why is everything so heavy?

Photo Jul 23, 9 47 40 PM.jpg

 

It has taken me a couple days to really be able to take a deep breath and find any sense of balance since Chester Bennington took his own life because I really do understand the headspace that he had been vocalizing in his lyrics leading up to his tragic end.

I don’t like my mind right now…
… I can’t escape the gravity
I’m holding on, why is everything so heavy?

I find myself thinking and feeling the same things very, very, often. And before anybody reading this feels like this is a red flag, I promise you it isn’t. It’s just that I really do understand the day-to-day battle of fighting of extreme depression. Most of the time, I succumb to it and the subsequent feelings of isolation and hopelessness that it brings. The scary part is that I don’t know what would have happened to me had not a few people over the past few years entered my life and helped me find a reason (and a sincerely passionate reason, at that) to continue to live and to try and thrive.

Because even with those experiences with the people that I am endlessly thankful for, who continue to bring hope and light into my life, I find myself in the same headspace that Chester was singing about on “Heavy.” My thoughts really are heavy, and not just in a metaphorical sense. Anybody with depression could tell you that sensation of your thoughts physically weighing down on you. Your mind can’t process anything except for hurt or the pain that you are feeling in the moment. It pushes down on your mind until it squeezes out any rationality or hope trying to carry the weight of the mass of depression on it’s shoulders.

It’s unbearable at times.

I understand, despite whether one believes suicide is “selfish” or not (please never tell people grieving that sentiment), why somebody like Chester could succumb to that feeling, and it’s because I know how easy it is to let go of hope in those moments. To really and truly believe that things won’t get better, no matter what people tell you will happen.

A part of the reason Chester’s death impacted me so greatly is because I saw myself clearly in Chester’s pain. You see, I have hope that there are things ahead in my life worth sticking around for. I have people in my life that make me laugh, that make me so thankful for the life that I have. I even have confidence in myself to the point that I know I can make a positive impact in this world somehow.

But none of that helps when the darkness comes at you hard. 

When the storm comes, I have to buckle down and weather it as best I can, but I AM NOT STRONG ENOUGH ON MY OWN TO WEATHER IT. need the people around me to speak hope and the truth of who I am into these moments. I am not strong enough to fight the darkness on my own. None of us are.

The biggest lie depression tells us is that we are truly alone. But what happens when depression is right? What happens when we are all caught up in our own lives that we refuse to see the lives of those struggling next to us? Do we think we can just get a pass on surface conversation with each other? If a depressed person feels alone, and they are told again and again that they truly are alone by the actions of those around them, then the battle in darkness truly becomes impossible to win.

We need to be there for each other. And if you are a depressed person like myself that is intimate with this nightly battle, and yet somehow you have some reason to hope and keep moving, we NEED you to look out for others. I NEED to look out for others. It’s so easy to feel like a victim when you’re in a cycle of depression, but how beautiful is it that in our sorrow, our hopelessness, our loneliness we can somehow be a source of strength for someone else?

I’m sincerely so sorry I wasn’t in a position to be that someone for Chester, but I know, right now, I’m in a position to be that for someone else.

We can’t always dispel the darkness, but we can sure as hell endure it together. 

 

 

 

 

The Cello at the Edge of the World

 

 

famous_abstract_art_paintings_wallpaper_free_desktop.jpg

When I look out at a view like this, I must say, it is truly indescribable. The problem with saying something is indescribable, though, is that “indescribable,” is, in-and-of-itself, a description.

So to describe what it looks like at the Edge of the World by saying it is indescribable is frustratingly accurate.

“What do you see?” I ask her.

Instead of answering, she just yawns and nuzzles her head into my arm. Seven years old, always full of wonder, and she’s feeling sleepy at the Edge of the World. I slowly lay down with my back on the grass, bringing her along with me. Her mother would probably laugh right now. I wonder what her laughter would sound like here of all places.

I drift off thinking about that; I follow her laughter in and out of time as if it somehow held color, held shape, held her form; soon, I’m sitting in a familiar auditorium, watching her colorful, shaped, laughter serenely play the cello. She’s playing brilliantly, as always. The audience is entranced, as always; as am I, one with the audience, one with the music. She plays her final note and there is silence. She’s breathing heavily, but controlled, and then the smile I know so well starts to glide across her face. She makes eye contact with me and giggles. It’s just her and I.

