Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Moment of Clarity

I found myself in a little bit of a mood last week. I didn't feel like talking to anyone for very long, and I was a bit irritable. At first, I thought it was all due to quitting smoking. So did a couple of the guys at my sober house who proceeded to throw cigarettes at me and say, "Hey, smoke these and calm down." Thank you, enablers (wink wink).

It didn't help much, because it wasn't just quitting cigarettes. I had switched a couple of days of work with a guy who wanted Friday and Saturday off. So essentially, I only worked for 7 hours between Thursday the 11th and Wednesday the 17th. Nice little time off, right?

I hated it. I was visibly miserable and I avoided doing anything or being around anyone. I enjoyed reading, meditating and skating, but it was bitch to get me motivated to do any of these activities. I was losing motivation.

Then...Thursday. Back to work for 7 of the next 8 days. I worked my ass off Friday and Saturday. And I snapped out of it. The cloud had been lifted. I could tell it was gone after being at work for only a few hours, too. I just went, "Ahhhhh...there I am. There's that fucking Zen again."

That's why I wash dishes, by the way. It's part of my "treatment". I need regular doses or I get snarky. Worst of all, I get complacent. That's really what happened, I think. I knew I didn't have to work for a while, so I kicked back and didn't do much of anything. I believe that's why a nice dose of busting my ass at work put me back on track.

Now, I told you all that to tell you about this:

4 AM is an amazing time of serenity and silence. Last night, I was outside, watching the moon and the clouds roll through the sky over it. I was content that I was back to my normal self and happy to be back working again. My mind was clear as I was in a sort of meditative state.

And then this thought hit me. HARD. It set off a chain of memories, good and bad...a chain of realizations and ideas...a chain of more and more thoughts until everything in my head lined up. At that moment, I figured out the meaning of life for myself, and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my time on earth and how I was going to live it. It was beautiful.

And something inside me said, "Hey, you might want to write all of this down so that you don't forget it." But I went, "Naw, man...I got this. It's not going away. I need to enjoy this moment. Besides, look at the moon, bro."

Well, I went to bed, at peace with the world. And I woke up, and I don't remember what that main thought was that set off my little epiphany. Whoops.

So yeah, people. That's what I wanted to tell you. I learned something meaningful and felt a divine sense of purpose within myself, and it was supposed to be the defining moment for me moving forward spiritually and emotionally. But I didn't write it down, so...fuck it.

But hey, the moon was pretty, right?


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

From Thich Nhat Hanh

I have to return Answers from the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh to the library at some point. However, I needed to post some passages that I hope to revisit often. So, I'm really posting this for me, but hey...I hope you get something from his words too:

Regarding artists and contributing to the betterment of the world:
One day in New York City I met a Buddhist scholar and I told her about my practice of mindfulness in the vegetable garden. I enjoy growing lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables and I like to spend time gardening every day. She said, "You shouldn't spend your time growing vegetables. You should spend more time writing poems. Your poems are so beautiful. Everyone can grow lettuce, but not everyone can write poems like you do." I told her, "If I don't grow lettuce, I can't write poems."
When I'm taking care of the lettuce or watering my garden I don't think of poetry or writing. I focus my mind entirely on taking care of the lettuce, watering the vegetables and so on. I enjoy every moment and I do it in the mode of "non-thinking." It's very helpful to stop the thinking. Your art is conceived in the depths of your consciousness while you're not thinking about it. The moment when you express it is only a moment of birth, the moment you deliver the baby. For me, there must be moments when you allow the child inside you to grow, so you can do your best and your masterpiece can contain insight, understanding, and compassion.

On dealing with those with money and power:
One of the ways we can help is to show the people who have a lot of money and guns that they can be truly happy. There are many people who are powerful and rich but who suffer very deeply. They believe that happiness isn't possible without money and power. That kind of thinking is at the very root of war and social injustice. If you can give those people a taste of true happiness they will be able to change their way of thinking. But you can't just change their thinking by talking. You have to do something else. You have to show that you are truly happy, even if you don't have a lot of money. According to the teaching of the Buddha, these people have the seed of enlightenment in them also. If we manage to touch that seed, they will abandon their way of thinking, and they will serve the cause of peace.

