-BACK FROM THE BRINK-
This was originally written over a decade ago.
SOMETIMES IT TAKES A GOOD HELPING OF SUFFERING TO MOTIVATE US TO CHANGE
FORM THE HEART – HOW LOW MY LIFE HAD TO SINK BEFORE I WOKE UP AND AVOIDED BECOMING ANOTHER SUICIDE STATISTIC LIKE THREE OF MY FRIENDS.
Thank you for getting as far as this in reading my blog. This is my first month on wordpress and I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some of my background story and how I got to this point in my life. It does mean that this contribution will be a tad longer than is considered normal. However, I am sure you will find much here to help and entertain. We always seem to be interested in others hardships. That is a part of human nature that I have never quite gotten hold of. I am one of the few people that do not see reality shows as very real. Real life as we live it is about as high risk as it can get, providing we live it and dont comfortably sit and wait for it to come to us. Mistakes are the biggest learning experiences we can have and only a life of conformity can protect us from that. Not a life I would choose. Life is our own personal experiment. We are all guinea pigs.
Within the space of two years, three of my friends had taken their own lives. The thought of ending my own life was pervasive and no longer seemed such a distant idea.
The materialistic and hedonistic life that I had been leading in my search for happiness was finally at a climatic end. The drugs, endless clubbing, and sex were no longer providing me with the thrills and excitement that I increasingly expected from them. The highs were more disappointing or non-existent, and the lows were more depressing and left me feeling more suicidal than ever. It became a matter of getting through those moments without harming myself or anybody else. My marriage to Julie was on the rocks. I was living from week to week financially. Every problem had escalated to gargantuan proportions in my head. Considering I was such a level headed, sensible guy who had breezed through life from one project to the next, my life was a mess. I could not see any way out. Hopelessness was the pervasive feeling, a gnawing deep inside of there being no believable reason for living life as it was at this time. No present, no future.
Ignore your calling at your peril. When you are young, you approach every new opportunity with vigour, not really thinking about a calling. As each venture proves unfulfilling, you become increasingly restless, searching for material rewards and recognition, but they just fail to reach the spot for you. This restlessness and misery creeps up on you, and until you gain insight as to what the answers may be for you, it can be confusing and difficult to understand. You stumble from one adventure to another, just hoping this will be the moment you find the right one. You even begin to question, is this just all there is to life? I think at this point you either go through life feeling miserable, cheated, and cynical about life itself, or you realise that this just cannot be all there is to existence. Thus, you unwittingly begin your search for more. You have looked everywhere outside of yourself and have come up with very little; maybe, for some unexplainable reason, the time is now right to look inside of yourself.
When you have left bad times behind you, it is often difficult to recall just how rough times had become, from your new joyful viewpoint. This is particularly true when part of the evolutionary process was never to dwell in the past; we did not want to look back at the misery that encompassed our lives at that time. To be totally honest, though, I have always been an introvert and so, as a result, have a very busy inner voice. My dreams have always seemed to reflect the worse side of my life, being variations on real-life events or abstract versions of the same.
Happier now, and armed with a much-improved positive strategy for dealing with life, I am, however, left with constant dreams and nightmares playing out scenarios of my old life and what I would theorise as being my biggest fears and temptations. I make little of this, and the images are improving as my subconscious becomes acquainted with some new positive visual images I believe I am creating. I am using the events as a reminder of how far I have progressed as a person; it does, however, make recollection of past events for this chapter a touch easier as they are never far away.
Even now I feel a fear and I am uncomfortable inside from the thoughts from the past. The ghosts from the past still haunt me.
Strangely, even during our darker times – and there were many – we never missed our physical workouts, and fundamentally our eating habits were good. We had a distinctly different relationship and outlook when dealing with all things fitness related, and it was as if that part of our life was taking place in a parallel universe. At the time we were oblivious to the difference, maybe just savouring how good we were together in that arena and enjoying our brief stolen moments of harmony.
