Under Milk Wood

How did you come across the book?

Well, it was written as sort of a poetic radio play by Dylan Thomas. Strangely enough it was first performed here in New York City in 1953. He was Welch but, uh… he occasionally came here and he lived here… in fact, he was a terrible alcoholic and he drank himself to death here. There’s a famous pub up in, uh… near the Meat Packing District where he would frequent. Well, anyways, I’ve known about it for many years and I think I probably heard it on the radio when I was a small… young, boy. And I haven’t really read it for a long, long time. So, as I was in the pub the other week I thought, “hmm… I’ll get a copy of ‘Under Milk Wood‘ and read it.

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

It’s really about the kind of individuality and eccentricity of people… and how that should be just love and admired, regardless of any kind of moral judgement. So it’s… it’s pretty amazing; it’s a great read.

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

Well, funny… I would recommend it to anyone, but… my daughter lives here in New York and she’s not a great reader, so first thing I’m going to say to her when she gets home is, apart from reading Raymond Calvel, which I’ve also given her… she must read this. She’s 32 and she’s not been a great reader of fiction… which is her loss so far.

What is a Prospector?

What is a prospector? It’s someone who believes it’s out there; who wakes up every morning, again, and again, and again… and again… believing it’s out there. And then it’s not. Right? It’s not. And he’s standing on the edge of the desert, staring a new days sunrise right in the eye, and he hears that little voice, and that little voice says this… “go ahead… keep walking”. And the sun gets higher and higher, and it’s shining down on him, and it’s really hot, and he doesn’t have any water to drink, and everybody that came with him wants to turn back, and eventually they do turn back… and there he is… and he’s all alone, with the belief that it’s out there. That’s a prospector.

We are all prospectors, ones of our own taking. Our experience, one we have coined as life, entails day after day prospecting; for meanings from our past, for context from our current, and for potential from our future, though the median should be of our only concern. We all have our own visions for what it is we want out of this life, and our own reasons to justify those visions, this serving as a force to live. However, when we catch ourselves falling for illusory prospection, both of the worn and of the uncharted trek, for something outside of our own unique truth, there inly reason for concern, reason for redirection back to our original basis of prospect. It is in these moments of realization that we must turn back to our truth, to our core, to our self, beginning again in pursuit towards a deeper understanding of our own existence, towards becoming more conscious of our own being.

Whereas a prospector by profession canvases the land for areas of opportunity for the excavation of earth’s internal trove, a prospector of life surveys the moments, for the creation and the validation of ones internal vision; again, their vision for their purpose of this life. In this I am not speaking about ones ideal profession nor their moment-to-moment plan of how they will live out their days. Instead, I myself in search, want to learn more and express upon further the fathomless, internal depths of our collective and individual existence; our morals, our beliefs, our values and our motives. It’s easy to think, less so challenging to convince ourselves, that we are all motivated the same, driven by the same promises, chasing the same outcomes, and doing so by the same means; but, we all innately know this to be false, though we may sometimes catch ourselves a part of it. Dependent upon many factors this life exposes us to, be them cultural, spiritual, natural or synthetic, experiences we encounter, our derived meaning from those experiences, and our choices of decision leads us, whether woke to this or not, towards the creation and the living out of our own unique truth. You have one, I have one, we all have one, but even I will admit that sounds limiting; bear with me.

“All we had to do was look. Open our eyes. The gold was wrong, the find too good. Why did no one look? Cause no one wanted to know. We all wanted to believe. Why? It’s been going on for centuries. We all want to believe….”

How many times have we found ourselves in pursuit of the inauthentic? Not due to the pursuits lack of authenticity, for any chase can mean something to one and nothing to another, but due to the routes direction away from our individual align. How many times have we caught ourselves believing that this end, or this ownership or attachment, that this find, will provide us with the feel and the experience we desire? This is not to say that goals achieved nor projects completed fail to bring about a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment, because they do, or rather they can, if these efforts truly matter to us and are extracted from our deepest truth. But, that’s where we can easily become lost, and where most of our feelings of worry and dislocation stem from. We all want to believe that there is a map we can follow, one that will deliver us to our find, and once there, that that find will provide us with our happiness and with our joy. Why do we believe this? Because we want to. We want to believe that it’s easy, that it’s set in stone, that it’s out there waiting for us. Why won’t it be? Because we didn’t look. Instead we have chosen to be fooled by false pursuit before ever opening up in vulnerability to ourselves. Rather than digging deep and finding what candidly aligns with our truth, we drifted, took someones else’s path, found it to be false and started again, only to find this method of search poor in its lead towards ourselves, for the only way to find ones self is to look; to look inside and to be honest with and courageous in the face of our own truth. What is it for you?

