Prologue: The End
Over a year and a half later, it’s time for me to look back and say that this is the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Since posting my last several entries, as with anyone else’s life, events have transpired, lessons have been learned, mistakes made, experiences accumulated, and wisdom and maturity both lead to insight.
In short, I recall the advice of Mr. Brett McKay of one of my favorite sites, The Art of Manliness: “Beware the too compelling narrative“. Alongside the heartfelt wisdom of Jack Kornfield in his podcast on heart wisdom, Episode 5, Trauma and Freedom, telling our story helps attend to the trauma we carry so that it eventually loses its hold over us. The synthesis of these two ideas I have spent much time reflecting on leads me to conclude that I have told my story finally instead of hiding it within, and it no longer holds power on me. At the same time, I have looked over how I have told this story, and found the problem of too compelling a narrative.
Yes, this blog has been characterized by its complete openness so that others may see me as I am. I do not hide myself, and I have been accused of being a victim, or complaining too much about my life when everyone has their own suffering, even dismissing my homelessness, my sexual assault, the loss of friends to terrorism, and trauma of life in 13 countries from loss to disillusion.
The problem with their view is that while I use this to share myself and be present to my emotions, they are criticizing me and trying to prevent me from healing. While I can appreciate their concern, it’s one thing to say, “Hey, you’re a victim, get over it, stop complaining”, it’s another thing to listen to someone, say, “I hear you, I’m here for you” and then when the time is right, help someone through their process when the time is right. Only an unawakened and insensitive individual believes that bullying and dismissing someone is helpful. Interestingly enough, I find that the least compassionate were the so-called “Titanium People”, those who recover and create a narrative of a rise and fall and rise again for themselves, and are impatient towards others who are not rising as fast as they have, which is detailed in all its nuances here: http://lifehacker.com/walking-in-someone-else-s-shoes-actually-makes-you-less-1738178741.
So when I say that this is the end, I mean that it’s the end of this narrative that has been created between the context and subtext of my words. I’ve gone from being slave to my emotions to being witness to my emotions as I have embraced a side of myself I’ve found to have been hiding, even when sharing this narrative of myself.
Before anyone else reads further, I implore you to read those two articles and spend time listening to the Jack Kornfield podcast episode for informed insight, especially before you make any judgments or comments.
Part I: Traveler’s Tales
The kindest and most compassionate thing I heard from one of my closest friends when asking where I went wrong in an argument and conflict I had with my ex-lover is something that I apply to my own understanding with others. Her words to me were these:
Right or wrong, we don’t know what’s accurate since you both have your view on how events turned out. However, what we do know for certain are your emotions: you were hurt by her actions and her words. You felt hurt, and then you weren’t given a chance to be heard, and unfortunately, it got worse was that you were forbidden not just by her, but other ‘friends’ who told you to ‘Shut up and get over it’. You weren’t allowed to share your view, and you were told your feelings were wrong, accused you of being judgmental, and hasted to just ‘get over it’.
E.S. is not a Buddhist, but she is in my view a Buddha. She is awakened for her compassion, insight, patience, kindness, and love, and this is why we have remained friends for over 18 years now. What I love about the wisdom of the Buddha is that he teaches that suffering exists, and we should acknowledge this, and in doing so, we can learn to transcend it eventually. The problem with many people is that they dismiss suffering through categorization and the resulting (il)logical evolution into trivialization: words like “People are suffering in Africa” or “Everyone has problems, yours aren’t that great” create a dialogue internally and socially that says no one is allowed to feel their emotions, and therefore, no one can recover from them.
I am reminded of my father, who in his dying days nearly six years ago, insisted that he had no cancer and the doctors were merely businessmen trying to cheat him out of his money. Even with aphasia, his six strokes, weak body, blindness, and everything else, he insisted on being strong. There is an application of being strong and stoic when undergoing unfavorable circumstances, but this is not the appropriate scenario for it to invoked; if anything, it was a demonstration of stubbornness, and I can’t help but feel sad for someone who refused to be weak because he equated vulnerability with weakness. He judged himself and hated himself when he wasn’t strong, but it is natural and perfectly normal to be hurting physically and emotionally, and okay to ask for help. To try and be strong and invincible, or “Titanium” is to create a thousand weaknesses.
Laozi (or Lao-Tzu) describes it very well in Chapter 76 of the Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) with a translation from Feng and English:
A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.
Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the discipline of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
A good takeaway from this is that humility is the king of all virtues, and loving-kindness the queen.
Observance of this eternal truth found in the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada (sayings of the Buddha), Islam and Christianity about humility and loving-kindness offers additional insight again when looking at the scientific example here in this Art of Manliness article on Men and Status:
Alpha Males on Serotonin: Calm But Paranoid
The popular conception of alpha males is they’re overly aggressive brutes who maintain their power through force. But research on both chimps and humans tells a different story.
Scientists know that as an individual increases in status, serotonin levels increase in turn. They also know serotonin reduces aggression and increases pro-social behavior in both chimps and humans. So it should follow that the friendliest and most calm chimp or human should be the alpha in a particular group. And that’s exactly what researchers have observed again and again. In male chimps, the alpha male rarely uses aggression to maintain his status. Instead, he grooms other chimps, gives gifts, and patrols the perimeter, warning of possible dangers. In short, he’s calm, friendly, and protective.
But while alpha male primates are calm for the most part thanks to serotonin, studies have found that they also have elevated cortisol levels in their system. Researchers believe this is due to the alpha male’s need to always be on the lookout for would-be pretenders to his throne. Having to keep his eyes open to possible usurpers makes the alpha a bit paranoid and anxious. His elevated serotonin levels blunt the desire to act out aggressively, while increased cortisol levels up his stress. The alpha male’s life thus ends up being one of calm but constant vigilance.
So what about low-status males?
Because they have lower serotonin levels, they’re much more irritable and more likely to use aggression to gain status. In chimps, it’s the low-status, low-serotonin males that are more likely to pick fights and take risks like jumping from tree to tree. Low-status males simply have more to gain from violent aggression than high-status males, who have more to lose by engaging in such behaviors.
Similar patterns have been found in humans as well. High-status men tend to be calm, cooperative, protector types. In my work on AoM, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of former Navy SEALs and special forces operators, and to a one, they’ve been the nicest guys you could meet, with little of the aggressive, irritable edge stereotypically associated with “alpha” males.
Low-status men, on the other hand, typically have lower serotonin levels, which in turn makes them more cranky and aggressive. Researchers have conducted experiments that have shown that low-status men are much more likely to use showy displays of aggression (yelling, insulting, violence) to try to gain status than men who already have high status.
The sad irony is this aggressive approach to status actually keeps many of these same men in their low-status positions. Insulting and bullying may get you some status in the short-term, but in the long-term it just creates resentment, which will eventually result in a status decrease. Even chimps won’t put up with overly aggressive alpha males for very long. In one experimental group, a male chimp aggressively started jonesing for the alpha position. A few days later, that would-be alpha was dead.
Instead of using bullying and aggression, low-status males would be better off trying to find ways to demonstrate how they’re valuable to the group. If they focused on being useful, rather than important, eventually, the importance they crave would come.
I do not pretend to make any claims on my status, but speaking for many people I’ve encountered, even wealthy, so-called financially “successful” individuals, their lack of sensitivity, rigidity, toughness, and aggression indicates yes, they are driven to ambition to climb, but their emotional state and social demeanor indicates that they are nowhere near where they want to be, and quite unhappy, just as unhappy as my friends who are not financially well-off but still struggling. Where they parallel one another is that they are both trying to climb the Holy Mountain, where at the mythical peak, they will find serenity as their reward, and both confuse financial stability as the means to get there. Sorry, but I’ve concluded that they are climbing the wrong mountain to find their answers and tranquility. I have also made that mistake before myself, and when I catch myself falling into that mental trap, I remind myself to be here now.
Now to counter this point, I acknowledge that while there are critics who are primarily people who could endeavor to practice more mindfulness, loving-kindness, and compassion, the nearly six years of sharing my stories and musings here is that I have found people (or people have found me) and said “Hey, I’ve felt that way too, you are not alone, weird, or messed-up.”
Part II: Integrity and Accuracy
Some of the common frustrations I’ve had with people is that they tell me, “Oh, you’re spiritual, you shouldn’t be angry, depressed, be pissing other people off, etc.” as a common criticism. The spiritual being is not someone who is without emotion and above humans on the contrary: the spiritual being is witness to his emotions, aware of his imperfections, and nurturing towards himself and others. Even an Atheist knows this simple truth, and can be called a spiritual being, even if the terminology is not the same, the essence is there.
