There is no shortage of people, books, movies, and advertisements around to remind us that we live exceedingly boring and unfulfilling lives. The model you follow on Instagram taking snapshots of them lounging on a balcony in Ibiza, the author extolling you to travel to every major European city to become more interesting, the Mercedes ad reminding you that the new A-Class model will give you a riding experience unlike anything you have ever felt in your 1992 Subaru. The modern world excels in reminding us at every turn of just how much we are missing out on.
Naturally, we begin developing, at first a suspicion then later a conclusion that our lives are intolerably bland, monotonous, and dull. Soon our dissatisfaction mutates into fear, fear that we will live and die unfulfilled, that we have only experienced at most, a second or third rate life.
Our fear of missing out arises because we have tacitly accepted a way of looking at the world that we may never have said aloud: the good life is one that it is the quantity of experiences that makes life worth living, not their quality. The more we have and the more we do, the happier we will be, or so the thinking goes.
It would benefit us to remember that we simply cannot have it all. For every choice we make, we disclose the possibility of making others. Life is, essentially, always a trade-off of possibilities. If you wear the blue tie, you simply cannot wear the green one (although, you will be better off not wearing a green tie anyway). Ties are one thing, but this holds true elsewhere. In entering a monogamous relationship, you disclose the possibility of being with other people. This is not necessarily oppressive; it is up to each of us to decide whether what we choose is worth all the things we can no longer choose as a result. But the cheater is one who suffers from a crippling sense of FOMO. They are unable to be satisfied with their choice because all they see are choices they can longer make.
Contentment is found by focusing on what we do have, rather than on what we don’t. Happiness is not reserved exclusively for the rich and famous. It is a blessing that can be as graciously bestowed as you enjoy a cup of tea with your grandma as it can enjoying a party with celebrities. We would benefit by reminding ourselves that obscure books can be more beautifully written than New York Bestsellers, that a quiet walk along a local lake can be just as enchanting as the cobblestone streets of Paris, and that talking to a child may be infinitely more interesting than talking to a model with millions of followers.
We will find contentment when we stop comparing one experience with another. Anything in life, from staring at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre to staring a tree in your backyard can be immensely gratifying if we take the time to appreciate it. The point is, it is not things which make life worth living, it is our attitude that does.
With patience and a mind no longer comparing one thing with another, we will find the flutter of a butterfly through our bedroom window the most mesmerising of experiences we could have, and will therefore, not feel like we are missing out on anything.
In our society, nothing is quite as it seems. This is not nihilistic philosophy or conspiratorial thinking, but rather simple acceptance of the fact that there is so much pretence everywhere we look. The fake smiles of service industry employees, the public relations of large corporations promising us that they really care, the businesspeople hurrying around the city in suits pretending to be strict and proper but who really want to do nothing more than eat Doritos and watch Seinfeld. The previous model phone now with curved edges and sold as a new phone, the same trickle-down economic theory promoted as cutting-edge economics, the same exploitation of workers but with a friendlier corporate smile. Added to this we have plastic plants as plants without plants, Astroturf as grass without grass, non-alcoholic beer as beer without beer, and steroids as muscles without muscle.
In a world of ever increasing proliferations of fakery and pretence, from the manufactured perfection of social media profiles and scripted ‘reality’ TV, to manipulative advertising and political sophistry; nature becomes a sanctuary of truth in an increasingly fake world.
With a properly attentive eye and open mind, there is much to learn from the humble tree. It does not pretend to be something it is not. It does not tell you that it doesn’t need the sun to nourish it, or the soil to hold it; that it does not enjoy the whistle of birds or the cool embrace of the wind. It simply is, in all its magnificent glory, without a single drop of pretence or superficiality. And in this, there is a wonder strikingly lacking from our society: the splendour and confidence that comes from simply being without pretending to appear as something else.
