So - you've been warned.
The year draws to a close and I am surprised as I listen to the pundits and the news-makers talk about what a terrible year it has been. This comes as a bit of a shock to me. This has been an awesome year for me. And that is what really blows my mind. That I can sit here and type, "this has been an awesome year," without a hint of sarcasm or bitterness.
The other oddity about this positive outlook is it is missing a key component: Fear. In the past I have experienced "happiness." I've written about this phenomenon. They've lasted up to 2-3 hours at a time. And as anyone who knows me can tell you, these periods that lacked my typical anger or disappointment were uniformly accompanied by fear. Sometimes even terror. One reason for the fear was simple. This "happy" thing was a new, unfamiliar feeling. It confused me with its foreignness. Anger has a certain comfortable familiarity because when I am angry I know what to do, how to act, how to express it. Happy? What does happy do? Happy is flowers and skipping and smiling like a lunatic. All the time. That certainly sounds horrifying to me. Besides, didn't those great philosopher-artists the Dead Milkmen write a musical thesis titled, "Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song" in which they state:
Don't trust the happy; the happy are insane.
Usually, at the first inklings of feeling happy, I misunderstood it as an absence of feeling. I thought I was so angry I had become numb. Once I finally identified it as "happy," (which was more rare than one might think), I was faced with a conundrum, I'm happy. Ergo, Something Must Be Horribly Wrong. I would fret and pace and wring my hands wondering what kind of terrible fate awaited me.
I do remember one particular instance when I was suffused with such a strong feeling of good-will towards my fellow planet-riders that I was overwhelmed with a need to do something. That's when real panic gripped me. What does one do when one is happy? I was in college up in Missouri at the time, so I was old enough, and stupid enough, that I could have seriously screwed up my life.
I called my best friend Cobby to ask for his advice. He was very helpful. You would have thought he was used to talking down crazy people all the time.
I confessed that I was having bizarre notions of good-will and purpose. I was seriously considering dropping out of school and joining the Peace Corps. Either that or (and I kid you not) maybe I should become a priest. He employed a technique I came to learn and use as a parent - divert the child's (or psychotic's) attention. First he asked me things like, how would I listen to my music if the Peace Corps shipped me to Uganda? (You kids today with your iPods and TV-phones don't understand how serious a logistical problem this would have posed back in the 80s.)
When I mentioned the priesthood, he showed what a champion he was. He didn't erupt in barks of laughter or suffer a debilitating coughing fit. Instead, he calmly poked a pin of logic into that balloon. "I think," he said, "you need to believe in God if you want to be a priest, john."
I'm still thankful Cobby was there for me in my time of need.
Back here in the present day, for one reason or another, I seem to have undergone some kind of shift. A change in temperament. Happy no longer seems so fraught with danger. Happy seems not only less scary, but even possible.
Call Mulder and Scully! Either I've been abducted and replaced by an alien without my own knowledge, or I've been infected with some sort of hallucinogenic pathogen that is overproducing serotonin in my brain box. Irregardless (you're welcome, Susan), something is very, very wrong.
The other day I saw a quote that struck me as particularly relevant to this discussion on this personal, internal shift:
Whether this moment is happy or not depends on you. It's you that makes the moment happy. It's not the moment that makes you happy. With mindfulness, concentration and insight, any moment can become a happy moment. Happiness is an art.Some guy named Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote that. He's some kind of Zen master. I like that. I wish I was a Zen master.
The thing I find so appealing about this quote is its simplicity. It says in pretty clear terms that happiness is actually a choice, not a thing, not a smell. Not even an activity. It's "an art;" his actual words.
I set out in this blog post to write about a seismic shift in my attitude. To explain what is different for me, what has changed, and what sparked this change.
Unfortunately, I am unable to describe any of those things. There hasn't been a seismic shift in who I am or what I believe. I haven't survived some life-threatening disease, or undergone some kind of mystical apotheosis. And yet . . . something is different. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a much different man than I was six or eight months ago.
Something must have changed. I can point out several things I've done differently, anecdotal evidence of how different my behavior is today compared with a year ago. Changes in sleep habits, work habits, I'm even exercising, believe it or not. But that's about all I can do - show examples of how I am different. There doesn't seem to be a why. I don't even feel much different.
There are some possible catalysts, but I don't know if there is a causal link between them and john 2.0. (Eww - I hate that 2.0.), let's say the new john. Nope. How about awake john? Yep - that fits - especially with this next bit.
The most obvious "new thing" is the Mankind Project. I went looking for a Men's group around February or March. I didn't find the group I was looking for, and that, dear reader, is a good thing. I was looking for a group similar to the Men's group I belonged to back in the early 90s. I don't think such things exist. Instead, I found the Mankind Project. Let me digress with a quick bit of propaganda:
On the organization's homepage, they define their mission as:
Not the most eloquent or passionate or poetic way to describe it. It all seems a bit buzz-wordy. A bit of a yawn-fest, if you ask me. I've heard a much better definition, from a man who has been involved with MKP since almost the beginning:
Building and supporting the emotionally mature, accountable, and compassionate male role models that our communities need.
We help men "wake up," so they can "grow up," so they can show up for life. Their life for their families, their partners, their work and their communities.Well, I certainly feel like I have woken up. The odd thing is, that the process was so gradual, I don't know when it started, or when I finally realized I was conscious.
I do know that along with the slow process of becoming conscious, I also realized a life lived fully is a life requiring risks.
And taking risks is an incredibly important lesson. One that deserves its own post. And since this has gotten much longer than I had anticipated, I will save that for another day.
I will, however, say this about risk:
For me risk means saying Yes, when I would be more comfortable saying No.