I follow that laughter back to the present, at the Edge of the World. I no longer feel the weight of my daughter on my arm so she must be up. As I open my eyes, I see her walking to the edge of the Edge of the World.

“Did you hear her too?” I ask, noticing the chair and the cello sitting near the edge of the Edge of the World.

Instead of answering, she sits down on the chair, slightly tunes the graceful instrument, and begins to play. The melody was indescribable.

“What would mom’s laughter sound like here?” she says, as she continues to play.

I close my eyes and listen. The sound of the cello and the laughter are one. And here are we, father and daughter, mother and instrument, laughter and song, at the Edge of the World.

 

 

 

the fall of sentiment (one brown man’s pseudo-philosophical musings on life)

 

 

blue-abyss-nikki-marie-smith.jpg

While watching a short overview video on the life of Soren Kierkegaard on Youtube, I was struck by this concluding remark from the narrator because of how true it was of my own life — he says:

“Kierkegaard is one of those few philosophers that we can turn to when the world has badly let us down and we are in need of a friend who can fully understand the dark places we are in once the sentimental illusions that normally keep us going fall away.”

When I discovered the writings of Soren Kierkegaard almost exactly one year ago, I was feeling this idea deeply; I was in that dark place in life, seeing those so-called “sentimental illusions” crumble beneath me. It was indeed dark, and was certainly worrisome, but Kierkegaard’s writings gave me hope in the fact that I wasn’t the only person alive to have ever experienced this “angst” (a word Kierkegaard himself coined). In fact, I found out that a whole branch of philosophy addressed this tension, to which Kierkegaard’s ideas were widely credited as a foundation for, called existentialism.

Over a year, I’ve dived into existentialist thought; mostly Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, but also a little bit of Nietzsche (whose name is a serious trigger word for some Christians) and Satre.

I digress, though.

To me, Kierkegaard’s musings point to a fundamental problem in my life that I find myself dwelling on unceasingly, probably almost to the point that Nietzsche himself did before he went mad (that’s a telling sign). It’s this idea of disillusionment. And not in this bullshit hip kind of disillusionment that people make fun of us #millennials for, but that kind of disillusionment in which Kierkegaard wrote of when he said “when I opened by eyes and saw the real world, I laughed, and haven’t stopped laughing since.” I’m glad K could laugh about it, because instead of laughing I have been intensely despairing over this disillusionment.

Now, putting aside my convoluted explanations of some philosophical ideas, here are ways that I’ve experienced seeing through these “sentimental illusions,” mostly in the realm of how I interact with people, and how it continues to affect me. I’m not proud of some of the conclusions I’ve come to or my reaction to those conclusions, but this is an honest look at the last year of my life and what has been going on internally with me. I find it disconcerting and comforting at the same time (oh the wonder of paradox) that there have been tragic thinkers that lived before me that have experienced this, but they have been a guide to me during this time.

Let’s start by talking about relationships. Look, this one is tough. How are we supposed to relate to each other? Well, over the past four or five years, I’ve really learned a lot of great lessons about this. I’ve seen firsthand the beauty and the wonder of friendships that are built on trust, acceptance, and a really joyousness in the others’ presence. I’ve felt comforted in the most emotionally and spiritually difficult times in my life, and I’ve been able to reciprocate that care in a way that continues to humble me to this day.

However, the last year of my life has been an extremely lonely time. Sure, I’ve gone out with friends and have had “fun,” but the majority of my days and nights are spent in isolation (partially of my own choice, partially not), with just my overwhelming thoughts and loneliness to accompany me. The reason I say that this isolation is partially of my own volition is because sometimes I sincerely cannot handle being in relationship with pretty much anyone right now. Being with people makes me feel lonelier than when I’m alone and it has taken me a long time to understand why.

As the great #millennial prophet Lorde sung on her recent record, “They say ‘you’re a little much for me, you’re a liability,’ so they pull back, make other plans, I understand, I’m a liability.” I resonate with what Lorde is talking about. This idea that I’m a liability, I’m a little “too much” to handle, that I have the propensity to be antagonistic to the desires of the people around me. If it’s in the context of church, I’m questioning a lot of the ideas presented. If it’s in my friendships, it’s because I don’t want to party or look at memes all day. If it’s romantically, it’s because I’m way too sentimental or emotionally intense. It’s not that I can help these things, it’s just a bi-product of this disillusionment of the relationships I’m in.

