Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alone is Okay

Most every evening, I jump in my car and head for the city, looking for something to busy myself with.  I have my regular haunts, and I usually know where to find my friends.  This has become my routine, but it’s too much.  I’ll stay out all night, and by the time I drag my sorry ass home and pull into the garage, I’m too tired to get out of the car.  So sometimes I’ll just push the seat back and sleep there.  Or if I make it into the house (this is out of exhaustion, mind you - not drunkenness), I’ll usually just crash on the couch.  Lately the couch has been a more common sleeping location than my bed.  My bed is...  Well, it’s just too damn big.  It reminds me of what I used to have, and how I lost it.

Yes, I recognize what I’m doing: I’m escaping.  I’m trying to “fill the void” with something - anything - that will distract me from being by myself.  I don’t think I’m the only one that does this, though.  I think that most people are afraid to be by themselves.  Or at the very least, uncomfortable with it.  When we’re by ourselves, we are forced to live with our own thoughts.  And for many of us, those thoughts can be rife with sadness, regret, self-degradation, and the like.  The saying “we are our own worst enemy” is resoundingly true, and we prove it by letting our minds go places it shouldn’t.  We think of how we’ve screwed up in the past, or things people have said, churning on these thoughts over and over again until they become bigger than they ever were in reality.  We let the thoughts germinate and take root in our minds, making them all the more difficult to pull out.  This torture we put ourselves through is our own doing, but we somehow fail to recognize that.

It doesn’t help that I work from home, my teammates being in other states and other countries.  If I didn’t go out in the evenings or on weekends, I would literally have no contact with other human beings.  Well, except electronically.  And man, what a joke that is.  I spend way too much time on Facebook, but really all that does is fill the gap in a different way.  It just busies my mind, instead of letting my mind rest.  It’s as if our minds don’t want to give us a single break.  Have you ever tried driving down the road by yourself, and not turned on any music?  Just the tha-thump, tha-thump of the concrete slabs, or buzz of the blacktop?  Or how about just sitting in a darkened room at night (when there are less outside noises), with no music, no TV - nothing.  Don’t do anything but sit there.  Can you stand it?  Does your mind race with thoughts of what you should be doing instead?  Or maybe your mind goes back to those sad or stressful thoughts...  This is where the practice of meditation can help.  Learning how to sit quietly, focus on the breath, and not get stuck or obsess on the myriad of thoughts that come and go.  Just be.  If you’ve never tried it, you might be surprised at just how difficult it can be.  I certainly haven’t mastered it, and not practicing enough hasn’t helped.

I used to think I was okay being alone.  For example, going to movie theaters by myself, or on business trips going to restaurants by myself.  But I wasn’t really alone.  I had an “anchor” back home.  I knew there was someone to return to.  Now that I don’t have that, home has turned into an almost dreaded place.  I don’t have much furniture anymore.  The pictures are off the walls.  The house echoes with my footsteps.  It is stark; it is hollow; it is cold.  I’m trying to sell it, but the housing market is in such shambles right now.  (Let me tell you it is not a good time to be a seller.)  So I’m stuck here until it sells.

What I need to realize is that being alone is okay.  I know it should be okay, but I haven’t fully internalized that yet.  Getting married right after college, staying together for fifteen years and having three kids doesn’t exactly give one a chance to practice being alone.  In fact, when those people suddenly get taken away from you, it makes it all the more difficult.  It’s like being in a warm house, then pushed outside in the middle of winter.  The contrast is poignant.  More recently, I ended a nine-month relationship with someone I loved deeply, but at the time believed it was the right thing to do (for reasons I won’t share here).  It probably was, although in hindsight I still have my doubts. Either way, it’s too late now. She is already with someone else.  I mention it here since the pain I experienced when that relationship ended was probably heightened because it - possibly subconsciously - reminded me of my previous loss.  And it sent me down that same downward spiral I had experienced before.

So how can I get past this?  Stop going out at night and force myself to be alone so I can acclimate to it?  I dunno, that seems a bit too radical, and has the potential of making things worse.  I need to find the right balance.  And when I am alone, be okay with it.  Maybe write more, or finish composing those songs I’ve been messing around with on guitar.  I could go for walks, look at the stars, read a book.  Basically, slow the "f" down.  I need to have patience with myself, forgiveness and love for myself, and just enjoy the silence.  Peace. With all sincerity I can say that is what I want more than anything else in this world. I want peace.

Recently a friend shared a video on Facebook (of course) that gave quite a few good ideas on things to do.  It’s a poem called “How to be Alone”, written and performed by Tanya Davis.  I highly recommend watching it.  Don’t worry; it’s not a cheesy “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley” type of thing.  It is cute and quaint, but there is a lot of wisdom in it.  One of my favorite quotes from the poem is “ ‘cause if you’re happy in your head then solitude is blessed and alone is okay.”