The Dalai Lama can carry the weight of all the tragedy, trauma, and suffering of Tibet, but that is not the end his story, his spirit is still free anyway and he can be joyful and laugh. One does not forget the sadness or anger, because they are part of the human experience, one simply acknowledges them and asserts that the emotions serve us, they do not rule or enslave us. To tell me that I can’t be allowed to feel angry, hurt, depressed, argue, or be imperfect, especially because of my spirituality is to tell me to stop being human, to have no story.
In the writings of Joseph Campbell, we follow the hero’s journey through his spirit being tested and refined through the conflicts, and he is not unemotional or infallible–we relate to him because we feel his pain, his anger, his hurt, and admire him for his commitment to do great things and embody the virtues we love from kindness, altruism, compassion, and selflessness to serve others. Without the death of his father, the threat to his mother and family, the tyranny of dragons, and the coldness of his uncle, the hero’s character would not be shown.
Likewise, in our own stories, it’s easier to say we are spiritual and practice the virtues when life is “stable”, but when there are difficulties. Our character is determined by our attitude when we have everything, and our patience when we have nothing. We are all on the hero’s journey, we are all protagonists of our own narratives, we are not perfect, but we strive to better ourselves and should not be enslaved by the narrative either. I find this in Hexagram 47, Oppression, from the I-Ching and The Gnostic Book of Changes (an online interpretation of the I-Ching):
The one thing the Jewish mystics never lost sight of was the suffering experienced in the arena of the profane. They did not retreat from this suffering, but sought instead to find meaning in it by living it. This is the core of mysticism. The temple in which the sacred marriage takes place is the world.
C. Ponce — Kabbalah
So while we shouldn’t be enslaved by our narrative, the solution is NOT to censor or correct it and interpret it. By refusing to let people tell their story, you don’t allow them to eventually outgrow it. A comment from one article mentioned earlier about being in other people’s shoes the following:
People forget that the shoes and the road may be the same, but the feet aren’t. No two people are the same and the inherent and learned emotional, mental, and physical strengths they possess will vary.
A personal story I recall was about a master and student in conversation: the student was upset that after all his hard work and training, he still didn’t feel like he was where he was supposed to be, disappointed at his imperfection, how he still got angry and had erections, and just wasn’t enlightened. The master laughed and tapped him on the crown, telling him that a butterfly was once a caterpillar, and in knowing that a caterpillar will one day become a butterfly, it should stop worrying because all it can do until the time is right is simply be the best caterpillar it can be first. So I am not a butterfly (yet), and I therefore need to acknowledge this for myself and for others for not being perfect.
I believe then the issue is having empathy rather than sympathy, and very important is to have self-compassion. Take for example in the Art of Manliness podcast Episode 88 on changing the stories we tell about ourselves–especially to ourselves.
I’ve carried a lot of anger. I’ve also struggled with forgiveness and by my own admission, maturity.
Esteemed author David Whyte writes on anger in an interesting article about anger, forgiveness, and maturity:
What we have named as anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and care that it can find no proper outer body or identity or voice, or way of life to hold it. What we call anger is often simply the unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing, in the face of our love for a wife, in the depth of our caring for a son, in our wanting the best, in the face of simply being alive and loving those with whom we live.
Our anger breaks to the surface most often through our feeling there is something profoundly wrong with this powerlessness and vulnerability… Anger in its pure state is the measure of the way we are implicated in the world and made vulnerable through love in all its specifics.
That did it for me. Powerlessness. Injustice. Unfairness. Not being heard. The response was anger, because of feeling stuck. Naturally and unfortunately, it leads to a lot of immaturity, also from Whyte in the same article:
MATURITY is the ability to live fully and equally in multiple contexts; most especially, the ability, despite our grief and losses, to courageously inhabit the past the present and the future all at once. The wisdom that comes from maturity is recognized through a disciplined refusal to choose between or isolate three powerful dynamics that form human identity: what has happened, what is happening now and what is about to occur.
Immaturity is shown by making false choices: living only in the past, or only in the present, or only in the future, or even, living only two out of the three.
Maturity is not a static arrived platform, where life is viewed from a calm, untouched oasis of wisdom, but a living elemental frontier between what has happened, what is happening now and the consequences of that past and present; first imagined and then lived into the waiting future.
