Grasping Gifts

What do I do when I’m afraid of losing something? I grab onto it of course. When I grasp after my life I lose it. So I am told. This speaks to more than my own mortality and physical existence. My life is everything that encompasses my interests. My activities, my pursuits, my words, my sense of happiness; my people, my sensibilities. These are all my life. Now when I critically think about it, (I know you will too) I believe my life is actually mine. On any given day I plan and make decisions, execute them and most of them work out. I move and operate according to what makes me feel like I’m living how I want to live. Even when those plans don’t work out as I intend I am still under enough of my own power to move in a different direction and to counter events through my own agency. Over time, this brings into existence the illusion that my life is in my grasp, that “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.”

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Blessedly, events and other’s decisions often undermine this illusion. Sometimes subtly and over the course of time and sometimes drastic and abruptly. But always effective. When I’m in that process I’m usually not at a contemplative crossroads wondering at the question of control. Either I am fully aware of my “loss” of control, or I am in denial and continue to operate as though the helm were still firmly in my grasp. I’m standing on the bridge of a stricken vessel still calling the shots. It’s really quite funny. It’s like watching a mentally confused man march around like Napoleon–at the forefront his Grande Armée in conquest of the living room.

While funny, it’s also distressing and tragic. It’s so because always these are real events and real people caught up in them. And these events cause so much suffering. And while good has potential to spring from it, suffering is never itself good. As people of hope we must be cautious that we don’t begin to look on the cause itself as carrying goodness. It’s indefensible to champion suffering as something we wish upon ourselves, or others, especially. It brings about conditions ripe for potential, but the conditions are part and parcel of the ruptured and torn nature of our world. But I think I digress.

You’re probably wondering what, if at all, this has to do with gifts. Clearly I am trying to hold onto something that is not mine in the first place. If this life isn’t mine, then whose is it, and why have I been given responsibility of it even though I am not in charge? The answer I think is that it’s all a gift–the gift of the grace of life, as one put it so well years ago. The erosion of that mindset of control can bring about the attitude of gratefulness. Conversely the joy of receiving a gift is lost when gratefulness is absent. This is why those who live under the tyranny of being owed life are most unhappy with life.

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I think the grasp itself is something to focus on. I even wonder if there is something satanic to it. I may control and possess someone, whether a best friend, sibling, a spouse, or a son or daughter. To possess another is not the same as receiving them as a gift. I believe the difference is far and wide because grasping drives us from each other. We lose our lives and we even lose each other. When I consider the truthful agony of living and dying alone, all in a grasp after life itself, it opens the door of a gift I too often take for granted–that of shared life; shared burdens, shared struggles and mutual victories.

I think we must choose to live life this way and welcome and offer our lives to each other, recognizing them as gifts that cannot be taken by force or possessed. The self is the best gift we can offer. Not our expertise or usefulness but our selves. If I can begin to operate under the presumption that all things are gifts–whatever situation, with whichever people, in any event–I may begin to appreciate and move to a love I had not experienced or lived before. If you are unwilling to let go of something, you should probably give it up before you lose it. Maybe you already have.

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Dissonance and Harmony

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It is amazing to me how many distractions and stimuli one encounters throughout a single day. Just to remain an active and vibrant participant in the world, one is assaulted on every level by demands from every corner. Nowhere in history have our attentions been in such demand. The requirement asked by this civilization is totalitarian, in that it demands the whole person and nothing less. It demands attention and obedience to things which aren’t in our best interest, and entice us to go after unsatisfying ideas.

Just consider the way we pursue the idea of happiness: from Covergirl to suburbia and the latest social media trends. Every day seeds are sown. And these seeds eventually come to fruition into ideas and concrete realities in our lives. The gluttony of Image–images of happiness, of wealth, of normalcy, of beauty, value and worth; images of relationship and what love is, what family is, of what man is, and what woman is–these images stimulate our minds, and spur our imaginations into pursuing ideas–and actions, consequently–which have nothing to do with reality. They really concern nothing but fleeting social phenomena–intangible spirits of the age of men.IMG_1854

Just look at how we live: expending our interests on people whom we’ve never met and who do not desire our relationship or friendship. We are always thinking about how powerful or attractive we look in comparison to others, others who are thinking the same thing about themselves. We settle for mediocrity because we’ve never experienced anything but the mediocre. We watch vines and Instagram videos and follow miserable people in Hollywood while we ourselves age and make steps toward death. We are spending more and more time concerned with our own comfort than with the next generation’s wellbeing. We are so worried about our own personal identities that we don’t know who it is we live amongst. Who are they? Do you know them? Get your eyes off yourself! We are sleepers in a fog, trudging onward in tragic dissonance, content to live in our personal ghettos.

Meanwhile unbounded, unexplored territory remains undiscovered. Relationships sit like ships in dry dock, in disrepair and abandon. Personal territory remains like buried treasure–always near the surface but never exposed to the light of day for it to glimmer. Human value everywhere is brimming, but we’re content to sit on our couch or to pursue our mediocre dreams. There is dissonance in the beauty of our words and ideas and the disaster and ugliness–the brutality–of their outworking. In Chekhov’s words, we live badly, my friends.

Are we surprised when people fail to and grow and thrive in this toxicity? Are we surprised at unhappy marriages and broken homes? Are we surprised by relationships marked by severe dysfunction and falseness? Are we surprised that men no longer want to grow up, or that women no longer want to attach themselves to these men? Further, how can we be surprised when this unhappiness, brokenness, dysfunction, and falseness breeds more of the same? Why are we surprised when, after all the in-depth studies have been analyzed, the books written, and the papers reviewed, that people are more miserable, lost and alone than ever before? Our world is a reflection of our inner lives and a consequence of where we have put our treasure. It is a reflection of our spiritual and intellectual health. Do an inventory of yours. Is it a ruin? Is it a declining urban sprawl? A thriving hamlet? A void and faceless suburban development?

fullsizeoutput_1bPursue excellence and things of worth. Build one another up in the same way you want. Help others grow and mature the same way in which you desire. I’m astounded how I forget so much on a daily basis and become distracted by non-sense and substitutions for life and relationship. We must think differently. It is simple but it is not easy. But If we invest into contrary ideas–ideas which cut to the marrow of life–we will not be satisfied with ourselves. We are too often satisfied, not in a content and peaceful sort of way, but in a lazy acceptance. The world pushes people to ‘love’ themselves and accept themselves for who they are as final and complete. ‘This is just who I am’. What drivel. If I truly love myself, I want myself to learn, to stretch and develop into someone who is better attuned to living. If one is living, one must be changing. And one does not change through running away.

However, the sort of development needed to grow doesn’t occur in a vacuum through the sheer force of will. True growth doesn’t occur naturally by default. And it cannot occur in isolation. It does not happen through reading a whole lot of cognitive self-help ideas. It happens when lives mix and mingle. A popular lie is that we must rid ourselves of any baggage and inhibiting responsibilities and grow ourselves–freely. ‘I just have to do what’s right for me’ becomes the mantra to absolve people from their responsibility to face their situation, their actions, and which shields them from the wake of destruction of their choices. There is no freedom in ignoring the responsibility of our choices, actions, and the resulting consequences on others.

So go out and explore this vast, unexplored territory. Take responsibility for it, and begin to love it. Van Gogh said, “what is done in love is done well”. Love–in the sense of agape–is fertile. You will begin to uproot and plant new seeds.