Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Dirty Water

If I wash my hands in your dirty water,
Will your religion make me clean,
And if I wet my feet in your dirty water,
Will I be blind to all I see,
Dirty Water by Rock and Hyde (The Payolas)

We all have a religion, like it or not.

Oh boy. Ed is talking religion. This cannot be good.
I found myself being sold someone's beliefs today. The price was too high for my liking so I took a pass.
Never, ever, ever try to hard sell and preach to me on a day when I'm ready, willing and amply able to verbalize an opinion with the fervor of an evangelical self-proclaimed prophet delivered directly from the bosom of the Almighty himself... err... herself... umm... its self... thingy... whatever.
Just sayin'.
I wrote a post several years ago (before this blog) about a run-in I had with a nun. I was clearing out a house for a son who's father had died. The father, like most people, had collected things over the years that may or may not have been of “value” but they were valuable to him. While I'm working away, a nun shows up in full battle gear. I overheard part of the conversation as she wandered through the house looking for things of value the church might sell. Son grieving... nun scoping... me thinking, “Really, lady?”
Yes, the sister and I had a discussion, decidedly one sided, when she turned her attention toward me and the imminent safety of my basket wielding, Hades bound soul came into question. I think I made her puke a little. Poor dear.
I didn't have much of a filter back then.
You see, I don't have a problem with what you believe. It's your shit. Go nuts. You can believe whatever you wish. Just... stop... trying... to... sell... me!
The problem I have with beliefs is they are not able to be proven. That's the nature of a belief... it has no hard evidence to back it up. If a car passes and you believe it is traveling 51 kilometers per hour, there is no way of proving it. If the car stops and the driver says they were traveling 54 kilometers per hour, there is still no way to prove it either way. The car is stopped and so is the speedometer. Only the driver knows and they would have had to; a) know exactly when you were guessing their speed and, b) happen to be looking at the speedometer at that exact moment. Given that speedometers are only accurate to plus or minus two kilometers per hour only exacerbates the issue.
And so it is with all beliefs. They are personal and not provable. Ever.
If it (whatever it may be) is a provable truth, there is no need for belief.
I once asked a group of people if there was life after death. I received an emphatic yes. I found this odd since, unless one has been dead, one cannot know and all evidence indicated this group were quite alive. Yes, I'm familiar with the people who were brought back to life and say they saw a light or their relatives or something otherwise ethereal. And, you and I have not personally had the experience therefore it is third party hearsay.
I'm not saying I don't believe in life after death. I'm simply reserving judgment until I get there. I'm not saying there is no God. I'm just saying I'm reserving judgment until I meet them face to face. I'm not saying there aren't any unicorns. I'm just saying I'll reserve judgment until I see one prancing around the woods.
Beliefs are fine. We all need something to believe; particularly those beliefs in ourselves and our abilities. I get a little wary when it becomes a group thing and membership means I have to believe the exact thing you do... which is also impossible. I've used religious examples because they are prevalent and, I'm sorry to say, easy pickings. Yet there are so many other beliefs many of us have that have no basis in fact. (Don't get me started on race, creed or sexual orientation beliefs because they are just as wildly incoherent.)
We can believe anything given the right impetus. Our personal beliefs in ourselves, who we are and what we are capable of, spiritual or otherwise, are indeed our personal religion.
Years ago, I went through a period in my life where I was breaking down. My personal belief then was I wasn't enough. I wasn't good looking enough. I wasn't smart enough. I wasn't social enough. I had become paralyzed. I had to force myself to leave the house. I felt awkward being with people and I couldn't stand to be alone. I had to force myself to complete any task, mundane or otherwise. I became anti-social. I reached out for help and found little, which led me to believe I wasn't worthy enough. I hid away and read books and numbed myself with whatever kept me from facing my not-good-enough-ness.
I believed all those things even though there was no empirical evidence to prove any of it one way or the other. That viewpoint had become my religion. And I sold it hard. Oh poor me. See what the world has done to me? It's all their fault. I'm not to blame for any of this. Someone please believe me. Wah, wah, fucking wah.
What a load of crap. All I really wanted was a group of followers so my beliefs would feel that much more like truth to me and I could hard sell it to more people as fact. (The more people I had backing me up the more factual it became... to me.)
And then I saw the truth... in the mirror... and it was ugly. More correctly, I had become ugly. The person I was trying to convince that my beliefs were truth was not the person I was whining to. The person I was trying to hard sell was me.
Life had dealt me several blows in short order and I believed the world had singled me out to be it's whipping boy. Ultimately, I had to look at my beliefs and determine if they were real or something created by an injured, overly-imaginative mind. I was fortunate to meet people who believed in me. It mattered not why they did... just that they did. What mattered was, whichever direction I chose to travel, they were supportive of it (as long as it wasn't harmful to myself or others).
It was a long slow process extricating myself from that religion. As unhealthy as it was, it was comfortable and familiar. It's not easy stopping selling yourself your own bullshit.
The trick was, I think, that people around me stopped buying my bullshit.