Maturity calls us to risk ourselves as much as immaturity, but for a bigger picture, a larger horizon; for a powerfully generous outward incarnation of our inward qualities and not for gains that make us smaller, even in the winning.
One of the most common calls for action when I do my daily I-Ching readings is to be patient, seek humility and be kind, and the rest will follow instead of taking action to satiate my ego’s desire to lash out, punish, correct, argue, and prove others that they are wrong and I am right. But I am not perfect, for willpower is fuel, and the will to summon patience I just don’t have for certain situations and people isn’t enough. Likewise, it’s also like your muscles and the gym: I try to practice and improve my patience and willpower, which takes years of practice, but the key there is to keep practicing, and many times, I just fail to do it after exhaustion. It leads to my anger and frustration about the unfairness in others who expect a lot of patience and understanding, yet fail to give it to me or anyone else. I am empathetic, but I also do not have patience because if I am working hard, I ask why they do not work hard or harder–reinforcing the earlier article about having less empathy if we’ve been in the other person’s shoes.
Again, empathy and compassion require practice, practice, practice, and defining it and its difference from sympathy is pretty important too.
What is a story without the storyteller? What is a storyteller without an audience? What kind of audience do we want before hearing our own stories? What kind of stories do we want to hear that are not our own? More importantly: why do we try to find ourselves in other stories?
My story is my own, but to interpret it as me being a victim with a bad attitude leads to my response with the question, “And where do you think this attitude came from? Is it ‘mine’?” My story is true, and I’ve had people attack it for supposed holes in the narrative because they can’t imagine what I’ve gone through, even saying I should have known what would happen, because they would (they don’t and wouldn’t). What matters, again, is that I was affected deeply. I do not try to make myself better or worse, I simply give context to say, “This is what happened, and it makes me think or feel this way, and have these values as a result”. Anyone can say the same thing, but morally right or wrong, you could benefit to ask why they interpret things as they do. Often, however, most people have not been patient with me or given the understanding, because the narrative I have, if I share the full details of events that summarize my life, are often dismissed as fabrications, embellished, and complaints. Perhaps people could learn the difference between an observation and a complaint, and that being vulnerable is owning our emotions as we seek support, not their judgment or criticism.
Part III: Gaslighting–Another Term I Wish That I Knew (Besides “TCK”)
During my counseling and therapy sessions, a term was introduced to me called “gaslighting”, and just like when I discovered what “Third Culture Kid” was and that I’m not crazy or abnormal, not only did I find myself wincing and laughing, but felt a huge burden lift off of my shoulders. It wasn’t just my differences of experience both from abuse and the TCK narrative, but people constantly gaslighting me.
Quick definition: “a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.” Further examples of how toxic it is for anyone’s life is here at http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/things-wish-known-gaslighting/.
A part of me wants to smile and laugh knowing I’m okay, another part of me wants to break down and cry because even up to now, my experience in different work environments across countries and cultural groups, my own family, and relationships with both ex-girlfriends and former friends becomes a lot more clear to me what is wrong with the dynamic.
The line I wish I had found myself able to say in addition to knowing what gaslighting is would have been incredibly useful in those moments when people were confronting me is from the above article:
“You’re trying to tell me what my experience is, and I’m not okay with that.”
Oh god. For every moment when I shared that I was manipulated and mentally abused and held hostage by that jerk in Pittsburgh, living homeless on the streets, my father locking me in closets or leaving me on the side of the highway for hours while he was in one of his drug-induced states (or accusing me of “being molested in a hotel room by a black guy” and beating me for not confessing to something that never happened outside of his own mind)–I wish I had that line; I wish I had that line when people were telling me that I’m just a victim and I have a bad attitude, especially when under severe cultural backlash for being iconoclastic due to not caring much for the norms.
“You just have a bad attitude.”– Okay, but where does that attitude come from?
“You’re just being a victim.” — And you are victim-blaming and shaming.
“You’re making this shit up.” — Then I am a terrible liar or a great liar, because not only do I believe the “shit that I made up”, but it’s been affecting me for years.
“You just need to change your words and your reality will change.” — I think what you really are trying to say besides victim-blaming is that you want me to change my words to suit your (mis-perception) of the reality I’ve been imprisoned in by other people’s will.
