The “AHA” Moment

It happened while reading last night. The last two chapters of The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. The entire book has been quite an eye-opening experience, but it is the penultimate chapter which struck me like Thor’s hammer with clarity on a subject previously very clouded: The Tao Te Ching.

I’ve read the Tao several times, and studied extensively Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, an exploration of each individual verse and a commonization of the language and message, as he interpreted it, for today’s audience. I adore the book and, indeed, re-read, every morning prior to my meditation, a random chapter.

But Singer took this important and deeply complex book and subject to its root with a pair of simple, clean analogies. First, he likened the daily trials and tribulations of normal human life to a pendulum; it’s known that if you pull a pendulum to a given height in one direction, it will swing to precisely that height in the opposite direction before beginning its slow deceleration to balance.   Life is precisely the same, Singer points out. Any extreme situation begets an equally extreme reaction, as we push back against whatever we perceive to be assailing us. But the Tao teaches that life needn’t be lived in the extremes. Indeed, peace and harmony lie between.

The example used so brilliantly was one I’ve used in my book and in many conversations about empathy over the time I’ve been describing it: traffic. If someone cuts you off in rush hour traffic, likely you’ll react angrily and spend at least some time fuming about it. You’ll spend that time living in the past, in the event that happened 8 seconds ago, or 8 hours ago, depending on how long you allow it to derail you. That isn’t the fault of the other driver, either. It’s your decision to dwell on it and let it eat away at your day.

Living the Tao, though, is living without reaction. You’ll notice the other driver being foolish and you’ll feel your ire rising, but when you notice yourself getting angry, you’ll deny them the ability to upset you, and you’ll remain in the now. The event lasts only as long as it lasts, and no longer.

There are 81 verses in the Tao Te Ching, and I’ve read and studied them all many times over the last 2+ years. Living in the center of the pendulum, allowing life to proceed without the need or desire to control it is key to personal peace. Singer drew the parallel of going through life blind, with no expectations of what was to come. Now, when a blind person walks with a cane, tapping and sweeping back and forth, they’re not looking for where they should go, rather they’re determining where NOT to go. Avoiding obstacles and staying centered.   Staying on the path without venturing into extremes.

This isn’t to say that life should be lived in a vanilla and uninteresting way. Quite the opposite. Merely that life doesn’t need to be a chaotic bouncing from one extreme to another, crying, bitching, fighting, competing, envying, striving, stretching, reaching, REACTING. Life is meant to be ENJOYED, and that joy is meant to be SHARED. My joy is in creating, through both my writing and my artwork, and in service to my world. Be it bringing light with my words, joy via my artwork, or just helping a stranger load groceries into their trunk.

What is YOUR joy, and how will you express it today?

That shrinking feeling inside…

I don’t usually weigh in on these events, other than a short RIP, but this time, I can’t resist.   Since 1988 and Die Hard, Alan Rickman has been a personal idol of mine. A chameleon of the first order, he truly disappeared into his characters, but still retained that characteristic bite that only he could bring.   For a while, he was the “bad guy duJour”, chewing lines and stealing scenes from the most popular heroes in cinema and television. Eventually, Gary Oldman replaced him as Hollywood’s go-to “heavy”, but (for me) never brought the same levels of either commitment or fun to those roles. Much as I loved every role he played (even when the movies themselves weren’t exactly special), it was Rickman’s virtuoso turn as the titular Rasputin in the 1996 HBO movie that proved to me his inestimable versatility.

As an artist, especially as an artist who works pretty much exclusively in black and white, I have also and always been captivated by Alan Rickman’s face. Bright and manic in his youth, age brought depth and solemnity to feature which I have ever loved to sketch. Only Audrey Hepburn and DeForest Kelley had faces which so captured my imagination. This is a human as humans were intended to look; flawed, frail, and weighted with immense dignity. SO much fun to sketch, and so very challenging to do justice to.

Alan Rickman will be missed by the world for his contributions to film and to popular culture mostly for his perfection in the role of Professor Severus Snape in the eight Harry Potter movies, and his colleagues will doubtless fill social media with praise and tears over the next few days. But I will miss Alan Rickman for my own, very personal reasons. I won’t mourn him, for I don’t embrace the concept of death as tragic but as progression and growth. But I will miss him, as a beloved rose bush is missed when it finally ceases to bloom.

I thank you, Alan Rickman, for your contributions to theatre, film, and popular culture.   Mostly, I thank you for thrilling me, scaring me, making me hate you, and sitting (all unbeknownst to you) interminably for countless portraits. I will miss you.

 

Image ©FanPop

Patterns of Behavior

My mom’s doctor went on vacation the week I was due. I was her third child, and both my sisters had been significantly late, so of course I would be, too. So, with her official due date of April 4, he figured on being back by the tenth or so, and everything would be hunky-dory.

Thus launched my lifelong pattern of not-quite-meeting-expectations.   Before dawn on April 4th, 1966, I was born and my name chosen specifically to counter insistences from both sides of the family. There were no Matthews on either side, and it is, after all, the title of the first book of the New Testament. How could Matthew go wrong?

