Ticking Away

Awoken, laying in bed the other morning, every breath released I heard a ticking noise, like that of a clock. Honestly, it kind of scared me then, but I laid there listening for it all the more so. Whether real or imaginative, I realized truth in the moment. Every breath brought in and released from is one breath closer towards death. Typically, our natural response to such a thought stirs about momentary existential worry and anxiety about something which we cannot control. However, while engaged in the experience I reflected back to a quote I had come across just days before:

“You are afraid of dying. But, come now, how is this life of yours anything but death? 

– Seneca

Death surrounds us during every moment of our lives, and we experience it daily whether we are attuned to this truth or not. Deaths’ presence can be found in the most common and simplest acts within our days, of which take up a good amount of our time and attention; the eating of food which was once alive, the kissing of our loved ones goodbye leaving to take on the days tasks, the coming to an end of a day lived, the drifting back into sleep at night, and the act of breathing itself. All of these, though different in severity when compared to the actual loss of life, remain indifferent in nature; they all represent loss, permanent or temporary…but still loss.

Though we tend to view death as a negative part of life, one we try to avoid at all costs, it is still going to happen. Instead, we should acknowledge this truth, do our best to understand it, and come to the realization that it is out of our control. Death, no matter its mold, is a part of this world, of our experience, equal to or more so lifelike than any other truth our existence may hold. This should not scare you or bring about worry for it is simply what is; an unavoidable natural phenomenon with meaning bewildered:

“Death, like birth, is a secret of nature.” 

– Marcus Aurelius

Though you may have more behind you than ahead of you, none the less, every breath inches you closer. We can view this as a reason for our despair or, rather a potent force for our claim of life.  Was I listening to the ticking away of my life at that moment? It truly does not matter, for whether I was or not, the fact remains; every breath we are getting closer to the end. So… what will you do with the remaining?

“It is not that we are given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.” 

– Seneca

Do not just tick away, for that would be wasteful of a life intended to be not. For all we know, this life is all we get. Do not fear what you cannot control. Be here now, for the entire concept of future is laid upon an ambiguous string. Again, this should not scare us for it is simply what is:

“The whole future lies in uncertainty. Live immediately.” 

– Seneca

Actualize this and you are free from the burden of failing in attempt for your control of it. However, for basis of anchor, realize that you are in control of one main component of this equation; how you spend your time, how you experience it, is in your hands. Let that provide you with your sense of control. Our autonomy is found in our perspective and there simply exists far too much good and beauty for us to worry about a perceived negative. Instead:

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” 

– Marcus Aurelius

Please, do not just tick away, for you are worthy of much more.

City Reads NYC

P.S. For a healthy daily dose of this type of perspective, I highly recommend everyone to check out Ryan Holiday’s “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.” It has provided me with great thought and insight into a world that tends to confuse.

Additionally, check out DailyStoic.com, which provides Stoic Wisdom for Everyday Life. Another great thought provoking resource.

The Life of Elizabeth I

How did you come across the book?

Well, a long time ago I read another book by Alison Weir called ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII‘… and that was a great book… sort of my first introduction to that period of English history… so I knew she was a good writer, and so when I saw this in a used bookstore I picked it up. It kind of continues within the same period… well, there’s one other book in the middle between these two called ‘The Children of Henry VIII‘, but… I mean… if you know the basics of what happened then it’s not that hard to follow along; I’m planning on reading all three!

So far, what perspective have you gained from this book?

Hmm… perspective? Well, its mostly about Elizabeth and I’m in the very beginning. So, I guess… how early experiences affect one’s outlook… her childhood was, to put it mildly, not particularly secure and not particularly pleasant. She was delegitimized and then legitimized again…. she was the prisoner in the tower and then became the Queen of England. So I guess what I’ve learned so far… well actually, it seems to have given her, you know, she kept her own council for the rest of her life and was wary of revealing emotion… that was actually good for her, but I think it also gave her some other things that made her a great Queen… but I wonder if it also didn’t make her somewhat unhappy… later on.

Would you recommend it, and if so, to who and why?

I would recommend this to anyone who likes English history… I’d recommend this book… actually, I’d recommend the ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII‘ because this is one of those subjects that a lot of people have heard about and… there was this show, The Tudors, which was on a while ago… and obviously, you know, it kind of follows the history… but this pretty much tells you what happened in chronological order and makes you… if you read ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII‘… I mean it’s really a popular history book… it’s not a scholarly work, but it’s accurate enough and it’s just a really good book. Anyone interested in history should read that book. Generally, I recommend anyone to educate themselves in English history, because to a degree this country is an extension of Great Britain… a successor to some of its traits and so fourth. So, yeah, I definitely recommend this book, the author, and the author’s other books.

Van Morrison on Love and its Dynamic Journey

The journey’s longer than

I thought my love.

There’s lots of things

Get in the way.

But every time I think of you

You just steal my heart away.

