Tag Archives: isolation

“Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm” by Thich Nhat Hanh

So I finished reading this book about a week ago, and today, the day I am writing my draft post, is the day after the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. I had picked this book for a book club which I started, for which tonight is the first gathering and we will be discussing this book. Anyway, I selected this book because it seemed important and relevant to the current paradigm, which is a fear-focused society. When I read the blurb from the back cover, I knew that this was a timely book to read.

Fear has countless faces: from the fear of failure to worries about everyday life, from financial or environmental uncertainties to the universal despair we all experience when faced by the loss of a friend or loved one. Even when surrounded by all the conditions for happiness, life can feel incomplete when fear keeps us focused on the past and worried about the future. While we all experience fear, it is possible to learn how to avoid having our lives shaped and driven by it. In these pages, Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a timeless path for living fearlessly.

There is such a wealth of wisdom in this short book. I took a lot of notes when I was reading through it. While I can’t cover everything here, I will share some of the passages that stood out for me.

We all experience fear, but if we can look deeply into our fear, we will be able to free ourselves from its grip and touch joy. Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay.

(p. 4)

This is so true. Fear is essentially the disease of “what if.” We look at our past and see what went wrong, and then we look to the future and worry about whether these things will happen again, or if something worse will occur. Our obsession with the past and future causes us to lose touch with the present, which is truly all we really have. The past is gone, and the future is uncertain. Therefore, being present in the now is the best way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by fear.

If we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our fears, we will suffer, and the seed of fear in us will grow stronger. But when we are mindful, we use the energy of mindfulness to embrace our fear. Every time fear is embraced by mindfulness, the energy of fear decreases before going back down to the depths of our consciousness as a seed.

(p. 38)

As with everything, if you feed it and nurture it, it will grow. This is also true with fear. The more we feed our fears, the more fearful we become. It is really simple, but unfortunately not that easy. When in the grip of fear, it is difficult to step back, take a breath, accept that you are fearful, and then shift focus to the present, recognizing that at this moment, that which we fear is not an actuality. Something else to keep in mind, prolonged fear often leads to anger and/or despair, both of which are very dangerous mental states. For that reason, it is really important to address fear when it arises, and to do so in a healthy and positive way.

Everyone feels very much the same. Our planet is beset by so much danger. There’s so much violence and suffering in the world. If you allow the plague of helplessness to overwhelm you, you’ll go insane. You want to do something—first of all to survive, and then to help reduce the suffering. And we’ve seen, just as the Buddha saw, that is we don’t have a sangha, we can’t do very much. So we come together and we stick to the sangha through thick and thin, because we know that there is no way out of this situation except with a sangha.

(p. 122)

A sangha is, for all intents and purposes, a community. So what Thich Nhat Hanh is saying here is that being involved in community is the best way for us to deal with our collective fear and suffering. Isolation only breeds more fear. When we separate ourselves from our neighbors and our communities, we begin to look at people as “others,” and become suspicious of them. This leads to fear, which only deepens our isolation. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken by open communication, acceptance, and community.

This book is a quick read (only 164 pages). I highly recommend reading it. Even if the ideas are already familiar to you, it is good to reinforce them.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!

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Evolution #10: Creating Our Own Horrors

We made a world where everyone is alone. Full of locked doors and safe rooms, away from the horror. But we’re all locked in with the monsters. The ones we create. The ones we are.

It is difficult to look around these days and not see the fear, isolation, and fragmentation that is rampant in our society. The level of distrust against the “other” has created pockets of people who are willingly keep themselves separate from all people who are not like them, who do not think and act in exactly the same way. And this isolationism is leading to more fear and distrust, creating a vicious whirlpool that threatens to suck us all down into a dark vortex.

I was told once that we are only as sick as our secrets. This is why I feel it is imperative that we break out of this habit we are in of isolating ourselves from people who we label as different and begin to have open, honest, and empathetic conversations. Because if we don’t, we are increasing the risk that we will end up with a world of horror, with all of us locked away in with our own internal monsters in cells of our own construction.

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“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” by Phoebe Gloeckner

This book is kind of a downer, but at the same time, it made me feel grateful. It’s the tale of a 15-year-old girl who becomes sexually involved with her mother’s boyfriend, which causes a downward spiral of addiction, mental illness, and self-loathing. As a parent, I am so very grateful that none of my daughters got this messed up.

