Switch to mobile version

September 2011

Post image for You and your friends are all going to die, and that’s beautiful

And then he started using words like nyingma and shentong and I became more interested in my beer than anything else. Zen is a neato thing to talk about but depending on who’s doing the talking, it can get a bit too stiff for me.

But I perked up when he said the most rewarding thing he’s ever done in all his years is to sit and contemplate his own death.

I was in an expat bar in Chiang Mai on trivia night and an informal lecture had broken out. Half the room was shouting out answers to sports history questions, and the other half was gathered around a once-American philosophy professor, listening to him talk about Zen. I was trying to do both.

We chatted on the balcony later, and I asked him about what he said about death. I drank and nodded as he talked and smoked cigarettes.

“When you’re sitting there long enough that you finally see that unbroken line between here and your grave, that you really are that grave every bit as much as you are sitting here… you’ll never feel as free as that.”

The night was long (three bars long) and full of conversations, but that’s the one that was in my head when I was nodding off that night, and in the shower the next morning.

For the next few weeks I kept having these spells where I’d see something super ordinary — a stranger yawning at a bus stop, or something — and I’d get the sensation that I was looking back on it, as if I was visiting it from a place where that doesn’t happen.

It culminated on a beach in New Zealand a few weeks later. I had another spell, and realized what was happening. I was being repeatedly overcome by the simple fact that I was here. That doesn’t sound like an astonishing revelation, but it was, and that had something to do with being simultaneously aware that I will one day not be here.

Understanding those two insultingly simple facts — that you’re definitely here, and that you will definitely one day not be here — combine to form something beautiful. The professor called it anicca but we can call it impermanence. It’s irrefutable, and we kill ourselves trying to refute it all the time. Things change constantly, and when you insist they don’t, you suffer. When you can learn to go along for the ride, ordinary moments become compelling.  Read More

Post image for A Day in the Life

The day began without my permission, at around 4am when I awoke to the unmistakable sensation of a person getting into bed with me. I whipped myself around to see the lanky Irishman who normally sleeps in the far corner, pulling my blanket over his legs as if it were his own bed.

It was so absurdly inappropriate my body sprung to life and gave him a hard shove that almost sent him over the side.

He regained his balance and gave me a puzzled look, like I was being rude to him and he was genuinely hurt.

“Calm down,” he urged, as if he were the voice of reason.

“What?! Are you insane? This is my bed!”

He sprang up and marched back to his own bed. “Fucking yankee!” he snapped, then dropped into the fetal position on his mattress.

It took a few moments before I realized that it wasn’t a dream, and there was no hope of getting back to sleep. I wasn’t exactly frightened, just completely stunned. I will never know what he was thinking.

I sat out on the hostel’s porch and read my book until sunrise. Read More

Post image for How to walk across a parking lot

Ease up on the gas, that’s the first thing. Drop your speed to just a little slower than “necessary”, because to do this right you can’t be getting ahead of yourself.

And there could be kids around. Maybe yours even, if this is one of those times when you don’t know what they’re up to. As always, you’re in a china shop, so be gentle.

When you see a vacant spot, your natural tendency might be to thrust your motor-carriage in there as quickly as possible, antsy that some circling vulture in a Jeep YJ and white sunglasses will wheel in there first and pretend he didn’t see you already headed that way.

That won’t happen, but you should be prepared to let it. Letting angst park your car for you is a rookie mistake. There is a better spot farther away. Walking a little more is an advantage, unless you think (as many do) that walking across a parking lot is a wasted and purely obligatory part of a person’s life. Clearly you wouldn’t be reading this if you were truly convinced that the worthwhile part of life happens only once you’re across the parking lot, inside Wal-Mart or Safeway or whatever.  Read More

Post image for My Seven

My friend Fabian Kruse recently invited me to participate in a viral blogging campaign, which is normally not my thing. I don’t like anything reminiscent of chain letters, especially the digital kind (neither does Fabian, for that matter) but this one looked fun to do and I think you’ll appreciate it. It’s churning up a lot of almost-lost great content around the web so I want to give it a spin and keep it going.

The idea is pretty simple: a blogger is invited to link 7 posts they’ve written that fit seven particular categories, as specified in the original post. Then they invite five other bloggers to do the same. The idea is to get some good content up to the surface all across the web, give readers an easy way to discover content that’s been hiding, and give bloggers an easy way to connect.

At the end of this post, I’ll nominate some other bloggers whom I’d like to see dig some of their best work out of the basement.

So enjoy.

My 7 Links

All of these choices are made from the writer’s perspective, because it’s the only one I have. You might disagree, and if you’ve been reading for a while I’d love to hear what you would have chosen instead.

1. Most beautiful post

A Day in The Future. It just came out like that and I have no misgivings at all.

2. Most popular post

Believe it or not, my now-famous “88 truths” post was really a just a throwaway I’d been playing with, which I posted one day because I didn’t have a decent post ready. It has been the one I’ve received the most feedback and praise for, and in those terms it is probably the most popular. When it comes down to raw numbers though, 40 Belief-Shaking Remarks From a Ruthless Nonconformist is clearly the most popular: 326 comments, 10,000+ facebook likes and almost one million views.  Read More

Post image for How to Play Ball

There’s a skill I’ve referred to casually in a few posts but I never stopped to explain what I mean. It’s more of an intuitive skill but it can be learned, and I’m going to break it down for you.

It’s a verb I borrowed from baseball, where it’s a very specialized skill, but if we think of it in a broader sense it could be one the most useful skills a person can learn.

Fielding. The ball comes your way, so you field it.

For example, in Deal With it, Princess I used it this way:

As I gradually come to understand the relative unimportance of the form my problems take, the better I get at fielding them in real-time.

That’s why fielding is a perfect verb for it — it implies that the acceptance and response happen in real time.  It implies that you take responsibility for it, and that you deal with it without resenting it.

Before we go any further, let me say that I’m not really a baseball fan and you definitely don’t need to be one to get something from this. I’d use a football analogy but this one works too well.

Fielding Your Moments

Life unfolds only in moments, and a lot of those moments require a response from you. You can’t really avoid responding in some way, even if your response is to just wait and do nothing. Most of the time your response is probably an unconscious reaction, like swatting a fly that lands on your face.

In any given moment, chances are pretty good that something new is emerging: someone says something, or you notice it’s too warm in here, or you hear a crash in the kitchen, or you realize it’s 10:10 and you figured it wasn’t even 9:30 yet. These events aren’t always bad (dinner’s ready!) but there are so many thousands of them daily that some are bound to give you some degree of a pit-in-the-stomach feeling.

An event can emerge any time and if you don’t consciously field it, then by default you leave it to unconscious reaction, and that’s really just rolling the dice. It’s something like letting Facebook “suggestions” choose your friends for you. It’s using autopilot for something that might be pretty delicate.  Read More

Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.