Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

I attending a wedding a few weeks ago, and ended up cloistered at a table with other singles: all divorced or widowed and at least 25 years older than me. I was able to make polite conversation, but often glanced around at the other tables full of my contemporaries, all coupled up.

My friend, the groom was beaming. After searching for a wife (including two engagements that never made it to the altar), he finally achieved his goal at age 44. The newlyweds story helps to legitimize online dating. They seemed like a perfect match. Not the same, and not without flaws, but their hearts compliment each other very well.

As the band played and I watched all the couples dance, I reflected on my uncoupled conundrum.

My most major mistake is obvious-I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Anytime a cute guy smiles at me, I swoon, and he could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d pay top dollar, too because somehow his good looks translate into a man who is also smart, trustworthy, and caring-at least in my mind. It doesn’t matter how many times this illusion has been proved to be completely, and utterly untrue by a statistically significant margin, I dismiss the data and proceed naively believing THIS one is different.

Not surprisingly, they all end up all being the same narcissist

On the drive home, I stopped to fuel up both the car and myself. The cashier tried to help me select something to eat, but I was distracted by the black, blue, and purple balloon where her left eye should have been. Whomever’s fist broke her face, it happened not too many hours beforehand, but she was hard at work, and though she looked to be in pain, she did not complain, likely a veteran of physical abuse.

I drove off wondering how someone could stay with a man who speaks with his fists, but I quickly realized, who am I to point a finger? The emotional abuse I’ve suffered at the hands of my narcissist companions doesn’t show outwardly, but still leaves a mark. Yet, I walked away only half of the time, and only after a long time trying to rationalize staying. The other times, I was left behind with my heart ripped to shreds.

Why do we tell ourselves we are not worthy? I’d argue that I do believe in myself, but my reality tells a very different story. I’d like to blame the guy. I’d like to believe he doesn’t understand me, or he just wasn’t the right one, but the truth is I seem to lack a clear understanding of my value in this world.

Since Ann Landers says I can’t accept my dog’s admiration of me as conclusive evidence that I’m wonderful, I’d better set my sights on looking within.

“He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu

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Smoking Gun

Until the 1990’s in America, smoking was an accepted social vice. My grandparents smoked. My parents smoked. Their friends smoked. My siblings and most of my friends smoked. Despite the habit being smelly, unattractive, and unhealthy, no amount of federally mandated warning labels discouraged people from lighting up.

Change came suddenly in the form of a social movement ignited by the media’s unveiling of ways tobacco companies lured in and poisoned the population for their own financial gain. As Americans, we might fight for the right to poison ourselves, but conspiring to make us look the fool? Turning us into patsies for profit? That blow to the ego demands retribution. Like a tidal wave, the momentum of popular opinion crashed effortlessly through previously insurmountable obstacles.

Almost overnight smoking was out. The backlash was so complete that venues in all 50 states banned smoking. Anyone unable to overcome the addiction has been ushered to a “designated smoking area” as the rest of us walk by and shake our heads. There is a big difference between being told what to do (government regulation) and finding out someone has been secretly screwing you over for years. Both scenarios invoke a “put up your dukes” mentality. We won’t stand for it, and true gun reform in America will need to come to light in the same way.

I don’t consider the right “to bear arms” in the constitution as intended for individual ownership. It is manipulative marketing, not unlike Joe Cool of Camel cigarettes convincing people to smoke. At the time the constitution was written, guns were kept in local armories and used only against large scale enemy attacks. Individuals riddling fellow citizens with bullets was unheard of and would certainly confound our forefathers. The article by Jill Lepore appearing in the New Yorker on April 19, 2012 entitled, “The Birth of the Modern Gun Debate” explained how the NRA evolved from a group of hunting and sport enthusiasts to the behemoth political lobbying effort that insists members would rather die than give up their guns.

Still, nations such as Britain and Australia have overcome their dependence on personal firearms. I have faith that America can, too. No one wants the government to infringe upon their freedom. The threat of legislation to control arms is a gift to the pro-gun lobby. With the media as their accomplice, gun enthusiasts push the button on the primordial fear response to bolster gun sales. But what if the issue of gun rights was reframed? What if it turns out the NRA is perpetuating a conspiracy? What if their real motivation is to encourage undesirable in the population to kill themselves off with all those guns? Far fetched, perhaps, but surely there is a conceivable angle to turn gun ownership into a stigma. Ideas once in fashion eventually fall away like the ash from a burning cigarette. We just need a perspective shift on guns.

