When I was a kid, I used to hear the same thing from all of the adults in my life who weren’t my parents.
“He looks like he’s mad at the world.”
I wasn’t a particularly angry child, or moody. I just remember that even at such a young age I carried around this inexplicable look of stoic seriousness.
There’s a picture somewhere from my childhood whose image is still burned into my mind. I couldn’t have been any older than eight years old in it; it was a photo taken from a summer camp trip I went on. A gaggle of little black kids and a few courageous mothers volunteering as chaperones all took a bus from West Philly to New Jersey to spend a day on the waterfront. It actually turned out to be a beautiful outing; we went to a museum, took a boat ride, played in the fountains by the pier, even ate free soft pretzels and water ice in the park because we were just so darned cute. It should have just been a beautiful day that any kid would be more than pleased to be apart of. But, if I were to show you this picture, you wouldn’t have thought so. In the photo it’s just a close up of me from that day, posed against a backdrop of the waterfront standing in front of a fence in my freshly painted white t shirt wearing a look that shouts some feeling of fundamental unhappiness that no eight year-old should know how to pull off so perfectly. “Mad at the World”… maybe not mad, but that look says it all. At such a tender age I found a way to let a feeling that would haunt me, and many other people, sink in and begin to take hold. I have the photo to prove it.
During my stint in college, I made the unfortunate mistake of becoming a philosophy major. It was the only subject I could find that actually interested me long enough to study for four years, and I was addicted to the nature of philosophy classes; which always ended up in some large, round-table-like debate on whatever the reading was from the previous class. In one of my very first philosophy courses, the professor asked us a question during the introductory session where you would typically only receive your syllabus and find classmates to later develop unrequited crushes on, “Why is it that humankind is drawn the type of inquiries philosophy asks? What inspires us to ask why?” At the time, I wasn’t much of a class participator but this particular question seemed to really strike a chord with me. I raised my hand, prepared to give an answer that I didn’t know I had been formulating for most of my life. “We ask these questions because we are fundamentally dissatisfied with what life has given us.” I could tell by the look on my professor’s face that day that my response intrigued her a bit, she cocked her head to the side and asked me to elaborate, and I probably stumbled through a freshman level response that didn’t articulate thoughts I wasn’t yet ready to fully grasp. Still however, we would often have interesting chats in office hours, and she tease me a little by asking, “Does this answer satisfy you, sir?” So, not angry at the world, dissatisfied. We’re getting closer.
I grew up in southern Florida for a large portion of my life, the “Sunshine State”, but if you ask me; “The most unbearably hot place on the planet”. I’m a baby, I need perfect weather to be happy, so the glaring sunshine of the 90 degree Florida summers quickly became my mortal enemy. Vividly I can remember how much I would fantasize about finally being able to move away to a place where I would never have to deal with carrying an extra stick of deodorant, or being forced to fit my awkwardly meaty thighs into a pair of shorts ever again. Now I live in Portland, where sometimes it rains for a week straight. Just recently I was walking with a friend in town during a predictably cloudy, rainy day; when a miracle occurred and the sun decided to breakthrough and grace us for brief moment in time. Upon feeling the blessing of sunlight on my skin I couldn’t help but stop mid conversation and exclaim; “Oh my fucking God..” In that moment I had finally learned to appreciate the sunlight that I spent so much of my life being fundamentally dissatisfied with.
I’m not sure if I would consider myself religious, but I do like to study a lot of spiritual teachings. Two of the most reoccurring themes in eastern spirituality is learning to become fully immersed in the present moment, and to practice daily on not being a slave to one’s own ego. To appreciate every last drop of life that you have been given in that fraction of a second where you are fully conscious of all that is in front of you right now. To ignore that ego-self that obsessively looks into the future and searches for more; casting aside the present moment and replacing it with a futile craving. Your human ego will always be fundamentally dissatisfied, always looking for what is not there, always blocking the sunlight from your face. In the short amount of time I have been alive already, I’ve lost many things precious to me because I let my ego, that fundamental dissatisfaction, tell me that I needed much more than what I already had, that it would be better to leave this sunlight in search of weather that my ego told me would feel great. Never let that happen. Never fall into that trap.
The present moment will never bend to your will. The sun does not shine according to your preference, and field trips will not always be exactly to your eight year-old liking. But the present moment is always undeniably beautiful. Love it, wholeheartedly. Because it is all you will ever have. The greatest tragedy of the universe is that you will only get to drink from the fountain of life once, and must leave before you get to appreciate the taste.
Silence the ego beast that always thinks it could be a bit better.
Love the summer even if it’s rays are too warm for you.
Dance in the rain even if it’s been “Tuesday and cloudy” for weeks.
Love her, even when you are sleeping back to back.
Enjoy your sip of life even it could be a bit colder, Smile into the face of the sun anytime she greets you. That, is ego death.
Is pure sunshine.
And it’s all you’ve got.