Somehow within my friend groups and the friend groups around me, you are cared about when you are useful or when you look the same as everyone around you. It’s this weird cause-and-effect thing. For instance, in response to everyone around me constantly getting shitfaced or high instead of talking through the things that are happening in their lives, I’ve really lost any and all desire to touch alcohol or weed in my life. It’s not based off of some random holier-than-thou sentiment or moral conviction on drinking or smoking (I have none), but rather a reaction to the things around me that make me feel alone. And because of that, I’m usually not around my friends when they decide that’s how they want to spend their time (which is around 99.8999% of the time) because during those interactions, I feel increasingly isolated and saddened.

Another example of this type of cause-and-effect idea in my relationships come in the way that I connect to people. I’m a very, very, very, very, very emotionally connective person. What I find in almost all of my relationships now is that people have a desire for a shallowness in the relationship as to protect energy levels and as a way to divert any thoughts towards things that are causing anxiety — the problem with that is that I am innately wired to confront those anxieties or problems within my own life and the lives of the people that expect to be in relationship with me. During the week of my birthday last year, as the room was going around with “affirmations” of myself and another person in the group for our birthdays, a roommate of mine said that I was “a black hole of no bullshit,” that people that got near me would be sucked into my no-bullshit zone. While it was a flattering compliment indeed, it revealed to me how people saw me; they saw me as somebody that would go 0-100 real quick. I can see why people avoid depth with me, but nonetheless, the distance I feel people will put between themselves and myself is worth despairing over, mostly because I fundamentally can’t (or have any desire to) change that part of myself.

Spiritually, I feel isolated from the majority of people physically that are around me. Most around me are either going through this “cool” rebellion of a faith they’ve ditched over the past few years because it was hip to do so, or they are holding on to a ridiculously bastardized and Americanized version of a “faith” that is doing a lot of harm to people across all aspects of life. Of course, these are gross oversimplifications, but nonetheless, I find myself in neither camp. Yes, I’ve been disillusioned by a lot of the American church, but my deconstruction (and subsequent reconstruction) of my faith has brought me into a place where I have to move into the realm of podcasts to find a community of people that continue to help me grow spiritually. While this is a blessing in and of itself, it does wear on me that this community is all online and that in my physical space I am still left to myself, listening to these podcasts into the night.

Art is another way I try to make this emotional connection within my relationships, but even on that front I find my interactions to be unbearably shallow. The books I’m reading, the podcasts I’m listening to, the movies and shows I’m watching, all of these conversations last for about five minutes until I can see the person I’m attempting to engage with move on to something else in their mind. On the flipside, those same people will come to me to talk about the art that moves them and I will listen and engage for hours. So then I’m left to my own at night. To read those books and watch those movies by myself, to talk to no one about them, and lament over this dying energy within myself. I’ve had one friend in the past who-knows-how-long that has engaged with me over some art and ideas that have been impacting me, and who could guess that conversation with him was also one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had in a while.

This society has made me feel so lonely. I’ve made myself feel so lonely. I have friends that I love dearly, that I know love me, that I don’t really connect with anymore. I have people in my life that I thought were going to be great friends that have stopped engaging with me because my life doesn’t look like theirs. I have friends in my life that I believe want to connect with me, but don’t really know how, despite my constant communication that I can’t be surface-y with people I love and that I need people to care enough about me to engage in the things that move me with me, because I will certainly engage with the things my friends love in order to show them that I care.

I guess, despite all of this, I’m grateful that philosophers long dead have been able to be a companion to me, that Lorde is singing about these things, that there are people online that engage in these conversations, and that I have the opportunity to write about all of this.

I’m grateful that in some cosmic and abstract sense, I’m not alone. I just feel like it often.

 

 

 

 

me in a list. wow, number 15 will blow your mind.

Photo Jun 19, 4 46 33 AM.jpg

I started writing this specific post with the goal of commenting on society as a whole, specifically about the way we treat each other, but honestly I got annoyed with my own pretentiousness.

