ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
Go on. Wrestle that angel.
Lean into her with your whole self. Wrap your arms around and press your torso to hers. Dig in with your heels and feel her weight pressing back. Hold on tight to her arms, her ribs, the curve of her hips, anywhere you can find purchase. Feel her electric pulse course through you. Don't give up. Don't give in. Don't let go too soon.
Our struggles are not curses. They are not mythical demons or punishments for our sins. They are not troubles to be wished away, not obstacles to avoid. There is not another, safer path we should have taken. They are gifts. The trouble is we are conditioned to believe that gifts are only things that come in boxes with wrapping paper and bows. (Or these days, in the last-minute three-dollar bag with colored tissue paper stuffed in the top.)
We're not used to gifts looking like a dark room with furniture we can’t see. Let alone a gift looking like our own darkness. Hell, we’re not even used to acknowledging our own darkness. Other people’s, sure. We’re like forest rangers with binoculars on lookout towers when it comes to spotting (and calling out) anyone else’s shadow. With any hint of our own shadows tucked up neat and tidy underneath us as we lounge in the brightness of our perpetual high noon. Only rainbows, unicorns, and smiley faces here.
Here’s the thing. We’re humans. We’re not angels, seraphim, or saints. We’re not even ascended beings. (If you are actually an ascended being, my apologies.) Which means we don’t generally spend our days floating around on clouds, wrapped in unearthly light, singing with voices like gelato (real Italian gelato, I mean), possessing all divine knowledge, and carrying tiny messages of truth to the besotted masses.
As humans, we’re possessed of just enough wit to want to know what the angels are talking about, but not quite enough to actually understand them. (You can see why we’d want to wrestle them. They piss us off.) If it feels like this is an unfair situation, that’s because it is. And if you think about it, no one promised us anything about life being fair. (Seriously, look on the back of your ticket if you don’t believe me.) Life is an enter-at-your-own-risk event.
So, how again are these things supposed to be gifts? Let me explain a different way. Recently there was a single mobile game app from Japan that grossed up to $75 million a month. The worldwide video game industry grossed over $93 billion the same year. What this means is that, while we complain constantly about the riddles of our real lives, we are perfectly willing to spend hard earned cash, and lots of it, to solve make-believe problems. Or at least to blow them up.
Let me say that another way.
You know how, whenever you are part of any given organization -- be it your job, your math club, or your cult -- someone will eventually decide the thing that will make this group more cohesive is a ropes course? Before it became kind of a cliché, a ropes course was actually a good idea. It allows people to face their fears and to transcend them, generally with the support and encouragement of other humans who are there to face their own demons. The challenges are physical and emotional. And overcoming them provides self-assurance and an opportunity to bond with others.
Life’s kind of like that. We don’t think of it that way, because life is something we do every day all day, not just once, or once every few years. Whenever I have traveled in my life, I wake up every morning excited to face the unknown adventures that await me. When I am back to my daily routines, I strive to remember that I can greet every day just like this. I don’t have to be in another city or country to find adventure or to be excited about my day.
Whether we admit it or not, we like puzzles. We like to be challenged. And not just on the screen. If you think about it, life would probably not be worth living if all the streets were flat, the weather was always perfect, our kids were always well behaved, our thoughts were never troubled, and we had all the money we could ever spend. Wait a second, that actually sounds pretty damn good. Forget all that other stuff I said.
While it’s tempting to think that a life of nothing but ease would be nothing but grand, this is flawed thinking. The only reason we know anything about ourselves is because we’ve had to figure it out. Stop me if I’ve said this before, but how many of us have known trustafarians who are pretty screwed up. Probably everyone. Though it may sound like a good idea, saving your children from certain hardships, setting them up so they’ll never have to work to make a place for themselves in the world is not really doing them any favors.
So give yourself permission to grapple. It’s okay that we don’t have everything figured out. It’s okay that we walk around daily bearing the weight of these small worlds. That our minds are constantly working on these puzzles in the background. That these angels we wrestle make guest appearances in our dreams, our work lives, our arguments with friends and lovers, our endless conversations with ourselves.
We were born to wrestle. It’s part of our DNA. And history tells us the angels know how to lose. So go on. Lean in.
there are days
Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.
- A Course in Miracles
There are days when the world will break your heart. I don’t mean you will be sad or disappointed or even angry. I don’t mean your feelings will be hurt or you will sob into a pillow. I don’t mean you will be so depressed you won’t want to get out of bed or talk to anyone.
I mean there are days when your heart will break. It will bleed out right on the desk, the floor, the kitchen table. And the pain in your chest will be so great you’ll think you cannot bear it. And everywhere you look, everything you read, every conversation you have will feel like peroxide being poured onto an open wound. I mean that you will not be able to see any future that is habitable, because everything will seem irreparably broken. The meanness of the human race will appear beyond comprehension.
There are days when what you believed to be innocent things will suddenly appear as the opposite of what you thought. When the destructive nature of children and their inhumane treatment of one another, suddenly will explain all the world’s woes. And you will realize that everyone you know is just a child in grown up clothes, with more responsibilities than they are capable of handling, throwing the occasional toddler’s tantrum that is disguised as either righteous indignation or hormonal vicissitudes. And you will understand that their poor treatment of other humans is exactly the same thing as the oversized playground bully ruthlessly making the younger kids cry with his taunting and name-calling.