In part, this explains the joy in watching children play. They might not be doing anything we would consider particularly interesting. They may just be drawing a happy face in the sand, stepping on an especially crunchy leaf, or admiring a bird on a branch. But what makes these activities of children so enamouring is the complete lack of self-awareness and pretence with which they do it. Like a bee tickling pollen out between petals, or a tree reaching for new splinters of light, the child simply is, without needing to pretend to be one thing or another.
In a meditation penned in 1876 on the honesty of trees, the poet Walt Whitman wrote,
How strong, vital, enduring! How dumbly eloquent! What suggestions of imperturbability and being, as against the human trait of mere seeming. Then the qualities, almost emotional, palpably artistic, heroic, of a tree; so innocent and harmless, yet so savage. It is, yet says nothing.
In a language beyond words, the natural world speaks with honesty unmatched in our incessantly superficial and mediagenic society. The contrast between being and seeming which Whitman observes in trees is precisely what Hannah Arendt would capture a century later in her work The Life of the Mind, in eternal conflict between being and appearing.
Through social media we continually gravitate to a way of life where visibility becomes the pre-condition for existence. We no longer exist unless others see us. In this world, we exist only through the eyes of others, through our Facebook and Instagram profiles, becoming the ‘second-hand’ people Krishnamurti lamented. We change how we speak, how we walk, how we dress and in turn, how we think, in order to appease the imagined standards of people around us, people who also, unfortunately, are doing precisely the same.
Among the many lessons of nature, from the essential interrelationship of everything, the importance of harmony, and the necessity of tenderness and compassion; one of the most important lessons, and one we are in most dire need of learning, is how to be authentic and honest versions of ourselves. When we stop obsessing over how others may perceive or judge us, and focus on being instead of fretting about how we are appearing; we take the courageous leap into a new way of living, one that is at once more honest and graciously authentic.
Like Stockholm syndrome of the ego, we can grow to depend on and even cherish parts of ourselves which are crippling, harmful, and even self-destructive. Subservient for so long, we forget we can live differently. It isn’t that we don’t want to be happy, a part of us certainly does, but a more powerful part of us cannot let go of what is making us unhappy. In a way, it is not a lack of will power, but rather a lack of imagination that keeps us tied to what harms us.
For those of us who are chronically depressed, anxious, angry, or avoidant, it is not that we fail to see happiness as something worthwhile, or that we do not think leaving our depressed or anxious minds behind is a worthy goal. Rather, we are unable to because (with always different reasons why) so much of our agency and self-identity is tied up with being depressed, anxious, angry or avoidant that we feel we cannot lose them without losing ourselves in the process.
After so long, being unhappy comes to be seen as natural, normal, as ‘the way things are’. Deviating from this state would be scary. We cannot imagine a life outside of the cage. It is reminiscent of slaves given the opportunity of freedom, would not run away. Never knowing a life outside of slavery, they failed to see their slavery as such and therefore, saw no reason to escape. When we become enslaved to our depression, anxiety, or fears for so long, we begin to forget there was once a life without them.
Making matters worse, both slave and slaver are within us. We are punished and also see ourselves as worthy of punishment. In such states, it becomes appropriate and entirely reasonable to tell ourselves that we do not deserve to be happy. Someone as pathetic and wrong as us should not be allowed to traverse the lofty summits of joy. We must remain in the murky depths of despair where we belong.
For all the pain, misery, and conflict that come from defining ourselves in such a way, when we define ourselves as unhappy or anxious, or depressed or avoidant human beings, we are doing something very powerful. We are making statements about who we are as people. What we then tell ourselves is that despite how lowly and miserable we might be, at least we are something! It might be a depressed or anxious or avoidant person, but being something terrible is at least better than being nothing.
For those of us who are chronically depressed, anxious, angry or avoidant (or any other type of miserable condition we are afflicted with), the call to be happy can be utterly frightening. While we can intellectually understand that happiness is worthwhile, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels unsettling, even terrifying. It is something we have never done before and we have a tendency to prefer a problem that we know to a solution that is unknown. What will happen to us if we allow ourselves to be happy? We will no longer wall ourselves up, enclose ourselves, and put barriers between ourselves and others. The bars of our cell are seen as protecting us from danger rather than what they are: bars keeping us trapped within ourselves.