Maybe this is why we both place personal nutritional and fitness regimes very high on our list of priorities. There is a wisdom in the feeling body that can steer us straight when our minds and souls are searching for answers and looking for stability. Body wisdom is where we found something reliable and strong to hold on to while we struggled to find our path. In a world where everything was changing exercise and nutrition became our rock. It could be other areas of life for other people but for us success in our body-life kept us afloat across mind, body and soul at least until we could find our way back from the hell that we had stumbled upon.
I believe society’s expectations are responsible for much of the misery individuals suffer today. If we all have so much freedom, why do we all often follow the same life path? Julie, my childhood sweetheart, and I married as expected, entirely predictably, in our early twenties. Looking back, neither of us were ready, but living together was not fashionable at the time, and we did the right thing by societal standards. We behaved normally. We were a fully socialised young twentieth-century couple conforming to every expectation that was handed down to us. Through the years, we both had extramarital affairs; we lied and cheated constantly; we had many businesses, always successful at first but eventually failing, because we were more intent on playing around than settling into any lasting relationship.
Material possessions and sexual conquests were the order of the day. We didn’t realise at the time, but we were on a very slippery slope, to us, it was the shallow, hedonistic lifestyle that seemed so important and so normal at that time. At one time we decided to have an open relationship to allow our promiscuous habits to carry on. This then eventually led to swinging, sex clubs, gang bangs, and even making our own home movies with strangers etc. We were hopelessly out of control. Let me point out now that in no way are we pretending that we didn’t enjoy the pleasurable times. I am not condemning the lifestyle that so many of our society choose, but I would utter words of caution. I am a little embarrassed even writing this. The thought makes me cringe a little. That part of my life feels alien to me now. I have no regrets; neither of us have, but it does feel quite surreal. It has the feel of someone else’s life, the feel of make believe where the actions didn’t seem to match the ideas. I know they were my experiences, but I have no connection to any of them. And contrary to the normal of only remembering the good stuff, I can only remember the bad stuff and the good moments are buried beneath the bad.
The question is, what were we searching for? Who were we at that time? I know now that those moments were not even close to being as satisfying as being serene in oneself all (or at least most) of the time. They were a sign that something was out of balance in our lives, a sign we seemed to be ignoring in the search for more pleasure, which inevitably meant more pain and suffering. Those pleasure moments come at a price, as the emotion spills over after the fun and eventually erodes even the strongest relationship. Used as a substitute for true peace of mind, it just plainly did not work for us. What made this inauthentic life so difficult to escape was the extreme nature of each mood, from ecstasy to depression and then back to ecstasy, where life is perfect to escape the inevitable depression you mistakenly associate with your normal life. The periods of pleasure became more elusive as the voice in my head questioned my wisdom continuously, and the suffering began to spread.
Meanwhile, in our parallel fitness universe, we trained, were motivated, and generally worked like a well-oiled machine. Why didn’t we see that all we had to do was follow our own example in the rest of our lives, and we would finally be on the right path? Our best times together in those days were when we were preparing to go to the gym, at the gym, and for a while afterwards, until the demons began to gnaw at us again. In our fitness life we had purpose. I would cite our gym habit as being the only stable influence on our lives at that time. Still now, our health and fitness habits can be relied upon to bring stability to our lives when all else spins of its axis.
Compared to now we just didn’t know one another and never had. Since we have gotten to know ourselves and each other and as a partnership we are a joy to each other. How could we have lived for so long with strangers and thought that we knew the other. We did not. And we see couples constantly day to day that are at that point of familiarity with no real awareness of each other.
Then the inevitable happened: we reached the stage when we thought we had fallen in love with other people that we had met through swinging sites. Our lives were now full of lies, jealousy, recreational drug use, aggression, and violence. Anybody who knows us well knows that this is so out of character. For two people so against drug use the whole of our lives to experiment in our forties was just ridiculous. Julie even attempted to stab me, but luckily it was a spoon she grabbed from the draining board. It may be amusing now, but how tragic it could have been.In this period I attended three funerals of three friends I had recently been out partying with. Tragic.
