“I’ve got a million people telling me why I can’t do it; that I’m not a real designer. I’m not real rapper either. I’m not a real musician either. I don’t know how to play the piano” ~ Kanye West
“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom” ~ Socrates
Hi, and welcome back to De-Me-Stified. In the evergreen words of Usher, “these are my confessions” (or not -_-).
Me: Bless me, Father – for I am sin.
Padre: I know it’s been a while since your last confession, but that’s not how this works. You should say…
Me: I understand – but, please humour me.
Bless me, Father, for indulging. Even with a pile of rocks around my neck, I often carry on as one without a care in the world. The untrained eye may not see it, but experience tells us that no one really has it together.
Sometimes, that need to keep a clear head and calm gait makes the burden all the heavier. Maybe it’ll be easier if I pulled my hair out and just yelled out from the rooftops. At least, someone may identify and empathise. Or maybe they’d be insensitive and make things worse. Tough times, they say, never quite last. So, we trudge along – heavy, but hopeful.
At a point that was easily my lowest ever, the ‘perfect stranger moment’ presented itself – and I took full advantage. How could I not? Have you ever experienced such a moment? Maybe a fleeting friendship struck up at a departure terminal, or a conversation with the random seat-mate on a road trip? Maybe even the more traditional ‘pen pal’ (for those old enough to recall)?
There’s something oddly ironic about those moments. On the one hand, here’s a complete stranger that you’re being completely open with. On the other hand, anonymity provides reassuring warmth. You know for a fact that the chances of ever bumping into them again are underfed. In fact, even if they mentioned to someone else, the perceived risk was still not consequential enough for worry. So, you revel and let loose – or, at least, I did.
I let this person know that I had made another one of my typically audacious moves. But, this time, I was sure I had bitten off more than I could chew. The odds didn’t look great – and I didn’t think I would make it to shore. The conversation was not to get any sort of input or guidance from this random person. It was plain old venting – similar to punching a brick wall; only more dignified. But the person said something that has never left me since.
They said “I heard about you. They say you always land on your feet.” Imagine the utter shock! First of all, that’s not how any of this works. You’re not supposed to have ‘heard about’ me. This was supposed to be a perfect stranger moment: random, anonymous, fleeting.
But after that first wave of emotion abated, I was left staring at something truly enchanting. The stranger had not cared for details of whatever ailed me. They didn’t want to know what I was doing about it. They just sought to establish a pattern – track record, habit, nature – based on which they could comfortably predict outcome.
Something about water being wet. About fish swimming, birds flying and vapour rising. A fundamental programming independent of terms and conditions. The stranger didn’t care about much else. That was all they saw and said.
There I was, busy with drudgery and buried in minutiae; overthinking and magnifying the problem. Fixating on the micro, while the macro was simply a reincarnation of history. In the grand scheme of things, it was just another problem to get around. I very quickly started to feel alive again. Not because I had the solution, but because – per my nature – I knew I would find it.
Since that encounter, I’ve become a lot more perceptive of nature – the nature of self, desires, problems, life and things in general. Mask it all you want; nature always shines through. It could lay dormant for a thousand years, wake up and pick up from exactly where it left off. It’s reflex; it’s instinct. It’s firmware, several levels below the realm of cognition. Some unfortunate fellow was recently served a cold reminder of this after messing around with Mike Tyson on a flight.
I had a reminder too – more pleasant, more nostalgic – when I went to see and old pal perform a while ago. He was now a megastar; completely different from when we first met. Everything had changed: looks, lingo, swagger. He’d wave his hand, and the crowd would go crazy. He was now a man on a pedestal. He knew it and walked it.
But as the show wore on, the more of him I saw, the more I realised he was every bit the same. The energy, the humour, the mannerisms, the relentless devotion to craft, the borderline perfectionism – the core of who he always was! A lot had changed, and yet everything remained essentially as they were. Nature!
Bless me, Father – for I have sinned. I watered the tree of self-doubt and binged on despair. I got so engrossed in the struggle that I completely ignored the end-goal. I magnified the problem and discounted my endowments, forgetting that when the road spirals into a messy maze, that foundational programming – your nature – is what lights the way home.
Unfortunately, it has never been so hard to know who we really are – to identify our nature. Everyone has their own idea of what we should be. There’s a ready army of ‘experts’ for every field of endeavour – even the completely unprecedented. Everyone’s projecting, suggesting and insisting. Even parents hardly know when to back off and let their offspring spring off!
No option is without risk. Total obedience will leave you feeling like a zombie, lacking a mind of your own. Try complete stoicism – and you’re aloof and “anti-social”. What then gives? Where does one strike a balance? Was this what Bruce Lee’s had in mind when he made the legendary “be like water” remark? Those are words that bear proper reckoning.
Imagine a constant readiness to sacrifice status quo in pursuit of the end-goal. Imagine being here today and gone tomorrow; steam today, ice tomorrow. Imagine powering civilisation in one literal breath, and then sinking vessels right after. How can something be deathly quiet one moment and then be maniacally boisterous the next?
How can the very same thing feed nations today, then level cities tomorrow. How can it be so accommodating this decade, only to become an absolute nuisance the next? How can it be so devoid of form, yet be so formidable?
Accomplished as cop and crook, Donnie Brasco would probably never quite fit into either world. To the mafia, he will always be a cop – a ‘rat bastard’. To the cops, he probably went too deep and could never quite feel right again. But, he’s more fortunate than most. Like water, he knows complete validation would never come. He must now choose his own path.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I know you favour exorcism, but I’ll gladly tell anyone who cares to listen to embrace their demons. To eschew crime against state and self – and then accept whatever’s left. To calibrate their compass with the clarity of solitude. To change only for their goals and dreams – not for acceptance or validation. To listen – once to the universe, twice to their gut. To draw a line between the domains of heart and head, and grant autonomy to each. To be capable in flight and comfortable in stasis. To learn the voice of their own heartbeat. To acknowledge pressure without bowing to it. To give room without giving ground. To never move without conviction, and to stop only on their own terms. To be themselves – full, bold and completely free. Half the demons we know, we know by the appellation of others.
I am not without blemish, Father. I sometimes get impatient. Status quo says to continue in silence, but the objective remains stoic and unwavering. It is I, then, who must understand that the patient make do, while the impatient make change happen. It is I who must learn to switch gears when occasion demands. It is I, not the observer.
Finally, Father, bless me for wasting your time. Truth is, I haven’t come here for absolution. The real sin would be seeking penance for being me. My flavour is the least I could pay for the gift of life. Like salt, taste for it would vary. Like rain, it’ll grow crop for one and weed for another. Like daylight, it’ll be welcome someplace and nuisance elsewhere. Worry should confine itself to things I control.
Bless me, Father – for you already have!