It takes incredible courage to unlock the cell (because you have had the keys all along), walk beyond the bars and allow yourself to be happy. It is easy to be depressed or anxious or avoidant, especially if this is all you have ever known. The courageous first step out of the cell can be daunting and especially frightening and it helps to have a dear friend you can trust, or even a psychologist, to walk with you and to remind you when you forget or try to crawl back into the familiar cage of self-punishment that you indeed, truly deserve to be happy.
While a first date may be considered successful if your partner considers you witty, charming, intelligent, and despite your earnest protests to the contrary, good looking; the most important indicator of a successful first date is connection.
It is unfortunately the case that much of our lives are – to perhaps too great an extent – quite superficial and that we rarely connect as humans with open hearts and open minds. We talk, but do not communicate. It is not for nothing that communicate shares an etymological root with commune.
While we may not reveal much of who we are to people we know well, it is especially so when we begin dating. We keep much of ourselves hidden (for fear of rebuke) and pretend to be calm and composed even when troubles in the home or heart leave us feeling confused and in need of a good hug.
Seeing as the first date is somewhat an audition for the emotional capacities of the soul on the other side of the table, first dates are an opportunity to ignore a tendency towards obfuscation and be honest in a way that we rarely are about who we are.
With this in mind, it becomes clear that questions about what someone does, what they like, or what is their favourite film or book, are focusing energy in the wrong direction. While they may be stepping stones in conversation, they say next to nothing about who someone really is; their passions, desires, regrets, dreams and fears.
We often play on the surface of life, but truly getting to know someone requires depth. The first date requires us to start thinking and speaking differently. We need to learn the art of the date.
We want someone who will know (and respect) us for who we are deep down, but that is only possible if we ask the right questions. Questions such as,
When was the last time you cried, and why?
We focus incessantly on the positive aspects of one’s life. But everyone experiences pain, grief and sorrow; they just often keep it to themselves because it doesn’t get so many likes on an Instagram post. Asking such a question shows that you aren’t so tawdry and banal, and are interested in the part of your date that they don’t often show to the world.
If you lived your life a second time, what would be one thing you would have done differently?
In asking this, you show a concern not just for what is the case, but for what could have been. It shows an interest not in success, but in failure, regret, and disappointment. In drawing out the conflict between who someone is and who they wished they could have been, you will learn more than you ever could have asking about their book collection or Spotify playlist.
What frightens you?
Everyone appears (at least on the first date) infinitely more composed and self-possessed than we are. This question is an invitation to draw out the weakness that lies buried within all of us and to reflect together on how we may share the same fears and insecurities.
Do you want more from your life? What is it?
We all yearn for something more than what we have. We are, by nature, creatures of thirst, striving to reach new goals, ideals, standards, and new versions of ourselves. In asking this, you demonstrate an interest in what makes your date’s life meaningful. Nobody is fully content, and in finding out what someone considers as lacking, you get a good indication of what is important to them.
These questions seem depressing. But, in another way, they are attempts to dive deeper into another’s soul. It is a misjudgement to think that a question about crying will put someone off just because it is about tears rather than rainbows. Perhaps that will put some people off, but would you want to date someone so superficial? It is significantly more rewarding to be emotional yet insightful, than mildly amusing yet dull.
At the end of your encounter, your date may turn to you and inform you that they have never been asked so many insightful questions about who they are as a person before. What you have demonstrated is that you are interested, not in the surface play of life, but in whom they are as a unique, complex, human being with wants, wishes, desires, and regrets.
The unfolding origami of the soul becomes more enchanting with each layer that is peeled away, revealing the complex interconnecting forms which make us who we are. There is nothing more seductive than someone who is keenly interested in getting to know who we really are as a person. It is something infinitely more seductive than money, power, fame, or looks.
