Riding the crazy train.

•March 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

There are times in our lives where we become crazy.

I’m not talking legit-medicated-seeking professional help crazy (I’m aware of the non political correctness of the word ‘crazy’, but bear with me), though I’d be lying if I denied that I’ve also been there.

Sometimes however we really do lose ourselves and discover ourselves acting, being and presenting a whole other version of ourselves that when we stop, pause and look in the mirror we find ourselves asking ‘what the hell was that?’

I’ve done this a few times in my life for a number  –  and not all of them negative –  reasons and recently just found myself in those same crazy-shoes and now, sitting in the debris and mess that is leftover I’m wondering the same: ‘what the hell was that?’.

For me, aside from some bad wiring,  two triggers that have kicked off the less-than-stable-crazy behavior have been relationships (and I’m sure that’s common) and a self-destructive streak that runs a mile wide through my personality and self image. They both have triggered some of the most ridiculous of my behaviors – and they come wrapped up together sometimes too, one can feed the other – they can become a self perpetuating cycle.

Yet, they don’t have to be. When we find ourselves staring bewildered at the smoking ruin of what we had thought was our lives there are only two ways to go –  further down, into further ruin (and sometimes you do actually  –  like the man said –  need to hit rock bottom) or you can use it as a learning curve. That may sound cliché, and granted sometimes when presented with loss, ruin or the fallout of self inflicted stupidity the only lessons you feel you you’re going to learn is that life is tough, life is not worth living and happiness is something that happens to other people. Yet even in the midst of despair there are lessons to be learned. That’s assuming that you plan on sticking around on this earth.

I’m trying to learn, because I do plan on sticking around a while longer. And when your own dumbassery comes with a high price tag, if you believe in second chances or you just don’t want your life to be a DVD menu screen repeating the same thirty seconds of movie clip and music ad nauseum you had better learn.

Its worth saying though that some things are worth being a little crazy over – if you’re in love, if you really believe in something. If you find yourself in life where someone else’s happiness genuinely does – in that moment – matter more to you than your own. These things sometimes need a little crazy, crazy is also a form of passion and without passion, without that little bit of insanity we can end up leading quiet, risk averse, safe claustrophobic lives –  That isn’t for me, I need a bit of the crazy in my life.

Yet there is a fine line we walk and straying too far can lead to things that you didn’t want or anticipate – the aforementioned ruin. It’s a dance, and some of us are better at dancing than others.

So don’t beat yourself up too much if you’ve found yourself riding the crazy train – you’re human and that’s what humans do. Take the bits of brick and metal, shattered glass and what’s left of your dignity and build something from it.

: ‘ I have never been insane, except on occasions where someone has touched my heart’  – Edgar Allen Poe

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I won’t go not knowing.

•March 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I won’t go not knowing.

Even though I sometimes fear

That I will pass like a mist

and no one will remember that I was ever here.

Still: I’ve walked where kings walked and stood in the shadows cast by millennia. I’ve tripped on cobblestones and wandered through echoing marble halls.

I’ve sat where the greats once sat and been humbled by magnificence; in the works of men, in the works of nature.

I’ve crossed over oceans and been above the clouds. I’ve wandered in lands in which no fathers of mine have stood. I’ve seen bullet holes in walls and blood stains on floors, held the remains of tragedy and the memories of those who came before.

My loves have crossed nations and my heartbreaks do not know borders

My conversations with friends span Los Angeles and Sydney, Sao Paulo and London, Beijing and Baltimore…

When I miss them I miss across oceans, across wires, down cables and mobile phones…I’ve lived outside my birth nation and call many places home.

I’ve never had much money, never had what society calls ‘success’. Probably won’t ever own a home and I’ve mostly been unlucky in love.

But.. I’ve been blessed with friends and I have lived, I’ve only memories to show for it, but I really have lived.

So whenever it is that I go, I certainly won’t go not knowing.

Protected: The Anatomy of an Insecure Moment.

