I hope you are all staying as well as you can, and because I know some of you are getting sick regardless or people you know are getting sick and even dying, I also want to express my sincere love and concern.
As we keep ourselves apart, we are in fact united more than ever in any of our lifetimes. I am thinking of you all, as probably you are all in some way thinking of me.
This week Covid touched my life by degrees. A close relative of a colleague died. One of my students self declared possible infection. And I have thus far been keeping what I have felt is a realistically optimistic attitude about our ability to pull through this global crisis, but I have seen in myself signs of the wear of worry.
Today I am pensive and sad, and I want to give space to that and recognize the sadness and worry we are all experiencing to some degree.
I also don’t want to let pass unnoticed the other less unified but no less immense crises going on for people while all our eyes remain on Covid 19. A longtime friend suddenly lost her husband two weeks ago, to an unknown illness. He’s gone all of a sudden, and his wife and two sons left behind must be devastated. I am so inexpressibly sorry for this, and I hope we can all remain as supports for our friends and family and colleagues who are hit with life in other ways, even as we focus on our global-personal concerns about infectious and deadly Covid 19.
And I want to express big gratitude for the people working on the “front lines” as healthcare professionals, grocery store workers, and pharmacy staff. How evident it has become the importance of seemingly humble professions like retail and customer service. All life savers here now. And in times of not-crisis crucial still. Props and thanks. My lifelong friend working in plumbing building supply reminds me as well that so many of our jobs are in fact crucial.
What I hope
In truth, I hope that our unified confrontation with our global/individual mortality gives us a booster growth spurt in compassion and appreciation for each other and the deep understanding of what is truly important in life.
I have faced this reality myself before, and in a word, I believe the most important thing in life is well-being. Even the economy pales in importance to this. Without well-being, everything stops. I hope we can all think about this for a spell.
This is my perspective…
Perhaps unscientific, unfalsifiable, even so, for me everything comes back to well-being one way or another.
I in no way trivialize the real need for economy of resources in service of well-being, but I truly believe it must remain in this place: in service of well-being.
Against all modern globalist logic–that the economy is paramount–research shows the opposite. It shows that living your life with a strong sense of values, experiencing meaning, and prioritizing life outside of work, or at least prioritizing work less enough to have a life outside of economic production and consumption, are what we need most. Even if you derive important meaning and value above and beyond money in your work, this larger life is still vital, primal even.
Four veins continually lead me to this conclusion: research and education, direct mentorship, professional healthcare, and hard personal experience. In truth, I learned this the hard way. I was brought to my knees repeatedly until I got it. I still need to be reminded regularly. This truth got louder and louder until I had no choice but to accept it. There is no escape, which sometimes frustrates the hell out of me, sometimes causes depression.
Why can’t I be healthy living the life I want?
When I find myself unable to work on a painting because I just need to rest for days, WHY CAN’T I BE HEALTHY LIVING THE LIFE I WANT???…
There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. –Oscar Wilde
… but when I embrace my need to surrender to the ultimate importance of my well-being, above and beyond my will for even my passions, I find peace with myself and the world, including the ugly bits, even the really ugly bits. There are some horrific realities in this world that are hard to live in awareness and acceptance of.
Which means… this peace is not happiness in a traditional sense. It is not simple. It is large. It allows me to contain without breaking the hardest things in life, the sharpest pains, and deepest suffering. I am no sage or saint or even amazing human being, and I am not perfect at this, but I have seen and felt a peace with life’s beauties and uglies that is bringing me back to life from the horizon of death.
I read over this paragraph above and chuckle/scoff a bit at how dramatic I sound, but then I think, it would be denial to call it something else. I have in fact been deadly ill a number of times, and my life depends daily on deliberate choices to be healthy.
And this large and not necessarily happy peace is what I reach for every day, and it comes through well-being. It is a circle, when I think about it.
Even though the word “well-being” or “health” sounds simple, in reality it’s not. We often say in expressing concern and value for each other, “Take care.” But what does this really mean? How do we truly take care?
There are of course the basics: nutritious food, sleep, and exercise. This is the easy answer, but even these that we all know are vital to good health get pushed aside and often entirely forgotten when we have a deadline, are caught up in a personal ambition or an intriguing idea, or are simply asked for our attention. Some of us play hard, others work hard, and still others do both. I was this last group.
Since my life changed (wow) five years ago now, I have been told by people that I looked the picture of health and a balanced life. Everyone was shocked that I got so sick. I was doing everything you’re supposed to: working a job personally meaningful and rewarding, regularly training and active in half marathon events, cycling everywhere, painting, and having fun and meaningful relationships with friends and family. I was “squeezing the juice” of life.
The problem lay in that small phrase “supposed to.” My life was a hustle to do everything I was supposed to. I was following all the guides and research and instructions and so on. The only thing I wasn’t really following was my own quiet inner wisdom as a living creature. In fact, in doggedly living this “supposed to” life, I was running from that inner wisdom. I was basing my notion of well-being and taking care of myself on doing, not being, on externally created expectations that I was endeavouring to satisfy, not my own ultimate needs and values.
It sounds obvious now, but in the midst of living the life I was supposed to, it seemed unnecessary or distracting to slow down and attune myself to the wisdom of my body and subconscious mind, and ultimately, I was close but no cigar.
