of life for all of us, it is a constant practice, whether you consider yourself religious/spiritual or not. Faith is that energy inside of us, that yearning, that momentum that keeps us going despite all the pain, the suffering, the confusion, the doubt. It’s scary to relinquish control in favor of faith, but it is what we all must do sooner or later. Logic, reason, knowledge, and intellect can only take us so far. Certainly use them and value them. They are essential, important, wonderful tools. But also know that it’s okay to let go and surrender to the unknown, the unknowable too. It’s going to be okay, even if we can’t understand how. Everything is as it should be.
Feel your feelings. This is one of the new popular phrases floating around the internet. But it’s never really made clear what is meant by these words. A lot of us resist this advice for that very reason. Why would I want to feel my feelings? I’ve been taking such pains to avoid them for most of my life. What isn’t explained is that these mental loops that we are labeling as “feelings” are not, in fact, our feelings. They are the cascading cycles of inner dialogue that we have built up in response to our feelings. These thoughts are really want we desperately want to avoid.
The way to escape these thoughts isn’t by pushing down our feelings or trying to numb them through distraction or substances, it’s to direct our minds away from the words and into the physical sensations we are experiencing. This is definitely something easier said than done, but it’s a practice worth putting effort into. Watch your mind as it tries to move back into thinking instead of feeling. I did this with my anger just the other day. I moved my awareness into my body. I felt the tightness around my heart, the heat in my face and neck. Then after just a few seconds, my brain was back to narration, finding ways to justify and bolster these uncomfortable sensations. Again and again, I had to keep putting down these words and picking up the actual feelings I was experiencing instead.
It’s quite difficult to remain in silent sensation, especially when it’s not a pleasant one. The mind is so good at labeling and explaining and creating stories. It’s an odd experience to not focus on defining and labeling everything. I’ve spent my whole life searching and trying to learn the words and explanations for what I go through every day. That’s the reason I got a degree in psychology. It may be helpful to have a background of knowledge about these things, but sometimes even that isn’t what we really need. Sometimes all we need to do is allow and be present with whatever is there, whether we can define it or not.
Learning that it’s safe and beneficial to trust and allow the physical sensation of my emotions without constantly analyzing has opened the door for me to accept this level of awareness in my relationships as well. I have a tendency to become fixated on what the other person may be thinking or feeling in regard to a shared experience or out interpersonal bond in general. I become overcome with worry that they perceive our relationship differently than I do, that I like them more than they like me, that they are unhappy, upset with me, etc. In order to relieve myself of this anxiety, I search for ways to reassure myself through explicit, verbal communication.
However, I often notice that even hearing the exact words I am looking for from the other person, I find myself unable to trust their words alone. I revert back to internal analysis, worrying, and skepticism. Giving myself permission to accept my own feelings for what they are at the simplest, most primal level, has encouraged me to do the same with other people. Ultimately we will never know what another person truly thinks or feels about anything. We have to eventually trust our interpretation and move on.
Like most things, this lesson is magnified while under the influence of psychedelics. Whenever I’m tripping with someone, there are phases where I feel we are perfectly in sync. Everything is easy. I feel connected, understood, and loved. Then a thought will arise or some slight friction will occur that leaves me questioning. Have we really been on the same page? Am I just being delusional to think they’ve understood me thus far? A dark cloud will appear for a moment, but will quickly pass as I allow myself to trust and enjoy again.
Our lack of trust in our emotions and our perceptions is what causes most of our stress in modern times. I think the fear behind this is primarily the fear of being wrong in our assumptions. We want to guard ourselves against every possibility. This is an impossible task, though. We will never be able to verify the validity of our perceptions and interpretations. Therefore, the best thing we can do for ourselves as well as those we love, is just accept, allow, and be present for whatever may arise. Give yourself permission to enjoy your experiences even when you can’t explain them, put words to them, or back them up with empirical evidence. Some things are meant to be felt, not spoken or explained.
The modern world is overflowing with choices, whether it’s the twenty plus breakfast cereal options, the millions of bands there are to listen to, or even the possible career paths you can pick from. Generally, having a lot of different choices is a good thing. Never before have we had the ability to completely and utterly personalize every aspect of our lives. Whatever your interests are, there is a seemingly endless amount of content and products just for you.
