On one hand, I can count the number of times I’ve cried as adult.

Does that seem odd? We are surrounded by a constant bombardment of misery, suffering, and pain, and yet I’ve only been moved to tears a handful of times.

I wonder – does it speak to my inability to feel emotion? Or the success of the unreality…the banality…of the violence around me?

In 2005, after completing a 10 day Vipassana retreat, I arrived home. After 10 days without external stimuli, without even speaking, I was suddenly thrust back into the world, and coincidentally, Hurricane Katrina.

I watched as stories poured in of the destruction; homes flooded, bodies buried, families torn apart. Yet it wasn’t until I saw a rescue worker interviewed on CNN telling the news anchor about an elderly woman left in her hospital bed as the waters rose. She couldn’t escape the facility herself, but had access to a phone. The rescue worker, visibly shaken, related how he kept in contact with her over the phone. “Someone is coming,” he told her. “We will save you.”

As the rescue worker broke down, the news anchor shifted uncomfortably. “No one came to save her…” said the worker, now in tears. “The water came and she was alone. No one came to save her…”

The anchor abruptly ended the interview – unable to give acknowledgment to the pain of tragedy. No…far better to move on to the next story. The next tragedy.

I wept in his place.

Today I cried again. Today, I realized another great tragedy, what Charles Eisenstein calls The Great Robbery:

The anger of the teenager is the indignation of the dispossessed. The Great Robbery is first and foremost the pillage of their childhood. Childhood is supposed to be a realm of exploration in which we discover our passions, our selves, our life purpose. What we get instead is enslavement to schedules and obligations.

Childhood is supposed to be a time of play. And what is play? Play is something far different from what we, in a degenerate age, call fun—the consumption of entertainment. Play is supposed to be nothing less than practice in creating the world. Its highest expression is “deep play”, the kind which unfolds over days and weeks.

In deep play, children create entire worlds of the imagination, in which toys are but props. In so doing, they prepare themselves for an adulthood empowered in the divine function of world-creation.

He continues:

An equally grave loss is the loss of our passion and purpose. Bereft of the chance to explore our inner world, we grow up not truly knowing what we love or what we want to make of our lives. In the absence of a passion, we easily accept the range of available substitutes. I might as well be an engineer. Maybe I’ll major in finance. That might be okay. I’ll get a good job at least. Ask someone thus dispossessed what they really love, what makes their heart sing, and they won’t even know.

If you accept that the purpose of life is indeed merely to get by, to survive, to get a secure job with benefits, get married, have kids, retire securely, grow old and die, then perhaps this result isn’t so tragic. But if the adolescent intuition is true, that we are indeed here on earth for a magnificent purpose, then the cutoff from our passion is a terrible crime.

What does your heart tell you?

I cried because my heart tells me this is the truth. I see it in the pervasive mechanisms all around me – friends without purpose, surrendering their spark for an insidious lie.

Here is the right message—and it applies equally to the suicidal teenager as well as to the commonly resentful. The message is that what you have always secretly suspected is true.

The world is not supposed to be like this. Your intuitions of something more beautiful are valid. You are meant for an amazing, divine purpose. You are brilliant, possessed of unique gifts just waiting to be discovered. And—very important—anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Worse than lying, they are stealing from you.

Much has been stolen already, but there is one thing no one can ever steal (though you might put it aside, temporarily) and that is your soul knowledge of the message I have just related. What’s more, it is possible to recover all that has been lost. It might take time, but no one is a helpless victim.

All we need is to reconnect with the power we already have.

It is the power, first and foremost, to say no. You have been exercising that power all along, in fact, but when you begin to see the source of the betrayal, when you begin to see through the lies that construct the lesser life and lesser world that most of us have grudgingly accepted, then that power is multiplied a thousandfold. You have the power to withdraw, not through the unconscious mechanisms of laziness, depression or suicide, but consciously, mindfully.

And then, in the empty space that you create for yourself, begin to play. Begin to do what you enjoy, without having to justify it to anyone. From this starting point you will discover meaning, passion, and life, and you will become indominable.

20 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Ian, especially on Mother’s Day. Carlo and Yvonne and Francisco and I spent the evening together yesterday and talked, among many other things involving life passions, how our parents were sold the lie that they had to chip away at jobs they didn’t necessarily love for their entire professional lives, only to be left with little to show at the end.