And it made me stop washing my hands in my own dirty water... and face the truth.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Things I Wish I Knew

I just sent off a package the old fashioned way... by mail... so they can promise a delivery date... and the horse dies... and it's late... again. I swear the post office still uses the pony express and there's a secret livery and trail hidden in the shrubbery behind the office.
The whole ordeal (which wasn't really an ordeal) got me thinking about writing letters. Real letters. The ones with ink and good quality paper and an envelope you hated to lick and a stamp on the corner and exploding pens. I sometimes miss those. It was less of an instant world back then.
Of course, I would have to wait days or weeks for a reply which would make me mentally unstable. I wonder what that says about me? Hmm...
Anyway, if we could write letters and mail them backward to our younger selves, what would we say? What advice would we give that innocent, awkward person? Would anything I say now make a difference in their lives? I suppose it would only make a difference if I had learned something along the way.
The younger me might think I had become temporarily insane... on a permanent basis. He would certainly be appalled at my language.
I would probably write a letter to myself when I was fourteen. My grandfather had died a few months before and my parents were splitting up. It was one of the darker times I can remember. I could have used a letter from my future self then.
So here goes...
Dear Me,
Everything is going to be alright.
Life is going to be messy at times. It just happens. It's messy for everyone. Sometimes it will look like there aren't any options or it will feel like the world is crashing around you. There are moments when you won't know which direction to take and it will still be okay. Just keep getting up. No matter how many times you get knocked down, keep... getting... up. It gets better. I promise.
You're only old if you convince yourself you're old.
When it comes to girls and women, don't be so afraid. They're just as scared shitless as you are. Probably more so since they are being judged by society at every turn. You're not as freaky to them as you seem to think. Just be yourself. The right people will show up at the right time.
There is a difference between giving up and deciding this isn't what you want.
Slow down! Not everything has to be done immediately. You'll finish school when you finish school. You'll get married when you get married. You'll learn to drive when you're ready. You'll be legal drinking age when you're legal. Not everything that looks adult really is adult behavior so stop being in such a frigging rush to get there. Trust me... where you're at now is a lot more fun so enjoy it.
Take advice with a grain of salt (even mine... which is your own... only we're older... in most ways). Most life advice given by people is their way of convincing themselves they know what they're doing when the truth is they are playing it by ear just like everyone else. Their advice is based on their experience, which will never be your experience. Keep what they say in the back of your mind and blaze your own trail anyway. Live your life your way. Use their advice when it makes sense to you.
You're never going to be ready so just try.
Respect those who respect you. Those who don't respect you are to be removed as soon as possible. If there is one thing I have learned that has changed the way we live our life, it is this... no-one is allowed to be disrespectful of you or your character. There's no need to stand up and fight about it. It's a better man who simply walks away.
Trust your judgment. You're a pretty bright guy. There is going to be some shit you might not know how to handle and that is when you ask for help. As good as you are at figuring things out, there are times when it's just too big for you to handle. Someone will show up to help. And so you know, it often won't be who you think or hope it will be.
There is always an answer.
If you try something and it doesn't work, you can always back up. You're allowed to go back to the fork in the road and decide to take a different path. There is no rule which says you cannot reverse and try something different. Forcing forward is not always the best solution. Most paths lead to other paths and life crisscrosses itself anyway. The path to a goal is seldom a straight line. And your goals will change as you get older. There is no deadline in life. There is no ending of to-do lists. There is always something more to do and when the end comes, there will still be more. Do what you can as best you can as honorably as you can.
Be true to yourself.
You are valuable, no matter your station in life. Whether you dig ditches or discover new worlds, you have value. Remember that everyone else, no matter their station in life, also has value and are to be respected. They are doing the best they can with what they know... just like you.
Everyone who shows up in your life is there for a reason.
Don't be too influenced by what others are doing. You might feel like they are ahead of you or behind you because they are married or have kids or are vice-president or discovered a vaccine. They have a different path. They have different things to learn. Your path is exactly where you are supposed to be. Judging yourself against another person's success only makes you feel less than you really are.
Don't be too proud of your successes. Don't be to hard on yourself if you fail.
Don't be in too big of a hurry to get into relationships. Instead of becoming somebody's just to feel like somebody's somebody, focus on being a somebody. True love, whether with friends or partners or family, will inspire you to be a better man. If someone's idea of love is "what have you done for me lately" or they try to "fix" you, it's time to go. If a relationship breaks, sometimes it's best to let it go and leave the pieces alone rather than cut yourself trying to put the pieces back together.
There will be times when you are alone. It's okay to be there. Don't be afraid to venture out on your own. No-one cares if you dine alone in a restaurant or go hiking alone or travel alone or show up at a function alone. Anyone who judges you for being alone has their own issues and it has nothing to do with you.
Don't downplay a sincere compliment.
All the stuff that has happened to you is gone. Don't forget about it because we are all an accumulation of our experiences. But, don't let those unsupportive experiences run your life. If someone treats you badly, leave them behind. If you make a mistake, leave it behind. Your past is no indication of how your future will turn out.
Reminisce about the good things.
Read. A lot. Read books on a variety of subjects. Learning doesn't end when school is out.
Listen more than you speak. Hear what the other person is saying.
Make sure you get out into nature as much as possible. Try new things. Your confidence will build as you become successful at more activities. You don't have to be the best at any of them. Just knowing that you can is enough.
How much money you have does not determine your worth. How much compassion you have for yourself and others does.
Give a shit.
Don't be afraid to feel too much, to say too much or to care too much. Feeling does not mean you are crazy. Saying how you feel does not make you crazy. Caring about other people does not mean you are crazy. Them not accepting that you care or feel means they are crazy.
In the end, it is your life. Be open to any possibility. Be vulnerable. Be courageous. Be yourself. Share who you are.
You're far more valuable than you think.

