Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Existential Ramblings, 2 of...

And just like that, the inspiration left me – it’s been days since I last wrote. It’s like I needed the pain to motivate me to write…but no, the pain itself is not inspirational. It’s growing through the pain that inspired me to write, and so once again I must have grown today, or I wouldn’t be writing. There’s a certain feeling I get when I push through something that’s been stopping me; more often than not, it’s some blockage within myself. It feels like I’m finally back in touch with my true self, like there have been cobwebs draped over my eyes and they’ve just been brushed away, revealing a vibrancy in the world that I had previously missed. I see all the colours again, I smell all the odours of the world, I hear all the sounds. I hear myself.
I was trained and indoctrinated to believe that pain is a bad thing, something detrimental, something to be avoided. This isn’t something that was explicitly taught to me, it’s something that was implied in the background of many conversations. It’s built into the context of our society, our collective mentality. It’s the reason we have a culture of people looking for magic pills and quick solutions to every type of problem. It’s the source of addiction and the reason for much grief and suffering in the world: the avoidance and fear of pain. The problem is, pain in and of itself isn’t our enemy. Pain, like most feelings, is a signifier of something else. When we’re injured, it’s pain that gets our attention and tells us, “hey, there’s a problem here, you should take a look at this.”
Pain is not something we can completely avoid in our lifetimes, at least not without drastic consequences. What happens if a serious wound is simply medicated with painkillers? The pain may dissipate, but the wound itself will fester, become gangrenous, and maybe even cause death. The same goes for emotional pain, and dare-I-say spiritual pain. If we ignore it, if we try to run from it or avoid it or numb it out, we’re bound to suffer more dire consequences than the experience of the pain itself.
I spent many years of my life trying to run from and numb out my pain without knowing it. The pain of loneliness, of thinking there was something wrong with me, the pains of growing up. Emotional pains of an often unhappy household and the pains of not knowing how to deal with my fears and insecurities. Eventually I found substances that could help me forget my pain, help me feel a little better for the moment or at the very least numb out my emotions entirely. I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t have gone on drinking and getting high on a daily basis if the substances kept working for me, but they didn’t. My new-found solutions turned into problems of their own. And when all the smoke cleared and the dust settled, when I was alone with myself at the end of the day, I found that my pain had multiplied immensely.
I had started out running from something and as the years passed by I forgot what I was running from. When I finally had the courage to start facing my demons and chose to get sober (which I could not have done without a tremendous amount of help), I was left confused and disoriented as to my place in the world. I didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t have the faintest clue as to what my problems really were. By the grace of God, people were put in my path that helped guide me and taught me how to live again, without the drugs and alcohol. I owe my life to people who gave of themselves so that I could learn to stand again on my own two feet.
The point of this story is that I ran from pain, tried to numb emotions and thoughts that I found difficult to deal with, and as a result of doing this over a prolonged period of time, my world fell apart. Only now, after years of work on myself and much soul-searching, am I beginning to see the true purpose of emotions and the constructive role that pain can play. Sometimes emotions are just that – emotions. They don’t necessarily mean anything on their own. Conversely, if certain feelings persist over time, especially unpleasant ones, it’s worth beginning to inquire as to why. A lot of the time I know my ego can get in the way of what’s really going on with me, telling me everything is cool and good and I’ve got it all handled. That’s usually when the unconscious begins to stir, begins communicating to me with emotions, dreams, or bodily aches and pains, and that’s when I need to start paying more attention to my soul.
I’ve been taught that the greatest source of human suffering is resistance to painful experiences. Perhaps because we are either hardwired or conditioned to avoid pain, when we feel unpleasant emotions we resist them in any way we can. Often mental resistance is at play, and as such we experience normal human emotions (sadness, for example) as sources of tremendous suffering. We as human beings have the uncanny ability to intellectualize and analyze ourselves and our emotions, and we can often create mountains out of ant-hills in our minds. I know that I can do this quite regularly, and when I’m not mindful of it I manufacture a lot of misery for myself.
I still do believe, however, that our emotions serve a purpose. Pain occurs for reasons, even if we sometimes aren’t aware what those reasons are. The first and most important thing I’m learning is that we need be OK with the pain itself – don’t fight it, don’t resist it. If we can do that, then we can actually begin to look for the source of the pain, instead of spending energy trying to alleviate suffering. And when we can be with the pain, we can learn what it’s trying to tell us and we have the opportunity for growth. And then we can be inspired by life once again.

Existential Ramblings, 1 of...