Maybe I just need to make my own “happy”.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Meaning of Love

I recently spent a week trying to figure out "the meaning of love". Not quite as cliché a phrase as "the meaning of life", but one I wanted to understand nonetheless. Rather, I needed to understand. I found myself in a situation where I needed to take a long, hard look at myself and make sense of my thoughts and feelings. This was very difficult for me, as those thoughts and feelings were flying around and zigzagging inside of me - colliding and sometimes conflicting to the point of "analysis paralysis". This is where the practice of meditation could have prepared me in dealing with it, had I been a faithful practitioner. Understandably, focus was hard for me to sustain. But I persisted. How do I know if I’m really, truly "in love" if I don’t have a firm grasp of what love is?

I think I was like most people, who go about their lives thinking love is that hard-to-describe feeling which we interpret as love. But being an engineer, I needed to dissect that feeling into solid assertions. This methodical approach, BTW, is common to all serious engineers (and I would assume scientists as well) - often to the annoyance of those close to them. Sometimes I can can come across as detached or distant, maybe even a bit callous. But really, I am just trying to make sense of things in the only way I know how. So, applying this methodology, I started thinking of the people in my life whom I profess to love. There were certainly commonalities, but for each of them there was also something different.

First, the commonalities. These are the things that I had for each person in my list.
  1. Responsibility: I feel the need to "do the right thing" for that person. I strive to live up to reasonable expectations and be true to my word. If I say I’m gonna do something, I try my best to follow through.
  2. Support: I want to "be there" for that person during his/her hard times. That person should be able to depend on me when they need it.
  3. Dedication: I have made the decision to invest my time and energy in that person, through thick and thin. I want to be loyal. I want to be committed.
  4. Forgiveness: Everyone fucks up. I sure have, and always feel greatly humbled when someone forgives me. I want to extend that grace as well.
  5. Sacrifice: I am ready and willing to give up things for myself so that person can have what they need. For some of my closest people, I would even be willing to sacrifice my life, without hesitation.
  6. Honesty: This one has been very difficult for me, as I grew up being taught how to keep secrets. I want to break that cycle, which begets nothing but pain and resentment.
  7. Trust: This one builds on Honesty, but also includes a mutual sense of stability. I want that person to know that their investment in me is reciprocal, and that we are working together to make our bond stronger.
  8. Companionship: I want to share my life experiences with that person, to provision for and spend quality time together.
  9. Respect: I value that person and their beliefs, even if I don’t agree with all of them. I appreciate and validate their contributions not just to our relationship, but to others as well.
  10. Admiration: I value that person’s qualities, even while acknowledging their faults. I accept that person for who and what they are, and see all the good inside.
  11. Affection: I have a tenderness I want to express to that person, although the method of expression varies among types of relationships.
Now for the differences. When people say "there are different kinds of love", these are the things I bet they’re thinking of. For me, each relationship below builds on the commonalities listed above, so I won’t repeat those things here.
  1. Love for a partner: I truly want to be a partner with this person, to the fullest extent of the term. We are on a shared path (at least with regard to our relationship), to which we have similar goals. There is a real feeling of connectedness. This connectedness can be so heightened at times that I feel our hearts are merging. This reminds me of the sexual component, which is also beautiful. For this part to be fulfilling, there has to be compatibility, but more importantly, a strong foundation of Trust, so you can feel safe to explore and express and give. It can also be very intense, for example when climaxing at the same time together while staring into each other’s eyes.
  2. Love for a child: In my experience, there is nothing so beautiful and powerful in the entirety of human experience than to create life, hopefully conceived with a loving partner. The fact that this new being has grown from the parents - literally - and whose very DNA is fashioned from the parents is absolutely amazing. For those who adopt, there is equal gratification in the process of raising a child, teaching him/her how to be the best person he/she can be (hopefully by example). I want to do everything I possibly can to support my children. To give them whatever I can so they have the best lives they can have. To sacrifice my selfish desires to fulfill my unselfish desire for them to thrive. They are a form of reincarnation, if you think about it. We live on through them, and their children, and their children...
  3. Love for a relative: The definition of "family" varies among people, but for each definition there is the basic notion that there is a special bond or responsibility that we are given - without asking for it. I just chuckled as that sounded pretty funny (the whole "you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family"). But in all seriousness, it brings up a very unique challenge. These (usually genetic) ties that put us together - are they binding? What investment do I really have with them? What is my contribution? What is my level of responsibility? What happens if the relationship is taken for granted or abused? Well, I have to say my standing with my relatives varies quite a bit from person to person. Some (actually, most) I’m not close with at all, others I have a strong feeling of commitment to.
  4. Love for a friend: I count myself lucky to have what I believe to be some of the best friends in the world. They accept me for who I am, and I accept them. Of my friends, there are a couple who really stand out as true comrades. In fact, they feel like a cherished member of my family, like a sibling. I share more with them, I drop my guard with them, I let them get closer and know the real me. I feel safe to be myself.
  5. Love for a deity: I used to think I knew what this was, but it’s been quite some time since I have felt dedicated to a metaphysical entity. I do not - and will not - deny the profound importance this has for many people, though. But I cannot express what I do not understand, so I won’t even try. I will say, however, that I have had love for some teachers in my life. For example, certain Tibetan lamas who have been able to skilfully jump-start spiritual attention and improvement in my life.
  6. Love for self: Another cliché statement is "you can’t love others if you can’t love yourself." I always downplayed this, but it hasn’t been until recent months that I’ve come to realize the truth in this. I’ve been carrying around so much guilt for my past mistakes, not forgiving myself so I can move on. I haven’t felt that I’ve deserved others’ love, and sometimes even questioned if anybody really "deserves" anything. Through time, effort, therapy, medication and the support of others, I think I’m finally making progress here. At least that’s what I’m told. I'm still having a hard time feeling it, but at least I recognize the problem and am on a path of healing.
Well, that’s the meaning of love (at least as I understand it so far) in it’s different forms, with their commonalities and differences. Oh - there is one thing I’ve skipped over. That thing I first mentioned that goes beyond words and can’t be contained or controlled. It boggles my engineering mind, for I can’t analyze it, dissect it, put it in a petri dish and observe it, derive quantitative data from it - nothing. It is intangible and elusive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In fact, I’ve personally never met anyone who denies its existence. It’s that hard-to-describe feeling we have in our hearts. That invisible bond. That thing I have yet to understand, and maybe never will. What should I do about it? What can I do about it?

