Better than Myself

(Note: this is the first “song” I have ever written. There is no music for it, just that the process and structure is more song-like and the styling a bit different than I normally write with – such is the reality of momentary inspiration)

You walked into my life, unexpected,
And made my insides feel like dancing.
Your eyes were like looking in a mirror;
Felt like running from my reflection.

How can you know me?
Where have you been?
How did you find me?
I found you within.

Sometimes you know me better than myself.
See my fears and hear my excuses.
It scares me the way you know what I need;
Know the lessons I haven’t learned yet.

How can you know me?
Where have you been?
How did you find me?
I found you within.

A moment in time so blissful today,
The future is but a great mystery.
Whatever may come, I’m thankful for us,
This connection so few get to share.

How can you know me?
Where have you been?
How did you find me?
I found you within.

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Freedom to Choose

I learned long ago that I cannot control many circumstances in my life, and therefore that I should choose to be happy regardless of the conditions that surround me. The essential lesson was around controlling other people and their choices. This was a difficult lesson to learn.

From the age of about 18 until my 32nd year, I have dedicated myself to people I have chosen to be romantically involved with. Fourteen years have been filled with 3 long relationships, a smattering of shorter but still significant, torrid romances and peppered with a few ephemeral yet passionate experiences in between.

My three longest standing relationships involved people with pretty heavy emotional baggage, and I was convinced I could help them attain happiness and peace in their lives. In the end, I wasn’t able to help them change, and ended up hurt and, in my own insecurity, believing that somehow their unhappiness was related to me. I had a very self-centered perspective of my relationships and the choices of others.

I am forever grateful for those relationships – I have no regret. These relationships I entered trying to act as a counsellor ultimately served to teach me great lessons about myself and the changes I needed to make instead.

Although I am generally an optimist, I am also a chronic thinker. I analyze situations five different ways, slicing and dicing to try to comprehend others’ behaviour or anticipate the outcomes of my own choices. Of course, this type of scrutiny and expectation usually results in disappointment. Combine all of this with the human need to be loved, and we find fourteen-plus years of great blessings and also challenge. To me, the recurring incidence of similar situations or outcomes in one’s life is an evident indicator of a lesson that needs to be learned. The lesson I’m now finding ahead of me is not related to being joyful despite others’ choices, but rather finding joy in each moment without needing to seek my crystal ball.

I have long believed that circumstances or relationships occur for a reason. A few times throughout my life, people have entered and brought with them a great whirlwind of wisdom. A small number of those people have remained in my life long-term, popping in and out at what always appears the right time for one or both of us. Despite sometimes years in between reunions, and with the intensity and abundant trust of a lifelong bond, the relationship will bloom for a short time and one or both of us will walk away renewed and constructively changed.

Recently, I made a new friend who, in the span of only a week, has had a profound impact on me. This person has begun the patient journey of continuing to teach me a lesson I have been learning most of my adult life to date. It relates to that struggle between heart and mind.

I am the only barrier to my happiness. I may put up walls between myself and the great possibility of joy. I might let the fear of tomorrow get between me and today’s elation. Ultimately, if I am self-aware and willing to accept that the only person I can control is myself, then I can choose freedom. Freedom from being obstructed by emotional responses to the choices of others…..freedom from circumstantial joy…and most importantly, freedom from my own fears. This is all easier said than done, but a chosen journey nonetheless, perhaps lifelong.

“Man is free the instant he wishes to be” ~Voltaire

Challenging Love

There was a time when life was pure and simple. Each day was a new discovery, and one sought with innocence and without fear of failure, rejection or heartbreak. Those childhood years, while recollected easily by most of us, are left behind with little remembrance of what it truly felt like to be so free.

As adults, it is perhaps impossible for us to ever be that innocent and liberated again, and probably there are biological imperatives surrounding this. With every disappointment in our lives, we learn to build walls and to convince ourselves to be careful, to be suspicious, to avoid vulnerability. Indeed it is important to be careful sometimes and certainly, vulnerability isn’t synonymous with self-preservation; an activity we flock to so naturally.

I’ve called myself an open book many times in my life. I’ve also frequently been told I shouldn’t be one. I make myself vulnerable in all sorts of relationships, and you can be damn sure I’ve had my heart injured more than once. Let me say that in no way is this an attempt to draw comparisons or assume I’m better or superior to anyone, but I’m personally happy I live my life that way. To me, healthy, successful relationships are founded in part on transparency and open communication, and then built on understanding, empathy and trust (among other things). To leave myself open to hurt is to also leave myself open to being understood. To open the pages of my heart to be read by others is to allow them to know and comprehend my story; where I’ve come from, where I am at present, and where I’m headed – at least as much as is within my ambit. Expressing my raw emotions and impressions to others allows me to feel authentic in a moment or inside of the expanse of an entire relationship, knowing confidently I’ve not held back any part of myself. I’ve given the relationship as much chance at thriving as possible, by genuinely pouring out my heart. I’ve poured out kindness and love on another person both by focusing on all the wonderful things I see in them, but also by pointing out areas where the relationship could be healthier. I open myself up to my intrinsic desire to change the things about myself that I can; wanting to improve myself and make the relationship better, recognizing I can only choose to change myself.