My father was notorious for gaslighting–bring up the events he did when on drugs, and he’d get mad and say I was lying, but didn’t shy from lying to make me look crazy. My younger sister would join in, and the two of them would do so in a group of people to mock and humiliate me, as I forget and blank out mentally.
My ex-girlfriend who left me while I was in the Peace Corps–if we were to look at her messages to me rather than my personal account, she was a skilled gaslighter and she didn’t even know it, who would talk about all these life plans together that included moving to Tanzania with me, but at the same time, lied to other people about how we weren’t serious and had no label, then went overnight from showing me off to all her friends as this guy in the Peace Corps who is a photographer and writer whom she really liked–to being characterized as some clingy, needy, obsessive, and toxic guy who wanted more than she was offering. Her messages to me that I will eventually share contradict this.
Actually, most people gaslighting me rarely know that they are gaslighting– outside of my father, sister, and mother or stepfather. They are sincerely convinced that they have a grip on reality and have done things like call me a sociopath because I don’t confirm to their norms or idea of what a well-balanced and functioning citizen of society is.
Now, compound that all with the fact I have a very unique narrative as TCKs are wont to do, plus the fact my metaphysical values are in Taoism and Vedic practice, and somehow, I’m all sorts of different things in people’s minds, which, in my experience, hasn’t typically been positive, except among my friends. But common among all cultural groups of people whom I call friends besides reminding me I’m not insane or stupid? They are gentlemen, they are adult women, they are compassionate, they are kind, and understanding–and often, they themselves have not only come from odd backgrounds not much different from me in terms of dysfunctional families and nomadic lifestyles, but learned to put it to use to serving others instead of saying, “Woe is me”.
We do have moments where we feel lonely and hopeless, but when surrounded by gaslighting know-it-alls who unfortunately hold emotional power or employment-sanctioned hierarchical relationships that dictate us as their subordinates, it’s hard to not have a disenchanted view of reality at times.
But as one of my gurus in my practice has told me (and echoed many times by my other teachers), we live in a world of illusions, and the more we cling to them, the more real those illusions become.
The mind is where many delusions and fantasies are created, but the mind also shapes reality. The mind determines what is real and what is false, and neither are correct, but at the same time, both are correct–because the mind decides for itself.
And how strong is a mind? In my time with Zen, I’ve found the mind is supreme. But in my time with Taoism, I’ve learned that if the mind is not strong, then the soul, the emotions, the willpower, and everything else can only ever reach as high as the mind currently is–so to make the mind stronger, everything has to be cultivated at the same time rather than being all elevated by the mind. Or, if everything is strong in the core muscles, why do we still need to work out our legs and arms? If we ignore our legs and arms, the core might be strong, but the arms and legs are still weak, but if we ignore the core and legs, we have big, disproportionate arms in relation to the body. They therefore all need to be strengthened together to make the overall being powerful, and the mind needs more than just its own cultivation, and the mind is not just our thoughts or emotions, but our Being.
Therefore, living in a world of illusions, if we all create our own delusions to endure this reality, I choose instead to create delusions that make me happier, forgiving, understanding, altruistic, loving, creative, and free–which I’m about to detail next.
Part IV: “Everyday is My Lucky Day”
On meditation wall (the wall I look at every morning when I rise to meditate), I see those words to remind me that before the day starts. My day starts with meditation and ends with meditation, and I’ve come to a point where these bookends help me see the illusions of everyday life.
My routine has some variation in order, but the general approach would be usually like this:
- Making my bed
- Brewing a pot of tea
- A quick fitness routine from the Charles Atlas course
- Mantra meditation
- Qigong, kung fu training, and Taoist meditation
- Reading my daily tarot
- A cold shower
That’s my morning–which can be about several hours long. And I still have my evening routine, but let me break down the morning into details of how and why I do it.
For starters, making my bed helps me mentally begin to organize my life–one annoying task for most people is just automatically taken care of in the morning.
Tea is not coffee, but it gives me plenty of hydration and herbal care without caffeine (depending on the type of tea I’m having, which is usually hibiscus and mulberry or rooibos). It helps me have a moment to myself and appreciate subtlety.
The Charles Atlas course is for personal health and character improvement rather than vanity, but it has helped me become stronger, so it’s my ideal exercise regiment, and use a healthier body to serve others and also be more independent of others when taking care of my own labor.