The beauty of these questions is in the act of self-revelation and in finding that your date at the other side of the table is still there, listening attentively and sharing their own stories, accepting you for the humble, awkward, damaged person you are, appreciating how you extend the same generosity to them.
Some other questions:
- What qualities in your friends do you admire most?
- When you think about your childhood, what do you feel was missing?
- What are you addicted to?
- What are you worried about at the moment?
- Do you think the people around you know you for who you really are?
- Do you ever feel like an impostor?
- What do you want to change about yourself?
- What part of yourself do you never want to lose?
- When you think about what makes a good life, what comes to mind?
In one sense, we eat too much. We eat so much food that people are more likely to get sick from issues related to over-eating than under-eating. In the 2017-2018 financial year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a report finding 67% of adults were overweight or obese, a figure likely greater today than when the report was released.
Yet, in another sense, we do not eat enough. Or rather, we will never be able to eat enough because what we really want is not something we will ever be able to obtain through food.
Josef Pieper in his magisterial work Happiness & Contemplation says humanity is always ‘thirsting’ for something more, but we are often drinking from the wrong cup. To take this back to eating, people over-eat because they are quite certainly trying to fulfil themselves, they are just eating from the wrong dish.
Rather than a large Big Mac Meal, perhaps what they want instead is a large hug with a side of friendly compassion. Rather than a HSP, perhaps what they want instead is a main course of parental affection with non-critical love for desert.
Humanity, writes Josef Pieper, thirsts for happiness, but seeks it in the wrong places out of ignorance. We seek it in fame, glory, riches (or food), only to find these fleeting vapours ephemeral and insubstantial. Because we cannot properly locate the source of our under-nourishment, we seek it elsewhere.
Taken from this angle, the question of why we eat too much is intimately connected to the question of why we drink too much, smoke too much, or have sex too much.
We are seeking to quench a thirst that is spiritual, but which we incorrectly identify as physical. We want to be fulfilled, deeply, personally, spiritually, and not knowing how, or not knowing that we even want to, we try satiating this spiritual thirst with material things. We are, as Pieper would say, drinking from the wrong cup.
What we really want is some friends (or maybe only one) in whom we can confide and who will allow us to be our fractured, messy selves. What we really want are parents who will love us unconditionally, despite (or in spite of) our flaws. What we really want is a life where we can have meaning, purpose and direction. But, we do not often pay attention to what we really want. The thing is, just because we aren’t paying attention to what we really want, does not mean it goes away. You can ignore your thirst, but it won’t stop you being thirsty, or at least, not for long.
In a weird way, we over-eat, over-drink, and over-smoke, not because we are greedy, but because we are starved. Starved of the necessary spiritual nourishment that would make us feel fulfilled. We should look more kindly on those who overeat (and over-drink, over-smoke, and so forth), understanding that their behaviour is a symptom of a deeper emptiness that they are trying to fill the only way they know how. They don’t need another Big Mac, what they might need is someone to care for them, listen, and help them find meaning in life, and you might be just the person to do it.
As children we are showered with love and affection. We receive sweet words of encouragement as we learn a new skill, kind glances as we fumble with complicated items; plenty of kisses, and of course, lots of hugs. From the cradling of a new born baby to the long hug goodbye on the first day of school, a proper (but not by any means only type of) childhood is one where the child is made to feel loved and wanted. Its most potent symbol is the hug; a total embrace of another human being. The hug is about sharing warmth and affection in the most positively intimate way; heart to heart as two beats synchronise into one.
As we grow up, hugs become more sporadic, seldom, and unexpected. We hug our parents less, not because we don’t want to be loved (we desperately do) but because we may want it from others now; and we hug our friends less because, especially with boys, it is not cool, and we need to appear somewhat detached, independent and non-chalant in the face of what others think and feel. In our highly individualised and competitive world, we seem to idolise a type of person who has no need for others. These proto-capitalists appear strong, but deep down, are likely quite alone and in need of a good hug.
