Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Does Any Of That Help?"

I received this message this morning ...

"John. Can I ask you a question? How do you manage to stay so positive? I have so much greatness in my life and my family but have struggled with depression and negativity for years. Trying to change this pattern of thought for me and my guys. Any. Suggestions? It would be much appreciated."

I started to type a quick reply, which immediately expanded into a mini-manifesto. Whereas she asked for this answer, you did not - so I have no attachment to your reading, enjoying or agreeing with any of this. I am not an expert in anything, and I accept wholly that anyone else's opinions are every bit as worthy of consideration as mine. This is not meant to refute or dismiss anything that you currently believe, as long as it is serving you well. Feel free to stop reading right now, or at any time! But, if you continue and my ideas resonate with you at all, that is a bonus for you and me both :)

Obviously I would not share a private communication like this if I felt it would in any way diminish or negatively impact my fellow correspondent. I have her permission to repost it and have ensured that there is nothing in it that would identify her or that should cause her any woe. So, with only a few very minor edits, my answer below is pretty much verbatim.

"First of all, I totally get that depression is a physical condition that you did nothing to "get". And it definitely creates a paradigm within which happiness requires more work.

And, at the end of the day, I honestly believe that ALL happiness requires work. Actually everything requires work, including being unhappy, and we end up working just as hard to maintain our undesired states and situations as we would our ideal ones. Everyone is always getting a result. It is just so often not the one that people wish they were getting.

So, they need to stop wishing. Wishing is, by definition, starting with a focus on what you don't have. It is an "if only" place to be. "I wish I had more money". "If only I had more energy". Etc.

I have chosen to not ever wish for anything. If I do not have something, so be it. If it is something that would benefit me and others in my life I will work to bring it into existence. And that may or may not work. And I will continue to not wish for it. I will be happy in its absence, and work towards its presence.

Did you read the blog I linked to today on Facebook? It pretty much nails it.

One of the most powerful ideas I have ever read is this one from Anthony De Mello ... "There's only one reason why you're not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it's because you're thinking about or focusing on what you don't have."

In 2009 there were a lot of things I no longer had. A beautiful wife, a big custom home, a successful business, any money. After working for years to achieve so much, I had taken a huge year-long gamble on politics and came up utterly empty-handed. In the aftermath of that, I hit the reset button on much of my life. Most friends know that I rolled up my sleeves and bartended/waitered that summer. What very few of them know is that I lived in my pickup truck the whole time. When I say I had NO money, I really mean it. I was absolutely broke, and whatever I made I gave most of it straight to Karen (and that was not nearly as much as it should have been) so that she and the kids could pay their rent and eat.

And, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I really truly learned what happiness is about. I got rid of 95% of every "thing" I "owned". I enjoyed the work and made sure I brought good energy to the restaurant with me. I looked at what relationships were truly important to me and nurtured them (including the one with my ex, Karen, who is one of my best friends and favourite people in the world). I recognized the difference I can make for other people just by being myself. And I had some peak experiences that so many people were missing - parking on a hilltop in a crazy thunderstorm watching the lightning sweep back and forth across Lake Simcoe all night, swimming at the beach alone at midnight, learning to meditate and losing myself in appreciation and gratitude. I realized that I actually still had absolutely everything. (And always will. Even in "worst case scenarios". An expanded topic for another time.) And from there, I quickly rebuilt an absolutely amazing life.

But what you really asked was, how do I maintain that perspective. And here is how. I do not let the bad shit in. Period. I no longer read bad news. I no longer let other people decide what goes into my eyes, ears, head. I do not have a TV. I will only speak with negative people about positive things. If I am raising their energy, great. If they are simply committed to lowering mine, neither of us will benefit from our interaction and I will not take the bait. I receive several emails a day with positive perspectives to consider. I have favourite blogs to which I go to refresh and recharge my good energy. I listen to positive music. I watch inspiring movies. I seek out motivating people. I read this essay on a regular basis. I develop healthy habits. I exercise my body and I stretch my mind. It really is that simple.

I know many people who dismiss all of this as "pollyanna" New Age bullshit. Which is fine. That is what I mean when I say that they will work just as hard to protect their worldview as I will mine. They are intent on my seeing life as a mortal struggle, where we are all being fucked over and must toil endlessly fueled by righteous indignation. And, of course, this is exactly how the world shows up for them and they continue to be "right". It is always possible to find something negative to be upset about, and theirs is just as valid as any other perspective. And just as invalid. And, it is definitely NOT how I choose to burn my brief candle.

I do not suggest that we put our heads in the sand, by any means. There is much we can do to improve the world, and there IS lots of "evil to fight". I just choose to do so joyously. I don't grumble anymore taking my recycling bin to the curb while glowering at my neighbours' garbage bags bursting at the seams. I no longer wish ill upon people with political views opposite to mine - as misguided as I believe they are, they somehow honestly believe that what they are promoting is correct and good. We can work as hard as we want to make things better. But if we allow our own energy to be drained and destroyed in the process we are actually becoming part of the problem.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations”. George Bernard Shaw

A last thought. I have no idea if I am right or wrong. I have no idea what this life is supposed to be about, or if it is all there is or if it is part of a grand continuum of energy or if it is even real at all. And that is where ALL of the freedom lies. In NOT knowing!! Anyone who decides they really KNOW any of those answers immediately misses out on everything outside of the ensuing frame. And if we are going to be limited in our experience of Life, the Universe and Everything, we may as well at least choose the parameters for our own spiritual fences, no?

Just adopt or, better yet, make up whatever works for you! Whatever speaks to your Soul. Whatever expands and enlightens your Mind. Whatever empowers and emboldens your Spirit. Whatever enlivens and invigorates your Body. THAT is what you should do.

Does any of that help?"


  1. As usual your words are inspiring and brilliant. Thank you for sharing your positive perspective (always)! Attitude is so contagious, and like you said, there is no reason to let those who want to bring you down, in. <3

  2. No it is not new age is heartfelt it is important and it is needed...we can't have a world filled with grouchy people (me) we need some sunshine to remind us that life is good be thankful smile laugh dance around and be a bit silly...

  3. IMPORTANT NOTE! To ensure that you do not think I am belittling the significance of depression, I want to include this link to an amazing blog post about one wonderful writer's experience (which several friends have said captures the challenges very accurately) ... ...

    So, to be very clear, I am NOT suggesting that depressed people simply "cheer up". I know that is not reasonable. All I am saying is make every effort to surround yourself with positive inputs, and minimize negative ones. It HAS to help to some degree. That's all :)

  4. Johnny I absolutely love this and you have put my philosophy in words that I could not find. I'm an "everybody in" person and by that I make reference to a comment Meryl Streep made once when asked "what do you think God will say to you when you reach the Pearly Gates" She replied and I gleefully quote "Everybody in!" Thank you for your insights, your thoughts, your perspective and the sharing of your experiences. I always feel blessed when I read them. Namaste