Coffee & Contemplation: The Importance of Friendship

Note: Publishing work from my past is quickly becoming a series of sorts. There are so many pieces I’ve written that haven’t seen the light of day since Writer’s Workshop back in high school. Sharing them here seems like a cheat way to keep up with regular posts, but it’s also a little cathartic. I get to look back on how I’ve changed over the years, for better or worse. I get to reacquaint myself with an optimism and hopefulness I might have lost. This next piece highlights an appreciation for camaraderie I wish I could still embody. I also express my hedonistic and everlasting love for coffee, which thankfully has not changed. Let’s do this!

I have always been fond the coffeeshop atmosphere. A proud addict of the caffeinated drink myself, I am often found lingering in these havens of ripe conversation and artsy individuals. Today I am a part of this greater experience once again, with a double-shot espresso in hand and an ear toward the people around me. Listening in on various conversations but never truly committing is my speciality, for I am an observer. Today I bear witness to the remarkable manifestation of friendship among a group of fellow students who I am lucky enough to call my friends. These individuals have inspired me with their kindness and unwavering sincerity.

I believe that one never truly appreciates something they hold dear until it is gone. This is the most troubling form of ignorance, and we all suffer from it. In turn, one of the great aspirations of life must be to learn to incorporate gratitude in our perspective and appreciate the blessings we take for granted. Such blessings include our friends, or the people in our lives we trust with our uninhibited selves.

I’ve begun to realize the inherent nature of friendship. Making friends is not merely a search for another individual you can relate to, but the spontaneous “coming together” of two souls, each walking the path of existence. I don’t think we can control who befriends us. It merely happens. Increasingly I find myself drawn to the metaphor of leaves dancing in the wind to describe life. A leaf has no navigational capabilities, and so it is propelled into the great oblivion, careening throughout space and time and bumping into its brethren along the way. Many friends are made, and some are even lost.

The ultimate lessons come from our friends, for they are the very pinnacle of teachers. They gift us with love and kindness. They nurture our hearts and cultivate our spirits. They shed light when darkness falls and the path before us becomes murky. These are our true friends, the ones we never lose. A true friend is one who imprints a piece of their heart in another’s soul. Life throws us all into a mess of blessings and curses. It is our job to disentangle and learn from each. Our friends are here to teach us the way.

And so my day at the coffeeshop comes to a close. I glance at the kind folk around me and think about how truly lucky I am to enjoy such decent company. I stand up and push my chair in, taking care not to trod on anyone’s book bag. I throw my empty paper cup into the garbage and exit the shop, surrounded by a troop of comrades who have unknowingly imprinted my life with the simple yet profound lesson of appreciation.

The Significance of Names

Note: Here is another interesting piece written back in high school. I stumbled upon it amidst my insightful yet often cringeworthy delve into lost writings. There is a chance it was never finished, so I simply confined it to my forgetful, mental to-do list. Nevertheless, it marked my discovery of “Om,” the sacred mantra of Brahman in the Hindu religion. It would be a disservice to my younger self not to share. Shall we begin?

A mere name is sometimes capable of expressing deeper meaning, implying something of greater importance, and instilling a value previously overlooked. They are symbols in their own right, tools used by the workers of language to shed light on otherwise unspoken subjects. In ancient times, names were thought to hold extraordinary power and even to act, in some ways, as a separate manifestation of a person. The power of names was also applied to deities and has endured in religious tradition for centuries.

I have always found a mantra-like power resonating from particularly powerful names. Sound currents and profound words can be used to strongly influence the mind and spirit. They have the potential of bringing a certain harmony to life and even inviting a tide of sometimes much needed optimism. Thoroughly understanding the power of names can both enrich and enlighten one’s consciousness.

A name that has particularly impacted me is Om (or Aum), a sacred utterance often found in Sanskrit mantras. With a meaning suggestive of a deity, it actually implies a primordial vibration from which the universe was originally created. Om is the eternal beauty and sustenance found in all aspects of reality. It is the order of the cosmos, and going one step further, is reality itself.