    What I want to teach my daughter is that play doesn’t end when she’s 5, 10, or 15. And to do that, I have to show her by living my own life as an example. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I have goosebumps. Thanks for sharing this Ian. People need to confront this, like we do with few other things in our lives.

  3. This post couldn’t come at a better time, Ian. Thanks for this.

    “The world is not supposed to be like this. Your intuitions of something more beautiful are valid. You are meant for an amazing, divine purpose. You are brilliant, possessed of unique gifts just waiting to be discovered.”

    Exactly the words I needed to hear today.

  4. As Julie alluded to, for Yvonne and me, this has been foremost on our minds as of late, and it’s growing stronger and stronger as the days pass.

    The current belief that young people need to know what they want to do with their lives during highschool, then stick with that through college, and live an entire life in a career they probably don’t enjoy…is just…wrong. To be defined by our careers is wrong.

    I could go on and on…would be much better over a beer 😉

  5. Thanks a lot for that post Ian. It resonates deeply, and to know people still have any glimmer of hope within themselves to shine away from the mediocrity ‘necessary for survival’ is so important to have.

  6. Thank you Ian!

    I totally connect with this post on so many levels.

    For one, I connect with the deeper thought that we’re meant for an “amazing, divine purpose.”

    And as such, I make my daily personal choices based on this truth.

    “You have the power to withdraw, not through the unconscious mechanisms of laziness, depression or suicide, but consciously, mindfully.”

    Again, speaks to me on so many levels. The conscious stepping-back (for lack for a better word) from situations, conversations, and chitchat that truly distract from one’s purpose in life.

    I’m so happy you wrote this. Truly.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this Ian. I had a great conversation earlier this year with my dad, who admitted that my choice not to pursue ‘the American dream’ of a house, 2.3 kids and a steady job really sent him into a tizzy at first, but now he’s able to see that my husband and I are doing what we enjoy and that we have different goals and aspirations. It was such a joy to see him come to this turning point and to really be happy for Duarte and I rather than anxious.

    This came at a good time, as this weekend I was grappling with a decision about school/work for next year. Thanks for reminding me about what really matters.

  9. Ian,

    I think you probably already know that these thoughts line up with my own, and I feel lucky that these realizations came at a relatively young age for me, though the lessons came via a tough path. Nonetheless, I’m so happy to see more and more peers waking up to these truths, and I hope this ripples through to teenagers and kids beyond, which I think will correspond with a rampant downgrade of depression and addiction.

    I also read this through the eyes of something I’m going through at the moment which isn’t about career, and yet is another monumental life truth. It just made me realize that our soul’s purpose in every respect, whether that is career, love, place, or creative force, has its divine purpose and to run from that is to run from the self.

  10. I am a little late to the game on this post.
    I used to take people’s assertion that i hadn’t “grown up’ as a downer, that i wasn’t fulfilling some role I was suppose to grow into.
    Parent teacher conferences; Josh is in his own world.

    I realized in the last few years that my imagination, a whole world that swirls in my head, is perhaps my greatest asset.

    great post.

  11. oh Ian, well said my friend. I see this exaggerated to an extreme with the at-risk youth I work with. Rather than being over-pressured in academics or over-scheduled, they are thrust into an adult world of responsiblity before they are even teenagers. Worrying about where the rent is going to come from, whether mom is sober today, who to steal from to get food money. It sounds cliched at times until you meet each youth and actually see it. They are living in pure survival mode, they have never experienced enough, let alone plenty. They don’t know how to play, how to have fun. They retreat into anger, they throw the game board, cause scenes and get asked to leave the out trip, they are seemingly incapable of letting go.

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  13. Thanks Ian. As important as it is to share the happier moments, we need these too. Not in some masochistic and misplaced need for self-flagellation, but because it’s balancing.

    Maybe we need a platform for these sorts of things. A sort of Encyclopedia of Beautiful Sorrows — a catalog of things that make us feel, whatever they might be: A manifesto of tempered fury; a photo-essay on the Haitian earthquake; a comment on Reddit; whatever.

    Oh, and hey — your quote from Ascent of Humanity reminded me: Picking up a copy of “Indignez-Vous!”?

  14. @patrick – i like the idea of the encyclopedia… perhaps an idea to pursue 🙂 Also have not heard of “Indignez-Vous” what’s it about?

  15. this is inspiring and re-membering today, four years later. thank you.

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