We didn’t talk, and we definitely didn’t listen to one another; we just ranted and argued constantly. There were even times when separately we contemplated suicide, due to the downward spiral of the drug use and partying. I came across Julie one day with her wrists quite a mess. As I mentioned, we have since lost three friends to that very fate; even the most controversial soap opera had nothing on our lives at this time. We separated for six months, eventually getting back together because we (pathetically) couldn’t financially afford to be apart. At one time I smashed my way through a front door to harm a guy Julie had taken home to entertain. Interestingly, not one person who knows me would ever call me a jealous or violent person; in fact, I abhor violence. Maybe the truth is that we all have our dark sides somewhere deep in our human genome just waiting for a trigger to release a person unrecognisable to ourselves under normal circumstances. We were participating in a long hard life lesson that seemed to go on forever. I was getting to know myself very well and my shadow was a new friend that I would need to accept, understand and integrate into my personality.
I had even moved to Wales to live on many occasions but never lasted more than a few days before returning home. The unrest was never-ending; we could find no solution to the endless insanity. From about 2000 till 2005, we were out of control and the time frame to this day is blurred in my mind. We were just losing time, and we had hit rock bottom. We used all the excuses and blamed everyone but ourselves for any problems (a classic). When we were out playing, we were on top of the world; the rest of the time we spent in the depths of despair. In retrospect I see the root of the problem was that I hadn’t found my calling; I had no purpose to life as yet. So I looked for happiness in pleasurable moments and change for change’s sake, always believing that the constant change would bring me what I was searching for.
At one time we had moved to ten new houses in only nine years. At the time I dismissed the situation with, “This is just the way I am.” It was not. My whole life could be described as restless. What was it that I was searching for? I was obviously looking for the answer in the wrong places. Something had to change.
I still haven’t found what I am looking for but I am now looking in the right places and progress is winning out over regressive behaviours. I am getting better, we both are. And life is what it is intended to be – INTERESTING.
I now sit here in the position of having to explain how we turned it around. We had tried to change many times and had failed each time. When we eventually began to transform our lives, it was the easiest thing in the world; it was almost miraculous. To this point I had probably read about six books in my entire life; I’d read many magazines, but I just couldn’t sit and read entire books. I was just too distracted all of the time. This will sound really corny, but I began to read self-help books – some good, some bad – but most of them gave me hope and some made very good sense. Above all else, though, I took the common-sense approach that I had absolutely nothing to lose by keeping an open mind. To cut a long story short, Julie and I attempted a transformation that included going to study at university. I took up my passion of writing again, and we just decided we needed to begin living creatively with a definite purpose. We began to appreciate the simple things in life purely by attending to those precious moments.
Transformation is a key word here because it never ends and I fully expect to be transforming for my entire stay in this body. Each time, I used to think I might become some finished article but I now know that it is the journey that is the interesting part and there is no real destination, only pit-stops to a mystery destination. The important thing is to be awake for the journey.
We moved our goals away from the material and gaining of more stuff, which had never served us well; we had made a small fortune and lost a bigger fortune. Now our aim was to be content and follow our hearts. We looked at our parallel universe of the gym and fitness and realised that we had goals and a purpose, and that purpose was totally aligned to us as individuals. We adopted the very same philosophy in the rest of our lives.
I now always attempted to live in the moment, and to quote a very apt book title, I began to try to stop sweating the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff). The first and my most memorable quote, which is simplicity itself, comes from a Wayne Dyer book, The Power of Intention. “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.” Lo and behold, it works! This was a gradual process and most noticeable was that we both seemed to laugh and smile more and life seemed less serious. Our lives became fun as opposed to a matter of life and death. Possibly by choosing against suicide at various moments in our lives we were consciously choosing life.
It may help if I tell you the first areas of my life that I used as a barometer for my progress. My driving was fast, aggressive, and reckless. I had tried many times to tame the wild beast but failed miserably. Suddenly, with no effort at all, I became a safe driver. I could let people overtake me without taking it as a challenge to race them. Once again I had the good feeling of reciprocated courtesy and harmony with many other road users. I even sold my big fast car.
The next-biggest wind-up for me was the behaviour of our dog, Jacob. I tell his story later, but needless to say, he is now a pleasure to have around. He is my mood barometer. These sound like petty events, but the implications of the change in temperament and outlook for me were ground breaking; both were personal victories of immeasurable proportions. I had vowed many times before to change my driving habits and never lasted more than a few miles. This time it was inexplicably easy.