For a world currently obsessed with instant gratification, a false-sense of the existence of immediate wisdom and the impatience towards authenticity, Van Morrison’s “Steal My Heart Away” reminds us all that the road is longer than we may think, the journey longer than we may sometimes believe; slow down. Simple with his language, Morrison acknowledges the longevity of life (The journey’s longer than I thought my love…), captures its struggles and toil (There’s lots of things get in the way…), and openly succumbs to vulnerability in the company of love (But every time I think of you, you just steal my heart away).

Just like the sunshine after rain

I’ll come.

To be with you will save the day.

‘Cause I know

When I’m with you again

You just steal my heart away.

Like the sunshine after the rain, the returning of an oceans’ wave after retreat, the inhale of breath after exhalation, life is dynamic, love all the more so. Presence with love is vital but this is often learned from times of its absence, innately equivalent to the aforementioned traits of our physical world. Such observations further express the dynamic nature of life and of love; no sunrise will ever look the same, no wave will ever hug the shore as the one before it, and no breath will ever bring about the same sensation of life as its prior. Where there once was, there is no more, but it will return, only different then before.

There is no one way to define love or its presence, for we all feel and express, gain and lose, want and need it in our own unique way. However, “Steal My Heart Away” reminds us of love’s one enduring truth; acceptance. As versed, the journey is longer than we thought; accept and endure. Lots of things get in the way; accept and overcome. One day, someone will steal your heart away, and whether they remain present in your life or not; accept and, most importantly, love.

The reoccurring truth here is you must first accept, then follow that acceptance with action. Moreover, this can be seen and experienced simply by observing the world around you; the physicality of our world is built upon the same substance of which love is. However, in the case of our human experience, the nature of the subsequent action is left to its maker; you. But remember this, to always love, for it is the only way to accept anything in this life. Even if you do not receive the same love in return, which is a hard determination in itself paired with ambiguity and assumption, the importance and the power of love far outweigh the bitterness of its opposite. Think… what would become of the world if the sun never returned after the rain? What for the ocean if it decided never to come back after a waves retreat? What would happen if your lungs refused to fill with air after exhalation? And… what to you if you choose to never love again after its departure?

As the stoics like to put it, ‘Amor Fati‘: love of fate; love of one’s fate: love of what happens. If you let it, our world tells you what happens. The sun leaves to return, the ocean pulls away to once again roll in, and the breath leaves us so we can breathe again. 

For the sake of expressing this perspective on love in a more musically inclined and contextually relevant fashion, to further quote Van Morrison:

If my heart could do my thinking

And my head begin to feel

I would look upon the world anew

And know whats truly real.

Love is real. Continue to love,

City Reads NYC

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To enjoy this beautifully crafted song, listen here:

#JustFinished: Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning”

Early this past Saturday morning, sitting outside Ridgewood’s ‘Boulangerir Patisserie’ coffee shop, in what seemed to be the first sunny day of Spring for the City of New York, I finished one of my current reads; Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning.” I will not attempt to generalize or to depict the weight of which this book holds inside of itself, for my attempt to do so will not serve the book, the author, nor the moment in time from which it comes the justice and the respect it deserves. Below however, I will share with you a few passages from its bindings which resonated in me deeply emotional connections with my currently evolving, yet growing, perspective on life, paired with brief interjections of my own undertake. Enjoy…

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what a man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

Though we may sometimes fool ourselves into believing that what we want is in fact a life free from suffering and from toil, in actuality what we yearn for is the ability to overcome whatever struggle we are presented, for on the other side of this overcoming is a stronger, more resilient, beautifully worn version of ourselves. This act of overcoming brings about meaning but is also derived and endured for the meaning upon which we place on it… ourselves.

If architects want to strengthen a decrepit arch, they increase the load which is laid upon it, for thereby the parts are joined more firmly together. So if therapists wish to foster their patients’ mental health, they should not be afraid to create a sound amount of tension through a reorientation toward the meaning of one’s life.

The meaning of our lives are not always presented to us; In fact, I would argue they never are. We do not simply stumble upon what it is we want in this life, but rather on the contrary, we create the lives we want based upon experiences, struggling, failing, overcoming, and placing meaning upon which what we want to place meaning to. Think about that. What is life if we do not place value upon our own meanings? I am aware of the “stumble upon” moments in our lives which do in fact lead to some sort of deeper understanding of the world around us and of ourselves, but it is still the individual who decides that meaning and learns from it and uses it how they choose.

To achieve personal meaning, he says, one must transcend subjective pleasures by doing something that “points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself… by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love.

Do not fall for the false heroism of individual pursuit, for it is merely a lonely existence placed upon a pedestal, believed to bring about courage and grit but instead leads to isolation and the yearning for connection. We are people, and we need people; it is that simple. This is not to say that there does not exist room for individual pursuits during the duration of our lives, but they shall not outweigh nor lessen the value of the collective, whatever that collective is to you (your family, your spouse, your relationship, a team, a group, a business, a community, etc.). Do not isolate yourself to be alone while forgetting that you are not. We are here to help and to sometimes be helped.

The choices humans make should be active rather than passive. In making personal choices we affirm our autonomy. “A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other,” Frankl writes, “but man is ultimately self determining. What he becomes– within the limits of endowment and environment– he has made out of himself.”