•December 1, 2013 • Enter your password to view comments.

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Things Happen For a Reason.

•December 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

One of the more common platitudes you’re likely to hear from time to time is the phrase ‘things happen for a reason’. Usually offered up in lieu of an explanation around the time someone suffers a disappointment or ex post facto a happy event or set of events that ended in a fortuitous conclusion.

This phrase has always irritated me because of the implications behind it: that things happen for a purpose, that you do not know what this purpose was (though the purpose can be revealed to you later after the events of the cosmic scheme have played out) and that this explanation that is no explanation at all is somehow supposed to be an answer to questions that probably have no answer.

That there are reasons things do happen is beyond question. Many events do indeed have physical causes and should we be so inclined we could determine these causes if we wished to: ‘I was in a car accident because the road was wet and I was driving too fast’, ‘ I didn’t get the job I really wanted because the interviewer found another candidate’s answers to their questions more impressive than mine’, ‘I got lung cancer because I smoked a pack a day since I was 15’’ and so on.

The problem however lies in this reasoning:

 ‘I was in a car accident because the road was wet and I was driving too fast’

‘I was injured in the crash and went to a hospital; there I met a lovely nurse’

‘The nurse and I fell in love and she is now my wife’

‘Therefore, I was in a car accident so that I could meet my wife’

That the car accident in this example did lead to the meeting of the lovely nurse and the subsequent nuptials is a fact. But that the sequences of events were part of some plan whose purpose was the happy marriage flies in the face of all reason.

For this idea to be true, we would need to establish two things:

1: The existence of a plan –  with the implications for your own free will its existence would imply.

2: the existence of the planner – and what a planner this must be to manipulate the web of events with genius beyond that of the most cunning Chess grand-master.

These things are never established – unless of course you’re religious and you take the existence of a planner as a given. (and you may bow out now, as you cannot prove the existence of your god anymore than the hipster-spiritualist can prove their planner).

Further errors in reasoning occur when we consider the  confirmation bias involved the idea – the fact that you met your wife after a car accident ignores all other negative events in your life where you didn’t meet your wife, or which did not lead to some other form of fortuitous happening, or all the other events, positive and negative that led to absolutely nothing at all.

Ah… but those events weren’t part of the plan you might say.  I hear the sound of goalposts shifting – So what were they? Simply random events? And how are we to determine which events are part of ‘the plan’ and which ones aren’t? None of these questions are ever satisfactorily answered, nor, usually can they be.

What we are left with is the reality of what this statement actually is: human beings confronting their own limited power and trying to explain things that they cannot explain. It is far more comforting to believe that there is some form of ‘captain at the helm’ steering the ship to unknown but presumably benevolent shores rather than the more likely reality: That the ship may well be adrift, there is no master plan or course being followed and the only people in charge is us.

And there is the one thing that we can verify: If you do so desperately wish to cling to the belief that things ‘happen for a reason’ then the only verifiable take on that statement is that the reason is the one that you determined, the plan is your own and that you are the planner. But as any military historian and general can tell you, your plans will only go so far, you cannot plan for the weather – and that my dear reader is the point – You cannot plan for the weather, and the weather does not plan for you.

Lastly, I suspect that very often people know how baseless and hollow a platitude this statement is which is why you almost never hear it at certain times. If there is a purpose behind events then that implies that even the most traumatic of events have purpose – bereavement and the loss of family and loved ones, parents who lose children. The carnage of wars and the indiscriminate suffering foisted upon countless millions afflicted by disease and hunger. These things happen for a reason apparently, and some reason it must be indeed.

There is no evidence that ‘things happen for a reason’ and I am not so afraid to admit that sometimes the random the meaningless and the unexpected and unknown just happen. So I put it to you that we are not – despite how comforting it might be to think it – pawns on the board in a cosmic game of chess..

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To the Happy People – Self Satisfying Vacuous Sound-Bites Are No Stand In For Reality.