What I really liked about this book is the way the author mixed mediums. While it is written in the form of a diary, it reads like a novel. In addition, the author included her own drawings, snippets of graphic novel style panel illustrations, and letters written by the characters. So it felt like a blend of novel, diary, graphic novel, and epistolary. For me, that is the book’s strongest asset.

As a regular journal writer, I connected with a scene where Minnie (the protagonist) ponders whether her journal writing is an act of creative expression.

Let’s take a little time out and be completely serious for a moment—my writing in this book has become a sort of habit, and a good one. I do think my writing has improved because of it. Would you or would you not consider this journal a creative endeavor?

(p. 65)

Personally, I consider any act of self-expression to be a creative endeavor. Journal writing, especially if one is exploring the deeper parts of the self, is definitely a creative act. Additionally, any practice that one gets writing hones the skill of crafting the written word.

One of the effects of addiction on a person is a deep feeling of isolation. Throughout the book, Gloeckner captures that feeling in beautifully sad words.

I left feeling like the center of the ocean, deep and quiet. Glowing particles of dust or old dead fish atoms slowly filter down from the top through the water. The sun gradually leaves them. They settle down later at the bottom, seven miles below. Dark. Heavy, heavy water.

(p. 107)

As much as this book is disturbing, it does end on a more optimistic note. Without giving away too much, Minnie ends her diary by deciding to start a new one, which reflects the start of a new chapter in her life.

This diary is almost full. The binder rings can barely hold another few pages but I didn’t get a new diary binder yet. Maybe I’ll go downtown to Patrick’s…they probably have a nice serious-looking black binder with heavy-duty rings that won’t burst open. That’s what I want. I want to get a good one.

I haven’t been writing at all because I’ve been waiting to start a new diary. A brand-new diary is like a brand-new life, and I’m ready to leave this one behind me. But since I don’t have a new binder, it’s just too bad: I’ll have to tack a few pages onto my old life.

(p. 285)

Our lives are stories that are being written every moment, and at the risk of sounding cliché, we can change the story or turn the page any time we want. That is the beauty of life and one of the things that gave me hope in my personal dark periods.

Thanks for stopping by, and have an inspired day.

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“Sonnet 28: How can I then return in happy plight” by William Shakespeare

How can I then return in happy plight,
That am debarr’d the benefit of rest?
When day’s oppression is not eas’d by night,
But day by night, and night by day, oppress’d?
And each, though enemies to either’s reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me;
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil, still farther off from thee.
I tell the day, to please him thou art bright,
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:
So flatter I the swart-complexion’d night
When sparkling stars twire not thou gild’st the even.
But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
And night doth nightly make grief’s strength seem stronger.

This is a poem about how we deal with the pain of separation from the person we love.

The sonnet’s protagonist is apart from the one he loves, and as a result, suffers from restlessness both day and night. In an attempt to deal with the pain and restlessness, the speaker tries to acknowledge the good things about life around him, pointing out the brightness of the day and the rich darkness of the night. But ultimately, the clouds obscure the azure heavens and the stars lose their sparkle, and the man is left with the weight of loneliness and grief, feelings he must suffer through in isolation.

I find this a sad yet comforting poem. Most likely, we have all experienced the feelings expressed here. In these moments, we feel such a sense of isolation and solitary suffering that it is hard to imagine anyone else having suffered through the same and emerged happy. This poem reminds us that we are not unique in these feelings, that it is a part of the human experience. We must remember that all things pass.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a wonderful day.

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Neil Gaiman’s “Miracleman” Issue #5

Miracleman_05

This is a very interesting installment. Gaiman uses a spy to symbolize the isolation, alienation, and paranoia that seems to be pervasive in society as a whole. The protagonist, a woman spy, navigates a shadowy world where she is suspicious of everyone, imagining connections and conspiracies which may or may not be real. At one point, she gazes out the window, and snippets of conversation surface in her mind as she tries to make sense of her existence.

