One thing I struggle with when I contemplate what to direct all my creative energy towards, is how to do so in a manner that also contributes towards the greater good and a cause that is bigger than myself. I recently saw an example of this in the real world, where the CEO of TOMS shoes donated $5 million towards charities with boots on the ground making efforts to further reform gun control laws — specifically to press for universal background checks.
They also have made it their mission that for every pair of shoes sold, they give a pair of shoes to kids in need, particularly in developing nations. I think that is pretty cool — making it an integral part of their existence, giving to and helping those in need. I really dig that, so much so that I think I’m going to start buying my shoes from TOMS.
There are two hot-button issues for me that I really care about — gun control (particularly with the focus or goal of eradicating school shootings altogether) and working to reverse climate change. Those are two issues (of many, if I’m honest) that I’m pretty passionate about. I’m not sure how I would ever do so, but I have wondered how I’d direct my creative energy and my talents towards these causes all-the-while fulfilling some of my creative passions like music, brewing beer, building out multimedia type things, video and audio engineering, and other things like that. I’ll have to think on it more.
When rehearsing calamity meets my hot buttons
A few days ago, I had been on a long walk and was listening to a Stoic podcast episode where they were talking about the importance of “rehearsing calamity” — that is, being mindful of the worst that can happen, being mentally prepared for it, and using that to fuel your creativity, sense of urgency, and also your sense of perspective and being able to still find your happiness despite the world falling apart around you. It’s one of the more difficult concepts for most first world nation inhabitants to understand correctly, and is admittedly difficult for me to process.
Perhaps the main point is that regardless of any external factors, all of which are completely out of the realm of your control, you still have control over how you view what is happening to you, your opinion of it, and how you respond. One notable example of one who well understood this idea was Viktor Frankl, a man who survived four different concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and yet somehow found meaning and purpose in the most dire of circumstances. He later became the founder of Logotherapy, where striving to find meaning in life despite all external circumstances is the primary and driving force for all human beings.
Back to the podcast, I spent considerable time on my walk meditating on this concept, that my joy and purpose in life should not be determined by the external factors in my life — in a few words, life is not happening to me nor conspiring against me. It’s just life — it is full of good things, full of bad things, full of utterly fantastic things, full of utterly devastating things; it’s an almost yin-yang type of mindset. When life happens to you, will you let it guide you with your mind fully engaged and fully aware, or will you come kicking and screaming, dragging your heels every step of the way when life brings its worst? These ideas were a lot for me to noodle on, so much so that it bled over into my dreams as I slept that night.
It was about 2am when I woke up sweating, my chest pounding so hard that I thought I was having a heart attack — woken up from the most vivid nightmare that I’ve had in my lifetime. The scene: it was a cool afternoon, mist heavy in the air, and heavy gray clouds blocking out all of the sunlight. Everything looked and felt heavy. I found myself running from a building out to a parking lot, presumably a school given what I saw next — an image that I just cannot get out of my head. I was running towards a median in the parking lot where I saw my daughter face down on the ground, motionless — and just ten feet from her, my son also motionless and lying face-up on the ground, his eyes open, and a massive gunshot wound to his chest. I fell towards my son, reaching for my daughter, and began screaming and weeping bitterly and sobbing as I cursed at the active shooter at my kids’ school.
I couldn’t fall asleep for about an hour — so violently stirred up by this nightmare and rocked to the center of my being. And because I had been so immersed in this philosophy of rehearsing calamity, I laid there face down in my pillow, thinking — OK, if this became my reality, I’m pretty sure that all of my personal interests would completely fall to the wayside and I would end up heavily active in ending gun violence in America. This would become my cause…and I’d also become the NRA’s worst nightmare — because you just took my children away from me.
After I settled down and had reflected on how my life would move on in a manner where I was not paralyzed by my the murder of my kids, I was able to go back to sleep and somehow get a few more hours of sleep in.
It’s curious how my subconscious went right for the one thing that could potentially dismantle me entirely — emotionally, psychologically, my will to live — and somehow I was able to envision what life would be like in the wake of losing my children in one of the worst ways possible.
I’m not sure where this leads me — I’m quite passionate about the issue of gun violence in America, care deeply on matters about climate change and becoming responsible inhabitants of Earth, and want to do my part to make the world a better place. I’m not quite sure what this means in terms of my creative outlet — do I get involved on some level with these causes? Do I just make a point of donating proceeds from my outlets to these causes? I’m not sure yet. This is something I’ll likely be meditating on in the weeks to come and taking small steps towards fulfilling these facets of my life. In the meantime, my kids get extra hugs and a few extra “I love yous” from dad. If anything, maybe it’s just as simple as a tool to remind me of how finite my life, my time, and our world is — to not squander these riches we’ve been given.