Om is comprised of three sounds, of which a distinct meaning can be super imposed upon each. The first sound “A” stands for the entire physical world we can experience. The reality we perceive through our senses is most attributed to this sound. The second sound “U” stands for the world of thought, as opposed to physical reality. This includes the imagination, dreams, and abstract thinking. The third and final sound is “M,” the unmanifest condition. According to the Vedas, what could be found before and after creation is the meaning of the sound of “M.” It is the unified state of the cosmos, the great fabric of which everything else is a part of.

In essence, Om is the composition of all there is. It is what existed before, it is what exists now, and it is what will exist later. Words may only be a conglomeration of letters, strung together in a particular order to imply a sense of meaning. But like Om, those words may harbor a message from a deeper, more inexplicable state of being.

Journaling Update

Back in February I wrote a post detailing my plans to take up the arduous yet cathartic task of journaling. I am here to say that for the most part, this goal has been met with success. Sure, there were some missed days and uncompleted entries. But this was something I kept at in hopes of instilling discipline and a better state of flow in my life. I was surprised to discover that once my pen hit paper (or in this case pencil hit iPad), I enjoyed the process immensely. Knowing that I would be my own audience gave me an unbridled sense of freedom. There are things I etched down in journals that I never would have had the courage to blog about.

So here I am to say that this is an endeavor I am going to keep up, making it a permanent ritual in my life. Journaling has helped me dispel many of the half-baked musings and anxieties that haunt my mind at the end of each day. Everything in my head is nebulous—an interconnected web that solidifies near my point of focus and fades away into ambiguity at the periphery. This area of inexactness is what causes the greatest source of stress in my life. Having a regular outlet to pen down this junk gives me focus and perspective. Really, it’s a tool that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, but especially those with a chaotic mind such as mine.

All of the magic happens on my iPad with a trusty Apple Pencil. In the beginning I considered using an old-fashioned composition notebook to scrawl my scratchings. There is nothing more grounding and conducive to the ever elusive “flow state” than hand writing your notes. And the tangibility of a notebook devoted to a single purpose has its charm. Yet I am an ardent lover of convenient and intuitive technology, so my iPad is now fulfilling an unforeseen destiny. My journals are cloud synced, locked by facial recognition, and ready to peruse at a moment’s notice on ALL of my devices. Not that I do so, of course, which leads to my next point.

I generally don’t like looking back on my past journals. This flies in the face of my expectations, which were conditioned by my love for rereading old blog entries. But what I decide to pen down at the end of each day, for my own eyes, is an altogether different beast than the articles I craft for an audience. The words are rougher, the ideas rawer, and my integrity fully intact. I am not presenting myself, if you will. I have true freedom to be as messy, honest, and insecure as I please. Such is the beauty of having a personal journal. But generally speaking, looking back reopens a can of worms that I have already sealed shut. There is no need to stuff back into my head the anxieties I have already dispelled. This brings to mind an image of Dumbledore pulling strands of memory out of his head and into his pensieve.

This does not mean I find looking back totally useless. I have a plan at the end of each year to read through all of my entries. I can see how much I’ve grown and changed throughout the months. It’s hard to imagine a better way to get this kind of perspective. The second part of my plan is to write a “year in review” post detailing my highlights and conclusions. And finally, I will permanently delete all of my journals to make a fresh start for the new year. Out with the old, and in with the new. I am always looking for a new self-improvement project. This little experiment has turned into something I wish to make a solid fixture in my life. Healthy habits and rituals are a proper step in getting back on my feet and climbing out of this pit of purposelessness.

Conversation with a Friend

Sometimes the greatest of insights arise at the most unexpected of times. Good conversation can be the perfect lubricant to get ideas flowing and those mental gears turning. With permission, I’ve shared an existential concern of one of my dear friends below. The universe has decided to use my head as a data dump again, so I’ve also shared my thoughts on the matter.