Regarding peace:
There are many of us who are eager to work for peace, but we don't have peace within. Angrily we shout for peace. And angrily we shout at the people who, like us, are also for peace; even people and groups dedicated to peacemaking sometimes fight amongst themselves. If there is no peace in our hearts, there can be no harmony among the peace workers. And if there is no harmony, there is no hope. If we're divided, if we're in despair, we can't serve; we can't do anything. Peace must begin with ourselves: with the practice of sitting quietly, walking mindfully, taking care of our body, releasing the tension in our body and in our feelings. That is why the practice of being peace is at the foundation of the practice of doing peace. Being peace comes first. Doing peace is something that comes from that foundation.

Enjoying life when so many others are suffering:
When you have a minute of peace and joy, yet feel that you have no right to be peaceful and joyful, that complex of guilt destroys your minute of peace and joy. And with the destruction of that minute of peace and joy, there's no more hope for you and for the world. So you have to retain that moment of peace and joy as the foundation for everything else. Hopelessness is the worst thing that can happen to us, especially when hopelessness becomes collective despair. It's very important to learn how to deal with despair, and not allow it to come and destroy everything, especially the wholesome things that are still left.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Confession

I've been through alot in the past few years, and I am trying to better myself.

I am confronting my fears as best as I can, but I've been avoiding something deep within me. I just didn't think I would be able to face it until I was strong enough.

I've learned that to truly love yourself again is to accept who you are, the good AND the bad. Denying that part of you exists because you don't want to face it isn't healthy.

So, I have to let this go. No more denial...no more lying to myself.

I like REO Speedwagon.


Welp, keep on rolling.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rehab Can Kill You

Glee star Cory Monteith, 31, was found dead in his hotel room on Saturday. The autopsy is Monday, but all signs are pointing to a drug overdose.

What hit close to home for me was that he had just been to rehab in April. Now, I don't know what kind of treatment center he went to...if it was an actual recovery center or a glorified spa retreat for celebrities pulling a PR move. Whatever. Regardless, the timing easily reminded me of the friends of mine who have died of an overdose right after completing (or in the process of) treatment. I felt compelled to convey a point that I haven't really discussed with anyone outside of support/recovery groups.

Rehab is dangerous.

The reason is pretty basic: an addict quits doing drugs for 30-90 days and loses their tolerance. If the addict then relapses, they risk overdosing due to the "regular" dosage they administer...or they step it down a bit, but it's still too much for their body to take.

A secondary reason is that getting in a recovery program can fuck up your high in the future. If you reach out for help because you think you want to quit then you relapse, the guilt ruins your high. So what does one do if the high doesn't meet expectations? Do more. Then see above paragraph.

I know this personally...not just because of dead friends. That's how I overdosed. I quit, had some clean time, relapsed, OD'd and had to be revived.

This does not mean I am anti-rehab. I am grateful for the treatment I have received. I am not against rehab...I am against half-assing rehab.

I do not recommend going to rehab to appease your family...or for your kids or your significant other. If there is any doubt in your mind about quitting and you're a serious addict, you might want to think twice about rehab being a little break in your using.

I encourage you to dive in and make a serious decision to stop being a junkie...open your mind and take advantage of every opportunity you get during treatment. Take it seriously, and it may help you save your life.

Otherwise, it might kill you.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Cash Rules Everything Around Me

I'm poor.

I've been not financially stable for a while, actually. And it isn't because of the economy. I did this to myself, as you who know me are probably aware. If the economy was booming, I would probably have a few more hours a week washing a few more pots and pans, but I would still be at the same sober house and still living day to day.