•October 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Here is a list of things that the Happy people claim they are doing right and that the rest of us are doing wrong. The happy people have compiled this list of sound bites to educate the rest of us in their spiritual wisdom.

Herein, I will attempt to discuss their sound-bites and perhaps inject some reality into the discussion. I will also address the Happy people directly in the document by referring to them as ‘Happy people’. BD

The  link to the original article can be found at: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10387/25-things-happy-people-do-differently.html

But: without further ado: Ladies, gentlemen and transgendered guests – I give you: The Happy People and my commentaries upon:

25 Things Happy People Do Differently

 

“Because you unhappy people are just doing it wrong, we happy people, we’ve figured it out, we know what’s going on – you need to understand, you’re unhappy because you are wrong.”

1.       Stop worrying, if it supposed to happen it will. 

‘Supposed ‘to happen. The implication is that if it’s ‘meant’ to be then it will happen. Grand plan, divine hands, or the Alcoholics Anonymous screed that you have to ‘surrender yourself to a higher power’ because you can’t make it happen, it will only happen if its ‘meant’ to. So let’s just trust to fate, the bonus is that if it doesn’t happen, you can make yourself feel better by saying that it wasn’t ‘meant’ to happen and so you’re free of responsibility, it wasn’t your fault and there is nothing you could have done.  Bollocks Happy People. Here is the cold hard truth:  there is no guiding hand; you are the hand that guides. Worrying too much is unhelpful, but a little bit of worry is useful, you get things done, you anticipate possibilities and plan for them and you go the extra mile to make sure that what you meant to happen will happen.

2.       Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent.

To use the much abused phrase: ‘Check your privilege’ here Happy people. Some people do, usually those who inherit their excellence. Some people also start off beautiful, wealthy, gifted, culturally valued, etc etc etc …so they get a foot in the door as well.  The wise understand that you must be a beginner to be a master, and try not to content themselves with mediocrity. But let’s be honest, some people start at a higher level of ‘excellence’ because they are privileged. I think you have to be privileged to think that no one starts off with advantages.

3.       Don’t let your happiness depend on anything outside of yourself.

Sage advice for the most part, especially for the rampant individualist. Your happiness can very much be twisted by things outside yourself. These things you cannot control –  To a certain point you can control your reactions, but If for example your spouse of 10 years in whom you have invested much of yourself decides to cheat on you, screw you over and then sue for half your possessions –  you’re happiness is very much going to depend on things outside yourself. This ‘self help inner positivity’’ bullshit that is so rampant today drives me up the wall. Yes, do the best you can to make yourself happy, but come on: sometimes bad shit happens to good people. Human beings are sociable animals, very often your happiness is going to depend on people around you – and sometimes, you might just need to depend on something or someone for your happiness because you are too tired, broken or even mentally unwell to do it yourself.

4.       Stay close to everything that makes you feel alive.

Except by necessity, by duty, obligation, loyalty or love there will be things in your life that make you feel less than alive and you’ll still need to stick by these things. This is classic sound bite wisdom, sounds great and easy until you apply reality. Better advice would be to ‘do things that make you feel alive’ when you can from time to time.

5.       Listen to your body; it will lead you to unlimited health. 

Bullshit. My body craves sugar, carbohydrates and, especially after a bad day; alcohol. Your body can also crave nicotine, sleep at inappropriate times and sex with someone you probably shouldn’t have sex with. As you age, you will start to have random aches and pains that just occur for no reason; listen to every one of them and you’ll become a hypochondriac. Be sensible of course, be aware, but this gem from the ‘happy people’ is just pure silliness.

6.       Surround yourself with people who see your greatness.

This is up there with the greatly stupid. Better advice would be ‘surround yourself with people who are genuine and real’. Sure, you may be ‘great’ and its nice to have that validated, but sometimes you will be less than great or you will just simply suck at something –  real people will tell you this and still love you. You can trust them because of this. Wankers convinced of their own self importance surround themselves with sycophants, give me a friend who knows me for my greatness but will also call me out on my crap.

