Lessons From Poems: Man Has Created Life

Nor dread nor hope attend

A dying animal;

A man awaits his end

Dreading and hoping all;

Many times he died,

Many times rose again.

A great man in his pride

Confronting murderous men

Casts derision upon

Suppression of breath;

He knows death to the bone—

Man has created death.

Death by William Butler Yeats

This simple, twelve-line poem by W. B. Yeats strikes at an important truth about mankind which is stated in the very last line of the poem, “Man has created death”. Meaning because we are conscious creatures who need to understand life, we have separated the natural occurrences of life into labels and ideas, one such label being that of death. By labeling death and being aware of death we have also given birth to dread and its opposite, hope.

Other animals aren’t conscious as human beings, which is why Yeats says:

Nor dread nor hope attend

A dying animal

They don’t understand death which is why they don’t dread it like humans do and neither do they understand possibilities which is why they don’t hope as humans do.

This idea of manmade problems has been prevalent for centuries. The Stoics believed that people suffered more in imagination than they did in reality. This results from being conscious. We can actively control how our life is shaped and what we can achieve, but we are also aware of what isn’t in our control and what is the natural course of existence. Many anxieties and fears stem from consciousness because we aren’t dumb animals without awareness. Our mind lingers in the past or in the future, areas which we have no influence on. At the same time, consciousness allows us to overcome those anxieties and fears by focusing on the present moment and improving the current situation. This is what I take from the following lines:

Many times he died,

Many times rose again.

Each time we bow to our fears, a part of us dies, but each time we overcome a fear, we are reborn. Rise again as a better version of ourselves.

However, such growth only comes from acceptance. Accepting that death is inevitable and acting regardless of that eventuality. Regardless of your fears and anxieties, regardless of pressure and stress. This is how a man becomes great.

A great man in his pride

Confronting murderous men

Casts derision upon

Suppression of breath;

A great man is someone who knows death but doesn’t fear it. He is willing to confront it and do the right thing even though it may result in him losing his life. “Confronting murderous men” could be taken literal and we can applaud the honorable individuals who do so or, it can be taken as symbolic and applied to life, confronting life, rather than cowering/suppressing from the unknown and unpredictable aspects of life.

The opposite of death is life. If man has created death, then he has also created life, his own life. Meaning that because we are conscious animals, we may be burdened by our knowledge of death but we are also relieved by our knowledge of life. Specifically, our ability to give meaning and purpose to our own lives which can overshadow death. And in doing so, find a sense of comfort with the eventuality of death because each individual has the opportunity or perhaps even a responsibility to take on the dread and hope associated with being alive.

 

I’m A Son Of A Bitch If I’ll Be Defeated By The Everydayness

I have felt hours go by without knowing what happened to them. Hours that turned into days which became months and looking back, there have even been years which I cannot recall with any significance apart from perhaps a single event or two.

I recognize the illness that plagues my mind after reading the Moviegoer by Walker Percy. I had recognized it before too when I came across Proust and I’m sure I recognized it prior to that but I cannot remember now. This makes this illness particularly tricky to deal with because the mind aids the sickness.

This illness is the everydayness of life. The mundane moments that go unremembered as my mind and my thoughts dwell in a hopeful future where I will find myself amidst the ruins of Ancient Rome or traveling the bullet train in Japan along with some friends or seeing the great art pieces of Michelangelo with my own eyes for these moments can cure the everydayness and leave lasting memories of being alive which I can fondly recall later on. Or so I imagine them to be.

But as Proust said, the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights but in looking with new eyes. Similarly, Walker Percy puts forth the idea of The Search. It is not new worlds you should seek but rather see the beauty in the everyday that can and should leave a mark on your life.

To search is to be in wonderment of life, all of life.

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

Walker Percy further explains the idea with regard to movies.

The movies are onto the search but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place — but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.

Walker Percy warns one not to fall into a pattern of known motion. The daily, weekly and monthly routine that makes you feel like just a piece of metal on a conveyor belt, being moved from one spot to another. Instead, he urges you to be observant, to see the changing world around you through which you have been unconsciously drifting. So, to observe is to search. 

