Category: practice

Cycling again

Dear Sophia—

I have decided to continue this journal. I have a chat with a counselor once a week, and she thinks I should write more. More importantly, I got up this morning and just felt like writing something. 🙂

Things are good. I am still mourning—divorce is tough. Life is tough.

Or… Well… Perhaps it isn’t. Not for me. I’ve started to read Russ Harris: The Happiness Trap. Its message − stop chasing happiness and it will come by itself − is quite appealing.

To be honest, that’s not its message—or not exactly, I should say. Its message is more like: stop chasing happiness—start looking for meaning instead !

I think I’ll just stop chasing happiness because the second part amounts to replacing one impossible search by another. Especially because I am not quite sure yet if my plan to become younger again is going to work. Hence, for the time being, I should probably accept I am, perhaps, getting older and that, therefore, I am no longer in a position to contribute much to saving the world and all those other urgent tasks that others take care of anyway.

Also, my ventures in science have been dismissed − after a rather cursory review by some jealous academic – so even in this field I have not been able to contribute much.

In other words, I’ll just stop chasing. The sun was out yesterday, and I went for a slow but very long bike ride in the forests around the city here. I treated myself on a lunch in some café in a nearby village (I seemed to be the only one who looked happy without having to drink beer or wine) and, on the way back, I just stopped and lay down in a grassy field and watched the clear blue sky.

The world is so beautiful when the sky is blue. Perhaps I should just chase blue skies. I can imagine happiness will then, effectively, just come by itself.

Albert.

 

Advertisements

Turning 50…

I was afraid of this birthday. 50 ! Five-zero. Half a century. It’s too much, right? We should never have reached that age. Time to turn back and count down again: 49, 48, 47, etcetera. Or to cross the pass and jump down from the other side.

But… Well… No. Peace of mind, at last. I have nothing to prove anymore. I can – and should – just enjoy life now. I will. 🙂

Moving ahead

Dear Sophia—

I guess you must be very busy. It’s funny but the situation reminds me of that video – and song – by Eminem and Dido: Stan. Well… In fact, that’s not so funny. It’s a mad cruel story.

To be honest, I can’t imagine you’re that busy. I guess separation does what it does: every partner comes with a bit of a crowd, and those crowds separate when partners separate. I am sorry things did not work out with Maria. I don’t really know when and why things went south, so I can’t explain. Not exactly, that is. It just happened—or perhaps not: relations happen, and then they don’t. One needs to work to sustain them. All I know, is that I had to go. I had to get out of the situation I was in: depressed, in the strange capital city of an even stranger country. I didn’t feel at home. Home is where your partner is, right? It wasn’t for me.

As you may gather from my occasional letters, I am still struggling. But then I know I have to move on. I shouldn’t be lingering here. My book project kept me busy, but didn’t help much in terms of finding some new structure—some new meaning. I’ve started looking for jobs, and I have registered for a program that will, hopefully, help me to deal with my demons.

I’ll turn 50 two weeks from now. I want to clean the house for that party. And then I want to count down again: 49, 48, 47, etcetera. I know it doesn’t work that way, but I can try, right? 🙂

If you don’t mind, I’ll continue to use this site to write from time to time. Or perhaps I’ll just close it down. This blog served its purpose, I guess. Sophia means wisdom. Rather than inspiration, we should, perhaps, be seeking wisdom at our age, right?

Take care—Albert

Starting over again…

Dear Sophia—

You have not written for a long time now. Nothing to write? I hope you don’t mind I will continue to write from time to time, even if you are a bit of an imaginary person to write to now. But then, one day, we all become some imaginary person, don’t we?

For the time being, I am still real. Struggling with disappointment, trying to get up, and start another life. There is some good news here. I think I am on top of my drinking problem. It was a weird thing. I have had trouble coping with stress all of my life, professionally or family-wise, and I guess I just copied the behavior of my dad, as he coped with that too—so I am behaving exactly the same as someone whom I don’t want to imitate. It’s like trying to avoid an obstacle in a narrow street while you’re driving too fast, or when not sober: the more you look at it, the more chance of hitting it.

It’s not that I wasn’t good at what I was doing. No. Not at all, actually. I’ve always been the best. Part of the problem is that eternal drive for perfection. High performers always have trouble accepting the inevitable imperfections.

When does a habit become an addiction? And when is an addiction harmful? I mean, alcohol is a social addiction but—as a social addiction—it is not harmful. I guess it becomes harmful when it’s your only way of coping with depression. Typically when you drink alone to get through the evening or the night, for example. I’ve come to the conclusion that, unlike what many people would think, there is actually always a good reason to start drinking, but, yes, there is, perhaps, no good reason to continue drinking. However, once you’re there—once it has become second nature—you need an even better reason than the one that got you going to quit.