 

Staring Stan

Have you ever been seriously stared at before? I’m not talking about catching someone looking just before he turns quickly away. I mean someone who is fixated, eyes locked, seemingly unashamed…staring. If the guy was a stranger, label him a creepy stalker, and get on with life (hopefully never seeing the wierdo again). But my Staring Stan is someone I know. He is someone I’ve known for a long time. Should I ask why he is staring at me? What if he denies it? Seriously, I SAW you! Maybe he claims he was just spacing out? He wasn’t. Staring is staring. It happened repeatedly and intensely enough that it occurred to me to make sure I was fully clothed.

In high school, staring made sense. Teenage boys stare at teenaged girls, but high school was over twenty five years ago. I’m not a circus freak. Stop staring!

Really, I should be staring at him. What happened ? He used to be fun. He used to know how to relax. He used to have a personality, but we chose different paths: He recreated the “Leave it to Beaver” household with his perfect wife and two beautiful children. I did not select a spouse or give birth. I also didn’t become a completely different person. Maybe he is staring because he recognizes that I’m still me. I haven’t changed. Somehow I missed the chapter about growing up where everyone casts off their younger selves and becomes middle aged stereotypes who follow around behind their spouse saying “yes, dear”.

He is exactly the kind of guy HE used to make fun of.

Ironically, he now looks at me the way I looked at him twenty years ago. The expression is of mixed awe and disbelief, as if the object of attention is so amazing, it seems unreal. Does he wonder how his life might have turned out if he didn’t become someone else’s husband? Is he trying to recapture a sliver of a life he no longer lives? If so, then what he sees truly is unreal, but I know the feeling. It’s that moment, on the cusp of waking from a really good dream. You force your eyes shut tighter to hold on, but at that point, it’s already too late.

Evolving or Moulting?

What do Princess Diana, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, Walt Disney, Sir Richard Branson, Charles Dickens, and Elton John all have in common? Each one of them dropped out before finishing high school, but none of them needed support from Nutrisystem, Tony Robbins, or Garmin to figure out what direction to go in life. How did they evolve into the leagues of the world renowned? People write books, lead lectures, and create reality television shows about the secrets of success, but the real secret is that each path is different.

People change. At least, I believe they are supposed to change as the years slip by. My favorite things to eat as a kid were bacon double cheeseburgers, ice cream sundaes, and donuts. As a teen, I added cheap beer and tequila shots to the list. I played sports through high school, but in college, nothing interrupted my social (drinking) schedule. I developed a temper and felt awful most of the time. Twenty years later, I’m a vegetarian. I don’t drink, and I’ve run three marathons. People find out that I don’t smoke or ingest alcohol or eat meat, but I do run 26 miles for fun and they conjure images of me as a baby knawing on brocolli stalks and running laps around the crib refusing to believe that I wasn’t always this way.

In my case, transformation began as an experiment. By senior year in college, I was actively searching for ways to feel less like crap. To quit staying out until 3am at the bar every night would have been too much to ask, so I gave up fast food. It was amazing how much one small adjustment helped. That step became permanent and the process continued until I subsisted almost entirely on plant matter.

Other issues were handled in a similar fashion:

Problem: 8 hour desk job = extra pounds.

Solution: Tried the gym, didn’t like it. I had friends who jogged, so…after a few weeks, I could shuffle along (I wouldn’t call it running) for three miles, and the pounds started coming off. My sister suggested we run a marathon. I thought she was crazy, but signed on anyway. A year later, I ran across the finish line of my first 26.2 mile race ready to sign up for another. I took to running like I took to eating vegetables. Both did a lot of good with little downside.

My motivation to succeed came from a desire to unearth a better version of myself. But was I evolving or moulting? Did my changes come about because I was expanding into a better version of myself? Or had I begun to shed old layers of crud?

At certain age, we all find ourselves lacking (too ugly, too dumb, too clumsy) and start trying to cover up the bad with clothes or make up, by drinking or smoking, with over eating or under eating, or by trying on identities like Halloween costumes (I’m a jock, I’m a brain, I’m a diva) only to reach a point in life when the costumes don’t fit anymore. Whatever we’ve used to hide our true selves needs to be cast off to find the person we rejected so many years before.

Not everyone gives up fast food and ends up vegetarian. Not everyone starts exercising and becomes a marathoner, and not everyone can be Walt Disney, but everyone has a true self, a better version of you inside that needs to be visited, checked in on, touched base with, tweeted, or IM’d once in a while because that person holds the secrets to success.