For a long time, I assumed that like most things, there was a natural balance between the horrors and the beauty of the world. The yin and the yang that was part of the normal harmony of things. While this might still be true, I’ve learned that it’s wrong for me.
I’m in the middle of my escape. Some free-form time bouncing around Europe with no firm plans. Yesterday in Scotland I got to visit Culloden, the site of a historic and bloody battle with the English. As with any site of mass death, my mind went to the “horrors of the world” frame. Especially because of the juxtaposition with the beauty that I’ve witnessed recently everywhere around me. I’ve been constantly awed on this trip — the sky, the clouds, the bodies of water, the lush landscape, the animals, the countryside, the monuments, …, pretty much everything. My mind went to these as countervailing forces — the beauty vs the horrors.
This time though, my mind stopped. It felt wrong. These aren’t two sides to the same coin. Yes, the beauty really is omnipresent. Naturally, though, within great beauty are imperfections. That’s what’s changed for me. Now I view it as boundless beauty and natural imperfections. It’s us, humans, who turn these imperfections into horrors. Individually, I’ve often turned the imperfections around me into my own personal hell. Others have taken imperfections and used them to inflict horrors onto the world: Creating hell for others.
I’ve come to realize that I’ve spent too much time on the darkness. I have, at times, fixated there. Or the derivatives of it: fear, worry, angst. But the beauty is in the trees, in the sky, in flowing water, in our families and friends, in a sunny day. It’s so abundant that it’s overwhelming once you finally open your eyes and your heart to it. It’s appreciating this — immersing oneself in the beauty– that prevents us from making the transition from the natural imperfections to full-blown horrors. Just appreciating and enjoying every day. Being really present has been building for a while. But it’s crescendoed on this trip. The cynic in me points out that it’s easy to appreciate when you’re on vacation and that in the grind this too will pass. I’ll bet no, but I guess only time will tell.
It really feels like a big break through for me. I’ve talked with friends about my theory of how we’re all broken inside, usually a result of stuff that happens to us early. I call them the “cracks” where life pressed on us too hard. It could be our parents, a traumatic event, pretty much anything. This leaves an imprint and some of those imprints are so deep they create cracks. It’s in these cracks that we’re most vulnerable: where the darkness, pain, suffering, cravings, and aversions leak into us. It’s these cracks throughout our lives that make us who we are. One of my deepest cracks has been never appreciating, or letting myself indulge, in the present. Instead I’d endure the self-flagellation over past mistakes and I’d dwell and obsess over them. Likely the result of internalizing others criticism of me early on. Soon I wouldn’t need their criticism, there was that voice, almost always present, to criticize. There’s my obsession in planning and worrying for the future. Likely the result of seeing firsthand the consequences as I grew up of my parents’ plans having gone off-track. So I’ve always been immersed in the past and/or the future — never the present. Until now.
I wrote, in a much more verbose way, the above in my journal a couple of days ago while on the bus heading back to Dublin. Yesterday, I came across Cory Booker’s Bard commencement address. I last wrote about Cory five years ago. He’s probably the only politician I’d ever work for. Cory is a guy who I come to adore, respect more ever time I come across something about him. He never fails to humble me. His speech is amazing. His theme is the “conspiracy of love.” The speech touches a similar theme as above (and the similar graduation theme of remembering those who came before you and serving as this for others, that I built my 03 Rutgers speech around).
I hope everyone is able to spend a bit more time enjoying the boundless beauty. There’s some definite beauty in that speech — so watch it too!
I've had this article sitting open for a few days, but I hadn't read it until tonight. Makes your recent Facebook posts that much sweeter. Glad to hear the trip has had the kind of impact you wanted, and thanks for writing this brave post — I can definitely relate.
Thanks, Nathan! I missed this while traveling (for some reason I no longer get emails with each comment). Look forward to some proper single malt, no ice, splash of water and talking more!