Friend: I don’t know — I just feel like I don’t know what road to take, because all I truly want to be is happy. I know it seems selfish, but I just truly want that. I want to be at peace and happy with everything that I am and everything that surrounds me, and I don’t know how to go about it. I see a few roads to take, but I feel like the road I’m taking will sooner or later kill me. I’ll reach a point of complete burn out, and I don’t want that. I just want to truly rest and find a way to do what I love — to hope that doesn’t take away all of my energy.

Me: The answer that I’ve come to, after all of my soul-searching and pondering, is that there is no right answer. There is no single path that will navigate you around all of the suffering, conflict, and confusion that life has to offer. One has to wonder if it is an almost necessary experience to doubt yourself, burn out, and question if you are doing the right thing. Sooner or later, every life path will kill you.

Look around and tell me if you see a single soul who has reached a state of true peace and happiness. If you say yes, I will tell you to delve deeper — beneath the surface — where you will undoubtedly uncover their very real and present fears and insecurities. We have a habit of portraying our successes without the context of our failures. The two go hand-in-hand.

The best advice I can give is to let go of expectations and any semblance of control you think you have over life. You are too intelligent to believe the lie that is a comprehensible order to the universe for long. It is too vast, varied, and twisted for any one of us to discern a “right” answer. Trying to find definitive clarity amidst the chaos is like trying to catch air with your bare hands. It’s all relative.

The answer is everything; it cannot be distilled into a statement, direction, or philosophy to live by. Simply let go, and allow the tidal forces of energy to carry you toward the nonexistent destination. To be carried without resistance is to live. 🌹

A Journal Entry

I’ve decided to embark on a sort of experimental journey. Too often than not, my writing is hindered by an obsession for quality and unattainable perfection. This does nothing but keep me from publishing as much as I should, and it ingrains my practice with an overall sense of dissatisfaction. I need this to change for both professional and psychological reasons. I need to be able to remove the friction I feel when trying to put my thoughts on paper. This crusade for sculpting perfect sentences with perfect vocabulary is akin to not seeing the forest for the trees.

I started writing because I could paint an overall picture of what my imagination or subconscious was conjuring. Getting lost in the specifics of verbiage and technicality is a complete block for the state of “flow” I am trying to achieve. In Jungian terms, this would be due to an over-reliance on Ti, or introverted thinking. As this function happens to be tertiary in my cognitive stack, it is not quite the healthiest mindset for my personality type. Instead, I need to be engaging my auxiliary Fe, or extroverted feeling, to achieve the cathartic momentum and “flow” I am striving for.

The beautiful thing about writing is the infinite paths I can take to reach a conclusion. There is no black and white, or right and wrong. This gorgeous variability I experience is based in the extroverted feeling nature of my expression. Of course, this is all within the context of my dominant function, introverted intuition. But this deep dive into psychological types is leading us astray from the point of this entry.

To put it concisely, I need to stop being such a perfectionist with my work. I need to incorporate a more stream-of-consciousness style of writing. By starting regular journal entries where I let loose my spontaneity, I hope to become a better creator — one that is much more in touch with his intuition/feelings and less overwhelmed by the chaos of his mind. Wish me luck on this journey into unknown waters. I don’t know what to expect with this experiment, and neither should you.

Note: This idea came to me after being inspired by one of my favorite MBTI related sites, Stellar Maze. The specific article is geared toward how INFJs can activate their auxiliary Fe. I have linked it here.

Story Beginnings: The Concave

I flew high in the night, the wings of my soul perturbing the very aether that kept them aloft. Soaring above an icy expanse, my awareness flirted with oblivion, yet was held fixed by an ethereal river of light that I do not think mortal eyes could behold. Onward this great rush of luminosity propelled me, across vast and barren stretches of land. I was caught in the toroidal currents of the sphere and moving toward destiny with great haste.

