Thursday, March 31, 2011

Singing at the gym

So I've been going to the gym a lot lately. You see a lot of weird shit at the gym, people talking to themselves, yelling at themselves, flirting, misogynizing, eye-raping. The thing that probably catches my attention most is when people starting singing outloud. They've got their iPod on (usually) and they just start wailing. It's usually some R&B stuff and they think they have amazing voices. Occasionally they'll sing really, really, really loud and I just glare at them, thinking what the fuck is this? Your American Idol audition? I'm sorry, but you won't be going to Hollywood, jackass.

I started to notice that it's the same people who tend to sing over and over. Being a super-cool nerd, I prepared a flowchart to help you determine if you should or should not be singing outloud at the gym. If you like this, tell me, and I'll make more flowcharts.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Night Thoughts

  • A girl on JDate sent me a flirt saying "I'd like to share uncomfortable silences with you." I just kept quiet.
  • Liberals need to organize before they do anything. If a leader isn't going to step up, they should use the internet to form democratic organizations that give people some real hope with real ideas, not like this Obama guy.
  • I don't blame Obama for not fixing the economy. I blame him for not stepping up and making tough decisions. I think history will remember him as a President who was able to foment excitement and hope, but who wasn't able to execute tough decisions.
  • The next major trend in the world with be Deglobalization. Communities will section off and become self-sufficient by collectively refusing to give money to out-of-community corporations. I say that with 100% confidence, because if the world continues on the path that it's on, I don't think there'll be time for any other trends.
  • Buy local, work local, and invest locally. As a rule of thumb, if the owner can't make it to the store in 1 hour, don't patron the place. It means the store is owned by a foreign entity that bears little-to-no accountability to the surrounding community. This is why WalMart is able to rape neighborhoods left and right--no accountability.
  • Modern warfare will be fought with the keyboard instead of the gun.
  • The moments where you have no idea what to do are the closest moments you'll have to sanity.
  • I started practicing Tai Chi. I don't know what the fuck I'm doing, but I like the way it feels. You can't really do Tai Chi with a closed heart.
  • I really think that if the world would really start practicing honesty and not bend, spin, or shade the truth at all, things would run a lot smoother. You'd see a lot less litigation, a more efficient government, a more informed public, and better interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.
  • I think it's normal to hope for drastic changes to happen in your life that "fix" things, but I don't think it's realistic. I think you have to act the way you want despite whatever's broken. Leave it alone. You might think it's a big problem, but if you say "fuck it" and do what you want despite the noise, it doesn't matter.
  • This is neat.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

At what point is it okay to put yourself before your family?

Dear Edahn, 
I'm moving out of my house in a month and feel like I'm abandoning my family. My family life has been chaotic. I was molested by my brother when I was 13. My sister developed anorexia. The same brother that abused me suffers from a condition that keeps him dependent on those around him (me), so I've had to be his caregiver. My mother has gone through cancer and has always been manically depressed; I mother her emotionally more than she mothers me. My dad doesn't surface from his work desk. My parent's relationship has always been on the rocks. I strove for approval, but my straight-A report card only received a "you could have done better if you didn't play games." 
All this time, I've been expected to stand strong for the family (even at 14). I initially rose to the challenge, but after a few years I started crashing. My dad said I was the rock of the family and needed to pull myself together. At 18, I found a therapist who said I was depressed and close to suicide. I'm 20 now and the issue is that I'm filled with guilt because I want to move out, but I feel like I'm being a selfish daughter. My new therapist says I've been taught to accept that my emotional needs don't matter and that I need to sacrifice them so that other people can feel emotionally secure. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship last year and I didn't even really realize it until someone spelled it out for me. I'm in a relationship with a loving man right now, and I can't but help be confused/suspicious about his kindness, and I feel I need to get out before I receive whatever pain I think must surely be coming. So, does family always come first?
FAMILY DOESN'T COME FIRST when your family takes advantage of you and mistreats you, just like your husband or boyfriend doesn't come first when he's abusive. That's the easy part. You need to set up boundaries with your family so that you can live your own life and be your own person. That doesn't mean you never ever help them, but it means that you first have to make sure that you're healthy before you can start to help others. It's just like the safety precautions on an airplane, when the crew instructs the passengers to fasten their own oxygen masks before helping their child. It makes a lot of sense, because if you're not fully equipped to deliver care in an emergency, everyone's going to lose in the end.