There is certain spiritual nourishment that comes from holding another person in our arms. When we invite someone to share that special place against our chest, we express out a belief so deep we feel it in our flesh and bones: “I am here for you”.
Even for a moment, in the embrace of a hug, we are no longer isolated, individualised, separate and alone. We think we suck, that we are unlovable, that all our terrible qualities discount our good ones, and then someone comes along and does the unthinkable, they open their arms and take us in, and tell us something in a language beyond words “you are worthy of being loved”.
Hugs do what words cannot. Hugs do not judge, opine, criticise, analyse, rebuke or undermine. In the language of touch rather than sound, hugs remind us that no matter what we’ve done, no matter how we feel, we are worthy of the compassion and touch of another human, and that is something beautiful.
We should all hug more. Of course, we could just tell each other that we are worthy of love and affection, but hugs reach beyond words and make real the promise that is latent in every statement of positive encouragement: you deserve to be loved, and the proof is written here in open arms.
Most people instruct us to adopt an optimistic outlook. Optimism, we are told, is what constitutes a ‘healthy’ and ‘well adjusted’ attitude towards life.
Yet, optimism ironically sets us up, in many ways, for disappointment. You are optimistic about getting the job. When you don’t, what happens? You are disappointed. Disappointment reigns because you set up an expectation about how things would turn out, and reality failed to deliver. If, instead, you had come into the interview with a hardy dose of pessimism, and had considered your success as slim, then your rejection email would have come as no surprise and stung significantly less. Pessimism does not mean you hate everything and consider yourself unlikely to succeed. It is rather an outlook that affirms the distance between what we want to happen and what often does.
There are many places where a degree of pessimism can be incredibly healthy. For instance, when you leave work and assume there will be bottleneck traffic or that you will get non-stop red lights on your way home; your pessimism leaves you well prepared when what you expected to happen did. And if there was no traffic or red lights, all the better!
Expect your friends to be late, the food you ordered to be cold, to be rejected by that alluring stranger at the bar, and for your plants to die. Not because you think life is a series of unfortunate events, but because you know that as wonderful as life is, it sometimes doesn’t go quite how we wish it to.
Pessimism, when used in proper measure, can be a useful correcting device. In adopting pessimism, we tell ourselves that life will not always go our way and in fact, might more often than not go against us.
The Stoics understood this well. Marcus Aurelius wrote,
Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I will be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and what is evil.
Perhaps this should be a mantra we should tell ourselves each day in preparation for a world that is sometimes harsh and often difficult. In the process, we will be better able to handle the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
One of the most debilitating and inadvertently narcissistic beliefs we have is that people generally care about us. I am referring here to everyday life. Of course, if you were drowning at the beach, or bleeding on the street, someone would certainly come to help you. But even then, they do not help because they care about you (they don’t even know you) but simply because you are human.
The fact of the matter is people have other things on their mind other than you. They have their own problems, worries, and self-doubts; and you will rarely, if at all, enter their mind. The laughs from that group you just walked by were not directed at you, it was just a coincidence.
We care so much about what others think of us, a thought only possible if we assume people actually are thinking of us. We adjust ourselves in order to gain the approval of people we do not know. We talk differently, walk differently, think differently and altogether adopt the persona of someone more amicable to those around us. We want to be accepted. It is an entirely natural feeling but one that rests on a mistaken belief: that strangers care a lot about whether you are one way or another.
Think of the dancing classes you didn’t take because you consider yourself a blundering fool; the drama classes you avoided because you cringed at the sight of your own body; the comedy you never performed because you thought others would disparage your lame jokes. There are so many things we stop ourselves from doing because of the mistaken belief that others are heavily invested in who we are. The far more likely occurrence is that they would be somewhat pleased and soothed by seeing a blundering dancer or terrible joke teller on stage. They are people too and likely suffer from the belief too that one should not expose themselves lest they suffer ridicule and taunts from strangers. Your confidence may set an example for them to get out and do something they have always wanted to do but have always been too scared to try.