There are days when the rich will keep getting richer, the greedy greedier, the hard-working even more marginalized, the sick, more in debt. When the insurance companies will continue to steal our money, month after month. When the banks will take our houses and then take some more. And when Congress and our President will seem impotent to do anything about it. Meanwhile they will handover our lunch money to the oil companies, the garden to Monsanto, and whatever is left to the NRA, you know, for protection.
There are days when the world is just mean. That is all there is. Meanness. And the occasional bout of insomnia which shakes us from our chronic slumber of unawareness to acknowledge our inability to do anything about it just before we fall asleep again, exhausted.
There are days where the world will not only break your heart, but tear it out of your chest, stomp on it, and set it on fire, right before your dumbstruck eyes. And you won’t know what to do.
And I won’t know what to tell you to make it any better.
And yet somehow, somehow, you will find a different set of days. In those days, the sun will be warm on your skin. But there will be just enough cloud cover to allow the colors all around you to show themselves. And your world will be filled with beauty. You’ll get buzzed by a hummingbird on your morning walk. And the green and yellow foothills will spread their beauty across the horizon as if just for you.
These are the days that are true. This is what is real. All else is nonsense dreamt up by small minds and feeble imaginations. All else is illusion. All else is the emptiness of delusion.
Come with me. Let's find our own way out. Let’s live all our days saturated in beauty.
Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.
- Richard Feynman
In other words, be like a child again. Not childish, as almost all adults can be -- which is far more annoying than it is endearing -- but childlike. A child is endlessly curious. Though a child does not really need to know the answers. A child just needs to question, to investigate, to dig, and to root, and to turn over stones. Then to keep on digging, building, adding, and tearing down. And starting over with new questions and ideas.
The finding of things is fun, too. But it is not the most essential thing. The discovery of anything will do. Children are masters of serendipity. Their innate impulse is to question, and to go about looking for new things, whether they are water bugs or woozles. The important thing is the adventure, which really never ends. And which is only occasionally interrupted by the silliness of adults making them stop to eat, or to brush their teeth and put on jammies.
For children, the world is stuffed full of magic things. This is because, well, the world is actually stuffed full of magic things. Our prejudices are learned. We are not born with our narrow approaches to life and its inhabitants. Our natural inclination is to seek out and to celebrate the magic. Every day, all day long. I think this is why children annoy some adults and delight others. The annoyed ones don’t want to be reminded of all that they’ve left behind. The delighted ones either still carry a healthy dose of magic with them, or they at least know where to find it.
Certainty is an illusion.
If there is evil in the world, which is at least debatable, the root of it most certainty lies in the desire for certainty. The older we get the more we realize how few absolutes there are in the world. But one of the absolutes we’re all pretty sure about is change. Everything is on its way to somewhere else all the time. There is no standing still. There are no forever answers.
And so how could there really be certainty about anything. When we are young, we think that the answer to the question of who we are is answerable. If we are really precocious, we may even think we know who we are. Or maybe we think, it’ll just take a little more examination, a little more life experience. The older we get, the more we understand that there could never be an answer to this question. And even if there were, it would be outdated as soon as we uttered it. In fact, we can’t even answer the question of what we mean by the word “me.”
As I’ve said before, it’s okay to be uncertain. In fact, it is preferred. Imagine a world without uncertainty. We’d be bored out of our heads. In fact, there wouldn’t be much point to it at all. The corporate, governmental, and religious institutions of modern society and their radical counterparts rely upon our deep-seated fear of uncertainty and our absolute unwillingness to admit this fear. Without our fear, they are nothing. They know that we desperately want someone else to tell us what the fuck is going on.
Don’t give in.
We’re so addicted to certainty that we create and obsess over our daily routines. Even though they create the very boredom we complain about. Even though it is these routines, along with our fear of uncertainty, that are the hands that secure the blinders in place on our heads. And those things make it really hard to fully experience life. Don’t buy in. Don’t sell yourself out. The big lie is that you need to give up your curiosity, your creativity, your desire to cut your own path through life, in the name of becoming an adult. Your curiosity is not the enemy. Any more than terrorism is the enemy. To paraphrase Edward Snowden, bathtubs and police officers kill more people than terrorism, yet we’ve been told to give up our fundamental rights to protect ourselves. It’s a lie, just like the lie that it’s time to grow up and kill your dreams.
We do not need to cast away our curiosity in order to be fully evolved adults. In fact, it’s just the opposite. All of the greatest spirits who have walked the planet have been possessed of fiercely curious minds and hearts. If you are paying attention, there is never a reason to be bored. Wake up. That’s it, really. If we are awake, we cannot help but be curious. Because what is curiosity, really, except the tendency to be awake. And to be looking for more stones to turn over.
To be like a child again.
This is an excerpt from the Nautilus Award winning collection, Happiness Is an Imaginary Line in the Sand. The book is available here.