The following entries are a varied lot. Consisting of different thoughts on different subjects, and of varying length and scope, most are short essays that have yet to be placed into a larger more cohesive body of work.


Friday
Jun032011

on Beauty

One of the things I love about running is that it gives me time to think about stuff. This morning I woke up early and decided that the best way to determine my next writing topic was to simply lace up my running shoes and hit the road.

During mile one, when I wasn’t focusing on my breathing, a few random things crossed my mind. The first was money, and I thought that maybe I could write about that. Since I often debate the importance of money in my own life, I’ve been thinking about writing an essay on that subject for a while now. (I suppose part of me wants to make more, so I can feel more free and have extra time to travel, read, and write…. and another part of me knows that money isn’t that important in the grand scheme, and even if I had more time to travel the world, I may not write more than I do now).

Anyway…. after batting that around in my head for a few minutes, I looked up at the sky and noticed how beautiful it was. I thought to myself…. wow…. it’s truly wonderful to be surrounded by such beauty every day.

And then, I started wondering about beauty. What is beauty? I started wondering what makes a sunrise beautiful? What makes a person beautiful? What makes a woman beautiful? Is it all about looks? Is beauty purely subjective? Are there absolute standards of beauty? Or, as the old adage goes… is beauty simply in the eye of the beholder?

To be honest, I’m not positive; but somewhere around mile two or three, this is what I started to think about.

And then, I started asking myself… I wonder what really makes someone beautiful? What makes a person, a woman, beautiful like a sunrise?

I guess there is no single or simple answer. But, maybe beauty has something to do with an expression of genuineness or authenticity. Maybe a woman who has taken the time to develop herself and share her unique gifts with the world will appear more beautiful than a woman who hasn’t. Maybe, like happiness, beauty is actually a side effect of something else.

If happiness, or contentment, is what we feel when we are being true to our deepest selves, then maybe looking beautiful, or handsome, is how we appear to others in the process of doing so.

It’s funny how the people who try to be beautiful rarely are beautiful on a deeper level. Sure, a striking model may catch our attention for a while, but will her beauty stand the test of time? Will she still be beautiful when we get to know her? Will all the attention to her surface appearance wash away in the shower? Make-up, botox, breast implants, and even hair-plugs for men are poor substitutes for the inner beauty that shows through our eyes when we are fully engaged in life. And, I am always saddened when I see women and men who seem to be focusing on their façade at the expense of their foundation.

To me, there’s a difference between washing your skin with soap and covering it up with thick layers of make-up. There’s a difference between exercising to be healthy and choosing to have a facelift to appear younger. There’s a difference between buying a sturdy belt that matches your shoes and purchasing an expensive Armani suit to impress your coworkers. One approach seems more about wanting to look the way you feel, and the other seems to be more about filling a void your life.

While I agree that you can’t always judge a book by its cover, I do think that how we present ourselves to the world is an expression of what is going on within us. Our health, or lack thereof, is an expression of our spirit. Our skin, our hair, our smile, and our choice of clothes speak to the world. They give our friends and neighbors hints about what we value. They provide the cover of what’s going on inside our own personal story.

Fundamentally, I think authentic beauty is about living a healthy life. I think we are all more beautiful when we take care of ourselves. And, I think that when we are doing what we love, we become attractive in ways that are simply impossible to fully understand and describe.

In the end, maybe the most beautiful people in the world aren’t trying to be beautiful at all. Like a newborn baby, they are simply too busy being themselves to notice how they appear to others.

When we see a beautiful, genuine person, there is nothing to say. We can only watch and smile.

After all, sunrises don’t go around trying to look like sunsets.

At least that’s what I was thinking as I glanced down at my running watch near the end of mile five.

Friday
Jun032011

on belonging

I'm a big believer in re-reading my favorite books from time to time. In fact, probably over half of the reading I do is re-reading. Most of my books are non-fiction - philosophy and psychology classics. Since I think of my brain as a kind of second stomach, I try to be pretty careful about what goes in it. And, since the stuff I read is so packed with layers of meaning, I feel like I've got to re-read many books regularly in order to really digest them and apply their lessons to my life.

Thoreau, Montaigne, the Stoics, Schopenhauer, Maslow, Jung, and Joseph Campbell are all favorites. I've read them so often, they have essentially become literary comrades... thinkers whose thoughts seem to offer all the best encouragement when I need it most. Living or dead, kindred spirits are rare things, and I've learned long ago to embrace them in whatever shape or form they exist. If I were ever stranded on a deserted island, it is highly likely that I would choose my books over the company of many people I've met over the years.

It's funny how I can feel completely at ease and comfortable while reading a favorite book and then venture out into the world, surrounded by a whole host of people, and feel utterly alone. Perhaps it's only when we are in the company of people who understand us, and share our same values, that we feel like we belong. Though it's always nice to connect with people in a day-to-day kind of way, I think some people feel more comfortable connecting with others on a deeper level.

It's amazing how exhausting life can be when we're surrounded by people who just don't get us. For a long time, I tried to always be a nice guy and to connect with everyone I met. I tried to be kind and be a good listener. But, I think I was giving away too much. I think I was setting aside my own development and strengths in order to appease the people around me. For years I did what my parents wanted, then I switched to doing what some of my closest friends or girlfriends wanted. I think that certain intense childhood experiences I had years ago shaped me in such a way that I was afraid to make other people angry. Forever trying to keep the peace can be exhausting. When you constantly live your life with other people's feelings in mind, life can become incredibly un-fulfilling. Aren't we all responsible for our own feelings? Once we become adults, can anyone make us feel anything without our consent? Perhaps we are never completely mature until we've finally accepted the truth that our feelings are our own responsibility. And other people's feelings are their own as well.

It's funny how sometimes people will distract us from who we are supposed to be. And at other times, people will help us get back on track.

I think also a certain paradox exists when it comes to getting both ourselves and our loved ones on track. I don't think it's really possible for anyone to help another until they are on track themselves, and since we're never perfectly on track, I think the most loving thing we can do for another person is to consistently and thoughtfully develop ourselves.

And when we start doing that... I think that is when the universe steps in and introduces us to the people we're supposed to meet. The people who understand. The people who might actually be able to unknowingly cure our loneliness, instead of exacerbating it.

I think we influence each other the most when we are not consciously trying to do so. I think we are being the most loving to the people around us when we are being true to ourselves. I think self-understanding and self-love are the beginnings of empathy and compassion. I think becoming someone worthy of emulation is the greatest gift of all.

People who don't understand this are simply on another path and belong to another world. I sincerely wish them well, but will do so from afar.