One night I went to sleep an angry, unhappy 49-year-old man, and the next morning I woke up a happy, ambitious 49-years-young man with a new zest for life and an increased awareness and clarity that was mind-boggling. For those of you wondering if I had gone nutty overnight, I assure you that I hadn’t lost touch with reality at all. I had somehow managed, after years of lip service, to actually appreciate what was worth stressing over and what was not. I began to notice how often people complained; I no longer felt the need to join them in that practice. My father had died recently, and I now felt I could give my mother the support she needed, and I continue to do so. My relationship with my Mother, which had decayed with the rest of my life, has now become as it should be once more, open and loving. It was time for full steam ahead with our new life, guided by a new hunger for life wisdom and self-improvement; we no longer looked very far for any answers to happiness or at least for a more interesting life. I experienced a SHIFT in my state of mind that literally saved my life.
Everything we needed at this time was inside of us, where it had always been. Julie said that she would not change the new us for any reward and welcomed me back. Initially we were concerned about money, and whilst we are not loaded, we agreed not to let that rule our lives, and strangely, money just seems to be there for us when we need it. Julie even remarked that we seem to have more money now than when we were earning massive amounts. I guess one of the short-term pleasurable acts is to throw money about, shopping and spending needlessly. We no longer feel the need. That is strange in itself, as the urge to shop and spend used to be uncontrollable. We now happily give to charity with never a thought of lack. When we are in need, the support is forthcoming from the loved ones we had inadvertently excluded from our lives previously.
During this period of time, the one constant in our life was our passion for physical fitness and training; bizarrely, we even maintained our workout relationship throughout. At times my reasoning was that our misery in other parts of our lives was a sort of karma, balancing up for how well our fitness lifestyle seemed to progress. A penance for looking after ourselves? What a sad thought! I built up a 1700-member gym from scratch, and after seven years I sold out and founded The Fitness Wizards for special needs clients; it’s the only specialist centre of its kind in this area even to this day. We catered to clients who were not gym users and had health problems that would make it hazardous for them to use mainstream centres unsupervised. You can purchase The Great Body Bible by The Fitness Wizards from http://www.authorhouse.co.uk. A gargantuan book and the only personal trainer you will ever need. My first published book.
Whilst most personal trainers would all like to train fit young people constantly, we learnt more from our five years of helping clients at The Fitness Wizards than in a lifetime of pushing fit, healthy young people. The experience has made us aware that not just young adults need fitness; the influence starts as toddlers and flows through life. Fitness habits passed on through generations may be the key to a problem that is plaguing society in the modern era and at this moment is getting worse despite the best efforts of various food- and exercise-governing bodies. Society needs the help of each family unit. We need to be more aware that we are role models for our children in all aspects of our lives. We will never be perfect, but learning and sharing our learning experiences with our nearest and dearest can help them better decide how to approach health and fitness for themselves and, in turn, for those in their circle of influence. We may just realise that we are not merely doing it for ourselves but are demonstrating values that will keep our loved ones healthy; this may be just the extra motivation we need to get started.
Finally, we had realised that our fitness and nutrition habits worked in the rest of our lives also, and we are now able to show good habits to our circle of influence across the whole of our lives. It is never too late to make that lasting impression, not with loud words but with worthy actions. Our children are aware we have made some major mistakes in our lives, and although we will never live in the past, we have no problem discussing our past mistakes and lessons we have learned from those mistakes. Nothing is ever achieved by brushing the past under the carpet. There are lessons for us all in those moments of human weakness, and letting your ego pretend that the past never happened in order to save face would be foolish, in our opinion. Appearing perfect is not the example to set; being human and accepting responsibility for your life is far worthier. There were many times in the past when our children have set the example for us with their strength and resilience. We always let them know how much we appreciated those times.