Mantra meditation gives me better thoughts for my mental landscape throughout the day–if only looking at the neurolinguistic programming (or reprogramming) level, which alone is enough to get me to do this.
The Qigong practices I do vary, but typically, I do Fragrant Qigong while listening to a podcast from Duncan Trussell, Stuff You Should Know, Art of Manliness, Freakonomics, Jack Kornfield, or Ram Dass. It’s one style of Qigong that allows me to not need to have my mind focused or closed-off–which, interestingly enough, allows me to be more focused later. I then do my Bedside Brocades Qigong form, then the Eight Treasures, and those give me internal strength and training–to prepare me for my kung fu and center into Taoist Golden Flower meditation.
Once the mind is clear, the muscles, tendons, organs, and mentalscape are all worked through, the mind is ready for reading free of my ego in tarot (and often with I-Ching), and I can have a more objective view of my Self.
Once it’s done, I make sure my body temperature has normalized and cooled down naturally, then I take a cold shower. The benefits shock me out of any despair I may have, help muscle recovery, and increase both metabolism and libido.
That’s my morning–output and input that make the rest of the day just incidentals, whether it’s work or dealing with difficult individuals.
The evening routine, usually it involves more Taoist or mantra meditation, journal writing, and a little more martial arts, plus reading from the great library here. These are not the current events I should theoretically be up to date on, but these give me the wisdom that is eternal–far more useful than reading about some celebrity’s recent affair and society’s reactions to gossip.
All of this leads inevitably to how much more I shape the environment around me and within me rather than allowing myself to be shaped by my multiple environments. This includes the two textiles here from Angkor in Cambodia and Sumba in Eastern Indonesia, various crystals and their esoteric purposes, and plants to give me the nature I crave when I am not outside of the city.
This ultimately gives me the environment to be better instead of relying on others, by framing it within my own daily rites and rituals. It is also self-improvement with the word of 2016: Kaizen, or, gradual progress, 1% a day every day. Part of my own self-improvement journey requires compassion, especially self-compassion, and I’m developing myself in that direction.
Part V: I’m no hero, I’m not special, I’m just another speck of dust, and that’s great
Looking back at everything and having been a Taoist and Vedic adept, I don’t need attention or pity. A lot of people hear my story, and they have pity–I don’t need that, I need people to be there for me. If they have neither and they gaslight, I just don’t care. In fact, many times, I don’t feel like anything has happened to me at all because I just see myself as not the protagonist of a film, not a superhero, not a legend, but someone who is off-camera or off-panel, not even mentioned or named, and is one of the many individuals who is not identified as an individual–but I know I am there doing the right thing serving others not because I am special, but because I am human, just like anyone and everyone else would, will, and does.
Few can see outside of their reality, or, The Matrix. I’ve seen it in my travels around the world, and my travels with the soul and the inner mind through my meditations–and these are the same thing the psychonauts of the psychedelic experimentation have seen, or the sages and yogis and roshis see, or the saints and philosophers. Who cares what others think and what others believe? I know what I am now, and my past doesn’t seem like it’s mine–the previous version of me, even in this blog, doesn’t even seem like it’s the same person writing this post now.
Reality is a very thin veil, and all the times I’ve been lied to, betrayed, manipulated, from seeing my happy, innocent childhood taken from me by my father, to the abuses in hotel rooms and in many schools, to the countless relationships with women who were unstable and abused me, to the friendships where I was abandoned and backstabbed, to my father dying and his so-called promises of an easy life after his hard-work–reality just gets pulled from under me so many times, I can’t care much about this or the next, because everything is going to change at the drop of a hat, but at least now–I have the sages and philosophers and awakened beings to lean on with my books and my practices to guide me rather than the ambivalent norms of even one society that I see still shifting across multiple groups.
No. Now, I am in control of my inner reality. I have the boundaries I can draw when I recognize they need to be drawn, and I am not one who will be easily swayed or gaslit. I can cry and I can weep for joy, I am human, and I am not just the sum of my experiences, sorrows, mistakes, education, possessions, and social relationships, but I am also that which grows both from and despite all of that.
As Seneca said:
So choose yourself a Cato–or, if Cato seems too severe for you, a Laelius, a man whose character is not quite so strict. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make crooked straight.
I am free.