So instead, here’s something even MORE pretentious!!

Below is a ranty list of some of the more pertinent thoughts that have been in my head recently (as in like, the last year), along with observations I’ve had through my intense period of self-reflection over the last year.

Also, if anybody reading wants me to expound upon any of these ideas, let me know. For me right now it is impossible to articulate completely all of these thoughts, because a lot of them I’m still working through myself. I’d be happy to chat more or answer any questions, though.

  1. I would still call myself a Christian, but with a lot of hesitancy on what that word actually means anymore. I recognize the idea that if I had grown up in many other places around the world, I would not be Christian. I theologically am absolutely fascinated by the mysticism of the early Christian-church mothers and fathers. Modern sources, like Richard Rohr and Rob Bell, keep me grounded in a tradition that I continue to be confused by. The Bible, to me, is a rich source of wisdom and an equally rich source of confusion and division (ugh I hate this word, but also “messiness”), and has been probably the least-effective way that I encounter God in my own life.
  2. Institutional Christianity is something I abhor, and I think Jesus would too (I’m looking at you, “American Christianity).
  3. This last year has been ridiculously difficult for me to get through, especially when it comes to my relationships and the way I engage within them.
  4. I preach the importance of friendship but I have no idea what that truly looks like anymore.
  5. Most days I fall on two ends of the spectrum emotionally: I’m either in a pretty depressive and/or nihilistic attitude towards the day, or halfway through the day I’m filled with this amazing sense of optimism and purpose. This tension is maddening, but at least both end of the spectrum happens pretty equally.
  6. I can’t find the words to explain this properly, but I really haven’t felt a sense of “awe” or “wonder” in anything in at least a year. I catch glimpses, but nothing to the level of how it used to be. Yesterday, I actually felt a brief moment of awe, and that was an amazing and hopeful moment for me. Unfortunately for the most part, the “great” times now are usually just “good,” and the “good” times now are kind of just “okay.” This is one of the saddest things to me, and I’m really trying to be mindful enough to let thankfulness do its work to repair this.
  7. I can’t wait to move to China. A tiny part of me is driven by this unhealthy sense of just saying “fuck it” to the life I’ve built here in California because sometimes I feel so alienated in this life, but that honestly is a thought that only comes up every now and then. I’m mostly just super excited to unlock more of my potential and grow more into the man I am desperately desiring to become; someone that can love fully, without reservation, and to be able to be confident in myself to the point that I can be thankful for who I am in my totality. Right now, I’m more of an isolationist with low self-confidence with pessimistic tendencies. I’m sick of living like that, and I think a change in scenery will help me do the very hard work of maturing.
  8. I am moved immensely on some deep level by art and other people’s ideas and thoughts every single day, but the reason it doesn’t give me that “awe” and “wonder” like it used to, is that I experience it completely on my own. Part of my frustrations with everybody (including myself), is that we are all so shallow. Experiencing art together in its varied and nuanced forms is integral to a healthy relationship with me, because it’s simply how I connect to others. So when I have to experience art and ideas completely on my own, I am disconnected on a very deep level to the people around me. This is something that has done a lot of damage to me and to my relationships this past year, and I don’t really know how to fix it. So next time I want to share a song or an idea that a heard with you, it would do a world of good to me if you engaged with it. And vice versa, I want just as bad to be able to engage with the ideas and art that all of my friends and family are being moved by as well.
  9. In reference to number 8, check out Matisyahu’s latest single “Back to the Old.” It has resonated with me SO MUCH over the past two weeks. Particularly, the way Matis’ voice desperately sings out the line “I’ve been blessed but I’ve been tossed around this sea.”
  10. I consume a genuine unhealthy, and I mean actually unhealthy, amount of podcasts. I think it’s because I so desire to be able to connect with ideas, and although I try so hard to do that in person with the people I am in relationship with, those interactions tend to be just too shallow (more so, people are too distracted or actually just don’t care) and so I have to turn to the people having these conversations from afar to have any sort of engagement. This bums me out too, but I don’t know how to fix it.
  11. Twitter > Facebook. Sorry if you don’t see any life updates on FB anymore!
  12. I stress eat, and have put on more weight which contributes more to my lack of a healthy self-image, as well as energy. I also understand that being healthy physically is ridiculously important to being healthy mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve been working on it, but honestly it’s a weird vicious cycle where my own mood/thoughts contribute to me being apathetic or feeling hopeless about this aspect of my life too. I’m close to winning that mental battle though and have already made some life changes to hopefully start making steps towards being way more physically healthy.
  13. Despite the more gloomy and negative aspects of this post, I am doing well enough. I have a LOT of work to do on myself, but I am truly working on those things. It’s really hard, but it has been integral to making me stronger. I’ve been disillusioned by a lot, but my hope has also been renewed in a lot. I know I’m not living life completely alone, but I’d say honestly in a percentage it’s like 80% of my life is lived alone, and not necessarily because I want to.