I’m not willing to risk a life of regret and misery, resenting those who have hurt or disappointed me. I’d rather thank them for the lessons they helped me learn. I’m emphatically unwilling to settle for a mediocre or merely content life rather than one that is overflowing with joy, satisfaction and even opportunities for astonishing growth fueled by pain. I’m loath to even consider the possibility of sharing my life in the context of a romantic relationship with someone who doesn’t push my life over the edge and into an experience of love, elation, discovery and evolution that I cannot experience by myself. Sure, love comes easily to me and I find myself feeling love towards strangers sometimes. But mind-blowingly passionate, expansive and selfless love is something rare and worth searching out and waiting for. I no longer believe in ‘one true love’ but I do believe that two people who are right for each other will mutually desire and deliver each other unsurpassed ecstasy and make one another continuously strive for more – more love, more joy, more wisdom, more transformation, more achievement, more exploration, MORE.

Of course, I remember many happy childhood moments with my family and the many blessings I was bestowed. However, I don’t recall what was going on inside me during my earliest formative years. I would imagine, though, that when I’m able to quiet my mind, accept my circumstances, and flow forward with a smile, that peace I feel is probably similar to the innate peace that lived in me as an innocent child. The immense love I’m able to feel in my heart is probably a reflection of the love that filled me to the brim as a youngster, unafraid of how vulnerable it could cause me to be. I imagine that the desire I have to make others happy is something preserved still from that time, when love was paramount and still unblemished.

My goal is to seek such unbridled passion, such courageous love, and to continue to regard life’s struggles as gifts, no matter how hard they might make me push myself. From another perspective, I’ll endeavor to see others as innocent, grown up children, like me, who have just been hurt by life and thus to remember that when they hurt me, it is probably not with that intention. Finally, I challenge myself to draw from within me the innocent, fearless love of a child, combine it deliberately with the wisdom of an open-minded, optimistic adult and accept the realities of life’s disappointments with a smile.

Weeds

I just recently read an article in the current spring issue of The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine that made me think about something we most often take for granted: weeds. It is a photo essay of stunning quality; its images moved me in a way that perhaps you might find strange. It begins with a formidable photo that really looks more like a painting, one I’d purchase without a second thought. The image is of papery, fiery poppies lining a cracked roadway. A sea of teacup blossoms, soft teardrop buds and seed pods waiting to ejaculate life across their expanding lea.

The essay speaks of humanity’s desire to abolish the weed from our perfect little gardens and how yet our world would be much less colourful and in some cases, less fruitful and healthful, if it were not for those plants we call invaders. We see weeds as plants that are ugly, unwanted, or simply growing where they ought not to be. I desire not to be seen as someone that unnecessarily creates metaphors simply for the sake of them, but I truly felt impassioned to draw some simple links between my life and the weed. And certainly, I could turn this into a social missive, discussing the way we classify people as unwanted or undesirable to suit societal ideals, but I won’t.

What I will instead relay is how, in experiencing this essay, I was struck by the image of a lone chamomile plant stubbornly surviving in a dark subway. I closed my eyes and imagined the sweet scent the chamomile blossom emits, and the lovely, calmative tea it gives us. Then, I was moved by a winter photograph of a tenacious bramble bush pouring over a fence, so abundant it reminded me of the strength and fullness with which a river flows over every rock and outcropping in its path, unrestrained. And finally, a photo of ash seedlings, sheltering between abandoned railway tracks; where humans no longer see utility, the minimalism of nature finds solace.

And so, it occurred to me that so many times in my life, circumstances have seemed imperfect, untimely and ugly. I’ll spare you the details of those hurts and disappointments, but I think many of us know that if we are wise, we’ll look back upon difficult situations in our lives and attempt to draw strength and opportunity from them. And even as I struggle now with arduous, complicated situations and decisions, I recognize these occasions are really a gift. All of those trials have provided me with a realistic perspective of life and its sometimes inconvenient circumstances; the strength I own in my mind and spirit to conquer them; the relationships that have been built in the process; the innumerable joys that have ultimately resulted after the worst storms. As I read the article, I was reminded that this same poppy, purposefully plowed out of farmers’ fields, has prevented much human suffering through its medicinal properties. Then, I contemplated the comforting yet haunting imagery of Flanders Fields, from whence it became the inspiration for a timeless poem. What more strikingly immortal place could a weed occupy?

I’m in no way indicating I’ll allow weeds to overrun my garden, but I will say that I will look at them differently when I struggle to pull their deep roots out of the soil in which they cling so obstinately. As the article clearly states, weeds are our most successful plants. They live abundantly in some of the most desolate, tortured and extreme living conditions. They keep trying, despite our best efforts to eradicate them, to live richly in the face of adversity, and some of them manage tremendous beauty in the process.

You can read the essay here and the photo gallery is viewable, but you’d be remiss not to pick up the magazine to see the full sized photographs in the set if they interest you.