It's really important that you appreciate what it means to be "fully equipped". A lot of people (I'm guilty of this too) like to rush into the battlefield and start fixing and serving other people. When asked about their own problems they may say "oh I'm fine" or "I'm not perfect, but I can still help others," but helping people is trickier than it looks. You really, really have to develop peace and solid self-respect before you can go out and help others, because that peace and self-respect with drastically change your understanding of how to help people. When you lack that inner-respect and peace, you can guide people in the wrong directions, even though they seem intellectually and theoretically sound, and even though so-called "experts" will advocate that method. 

A lot of people who are in the helping industry, even many therapists I've gotten to know (who don't read this blog...paranoia averted), give very questionable guidance. I can see that they don't have a deep appreciation of inner peace and self-respect or self-love (which forms the foundation for self-respect). Their inner life is filled with conflict, and their guidance reflects that. They're not just trying to help: they're trying to earn the respect and love of their clients, not realizing that it'll substitute for genuine self-respect and self-love. It's not that they have no wisdom or talent, but they haven't invested enough time developing them to fruition. It's like trying to tutor someone in Stats without having finished the course yourself: you're gonna get confused and not do the bang-up job you could do if you had waited a little longer and put in the extra effort.

In sum, I do think helping other people be happy is admirable. In fact, I think finding happiness and sharing it with others is the ultimate way to find purpose in life. But you can't share something that you don't yet have yourself. Have your therapist help you draw some boundaries with your family, assertively, but with respect and care. That'll free you up to start exploring who you are outside of the role you play with your family. It'll also give you a chance to start meditating or yogataing. It'll feel uncomfortable at first because you're so used to playing that role, but I think eventually you'll see that it needed to be done in order to give yourself the same love and care you nobly wish for others.

Got a questions? Topic suggestions? Prestigious accolades? Here you go.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Should I be worried about my kink?

That girl is supa free-kay
Dear Edahn,

I'm worried about a certain kink that turns me on. I'm a healthy, popular, pre-law 20 year old woman in the USA. I sometimes want to ask my 20 year old boyfriend to talk to me as if I'm a child in bed when we're having foreplay/sex.

To be clear, I don't want to dress up as a child, and I don't want to pretend that I am a child...I just want to be treated/spoken to as one. I just think I would be really turned on by him "teaching me" what to do in bed by telling me that I'm being a good girl and doing a good job; also encouraging/explaining what I should do every step of the way in a really sweet tone, the same way you would describe to a child how to tie their shoelaces. What makes me now nervous is that this is probably a way a pedofile would encourage/talk to a girl. Pedophilia is seriously disgusting to me which is why I'm confused that I could find anything remotely related a turn on. I haven't talked to anyone about this. My boyfriend probably would not be okay with this, so now I'm really worried that I'm abnormal. I should maybe add that I was molested as a child, but the abuse never involved speaking, and I was never forced to actively respond (I was touched while I was sleeping a few times). So I don't think this has anything to do with it, although it may be because I felt like my childhood was stolen and I had to grow up too fast?