So here’s to growth. Here’s to the painful work of recognizing our own faults and tendencies, but also recognizing where we want to end up as people. I want to be the best friend I can be to people right now, but I don’t know how to do that anymore in a way that takes care of my self simultaneously. I want to eventually be the best husband and father I can be one day, but right now I am nowhere near the man I need to be in order to realize that dream.

Somedays I suck at this life thing, somedays I don’t.

and that’s an okay place to be in.

The Land that Cuts the Sea.

 

 

Photo Jun 15, 9 59 32 PM.jpg“How much longer do you think we have?”

I kept walking, looking down at our feet. As I picked my head up, the last waning minutes of sunlight glowed in front of me.

“I’m not sure — maybe ten minutes.”

We had been walking for hours, hand in hand, out across the ocean on an endless strip of land that cut the blue blanket of water completely in half. I don’t remember how we got “here,” wherever “here” is, and I don’t know what will happen when the sun finally sets, but it certainly doesn’t seem like it will be an entirely comforting event.

But that is for the future, and this, this stroll across the ocean, is for now.

“What’s on your mind?” she asks, even though she already knew.

I mean, I could give her a recipe of things on my mind.
1.) Two heaping cups of confusion
2.) Four tbsps. of melancholy
3.) One-fourth cup of meaninglessness
4.) One whole stick of ‘an-unttainable-desire-to-hold-on-to-this-moment-forever’

So naturally, I repeat all of that out loud.

She giggles. The breeze dances across both of our faces.

“Listen,” she says, suddenly gravely serious, “this is not the end.”

“But how do you know that?” I ask, letting go of her hand.

But there’s no reply. She’s gone. I put my hands into my pockets and keep walking, alone, across the lonely strip of land that cuts through the middle of this lonely ocean. I still feel the warmth of her hand. I clench my fist to not let any of it escape.

Why are the words coming to me now? Why couldn’t I just say them moments ago while you were still here?

I would have turned to you and told you that I find it strikingly beautiful that, on an infinite spectrum of moments, there exists one such that your hand and my own were intertwined.

That for just one moment in time, there was nothing but connection between two people trying to find their way in a disconnected world.

I turn to look behind me: an endless ocean with an endless strip of land. I don’t know where this path on the water is taking me, but I hope you’re there when I arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the plight of an artist, alone.

Chris-Cornell-Press.jpg

Chris wasn’t just one of the greatest singers to walk this earth, but he was a husband, a father, a friend.

He was an artist that represented the pinnacle of creative expression; of that soul-bearing process that we all often take for granted — and yet, like many artists before him, he was left with such a profound sense of despair that the only release was to take his own life.

I’m so, so distraught that amazing, ripped-open and on display humans are drowning in despair while we mindlessly consume their souls as expressed in their art. That Chris Cornell today would join Robin Williams, Jeff Buckley, Ian Curtis and so many more truly does break my heart.

and makes me so angry.

What is it about our society that makes us okay with the way we treat our artists? That we expect them to move us, to understand us, to GIVE GIVE GIVE to us while we discard them as soon as someone new comes along. Why does someone like Kendrick Lamar have to explicitly tell us that “nobody is praying for [him],” as he shoulders this huge burden to bring healing to communities on his own? That we can listen to an album like DAMN., be affected by Kendrick’s assessment of society’s shallowness, and then take our shallow Instagram pictures and our snapchats is a slap in the face of the art that we claim affects us. What if right now Kendrick is inundated in the same sense of despair that caused Chris to take his life and we, as a society, are making fucking memes out of his art?

