The Meaning of Life

It’s late, so today’s post is going to be briefer than usual.

After work, there was a guy sitting outside of his dorm room a few doors down from mine. We met a few weeks ago during a fire drill. Everyone in the dorms evacuated downstairs and while we were waiting, I introduced myself. He was reading a book by Deepak Chopra and seemed like an interesting guy.

Our conversation cut off after the fire alarms stopped ringing and we didn’t get to really have a deep conversation. Over the last couple weeks we’ve walk passed each other and exchanged head nods and hellos.

Well, when I got off today, he was sitting outside writing in a book. I awkwardly said hello and asked him to if he wanted to talk. I didn’t know what about but I don’t meet many people who read. I walked into my room and changed quickly. When I walked back out, I sat on the ground next to him and we started talking about books.

The conversation delved quickly into the meaning of life. He talked about how our purpose in life is to pursue happiness. Ultimately the desire to be happy. An interesting, if not cliché, idea. I was more than okay to discuss this with him. I’ve read enough Buddhist books to feel equipped for this kind of conversation.

He went on about happiness was the meaning of life. I played devil’s advocate and asked him if sadness was the opposite of this goal. Is the point of life to avoid sadness? He disagreed, then continued on about happiness. I asked him if he was happy. “No”. Then I asked him why not.

His answer started to fade out in my head. He started labeling the reasons he wasn’t happy. As if there was this resistance around him that prevented him from achieving happiness. I’m not saying this to invalidate his logic or beliefs but rather to discuss my reaction to it.

He brought up what’s going on in his life, what he’s doing, how he’s pursuing happiness but it just faded in my head. All I could think was how he wasn’t choosing happiness. There was no resistance. It was just him. Nothing in his life was preventing his happiness, only he was.

When I told him that, he said that maybe he wasn’t ready for happiness. Everything within me rumbled. He was pursuing happiness by trying to understand it. He wanted to know what it was, how it got there, and why he should feel it. Yet, the purpose of life, in his head, is to have happiness. He couldn’t have happiness until he understood it.

I asked him if he needed to understand happiness to have happiness. He said no, but he just wants to understand why he’s so resistant to it. Why this and why that. There were so many questions that were getting in the way. Big fancy questions about life that ultimately served no purpose.

These questions used to drive me mad. I wanted to know. Deeply within my being, I wanted to understand happiness and why people feel happy or sad. The questions would feel like a weight on my shoulder. I could only have what I understood emotionally. If I didn’t know what happiness was exactly, how would I know if I had it.

Over time, I’ve realized that these questions, while they seem important, often aren’t. There’s no way I could calm his mind and say “be happy”. He has to find that himself. He’ll pursue understanding of many things – and that’s alright. Maybe he’ll find happiness in a way that I haven’t.

I bring this up because I learned a lot about myself today. He felt like a reflection. I resisted happiness and wanted to understand it. I wanted to know things which are ultimately unimportant. Why my relationships have failed, why I’ve chosen this life path working in the military, what am I going to do to be happy when I finished my contract.

These questions are distractions from happiness. Seeing him fumble through these questions made me realize how much I’ve been focusing on removing obstacles from my happiness. The only block in my path is me. I’m the one who distracting myself and blaming circumstance for my unhappiness.

It seems so simple now. There’s no way I could properly communicate my understanding of this. I tried to explain it to him. Understanding doesn’t always equal happiness. Knowing how to be happy doesn’t make you happy. (As I shout this last sentence at my bookcases filled with self-help guides).

While these are noble pursuits, they don’t bring you what you want. In fact, there’s nothing out there that you don’t already have within yourself. If you want happiness, then take it in. Really appreciate it when you have it.

I don’t think the purpose of life is to seek happiness. I think seeking happiness leads to unhappiness. The purpose of life seems to be to experience life to the fullest. Feel every emotion as deep as it is. That means happiness, sadness, anger, bitterness, bliss, and the wide variety of emotions that you feel on a daily basis. Really take them in. Experience them.

When you walk, feel your feet hitting the floor. When you eat, really taste the food. When you lay in bed, really sink in and feel it. That is my current view on life. Not to say it’s right or wrong but it’s what I’ve learned thus far. Talking to my neighbor today really highlighted that belief. You can choose to take everything and experience it… or you can try to understand it and examine it at every angle. Neither is better than the other. Life is just life.