I fully subscribed to these ways of being. There is nothing inherently wrong with them. The problem lay in not aligning these with my inner wisdom, and at bottom not taking the time to really value just being. We are human beings, not human doings, in the end, but I had assigned my value to my actions less than my inherent existence. Contrary to some points of view, I had to really accept at bottom the fact that I did not have to prove that I deserved existence. That existence is value in and of itself.
While living upon the death of other creatures (both plants and animals) confers a value on my life that I am often overwhelmed by, I have realized that not acknowledging that value does disservice and disrespect to those who die so that I can live. Why am I alive? How do I spend this value conferred upon my life by virtue of that life’s existence alone?
Comic relief interlude: eight measures
This reminds me of a funny fridge magnet I have. On well-being and the good life:
The philosophy of living a good life
Living a Kantian good life almost killed me. Watch a short video here on Kant’s good life. Crazy how an idea almost killed me. Mind blown, but I guess this is textbook mental illness. Thanks Kant! Jerk 😉
Then, embracing something like that slippery nihilist Nietzsche and his ironically life-affirming approach to the good life is what saves me on the regular. Watch this short video for a look at Nietzsche’s thoughts on well-being.
Whaaaaaaaat? God is dead???
God is dead. –Nietzsche
Talk about a person who knows how to stir sh!t up.
For the record, this statement is a metaphor. We can’t take it too greatly to heart. It means that a good life depends upon tapping into your own wisdom, and not relying entirely on external prescriptions, even the wisdom religions offer. We need to find truth within ourselves, for even the true wisdom that religions offer falls flat without that internal context. It can even become distorted to the point of serious illness without true inner context.
That is what I believe and find to be true, and is also why I’m not religious, even though I see and applaud the value in them. What I have always needed most was to develop an inner knowing, not do what others think is best for me. Sometimes there is truth in this. Sometimes there is not. I take what I like and leave the rest, and in doing so, I get better and better.
I also find it funny as I again try to make sense of my experience in the world that it is Nietzsche who is the greatest help here. Roll out from your center. Yes, do.
This is me rolling out from my center, singing karaoke like my life depends on it. Haha
I do me. You do you. We be awesome.
What I see in these two famous thinkers is a common assumption that we can’t live in harmony with or in service of our communities AND ourselves at the same time. As usual, I believe it is both/and, not one or the other, in this case: me or my community. I believe that we best serve our communities by connecting with, developing, and caring for ourselves first and foremost, while it is also true that sometimes the best medicine for ourselves is caring for others. I’m not a philosophical expert. My understanding of these ways of viewing and approaching life is quite basic, and is not really the point anyway, interesting as it is.
The point is that it has possibly never been more obvious than now how important taking care of ourselves is to our communities. If I don’t protect myself from exposure to the novel coronavirus, I put others at risk, countless others. The well-being of others depends on me taking care of my own, and my well-being depends on others taking care of their own. Another fascinating paradox.
Georgia, you were always on my mind…
Once more down the rabbit hole of the internet has me wondering what the point of all this was…
Ah yes, all this is to say that I’m thinking of you all as I once again think of my own mortality. I am historically more afraid of living (of failing, or even scarier, of succeeding) than of dying, but still, once you stare death in the face, it has your attention whether you like it or not, I find at least.
The hanged man
It is hard right now to create, but it is ever more important. I say this as I am still in bed at 6 pm. I feel like the hanged man, not frustrated but temporarily suspended as I contemplate what is happening and not happening.
It is hard to carry on living with vitality and verve, but it is ever more important. It is hard to think of myself when so many others are suffering and dying, but it is ever more important.
Important moments to be silent
And so today I will take some important moments to be silent with myself and hear what that innate wisdom has to offer, and to honour others as I do myself.
We will come through this, and even if we don’t, even those who don’t will become the lifeblood of what is to come. Possibly the world will be forever changed. I hope we can take up the challenge to make that a world in which we continually make peace with ourselves first and then carry that outward.
This is the blessing I wish to share today and often.
Tips and tricks for a more connected and healthy, less driven life:
- Neuroscientist, psychologist, and Buddhist thinker Rick Hanson has made a huge difference in my quality of life: check him out here.
- A new but intriguing discovery for me is Dawson Church and EFT (tapping), which sounds hokey AF, but it’s evidence based, and Church is no greasy salesman but a highly reputable scientist. Check it out here.
- While it has its limits and is no replacement for simply getting to know and experiencing oneself intimately without judgment or efforts to make practical change, CBT does have its place as well, in my experience late in the self-improvement game. For a peak, perhaps starting on Psych Central might work: click here.
- One of my favourite stretches of work was Jungian dream analysis. Fascinating and rewarding. For a look, here is a Shrink Rap Radio podcast with Dr. Dave featuring three Jungian analysts doing dream analysis.
- I benefit A LOT from guided meditations. I can’t recommend it enough. Very Well Mind recently published an article highlighting 21 great meditation podcasts: check it out here.
Please share you.
As always, I would love to hear what works for you, and your thoughts and experiences right now on what is happening. Please send an email or post a comment if you’d like to share. I hope you will.
How can I help?
I’ll close by saying that as an artist, I am still open for “business.” If there is some way in which I can support you with my skills and insights as an artist, please don’t hesitate to let me know.