People have a different way of sticking themselves into the world. It is a small thing to him but not to me. It is nothing to him to close his eyes in New Orleans and wake up in San Francisco and think the same thoughts on Telegraph Hill that he thought on Carondelet street. Me, it is my fortune and misfortune to know how the spirit-presence of a strange place can enrich a man or rob a man but never leave him alone, how, if a man travels lightly to a hundred strange cities and cares nothing for the risk he takes, he may find himself no one and nowhere.

Without the active struggle to see your own surroundings as something worth seeing and exploring, you might find yourself blind and unaware regardless if you are standing in front of an old library or the Colosseum. If you don’t know how to see properly, moments will simply drift in and out of you and leave behind just the faintest recollections of themselves. Life will be just a dull light instead of the blinding brilliance that it can be. 

For he is no more aware of the mystery that surrounds him than a fish is aware of the water it swims in.

The search is there for one to enrich their own life. It’s a selfish ambition, to make your own life one of awe and beauty.

No, I do it for my own selfish reasons. If I did not talk to the theatre owner or the ticket seller, I should be lost, cut loose metaphysically speaking. I should be seeing one copy of a film which might be shown anywhere and at any time. There is a danger of slipping clean out of space and time. It is possible to become a ghost and not know whether one is in downtown Lowes in Denver or suburb Bijou in Jacksonville. So it was with me.

This is an active effort to find unique experiences in everyday life. To go out of your way to talk to the theatre owner or the ticket seller as Percy said. Or to give conscious thought to the movie seat or the aroma of the theater. The little things like that matter otherwise life is a blur. Think about all the time you spend in traffic just going from one place to the next. If you can find some kind of beauty or uniqueness in those mundane moments, then you can enrich your life.

Yet it was here in the Tivoli that I first discovered place and time, tasted it like okra. It was during a rerelease of Red River a couple of years ago that I became aware of the first faint strings of curiosity about the particular seat I sat in, the lady in the ticket booth…as Montgomery Clift was whipping John Wayne in a fistfight, an absurd scene, I made a mark on my seat arm with my thumbnail. Where, I wondered will this particular piece of wood be twenty years from now, 543 years from now? Once as I was traveling through the midwest ten years ago I had a layover of three hours in Cincinnati. There was time to go see Joseph Cotten in Holiday at neighborhood theatre called the Altamont — but not before I had struck up an acquaintance with the ticket seller, a lady named Mrs. Clara James, and learned that she had seven grandchildren all living in Cincinnati. We still exchange Christmas cards. Mrs. James is the only person I know in the entire state of Ohio.

To walk through life blind and deaf seems like an awful waste of potential. Knowing that I have been blind and deaf at different points in my life is a painful reminder of wasted opportunity. However, in between that time, in between that space where I can remember to search, where I can actively observe and find the beauty in the mundane and know that everything in nature has its own value if I were to remove my own prejudices and biases at least for those moments I can fight the everydayness that drowns so many and keep the search alive and with it my curiosity and imagination. Thanks to Percy’s novel I am reminded again of the life around me and thanks to him I will be reminded of the fact that sometime in the future I may be momentarily defeated by the everydayness but it will never be a permanent defeat for the search is always there, waiting for you, ready to enlighten your world. 

But for now, I make the same vow as Percy:

Nevertheless, I vow: I’m a son of a bitch if I’ll be defeated by the everydayness.

Lessons From Stories: Unconditional Love Can Be A Bad Thing

Honore de Balzac wrote the novel Old Goriot in 1835, and he explored the social and cultural changes that were taking place in France at the time. There are several themes associated with this novel, but I’d like to focus on one in particular. The theme of parental love and family relationships, specifically the relationship between Goriot and his two daughters, Delphine and Anastasie. The lesson derived from this relationship is that there is such a thing as too much love. That, in fact, a parent’s unconditional love can have negative effects on their children.

(Obvious spoilers ahead)

To set the stage, at this time in France, one’s reputation was everything. This theme is largely explored through the lens of the character Rastignac. He is a young man with dreams of becoming rich and successful. In his story, he interacts with the elites of the Parisian society including both Delphine and Anastasie. The two daughters are married to successful men but the daughters constantly struggle with finances as they attempt to buy rich gowns and wear expensive jewelry in order to keep their high societal image.

It is in this struggle to stay relevant we see how unconditional parental love can be damaging.

