At one time, I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city. I loved busy streets, bookstores, coffee shops and shopping malls. I loved the thrill of competition and accomplishment. I love to work, work hard, and enjoy the fruits of my labor. I was strong, determined, and every obstacle was a war, an adversary to conquer, a game to win, to always be on top and never left behind. I traveled the world, summited 14ers, slept in a quinsy in subzero temperatures, traversed 900-foot cliffs, cycled 100 miles in a day—life was an adventure, it was meaningful and sweet, time was boundless, I was invincible, and the world was my oyster and I was a god.
At one time, I craved connection, commonality, and belonging like I craved that first cup of coffee in the morning. I wanted to be wanted and needed—any experience otherwise led me down a path of codependency, insecurity, and self-destruction—all while eroding away my psyche and leaving a gaping hole in my soul. Trauma weaved into every facet of my life that manifested in self-loathing, reproachful and destructive behavior. I was a complicated person living out a complicated life while experiencing my world as if I were on an insane roller coaster ride, from highs to lows, twists to turns, and flips at a chaotic speed that rendered you either exhilarated or paralyzed with fear.
My language was war—I believed that violence was the first universal language, and second mathematics. I viewed everything in life through the lenses of violence, competition, and conquests. I embodied the warrior spirit. Life was a conquest and meant to be conquered. I believed in survival of the fittest. I believed that to live meant to wage war against death. To love meant to wage war against rejection, abandonment and loss. Abuse meant to fight, win or die trying. My traumatic experiences reinforced this ideology. I was a war machine and my beliefs and behaviors were infectious cancers. I was a victim who made other victims. Life had no order, no purpose, no direction, and I was fighting a war I didn’t understand.
I am not sure at what juncture these tendencies changed or at what point I wanted the wars to end and live a life that embodied peace, tranquility, simplicity and connection to the world around me outside the constructs of competition, war and violence.
Perhaps it was age? Growing old seems to cause one to mature, reflect critically on life, gain wisdom and realize our lives a minuscule vapor in time—how much time I wasted on toxic relationships, striving for wealth, power, and fame and all the wars fought achieved very little. Perhaps, the older I got the more I realized my time on earth is short and our lives are momentary events in a greater history—after we’re gone our bones and flesh decay and our lives and our achievements fade along with our memory—and the world will go on. The birds will continue to sing their morning and evening lullabies, the sunrises will still go from blue to purple to red to gold and likewise the sunsets will go from gold to red to purple to blue in an endless cycle until the earth fades from its own history.
Perhaps the innumerable hardships and trauma history that gave way to change. I’ve lived a hundred years in my short lifetime—from various forms of abuse from sexual, physical to psychological trauma to cover 100 lifetimes to the endless nights sleeping on the streets, in my car, or on the cold hard floor in a jail cell. I married, divorced, raised a family, served in the armed forces, I was well and sick; I won and lost; I succeeded and failed; I lived and died. Perhaps it was the image of myself in a plexiglass window that gave the perception there were a hundred-fold wounded selves staring back at me—an image that stirred in me the desire to be a better person. Perhaps it was staring down the barrel of a hunting rifle that caused me to question what all the fighting was really for? Perhaps it was the cockroaches and bedbugs that infiltrated my last apartment—or the neighbor who brought them and likened the vermin to best friends, pets, and companions. Over the course of 6 weeks, the fumigation and heat treatments cost me my belongings and left me without food and penniless. Perhaps hunger, thirst, or the humility of begging for bread that made me value self-sustainability.
