Meaningful Life

Going to try an experiment. Going to ask a series of three questions relating to living a meaningful life. Anyone can feel free to steal them and answer them on their own if they like. Just going to be brutally-honest and just put it all out there. Because hiding isn’t doing anything for anyone at this point.
First question: “What is meaningful to me?”
I’m not sure if I can answer this question fully. A lot of my behavior is still driven by a need to be validated by other people. A lot of people-pleasing, avoiding boat-rocking. Being silently angry and sullen while presenting a stoic outer appearance. What has made me happy lately? Solving problems, even if they’re small ones. Granted, I get worked-up about big problems and then get down on myself when I can’t figure out how to solve smaller problems. When I can teach someone something new or keep motivation high with them on a physical activity or a project, then I am happy and satisfied. I feel as though I often can’t do a lot of things because I don’t know enough, so I content myself with nudging a tiny piece of something along. I need to break that cycle, but I’m afraid of spending effort on things that might not pan-out or might actively blow-up in my face. So, I guess to put it in succinct terms: I haven’t figured this out yet. There’s a lot that I know makes me feel a little better about myself, but there isn’t anything that I’ve found thus far that I would literally stop being me if I wasn’t able to do it anymore.
Second question: “What constitutes a meaningful life?”
Another tough one. For me, it’s less applicable to social good or social justice, though for people that can derive meaning and merit from their actions in these efforts I’m happy for them. I suppose in my case it’s way more cerebral than physical, but the physical can be a gateway or path toward it. I’ve felt pretty fucking incredible getting to the top of some pretty interesting rope climbs, and I’ve found a kind of peace being out in nature. I suppose that’s what informs a lot of my life experience, seeing as how a large part of my life has been spent in some kind of anxiety, depression, or trauma. Finding those “moments of power”, of time-outside-of-time when life is larger than itself… that’s meaningful to me. When reality just seems to become stock-still and I can feel the edges of reality kind of curving inward on itself; those are the moments I live for. At the top of a long hike, a hard climb, a powerful move on a boulder problem, or even sitting with someone after pouring our hearts out on the floor for the other to see. These are the moments I keep my eyes peeled for.
Final question: “What would I be doing if money and education were no obstruction?”
Honestly? Climbing and coaching. I’d want to learn as much as possible about physical training, conditioning, nutrition, and injury management/rehabilitation as possible and help people to push just that little bit further. Just the tiniest iota beyond what they thought they were capable of. Seeing somebody literally glow because they achieved a new personal record or achieved a goal makes me happy.
A close second would be writing and photography. I’d like to be able to take pictures of places I find interesting, get their history, talk to the people who know, and be able to bring that back to the rest of the world. Because knowing more about the world around me is more important than ever.


I’ve spent a lot of time living under the belief that I am insufficient, deficient, or otherwise defective. I believed that this was the case because no one was even pretending to be my champion. I lived in such painful invisibility that I acted out in a number of ways just to somehow try and be visible. I participated in things I didn’t care about deeply and spoke half-truths that I really didn’t believe at my core to please people I honestly didn’t like.

I didn’t know how to speak my truth then. Even now, I’m still learning how to do it and do it with compassion for both myself and others.

It wasn’t until very recently that I started to learn what my truth actually sounded like when spoken from a place of self-love and recognition. I was in bed with a partner and was able to communicate specifically what I wanted in that moment, and was able to engage in the behavior that I felt was exciting for the both of us without any trace of shame or dependency. It felt absolutely amazing, and more importantly it felt right. We both emerged from the experience closer and happier.

Earlier in the weekend, I was out with the same friend at a bar and was playing pool against several other patrons there and was able to hold my own for several games. People were making passes at me, which I accepted without judgement on how they looked or their intent and appreciated it for what it was to me: a payment of appreciation for my appearance and personality.

A year ago or more, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. I would have been hiding behind whoever I was there with, nursing a beer, and just generally being anti-social (but forcing myself to be “social”).

I think it says a lot about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned about telling my truth, actually hearing what other people have to say, and how much more compassion I’ve been trying to extend to myself. There have been a number of noted spiritual and philosophical thinkers who have had a lot to say about self-esteem and self-confidence over the course of written history, many of them sharing some of the same basic philosophies at their core:

  • Letting go of what you cannot control, focusing on what you can
  • Focusing purely on success diminishes the worth of the effort expended in the pursuit
  • Among the most prescient of ideas that I have come across is the notion that without self-love and acceptance of imperfection, all other points are moot.

“You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.”

I’ve also found that thinking about the self-talk that I engage in and comparing it against what might be the reactions of others if they overheard such speak against myself has helped a lot in sometimes breaking out of the black-and-white thinking that I find myself in. It’s helped me to understand and really start to believe that others actually do like me, they do trust me to some extent, and that they genuinely care about my personal wellbeing and growth. It’s still sometimes difficult for me to accept, but I primarily chalk that up to the upbringing I had and the blind eye that was turned to my troubles and experiences.

Growth is slow, and I still hit what I refer to as “speed bumps” occasionally, but they are becoming easier to manage in no small part to the people that surround me in this life I’ve made for myself. I, who came from nothing, am grateful for those who see me and recognize me for both who and what I am: human.

Journal Entry: July 5th, 2014, 8:52PM – Somerville, MA

Long ago, when you or your contemporaries outgrew the morality or the pettiness of your surroundings, you went one of two directions: East or West. You went, and went, and went some more until there was no more distance to travel–or when you were finally alone. These days, there’s no more distance to travel. All of the frontiers have been claimed (except for space and the deep sea), so what’s left to you when you feel like you’re living on the edge of the universe? When there’s no frontier left, where do you go?

