The Answers

In a culture pushing dichotomies and separation we must remember that the answer is almost never either/or, but almost always both/and.  It is invariably somewhere in the middle, and it always depends.

– M. M. Racho

Though we have been trained throughout our lives to think in dichotomies, I try my damnedest to reject them. They put us in boxes. They limit our scope and stifle our thinking. The moment we begin to define something, it is possible that we are actually minimizing the potential we have to discover what that thing truly is – including ourselves. This seems to me to be the case for almost everything in life and for every one of our fabricated answers.

As humans, we have an insatiable desire to understand and explain. In this noble quest however, we often create dichotomies or paradigms with which to view the world that don’t need to exist or that facilitate inaccurate explanations. Perhaps it’s political or vanity or our desire for critical inquiry or any combination of all three. Whatever the reason and despite the fact that in many instances we have discovered or created dichotomies that do exist and are indeed useful to our understanding of the world, there are many instances (probably more than not) that have only muddled our thinking and closed the horizon of possibilities actually presented to us. A number of prominent dichotomies rampant in today’s society come to mind:

  • Science or logic versus experience
  • Spiritual versus physical
  • Good versus evil
  • Nature versus nurture
  • Republican versus Democrat
  • Free will versus determinism
  • Sane versus insane
  • Healthy versus unhealthy
  • Right versus wrong
  • You versus me
  • Us versus them
  • Yes versus no
  • I could go on but you get the point.

Our definitions of the world, our lives, and our experiences not only divert us from the essence of the truth we seek; they also create anxiety. Despite the fact that many of the constructs we’ve created and grasped to have proven false as a result of experiential reality, they have wreaked havoc in the meantime. If I commit some offensive act in my life, I am trained to experience guilt. And although some amount of guilt might be appropriate, I might manipulate what happened in order to assuage the feeling. “It was so out of character for me. I’m not like that.” This type of thinking is dichotic and places me, the actor, opposite the act. In reality or truth of course, I acted exactly like myself – for whom else could I be?

Every person – and I mean every single person – is comprised of some good (however you choose to define it) and some bad (however you choose to define it). The line between good and evil lies at the center of every human heart (I’m not sure where I heard this but I love it). If we understood and accepted this, we would be much less anxious in our daily lives and in our definitions and ideas of our selves. We would more readily be able to accept others and ourselves. And, by the way, not understanding this is a very dangerous place to be. It’s where dehumanizing begins and therein a multitude of insidious other beliefs.

The gross oversimplifications of our lives do us no justice and diminish the space within which we live. Rather than divide ourselves, our lives and each other into splintering factions, let us begin to lean into a dimensional paradigm. We ought to resist the urge to define everything in categorical or black and white terms. To steal from Whitman – we are large and contain multitudes. Let’s remember that and let’s embrace it.

And in regards to the answers we are all looking for, perhaps it’s not one or the other. Perhaps it’s both or a third or a twelfth we’ve not yet considered. In the meantime and as any Buddhist will tell you, the questions are so much more important than the answers. We need to learn to be a bit more comfortable residing outside of the lines we’ve created – in the gray, in the middle, in the unknown. That is, after all, where most of the answers tend to lie, where balance and harmony are struck, and where most of life is lived.

“Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

-Rumi

 

Advertisements

The Space We Share

I recently discovered that from 1883 until his death in 1905, a man named John Milton Hay owned the land we recently purchased and now live on, as well as the hundreds of acres surrounding us. We live in the upper portion of a mountain community called Crystal Park, right beside Pikes Peak and just above the quaint Colorado town of Manitou Springs. Upon hearing about Hay and his experiences in this area, I sought out and purchased several books written about his life, as well as a couple pieces of his own work. I wanted to discover all that I could about a man who lived so long ago and yet with whom I’ve shared something so remarkable.

It turns out that Hay was a fascinating man – a statesman, an author, and a poet. As a close friend and personal secretary of Abraham Lincoln, he was with him when he was shot at Ford’s Theatre, and was by his side when he died. Following Lincoln’s death, he spent several years abroad as a diplomat in Europe, mainly in Madrid. He worked for a time at the New-York Tribune and, in 1870, Hay left diplomatic service to write. He spent summer after summer in upper Crystal Park gaining inspiration and writing prolifically. He co-authored a ten-volume biography of Lincoln with his close friend, John Nicolay, and created much of his recorded poetry here. He returned to politics when appointed Secretary of State by President McKinley and continued in office under Theodore Roosevelt following McKinley’s assassination. Hay died in office in 1905.

On September 9th, 1883, in a letter to friend, W.D. Howells, Hay wrote about his first experience on this land…

“Nicolay and I are in camp in a most beautiful and rugged eyrie 9000 feet high, sometimes called Crystal Park, not far from Manitou Springs. If you were here – and someday you will come –I am looking for a place to build a hut, which I hope you will share with me. The bigness of the beauty of this place is something I am not able to describe and shall not try.”