Your future self

Monday, 10 August 2015

Societal Mitosis

You can lie to yourself all you want... gravity exists. Whether you chose to believe it or not is irrelevant. 
I saw a man sitting on the floor of a subway car while returning from Taste of the Danforth. He was dressed shabbily and sorting cans he had collected from trash bins. I also saw the looks he received from others.
He isn't the enemy. The people staring at him aren't the enemy either.
Cellular Mitosis
There is division in our society and the gap is growing larger. Many have already reached the fork in the road and chosen a path. Two polarizing forces are pulling us in separate and philosophically very different directions. One need only pay attention to news snippets to understand what is happening. For instance, Walter Palmer killing Cecil the Lion... or Donald Trump railing against Mexicans... or Sabrina Corgatelli who went on a two week “safari” in South Africa killing everything she came across including a giraffe, a warthog, a wildebeest and a kudu... or deniers of Global Warming... or those corporations who suck the water out of drought ridden areas. (The Global Warming deniers, for the record, are those benefiting most from stripping the planet to the bones. The rest of us are screwed until laws become morality based.)
I don't know about you and I haven't seen giraffe, or any of the other animals noted, on a menu recently.
These are polarizing events. It's easy to figure out which side of the fence you are on when one of these events takes place. With the advent of Facebook, twitter, etc., these events polarize quickly. And they disappear just as rapidly when the next shiny, dramatic, heart-wrenching penny appears in our thrill seeking peripheral.
How about the shootings in a Black church? Polarizing.
How about the rich saying they have more rights to water (for their lawns and golf courses) than the arid poor? Polarizing.
How about Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying the energy sector (oil) is critical to our economy? (It's only 2% of GDP.) Polarizing.
How about the next war being good for the economy and our security. Polarizing.
How about decisions being made by monetary value rather than moral value. Polarizing. (We can't afford to send food and water to starving countries but we can easily afford to fly over and bomb the poor unfortunate bastards if there is an uprising we don't agree with.)
At some point, we as individuals have to determine what is a lie and what is not; what is serving those who create the news, sound bites and laws versus what is serving the general good. There is a social mitosis occurring. A splitting of the mother cell into two daughter cells and one of these things is not like the other. The slow rending has always been occurring yet it happens in the blink of an eye with internet and 24 hour, droning, televised, evangelical, embedded correspondence.
During the performance of my job, I visit virtually every part of the city (and other cities). I can see the bill of goods most of us have been sold. I visit wealthy neighbourhoods where the sprinklers are on and no-one is home. (They are less happy than the rest of us as well. Always worried about who is going to steal their shit. I feel sorry for them, honestly. They've tied most of their life and self value into what they have instead of who they are.) I visit poor neighbourhoods where drugs and alcohol flow freely to ensure the residents stay incoherent enough to believe everything they are fed through news sources and hearsay. I visit the middle class who are sold on the idea that if we work hard enough, we can break through into the elite of society.
How many of those middle class folks have ever made it to elite status? Start naming them. There will not be many. Ninety-nine percent of us will remain in the ninety-nine percent.
We have been sold a bill of goods telling us Blacks and Whites and Hispanics and Muslims and Indigenous are different. We have been sold a bill of goods stating we should hate those who look different than us because it is they who are responsible for us not getting our just rewards. We have been sold a bill of goods stating the enemy is us.
This has been going on since the Egyptians were bitch-slapping their own people and thrusting them into slavery. Luck of the fucking draw you poor, wretched, worthless piece of shit. Now get back to work.
The divisions occurring now are around two poles; those who believe the 99 percent deserve better (certain inviolable rights) and those who will blithely follow the One Percent without question, hungrily consuming the bullshit being fed them... by the One percent.
It's hard to see clearly when the bullshit is up above your eyes.