When there isn’t any hope or understanding, what’s left for you to do? Who do you go to see? When the sun sets on your weary shoulders, who do you think of? Why?

I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but when I get these kinds of moods I tend not to think of anyone. I tend to see and feel memories from my past in a kind of reverse-montage sort of way. It’s hard to describe the feelings that come up, but I imagine it’s something like bleeding-out and seeing your life play out before your eyes as you edge closer to the end. The sunset today accentuated that particular emotion, and made me feel like I’d lost something important or that somehow I felt “terminal”. As if there were no further distance to go, no further fugues to be played, and no more mileage left in this bleeding heart of mine.

I know for a fact that these feelings are not true, but they’re about as real as anything else I could possibly experience. It’s strange, being apart from it and seeing or experiencing it in an ethereal, detached sort of way rather than being caught in the crushing gravity of it all. I’ll take this perspective, given that the alternative is worse.

If you could imagine peeling back layers of ice, volcanic rock, and metallic armor away from a heart–that’s kind of what it feels like. Necrotic flesh and decaying metal peeled away from a heart that has yet to mend. Though, the more that I think about it, the less I think that it’s a broken heart than the essence of what my younger self is. Cocooned in the cooled anger of over a decade’s worth of jealousy, hatred, and the devastation of rejection, the ice formed from the cold reality of intense loneliness and depression, and the armor formed from the patchwork of identities and masks that were created over time to try and cover the scars and make it seem as though I could tough it out, that I could take it.

It wasn’t the companionship I wanted. It wasn’t even the closeness. All I wanted was to be understood at a base level, to be acknowledged, valued, and accepted for who I was without any reservations or conditions; to be able to trust someone implicitly. I think that particular point is chief among the reasons why I have such a hard time with things these days: trust. I couldn’t trust anyone then, and even now there are scant few people I can say that is true of. To say that I couldn’t trust even my parents was an understatement. I couldn’t trust anyone for a long time. Even when I made friends with the person I still consider to this day my absolute best friend and confidant (you know who you are), I held a lot back. There were many things I couldn’t say, do, or be. Time progressed, and I grew to trust them implicitly, even when it seemed to run contrary to what my gut was telling me. To quite John Cusack’s character “Rob Gordon” from the movie High Fidelity, “I’m convinced that my guts have shit for brains”. But I grew as a result of that deep friendship.

In this stage of my life, I have what’s known as a “good problem to have”. I have friends, and some of them I am working toward granting that level of trust. I still hold a lot in because a lot of what I feel isn’t meant for public consumption, but at the same time it eats me up inside to the point that not letting it out is just as bad. But I’m trying to work it all out, letting people in slowly who earn that trust, and trying my hardest to realize that not everyone entering that space intends harm.

Sometimes trusting means giving someone else the microscope and implicitly understanding that they don’t mean you harm, they’re just analyzing and responding. That’s probably among the hardest lesson to learn out of all of this.

One of the hardest lessons is learning to be able to be comfortable and happy with myself and my struggles. I’ve tried hard to build a life worth living, worthy of respect, one that other people take positive notice of. I’ve labored under the impression for a long time that I’ve always been “deficient” and that I’m always in need of improvement. This mindset isn’t healthy and it’s something that stems from over a decade of rejection and intense bullying. It’s something I hadn’t had the courage to really address in the past, but lately I’ve noticed it popping-up in the worst possible ways. I think the worst of people when I have no reason to, and I fear the worst when there’s nothing to fear.

I have to work on realizing that no one is intending me harm (physically or emotionally), that I am not deficient in any way, and that things are just “okay”. Not necessarily “lowering expectations” or “settling for less”, but easing the pressure on myself needs to be one of the bigger priorities I need to take on before much else. Maybe then I can stop expecting so much of other people (or expecting the worst).

What if… ?

As far as philosophical and social goals go, how awesome would it be if as a civilization we completely and utterly disavowed all violent actions and instead focused our efforts on unlocking the potential and providing the fuel for dreams of every human being on Earth?

What if instead of spending trillions of dollars on Things That Go Boom, we instead spent that money on feeding, clothing, and educating the bottom 50% of the country?

What if we spent even a fraction of that money on Public Works projects like rebuilding roads and bridges, repairing dams, cleaning-up and policing toxic waste, and researching ways to do everything better?

What if we spent more time focusing on how to make each other happy instead of how to best one-up each other?

Coal or Diamonds?

Coal requires three things to be able to change:

  • Heat
  • Pressure
  • Time

The soul is no different.

Similarly, the acorns of some of the greatest and mightiest trees on Earth need the same.  So:

  • Get passionate (heat)
  • Get active and be publicly-accountable (pressure)
  • Be PATIENT (time)

Just because

Just because your hands are trembling doesn’t mean you’re weak.

Often it means that you’ve exerted yourself in pursuit of something greater.

Just because you’ve failed or fallen doesn’t mean you’ll always fail or fall.

Past may be prologue, but it does not determine the epilogue of your journey.

Just because someone doesn’t understand or support you doesn’t mean you’re wrong or bad.

Sometimes it’s just an indicator that you’re on a different path.  Respect the differences and celebrate them.


Sometimes you have to…

  • Make the space in your heart to be able to say “no”.
  • Make yourself understand that the things people do or did to you are wrong.
  • Let yourself get angry at all the pain inflicted.
  • Tell the truth and be brutally-honest.
  • Cry and release the pain.

Sometimes, even the best of us crack under the pressure. It’s not the fall that defines us, it’s what we do afterward. What do we do when we fall?

We pick ourselves back up.