There are moments in many people’s lives when a sudden and great revelation occurs. I would like to say this happens to everyone, but I don’t know this to be true for all people. I suppose not everyone is in need of a life-transforming moment. This epiphany for me was born out of suffering; I have since discovered this is often the case. I would guess that we don’t start to look for answers until we are deep in trouble. My story may not seem that miraculous to any person other than myself and my close friends and family. Then again, maybe there are others at that low point in their lives, and my experience may jolt a thought in those deep recesses; the moment may be born out of suffering or desperation. Again, I can only recount my own experience.
For me, the ease with which this moment allowed me to change my life was pretty miraculous. I went from having no answers for my endless misery to the point where – and I know this is a cliché – somebody turned the light on. Overnight I could see the direction I had to go with my life. That didn’t mean any major transformation, like joining the priesthood, but just starting to notice life and beginning to look at things differently. In fact, one major turning point was the realisation that the world of stuff and things is not important. Unless you knew me very well, you wouldn’t even have noticed the transformation, but anybody close to me was absolutely amazed. I really had no explanation. All that I held to be important to myself – and to be honest, everything that had driven me through life to that point: sexual conquests, material possessions, fleeting moments of pleasure, and status – became insignificant overnight.
All of those small things that we take for granted in life suddenly were thrust into the foreground of my life: my family, nature, personal development, my writing, and generally living for my passions and not for my perception of what others, my ego, or society wanted from me. The more-is-better lifestyle was no longer for me. To me this change was extraordinary; it was a change in attitude of monumental proportions in what seemed like the blink of an eye. When measured on the “amazing miracle” scale, this epiphany would not score very high with any person who wasn’t directly involved in my life. But here I am, sitting at my desk on a beautiful sunny June day, with a grin from ear to ear (creepy).
MY FIRST DAY AT UNIVERSITY – A VERY MATURE STUDENT
Whatever the success of this venture called life for me, I have already accomplished something by being actively involved. A creative writing tutor told me I had a chatty style. I love that phrase, because that is how I feel when I write, as if I am chatting to people I know, hoping to help in some small way.
The following is the introduction I used for my successful university dissertation, which I think aptly describes the effect the experience had on me at that time in my life, as a mature student.
“I made the decision to attend university as an assist to writing a book on health, fitness, and nutrition at the age of 49. I had recently made the decision to change my once-turbulent, externally determined, and out-of-control life to a life wherein I fulfilled my lifetime passion for writing and sold some small pieces while I wrote my book. I wrote, and still write daily, about anything and everything. I had left full-time education in 1976, at the age of 16. English had never been a strong subject. Originally I opted to study sports science, as I thought that would best suit my needs at that time.
During the first year, one of the units was sociology, a subject I had never come across before. I remember the subject was difficult at first, as it seemed to have a language all of its own. My concise Oxford English dictionary and thesaurus were never far from my side, a habit still with me today. Much of the required reading was a chore, but the subject awoke something in me. All of a sudden, all kinds of issues that had occurred in my life were starting to make some sense. Since changing my life during the last year or so, I had become well-read and had always had what Foucault would call a “critical attitude” but had never been provided with any structure or theory to my world or my way of thinking.
For my second year, I changed away from what I called the facts-and-figures subjects and changed to a sports studies degree course. I considered that the course would provide more meaning and understanding to the world and, in particular, to my world. I also took an introduction to some basic philosophy, which I found fascinating. Towards the end of the second year, the class was introduced to the thinking of Foucault, and I lost myself in the required reading. This was something I rarely did, as I normally tried to find my own related reading, finding the required academic texts often very hard going and dogmatic. I also read anything else I could find that would explain Foucault to me coherently. I actually purchased the books as treasured possessions to refer to in future projects. I have amassed quite a library in the last three years, and I often look at the change from what I used to read to my choice of reading these days as an indicator of my journey staring down at me from the shelves. I smile at some of my previous purchases.