Trophy hunters are nothing more than arrogant children trying to please their One Percent, absentee "parents"... which they will never do. Looking good is more important than feeling good. It is in the best interest for the richest of our society to keep us where we are; even those arrogant few who believe they are rich and above the law. The belief is, if we are fed hope of a better life for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, then we will tow the company line and continue performing tasks for the self-important, self-indulgent master.
Corporations are not people. If one looks closely enough, the stinking rich aren't people either.
There is a three tiered system at play in North America (and elsewhere). Those who are not white are at the bottom. We have been sold an idea since coming to the Americas that those who look different than us (Indigenous) are the enemy. We have been sold on the idea that those who were enslaved by us in the past (Blacks) are to be kept in bondage because they are worth less than the rest of us. We have been sold on the idea that those with different shaped eyes (Asians) see differently. We are being sold on the idea that those from Middle East countries are radicals and to be feared.
The second tier are poor, middle class whites. We are enchanted by the idea that, if we work hard, we too can become one of the social elite. It simply isn't true. There is a glass ceiling and money does not buy your way through it. Indignant attitude toward fellow human beings is what gets you through. Make no mistake... those in the "poor white" category are just as condemned as those in the "non-white" category. 
The wealthiest and most powerful in our society sell us this crap so we will fight among ourselves over whatever scraps elite deem unnecessary for themselves... thus deflecting our attention from the real threat.
Those who are members of the bottom ninety-nine percent are not the enemy. They are our brothers and sisters who toil through the same struggle, who have many of the same dreams for themselves, their families and friends, and who see themselves spinning their wheels getting nowhere. There is no Black problem. There is no Native American problem. There is no Mexican problem. There is no threat from Middle Eastern or Asian folks. (ISIS are elitist... make no mistake.) There is no war on poverty. There is no war on drugs. There is no youth problem.
There is only one problem; the Elitist Problem. And it sure as shit ain't a problem for the elite.
You don't need a bigger boat. You don't need a bigger house. You don't need your fucking grass to be greener than your neighbour. You don't need grassed forty acres to prove your worth. You don't need to kill every last living thing to prove you have bigger balls than everyone else. If you want to prove you have bigger testicles, grab an M-16 and go fight ISIS. We'll see how big your balls are then. If you need a nice shiny car to prove how big a man or woman you are, the problem isn't the fucking car.
If you need a two week vacation somewhere else to make you feel like you have a life, then you don't have a life.
We buy into so much bullshit now that reality seems surreal. That's the lie.
Walter Palmer and Sabrina Corgatelli are pawns. They are uneducated, mindless drones who believed they were part of the elite and beyond reproach. What they really are is part of the upper middle being fed to the rest of us to keep us distracted from the reality. They were fed a bill of goods and, by the stupidity of their own lordliness, are now sacrificial lambs to allow the rest of us to believe we have chipped away at the throne. They were not bright enough to see they were being set up. 
And they deserve what they get.
The splitting of society is occurring at a rapid rate. Young folks, by and large, have seen what their future looks like and they aren't happy. I'm not so sure I would be happy seeing what is coming and seeing who the culprits are.
The world is changing. The cracks in the System are beginning to grow. Nature is providing a great equalizer... and threat. People are beginning to wake up to the childish narcissism of the extreme rich and powerful. Polarization has begun and the potential violence that will follow will not be pretty. People are beginning to see that those with wealth are also the ones creating the rules of the game.
Nick Hanauer is right. The pitchforks are coming.
The mitosis of society is speeding up. Shoving your head in the sand and ignoring what is in front of you won't save your ass.
You can lie to yourself all you want... elitism exists... and they aren't looking out for your ass. Whether you chose to believe it or not is irrelevant.
Other references:
How to Race Bait (on Facebook) - Mathew Cooke

