DAMNING THE MAN
Picture this: 150 bodies crammed into a tiny, sweltering, basement. We’re like sardines sandwiched tightly inside of a can. Our energy is buzzing with anticipation and excitement for what is about to transpire in this small magical space.
The first note rings out and our bodies instantly go from rigid to malleable and we sway as if the music is commanding us. The drums stomp along with the rest of the band in one thunderous roar. Our bodies rise and fall while the long dissonant feedback from the amplifiers instruct us to wait just a bit longer.
The tension now is almost unbearable. Like a flash of lightning, the band kicks in and our hundreds of bodies thrash around inside of a space which moments ago didn’t seem to have the capacity to even hold us.
Like a laser beam I could focus on the intricacies of the guitarists fingers in what seemed like slow motion even though he was literally blazing away at 190 beats per minute.
Back then amidst the chaos, I remember experiencing moments of bliss. I remember my mind being so clear and present, I felt free. More than anything – I felt OK.
In addition to this clarity, I felt compassion for everyone around me. Feeling intimately connected even though we’d never met. Any problems going on in my life ceased to exist when I was in that space. These strangers and I had a sense of purpose. We weren’t just thrashing at punk shows. Showing up itself was an act of defiance. Defiance against an outside world, a sick world we knew was at the root of all problems.
Had you asked me then what I was going to do with my life, what I was going to “be” when I grew up, well that was it. The question would have appeared absurd to me because the totality of my purpose was within the four walls of wherever a band was gracious enough to share their art. The rest of the world could go grow up and live “normal” lives for all I cared. I was staying right there where I felt wanted, needed, and whole.
But, great as this all was, it didn’t last.
As many years passed I saw friends falling into addiction, some became homeless, some deceased, and many unhappy with their circumstances. The world around me was still full of war, poverty, and suffering. The freedom and clarity I used to feel was now replaced with a deep sense of fear, insecurity, and doubt. Where did all the happiness go? Maybe the music wasn’t causing me to feel good. Maybe hating the system wasn’t filling me up with freedom. Maybe I had no clue at all.
All of my family and “non-punk” friends seemed happy. Everyone of them appeared to be glistening at all times of the day. The perpetually made up women always smelled intoxicating in their designer wear. The men wore their pants high with shirts tucked in and hair combed just right. I remember them feeling so big, so grown up. I felt so tiny. So childlike. To me they had a grip on life and all I had to do was reach out my hand and grab it. Then I too would glisten and comb my hair just right.
And so, starting from the time I graduated high school, I threw myself into job after job. I made money and it felt really good. While not exactly a grip, I felt like I was beginning to have a grasp, small as it might have been. I met my first partner, fell in love and now understood what everybody around me was saying. “This is it!” I thought. I was on my way to happiness.
Then something happened. The good feelings began to disappear and I began drowning in a maelstrom of disorder trying to keep up and appease the happiness Gods. I was being attacked by all sides:
I became filled with more anxiety than I’ve ever felt. Instead of feeling free, clear, and present, my head felt frantic, heavy, and muddled. I was only in my early twenties at the time, but I constantly worried. How would I retire or buy a home? What if I couldn’t marry or provide for my girlfriend? What about our future family? In other words, how to Survive. I felt anything but OK. There was a constant nagging voice haunting me to be more, do more, and have more in order to achieve happiness, but, I didn’t feel happy. I felt worthless. I began to think that maybe I wasn’t cut out for the good life and it was reserved for a special few. However, years later I looked again to those glistening people and not all were still glistening. Some of them got divorced, loved ones died, some of them were laid off, and many of them unhappy with their circumstances. Happiness was not to be found here either.
NO ONE TO DAMN
It took me twenty years to find out that I was wrong about happiness and where it came from, but what I discovered next was worth all the time in the world.
Not long ago, I stumbled into an understanding discovered by a migrant welder from Scotland living in Canada named Sydney Banks. Mr. Banks had a profound spiritual experience which over time, revealed to him three fundamental principles that are the foundation of all human experience. Upon reading about this understanding, I was quickly impacted by its simplicity and truth which on some level I felt like I understood my whole life, but had merely forgotten.
One day working what I considered another dead end job, I had an insight that completely rocked my world and shook me to the core of my being. I was alone and stocking the shelves early one morning when I was hit by a feeling of being unconditionally loved. I felt so safe, cared for and grateful. In that moment I knew that it was not the world outside of me causing my unhappiness. It wasn’t my job causing me feelings of boredom, distress, or angst. It was my thinking.
See, we’re all living in thought created realities and this is the only way in which we have to experience the world around us.
Simple, but beyond powerful.
Constantly searching with no end in sight, I was never happy. This was because I thought my happiness came from out in the world. The next hit of fulfillment was always one more band, creative act, or defiant scheme away. Likewise my happiness of this new “grown up” path was always right around the corner attached to another dream job, financial goal, or higher level of self-esteem. Surely if I could figure that stuff out, THEN I would be OK. But, it doesn’t work that way.
Let me clear things up a bit with an example.
Imagine you’re walking around outside on a beautiful day. The sun is shining, it’s warm, and there are just a few clouds in the sky. You decide to pull out your smartphone and record the sights around you to share with your friends and family when you arrive home.
“I want them to experience what I’m experiencing!” you think to yourself moving the camera around the gorgeous landscape. You innocently believe capturing your experience is as simple as saving exactly what you’re seeing to an external device. While this may seem very convincing, it’s not actually what’s happening.
Our minds do not work like smartphone cameras objectively recording moments in a world outside of us. We exist inside a world of thought and though it really feels like we’re existing within a world of outside experience, all of what took place on that beautiful day – the happy feelings, the contentment, the joy, and the relaxation are actually happening inside of our own minds. The truth is that our minds work more like projectors. As author Mara Gleason puts it “From the human mind via thought, we create a picture of life and project it out onto the screen of our experience. We live in a movie of our own making.”
Take again the beautiful day scenario from above. This time imagine that you are the sky and the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing are like those few clouds. This may not be apparent when we’re stuck in a particular thought that’s passing by. Even more so if we deem it negative. Often, the longer it takes for a cloud to pass we forget that we’re even looking at a cloud.
It’s ok to feel bad. It’s ok to feel good. It’s ok to have negative thoughts, positive thoughts, or any kind of thoughts. The trouble comes when we forget they’re thoughts and identify with them – treating them as permanent objects that need to be fixed or changed. On the contrary, like clouds in the sky there will always be a new one passing by at any moment. The “real” you remains untouched as our default state is one of happiness, wellbeing, resilience, and infinite creative potential.
And there you have it. I spent a large portion of my early life damning the man, hating the system, and resisting each moment because I thought the changes to be made were all “out there” in the world. When that didn’t work, I frantically looked outside of myself to material objects, money and self-image, hoping to be happy, healthy, and whole. This too proved to be inconsistent and short-lived.
Finally, I realized that there is no one to damn and no one to blame because all of this suffering arose from a simple and innocent misunderstanding of the mind and where experience comes from. Naturally, when all our thinking falls away, what’s left is the compassion and intimate connection I used to think was provided by a certain atmosphere, building or crowd.
Now I know that I’m ok. That I was always ok and that we’ll all be ok – No matter what. Although, I still try to comb my hair just right.