The northern curtain greeted my passing with elegant sublimity. Folds and ripples of indiscernible scale graced the night sky. This was where the heavens were reflected upon the Earth. This was where the spiritual danced with the temporal. I was naught but a wisp in the air compared to this grandeur, yet inherently connected to the spirit it bore. Beyond these far reaches I did traverse.

As the firmament depressed and curved inward, my awareness sank into a vortex of light. In that far, northern apex of the world lay a forgotten portal. An entrance to the cradle of life, out of which poured the forebears of mankind. Currents of fire twisted around like a chain, propelling my existence deep into the womb of the Earth. There was no discerning the passage of time, as all humanly measurements were lost in this ascended state.

A line of red appeared where horizons met, quickly filling out into a dim star as I was swept forth. Centered in my sight, this dull, smoky brother of our sun was both the source and destination of the current. Maintaining an inward approach, I then witnessed the inside curvature of the firmament. Far below, across, and all around stretched lands of plenty. I was at the doorstep of destiny — a child of the great smoky god returned home.

Note: As with many of my imaginings, I can provide no backstory here. This was written with the intention of being somewhat obscure, based upon the recent images and ideas welling in my subconscious. Inspiration was derived from the works of Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the adventures of Olaf Jansen, presented as a true account by Willis George Emerson.

Death: A Reality Check

I present a short musing that marks my hopefully triumphant return from the annals of writer’s block and apathy. It’s been too long since I’ve felt proud of a single sentence in anything I’ve written, including this. But how can I better perfect myself without even trying? Anyway, I digress. It’s time to purge this nihilism from my system.

The briefness of life is akin to a single breath of air. An inhale, an exhale, and then it’s over. The effects and memory of our meager existence in the universe are left to disperse and decay. I realize that I will not be upon this earth forever, for in fact my essence is as transitory as weather in the midwest. *chuckle* In this existence, my body is merely a shell that I must maintain in order to continue experiencing the perception of this particular state of reality. But this is a highly metaphysical, somewhat dry perspective.  

The simple, unalterable, absolute truth is that I’m going to die. 

I’m going to be rendered obsolete, wiped clean from the collective body of society, and ultimately eliminated from the engorged pool of humanity. It’s a frightening thought, but one I’m learning to embrace. Because embracing the inevitable is the best reality check. It frames your existence within a new context. It teaches you to see the aspects of life that matter on a true and profound scale. It unveils how many years you’ve wasted on trivial pursuits of material intention. But most importantly, it’s humbling as hell.

To cope with the realization of my looming annihilation, I have searched for a greater purpose. As if in rebellion against the void, I’ve analyzed the patterns of causes and effects underlying every event, looking for some meaning. This has led to a greater awareness of actions and reactions on both a micro (personal) and macro (universal) scale. Perceiving the inherent interconnectedness of everything and everyone, with no exceptions, has not been a forthcoming achievement. I realize that my way of thinking and priorities in life are not in line with convention, which has culminated in a self-centered yearning to be understood that I struggle to overcome. It’s spiritually inhibiting.

Liberation from spiritual death is understanding that the distinction between your individuality and the rest of the universe is not absolute. At best, it’s an illusion crafted by the limited awareness and material grip of this state of reality. The intrinsic and interconnected nature of life proves that we can not exist without sending ripples of effects out into the universe. And we are most certainly not immune to being affected by the ripples around us. It is indeed a metaphysical ocean we live in, and an unstoppable force that binds us all.

I meditate on this realization when the absurdity of existence takes its toll. What lies after death may not be possible to know with certainty. It may not even be within my capabilities, for all the speculating books and Sanskrit translations I’ve slogged through. But it’s my newfound understanding that this knowledge isn’t necessary. Realizing how inherently interwoven I am with the workings of the universe gives me a place and a calling. Spirituality frames the narrow truths of nihilism within a grander, far nobler context of divine purpose.

Death is but one side of the great balancing act of the universe. The story is so much larger than any individual soul. By striving to develop a perception of our interconnectedness, we can be inspired to live in a state of unconditional compassion, liberated understanding, and servitude toward our fellow man.