 Following that trip, Hay purchased most of the land in the upper park and did indeed build a small cabin exactly a half a mile from our home. As quiet and serene as our experience here has been, with a distant neighbor or two spotting adjacent mountainsides, I can only imagine what it must have been like to be alone with all of this beauty and your thoughts. It has been surreal, inspiring, and fantastic to find and read words written by a man who so long ago lived where I live, saw what I see, and was gifted the same calm and contentment I have received from this landscape.

Each of us knows that the spaces we inhabit in this world were once inhabited by others – and even then, others before them. This reality is often hard to recognize, discern, and let comfort us as ours is a time when the landscapes so many of us exist within are products of man and not nature, and are commercial rather than organic. To know then- so specifically – about a man with whom I share the experience of this alluring place – a man who lived over one hundred years ago – has been a profound and humbling privilege. We have spent pieces of our lives in the same mountainous wood and it has been to each of us a muse and a sanctuary and somehow because of this, I feel connected to him.

And so… to John Milton Hay, wherever you are, I think of you often while on my walks and I imagine you having trodden where I tread. I wonder if this place gave you strength for the struggles in your life in the way it does for me in mine, and if a tear ever came to your eye for the overwhelming gratefulness you had to be able to exist for a brief time here. And thank you. Thank you for reaching through years and years with your pen and your words to intersect with me, and to remind me how precious are the moments I have here.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite how he is written about in text books, taught about in public schools and most college classes, and remembered by mainstream media and the government, on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us remember him how he actually was… a revolutionary thinker who challenged injustice in all its forms and explicitly connected those injustices to economic exploitation, labor issues, and the American form of capitalism. This incredible man believed empathy and radical altruism were the foundations of social justice and the only way to bring about real change.

Here are some of his most poignant words (none of which can be found on the new King Memorial in Washington D.C.) and in them, his revolutionary ideas:

“We honestly must face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are 40 million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, ‘why are there 40 million poor people in America?’ And when you ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question you begin to question the capitalist economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.”

– MLK Jr.’s final speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

MLK Jr. Speech, February 25, 1967

A poem: Time Until

The first was a tragedy

I unintentionally or intentionally killed a man

And heard for years he remained heavily unable

As I, wading through, gathering up, and trying to hold together

Too many pieces of a false self, of a false, weak, world

Unable to know anything about love

 

The second was less tragic, and smaller

Hurt is easier to hold than hurting

Still weak, my weakness spread

Consuming me, consuming him

And in the end my weakness won

Proving stronger

 

The third was the smallest

Though a nobler failure

I tried, and in trying saw myself

That weak, needing, and empty part of myself, in him

And I began, finally, to understand.

 

Then this

This fourth and perfect time

The first, really

And last

I realize it was never love I was searching for

Or fighting toward

But us

And all the time and love and pain before

Was my deepest self, my strongest self

Struggling to find

Us

Art and Living Authentically

A friend of mine and I were speaking several years ago now about the nature of being an artist. He is a writer, among other things, and explained that he believes the true artist is one who creates in solitude, with no intent to share. For those artists who do display their work, he believes there is an element of egotism. I’ve since, spent much time thinking about what it means to be an artist, to live artistically, and to share one’s art, and subsequently one’s self, with the world.

The act of creating something and then putting that creation into a space for judgment makes one incredibly vulnerable. I see this act of vulnerability as, in a way, a proxy for the vulnerability that comes with authentic existence – putting your self into the world, in its most authentic form. This type of living takes an incredible amount of courage and yes, perhaps some amount of ego.

I can only speak for myself, though I assume it’s the case for many others, that the intention I have in sharing the things I create – whether it’s a piece of writing or a piece of music, is made up of many things. The desire for praise. Affirmation. Acknowledgment. I suppose my intention involves a small amount of each of these and therein lies my ego. But mostly, for me, it’s about connection.

Despite the vast connections afforded us through technology and social media many of us feel lonely and disconnected. Even if we aren’t overly absorbed in technology, our culture makes it easy to feel disconnected from an authentic life. I strongly believe that a lack of creativity – in any form – is a significant part of this. We have become a culture of consumers. How are we to imagine anything when the answers, images, and inspiration are always provided for us?

There is such a deep and inherent need for connection in this world and art, in every form, is a conduit of this connection. One person shares something they’ve created, and in it, their hopes, suffering, or thoughts, and another realizes they have loved, or lost, thought, or experienced something similar at another time, in another place, by another name. And in this way, I believe, the two are connected.

The creation of art allows us an authentic connection with ourselves and the sharing of art allows us an authentic connection with others. Basically art will save the world. So go create something. 😉

Looking for participants for the Denver Chapter of The Society for Creative Philanthropy

DSCPlogo

Hello friends,

About a year ago, I discovered a young woman named Courtney Martin. She’s an author, activist, and all-around amazing woman. Among other things, she started The Society for Creative Philanthropy. She chose 9 friends and gave them each $100 with two stipulations – first, that they give it away in some creative and meaningful way and second, that they convene in a month to share how it was they spent or gave away the money. This was several years ago in New York and several chapters have started in cities around the country such as San Francisco and Atlanta. I’d like to do the same thing in the Denver area in early 2016. I emailed Ms. Martin requesting to start a Denver chapter and she gave us her blessing.