This isn't a fetish..because from what I've learnt, a fetish is something you cannot go without. This is more of a occasional thing that just really turns me on. Help! Is this a really bad situation to be in?
BAD PSYCHOTHERAPISTS HAVE PERPETRATED a major crime against our culture. They've managed to convince us that everything that isn't extremely typical must be dysfunctional and must have some deep-seated, twisted, abhorrent root that must be examined and removed like a tumor. It's a terribly negative way to see the world, but more importantly, it's wrong. It's not wrong to think that past conditions coalesce and make you who you are today; it's wrong to focus exclusively on a few relationships to the exclusion of so many other factors and attribute the most sinister, unconscious motivations to people. /rant

The truth is, people are curious and playful and creative by nature. They experiment with roles and circumstances--especially forbidden ones--that place them in exciting, new terrain. And there's nothing bad about that or wrong with that. You don't need to feel guilty for anything. It doesn't mean you secretly want to be molested, if that's what you were thinking (although you're still in the running for Raging Pervert).

Lots of people, especially women, fantasize about submissive roles which is, by the way, how I'd characterize your fantasy. They try it on for a while and see how it goes. Sometimes they stick with it; other times they get bored and move on to something mellower or even kinkier, which I guess makes this a gateway kink. (Hah.) Really, there could be a lot of reasons a person would fantasize about a playing a submissive role, but I say what does it matter? If it's not ruining your life or the life of others, then you're fine. You can let go of all the worrying and stress and start having some fucking fun.

Finally, a tip: instead of bringing it up with your boyfriend in a formal conversation, try and say* things like "I like it when you tell me what to do" and when he does it, tell him (and show him) that it's turning you on. If he seems hesitant, you can always ask him to try it out and let him know he has the option to stop role-playing at any time. You can always seize that option too by saying something like "yeah, I'm over that about you just fuck me." *cue this sound*

* I mean, do this as you're messing around, not, like, when you're ordering coffee or doing your homework. That would just be awkward. "You'll have the soy latte," he whispers. Yeahhhnot so much.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Most Profound Realization

In my years – it already sounds sappy. I apologize in advance for the sap, but in my years I’ve picked up on a few patterns, made a few clever observations, and built a few philosophies which could change the world if people listened. It sounds arrogant, but it’s true. But one of my most-prized realizations, for lack of better term, is that everything’s okay.
There are a lot of psychotherapy and self-help books out there. A lot of people try and tell you how to live life correctly. Truthfully, I think we’re all looking for that. We want to know that we’re taking the right step towards some notion of success. Nearly everyone has a prescription they want to dispense to you and more often sell to you. All these prescriptions give your mind something to chew on and to feel safe pursuing, so you don’t have to feel confused and panicked.
You’re probably saying “I never feel panicked.” Panic manifests itself in different levels of intensity. On the extreme end of the spectrum, you have full-blown panic which can be accompanied by some kind of paranoid psychosis. People in panic are hard to rationalize with and you often just have to let them cool down.
On the other end of the spectrum is mild panic which shows up as a kind of nervous, ubiquitous agitation. We’re not relaxed, not really engaged with reality. We’re looking for something. We’re good as long as we have something to take our mind off the panic, like a prescription.
The prescriptions come in many different forms. Ultimately, they replace the pervasive confusion with a false self. They manufacture identities for us. They strengthen our self-concept and make us feel like we’re winning the contest. They promise that if we follow their treatment, we’ll succeed in becoming healthy or rich of famous or liked or psychologically balanced, or whatever. But they always promise that we’ll reach some goal that has been assumed to be important.
Is it important to be healthy or famous or successful? It’s not obvious to me why that’s so important. It makes sense, from an evolutionary standpoint why we should be programmed to want those things: they ensure the propagation of our genetic material, and so, if our ancestors possessed these needs, they would have passed them onto us and out-competed their lazier, less ambitious neighbors. But that certainly doesn’t mean it makes any real, absolute sense to continue wanting these things. What does it really matter, in the big picture?
It’s in my most profound moments that I realize everything is already okay. It’s not that it’ll be okay when we pass the next milestone, finding the perfect job or the perfect friends or partners. We don’t even have to get rid of the pervasive confusion and panic we feel. Because it’s okay.
I don’t always know that it’s okay, and struggling to believe it’s okay has always struck me as absurd, for if things were truly okay, they would need no struggling with. The moments of clarity seem to come almost by their own, without my planning and coordination. They seem to come when I’m completely honest with myself and with others about how I think and feel. They come when I’m honest about my fears and honest about my pain and hurt. I don’t always know that being honest will work out. I usually just go for it, kind of like jumping off a cliff into a pool of water (which I’ve done once, and it was scary, and hilarious).
The funny thing about okay-ness is that whenever I feel it, all I want to do is give it away to others. I want them to know that everything is okay as well and that there’s no reason to panic. The best way to do this, I’ve found, is with body language. A soft voice, a soft touch, and a gentle but confident stare while you smile and tell someone that’s everything’s okay. It helps affirm okay-ness in yourself, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What makes a good teacher?