I think I just need to accept it, gratefully. And yes, I am in love.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blog URL Change

The new blog URL is The old URL of will forward to it automagically.

I'm still using Google's Blogger service, however I created a CNAME record so the URL is "cooler". Yes, I'm a geek.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Beauty that Surrounds Us

Some friends of mine are planning a movie night, and the movie chosen is "American Beauty" - one of my all-time favorite films. There's a famous scene in it with a plastic bag floating around, and the character Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who had videotaped it says, "That's the day I realized that there was this entire life - behind things. And this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid, ever." and "Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in."

It's times like that when I think we get a glimpse into nirvana. When your mind is calm and focused, and you view something simply the way it is, without clouding it with preconceptions, assumptions, negativity or attachment. A time when we are open to experience "mini-epiphanies". If we could only maintain that state! That kind of mindfulness is difficult for me, but I'm trying. I'm trying to be aware of the moment, where I am, when I am, what I'm experiencing, and especially how my mind is interpreting it. I'm so easily distracted, but when I focus, a whole new world opens up. And it's beautiful.

Beauty surrounds us. We just have to apply the time and effort to notice it. Even things that can at first seem gross or unnerving can be beautiful, if you take a moment to understand what the source of your aversion is, and where that thing fits in the natural, cyclical time-line of existence (or rather, our perception of existence).

What have been the "floating plastic bags" in your life? What things made you stop and observe, to be mindful, to experience the beauty in something as it is, the way that it is? I will randomly share some of mine here, in no particular order:
  • My children being born, including the necessary blood, sweat and tears.
  • The vastness of space on a clear, starry night.
  • The potential of a musical instrument, as it sits waiting to be played.
  • My grandfather's last moments in his hospital bed.
  • A wide-eyed baby trying to process all the new sights and sounds.
  • The hustle and bustle of people in Times Square.
  • The pulsating energy at a techno-rave.
  • The wet spot on the bed sheets after sex.
  • A decomposing animal.
  • A hug from a friend who can tell you just need one, without needing to pry for details.
  • Accepting the pain of getting tattooed.
  • The soft curve of a nursing breast.
  • The moment just before an accident, when you don't have time to do anything to stop it.
  • The sunlight glistening through the trees just before sunset.
  • A spider wrapping a captured insect.
Several years ago I was driving to work and was listening to Coldplay's "Parachutes" album. The first track "Don't Panic" hit me unexpectedly. For whatever reason, I was open to experience something very powerful. I noticed every little detail of everything around me. I recognized each thing as it zoomed past, and then let it go without attachment. The rust on that car. The look on that driver's face. The color of the trees. The jet trail of the airplane. The dead deer by the side of the road. The bird carrying food to its young. The sun beams piercing the clouds. I was in tears, and like Ricky's, my heart did feel like it was going to cave in. "We live in a beautiful world. Yeah we do, yeah we do."