Despite the positives of our diverse, jam-packed environments, there are also negatives. Have you ever heard the term “analysis paralysis”? Essentially it means being so overwhelmed with options that you cannot come to a decision. It becomes impossible to know what the “best” choice will be, so you end up not making any choice at all, just wasting time weighing your options until you run out the clock or give up out of frustration. I’m not sure if this is something that affects everyone or if certain types of people are more inclined to experience this, but I personally have never identified so much with a term before. It feels like I am in a nearly constant state of analysis paralysis.
I struggle and fret over every single decision I make. The more options I have to choose from the more incapable I am of choosing any of them. Especially when it’s a purely subjective decision. No choice is necessarily going to be better than another, yet I am fixated on somehow finding the “perfect” selection. Not only that, I also spend time after making a decision wondering, with mild regret, if I should have chosen something else.
Until yesterday, I never really had any possible solution to this dilemma. As I was scrolling through Pinterest, searching for artistic inspiration for my daily drawing, an interesting thought occurred to me. I was puttering around, going back and forth about what I’d like to draw, when I considered how I might feel differently about the situation if I was someone who subscribed to the believe that “everything happens for a reason.” What if instead of fretting about the other possible ideas I haven’t found yet, I simply commit to one that has been presented to me?
Intellectually, I know that it really doesn’t matter what I draw or write about. I am only doing these things because I enjoy doing them. The end result is basically irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. So I know I could be equally satisfied with whatever I choose. The anxiety and discomfort of searching for the “perfect choice” is definitely not worth it. But even constantly reminding myself of this fact, doesn’t seem to override my natural desire to pick the “right” thing and be able to weigh absolutely all of my options before coming to a decision about what that thing is, regardless of how innocuous of a decision I may be making.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the past few years, though, is the importance of perspective and mental framing. Instead of viewing it as a highly important decision versus one that doesn’t matter at all, I’ve decided to try a different angle. From now on, I want to view the initial options presented to me as special, meaningful selections being offered up by the universe. Whether or not you genuinely believe this to be the case is irrelevant. You can choose to suspend disbelief for your own purposes. I want to choose to believe the first few things that jump out to me or spark my interest aren’t just random, I am drawn to them for a reason. I don’t need to shop around for all the other billions of options out there before making my choice. In fact, I could even close my eyes and click a random image. Whatever thoughts or inspiration bubble to the surface from that are what I am supposed to be focusing on, not everything else that might be available.
I think actively engaging in this mode of thinking will serve me greatly. Not only will it help me make decisions more easily, but it will remind me to have fun and keep a lighthearted attitude. I think it will also allow me to be more confident in my decisions. Believing that the few options initially presented to you are significant and hold meaning prevents you from endlessly second guessing yourself and wondering if there might be something better if you keep looking.
This mindset is also beneficial in your everyday life. If we can truly practice the belief that everything that happens to us is important and was supposed to be that way, then we can avoid that fear of missing out or the displeasure of wishing things had been different for us. Trusting that the universe has placed us on a particular path for a reason keeps us in the present moment. Without the constant tendency to feel cheated by reality when it doesn’t match what we wanted or expected, we are able to fully embody and benefits from the experiences we actually have.
With time and perspective we often look back at horrible times in our lives with understanding or even gratitude. We realize that sometimes the worst things that happen to us become opportunities that lead us to where we want to be. The only thing we need to bring the comfort of that perspective to the present moment is trust. Trust that each moment in your life was specifically selected just for you, that it was something you needed, even if it’s a hard lesson, even if you don’t understand it yet. Trust that the things presented to you in your life are meaningful, not random. Even if that’s a load of shit and isn’t true, what does it matter? We’ll never really be able to know if that’s true or not, so we might as well live our lives believing what makes us a happier, more grateful person. I used to be someone that believed the truth was all that mattered at any cost. But now I see that was only making me miserable, and in so many circumstances “truth” is subjective and dependent on your perspective and what you decide to focus on. What really matters in this life is being happy, loving, and grateful.