The Trouble With Hope

Hope is usually considered a good thing. But I’ve come to see it as dangerous and even narcotic. Similar to nostalgia. 

When someone is hopeful they are usually longing for something not present. This can fuel dissatisfaction with the present. Hope can be the never arriving train. Always pulling you towards a better future. This can sow discontent. 

There is a healthy role for hope. When we are desolate, it can console. When we feel lost, it can show the way. But it can also trap us. We can get lost in an idealistic future that never comes. 

We must decouple hope from desire. Wanting something creates attachment which leads to bondage. We become enslaved to a future (mostly) out of our control. We should instead wish for good things to come for ourselves and others but not desire them. It’s a subtle but important nuance. Desire is carnal, it takes us over, it’s possessive. Wishing is more like a prayer, it’s spiritual and etherial, we can let it go. 

Hope is a tricky one, we must avoid its traps.

Next Level Care: Friend Over Friendship

What does it mean to truly care about someone? I’ve been struggling with this for a while and here’s where I’ve arrived: real care means being there when no-one else is and it means giving someone the feedback they need to grow. 

The first one is easier. Being there for a friend when they hit rock bottom. We become the safety in the storm. It can be draining but it is also rewarding to know that we are truly helping someone. And when we have been there ourselves we know the deep solace it brings to have someone there with us, telling us we aren’t alone and aren’t crazy. 

But being there isn’t as easy as giving a friend or colleague the feedback they need to grow and see themselves, and the world, in a new, transformative way. That kind of care is at another level and I’ve come to think of it as “next level” caring. When we get out of our comfort zone to help someone we care about become the person they are meant to be.

We all need honest feedback to grow. It’s a critical nutrient. It’s like sunlight. But we rarely get it. And this essentially starves our emotional and spiritual selves. Which leads to an internal atrophying. Just like eating sugar when we need protein, we ingest our own beliefs and fears which alienate us from a larger reality and limit our potential. Although we can break through with learning and reflection there is nothing as effective as having someone we know and trust tell us the truth. One honest conversation can do more than a year of meditation. “You only talk about yourself, why don’t you ask me about my life?”, “Don’t you see that you are an artist? Stop fighting it”, "You are being manipulative, stop it." There is an authority that comes from a trusted external source which can uniquely disrupt our internal narrative. If you want to change your life, change your internal narrative. That may mean you also need to change your friends.

Next level caring means valuing the person, the friend, even more than the friendship. 

I want to be that kind of friend and I want to have that kind of friend. I feel blessed to have many people in my life that can be that kind of friend to me, even when I don’t “want” it. A friend that can tell me their truth about my life. Unvarnished, real feedback and insights. I want to give and receive next level care.

Be Kind Again

Our country, and our world, is swimming in hatred and anger. The cause is entirely self-inflicted. We’ve backed ourselves into personalized corners of reality. In doing so, we’ve weakened our natural abilities to empathize and connect with other humans. This isn’t a right or left, old or young thing, it’s all of us. At least all of us reading these words. Which is part of the problem.

Surrounding ourselves with those that disagree with us will help, but it’s no silver bullet. Quitting the internet is not the cure, but some distance is healthy. We must return to kindness. Assuming the best in others. Seeing the potential not the threat. And we must do this both online and in-person. The internet needs to become more human. Otherwise we, or it, will not survive. 

We must remember that our world is more prosperous, safe and accessible than it has ever been. The roar we hear is artificially amplified and mostly fiction. And it is obscuring the real pain that fellow humans experience every second of every day. There are real problems but we lose them in our personalized roar.

Let’s not value our personal safety over the critical need to stick together. Let's find and fight a common enemy, not each other. 

Humans can choose how they behave. Let's use that power. Let’s be kind again. 

Thoughts On: Attachment

I’ve been really good at adding stuff to my life. Whether it be vinyl records, friends, businesses, hobbies or habits. I have assembled a pretty large gathering of objects and experiences. So much so that I often find myself overwhelmed by it all. They can weigh me down.

I’ve taken the past two Julys off from work. This time away has had interesting impacts on me. Not necessarily what I was expecting. I was thinking I would be able to come back to my work and retain the somewhat Zen state I achieved during the month off. Not really. The realities of work and life soon crash back in. But I have been able to use that month off to begin letting go. I’m getting better at quitting things.

Over this past July I quit drinking. It happened during my week alone at a cabin in northern Michigan. I was cooking dinner one night and as usual I poured myself a glass of wine while I cooked. I noticed my body became very flush from the wine. I also recalled that alcohol often made me feel flushed and tired. It appeared to be causing inflammation, something I struggle with in general. That night I corked up the bottle of wine and decided I would take a break from drinking for a while to see how it goes. That was about 6 weeks ago and I haven’t felt this good in years. It was also surprised at how easy it was to stop drinking. Maybe I was ready for it. I’ve tried in the past and only made it through a week or two with willpower. This has been relatively easy, it feels like I’m cheating somehow. Sure, maybe I’ll come back to it someday and I’m ok with that. But if I do I want to come back less attached.

Now I am looking at what else I can quit. I really struggle with attachment. I feel the gravitational pull of sugar, caffeine, sex, fear and ideas every day. They tug at my consciousness and I fall into their orbit and the attachment begins. Just as mass attracts mass I must become emotionally and spiritually lighter to reduce the gravitational pull of interesting objects and experiences. But I must also balance this with being human, present and committed to those I love. This is a tension I struggle with every day.

note: this blog is the first in a series of “Thoughts On” posts where I ramble somewhat coherently about things I am thinking about or working on in my life.