This was when it finally dawned on me that I was, in that moment, living Foucault’s concepts within the university – we all were. I had an excellent understanding of all of the course subject matter and yet often fell short of top marks. I was told on numerous occasions that I had to play the game to get top marks. So here I was, in the midst of power relations, myself wanting to be creative, individual, and unique but under pressure to conform. I wanted to maintain a writing style, my style, and look for unique angles to discuss. “They” wanted me to write the same as everyone else, the created object of academic writing, and stick religiously to what they had been teaching. In a strange, maybe warped way, rather than frustrate me, this made the whole degree experience so much more exciting for me. As I type this, I still feel that buzz of excitement. I’ve named it “living the learning”. I had to stay true to my creative self, and yet I wanted to do well for my degree. Marks became less important; in fact, I didn’t even seek to find out my grades. Admittedly, when I scored well, there was an immense sense of satisfaction, because “I did it my way”, to quote Frank Sinatra.
I knew that if I were seeking the approval of others and looking for high marks and the recognition that can become all-too-important and I could see in everyone around me, then the path was all laid out before me. I was daily nudged, encouraged, and instructed in the proper direction. I could absorb what was needed and achieve an honours degree. Being told what to do and how to do it, with the promise of a pat on the head at the end, was not for me. Under these circumstances it did not feel as if it was my work and all the spark and natural energy for the project would have been extinguished. Following the path robot-like was not for me. I had to search for meaning, not only in my sporty lifestyle choice of bodybuilding but in all aspects of my life and particularly my degree course, including this dissertation. The following quote is particularly relevant to my university experience; ironically, most students do not look at what is happening to them in the institution in which they are developing their critical attitudes.
This ready-made character of life comes from what Foucault calls disciplinary power or governmentality … interacting with experts and authorities who are there to help me become a well-adjusted, happy, healthy productive member of society … central to this is the way it focuses attention on me, you, and everyone else as an object of both control and knowledge … not governed in a way that represses or oppresses but in a way that feels best for me.
So I was now aware that I had to actively perform subjectivity in a field of constraint. Rather than deter me, I thought this was amazing; I had choices and some control, and I could be true to myself and play the game, without suffering unduly. I knew I would compromise my scores, but I would never hand in any work that I was not proud of calling my own and that did not show in some way my individuality. (Well, maybe there were a couple of pieces that didn’t really inspire me to perform.) What then had any of this to do with a man’s search for meaning or the identity construction of a bodybuilder? Everything!
This is who I am to begin with. A full understanding of this dissertation would not be possible without at least a mild acquaintance with who I am. I need the reader to be fully aware of the spark that the last three years has ignited inside of me. This whole voyage of the last three years has not only served to give meaning and understanding to the sport of bodybuilding but to every single aspect of my life, and it has totally changed my perspective on that same life forever.
Why study bodybuilding?
Bodybuilding is more than a sport; it is an endeavour that I have been enthusiastically involved with for over thirty-five years to date and aim to be involved with long into the future. It is a lifestyle – it would be called a fetish by some outside of the subculture – and I call it a passion.
It is difficult to understand the bodybuilding habitus. The learned way of looking and being can seem alien for those on the outside, who are viewing ethnocentrically. Then it seems to be easier for others to label and stereotype than to really attempt to understand. Alternatively, if a theory more or less fits, then that is the road taken. As you will see, many theories may fit more or less if you try hard enough. This dissertation is the culmination of three years of radical changes in a man’s thought processes, a reappraisal of over fifty years of living and thinking without direction. It’s a voyage from being a determined “thing” to a realisation that we create our own reality if we make a conscious effort and have the knowledge to do so.”
The next paragraph is the conclusion of that same dissertation. I believe it sets the scene perfectly.
“This conclusion for me is concluding three years of hard work, and whilst bodybuilding has been the focus of this study, for me it is more about choices for life and how sport and our sports choices is just a part of who we are. In three years I have not only learned how to understand a coherent sense of who I am and how I am shaped by my facticity and by my choices but also how this is not only a sports skill but also, maybe more importantly, a life skill. I have much to thank Bedfordshire University for; ironically, the intrinsic value of my education that has been almost inadvertently passed to me on the side-lines is the most precious gift. For many graduates, a degree quickly becomes an object also, with attributes and a purpose of elevating them to a position above others. My degree will be just one small part of what I have learned in the last three years, and each time I look at that degree and reflect, it will have meaning and depth far beyond what that paper or the words “BA Sports Studies (1st class hons)” can ever convey.