But first, we must understand who Goriot is. Goriot is portrayed as the ideal father. He embodies the parenting view that it is the parent’s responsibility to sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their children. We meet Goriot living in an old boarding house along with several other characters. Soon after that, we are given background information about how once upon a time Goriot was a rich merchant and the reason why he went from living comfortably to now having to spend his old age by himself in a small room was because he gave his wealth to his two daughters in order to maintain their image of wealthy Parisian women so they can keep getting invitations to dinner parties and get-togethers.

This idea of Keeping Up with the Joneses is as relevant today as it was in that time period. As people attain more wealth they upgrade their living situations trying to maintain a certain image that they believe is associated with their income level. Goriot’s two daughters are no different than the people we see walking around now. Both of them find themselves in this rich sphere of influence and both constantly struggle to stay in that sphere. When our self-worth and our identity comes to be tied with our reputation and image, we can fail to see what really matters. Such as the love and care of people around us.

The daughters fall into this trap as well. They care little of how their father has downgraded in his living conditions over the years and how he’s had to sell what is precious to him in order to raise enough money to keep a steady flow of income which the daughters can use for material possessions. The daughters are too self-absorbed and here is where too much love and care can be a bad thing.

The overwhelming love Goriot had for his daughters stopped him from thinking rationally. Instead of teaching his daughters about self-worth or raising them to make their own wealth, he kept on feeding their addiction. Love clouded his logic to the point he was essentially causing self-harm in order to keep his daughters happy. His love for his daughters stopped him from putting proper boundaries which would allow the daughters to take on responsibility for themselves. He wasn’t able to raise independent human beings. Instead, even as adults his daughters relied on him to help them and because his love was boundless, he kept on loving and sacrificing until his final breath. Worse of all, the tragedy of the story, the father dies without either one of his daughters there to comfort him and even at his funeral, the daughters don’t come.

Often we hear how moderation in all things is the key to a successful life. When I think of moderation my mind automatically goes to bad habits and vices that we can practice and how we must be aware of such things in order to keep ourselves from overindulging in the bad. Old Goriot opened my eyes to a new perspective. Overindulgence in the good can also be harmful. Too much love, comfort, and support can rob someone’s possibility of being their own individual. The daughters never had to stand on their own two feet because Goriot was there to support and guide them the whole time. It is easy to identify when we are imbalanced due to our bad actions but much harder to pinpoint the imbalance when we are acting out of love and care. This story is a good reminder of the latter. Even our love and care must be disciplined and moderated. Especially if we are to raise proper human beings.

Know Thyself And Be At Peace

We are never ‘at home’: we are always outside ourselves. Fear, desire, hope, impel us towards the future, they rob us of feelings and concerns for what now is, in order to spend time over what will be – even when we ourselves shall be no more. (Montaigne)

What does being ‘at home’ mean? I take it as being comfortable in your own skin and in your current situation. This doesn’t mean that you have achieved whatever it is that you wanted in life or have become the best version of yourself but rather knowing that you’re a work in progress and with time, you’ll slowly inch towards what you want and who you want to be. But in the present, you aren’t avoiding your feelings and emotions.

Instead of this rationalization, we tend to dwell on fears, desires, and hopes as Montaigne suggested. Too often we spend our time living in a fantasy land where things are better and this helps us avoid our current situation. Or, we spend our time in some future hell where things are worst of and this adds to our fears and anxieties and also stunts our growth. Both these modes of beings rob us of the present, from being alive right now. By not being ‘at home’ with our emotions and feelings right now we are unable to unpack and understand the reason behind our emotions and feelings and how to improve our situation. Instead, avoidance is adopted in the form of living outside of ourselves. We fill the silence and stillness that we need with either pleasure or painful thoughts so that we don’t have to deal with our current reality. All this concern for what will be is a hindrance to progression.

Whoever would do what he has to do would see that the first thing he must learn is to know who he is and what is properly his. And whoever does know himself never considers external things to be his; above all other things he loves and cultivates himself’ he rejects excessive concerns as well as useless thoughts and resolutions. (Montaigne)

Fears, desires, hopes, and anxieties can all subside when we know who we are and what exactly do we want from life. Otherwise, we’re stuck either trying to please a version of ourselves which isn’t true by following trends or conforming to other peoples opinions or we live trying to live up to other peoples expectations (especially the expectations of our loved ones) and when these things fail to bring us peace and fulfillment we suffer from an even greater dose of anxiety and fear and are left just hoping for a better tomorrow. Even worse our mind doesn’t evolve further. It’s stuck in the old pattern and we think perhaps if we get the new thing we might be happier or that if we start a new relationship it might will the void. But it’s all just a cycle of hope, desire, anxiety, and fear and this cycle is broken when we come to ‘Know Thyself’.