“… Don’t let me die out here for nothing…”

Are these detours detrimental to our truth? I would argue not, for I believe they, dependent upon our view of them, facilitate potential for deeper understanding of ourselves with opportune for gain of traction back towards our path; in many respects, they are needed. However, where these detours can turn into derailments occurs in the continuous decisive moments to ignore ones self, falling for the “what should be’s” and ignoring the “what is”. It’s important to understand that this perspective is not based on situation nor circumstance, but instead focused on the individual and their internal being; please do not confuse this with “I am who I am, so I am”, but rather “I am who I am, because I do”. Who we are, what we envision, what we pursue, and what carries meaning for us is found in action, whether by means of force or with a yielding passivity unique to our own reasons, for both can be considered action when meaning of decision is understood. However, be careful what you pursue.

“… I never cared about the money; I cared about the gold…”

Figuratively speaking, but with examples of warranted existence in our lives, money in the aforementioned quote can be viewed as the collectives declared possession worthy of pursuit, whereas gold in this light represents our own unique individual formation of something innate to our selves and righteous in our exploring. Whereas the striving for and attaining of what the majority views as the all encompassing acquisition may lead to moments of external reward and abundance, this same path orients us into position for the destruction of our truth and the disunification of our being; again, be careful what you pursue.

There is no map, there is no guide, and seldom is there actionable and decisive aid, that is unless the route declared is constructed in your own design; in which case, markers towards your find will begin to appear. Still however, remain mindful of your truth. In the same tone, we should not respond to this with feelings of overwhelm, but rather a sense of vigor towards our advantageous turn of now; the prospection of what we as individuals deem worthy of our beings. I will not attempt to provide any relevant succor, for it wouldn’t serve in its intend and I truthfully would not know what to impart. However, there is a truth I believe we all know, but far too often neglect; that our gold is found in the authentic, in the loyal and in the willing, in the connection, in the love and in the appreciation, in the struggle, in the trying and in the failing, in the work, and in the overcoming, all of which are unique in light towards our individual align and towards the earned fruition of our vision. So, why not choose towards the aim of your gold, whatever that is for you? Family, friendship, love, a career, a state-of-mind, a location, health, wealth, some sort of creative endeavor, a cause, a movement, all of the above, etc. The choice is yours, the moment for your avail. And in the end? Good luck! Your area for prospecting is ready for your taking. As we’ve all heard before; fortune tends to favor the bold. So be bold. Be clear however of what that fortune is to you.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

How did you come across the book?

In a thrift shop, I saw it and I thought… well my boyfriend likes this writer so I thought, “OK, this looks like a present for him.” But now, I started it myself!

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

Well… I’ve found interesting this writer; he’s really detailed, you know, with all of the personalities. I don’t know… I think… maybe there just are so many different people… you know… we all have a life.

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

Yeah… I would! I’ve read things before from this writer and… it’s fiction most of the time but still it’s so close to reality… and I think it’s like… I don’t know, it’s… I would recommend it to… hmm… people who are interested in things of the world!

Neil Young on one’s Fervent, Unyielding Search for the Fabled ‘Heart of Gold’

I want to live,
I want to give
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.
It’s these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching for a heart of gold.

With an air of melancholy surrounding his tones entirety, Neil Young momentarily encapsulates the enduring travail of ones search for a treasure in its purest form, a search fed and deceived by the minds’ susceptibility towards yearn. In one of his many depictions of love, Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’ both recites and reflects on a life lived in pursuit of the undiscovered, a token of fabled purity of the song’s naming; a heart of gold. Laboring away in search, expressions of love remain withheld, repressed and hoarded in hope for eventual outlet in the finding of a heart deserved. However, the search remains and time awaits no one: “And I’m getting old. Keep me searching for a heart of gold. And I’m getting old.”