The true self is never fixed and is a continuous creative becoming, an illusion, mastering the art of no longer being what I was and experimenting towards unknown futures.”
My Self – My creation – the show must go on.
I love to study. My library grows on a daily basis. I have studied on my own every single day since leaving University. I no longer need structure or the shackles that the academic world places on us to fit a society as an automaton. I do this to reserve my right to think originally and see the world as only I can through my freedom to read and express as I wish. During this period, I started to think and reflect. My reflective world changed in those years, and now I just can’t stop thinking. I am sharing some with you. It is my hope that with this book, my thoughts and experiences, will make some small difference to who you are and who you will become.
Experience has taught me that all the normal aims and ambitions which I and others pursue are vain and futile. I have finally decided to explore whether, in fact, there is some form of intrinsic good that can be found by the human mind and spirit. I have up to now pretty much exhausted all external options searching for happiness and peace of mind with few or no long-lasting results. Is there something to unearth and attain which would give me continuous, serene, and unending happiness from closer to home, something natural and already contained within myself? Could there be something I have grown apart from over the years, which through social conditioning remains a distant memory that nags to be set free? Why abandon something certain, like wealth, pleasure, and the approval of others, for something uncertain? Because that certainty never did produce the promised happiness and contentment.
I had realised that wealth, pleasure, and others’ approval does not bring happiness. It had taken me close to fifty years, but I had finally got the message. I first wondered whether I could confirm this new possibility, or at least become certain of its existence, without altering my existing life. But that just didn’t work; my mind needed to focus on one or the other. These things absorb the mind to such a degree that it is impossible to think about anything new and different. We become distracted permanently by our desires, no time for anything else.
Pleasure feels as if it is all good until the pleasure is satisfied and the heart sinks once more into depression. The mind cannot think clearly. Wealth, success and others’ approval just lead to a more-is-better scenario. The more we acquire, the more we want, and so we strive even harder for both. The acquisition of as much money and stuff as possible is an all-consuming beast. If we fail, we are plunged into deep depression. The approval of others compels one to order one’s life according to the opinions of others, assuming others’ values and tastes over one’s own. These would be obstacles in the search for something different and new, the search for something less destructive to the well-being of me and my family. Eventually we all have to take care of our souls.
I was like a sick man who knows he will be dead unless he finds some effective medicine to cure his disease. My former life was going to lead me to a kind of living death. If I obtained these objects, I would not possess them – they would possess me. I witnessed this constantly with the obvious example of mobile phones in people’s lives; they were unable to exist without them. Multiply this across a whole lifestyle full of technology and habits, and you start to see how severe the problem is. It’s one many suffer with. The problem starts with making external stuff the objects of our love; our happiness becomes totally dependent on the quality of those objects or others’ opinions of the same. All mental anguish arises from loving something which is transient. This feeling can be controlled but it never goes away we are under mind attack every second of every day. There are tools to fight back and I will feature them in this book and future books. The greatest and first essential tool is awareness that there is a conflict to be faced and conquered. A subtle manipulating force that keeps one locked away in our cultures according to the mind control of our rulers.
My life was about to become new and different. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, as the saying goes. I wanted to discover serenity and peace of mind; the meaning of my life was going to need a little more commitment. As you can see, there was a slow start to my new life resolution. It was a process of eliminating doubts and letting go of those hedonistic pleasures that were so tempting and on the face of it might seem to be much more fun than searching for the meaning of life with very little money and precious little “stuff”. How could I live without big piles of money and lots of shiny stuff? That question will be better answered at the end of this book. It did eventually occur to me that the acquisition of wealth, pleasure, and the approval of others is only a hindrance if they are sought for their own sake, as ends in themselves. But if they are sought as means to a higher end, then they will not cause damage and could actually be helpful in certain circumstances. So, not to worry; one does not have to give up all of one’s worldly possessions. Just be more aware of the possibilities for good in your success. There is no peace of mind in “more is better”. There is much peace of mind in modesty, even anonymously helping others.