This phrase, ‘Know Thyself’ has been present since the Ancient Greek time and probably before too. It was etched into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and it still relevant now as it was back in Ancient times. This makes one wonder how much we have evolved as humans or perhaps how little. Our core concerns for meaning, purpose, happiness are still the same as our ancient ancestors.

As Montaigne suggested, the person who cultivates themselves comes closer to finding peace and fulfillment. Only you know the answer to your own riddle. Each individual must figure him or herself out and by doing so, cultivate their physical, mental and spiritual self. In essence, cultivate their soul. What other people may see as useless and meaningless can still bring us peace and joy. Especially in our current age which is so materialistic. There may be some things or activities that might not have an effect on our financial situation but can bring our mind and spirit peace. Those things are especially valuable to cultivate. Hence why we have to spend time figuring ourselves out and not trying to fill our time with excessive concerns.

Some questions we should reflect on and try to answer for ourselves:

When am I at peace?

What will I need to do to feel fulfilled?

What makes me fulfilled?

When do I feel happy?

When do I feel ashamed or guilty?

What does a meaningful day look like?

 

Reflections On Why You Should Take The Hard Path

To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. (Steven Pressfield)

We are incomplete beings. We are a form of potential. We are unlike other animals in this sense. A lion cub grows up to be a predator. It doesn’t require will power to become what nature intended it to be. Nature didn’t intend for humans to be anything. It left that choice to the individual. Each individual has the possibility to transcend what or who they are at this given moment and realize their potential. What stands in the way is Resistance or themselves. The voice that pokes at your insecurities, tells you you’ve worked enough, it’s good enough, that pain is bad, that struggle must be avoided, that you can blame someone else for the way you are (parents, lover, children, society, gender, race, culture), the voice that gives you an out which you actively and consciously embrace. The voice that speaks when there is a decision to be made.

To be more. To do more. To become more. Or to stay what you are.

Take the easy way or the hard way?

Easy way brings pleasure right now and makes you feel good but the chains of comfort keep you from soaring, growing, moving, changing, becoming and it robs you of time. To not work and procrastinate. To skip the last set. To have that conversation later. This choice can take your possibility away, can take your potential away.

The hard way is to do the more difficult thing right this moment and do that every moment of your life. Wake up early, workout, be disciplined, routined, have those difficult conversations, sacrifice the immediate gratification, sacrifice the warmth and comfort, embrace whatever it is that stirs the thoughts of procrastination in your mind. That’s the way. That’s the path. The discomfort.

You know what the right thing to do is because you have done plenty of self-experiments throughout your life. Plenty of times when you chose the easy way which only left you with guilt and without fulfillment. Over and over the same acts are repeated and little to no growth is to be had. The change is simple as well. You’ve known the way the whole time. You’ve avoided it each time you chose the easy way and were left with regrets later on.

The path is hard. This is the way that growth happens. You become the possibility nature laid out for you. The enemy is resistance. The reality is the shortage of time. The goal is to self actualize. The path is hard.

Stoic Lesson On Growing Old

Well, we should cherish old age and enjoy it. It is full of pleasure if you know how to use it. Fruit tastes most delicious just when its season is ending.

It is quite telling that Seneca dedicated an entire letter to aging. It shows how little we, as people, have changed or evolved from our ancestors. For the most part, the same daily concerns that circulated in the minds of Romans are the same ones that trouble us now. One of these concerns being the natural aspect of life: Aging.

In our current age perhaps this concern is more prevalent than before or at least it seems that way with social media. There are so many different surgeries that attempt to give you a youthful appearance, so many companies that sell products to keep you young and beautiful, or so they claim, and so many people who actively seek remedies to aging.

However, the Stoic advice on this matter is similar to their advice on many topics: Acceptance, emotional/attitudinal control and a change of perspective.

