New message alerts, an email thread that renews itself from hour to hour. Increasing comment counts, timestamps that are less than 3 hours old. Like the subtle but unmistakable indicators we passively–subconsciously even– observe when walking into a room where someone is sleeping, so are the indications that a team is thriving, working together, and moving towards something in harmonious rhythm. it can’t be faked, and it’s all to obvious when it’s not there. You just know.
Photo by Sam Rupsa on Unsplash
There is some kind of optimism in the air. I know it’s because the sun is rising earlier. But it will still be weeks before anyone attributes a good mood to that. Waking up to light coming up in the horizon is a symbiotic state. Perhaps lifeforms always had it this way, and that’s why it’s the best type of morning there is.
There really isn’t anything that gives hope like the sunrise. The ultimate symbol of reliability. The one thing we can count on. When nothing else is completely sure aside from death, a sunrise is the backbone of trust, faith, truth.
Photo by Andrew Small on Unsplash
In the cold part of the year people sit in the house most of the day, saving energy to stay warm. Grownups and children huddle near heaters, and seek out places with extra sources of artificial light. The darkness at this time is an overwhelming element. While most people don’t talk about it, everyone is affected by it. The sun can be gone for 2-3 weeks at a time. Which considering its importance, it’s strange this isn’t a bigger deal. Conversations about going home in the dark, and leaving for work in the dark are common. A break in the clouds during mid-day before the sunsets can feel like a spiritual moment.
While some experience the least harmful side effects in passive methods, like needing to sleep longer. Others struggle with depression. Suicide is not uncommon. Verbal contact becomes a remedy for illness, people seldom speak to each other. All become extra sensitive to stimulation.
It is a time when things are dead or dying, or becoming frail. Some creatures use it wisely, going into complete hibernation, sleeping through the coldest darkest parts as staying awake and using energy to move around is a life-threatening risk if you don’t have shelter and a source of food. With everything so brittle, there is an ever-lingering sense of fear, of being on the edge. Sometimes it’s almost like being about to cry. In other times it’s like a short circuiting electronic device, sparking and failing.
For the last 18 months I’ve been meditating intentionally and unintentionally. I actually started meditating much further back in life finding a quiet place and just trying to shut off my thoughts. That’s what my parents told me Zen monks did. In the summer of 2016 my meditation practice became very deliberate. I installed a meditation app and began going through various exercises to focus, and move my thoughts beyond the noise and distractions that unknowingly were all around my mind.
Until now the YouTube videos I started making in December last year had nothing to do with meditation. Today I realized that when I’m deciding what I should and should not publish on the Internet, the way I’m putting myself out there has a lot to do with the feelings I work through in my meditation practice.
A very common activity in meditation is loving kindness, one starts by focusing on themself, finding kindness and love to feel inward, then focuses on someone else towards whom one can also feel and direct feelings of loving kindness toward, then one thinks of someone with who there is difficulty, negative feelings for. This process discovers and builds the strength of love and sincere kindness, develops it, then projects it. Finally using it to overcome negative feelings surrounding others. The activity sheds light on the tooling needed to overcome moments of frustration, anger, anxiety and even fear.
Sometimes while I am making videos the back of my head is a sea of these dark feelings. I have judgements and doubt towards myself, and concern about being shamed. Putting so much of ones self out into the Internet is just asking for those kinds of reactions, and indeed it’s happened in the past. But I make the videos out of love, out of hope to connect with my family and friends who are so far away. To perhaps give ideas to a couple strangers for new things to try, or that it’s ok to be silly and explore ideas that could be mocked.
In this way I find the ability to move beyond the darkness of what could happen, in general being myself has gotten me to the places I was happiest in life. Obfuscating my true character only caused discourse, confusion, and disappointment.
So often (unfortunately) in this modern internet world we live in, it seems to happen that we drift into a profile viewing mode. Inspecting another person, who are they? Why were they in my list of followers or worse, why am I following this person? The “loop” as my wife and I like to call it slips its invisible little hood over your head around this point; the zombie eyes and zombie mind take over quickly. Before you know it, you’re just scrolling, not really taking anything in. What is happening? No one really knows. But it’s around this point where the better part of my psyche kicks in, a Yosemite Sam sort of personality in my thoughts pulls a record needle scratching moment in the crowd of voices – throws up the big “WTF” sign and barks “who is in control of this moment?!?”. As all the shocked members of the interrupted sequence look around to see what will happen next the little guy in the corner peeps back “we were just wondering who that is, wooo woooeeewww – we thoughts we might unfollow it!” (this particular voice in my head has a Gollum sort of voice). It is at this moment, you can think clearly again, we were wondering if we know her, and we don’t and there is nothing interesting about her, “UNFOLLOW!”
I’ve taken to watching old episodes of Ren and Stimpy lately. I guess old habits can die hard.
In the light of the extremes in the news and my own life lately, the superfluousness of the humor in this cartoon normalizes everything again. And South Park wasn’t really cutting it any more.
Many visitors to Berlin are surprised to learn it can be hard to find a place to go for a drink in the evening without staining their hair and clothes with cigarette smoke. The “Raucher Bar” was they commonly refer to themselves is a regular feature of many night time haunts. At first it was part of the fun of the city, a remaining piece of the old days, or a symbol of the freedom & lawlessness that one can experience with the drinking in public and all hours bars, cafes, & clubs. These days, it’s a nuisance and I have become frustrated on more than one occasion that while wondering a neighborhood with friends looking for a place to sit down and have a cocktail, we had to compromise, or simply choose the least smokey bar available.
As one study on social smokers confirms there is no difference, in terms of risk of heart disease, between having less than one cigarette a day, and smoking a pack a day. And yet many Berliners, and perhaps Germans in general frequently say “I only smoke when I’m out with friends and drinking”. I wonder what these people will think when they explain to their kids that they never were addicted to cigarettes and yet still suffered similar consequences.
I’m excited about the future. When people aren’t afraid of the police. When we don’t have to watch the road and use gasoline to get around town. When fresh local produce is in abundance and the big food industry isn’t in control. Where a nice dinner out with friends costs less then $20. When fast food restaurants and Starbucks aren’t on every corner. A society where arts and culture are promoted and supported by the government and community. Where people from all over the world can interact and keep their cultural identity, speak their own language, and still communicate with one another. Where you can go out all night and there is no last call. Where you can go to a cafe and not see everyone staring at their phones. Public transportation is available in abundance and you can literally cross the country for $40. Trips to Paris and Rome only take a couple hours and can cost less then $100.In the future I imagine education doesn’t require a 6 figure investment or taking on student loans and renting a large spacey 2 bedroom flat in the middle of town costs less than $1200. In my ideal future you can take a bottle of wine to the park and have a picnic without getting a fine. Where parents of new born children can have 1-2 years paid time off to raise their kids without losing their jobs or their income. Where we are not pressured by our employer to work overtime and if we don’t feel well we can call in sick and take 2,3 even 5 days off to get better before returning to our desk. And where we’re not only required to take two weeks vacation, we get five or six weeks paid time off to recover, get out enjoy the world, and be refreshed and ready for work again.
This is a future I would love to have and I can’t wait for it.
Only it’s not the future, its Berlin.