Anyways, this post is becoming longer than I anticipated and much more existential than it needs to be. It’s almost 0300. I need to hit the hay.

If I haven’t said it enough already, go check out my cousin Tabby’s blog. She’s writing everyday for the month of BLOGtober. AND… AND… she just redesigned her blog. Go give it a looksey through this LINK. Today she wrote an update about living at home while her husband is deployed. It’s worth a read. Her deployment series is interesting – since I haven’t experienced it yet, I enjoy reading her perspectives on it.

Happy day five of BLOGtober!

 

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Artist Block and General Anxiety

It feels horrible to hit a point where you no longer feel creative. Where no fresh ideas flow through your mind. Artist blocks are terrifying. You don’t know what to create because you don’t have substance. It’s like you have an itch and you want to scratch it but you don’t know where on your body it is. In a block, I’m just blindly clawing at myself until I find how to relieve the itch.

It’s as though I have this intense emotion inside of me and I can’t relieve it. Words can’t express it. I can’t tell you how I feel because it’s more intense than that. I have to create something that properly communicates the emotion. It’s frustrating. I claw and grapple at any way that insane itch can be extinguished.

That’s what a block feels like to me. It’s desperate, generally filled with frustration, and the bane of my artistic existence. Even writing this has been exhausting. I’m scratching at myself trying to find the right way to tell you what it feels like. If that’s not a conundrum, I don’t know what is.

Blocks feel insane because you start with nothing. In your head, you have an emotion. There is no physical equivalent of what you feel. To give birth to that emotion, you have to find what physically exists and mold it into what matches your head. For writers, it’s finding the right word; painters, it’s the right color or stroke; for photographers, it’s finding the right angle or lighting. No matter the medium, you have to find a way to make an intangible emotion into something others can see and feel.

The types of artistic blocks can vary. Sometimes it feels like you have this monstrous emotion inside of you and the only way to prevent it from consuming you is to give it birth. Other times it feels like you need to create but you don’t have anything to give. You’re ready to create, you’ve got the resources, full stocks of paint… but no emotion to cover the canvas.

Now that you understand how desperate and terrifying these blocks can feel like, I want to show you the opposite side. This was actually the reason I started writing tonight:

For the last 2 years I’ve been afraid that I’ll run out of emotion.

It sounds silly but not all feelings are intense enough to create with. Mediocre love doesn’t produce the same art that passionate love does. There isn’t room for mediocrity. Ultimately I’m afraid of being starved of that intensity. So… I’ve been hoarding the emotions.

The passionate love and intense heartbreak that I had last year, I can’t let it go. I’m afraid that if I do, I’ll starve. That I’ll run dry. I’ll have all the resources; models to shoot with, locations to work with, but no BANG of creative energy to go along with it.

Everywhere I go, I carry that heartbreak with me. I put it into a bag of emotions on my hip labelled “feelings I’d like to create with”. Attached to the side there’s a note that reads: “open cautiously, emotions may overwhelm”. Usually that’s what happens. The bag is so full that everywhere I go, it spills a little here and there.

I once read that the mind is like a cup of tea. If you want fresh tea, you have to pour the old stuff out. Otherwise, your cup will overflow and create a mess. There is no use is keeping the old tea, even if it once was delicious. Everything goes stale over time. Carrying around that extra emotion is an unnecessary burden.

I carry too many painful emotions in hopes that one day I’ll be able to create with them. Deep down, I know beautiful things can come out of horrible experiences, so I dream of transforming them. I want to change the difficult times into beautiful works of art – but it’s not necessary. Some of life is just suffering.

All in all, this is a reminder to let go. Don’t be terrified of the blocks. They come and pass naturally. I’ve carried way too many emotions far past their expiration. Empty your cup of tea so you can experience the next batch.

Losing Your Meaning

We attach to memories in any way that we can. Internally, we’re scared of forgetting. We always want to remember the good times we’ve had with friends and the moments that we think have made us who we are. This attachment is so strong that we obsess over objects that remind us of our memories.

When someone dies, it’s common for loved one’s to keep clothing or anything that still smells like the person. We keep birthday cards, old letters, mixtapes our friends made, anything. We attach because we don’t want the memory to fade; we don’t want to forget.

Last year I had a rough time for many months. Music was one of the ways that I got through each day. I’d put on world’s end girlfriend and just listen. There was something chaotic about it that seemed to calm my mind. It defined my day-to-day life because in every free moment I had, music was playing.