I’ve been to Hollywood
I’ve been to Redwood
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold.
I’ve been in my mind,
It’s such a fine line
That keeps me searching for a heart of gold.

This pursuit has no barriers and chooses to forage rather then to remain idle, impatient and reluctant to receive, instead anxious to find and claim. Our world is vast in sense of its physical traits and in the sense of our human spirit, sub rosa of course to ones selected expressionism. Where one can travel in search for this treasure within the confines of our physical world, the same can be done in the mind with far less restraint and with far more expanse, dependent upon ones perceived attributes towards a heart of this taking and the extent to which their creative imagination can concoct it into reality; unfortunately, a reality only of the mind. There remains a fine line between what we want and what we need, what we envision and what truly exists, more so in the realm of love than in any other facet of our experience. However, obsessed and unyielding with our preconceived notions of this treasure, the search remains and time continues to await no one: “And I’m getting old. Keep me searching for a heart of gold. And I’m getting old.”

Keep me searching for a heart of gold.
You keep me searching and I’m growing old.
Keep me searching for a heart of gold
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.

Resisting the need for acknowledgement of truth, one continues ones hunt, weathered by the journeys lacking return of invested sacrifice, but unwavering to the minds promise of loves holy grail. Keep searching one does, willingly ignoring the love which exists already, bypassing the current gleam of believed to be lesser-in-value treasures for the mining of a longed for, more precious in mind metal worthy of appreciating. Keep mining one does, discarding the nickels, the coppers, the silvers, the still worthy but devalued by the majority’s incognizant appraise, for the one believed to contain what we want, what we need, what we so wholeheartedly convince ourselves will finally be enough. But… the search continues and time, staying true to form, awaits no one: “And I’m getting old. Keep me searching for a heart of gold. And I’m getting old.”

Simply put, a heart of gold does not exist. So easy it is to convenience ourselves that it does, choosing to remain in quest for someone we believe is worthy of our love and who will return that love with the same intensity and style. Remaining delusional to this understanding, we fall for the fairy-tale that someone, somewhere will be exactly what our heart desires, unfortunately turning the search into an outward aim towards someone-else, somewhere-else, ignoring our current love and it’s opportunity for deeper experience which already exists in our lives; a scenario more true now in our world of perceived to be endless options.

Carelessly, we remain in search. Why? Because we have not yet found our heart of gold. Mining wherever we find solace, exposing ourselves to other precious metals, though not of gold, tarnished due to their laxity against the elements, beautiful all the more so given their unique mar, the search continues, the journey thus far overlooked. Why settle for the less valuable while the gold is still out there? Someone-else, somewhere-else, we tell ourselves; that’s why.

We picture this heart of gold waiting for us, wanting to be found as much as our desire to find it, sitting there, only to gleam in response to our presence alone. But, haven’t other metals gleamed before in our presence? This may be true, but not like gold, we convince ourselves, though we have yet to see it.

Neglecting the other metals, we subsequently have chosen to neglect an abundance of affection on the journey, in search for something which does not exist, never truly giving chance to experiencing enduring love. Even if we were to ever find a heart of gold, meaning some attributes align with our version of this, we would find that it is not perfect, for nothing in this life is. Like the other metals, it would be worn, it would be tarnished, and it would carry with it its own unique imperfections, from the beginning never truly possessing the capability of living up to ones expectations of what it should be.

In choosing to search for perfection in love, we have chosen also to not love, for the search will deprive us of the energy needed towards the fostering and growing of what we instead have chosen to neglect. Understanding that a heart of gold does not exist, we can begin to find beauty derived from love in the gleaming of other treasures. Refocusing our outward search for myth inward, towards a love contained in the raw sensations of now, perhaps we can experience and grow along with a love worthy and treasured in its purest form; an imperfect binding of imperfect beings, tarnished, worn and marred, but acknowledged and appreciated.

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For other beautifully crafted perspectives on love, pair this with Van Morrison on Love and its Dynamic Journey and Janis Joplin on the Urgency for Love.

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.

#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

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.