Night: I stand at my window, staring out at the lights of the city. There’s a shape there, if only I could place it. Something I almost understand. Phrases run through my head. “Rudnitsky’s gone triple.” “He’s a martyr to his back, our Darren.” “It’s need to know, 1860, and you don’t need to know.” “The plumber still didn’t come, I see.” “Sorry, love. We’re out of hake. I can do you some lovely mackerel.” “It’s the city, Ruth. It’s where we live.” A movement catches my attention, in a distant window. I fetch my binoculars from a drawer, focus them.

(p. 12)

The artwork in this issue is perfect. It is dark and grainy, which reflects the shadowy world that is the reality of the spy. The combination of the imagery and the lonely internal dialog does an amazing job of evoking the loneliness and lurking uncertainty of the spy, which is also the loneliness and uncertainty of the post-millennial individual.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 11: On Pornography

BehindGreenDoor

I woke early this morning, made some coffee, and sat down to read more of Infinite Jest. One of the protagonists in the story, Hal, was reminiscing about when his older brother Orin got caught by their father as Orin was getting ready to watch “Behind the Green Door.” Their father does not forbid his son from watching the film; instead, the father explains why it would be better if he waited until he had more experience before watching the movie.

But Himself said that if Orin wanted his personal, fatherly as opposed to headmasterly, take on it, then he, Orin’s father – though he wouldn’t forbid it – would rather Orin didn’t watch a hard-porn film yet. He said this with a reticent earnestness there was no way Orin couldn’t ask him how come. Himself felt his jaw and pushed his glasses up several times and shrugged and finally said he supposed he was afraid of the film giving Orin the wrong idea about having sex. He said he’d personally prefer that Orin wait until he’d found someone he loved enough to want to have sex with and had had sex with this person, that he’d wait until he’d experienced for himself what a profound and really quite moving thing sex could be, before he watched a film where sex was presented as nothing more than organs going in and out of other organs, emotionless, terribly lonely. He said he supposed he was afraid that something like The Green Door would give Orin an impoverished, lonely idea of sexuality.

(pp. 955 – 956)

There is no doubt that many young people learn about sex through pornography, especially in the age of the internet, when access to porn is a click away. And while I personally have nothing against pornography, Wallace is correct that it establishes a lonely idea of sex. Pornography removes intimacy from sex and transforms it into a solitary, isolated experience for too many people.

I cannot help but wonder if the proliferation of online porn is having a negative impact on our society. It seems that there is a growing sense of alienation and isolation as people become more engrossed in virtual experiences, experiencing life vicariously instead of actually engaging in the experiences that life has to offer. I can’t say for sure, but these are my musings this morning.

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to share your thoughts.

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“My Soul is Dark” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

My soul is dark – Oh! quickly string
The harp I yet can brook to hear;
And let thy gentle fingers fling
Its melting murmurs o’er mine ear.
If in this heart a hope be dear,
That sound shall charm it forth again:
If in these eyes there lurk a tear,
‘Twill flow, and cease to burn my brain.

But bid the strain be wild and deep,
Nor let thy notes of joy be first:
I tell thee, minstrel, I must weep,
Or else this heavy heart will burst;
For it hath been by sorrow nursed,
And ached in sleepless silence, long;
And now ’tis doomed to know the worst,
And break at once – or yield to song.

This poem is a great example of English Romanticism. It is an expression of inner pain and suffering that is only alleviated through the restorative power of art.

In the poem, Byron conveys a sense of deep sorrow, the type which leads to isolation and despair. The emphasis on the darkness of his soul indicates that all hope and joy are void from his being. He is cast into a state of darkness that nothing seems able to penetrate. He concedes that there is one thing that can overcome this darkness, and that is music.

Here it is important to note that music has two meanings. On one level, he is referring to music in the audible sense. Instrumental music is unique in artistic expression because the tones communicate directly with the psyche and instill emotion without the use of words. But music is also a metaphor for poetry, and I think that Byron is claiming that there are actually two ways in which he can overcome his sorrow: by either listening to music or by opening up his soul through the composition of poetry. So in the final line, when Byron states that his heart will “break at once – or yield to song,” he is asserting that he can cure himself of his internal darkness is by opening his heart and expressing his deep emotion through poetry, which is essentially what he is doing in this poem.

I relate to this poem on a deep level. There have been many times in my life where playing music and writing poetry were the only ways that I was able to deal with my inner turmoil. I guess that’s why I have always related to the Romantic poets on a visceral level. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts, and have a creative day.

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