I truly believe that the way we shallowly engage with art is what drives a lot of our great artists into a space of despair. We’re okay with the casualties we cause as long as we’re entertained. Sure, we’re going to be sad about the death of this artists that supposedly mean “so much” to us, but then hardly even a day later we are going to move on and pump someone else’s music, or movie, or book into our bloodstream like the drug it is to us, unaware of how this symbiotic relationship to art is affecting the artist.

Chris sings on the heartbreakingly timely song Times of Trouble off of the Temple of the Dog self-titled record:

When you try to talk
And the words get hard
And they put you down
Don’t you stay
Don’t you ditch away…

But if somebody left you out on a ledge
If somebody pushed you over the edge
If somebody loved you and left you for dead
You got to hold on to your time till you break
Through these times of trouble”

In those lyrics are a poignant and heart-breaking account of a man reaching out to those around him only to be not only silenced by those same people, but used by them too.

I understand that my words on this subject may be harsh, but death is harsh. Despair is harsh. Hopelessness is harsh, and frankly, I don’t want to drive the amazing, beautiful, unbelievably talented upcoming artists to suffer the same fate as these artists that we claim to adore.

It seems like an overwhelming task. Society is set up perfectly for shallow human interaction, not just in the arts, but as a whole. Our voices on social media makes it easy to affirm or reject something in a millisecond; it breeds in us a desire to imitate and create Walmart versions of the art we consume, while we allow the real artists to suffer alone.

I wish so desperately that Chris Cornell grew up in a society where they treasured the gift of his voice and his words in a way that let Chris know that they treasured the deepest parts of him. That people engaged in Chris’ pain through presence and conversation. That fans wouldn’t simply buy his merch or take pictures with him just so THEY could get the likes on Instagram, but that they would believe so much in him and his art that their own lives would be changed by Chris’ transparency.

The people around you, are so, so, valuable. And the artists of our world are often the valuable people that we let down in the most profound of ways. So next time you see a friend honestly trying to create art, encourage them. Listen to their demos, read their rough drafts, study their paintings, and after you sit with their art, talk to them about it. Learn why they did what they did. Ask them about their dreams. Call them on the phone just to say that you are thinking about them. Be a friend to them, because I firmly believe that the way we treat our artists is the way we will treat each other as a whole.

To Chris Cornell, thank you. Thank you for bearing your soul and gifting us with a genuine unearthly voice. We didn’t deserve it, but you gave us all of yourself even though we couldn’t give you much in return.

As Chris sung these words with a pained passion about his friend Andy after Andy tragically died, I write them with a heavy heart mourning the loss of Chris: “Say hello to heaven.” 

in the moments.

When I lay down to “pray” each night, I begin by apologizing to the wall by all of the things I did wrong that day. I begin to ask the wall for things, and then my thoughts begin to drift to the book I was just reading, the podcast I was just listening to, how good that Boba tasted… and then I’m asleep. I reject that notion of prayer, but I continue to pray that way.

Real prayer, in my experience, is life changing.

I don’t hear any voices, I don’t really get guidance internally that comes from a source outside of myself, but I do experience gratitude.

It’s in moments that I pray. Prayer is a response, and as Rob Bell and Richard Rohr call it, a “flow” in to which I enter into. You respond when you think about the laughter of a friend, the high fives and the hugs. You respond to a powerfully written sentence in a novel, or a nice cool sip of lemon black tea. You respond to a Facetime conversation or a nighttime walk.

Prayer is gratitude.

When I’m overwhelmed with depression and loneliness, and I plead internally that God would take away my feelings, I’m reminded that I’ve made it through this before.

That’s gratitude. That’s prayer.

Jesus, to me, is in the moments. And even if you aren’t particularly spiritual, gratitude in the moments can be so powerful.

Prayer reminds us of the absurd amount of joy to be found within each day. It reminds us that our conversations matter, that the people around us are gifts, and that each of us are so resilient in our own way.

Prayer, my friends, is visceral in the moment, and it’s so much more about being attentive during a moment than mumbling a few words at morning or at night.

My gratitude guide your week, friends.

All is grace.