We have all heard the saying that “this life is meant to be lived.” It is… but not in the way we are sometimes blindly lead to believe. This statement does not mean that life will present to us the means to our ends or the points to be reached, it simply means to live your life. Not every day will be great and not every moment one to be remembered, that is if we hold expectations for these to be handed to us; that is not how life works. If we want our lives to consist of days which are great and of moments we want to remember, we must first understand this… that that is completely in our control, determined upon our choices, our actions, and our perspective, all of which are collectively intertwined. Though many times throughout our lives we do not choose the environment nor the situation, we do however chose our reaction and our meaning; let that bring you peace. What we take from the moments which make up our lives, what we subsequently learn from them, is ours; observed, analyzed, reasoned, understood and applied uniquely to our perspective and to our meaning.

I do not know why exactly, but I feel the need to end this with a verse from one of my favorite John Lennon songs, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)“. Though derived from a different time and from a different nature, contextually it makes sense, as most things do in this life if we stop and observe, simply studying the cohesiveness which exists in our universe:

Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

If I had to put a meaning to it and its relevance to my reading of this book, I guess it would be found in the simplicity of the verses tone. “Before you cross the street”… that is to say before you make decisions in your life, think and provide meaning. “Take my hand”… remember you are not alone and your pursuits should not bring about unnecessary isolation. It’s OK to take someones hand; there is more reward in helping others than in selfishly helping ourselves. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”… there is a life to be lived, and what we become falls upon the responsibility of ourselves. Not every moment has to have some sort of philosophical meaning, and that makes life beautiful. The meaning may be thought about later, or it may not. Though I understand the contradictory ending to this, understand that that is OK. Enjoy your life, the highs and the lows, and craft your own meaning, accordingly.

Cheers,

City Reads NYC

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

How did you come across the book?

My husband has read it before… so he told me it was good. It’s a four part series book.

So far, what perspective have you gained from this book?

It’s about two Italian girlfriends who go through life… from when they first meet, when they are in middle to high school and I assume to the end of their lives. It’s very much character work, you go deeply into their lives and you become attached. You can relate to them, their psychology, struggles, self doubt, drive, … The historical setting goes back to the communist and fascist movements in the 50s-60s… you get involved in the political context of those years.

Would you recommend it, and if so, to who and why?

I’ll definitely recommend it to the C-Train riders after a long day at work… because we always need to wait for the train and to disconnect from our world. You are not going to expand your knowledge in a particular topic but you will live each page, you will be in the moment, immersing yourself; it’s an emotional reading. A journey you will embark on.

Giovanni’s Room

How did you come across the book?

Hmm… number one… James Baldwin is one of my favorite authors and poets…and… I read this book first about 18 years ago, recommended from a friend of mine. I grew up in France, so… this book takes place… it’s by an African American author who has lived in France for a long time… who is also, somewhat of a philosopher. It’s about his life’s journey and self identity… both as a man of color but also his sexuality, and being accepted of course in Europe… and his trials and tribulations in the states, also, in comparison to that in Europe. And then his experiences… following his other books… coming back to the states and being apart of the civil rights struggle.

So far, what perspective have you gained from this book?

Well, I just got it again today! But… the reason I am reading it again is because… as I’ve grown as a person and have read many other books, and his books also… and now that his documentary, which we just talked about, came out… I kind of wanted to revisit it… and noticed that this was one of my favorite books. And so, I just kind of wanted to go back to it and see what my perspective would be after… many grays, you know… since 18 years ago.

Would you recommend it, and if so, to who and why?

I highly, highly recommend it to everyone… in all demographic, in all race. It is a book of understanding compassion, especially in the current political climate that we are in.

Viktor Frankl on Suffering and Spiritual Freedom

But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings? Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors — be they biological, psychological, or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?…

In his enduring book, “Man’s Search for Meaning“, Austrian Neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl questions the environmental influence on man and reassures for us the presence of choice we innately possess. Referencing with great detail his and his fellow mans’ time during the Holocaust, within the inhumane and surreal conditions of concentration camp life, Frankl takes you to the lowest depths of human experience. But, upon momentary and subsequent life long observation into this experience, he assures for us the truth and the power of our last remaining individual liberty — spiritual freedom.

… We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms– to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him– mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevksi said once, “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom– which cannot be taken away– that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

Independent of one’s current environment, or suffering, the human experience is largely dependent upon our perspective, a perspective which is instilled through the narrative we create for ourselves. We have choice; we do. We can choose to view our lives as a part of some uncontrollable fate for which we did not create or ask for, and rest assure many times in life things do happen that we cannot control. But, on the contrary, we can also view our lives however we choose to, uniquely crafted and experienced based upon one thing– our last remaining freedom– freedom of spirit.

Understand, no matter what you are going through, no matter how bad we have painted this experience to be, at any given moment there is choice; choice of action, choice of thought, choice of meaning. Place the value upon life yourself, free from external forces in which, again, for the most part, you cannot control. Give meaning to what you want to give meaning to and base that meaning accordingly to the perspective you want. It’s your choice. And, if your suffering is confusing to you at this moment, find peace in this: Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering.