21st century Macintosh

People are throwing tantrums to Apple’s new lineup of iPhones. They copied Nokia, the new case is meant for grating cucumbers, gold was for the China market, and the biggest of all, zero surprise.

Instead of crying out for “innovations,” we can take a reality check. Do we really need a completely new device? Enough of “What’s missing.” The collection of frustrated voices are akin to 4-year olds crying that this year’s Christmas presents weren’t more surprising than last year.

Apple does one thing that no other company does. They make sure everything they do simply works, from day one. Even when Steve Jobs were releasing revolutionary products year after year, those devices, software or hardware, just worked from day one. When that unspoken rule was broken (a new version of Map application was completely useless), it ended up (indirectly) to an executive, rumored to be the next CEO, gone.

The iPhone just works on every aspect. Even the most disgruntled reviewers admit that point. In fact, the reason they can complain is because they feel completely safe in doing so. They know that no matter how seriously they bad-mouth Apple, the company will remain solid. It is another gesture of dependency.

For me, the “nothing new” complain is a seal of approval. It means that everything now works for us, not the other way around. It means that technology is blending into our life and we can just take it for granted. “Nothing new” complaint is probably one of the biggest compliments a company can receive.

Personally, I believe Apple does not need to pay any more effort than they are paying toward iPhone at this moment. Why tweak things that are already working? We have already seen another tech giant falling from the summit into abyss for doing so (Windows Vista).

Apple does not need a new product or source of revenue: they have enough cash and sales to sustain themselves for the next ten years. It does not need to listen to our whining either: instead of listening to what we said, they paid attention to what we did, and that was one difference which separated them from the rest.

Nevertheless, the collected frustration of us users is real, and I don’t think it is about any product. Rather, it is about a category: a category that doesn’t exist yet. What they truly need to do is to create a new category, a whole new world we, or even they, have never imagined. They need it—or should I say owe it—to give hope for the loyal and hard-working employees and Mac cult members around the globe who honestly believe in changing the world into a better place.

When iPad came into life, everybody (including myself) laughed and was convinced that Jobs’ cancer had reached his brain. Now I carry my iPad mini everywhere. We are looking for that, maybe. But I also feel that the challenge is bigger than the Jobs era, because we don’t need more “products,” so to say.

Our life has already been fragmented—I don’t think we need “more” products to fill our niched. But we do need something that changes our life for the better. Our frustration that the current world we live in isn’t providing us with what we need is just growing, despite the onslaught of smaller chips and higher resolutions and longer batteries. We want change, not more.

I know, it might be going beyond Apple’s range. But if they stay true to their mantra, change the world for better, then they must be struggling with this collected frustration toward the world we live in: What Now? I believe they also want to create the 21st century’s Macintosh effect, not smaller and thinner on a linear scale. We want something that liberates us, not a shiny gadget that confines un in its tiny enclosure.

I guess I am still hoping for that magical solution.

Meditation is dance

The toughest thing about meditating is that the act of concentrate is already a big part of my thought, thus the harder I try to “meditate,” the more difficult it becomes to stay in the moment.

My mind is covered by layers of thoughts and images and music. When I meditate, there is always a music—no, muzak—running around, a pop tune ghost from the past. The latest one is shown below. Herself is totally meditative I believe, but watching, er, listening to, her isn’t, at my level.

Trying to concentrate in that state by “trying” is just closing the curtain in front of an obnoxious TV set without turning it off. I just add another mental shield to shut myself out, just like I do in my daily life when I encounter uncomfortable events.

The meditative practice turns into an enabling session with a “clinic” sign hanging outside. I enter, lying to myself that I am silencing my chatter (through another chatter called concentration), and get out, becoming energized and even more addictive.

What I need is the opposite: remove all the mental layers until I expose my naked self. The difficult part again is that the “removing” tool itself is another layer, thus by trying to remove I am adding more…the vicious circle continues.

Add to the picture the usual routine of daily worry about my assignments, coffee machine, billing and filing, appointments, and the nagging complaints from my left leg, I usually am left without a clue. Too many mental noises cover my brain, which makes me want to shout…ENOUGH, inside.

And that’s when the unveiling starts. I turn off the TV switch because I don’t want it anymore. I say I-don’t-care to my assignments (this one is easy :), errands, and even my leg. I am fed up with my noise, and that is the beginning of getting into the “moment.”

When I enter (a brief) meditative moment, my body warms up and the central-frontal part of my brain starts to react comfortably, as if sending a massage signal around. I feel everything is in movement but still at the same time. I observe the world’s multiple faces with curiosity. I am peaceful or tranquil, but that’s in the background. It is…just fun.

Because any “should” is a mental layer in itself, what I need to concentrate in its true sense is to rid of all “shoulds,” even the concentration itself. I enter a meditative state just because I want to. In fact, the key to having a good meditation is to do it because it feels good. The principle looks no different from making love or striking a conversation or getting a fun ride.

Personally, my biggest obstacle for meditation has been my inability to just enjoy. I took/take every activity, be it work, fun, or meditation with the “opportunity” flavor, attaching unnecessary obligations and objectives to it. I was/am a master of turning everything into a duty and putting an iron to my leg, and then whine for not being able to do what I truly wanted. Dumbass.

I am now suspecting that the true reason meditation works is because it is so fxxking enjoyable. Those monks up in the mountain, secluded from modern life, aren’t doing what they do (for free) because they want to better themselves. They are having the greatest pleasure we can imagine—it is that they don’t want to say it too loud (who is going to produce their food otherwise?).

Any leisure activity requires us a period of training before we become capable of enjoying it: surfing, golf, playing the guitar, painting, or sex. I think in essence there is no difference between Shakira’s dance and meditation. Get rid of yourself and have fun—that’s all there is.

It is that simple, and it isn’t just us who wants to have fun.

And then it occurred to me: maybe the Universe wants more from us than just our time. Maybe the Universe gets pissed off when we show up for dinner but don’t stay to talk. Maybe the Universe needs the connection to us just as much as we need that connection to something greater than ourselves.

It is all about dancing with the universe. Some people do it through body movement because they can. I try to (ouch) go my way in a sitting position (though I want to catch up on the body aspect too).

(A video introduced by a friend of mine: Daft Punk is meditative, definitely)

Humanities and Science. So what?

The renounced psychologist Stephen Pinker is asking the humanities world to stop seeing science as en enemy and start embracing it more in order to enrich its own world.

One would think that writers in the humanities would be delighted and energized by the efflorescence of new ideas from the sciences. But one would be wrong. Though everyone endorses science when it can cure disease, monitor the environment, or bash political opponents, the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities has been deeply resented. Just as reviled is the application of scientific reasoning to religion; many writers without a trace of a belief in God maintain that there is something unseemly about scientists weighing in on the biggest questions. In the major journals of opinion, scientific carpetbaggers are regularly accused of determinism, reductionism, essentialism, positivism, and worst of all, something called “scientism.”

Then a philosopher Gary Gutting says that’s nonsense—the humanities world has been practicing interdisciplinary approach much more than the science world.

Consider my home discipline of philosophy. Pinker himself mentions the strong recent connections of philosophy of mind to cognitive science and neuroscience. What he doesn’t note is that philosophers of mind — David Chalmers is a striking example — who work in cognitive science are typically highly trained in that discipline. Few cognitive scientists and neuroscientists have comparably strong backgrounds in philosophy of mind. As I’ve argued in previous Stone columns, this is a major disadvantage when scientists try, as they often do, to interpret the bearing of their results on philosophical issues such as free will and happiness.

I am not interested in which is correct, and nobody can judge it either. That’s probably the reason why this discussion exists in the first place. When “scientists” discuss they try to reach an absolute truth, to which all parties must obey regardless of their position (ideally). When humanities scholars discuss they might potentially go on forever, because there isn’t an absolute truth but a variety of truths that “depend.” If humanities discussions are fencing competitions that use “to each his own” as the protection tip, science discussions might resemble duels in the early modern era.

I am rather interested in their motivations: why Pinker posted the article in the first place, and why Gutting had to counter-argue in an aggressive manner (Doomsdayer vs. Naysayer). I feel a sense of crisis in both sides that the world they live in has been, or is about to, disappear into oblivion. Both Pinker’s urgency and Gutting’s offensiveness is just a reflection of the underlying danger that is threatening them, in my eyes.

I agree with Pinker just for his attitude: acknowledging that something is not working and calling for actions. And I also agree with his call for humanities scholars to embrace science more, not because the “scientism” is corrupting the humanities world, but because: It. Does. Not. Matter.

Who cares about humanities and science in our life outside academia? A manager in most companies must understand both EQ and technology to organize his division well. A computer engineer needs to understand human interaction to make his program remotely usable to other people. Even a painter needs to understand mathematics to draw precisely what he wants.

The world is a gigantic interdisciplinary playground, and it has only one demand on what subjects we need to master: Whatever required.

And secretly, I believe it is the no-boundary chaos we are going through our lives that might lead us closer to the holy grail for those scholars: to understand this universe, who we are, the truths of all truths. For one thing, the world’s first recorded enlightened person (Buddha) went through the extremes—having everything and then nothing, doing everything and then nothing—to reach his awakened state.

While scholars are endlessly waging or amending wars among their sects, the world we live in carries on, posing a real threat to everybody on daily basis: how can we secure enough income to afford a place to live and enough food on our table?

It is those hard-working people who are allocating a part of their precious income and sending their kids to college, thus paying money for those scholars. Those patrons aren’t doing so to watch “scholarly” debates that themselves have already solved years ago.

Wake up, guys. The world isn’t divided between humanities and science. The world, thus the reality, just exists. And while you continue to “debate” on imaginary lines (Humanities vs. Science) you drew inside your tiny universe-city, the awesome ivory tower, made of ivory, is slowly dismantling in pieces.

Pilates isn’t pirates or pilots or piranhas

My quest for physical therapy continues. (A tiny voice says the therapy I truly need is a cure for therapy addiction.) A dear friend of mine, Jim Lehman, invited me to try his pilates session in his gorgeous new studio overlooking the Xindian valley in Southern Taipei. The place was gorgeous enough to withstand the repetition of an already overused and pretentious term as “gorgeous” three times in a paragraph. And a lazy writer.

My previous take on pilates was a glorious (I wrote gorgeous in the first version, I must confess) version of yoga. Maybe it was because of this book. I was surprised to see rows of specialized training tools and full-body fixtures in his studio, waiting to deform—no, fix—my body. I took a mental note: Maybe I shouldn’t follow my curiosity too easily.

My anxiety quickly subsided thanks to a great (again, changed from another word that starts with a g) cup of Chinese tea and—Voila!—a simple yoga mat. I restrained my desire to kiss the floor and focused on Jim’s introduction. For you wondering, here is a video that shows what I went through, somewhat.

(And a Wikipedia article. Now you have some ideas.)

As he explains, pilates has many variations which might lead to confusions on what it is (the previous me), but also make it capable to work for each individual with different needs (the current me). In my case, what I needed most was to maintain a proper posture to feel the world fully.

We started with breathing. The first stage of breathing did not inflate the lower belly, as instructed in any breathing practices. Instead, I had to tighten my muscle around my diaphram (what?) and breath into my back (what what?). Inevitably, my abdomen tightened up and I was squeezing the crucial lower torso. I was exhaling before inhaling.

But the point of the first stage was to utilize the muscle that connects the upper body and the lower body (just watch the video—now you know why I had been such an efficient technical writer). What is incredible is that it is the only muscle to do it.

By inhaling into my lower back, I could pull the muscle and connect my body in one line. Then the second stage came, which is to open my rib cage (thus my chest) using the side muscles. Mentally I became Dwayne Johnson preparing for his brawl. This movement finally introduced enough amount of air into my lung. The first stage was crucial here too, because the abdomen tension worked as a basis for the chest muscle to hold itself while opening up the rib cage.

The third and last stage of inhaling was to raise the upper front side of the rib cage to introduce slightly more air and to connect the chest with the neck. The latter completed the “connection” from the bottom half of my body to the torso to the head, aligning my body in one line. The exhaling contracts everything in the reverse order.

As I breathed along these steps, I started to feel a sensation I never experienced: I was massaging my chest inside out, especially through the second stage. Someone reached his hand directly inside my rib and gently spread the muscle from within. In fact, the sensation was similar to the blissful moment of meditation, when my body starts to warm up inside out through breathing, without any visible movement.

The pilates breathing felt so good I just stood there breathing and expanding my chest, gradually warming my body to a comfortable inside-out chest scrub. I spent a good amount of minutes before I stopped and turned to Jim. I continued more movements to enhance this breathing effects, but I should stop revealing trade secrets (one of essential skills for writers is to find every reason not to write).

Needless to say, my posture returned to straight-up. Note that I did not make any effort to straighten myself up. All I did was to connect my lower and upper body and expand my chest. I was only massaging my chest, which had been incredibly underused in a fixed, contracted hunch position through years of sedentary life. By giving my chest proper movement and flexibility, my body automatically adjusted its posture straight.

I am more convinced than ever that our body is smarter than our brain. All we have to do is to stop sabotaging its proper movement and the body finds the best way to properly function. Stop cooking up plans to “fix” my body according to idealistic blueprints and let my body take care of itself—that’s the lesson I have been learning, over and over again.

The Twilight Zone—what to fear?

This short video made by IKEA Spain captures the brilliant power of stepping out of our comfort zone. Well, reality doesn’t work this smoothly but it certainly shows the possibility.

Everybody, regardless of their age bracket, might agree that he or she wants that experience to happen. But few people do that. They make a couple of attempts and then they either give up or find another comfort zone, and stays in the status quo. We are already trained so from our childhood. And we just grow more so until the very end.

What demotivates us from stepping out of our comfort zone? The fear of failure, obviously. More precisely, the fear of being noticed of our failures. We might be laughed at. Ridiculed. Disappointed. More people would keep trying as long as they can do it alone, without anybody’s eyes.

But that fear, the fear of judgement by others, is actually created by ourselves. We merely project what we think of ourselves as someone else’s opinion. When we get hurt by our friend criticizing us, it is our inner evil child whispering to us “See? I told you.”

A rare oddity of feel-good drama in the filmography of David Lynch (but no less memorable), The Straight Story, shows the craziest idea of all: an old man rides a tractor all along to meet his brother. It contains an episode of a pregnant runaway girl ending up sharing a meal with him, who confesses: “My family hates me. They really hate me when they find out.”

She is hated, indeed, by none other than herself. On the other hand, nobody laughs at the old protagonist on a seemingly suicidal trip.

One of the most respectable old people I have ever met was a World War II veteran, who took me and my then-partner to a sushi restaurant to welcome us in the Boston area.

When the sushi dish arrived, I found out that he did not know how to use chopsticks. During the meal he was using two wooden sticks to “disseminate” rolls of sushi inside a pool of soy sauce, as if a five-year old boy played with his crayon to draw freely on a paper. There was nothing elegant in it.

I was seeing a tough guy who fought tooth and nail with Japanese soldiers in the Pacific some 60 years ago and now was humbling himself in front of a Japanese guy, in order to make him comfortable. I taught him how to hold the sticks, but it was me who was being taught. For the first time in a very long time, I looked forward for growing old. If it was possible to become him, the twilight of life didn’t look so bleak.

When I crawl into my comfortable rigidity (which happens almost every moment) to make myself look “aged gracefully,” thus missing what is most important at the moment, I remember him. He told me—through his actions not words—that the best way to remain cool to the end is to forget about being cool at all and focus on the current moment, especially on what one could offer to others.

Someone will take always take notice of my good (true) intention. And to flip it around, when I try to hide my harmful (true) intention, someone will always sniff it out, too.

Rolfing isn’t Lol-fing or Roll-fin

I took the first rolfing session in my life. I had heard about it (trivia: the Japanese novelist Yoshimoto Banana’s husband is a rolfer) but never tried it, because…here I am in Taiwan, the home of Chinese medicine and qigong, and the idea of trying a Western practice that doesn’t involve a knife seemed ridiculous.

It turned out to be the greatest physical therapy experience I could have ever asked.

My rolfer (masseur) first let me stand in front of a mirror in my underwear. There I was, a perfectly healthy, balanced body—so I thought. She started pointing out what was out of shape in my body, one by one. My right knee was higher than my left one. My left shoulder angle was lower than the right to some degrees. And for the best, my left thigh was facing outward, but my left waist was facing inward, then my left chest was facing outward. I was a human towel, twisted as hard as it could be along the vertical axis.

I had been watching my body for about four decades and have never realized how out of balance it had become. At the end of the visual inspection I was seeing the Elephant Man in the mirror.

The rolfing session began. She started gripping and twisting my muscles here and there. Not too strong, not too soft. I was frustrated at first for hearing no cracking sound and feeling no deep stretch. All I thought was the rather expensive fee. I was mentally cooking up a future plan to take only the inspection (sort of a human X-ray picture) with discounted price and then run to a nearby Chinese massage with detailed instructions.

Then a small typhoon was born inside my body, somewhere in my torso. It gradually covered my body, causing buzzing sensations everywhere. (Chinese acupuncture gave me similar sensations.)  It was a curious mixture of agony and pleasure: on one hand my muscles were tightening and heating up, making me want to scratch my muscles from inside. But at the same time the buzz was massaging my body inside out, sending waves of stimulation and relaxation in alternation.

This video shows more or less the experience I had.

After the session, I walked for a few steps—and saw that my view, much more so than my body, had completely changed. It was as if someone inserted a pole in my backbone. When I walked around, it was as if I became the king of the world, blessed and admired by everything that came into my vision. I saw the world with clarity and in its entirety, thanks to the confidence and angle that were brought by the adjusted posture.

Actually, I didn’t care how my body looked afterward. I was just happy that I did not have to tiptoe around in timid fashion anymore. My body was fully connected with the ground and the sky, and I was sailing smoothly between the two realms, thanks to my straight-up and centered torso that were no more blocking the lubrication flow around my body.

I have tried chiropractic in the past, but my rolfer’s explanation said it well: I could adjust my bones, but if my muscle remained the same, my body would eventually come back to the same twisted position. Rolfing changed my muscle orientation. If my body were a tent, my bones were the poles and my muscles were the strings. You can’t expect the tent to be stable just by changing the pole position and leaving the strings. Eventually the string will bring the pole into its original (and wrong) location.

I had experienced a series of physical practices after leaving years of sedentary desk work life: Dancing, chiropractic, and now rolfing. I finally learned the truth. When your body orientation is out of balance, it becomes your norm. You believe you have a fine-tuned body albeit small issues here and there, and look for outside reasons for your continuous migraines, back pains, sleep deprivation, fatigue, narrow vision: anything that isn’t physically (or even mentally) working in you. Something or someone else is always to be blamed.

The physical therapies completely shuttered my such false conviction and opened my eyes toward the fundamental issue: If I have an unbalanced body, I will keep having an unbalanced health and life. I am learning to surrender myself to the humble truth that, in fact, I will always have to start from my inside to deal with what looks like an outside issue.

Mentally, we have started to accept the inside-out approach: It isn’t much about what other people do to you, it is more about how you respond to what happens. The same goes for our physical realm, and in closer look the two worlds are intertwined, dissolving the boundaries. Out-of-the-shape minds creates out-of-the-shape body, and vice versa.

A Mobius ring or a wire puzzle

A baby boomer gentleman apologizes for being a baby boomer and shares his thoughts on why they had become…them (he doesn’t know). Probably this is one of the most heart-felt confessions I have heard in years. I almost wished my father be this guy.

So let me apologize for my generation, for wasting so many precious resources….I apologize for myself, I apologize for everyone in my generation. We were not thinking….What were we thinking?

And it is a very disturbing thing to me because I come from like the end of the hippie era where I was influenced by somewhat but I was also a minted engineer so when I got out of school I understood about energy and second law of thermodynamics and we were all driving Honda motor cars and we were all getting 40 miles to the gallon. And we were all very proud of that. You know, being energy-efficient. We understand that energy doesn’t last forever.

We had the idea, and somewhere on the way we lost it. And I don’t know how that happened because while my idealistic nature which I still have existed when I was in my early twenties and even through into my thirties.

But somehow I caught the buzz that I was not worth very much unless I have something more. I never bought into that fully, but to be honest I did buy into it somewhat, so I don’t know when that shift took place in me.

It is very easy for us to deduce a lesson from here, vowing not to be carried away in the flow of consumerism or group mentality, and stay in the presence to always be connected with who we truly are. Yeah, the new-agey stuff.

But I want to remember the fact that it was the baby-boomers who started the new-age movement. They started out saying Fxxk No to the life of slow insanity accumulation inside a suburban pressure cooker house of their previous generations, which was depicted in the movie Revolutionary Road.

And yet, even that generation started their life on a idealistic note. Are we just repeating the pattern of idealism turning into practicality turning into apathy, planting the seed of hatred (and eventual convert to the dark side) into offsprings over and over?

I am a child of a baby boomer couple and seeing their life through my adult life, I have also gone through the cycle of despising to disillusioning to pitying their life style, which meant shielding their ignorance by excessive materialism. I want to think that I am immune from their pattern. I want to say (and I do say) that I will not be repeating the same mistake they made.

But if what comes out of my mental loud speaker is true, why haven’t I considered raising a kid of my own? I just didn’t meet proper opportunities, is my politically correct answer. Is that true? Don’t I secretly fear that I might repeat the karma of my previous generation?

Whether I will fall for this trap (or more likely, pull myself out of it because I am already in there) remains to be seen. But I would like to brace myself for the day when I, like this brave man, will be standing up and apologizing for myself or my generation or both for screwing up whatever opportunities we had in our hands.

I hope I just want to be realistic rather than fatalistic. Most people do not live their lives trying to screw things up. But as the gentleman solemnly realized, somehow, someway, someday, we might be scooped up in a big wave of social trend and end up in a position we despised in our early days. I am just not ready to declare immunity from that force.

Maybe I can note my thoughts here in my blog, share it with the world, and look back some time later. I hope I would be able to laugh it over, either by overcoming it or by admitting it.

The side view of social blindness

The news related to food these days is simply weird. On one hand, genetically enhanced corn and its derivatives are flooding our households with nutritiously poor but surely inexpensive food. All right, we have enough to feed everybody.

On the other hand, more people are having troubles affording what they eat. In the United States, 50 million people are relying on food stamps. Oops, food isn’t enough?

And on the weirdest part, the third hand, nearly half of the total produced food is wasted. Okay, more than enough food.

In America, we throw away 40 percent of the food we produce every year. That’s nearly half our food — $165 billion dollars’ worth — in the garbage, instead of in our stomachs. Nine out of ten of us discard food — and likely are convinced we need to go out and buy more — because of the mistaken belief that the “sell by” date has a food safety implication for ourselves or our family.

It’s estimated that 160 billion pounds of food is dumped in the United States annually, in part due to this labeling confusion. That’s almost enough wasted food to fill up a football stadium every day. Discarded food is the biggest single contributor to solid waste in landfills. We’re throwing away perfectly good food at a time when one in six Americans is considered “food insecure,” meaning that they struggle to put food on their tables year-round. Globally, 28 percent of the world’s farmland is being used to produce food that is not being eaten. That’s an area bigger than China.

The documentary Taste the Waste follows follows this food waste issues (along with cool portraits of dumpster divers).

Therefore, the conclusion I deduce from those videos is: 1. We produce enough amount of food. 2. We waste nearly half of them. 3. As a result, not everybody can afford their food without government aid.

Nobody, not even the 1%, agrees that food should be wasted. It is one of our basic survival instincts, along with aversion of death. But for some reason, reality has made twisted turns.

Back in Japan at the end of the last century, I remember 7-11 clerks routinely wasting lunch boxes away into trash bins at the end of the day. They were actually lining the boxes neatly on top of the bin, so that homeless people and penniless students living nearby can take them off silently. An ecosystem was created around each 7-11 not just inside, but also outside the store. Those were the end of the salad days, when we could still believe—or rather hope—that somehow the world knew how to make ends meet, close the loop, or create a ecosystem guided by invisible hands.

The current situation reminds me of the stories of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Food and natural resources were produced abundantly thanks to the never-ending fields of minerals, but the transportation system was completely dysfunctional.

Or using our body as an analogy, the current situation is a modern “super” healthy man, having enhanced or replaced his vital organs, but somehow forgot to reconnect the vessels: blood and nerves. Isn’t it ironic that the entire system is so fragmented in this era of information super-highway?

No, the system works seamlessly (otherwise we won’t be eating a one-dollar hot dog). What is truly fragmented, or maybe minimized, is our vision, the coverage of our social antenna.

The more social networks and tailored search algorithm evolve, the narrower our circle of interest, people, world becomes. We can easily fool ourselves that the world we see through the Internet lens is everything that exists.

This is a huge topic so I can’t dive in at once. I am just staggered by the amount of “inconvenient truths” mounted just one step outside our usual interest, and the devastating effect they are putting on our real lives. Convenience spreads stealthily like virus, and so does its side effects.

It isn’t about you

The following is what I say to a younger version of myself, who had no idea how to live his life, but was desperately looking for an answer.

1. Everybody wants to give advice on how to live

And I mean, literally, every, single, one. Just ask anybody that you are confused, you don’t know what to do, and want to hear his or her opinion.  You will be listening to stories which might last for hours, and you will be thinking hard on how to end the conversation without upsetting the air. Now you clearly know what to do.

2. They are not talking about you.

What the advice-givers truly want to say is not how you should live your life; it is how they wanted to live their lives. It is them who needed to vent out unresolved issues to someone. By asking for advice, you did help out one person’s soul—except that it’s not yours.

3. But you can still do it.

Yet you may still listen to their advices. Be patient and be careful. Their advice might sound smart but might not be applicable to you, because, after all they aren’t you and they are talking about what would have worked for them. Two many uncertainties here, right? But I think it is okay for you to keep listening, focused, because…doesn’t it feel damn good?

4. Because you feel good, and there is a reason.

As addictive as this advice game is (despite not offering immediate solution), I hope you realize the true reason for why it is fine to engage in it. You feel so good, and you know why? It is because someone is giving you serious attention. And you are equally reciprocating the attention back to them. You are having a genuine connection with other human being, both sides talking and thinking about fundamentally different topics (no two lives are the same), but nevertheless feeling something real.

5. Then get back to yourself.

After the conversation, do NOT start following up on their advice. Hold the temptation and remember the true reason why you felt so high, so excited, so warm during the talk: the connection. THAT is what you have to follow up. You will then realize that whatever agenda you had when you asked for an advice (school, girl, work, money) wasn’t what you were missing, or the true agenda. What really got cured was your loss of connection: to reality, to others, and to yourself.

6. Follow up.

…But do not get sucked into a mental black hole: religious groups, hard-working companies, self-help seminars. The world is rife with leaders and communities who will use you, because they know you are willing to be manipulated. Don’t let them do that. (But being me, I know you will get sucked in. Don’t worry, you will “wake up” sooner or later.)

Now, with a clear head (and after crawling out of a mental quicksand), you may start the real follow-up: Connection. How? Very simple. Remember what you (not them) did during that magical advice session: Listen. That’s it. Do it for other people and for yourself, both.

7. This whole story isn’t about you.

Remember my earlier comment “They aren’t talking about you”? Same here. I have just been telling you what I should be doing ideally. Thanks for listening dude, you will see me later. Don’t worry, your life will just get better. I know.

And if you are still worried how to live your life, here is an inspiration from a dying guy. Also, it is the best usage of “It isn’t about you.” You’ll understand if you watch the video to the end.

Class is out. Forever.

More people are classifying themselves as lower class. The news is from the US but it applies to everywhere in the developed world, as we are all painfully aware of.

Roquemore is among the small but surging share of Americans who identify themselves as “lower class.” Last year, a record 8.4% of Americans put themselves in that category — more than at any other time in the four decades that the question has been asked on the General Social Survey, a project of the independent research organization Norc at the University of Chicago.

Of course, we are expected to see this: The middle class has been disappearing fast, and something needs to replace the old identity. When you are relying on food stamps, you can’t fool yourself to fit into the upper class, having the upper hand.

Cause we’re all under the upper hand

Go mad for a couple grams

And we don’t want to go outside tonight

And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland

Or sells love to another man

Let’s define “lower class” in words that are comprehensible to us. It is “no future.” I can see that it might be surprisingly liberating for some people to give up hopes of the olden days and succumb into the new reality.

When people call themselves lower class, “we’ll say, ‘You’re not lower than someone else. You just have less money,'” said Michaelann Bewsee, co-founder of Arise for Social Justice, a Massachusetts low-income rights group. But many don’t consider it insulting today, Bewsee said.

“They’re just reflecting their economic reality,” she said.

Is it only me who finds this “liberation from insulting” incredibly depressing? You can be okay having no money. But you can never, never be okay having no money AND calling yourself poor.

I am not saying you should call yourself rich no matter what. I am saying you should not give yourself away to categorization. You must not give away your identity, who you are. Only you can decide that. And when you give it up, that is the end of your life.

Ultimately what matters isn’t which social “class” we belong to—fuck that—but whether we are having enough or not. And that is a harder act than simply watching our economic status. It is about knowing who we are and what we want. Only then we know “enough.”

As William Blake said, we never know what is enough unless we know what is more than enough. We cannot label ourselves as “lower” or even “upper” and pretend that everything is covered. We need to just live class-less in order to “settle” into our enough-ness, if we are to live peacefully (or joyfully or without regret or whatever).

I believe it is time for us to stop the habit of comparison—whether we are doing better or worse compared to others. The only thing that matters is whether we are doing fine in our own terms, and labeling ourselves as “lower class” deprives us of that freedom from the beginning by putting us into a mental and social prison.

And that’s where I find hope in this otherwise grim news. Look at the numbers mentioned again: Only 8.4% are re-categorizing themselves as “lower class.” That is far smaller than the number of people who gave up identifying themselves as “middle class.” The rest of the economic refugees hasn’t decided where they belong, probably still wondering.

I believe it is a positive step. First you realize the old category has disappeared. Second you realize the other categories do not fit the new you either. (We are at this stage now.) And third—you realize that you no longer need a category. Your reality might be harsh, but your spirit has the opportunity to be freer than ever.

I truly hope that the number of self-claimed “lower class” people do not go up, regardless of our economic situation. I hope that the number of people re-identifying themselves remain low or go lower, so this useless statistics become truly useless.

Fuck classes.