Aging is a natural part of life so by accepting it, it can change your perspective from viewing aging as negative to view it as positive. Another Stoic principle is to control one’s attitude. We always have a choice in how we react. Our attitude is one of the few things we control in this life. Once more it is a matter of perspective. We can either see aging as something terrible and sad or we can view it is a new experience, a chance to see the world from a different manner, a chance to transition into a different phase of our life and even live differently. With this perspective change, you can then see the benefits of aging.

As Seneca says:

In my opinion, even the age that stands on the brink has pleasures of its own.

Not only is there a need to accept the natural aging process but also to accept our lack of control over it. It’s easy to see the self harm some people cause through plastic surgeries as they attempt to stop what is natural. Aging can be used to practice a virtue like grace. To age gracefully instead of fighting and manipulating yourself to cling on to what is long past.

Of course, the biggest concern associated with aging is death. The fear of death whether consciously or unconsciously is at the root of a lot of people’s attitudes and actions. However, the Stoics don’t see death as something terrible. Just as with aging, death is also natural.

If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others. Whoever has said ‘I have lived’ receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.

The Stoics almost recommend a daily reminder of death in order to lessen its impact if it does appear. The reminder is also there in order for you to live the present moment to its fullest extent. In this way, as one ages and death becomes more of a concern, the Stoics could see that as a blessing. By confronting that possibility we can then prepare our attitude and action towards it and in the meantime, enjoy the time we have left for when you truly acknowledge death, then each moment becomes more precious. We soon come to see what matters, what we truly desire, what makes us happy and fulfilled and on what things and with whom we would like to spend our time. So, aging can be viewed as a blessing to clear away all that doesn’t matter so we can focus on what does.

For the Stoics, any hardship is an opportunity to exercise our wisdom and the strength of our character. For some, aging is a hardship and so, for those people, aging can be viewed as an opportunity to practice the right attitude, practice our control over our attitude and to practice the right mindset.

Book Referenced: Letters From A Stoic By Seneca

 

 

 

Reflections: Be Your Own Friend

Often times we look outside ourselves for advice. It’s easy to give the responsibility for our own improvement to other people. Meaning that we find someone who is popular or trending, who is a self-help guru and then follow whatever they say, without giving to much thought to what is being told or even asking ourselves if the advice given is what we need. But popularity can cloud logic and reason. By giving up personal responsibility, we don’t feel let down by ourselves if we don’t get better. We have someone to blame, to point the finger to and in doing so, feel better about ourselves.

But the simple fact that we desire someone to help us is a good sign. It’s an internal recognization that what we are at this moment isn’t what we wish to be. We know that we can be better. We know we can improve. This alone should give us a hint of where to look in order to get good self-help advice.

Just as the phrase suggests, self-help should start with the self.

In reality, if you were to detach for a moment and take a pen and paper and ask yourself Where do you want to be in ten years’ time? How will you get there? What are the things you are doing that you need to stop? What are the things you are not doing that you need to start? You will quickly find the paper filled with proper advice.

These simple self-reflective questions bring forth, in most cases, immediate answers. Because deep down we know what our bad habits are and what we need to stop practicing. We also know exactly what we need to do in order to grow and improve. You will never know anyone as well as you know yourself. You know your transgressions, insufficiencies, and inadequacies. With this knowledge, you also know what your next step should be which is simply to fix these transgressions, insufficiencies, and inadequacies.

The issue is that all of this is difficult. It’s always hard to take on responsibility. If you fail to grow it’s on you. The reason behind your failure will be either your lack of will or discipline. Which is why it’s so much easier to do what someone else says. But the changes enacted by our own will power and self-control are longer lasting because we attain those through struggle and hardship.

Although having external aid isn’t a bad thing either, especially if you are able to narrow down your flaws. If you know your specific issues and problems then it’s easier to navigate through the endless stream of bad advice that is spouted everywhere. External sources then can teach you how to break bad habits, how to build good habits, how to enact the right mindset, how to deepen personal relationships, how to become more confident and how to love and care for oneself.

But, first, you must take on the uncomfortable task of self-reflection and self-honesty. In this way, we also come to build trust within ourselves. We can take our own words and be confident that it’s what we need. In some ways, we begin to act as a friend to ourselves. Someone who is loyal, who wants the best for us and who isn’t afraid to call us out when we get off the right path. That’s true self-help, self-love, self-care.