To put it quite directly, by spending the next 47 years keeping faithfully to the first impression I left on this earth; a never-ending cocktail of “surprise” and “What the hell am I going to do now?” Never failing to both fail and disappoint.

Honestly, it’s quite fun to look back on what many would consider a wasted life from today’s perspective and just calmly shake my head. Truly, the first thought today, as I recall so many questionable and self-destructive choices, is gratitude. yes, I’m wonderfully thankful for all my myriad and diverse failures, for without them, I would never have arrived at where and most importantly who I am now. For now, today, the only moment we ever truly get, I am gloriously celebrating every moment of my existence and taking joy in each moment. I have embraced the tremendously freeing concept that “everything happens for my best benefit”. If that sounds silly or selfish, please understand what it actually means; it is simply an understanding that our individual perspective colors every experience we have. I decline to ever look at myself as a victim or to expect anything other than the greatest possible benefit from each moment in my life. You’d be shocked at how even seemingly negative life events can have a positive impact when viewed through the lens of highest expectation. There are no more “down days”. Worry seldom (I’m working on “never”) darkens my mind. The freedom is breathtaking and staggering at the same time. My natural creativity is amplified and my higher energy raises the energy of those around me as well. I’m writing more clearly and quickly than ever, and my artwork (when I make time for it) now flows with a simplicity and clarity I’ve never experienced before.

I applied for a “promotion” at work. I prepared a succinct resume (I’ve been here for 10+ years, so they know me fairly well already), gave it to the man who makes these decisions, and released it from my concern. If I get it, then that’s for my best benefit. If not, then that is what will benefit me most profoundly.  Period.  No more concern for it at all.   And it really has become that easy, too. I couldn’t be happier with me right now, and that happiness, that completeness is a feeling so profound, so immense, that it is almost indescribable.

Yeah, it’s actually fun looking back at who Matthew was. He was kind of a mess for a long, long time, frankly, and I suspect that some of you in here knew that first hand. I thank you for your patience and forbearance, and I welcome you here with deepest gratitude and arms open wide. These next months are going to be huge here in SimplyUplift-land as I finish my first draft manuscript and secure an agent and, eventually, a publisher. I’m not going to forsake this site, though. This is what I write during down time at work, and Lord knows there’s no shortage of that in winter time.

So, if you haven’t already, please Like, Follow, and join in the fun.   ‘S’gonna be a fun ride.

 

Matthew

On Victimhood.

Recently, I’ve seen a great number of posts on social media and stories on the news referencing the inevitability of everyone, eventually, being a victim. “Life makes victims of us all”, and so forth.

While I recognize the poetry and even the comfort some can take from such sentiments, I personally see this as a self-perpetuating and potentially very dangerous point of view.

In today’s world, most of us have been trained from earliest youth that our happiness and our successes aren’t really up to us; everything from heartbreak to asshole bosses to tornadoes tosses our fates about like a rowboat in a heavy sea, negating our every effort to decide our own paths.

Yes, bad things happen to good people. I get that. That doesn’t make the people to whom they happen “victims”. Your status as a victim is dictated solely by your reaction to the circumstances around you.

I hold up as an example the devastation from hurricane Katrina in 2005; Television was very eager and accommodating in showing us endless footage of victims. People rendered homeless with their every possession swept away or destroyed, lives lost or forever changed by the vagaries of the weather (and a horribly designed infrastructure). But we also saw a great many people in those same straights who didn’t and never would identify themselves as victims. These were people, citizens of the area who had lost every bit as much as anyone else, but rather than allowing themselves to become victims they instead reached out to their community and gave their all to help their neighbors. Where some huddled under their blankets awaiting food, others refused to lie down and spent their time and effort feeding, comforting, and reaching out in any way they could. They suffered identical losses, but were never victims.

We all know many people for whom life is a never-ending series of victimizations. People who go through life with a constant “why is it always me?” on their lips. Their first sound in the morning is a pitiable groan and their last thought at night is “and I have to go through it all again tomorrow”. These people feel themselves caught in an inescapable loop of angst and self-propagating personal disaster, without ever realizing their own role in creating the situation, nor their power to reverse it. And all it takes is ownership. Owning your own situation, even though you may not understand how you put yourself here, just accept, I mean truly accept your role in landing yourself wherever you are. “I am unemployed (or whatever) and I accept responsibility for creating and correcting this situation.” No, it doesn’t guarantee you a job offer within the next three days, but it helps to break the cycle; it helps you to stop seeing your fate as tied to some great universe-wide plot against you. It is that perspective, that “why is it always me?” thought habit which prevents you from breaking the cycle. When you do finally break through, you realize that NO ONE, other than you yourself, is responsible for your happiness or success or sense of fulfillment.   Many, many people with problems and misery in their lives that you and I can barely imagine are still among the happiest, most open and kindest people you could ever hope to meet. What is their Great Secret? It’s not so secret, but it is truly great knowledge, and it’s the easiest, most difficult thing you’ll ever try: BE HAPPY.. Just be happy. Do not expect or wait for anyone or anything to make you happy. That’s your job, so just allow happiness into your life. Smile at strangers. Laugh at stupid jokes. Fart in a movie theater. Embrace and propagate joy at every opportunity.