Story Beginnings: The Beast

There was something not quite right about the way his eyes bored into mine. Like a feral animal, I felt him watching my every move with primal intensity. I wanted to flee back into the woods, to immerse myself in their security and camouflage. But something held me in place. A rigidity took hold of my body. I was paralyzed with some mental fixation with this beast.

With sudden ferocity, the creature leaped in my direction. A monstrous roar ripped out from the depths of his body and I felt his teeth at my throat. I was on the ground, no longer immobile, but thrashing to free myself from this fatal embrace. My mind, my consciousness, remained detached from the events.

As my body endured the ripping, the shredding, and the unfathomable pain, my awareness rose high into the night. I looked down upon the horrific scene of my death, not quite grasping the reality of this moment. My temporal existence was no more. I had been freed from this accursed life, albeit not in the intended way…

Note: This is a new category of writing I am considering on posting periodically. Throughout the week, I often jot down short stories that have sprung to mind or been inspired through a dream. There is no backstory, and these stories will probably forever go unfinished. But I will share them here in hopes that someone can use the inspiration to fuel their own imaginings.

An Update

The date in the corner of my computer reads Thursday, November 10, 2016. Within my own reality, most days seem to blur together. However, today marks an incongruous occasion. I am momentarily obliged to pierce the shroud of obscurity woven over my general livelihood. For those inquiring:

I am fine. Life is good. Things are happening.

These days I have taken to valuing my privacy over any desire to make a social statement or engage in discourse. In part, this has been a beautifully liberating experience. There is much to learn upon turning inwards and engaging with your own conscience and spirit. Introspection is something society could use a little more of, in my opinion. But I digress. This mentality has also been a hindrance to my natural characteristic of creative expression.

Looking forward, my hope is to change this. I must learn to balance the privacy and solitude I hold so dear with healthy and artful expression. Furthermore, I have tentative plans to take up the mantle of book reviewing once again. Muse Manifesto would be my medium for doing so, of course, and it would be lovely to grow the viewership of this site further. This is not a promise I am making, but a simple goal that would be nice to achieve.

So hopefully this will once more become a place my voice can be heard regularly, or at least close to it. But only with the softness of a gentle breeze caressing one’s face. I have no intention to be overtly loud or intrusive with my musings. I just want to talk about the books I love and maybe some inspirational tidbits about their authors. Nevertheless, it would be entirely within my nature to fall back on this promise and engage in dialogue a bit more philosophical. Ahh well… When the soul speaks loudly enough, one must write.

To those once close, but since relegated to the fringes of my life, I am sorry. I still wonder about you all, those beautiful souls who have inspired me so. You continue to be the foundation of who I am.

Thank you.

The Art of Wordsmithery: A Spiritual Experience

Writing for me has always been a bit like singing a song. It requires combining the melody of good syntax and diction with the soul of a purposeful theme. I can feel a profound sense of rhythm when I stumble upon just the right sequence of words. Its both liberating and enlightening to write with that sense of velocity. I could only compare it to the feeling of flying and careening through the skies.

But there is also another aspect to writing; a frustration and helpless abandonment of the creative muses. When I feel as if all the original thought and genius has been stripped from my soul, I know there is no hope for any writing endeavor. When a mental embargo has hindered me from putting pen to paper, I know it is time to slow down and take a breather. This describes my writing mentality perfectly: a continuous fluctuation between supreme literary prowess and the icy, empty and void-like hollowness of writer’s block.

Asking myself “who am I as a writer?” requires facing both aspects of how I feel on the subject. Both the negative and positive are important in their own right. Without this acceptance of duality, any conclusion I could make would come out skewed and biased toward one aspect over another. That is the reason I must face my own inner demons of insecurities and writer’s block. I would not be able to define who I am without total acceptance of the broad perspective of my writing.