At some point you might wake up and realize that everything you’ve ever done to get what you want in your life hasn’t worked. Sure, you’ve made strides here and there; you’ve had small victories and counted some things in your life as “accomplishments.” But at some point, your soul is liable to get loud enough to drown out all the other voices in your head and make you stop and think for a minute that, ‘Hey – this life isn’t turning out the way I wanted it to.” And then you’re stuck with a much bigger problem than how to score a raise at your next annual performance review or what shirt looks good with what pair of shoes or what your neighbours might think about that shitty car you drive. Then you have to confront those damn existential, philosophical questions about being human that everybody hates and nobody makes the time to think about, let alone has any definite answers for. And then you’re really in the shit.
            I suppose the first time I thought about any of this stuff was when I was approximately five years old. Walking down a sidewalk in front of some storefronts with my mother, I suddenly felt a bit dizzy, awkward in my steps and a bit removed from corporeality. A thought occurred in my five-year-old brain: ‘Of all the infinite numbers of souls that could have inhabited any of the infinite bodies in this world, why am I this particular soul inhabiting this particular body?’ Granted, I likely didn’t formulate such a proper-sounding sentence in my head at the time, but the question, which occurred as more of a realization, was awakened within me nonetheless. Whether I had some intrinsic knowledge of myself being an embodied soul in this world or I had picked it up from early conversations with my mother, I can’t be certain. What I do know is that since that moment I’ve never really stopped pondering this question, never stopped wondering what my purpose in life is or why I even exist at all.
            It’s been the source of a lot of what some have coined “existential angst” for me over the years. It’s led me down dark roads of depression, addiction, anxiety, and even brief periods of psychosis. At other times, it’s given me a sense of purpose, made me determined, inspired me, and possibly been responsible for some of the best actions I’ve taken in my life. And still I can’t fully define this thing, this it, this gnawing force within me that seldom allows me to sit still and in silence, that won’t let me settle for the mundane or what I conceive to be a mediocre life. It calls me, it pulls me, and sometimes, when I haven’t been paying attention to it, it screams to me and can even knock me on my ass.
            Is it my soul calling towards some preordained, God-given purpose in this world? Is it my ego telling me I’m not good enough, I’m not doing enough, that I need to do and be and achieve more in my life just so I can be OK? Is it fear and insecurity dogging my every step just to make sure I feel shitty enough to not have a normal life but not shitty enough to end it all? Unfortunately, there are no finite tests to determine exactly what is going on in the human psyche. There are no brain scans to date which can disambiguate the myriad of possible reasons and sources for various feelings, thoughts, beliefs and experiences.
So I’m left here with whatever tools are at my disposal. I have a voice to speak with, to ask questions, to share my experiences. I have ears to listen with and hear if others might be able to shed some light onto my confusion and help clear the cobwebs that cloud my judgment. I’m still not a great listener and I’m even worse at sharing what’s going on with me through conversation, mostly because I don’t know myself what’s going on half the time. Still, I have these hands to write with, these fingers to tap on keys and make characters, words, and sentences appear on a screen in front of my eyes. Sad as it may seem to some, the written word has always been my closest ally in times of darkness; writing has been by best friend in times of complete spiritual bankruptcy and isolation. And I haven’t seriously written anything in far too long.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pen and Pad

“…if we pay close enough attention to the signs, then they do appear/
and guide us towards the rivers of life – it’s all fluid there/
if there’s a destiny to fulfill, we must do it there/
put my pen to pad, receive courage and march through the fear…”

More than just a book of rhymes, Toronto hip hop artist MC FÜBB views his notebook as a place to capture his authentic self – a vessel for his soul’s expression. In “Pen and Pad,” a spoken word/acapella rap piece + video, FÜBB explores the role that writing poetry and lyrics plays as he works to contextualize his life, making sense of past hardships, acknowledging his present circumstances, and working towards his vision for the future. More than just a reflection on his own life, “Pen and Pad” is a piece that encourages listeners to think about their own purpose in the world, as MC FÜBB says:

“It’s about more than just me and what I’m dealing with – it’s about where we’re heading collectively as human beings. I don’t think I’m unique in asking the questions I’m asking about purpose or how to be at home in the world; all of us deal with these existential yearnings at some level. My role as an emcee, and even more primarily as a poet, is to express these feelings in ways that perhaps most people don’t yet have access to. To write unwritten truths and speak unspoken knowledge – that’s my job as a poet and an emcee.”

The video for "Pen and Pad" is the second spoken word/acapella rap video that MC FÜBB has released in anticipation of his upcoming EP, the poet, which will drop in late 2012.

Written and performed by: MC FÜBB

Cinematography by: Evan Ciniello for StreetCar Creative

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tidal Wave

sometimes it trickles in slow
like mud quietly dissolving into the water
from the edge of a river bank

and sometimes it comes on all at once
like a tidal wave,
a tsunami on unsuspecting tourists,
a horrific mass engulfing my entire realm,
sloshing around before it settles,
heavy and unmoving,
washing in front of my eyes,
blurring vision,
and when I can see again sometimes
the wreckage left behind
is too much for words

but always, always it has been
that I’ve continued to persist.

though scars accumulate,
my injuries heal,

always trying to grow wiser,
more determined,
yearning for days when the levies
will be strong enough to hold