We all have a dinner party of problems to attend to. We simply do not have the time to be invested in other people we do not know. As true as this is for you, it is equally true for others. The fact that other people do not care much for you should not put you down but should liberate you! You don’t need to worry about dressing slightly silly, or dancing like a fool, because others aren’t really paying attention to you anyway.
We would be wise to keep this at the front of our mind next time we feel like doing something might embarrass us. If anything, your act of boundless self-confidence will be a beacon of hope to some despondent stranger at the back of the comedy club, illuminating a central truth to them: you can do this too; you just need to remember that the only opinion on your self-worth that really matters is your own.
‘Not everything is useless’, writes Josef Pieper in his counter-cultural work Leisure, The Basis of Culture. ‘which cannot be brought under the definition of the useful’. Yet, in our pragmatic society we seem to disagree, only finding value in that which can be tied to productivity or efficiency. Underfunding arts while increasing funding for economics degrees and tearing down forest to create plantations for timber are two such examples.
Chemistry, physics, medicine, banking, gardening, carpentry and cooking are valuable because they serve a clearly defined use. But there are things which, while on the surface ‘useless’, remain, in their own unique way, ‘useful’: painting, music, poetry, philosophy, and leisure. And it is leisure – in a world where everything is organised according to productivity and profit – that is most in danger of extinction, yet simultaneously the most important guardian of the inner life of the mind.
The ancients understood the importance of leisure. They worked in order to not work. That is, they worked in order to have free time afterwards. It is a mentality alien to our society, firmly believing as it does in the principle of ‘work for work’s sake’. We readily equate those who seek leisure with being idlers, sloths, or dole-bludgers. For us, productivity and busyness is the name of the game. We must always be occupied, be busy, be productive, be useful.
And how guilty we feel on our days off! When we are blessed to have a free time, or ‘leisure’, we manically try our best to keep productive: doing chores, running errands and so forth. A day not spent ‘doing’ something is a day we feel we have wasted. The mentality of busyness has so infected us that we find ourselves unable to sit still. Free time is not received as a blessing but as a curse.
We are encouraged by a culture of frenetic amusements and relentless striving to never sit quietly with ourselves. We have been trained to always remain busy. If not working 40+ hours a week, then going out drinking, shopping, clubbing, seeing friends, doing chores, or spending hours scrolling through news feeds or watching videos on YouTube. We have, to a great extent, lost the ability to sit with ourselves.
As a result, when we finally are alone with nothing but our own thoughts, we feel incredibly bored. ‘Boredom is not a necessary consequence of having nothing to do’, writes William Deresiewicz in his landmark essay The End of Solitude, “’it is only the negative experience of that state’.
‘By obviating the need to learn how to make use of one’s lack of occupation’ he continues, our culture has ‘preclude[d] one from ever discovering how to enjoy it’. We have lost something eminently important, we have lost what Thoreau called fishing ‘in the Walden pond of [our] own nature”, in sitting with ourselves and being receptive to our inner thoughts and feelings.
As Pieper notes, compared with activity, leisure is essentially the idea of non-activity, a negative, ‘receptive attitude of mind’ that consists of ‘inward calm, of silence’ and of ‘letting things happen’.
Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear.
It brings to mind Paul Goodman’s 9 Types of Silence and the particular silence of passive receptivity where the ego, no longer seeking, striving, and straining, quietens down, and allows the deep substrate of our consciousness to find an opening to reveal its secrets.
We are a frantic society, uninclined (and seemingly unable) to sit still. In the pursuit of more and more; more wealth, more pleasure, more power, more experience; we have lost sight of the importance of nothing; of wanting nothing, seeking nothing, doing nothing.