Hi Edahn, 
I want to ask something about teachers. What makes a good teacher? Who can be a teacher? Could good teachers save the world?

WHAT MAKES A GOOD teacher. That's a tricky topic. To answer, we first have to delineate the role of a teacher. 

In the narrowest sense, a teacher is supposed to teach information to students so they can understand it, record it, and recite it back. Unfortunately, our education system here in the US has placed a lot of emphasis on the ability to recite information and not enough emphasis on ensuring that student understand what they're learning. It's not the teachers' fault, though; it's the unqualified people who are designing and implementing educational policy to the detriment of students. 

In a broader, more interesting sense, a teacher isn't just charged with imparting information, but with the much more important task of imparting values and social norms. Think about the people we celebrate as heroes--Ghandi, MLK, Jeebus, Buddha, Einstein--all these guys were really great teachers. They taught us what was important in life and staked their reputation, and in some cases their lives, on those beliefs. They helped us understand what peace and freedom are about and how to establish them wisely rather than violently.

So what makes a good teacher? I'd say ethical maturity is their most salient quality. They've developed a set of values, a vision for the world, a plan for achieving it, and the self-discipline needed to see their plan to fruition. Some teachers teach by example (e.g., Joan of Arc) while others teach by instruction. The good instructors know how to reach others. They understand where their students are at and know what they'll respond to best. Passion? Information? Activities? Humor? It depends on the audience and the teacher's gifts.

The values they develop don't just have to be peace and love and gushy stuff like that. They could also include humor, joy, laughter, intelligence, knowledge, art, etc. To some degree, though, I think all authentic value-sets include peace and harmony as a value.

Who can be a teacher? Although I believe that good and bad are subjective concepts, I there is a such thing as an objective right and wrong. I think it comes from our nature, and you can observe it in yourself very clearly when you see cruelty. With that said, everyone has access to right and wrong, everyone can develop a set of values, and everyone can develop a vision, a plan, and self-disciple. Ergo, everyone can become a teacher.

Your last question is "can good teachers save the world?" I think that depends on the quality of the students and whether good teachers are identified and honored. The best teacher with the worst class isn't going to accomplish very much despite having great skills. I constantly ponder the question of whether our "class" is capable of being educated or not. I go back and forth all the time. These days, things change so fast and so drastically, it's hard to predict what's going to happen. I used to think we were screwed, but then Iran's nuclear ambitions were frustrated, Wikileaks made its disclosures, protests started happening around the world, and people are finally waking up to corporate greed and recklessness and all the deception and injustice that pervades politics. Those are some reassuring signs.

As a society, we've lost touch with what it means to be an exceptional teacher and we've become obsessed with superficial results through standardized testing. We've forgotten what a teacher is really supposed to do, and decided, incorrectly, that the art of teaching can be industrialized. The same thing that happened to restaurants in the 1950s with the drive thru is now happening to our schools. Seduced by the idea that standardizing education and making it nearly-automated and mechanical is a good thing, we've tried to mass-produce education like a product on an assembly line -- standardized tests, standardized curriculum, standardized evaluations. And it just doesn't work because teaching is an art that requires intimacy, feedback, and flexibility. But myopic, perhaps ambitious people want to believe otherwise and in pursuit of their goal, have devalued teachers and stripped them of their creative freedom as well as their income. Those with real talents are unable to use those talents. We're drastically changing the nature of education for the worse. We've got to wake up soon, and ironically, it'll be a teacher (or a group of teachers in the form of concerned parents) who exposes what we're doing wrong. The web is a good place to start a movement like that.