All of this has done no more than point me in the right direction. Julie and I are moving in the right direction. Each day, at every moment, we are aware of judgements made by our egos. We are aware of the voices in our heads chattering to us at times in aggressive and negative ways, our egos wanting to either be in the past or the future. We have to work hard to be present in the moment. The future is where our ego desires everything to be better, but the desire makes one dissatisfied with the now moment. The future moment is total fabrication. It’s illusion. The past is total illusion by the time the ego narrates its version of actual events. At times we feel we are getting nowhere, but then we catch some ridiculous thoughts or emotions and are able to deal with them in a conscious way. Awareness itself means that we are becoming more conscious than we were in our former lives of sleepwalking. At times I still have those moments of lost time, when I have walked for some distance and can’t remember anything about it. I know it is literally sleepwalking. The upside is that I now recognise those moments, and they are less frequent.
The lesson that has become most important in our lives is to forget the yesterdays and not think too much about the tomorrows. The saying “Each day is a new life” has become a bit of a morning mantra and results in us not carrying around anxiety about the past or the illusory future. We have a lot that we could regret but that would destroy life as we know it now and make us hate who we are.
Getting better as the most sensible way of approaching spiritual development first came to my attention thanks to a British recording artist called Scroobius Pip. “Get better” is a song by Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip, from the album The Logic of Chance. The track is aimed at young people, but the words “get better” should be the lifetime goal for all human beings. Listen to the track, and apply the simple philosophy of getting better in your life. If you feel you are the finished article, well, that just goes to prove that you are not. Any person fixing themselves becomes little more than an object.
Evolving and changing is the way of the universe. Everything changes. Every day we wake up different than the day before – a little or a lot. Every encounter with others changes us. “Getting better” should always be the answer to the question, How are you today? Even if you have come off the rails, there is always the choice to get better. The route to the goal of getting better is never a straight line. Zigzag would describe the journey much better. The journey from overdeveloped ego to enlightenment is loaded with barricades that you can turn into bridges, and each obstacle that you overcome takes you to a better place than you began at. Getting better is a journey of constant motivation and small victories. Enlightenment as the ultimate prize becomes secondary, as just becoming a better human being is a journey chock full of rewards and surprises. Getting to know yourself and your ego is an amazing project. It requires total honesty, and acceptance of what you are and what has bought you to this point in your life, so you can let it all go and live your life unchained. The purpose of life is right there. Getting better. It’s something we can all take on with optimism, knowing we can all make a difference to the overall consciousness levels of humanity and make the earth a better place for us now and for our ancestors for centuries to come. It’s the opportunity for humanity to become worthy of the word civilised, which for some reason we claim to be whilst slaughtering millions of our own kind on a continual basis. Human nature, I hear you say.
Human nature is what we choose to make it; if we accept that we can all change, then anything is possible. Getting better is the change, a change in small bites that we can all manage and take great pride in. This book randomly looks at subjects that can help with those changes and depicts a struggle for change in the real world. I hope to show that we can all improve ourselves; whatever we feel about enlightenment and getting better is where we can all start. The life purpose of getting better also gives new meaning to life, away from amassing the biggest pile of stuff possible and searching for moments of hedonistic pleasure. It enables you to begin to strip away those layers of conditioned responses that have so far ruled your life. You can find a new feeling of satisfaction, and even genuine happiness, in unearthing your humanity.
The most important tool you will have to accompany you on your journey is the ability to read and interpret books and information for yourself and to search out the golden nuggets of knowledge that will shape your personal belief system and help you get better. You will not find this information in the media or readily available without a search. Be suspicious of all material that is pushed at you via the television or newspapers; that information is all part of what you are expected to see as part of your conditioning and programming – its social control. That information is expected to become part of your belief system and those opinions are to be assumed by you as your own personal opinions.
Having become interested in a search for meaning in your life, you can then begin to appreciate that living as an individual requires that you engage with the world in a way that expresses your uniqueness. You can live self-critically, to control elements of your life that aren’t reflective of you, and you can be honest about the creation of self at all times.
Join me in my daily random thoughts and cerebral meanderings as I live my life. I am intent on getting better. Agree or disagree, but think and get better with me.
Let’s get started.
Whether you agree or disagree?
If you like my writing or it at least gets you thinking –