 7.       Make peace with your past.

Or if you can’t, at least try to learn from it. Sometimes there are things in a person’s past that they cannot make peace with, sometimes these things do not deserve to have peace made of them. Your present is only the sum accumulation of your past and this can be a complicated animal. I don’t disagree with the happy people here, for your own peace of mind you have to accept that you cannot change your past, but sometimes you cannot sit well with it either.

8.       See all setbacks as growth and expansive opportunities.

Yes, because nothing says ‘wisdom’ more than banging your head on the wall of a hopeless case. Not every setback is an opportunity or will lead to growth. Some setbacks are exactly that, setbacks, you might want to achieve something and the setback showed you that ‘you can’t’. Not all growth is positive, some growth is negative and there may not be much optimism to find in those circumstances. Naive positive thinking may well prevent you from seeing that the setback is an indicator that you should just get the hell out. When you hit setbacks you have to realize that they happen, and all you can do is decide how to maneuver around it, through it or away from it.

9.      Comparing yourself to others will hurt your health and steal your joy.

Except that’s what the happy people are asking the rest of us to do with this stupid list. Ok, sure, don’t use other people’s standards as your own, but sometimes comparing yourself to others can give you a bit of ambition, hope and inspiration.  And really, isn’t that what you’re wanting us to do here happy people? You prove my point.

10. Don’t give up, EVER.

Yes, because flogging a dead horse is always a good idea. Sometimes you need to know when to give up, when to quit, let go and get out. This can lead to actual experience, growth and wisdom.

 11.        You always have a choice.

Do you? Really?  Sometimes you don’t, sometimes you have obligations, Ok… sure, you can choose not to live up to them, but then, that might mean you’re an asshole. Sometimes also, the only choices you have are bad ones.

12.      Stop chasing what’s not working.

Come on, did you guys even read your own list? What happened to ‘Never give up, EVER’?

13.     Believe wholeheartedly in miracles.

No, just.. no. Give me well founded plans, evidence and sometimes, just old fashioned good luck. No amount of belief makes something a fact. Self delusion is probably the worst form of denial.

14.       Don’t postpone joy.

Ever heard of delayed gratification? Sometimes it’s not a good idea to indulge in everything joyous right then and there, and in fact, sometimes postponing it makes it all the more joyous.

15.       Trust the universe, there is a plan greater than yours.

Urghhh, prove it, show me the plan and then show me the planner. You can’t, you’re just talking out of your ass.  This is pure superstitious nonsense, there is no captain at the helm, we each captain our own ship and we navigate it as best we can.  Moreover you’re just rehashing the whole ‘if its supposed to happen it will’ argument you made in point 1 so see my comments there.

16.         Wake up every morning with a grateful heart.

Tell that to the majority of modern day folks who work a job they don’t like to meet obligations which force them to postpone their joy. I am grateful to be alive, but sometimes oh wise Happy people, through no fault of their own people have difficult lives that make boundless gratitude pretty hard to maintain. 

 17.           Remember things take time.

Except joy, apparently, this must not be postponed. Look Happy People, things do take time, but sometimes in life you don’t have time, sometimes, you need to act now.

 18.         Always trust your gut.

Even despite evidence? Gut instincts are sometimes a good thing, but you can’t live your life that way –  sometimes your instincts need to be expanded on with evidence. Moreover, sometimes your gut instincts are just plain wrong: ever met anyone your gut told you that you didn’t like but then later found out, after a bit of open-mindedness, that they were actually all right?

 19.          No need to change people; just love them for who they are. 

So why did you make this bloody list? Just to bask in your own smug?. Seriously Happy people, have you ever visited a planet called earth? Sometimes we need to change people because the consequences of not changing them may be dire for themselves or for people around them. I want to be loved for who I am, but I’ve had people in my life who have changed me, and done so deliberately because they saw something in me that was hurting me and needed to change, and they loved me enough to try.