In closing, I don't want to say "we all have to be teachers" because it sounds really cliché...but yeah, we all have to become teachers. We have to stop confusing opinions and affiliations with values and learn how to discern right from wrong. If we hold those values sacred and abide by them, we become true teachers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Meaning of Life

This is a big post for me. It's the product of a lot of reflection, disappointment, and confusion. Here it goes:

The Meaning of Life is to Make Beautiful Moments

Yeah. I actually think it's that simple. Let me try and explain how I arrived at my conclusion.

I've always been kinda interested in fashion. To be honest, I sucked at it for most of my life. My style has pretty much been the same since I was in 6th grade: plaid shirt, jeans, tennis shoes. As I got older I became envious and curious about people with really great style. Great style is like great poetry or a great musical riff. You can try as hard as you can to boil it down into its components and replicate it through formulas, but there'll always be something missing. Real art is mysterious and it just works. It communicates and inspires.

Seeing people convert their bodies and clothing into works of art was amazing. It's still amazing.

Resolving the Existential Crisis

I've drifted in the existentialist fog for a pretty long time. My dilemma, as I can best articulate it, came down to trying to reconcile my understanding of nature with my personal goals. Specifically, how could one objectively look at the universe, it's unfathomable size, and it's patent randomness and declare that one thing--one circumstance--has any more value than any other circumstance? How could one decide that one goal is worth pursuing over any other goal? Aren't all goals just different arrangements of matter? Isn't one arrangement just as cold and meaningless  as the next? If so, can there ever be anything in life worth pursuing?

Life & Art

I think the answer would be "yes, it's all the same" if it wasn't for art. The fact that some arrangements of stuff yields beautiful results, while others do not implies that some arrangements are unique. Are they unique enough to matter? Maybe. I don't know. Right now, I don't think it makes a difference. Art is interesting. It's amusing. It seems important. And if it isn't, who cares. It's nice to be moved to be moved spiritually once in a while. Art and its byproduct, beauty, elevate some organizations of matter over overs and it gives us something to aim for, even if we're only aiming for something because it's lovely.

The universe is our cosmic wardrobe. We can take the pieces we have--the matter, the particles, their interactions--and arrange them in beautiful, pleasing ways. We can make art out of life itself by bringing people together, helping them find meaning and peace, guiding them towards understanding, sharing joy with them, and/or helping them live in harmony with the planet. We can rearrange matter over and over, creating sequences of beautiful moments.

That goal is something I can aim for and I don't have to feel like a total fraud for pursuing it. I don't have to lie to myself and pretend something is meaningful when I can't understand why it's the case. Beauty is neat. Art is neat. Fashion is neat. Something to master.

Making Beautiful Moments is Easy

Creating beautiful moments is easy when you feel a sense of beauty and peace inside you. Be watchful because it doesn't always look the same from person to person. For some people, it's quieter, for others it's more playful. And then on top of that, each person changes from year to year, month to month, day to day, and even hour to hour. But the root is always the same.

Finding beauty is easy. You practice honesty with yourself, which is another way of describing meditation. You're honest about your experience and compassion and understanding blossom naturally. You can also collect truly beautiful things. Watch beautiful things and be on the lookout for beautiful moments.

It would be great to see an army of soldiers who dedicated themselves to fashioning beautiful moments. I suppose that's what it means to really be religious. 

Click to enlarge.
This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Feel free to share your own in the comments.
Longest. Caption. Ever.