But here's the thing. I put myself in this position initially because of my past self-destruction and bad choices. I remain in this position because it's simple, low stress and I enjoy it. A lot.

Money is tight right now because I have to pay a monthly fee for my breathalizer, and I owe big to probation. Once I complete probation (next March), I will have absolutely nothing tied to me...no loans, no contracts, no commitments...hell, I prepay my phone every month, and I'm tempted to just cut that off and use the house phone at the sober house. (I...probably won't do that. Baby steps, John...let's not go full 1992 on your life.)

When I started washing dishes in 2011, I liked the minimalist lifestyle because money was a trigger for my drug addiction. Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton...these were not comfortable faces to look at for very long.

Things change. Money is not a trigger anymore. However, I keep the dishwashing job for another reason altogether: doing something that I despise is not worth the money. I worked at a video game company in what was probably the best office atmosphere ever. And after several years, I couldn't do it anymore. If you can, more power to you.

One time, a server dropped some plates off in the dish pit, and said, "Man, John, I could never do what you do."
Me: "Well, I could never do what you do."
Him: "Yeah, but I'm going home with $100 in my pocket."
Me: "Good for you. I'm going home with my dignity and self-respect."


(Actually, I'm pretty sure I said, "Then you're buying me a beer later, right, moneybags?" I liked to drink a lot.)

Right, the dignity and self-respect thing is a bit much. Sorry, waitstaff friends. This reminds me that one of the biggest benefits of being poor is that you get to be uppity about it. I have to keep a balance of doing what I think is right for me but without putting myself up on a pedestal.

"Oh, I don't watch TV. It truly rots your brain, and the commercials? They'll eat at the heart of you, slowly...and program you like the little consumer you are. You should read a book."
"You can't afford cable, can you?"
"No I cannot."

"I wash dishes because I refuse to be a corporate slave anymore while I sit in a cubicle and have my soul die slowly every day. I also wash dishes because I'm a convicted felon...but more because of that first thing I said..."

"I hate superficial women...but that's probably because I don't have any stuff."

So yes...I have to find a balance.

No money means not eating fast food all the time. That's good. Granted, I have to quit eating really awful food at home, because I'm not a college freshman. I'm slowly but surely getting back into grocery shopping like a normal person. Apparently, food can be prepared and consumed without the use of a microwave. Crazy.

And yes, smoking. It is indeed "impossible to sustain a smoking habit" in Austin these days. Another added benefit of my income level.

The point of this little entry (I think) was to get to this main idea...a point I made to my counselor...a point I need to make to members of my family who might be concerned about me career-wise: I found that I enjoy dishwashing, so I'm not looking to do anything else right now. It's not because I'm afraid of failure or that I don't think I'm good enough to do something else. My passion is in my art, not in a career job with benefits and 401k. Will I wash dishes for the rest of my life? Probably not. When it starts to suck, I'll do something else.

It's going to be okay. Just be happy that I'm 10 months sober today and I enjoy my life again.

I could use some dental coverage though. My teeth are shit.

Zen. Or tired. They look the same.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Finding My Own Path

I recently removed the Facebook app from my phone. I'd like to say it's because I want to spend more time doing something productive, but really it's because I have a shitty Cricket with almost no internal storage. The Facebook app is a beast. I have replaced it with Pandora, chess, Lode Runner (it rules!) and a book reader. Facebook took up most of my phone time as well as storage, apparently. But I digress.

With the book reader app and a new library card, I've been reading again like I used to (as in, when I was incarcerated). One of the books I'm reading is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse...thanks, Project Gutenberg. It's about the spiritual journey of a guy named Siddhartha, not Buddha. However, he meets Gautama aka Buddha in his travels, but he doesn't follow him, despite how wise he is. Here is why:

"But there is one thing which these so clear, these so venerable teachings do not contain: they do not contain the mystery of what the exalted one has experienced for himself, he alone among hundreds of thousands. This is what I have thought and realized, when I have heard the teachings. This is why I am continuing my travels--not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there are none, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and to reach my goal by myself or to die. But often, I'll think of this day, oh exalted one, and of this hour, when my eyes beheld a holy man."