We have (quite unfortunately) lost the ability to sit with ourselves and allow the quieter parts of our consciousness to speak up, something that is only possible when the conscious mind quietens down. Spending a Sunday alone in the study or lying on the lawn in the botanical gardens is an excellent place to start. Receptivity is just as important as activity, and embracing it will lead to a richer experience of life, and a fuller understanding of self. It may not be ‘useful’ in any practical sense, but just because something isn’t useful, does not mean it is useless.
When we look upon the external world and seeing a flower swaying in the breeze, two clouds gracefully combining forms, or a tiny blade of grass slipping through seams of dirt, we see beauty in the fragility of existence. Nothing is permanent and borders are permeable. Yet, inwards, we associate the same fragility as being of the order of the weak, brittle, frail or feeble. That is, in ourselves, we do not locate fragility in aesthetics, but in pragmatism, and it is considered practically useless to be fragile.
After all, so much of life demands the opposite of us. Our jobs (if you are part of the 80% of people who work in the service industry) will regularly bring us into contact with people who, despite not knowing a thing about us, will tell us where to shove our head. We will have troubles with money, with having enough time to see those whom we love, with taking offence to something our partner said; but we have things to do, places to go, and people to see. We do not have the time to allow ourselves to be deeply affected by such matters. We are, it appears, being eminently practical. We can’t work a 9-5 job, take care of the family, and prepare meals if we are busy feeling too deeply. So, we shut it down.
But in doing so, we are denying an essential part of our humanity. By not letting a problem at work, the strain of falling behind on bills, or an insult directed at us that we felt was quite true ‘get to us’, we are locking up the feeling self, telling it that it is none of its business, and thereby fragmenting ourselves. We have, most likely, a sneaking suspicion that if we were to really feel these things that they would ‘break us’ and reveal ourselves as the fragile creatures we are. Break then! Revel in your fragility, at least then you will be honest with yourself. We are afraid to allow ourselves to feel these things because it will demonstrate an essential truth that we have known all along: we are not in control and not as strong as we like to think we are. The tough guy attitude of not letting things get to us is just a game where we pretend to run the show when really, we don’t.
A healthy life is one where we can reconcile the fragments within ourselves. There is a distinction between fragments and parts. If I disassemble a watch, piece by piece, I will be left with a collection of parts that while separate, have an essential harmony and relationship with each other. If I take a hammer and smash the watch, I am left with fragments, pieces that are separate and have no working relationship with each other. Now, what we do to ourselves is similar to taking a hammer to the watch. When we tell ourselves we should not feel a certain way because it is soft, or weak, or feeble, we are taking a part of ourselves, denying it, and smashing it down. It becomes fragmented and we become increasingly unable to feel at all, because we are continually breaking the mechanics that make feeling possible. To be healthy requires us to stop fragmenting. Next time, rather than saying it is a wrong feeling or a weak feeling, simply feel and receive the message the feeling is sending you. If it shows you to be weak, fragile, and scared, so be it. Better to be honest than live an illusion of a strong self that has no need for certain feelings.
It is unfortunate that we fail to see the stories written in nature about fragility. Look at the flower. Its delightfully oversized petals balance on a stem no thicker than an ant. It does not stiffen against but instead allows itself to be swayed and swooped by the wind, it does not pretend it needs no sun to nurture it and that it can get along fine without it, but allows the sun to direct it throughout the day. The flower is clearly dependent on everything around it but revels in its interconnectedness, rather than seeing its dependence on everything else as a sign of weakness or a negation of its individuality.
Embracing fragility is paradoxically, a sign of strength. It shows you are not frightened to look at yourself as you are: as a being who is sometimes at fault, often wrong, and always needing assistance in some way or another. We say fragile people are weak because they allow things to ‘get to them’. Actually, these fragile souls are the most resilient of all because in the face of a lifetime of sorrow, pain and regret, they have still chosen to feel. To the ‘tough guys’ who hammer down on the fragile part of themselves, we must be compassionate, because in the attempt to be what was demanded of them, they found the only sensible option was to kill a part of themselves. To be fragile is, therefore, a testament to being human and should be celebrated as such.