Even though Vortigern, our featured ghoul, is a dead guy, he’s a lovely fellow. At the start of the year, I decided that I was going to try to be a better person–like Vortigern without the deadness. ‘Becoming a better person’ is a lofty goal to undertake; there’s no pill or app for that. Although, I believe we all come to a point in our lives where we want to undergo meaningful change. Re-evaluation and personal development are among the essentials of being human. I’ve strived for excellence, physically, for years, and subsequently changed my mental outlook from exercise. However, that’s mostly self-focused work: love yourself before you can love anyone else-isms. It’s not the kind of work that necessarily makes you more philanthropic or engaged in development outside of your inner echo chamber (though it helps, surely). Lately, I’ve started looking toward aspects of humanity that have me interacting with the outside world. There’s no magic formula to socialization and mindfulness, though here are the three states that I’ve been practicing to better connect with a greater social consciousness.
Listening. We hear things all the time. Moms, in particular, have a hyper-attentive listening ability where they can hear the essence of a statement, the raw facts, without necessarily gathering the nuances behind what was said. My mom was a master of that art; she could repeat exactly what I’d said, like a machine, if I accused her of ‘not listening’. And, to be fair to both mom and myself, what I’d said probably wasn’t anything important–such as: I’m wounded, I’m sick, I need help–and she was already busy sorting through the billion thoughts that engulf the parental mind before I added my newest neediness to the mix. But that’s a good example of how most of us listen at the best of times: surface, superficial hearing. We’ve been trained to do that, through Facebook, Instagram and these numerous curated services that show us framed, out-of-context moments and allow us to give reactionary–not deeply considered–responses. We don’t have to listen, learn or investigate, because the message has already been laid out for us.
Unfortunately, this reflex carries over into our interactions offline. Many times I’ve found myself caught up in the swell of a conversation: deaf to the emotional notes of the speaker, present while not wholly attentive. It’s that feeling when your mouth has run away with itself; that’s usually when I stop, focus and hear each word as it is said while searching for the meaning behind them. You know you’re practicing true attentiveness if there’s a pause between what was said and your reaction to it. If you’re glancing at your phone, clicking a reaction to social media, fiddling in your pockets/ purse, or doing anything other than meeting the speaker eye-to-eye (this is a dying art), then you have already failed in this exercise. Which is a shame, really, as there are so many stories to tell and to be heard in the world, and we miss out on much of that narrative because we can’t focus well enough to hear it.
Meditation/ Cogitation. A thoughtful state that carries through from the act of listening, though it can be done in the absence of a conversation with another person. Indeed, we can have a conversation with ourselves, our Creator, Nature, the Universe, our Muse. Here, we aim to still ourselves until we are the current, flowing, but not lost in the river. I used to believe that meditation was absolute horse-shit. But that was because I can’t quiet my inner mind; I struggle with yoga for the same reason. Rather than strain myself into a constipated state of un-relaxing mindfulness, I’ve gone with a different approach: I let my mind ramble. I allow thoughts to rampage, quite violently, through my head. Sometimes I type them down into stream of consciousness pseudo-poems, sometimes I speak my conversations with ghosts, places, presences out loud. Much of today’s blog, really, has come from a mindful state. I’m relaxed, I’m open, I’m allowing my consciousness to dash about on the rocks of my words and meaning.
Since we’re all just bundles of nerves, energy and emotion, I’m all right with being crazy, especially when it’s just me, my cat and you folks around. After being “crazy” and releasing that steam, I find my balance and mindfulness. So while my exercise may not be meditation in the conventional sense, the lesson here is to find what works for your personality. You don’t need to reinvent yourself to achieve calm. You don’t need to be a yogi to find inner peace; that’s just one (tried and true, for some) means of achieving a thoughtful state.
Sharing. This ties into the long lesson I’ve been learning in my thirties: the world does not revolve around me, life’s march is eternal, and I am a grain of sand in a beautiful, endless beach of stars and mystery. That’s a fancy-pants way of saying that I’ve come to accept there is more to the world than myself and my interests. Gratitude comes when you realize how small you are, and how lucky you are through the forces of chaos and circumstance to have what you define as a life and comforts. Then, by extension, the concepts of community, family and true friendship flourish as you find others that have come to this realization.
My Creative Collective initiative is part of my acceptance of this dogma and want to form connections with other grains of (artistic) sand. My recent activism has also come from a similar yearning to be a gear in a positive political collective. I don’t want to be a drone. I want to be myself, with all my opinions, warts and flaws. In being a part of something, even while holding on to your differences, you become a spark in the communal circuit, which teaches us how to love, give and socialize. I have been given much, and so I shall give. It sounds almost biblical, that commandment, and it feels spiritual, even though I’m not Christian. Once you realize the glory of your smallness, and still, of how much that tiny light means among all the other stars, the world opens up to you in miraculous ways.
Bountifulness and joy, even when darkness enters our lives, grants us the foresight, insight and strength to not collapse. There are no downsides to striving to be a better person, and there’s no moment too late to try. Unless you’re dead like poor Vortigern. But even he got a second chance.
All my love,
P.S. Happy Easter!