The teachings of Buddha, to Siddhartha, did not account for another individual's unique life experiences and situations. He had to find a personal meaning specific to him on his own.

This resonates with me, because I've never been able to follow any religion, philosophy or concept with blind faith. Instead, I take bits and pieces that work for me and mash them into my head...and I move along. At this point in my life, in starting over, I have to follow my own path, and currently that path involves sobriety, meditation, Zen, skateboarding, manual labor, minimalism, writing, some isolation, "Fight Club", Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (recent addition to the list) and healthy doses of smart-assery.

One of the guys at the sober house was trying to get me to go to a meeting with him because he had to go to one every day, and I go to one a week. I encouraged him to go as many times as he could, and I avoided telling him that I can't stand meetings after 30 minutes. It's why I go to the one at the Austin Zen Center, because they meditate for 15 minutes, do a reading, people share for like 30 minutes, then we meditate again. Perfect, at least for me.

What's right for me is not right for that guy. Or anyone else, for that matter. I don't recommend getting fired from a cushy job, and losing everything only to find yourself while washing dishes and skateboarding everywhere because you no longer drive (although I'd love to see some of you on a board). It's working for me, and it's the path I'm on. And it may lead me to bad health, no retirement, poverty and obscurity, but goddammit, at least I chose it...and it makes me happy.

"When someone seeks," said Siddhartha, "then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal."  
-- Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Monday, July 8, 2013

On Facebook Political Arguments

I just spent an hour writing a response to a political meme posted on Facebook that kept referring to "Obama's socialism". I wrote such gems as "most Americans can't even define socialism without the use of Wikipedia or the term 'commie'...so maybe they shouldn't throw the term around just because they listen to talk radio" and "this comes from the website of a guy who actually has a picture of Obama with a middle-eastern beard photoshopped on him, and he wants to be taken seriously."

I wrote my lengthy response (way longer than this entry) AT the guy who posted this because I remember him being an idiot and an asshole in high school. After posting my response with satisfaction, I paused for a second, then I took another look at the profile of my former classmate...and it's not the asshole from high school, who is a year older than me. It's some other douche who is two years younger than me, and I have no idea who he is. Don't remember him at all. This means he probably remembers ME as being the idiot and asshole. I'm sure he does now after my rebuttal.

So I unfriended him.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Future is Here. Great.

Growing up, I remember being told what we could expect from advancements in computers and technology. While I was fascinated with an Apple II, I read articles on where computers were going...saw news segments on TV about new developments to look for in the automobile industry and with medical science.

"In the future, we'll have robots and flying cars and blah blah blah..."

Can you imagine what would have happened if a scientist or engineer correctly predicted the future and presented their vision to the public? They would have been institutionalized immediately and put on meds.

"In the future, we will use portable devices to keep in touch with others while ignoring other people physically around us. We will communicate to our friends with text, audio and video, but we will rarely see our loved ones face to face. This will be called 'social networking'."

"In the future, our society will have access to news and information from around the world...on a level that you cannot comprehend. People will spend hours and hours reading...reading captions under pictures of cats."

"In the future, everyone will have an outlet to communicate to the world that will be limited to 140 characters due to a lack of attention span of the populus. Individuals will use this mass communication tool to broadcast personal messages like, 'i am sleepy' and 'bored lol'."

"In the future, human beings will have a computer program that will add artistic touches to common photographs. Individuals will post newly-enhanced photos of say, one shoe...and title the photo 'Can't Find The Other One Grr', and the photo will be proudly displayed to the world as if they were Ansel Adams."

"In the future, people will spend all their time capturing moments they should enjoy but don't because they are too busy trying to frame the event properly on their portable device in order to share it with those who aren't there."

"In the future, there won't be flying cars. I don't know who told you that, but they're lying pieces of shit."