Therefore,  I am looking for 10 friends (now 3) who would enjoy participating, would bring something creative to the process, and wouldn’t mind sharing their experience with others!

Here is the proposition:

I will give you $100 cash at 3 pm on Sunday, January 31st with two stipulations:

  1. You must not spend any of the money on yourself, but rather spend it on or for someone else, or some cause, organization, etc.
  2. You must be able to meet on Saturday, February 27th to share what you did with the money – or how you spent it, and your experience doing so! (And, we’ll probably go out and celebrate with beers and dancing and all sorts of fun afterwards!)

The goal of this project is obviously not to create some enormous change, since the total amount each of us will spend is only $100- rather, it is to inspire us to consider the needs or desires in the lives of those around us, and to think of how we might meet those needs in a simple, creative and meaningful way. Or, you determine what your goal is and spend the money accordingly – remembering that it must be philanthropic!

Here is the link to an article about Courtney and the New York chapter: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/09/nyregion/09bigcity.html . At the end of the article are descriptions of some of the incredible and creative ways those members spent/gave away their $100. Use these as inspiration to come up with something amazing!

There are 3 spots left! If you are interested in becoming a co-benefactor, let me know. There is no pressure at all to participate in this way, but if you feel interested, just 4 people bringing $25 each adds another person to the society and many more being affected!

So… if you’re interested at all in participating in the Denver Society for Creative Philanthropy, send me a private message on Facebook. If by chance you want to participate as well as be a co-benefactor, or would only like to be a benefactor, please note that in the message! Depending on how many people respond and and how many would like to be benefactors, our little society and its great effects might become bigger than planned!

I’m so excited to see what just $1,000 can do in the hands of 10 creative people and what inspiring ideas emerge! I hope you’ll consider participating in the society, and I hope to hear from you soon!

Best,

Missy

 

 

Staying…

I’ve always been a bit neurotic. I have a tendency towards obsessive worry, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, the occasional panic attack and mild to moderate mood disturbances. Ironically, I hardly ever worry about the things others might – things grounded in reality, such as money, work or retirement. I worry about things that aren’t likely to happen. I’m an alarmist. If my stomach hurts for more than 2 days, I’m picturing my funeral and beginning to deal with how my son will grow up without me. Despite the fact that most of these symptoms and past or potential diagnoses have abated considerably within the past decade as a result of therapy, self-exploration, and a lot of damn hard work, each is still with me in some small and distant capacity. And that’s ok. At least I’m consistent. And besides, it isn’t all bad.

The flip side of neuroticism and the deep way I seem to experience anxiety and sadness – at least in my case – is an intense appreciation for the things I have. Thankfulness is a direct result of that little dark cloud always looming, reminding me that one day this will end. The dark reminds me of the light, and for this I am grateful. That said, it was a rough road getting to the place I am today.

I have been the primary cause of the end of several very important relationships in my life and I’ve deeply hurt several people who, at one time or another meant the world to me. As a direct result of the way in which I chose to struggle – or avoided struggling – with my demons, I stayed for far too long in relationships, circumstances, and mental, emotional, and behavioral states that were no good for me, or those around me. I spent far too much time and energy just treading water, and I won’t do it again. My time here is too short.

About 10 years ago, I happened upon this incredibly powerful poem by Haelinn Seu printed in probably my favorite magazine, Adbusters (check it out, it’s creative and really smart: https://www.adbusters.org/). To this day, it reminds me never to settle or simply exist in my life, but to thrive – to do whatever I need to, to avoid the stagnant complacency that insidiously creeps into everyday life. Here it is:

In the beginning you held me all night long.
Rarely does this happen anymore.
And I know this is just one of the minor deaths
for which I, as an adult,
am expected to settle for
like I do with the mice
squealing at night
from the glue traps under the radiator.
I’m supposed to close my eyes,
and repeat the mantra,
“That’s life.”

But I lie awake next to you
and I imagine them
chewing off their feet.

-Haelinn Seu

After having spent several cumulative years in the client’s chair, I have recently begun my role as a psychotherapist, as I’m a 5th year PhD psych student. What I’ve learned about people both from my own life and from listening to others talk about theirs, is that many times we are just trying to keep our heads above water and we stay too long.

We all get to choose the way we want to love ourselves, our lives, and others. And we all get to be in or end relationships and circumstances based on anything we want. I’m a huge proponent of ‘the less rules placed upon us the better’ – but many times we stay in the lives we live for reasons we shouldn’t. And I don’t just mean relationships. We stay in jobs, houses, towns, anger, jealousy, and fear for reasons we shouldn’t – and it’s destructive. We stay because it’s what we know, or because it’s safe. We stay because it’s not as bad as being alone, or being somewhere else, or because we’re afraid of what people might think. And in the mean time, tiny pieces of our selves- pieces so small you wouldn’t notice any one in particular – are quietly peeling away, leaving us forever.

And so, live however you want to live. Make any decision you want to. Take or leave people’s advice – you absolutely have that right. It’s your life and you get to decide what’s important and what’s not. But remember, if you’re spending all your energy just treading water, there is so much more.

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
– M. West