20.           Don’t resist change.

You know at least half of the voting population are conservative right? Resistant to change almost by definition right? I’m sure some of them are happy.  Ok, some changes should not and indeed cannot be resisted, change is a constant. But not all change is good and sometimes we need to be able to critically weigh up the pros and cons of specific changes to know whether they are worth resisting or not.

21.     Forgive yourself.

Where possible –  but sometimes you need the forgiveness of others before you can forgive yourself.

22.         Your life is a creative adventure.

Now on this one, I agree with you. But i’m a white guy from a privileged background so I have the luxury of thinking this way. However there are literally billions of people on this planet who do not have the luxury of thinking this way. Their lives are struggle, endurance and pain –  that they endure these things is amazing to me and those that manage to still find joy in those seas of misery are by far more inspirational than you are Happy people. I for one will not patronize these people however by calling their lives a ‘creative adventure’.

 23.         Release expectations and enjoy the journey, there is no destination.

Ok, nice advise, but we do set goals do we not? Sometimes there are destinations and the reward is not so much the journey but reaching its end.

24.         Just do you.

Nah, I live in a community, with friends, relatives, you know.. other human beings? I like helping people where I can, sometimes it’s nice not to just do me, but to ‘do’ other people, helping people can be really rewarding. Sometimes, its nice not to just think about myself.

25.        You’re not broken or damaged. You are perfect just the way you are. 

 No im not, there is always room for improvement…  and Happy People, I’m beginning to think there are some seriously sociopathic tendencies running through your list. I’m not perfect, I will never be perfect but I will strive to be the best I can be at any given time. More to the point, I personally  was damaged, medication helped fix me. I also had some pretty bad modes of behavior that were not only damaging to me, but to other people around me. If I had followed your advice here I might not be an unhappy person, but I would be an asshole.

God didn’t save me – Critical thinking did.

•October 30, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Living with anxiety is like living with your hands tied behind your back….If you can function its supremely handicapped and nowhere near your full capacity.  You’re always compensating and correcting. Far too often you’re never really all there, in the moment – you’re always worried and fearful of horrible potential futures. You’re never really happy with yourself or accepting of who you are, you’re always inadequate and you never measure up. Anxiety can be worsened by elements in the world around you – dangers and threats, steps to be taken or not taken to avoid them, anecdotes that may apply to you can become new lenses for how you view yourself, your circumstances or may hide new, previously unknown dangers. It can even be exacerbated by your own personal beliefs, religious and cultural, deeply ingrained programming of which we are often only barely aware.

When I started to seriously tackle anxiety as a medical issue I began to understand how much of what you perceive as ‘real’ is just a function of chemicals in your brain. These things can be changed and so, thus, your perceptions of reality can be changed as well. It was both joyous and eye opening the day the medication I took for my anxiety and depression kicked in – suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown in my head (which, I guess metaphorically it had), so much of my previous perceptions, instincts and ‘gut feelings’ that I was so sure were hard and fast were thrown out the window – the fear, which had governed so much of my life for so long, was gone. The question then was fairly clear: – if my view of reality was so changeable, based on a flaw in a chemical function in my head, then how much of anything that I believed could be based on other basic flaws?

With anxiety being ever present, there had also been a number of events in my life that had caused me to start to seriously address the way my mind worked and the ways that I thought:  Living abroad and travelling, the death of my mother and the ending of a long term romantic relationship, changing careers… all major life changing events and situations that threw the way my mind worked into serious light.  So, that said there is an important distinction that needs to be made at the outset here – when I began this ‘metacognitive awakening’ if you will – it wasn’t to address WHAT I thought, but HOW I thought. The way you think can just as often lead to what you think…. change the former and you can sometimes demolish the latter and this has very much been the results of the journey I undertook.

Beginning to think critically required research: I needed to learn about things like logical fallacies and Socratic questions.  Therapy helped too; having someone with a scientific training in the mind analyse behaviours and thought processes  – long followed but not understood –  was a great help in applying a more critical, scientific methodology to my own outlook on life and feelings, my biases and opinions. I began to look more upon the importance of evidence in how I formed opinions and also how I felt in a given situation.