In essence, for me, the ability to write is akin to the  ability to meditate. Some days are vastly easier than others and there is always an experience of flexing the creative muscle, just like the spiritual muscle stretched with meditation. When I try to envision the tranquility of writing, I see a vast hay field yawning out before me, wide and free. I see the sky above stretching into oblivion, patterned with shifting cotton clouds. I see the massive expanse of field spreading outward; its golden hills rolling with the richness of harvest. There is peace and pride for my hard work. There is some nameless and swelling emotion transcendent of bliss. It’s powerful and motivating. It’s what I live for as a writer.

Lewis Carol, author of Alice in Wonderland, once said “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Introspection has always been a great part of my writing in general. There is always an element of questioning my own perspective and ruminating on how I simply ‘feel’ at the core. I think that any good piece of writing takes its author on a journey of self-discovery and realization. That is certainly the case for me, and I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t been doing this creative craft for a while. Sometimes the goal is the journey itself, and self actualization can only be found when that is accepted. Writing epitomizes this internal struggle.

For me, the image of the Buddha symbolizes peace, solitude, and inner-harmony. It provides a path for me to follow and a spiritual goal to achieve. It gives my soul a moral framework onto which I can build the rest of my life. Attaining these ideals is also the process I use to write my best work. Striving to hone the inner fire of creativity and passion is spiritual at its essence, and there is no better symbol for this act in my  opinion than the Buddha. Literature that embodies the greatest sense of clarity and divinity requires just as much restraint as it does enthusiasm. Embracing solitude and a deeper peace of mind is crucial for developing restraint.

There are moments when I am in the midst of a creative effort that I become aware of a certain emptiness in my center. Its not the void-like disparity of writer’s block, but a very light and buoyant emptiness, filled with satisfaction and confidence. Pardon the contradictory description, but that is exactly how it feels. The Buddha teaches about this emptiness and encourages all to cultivate their awareness of it. Again, this occurs most strongly when I am writing or in the middle of any art. I would hazard a strong guess that many other artists have beheld this experience as well.

At the core of any type of art or craft is a need for the sincerity of the artist. The utter honesty of self is something I strive to incorporate in my own work. There is a quote by Spencer Johnson that reflects the two natures of sincerity needed for authentic writing: “Integrity is telling myself the truth, and honesty is telling the truth to other people.” Whether I am hindered by writer’s block or my creative energies are manifest, I make it a requirement to only complete work that is genuine to my soul. Writing for me is an incredibly honest act that means far more than merely creating entertainment for someone else to enjoy. It’s a spiritual exercise that requires me to be completely and utterly sincere with myself. There is no room for obfuscation and facades; only severe, blinding truth. Like a surgeons scalpel, I use literary expression to cut away all the denial and bottled emotions from my inner integrity.

There is also a strict importance for an outward sense of honesty in my writing as well. This entails expressing my purpose and message concisely and with the desired effect. I do not wish for others to misinterpret my meaning due to faulty word choice. I also do not wish to be dishonest about myself or lead someone on a ersatz path of understanding. Whittled down to the marrow, this is the creed of my writing. That is the rule that I religiously adhere to. Just like the Spencer Johnson quote expressed, true sincerity is doubled-faceted in nature. It requires a personal sense of integrity and a public obligation to honesty. That is the ethical code I instill in all of my writing.

Calling myself a writer means a lot more than using a superficial label or identity. It means that I have taken up the sometimes painful, yet beautiful art of wordsmithery. It means that I have taken the road less travelled and delved inwards to confront my own insecurities, all in order to give my craft the tranquility, introspection, and sincerity it deserves. When I ask myself “Who am I as a writer,” there is no clearcut answer or identity that separates me from the rest of the herd. There is only the willingness to do right by my creative efforts and craft something that is truly representative of how I feel within my heart. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing is expressing the chaotic and complex web of intelligence, or our minds, in a way that we can give the readers the purest and most honest sense of understanding. This is ultimately the goal I live for as a writer.