Those old songs have come back on shuffle occasionally and the memories flood back in. I remember how hurt I was, how long the days were. Even more, I can’t stop playing the songs. I want to remember it all, to feel it again but to experience it in a different way.

The thing about these objects we attach to is that they are just object. They physically mean nothing. It’s just old clothing, paper and ink, and songs. At a base level, these objects have no significance – they’re just placeholders for a greater emotion.

What’s interesting is the more time we spend experiencing these objects, the more that they just become meaningless objects. That’s why the the more you eat your favorite meal, the less significant it becomes. The more you smell the clothing of that person you love, the less that you can smell it. It fades. The more that I listen to this music, the more that the old memories disappear.

I don’t know our relationship with objects and memories. What I do know is that I don’t want these thoughts to go away. I want to remember these emotions, the smells, the happy and the sad. The greater that I desire them, the more elusive they become. You can’t experience one emotion forever and you cannot live completely in the past. You can only look backwards, never walk backwards.

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Filled with Feelings

Back on day 36 (January 6th, 2014) , I wrote a draft. I never published what I wrote because I didn’t think it would contribute to my blog.

“I feel lied to, charred, cheated, lost, broken, cowardly, burnt, angry, incomplete, injured, isolated, lonely, invisible, nervous, addicted, poisoned, oblivious, regretful, sore, confused, blind, black, gone, frozen, halted, tricked, unloved, cold, darkened, alone, defunct, useless, unintelligent, “fine”, helpless, dead, unhappy, wilted, drown, choked, drunk, depressed.

Right now I don’t want to talk to anyone. There’s a tornado inside myself and I’ve been avoiding it for the last two months. A conflict that I’ve ignored but it needs addressed. It’s two clashing opposites that are damn near evenly matched. I want this to be resolved and I keep looking for other people to solve it. To give me answers that they can’t answer for someone else. I have to make decisions right now and I can’t ask anyone for assistance from anyone. I have to sit with myself and ask the questions to myself

After 254 days I feel like I can look back and add on to what I was saying. Perhaps in response to how I was feeling back then. To gives some context, I moved from Minnesota to Texas (May-July), then Texas to Mississippi (August-October), then Texas to South Carolina (October-March), and now I’ve settled down in South Carolina. In January, when I wrote this, I had just moved between three states.

I left my family in May and saw them twice (end of July, mother in December). Leaving the people that I know and love was extremely difficult. Well, leaving wasn’t but living without them was. In January, I felt hopeless. As evident by the first paragraph, I felt many emotions and none of them were positive.

Looking back, I understand that confusion. There was a lot of chaos in my mind. Life can be difficult. However, I see that I contained all emotions. At any given moment, we can feel anything. It’s like we have a color wheel inside and we can show any shade of any color. If we are surprised, we can show excitement. If we are shocked, we can show fear. Those emotions are already inside of us.

The trouble was that I believed all those colors were mixed. That they were out of my control (a tornado is out of control), and that others couldn’t help. I thought that I only contained sadness and I feared that I wasn’t capable of feeling anything else. Even more, I thought that these emotions came from my life conditions. If only _______ happened, I would be happy or feel better. And so I became tangled in my mind.

Nine months later I see that I contain all of these emotions and circumstance doesn’t make me feel a certain way. Internally I feel the way I do because of me. Not the circumstance. There’s an old Buddhist idea that “nothing is worth becoming upset over”. Ultimately the phrase points to our response to events. We do not have to become upset over anything. It’s our own choice.

While it often doesn’t feel like this, we can learn to understand our responses and alter them. When something happens, you control your response to it. You do not have to become angry, nor sad, nor frightened, nor excited. You can be however you want to be.

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Eventually you have to Exhale

Eventually you have to Exhale

There’s only so much oxygen you can take in.

___________________________________

Time accumulates both wear and stress. It’s easy to neglect ourselves and to keep taking everything in. Life, like breath, is a cycle: we have to absorb our environments and we have to let go of them. We breath in, then we exhale. There are moments throughout our lives where all we can do is exhale. We’ve taken too much in and we choke on what we have. Our emotions build up and we can’t contain them.

We only choke when we’re not breathing properly. If we let go, we can take more in. Those moments when you want to forget the past, you’ve breathed all your air out. There isn’t any of the past in you anymore. Now that you’re out of oxygen, you must inhale or you will suffocate.