Monday, 3 August 2015

Hard Wired for We

I'm considering going to Taste of The Danforth next weekend with about fifty thousand other people. I'm not much for big crowds and I'm pretty sure I heard the food calling me. Still, it's pretty cool being with a bunch of similar minded people even if it is only about feta cheese and chicken souvlaki.
Anyone who knows me, even superficially, knows I like to spend time outdoors. Whether alone or with a gaggle of other geese, I'll find ways to get outside into nature. It's one of the principal reasons I gave up the corporate cubicle hamster farm. Clawing my way to the lower-middle was about the best I could expect, due primarily to my oral cavity, which has an innate proclivity for flapping whenever my brain has a moderately relevant thought regarding whatever topic may be on the table.
Yes... I just admitted I have a big mouth.
Last Wednesday I invested an evening with a group of people I've strayed far too far from. Most of those in the room I had never met before yet there is an immediate connection regardless of where we came from or where we are going. We have all gone through a similar shift of consciousness. We have all found barriers in our lives and found ways to break them apart. We all know how to shut up and listen when it's important. We all know how to share... well... shit. More importantly, we all know how to celebrate each other.
This group of people have all decided to work on ourselves... within a group dynamic.
Similarly, as my friend C and I were talking about tonight, I could go kayaking and hiking on my own all of the time. There's no need to make it into a group sport. I can go whenever and wherever I want. Nonetheless, what I need is connection and what better way than to laze about in a kayak or hiking a trail taking pictures and generally goofing around with people I genuinely like and admire (mud baths and bumper boats not withstanding).
This isn't about them. It's about me... sort of. For them it's about them and not me... and I get it. It's getting out for ourselves in a group dynamic.
Catching on?
Some recent studies are beginning to bear out the group connection theme and why it is so important to our well being. More and more studies are showing the clinical healing process happens much more quickly in a group dynamic. One of those studies suggests yoga (practised individually), meditation and solo walks in the woods are great for working out your feelings and collecting your thoughts. The real healing, however, begins with connection with other humans. That is, we heal when we open up to someone who hears us.
To me, this means releasing whatever it is I'm holding in behind fictitious, self constructed iron bars. It's akin to leaving the barn door open so the skunk can depart of it's own volition. No need to chase the little blighter.
As Dr Sue Johnson states in her critically acclaimed book, “Hold Me Tight”, we have an intrinsic need for connection. And not simply connection but understanding. Lack of connection at a fundamental level is the cause of virtually all marital angst. Becoming reconnected can save a relationship while continuing to “drift apart” and ignore the problem is a deafeningly silent death knell. (Accept, of course, abusive relationships when the best course of action is to pack lightly and get a ride to the nearest hostel.)
For the record, Dr Johnson's book is a must read for any couple. It explains a lot of shit. We're not all so unique as we might like to believe. Different... yes. Unique... no. (A synonym for unique is “alone”.)
Does this mean there is no value to alone time? Of course not. It is as much a part of the healing process as beating the tar out of a pillow with a tennis racket... or a nine iron... or a Toyota. What I am saying is using alone time to get your thoughts together is important. The healing, though, really begins when we connect with those around us.
If you really want to help someone heal, shut up and listen. They didn't ask to be fixed. They asked to be heard.
We, as a species, are hard wired for connection. It's how we stayed safe in our past and it's when we feel most safe in the present. It's why we form “tribes”. It's why we hang out with people who see our idiosyncratic behaviours and still love us. It's why we feel better around people who see us and like us anyway.
Of course, there is the food thing at the shin-dig next week. It might be nice to burp and fart and blame it on someone else. ~laugh~