Practically speaking the process has led me to understand how many of my previous views and modes of thought were based on empty supposition and inner biases. It was easier, for example, to believe in a God because when I was bluntly honest, I wanted to believe in a God.  This self knowledge allowed me to see all the logical fallacies I engaged in to ‘prove’ this belief, the ways this inner bias allowed me to interpret really bad evidence in a way that supported my prejudice.  Furthermore, this process has allowed me to recast my own views of myself. People that suffer from anxiety and depression often have a very low opinion of themselves… their self esteem, if it exists at all, is often extremely low and very weak, often when presented, it is little more than bravado.  Most people see my front, but in truth I have always had extremely low self esteem  and to say I’ve engaged in self destructive behaviours as a result would be an understatement. Applying critical thinking to these views has allowed me to balance the relentless self loathing with a bit of self-reality: I’m all right, in fact, sometimes, I’m pretty good – no bravado this time, there is evidence for it.

My default programming has always been never to allow myself to be happy, because whenever I am happy, something bad will happen. Programming that ignored the fact that good things do happen, that I have been and can be happy.  Thinking critically has allowed me to dissect this pattern and life has become much less of a struggle, I can enjoy being happy.

This is not a cure-all.  Given that many of my issues are likely biochemical there is always more work to be done.  But the change in outlook, confidence and general happiness I have experience since I critically smashed the house of cards that was my own thought processes cannot be overstated. In the arsenal of tools for personal freedom, critical thinking has been a super-weapon.

Will convert for good evidence.

He who provides.

•August 2, 2013 • Leave a Comment

God will provide.

Well no, he won’t, because he isn’t real.

I’ll tell you some things that might though:

I will provide, because I planned ahead, because I worked so that I could provide. Because I’ve spent 6 years at university, I did that work, I did the research and the cramming, I studied for exams and I passed them, God didn’t do any of that.

I will provide because when I was ill and being crushed under the weight of a chemical imbalance in my head, I sought help, I listened to a psychologist and I took the medication they advised I take. God did none of this.

So, science will provide, because scientists studied the brain and it’s chemistry and found a way to deal with my particular brain quirk. Science will provide, because people of science studied nature, aerodynamics, computing and meteorology, built aircraft, radar and radio and sent satellites into space and now I live in the UK. God had nothing to do with this.

My friends will provide. Because they care about me, because they have compassion and empathy, and because that is what friends do. They have seen me at my best, and endured me at my worst. Yet they are there, as I am for then. When i was drowning in grief, in solitude, in anger, when i was adrift and aimless, when I was wracked with self loathing and self doubt. My friends were there, it was they who provided. ‘God’ was nowhere to be found, but one can’t blame the non-existent for non existing.

My family will provide. Because several hundred thousand years of biological programming silently guides how parents address their children. Because they are good and kind people and they love me as i love them,  as our shared bond matters, we make it matter by our choices and by our actions. We do this, we make the choice to love. God has nothing to do with it.

Humanity will provide. Because it isn’t God who digs survivors out from beneath the rubble of a tornado, earthquake or some other natural disaster. It isn’t God who sacrifices their time, their money and in some cases thier lives to suspend suffering, or to save lives. It’s not God that drives the ambulances or uses the scalpel.  It is not God who stands up to the injustices wrought on man by other men; it is not God who then forgives those who do the wroughting.  Humans save, humans sacrifice, humans stand up and it is humans, not God, that possess the capacity for forgiveness.

God does none of these things, because god is Zeus, Horus, Zoroaster and Thor. God is Isis, Mithras and Baal. God is a myth, God is not real. God will not provide, because he cannot provide, myths do not feed the hungry, no amount of belief makes something a fact.
We do these things, you and I, we the people that live on this planet. We condemn, and we save.

Humanity, isn’t it time to own your shit, the bad and the good?