Perhaps it was the pandemic, the months of couch surfing from home to home, couch to floor to bed—the constant packing and moving on to the next place when I felt I overstayed my welcome. Perhaps it was the year-long period of unemployment, the inability to be self-sustainable, feel productive, to bring home the paycheck, to pay my own bills—to afford the luxury of going to the grocery store for necessities like bread, milk and shampoo. Perhaps it was the guilt and shame of failing at every area of my life—and going home to live with my parents, family members and friends—and bearing the mark of shame as the one who tried and failed and failed badly. Not only did I fail—but I was an over-educated failure—a top of my class graduate in a military academy, a top one percent of the graduates in my graduate school, an exceptional exception acceptance letter into a doctoral program before I completed graduate school and doctoral student who believed in transforming the world and making it a better place—to fall and fall hard and no amount of celebratory cake and sugary pastries can chase away the bitter taste of the shit sandwich that I humbly chewed and swallowed that long year. Perhaps there was nothing left to hold on to and the place of nothingness led to appreciation for the simplest of human experiences—sleeping, waking up, eating and drinking.
Perhaps it was a history of chest pain, a diagnosis of a blood disorder, the onset of seizures and heart failure—the more than a few brushes with death that leaves one to ponder the finality of life and how close we all are to experiencing that end. Is there life beyond death? Is there a God? Is there a Messiah? Is there heaven or hell? Do we ascend to paradise or are we cast into a pit of fire and brimstone? Do such places truly exist or do we slip away into nothingness? Are we just energy—hard-wired machines that connect with our environment through energetic exchanges? Do we transcend into a higher form or are we reincarnated? Is there karma and if so, what will the outcome of my life be in the next?
Perhaps none of this or all of this—but simplicity, solitude and tranquility became the healing balm for the body and soul. The sweetness of letting go, meditating on what is ideal, good, and inspiring became the soil I form my future self. Whatever the course might be—the most profound of my limited human experience isn’t my many achievements, my education, my ability to fight a war on all fronts and survive, my ability to endure significant difficulties and come out on top, my ability to adapt to change and navigate some of the most trying of human experiences or experience tremendous pain, violation and abuse and still have an enormous capacity to love, express compassion and gratitude. In contrast, the most profound of all my human experiences are in the mundane of all human experiences, eating, drinking, loving, wanting, enjoying and watching the sunrise, sunsets, the moon’s transformative phases, the ability to fall asleep and dream and wake up again, watching a garden grow from seed and harvesting the fruits of cultivation and labor. There is profound joy in baking bread for the first time and sharing it with a friend. Likewise, to sit in the evening and watch the leaves on trees flapping in the wind, the birds perch on power lines, to hear the birds chirp, the doves coo and the crows caw—the smell of rain mixed with wet pavement and soil combined with wild flowers, pine and freshly cut grass. To sit, to listen, to feel, to touch, to smell, to see, to imagine and to create—the intricacies of nature and realize it will go on long after I’m dead—and such realization is strangely comforting.
By far, the most precious of all my daily mundane and profound experiences is the ritual drinking tea.
Although I immensely enjoyed drinking tea in the evenings—the longer the tea leaves steep in the hot water the richer the flavor the tea becomes—I discovered a tea warmer recently and only after watching a popular Chinese drama. Truly delightful contraption that enabled me to tap into an infinite well of hot tea. It is like getting the cheat code on a video game that gives you infinite lives, power-ups and unlimited health points all at the same time. Each fragrant cup the same as the last—warm, soothing, comforting and delightful. It is like an orgasm without the complexities of a relationship, the no-call no-show disappointment that ultimately ends in a breakup. No. The ritual of drinking tea embodies euphoria and paradise that is compressed in a tiny cup—more so, knowing I can take my time sipping, enjoying, savoring, each cup while knowing the next won’t be cold. Living never smelled or tasted so good as it does right now.
My wish for you, my dear reader, is that you will find a ritual that you can enjoy and experience the transient power of ascending to a higher state of consciousness—outside the constructs of trauma, above your traumatic history, physiological states, to a place of creativity and transformation and where all that is loving, beautiful and divine touch every fabric of your very human existence. All that will remain of your life is the self you gave to other people; whether bitter or sweet; whether destructive or empowering; whether wounding or healing. Our lives are vapor and one day we will return to the dust from which we are formed – all that you thought you valued will disappear.