Life is a balance of these two extremes. I struggle with both letting go of the past and accepting what comes my way. This photo serves as a reminds that eventually I have to exhale: eventually I just have to let go.

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Where do you run to?

Running gives me this rush that is really difficult to explain. Runner’s high makes you feel elated or numb but when I run I get goosebumps. It’s like I feel all of my emotions at once and I channel them through my body. Any frustration, depression, loss, loneliness, happiness, or anything else gets expressed with each step. I feel it so deep that the feeling is almost in my bones. The goosebumps on my arms tell me that the feeling is all-encompassing. Depths to surface, it’s my whole body speaking.

When I am running regularly, my diet also regulates. I eat a lot more food but I expend a lot more energy. I can burn through what’s in my body and replace it. It feels like my body is full of stagnant water but when I run it starts cycling. Making my blood flow makes me conscious of my body and weary of anything that could harm it. I drink things like wheat grass instead of grabbing the soda or juice. Eating healthy clears my mind and improves my mood. Therefore, regular exercise helps me clear my mind and improve my mood.

Using all of that energy is a double-sided coin. If I run in the morning, it wakes me up and boosts my mood for the day. If I run in the evening, it knocks me out for the night. Either way, my mood increases and my quality of sleep doubles. All in all, running makes me conscious of my body and willing to work for it. If that means going to bed early, then I will. If that means walking past the ice cream, then I do.

My goal for this week is to wake up at 4:30AM everyday (Monday-Friday) and run. The distance doesn’t matter because once I get out I’ll run no matter what. I need to find something to physically discipline myself. I know that I can blog daily or do a myriad of other things but exercise has always escaped me. Last year I was exercising 5 days a week (mostly swimming) and it was amazing. I felt on top of the world. I don’t expect running to fix my life problems but I want to work on something. It something I feel like I can do and I’m excited to start. I won’t be excited tomorrow at 4:25AM when my alarms go off, but in the end it will pay off. Running has always done something to my head, I guess we’ll have to see where this first week takes me!

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Foreign Emotions like Foreign Languages

You know how they say that blind people dream don’t dream in images, they dream through their other senses? If a blind person dreamed of an image, would they know how to interpret it?  When you hear a foreign language, you can’t understand it because you haven’t learned how to interpret it. When a painter walks up to the canvas, they are translating from a blind man’s dream. The feeling they possess is intangible and they bring it from gibberish to something that is hopefully comprehensible. An artist simply wants to evoke or express that unintelligible thought.

The difficulty is that many artists don’t understand that they are trying to translate something that doesn’t have a set way of being expressed. There isn’t a correct way to express happiness or love or confusion. Essentially an artist tries to replicate a feeling but cannot perfectly match it. They leave their personality and interpretation instead. It’s like a child trying to forge their parent’s signature, perhaps it looks generally the same but it’s noticeably imperfect.

However, if you learn many languages, you can understand a new language faster and more efficiently. If a painter learns how to draw, play guitar, sculpt, and dance, he will be better able to translate his emotions. Sometimes a feeling can be best expressed with a certain type of art. If I know how to write, maybe my emotion would be best expressed through words. Only knowing how to write would severely limit my expression.

On the other side, inspiration comes in a myriad of ways. As I’ve branched away from photography I’ve realized that art is very fluid. Paintings express memories in a different way than a photograph does. A song from a particular time in my life can hold more emotion than a photograph.

Why is it that we, as artists, always crave inspiration? Is it because we aren’t able to express things we don’t understand? We have these emotions but we don’t know how to show them to other people. It’s as though someone is yelling at us in a foreign language and we’re desperately trying to understand what they’re saying. We want to reply or do what they’re asking but we simply don’t understand.

Lately I feel like I’ve started learning new languages. The emotions I go through can be understood better even if I don’t know that language. I can somewhat make out what I’m feeling inside and how to transcribe it into something to share with others.

The point of this post is to say that don’t try to force inspiration. It will come and go through your life and in different ways. I don’t paint or draw but I feel emotions that could only be felt through painting. There are days when words feel like the best way to express myself. Just learn to be receptive to the world and you’ll see the elephant in the middle of the room: everything in life is inspiration and everything is an emotion. You just have to be receptive enough to take that feeling in.

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P.S. The layout is changing again, so please be patient with me as everything settles down!