Fortunately, I have a good reason to quit. My kids are here, in Belgium, and I need to look good and strong so as to make sure they don’t worry about me. Kids shouldn’t worry about their parents. That’s just not how life is meant to be. Or perhaps it is, but I don’t want it to be that way.

I want to die like my mom did—one day, but not now. She said goodbye in a powerful gesture. She greeted Death in the most cheerful of manners and only asked one favor: she wanted to chose the moment herself. So she did, and we were all with her. I don’t want to copy my dad. I got many of his greatest talents and gifts—including that desire that often drives me crazy: I want to understand. I want to truly understand.

That often drives me nuts. The book I am going to publish on quantum mechanics could only have been written because of those long and lonely nights, fueled by alcohol to soothe the pain in my heart and in my soul. It was born out of darkness. I don’t want to do such things anymore. I want life to be good, so I’ll try to be good to myself.

I’ll turn 50 later this month. I want to count down again after reaching that milestone: I just want to turn back and count down again. 49, 48, 47, etcetera. I want to be on top of Mont Blanc again one day. I will.

I hope you are well. You should keep inspiring.

Yours, Albert.

A new start!

The title above echoes the title of an earlier post—but I replaced the question mark by an exclamation mark. 🙂

I really want to make a new start by changing one or more keystone habits. I have tried to do that repeatedly over the past year, but I failed. I like to think I am a strong and independent individual—and that my mind should rule over my body. It doesn’t. I’ve had some health issues lately. Relatively minor ones, all of which can be solved by a bit of dieting and daily exercise. But the power of habit is strong. In fact, it has been stronger than myself over the past few months. Why?

In my previous post, I noted that I don’t accept the hasty conclusions of psychologists and researchers who tell us that consciousness is just an epiphenomenon—that is, somehow, not real. Free will is real. Full stop. It emerges, somehow, in that discursive and associative logic that characterizes our thought processes and, hence, it’s as real as emotions or perceptions as far as I am concerned. I should just keep quoting those wise words on the relations between thoughts, words, actions, habits and character.

Watch your thoughts, because thoughts become words.

Watch your words, because words become actions.

Watch your actions, because actions become habits.

Watch your habits, because habits become character.

Watch your character, because character becomes destiny.

What a beautiful way of expressing how the law of cause and effect (or the law of karma, if you prefer Buddhist terminology) actually operates in our personal life ! There is a logic, indeed, in what we do and who or what we become. While, at times, we may think there is no escape from that logic, our destiny is not inevitable. We can change the logic. We take decisions. Our mind is free and, therefore, we are free.

I just need to keep telling myself that over and over again, and all will be alright. 🙂

Staying busy

Dear Sophia—

It is rather heartwarming to see your anger and passion about what happens in the US. I left Washington DC a few months ago, and I felt relieved when the plane took off so I could stop worrying about it. 🙂

I have been wandering around. The wandering included a wonderful trip with my son. We motorbikes through the Indian Himalayas—Kinnaur, Spiti, Lahaul, Ladakh, and Kashmir. My version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I guess. 🙂 I read a few good books along the way. Herman Hesse, of course. Re-reading Siddharta or Narcissus and Goldmund is always refreshing. I also bought some more recent books along the way, such as Hariri’s Homo Deus. Yes. A bestseller, and deservedly so.

I loved it. It wasn’t so much the broader picture he paints, but the little factoids (and the way he arranges them to produce a remarkably smooth story) that got me hooked. Most notably, what he writes on consciousness and awareness is very fascinating. He basically analyzes it as a epiphenomenon of our… Well… Unconsciousness. 🙂 Recent brain research (such as the research done by Dr. Morsella and his team) shows that, we think we make a decision, we are actually only becoming aware of it: our unconscious mind has already made it. The neurons light up before we think we made the decision. Before. Not during, or after. No. Before. He concludes freedom of choice is just a myth we need to ground our morals and values so we can justify why we put someone in prison (i.e. take his or her freedom away), for example.

I am not so sure the findings destroy the idea of personal freedom: I still like to think we can still change bad habits, for instance—because we can think about them in a process that is far more elaborate than just choosing this or that color, or opting for a croissant rather than a pain au chocolat today—but… Well… It made me think I should try harder, because I still have a lot of bad habits. 🙂

It also makes me think we probably need a new framework for thinking about morals and values in society—and how we can contribute by making the right choices. In that regard, all he writes about us being so ‘social media-obsessive’ nowadays surely rings a bell. In fact, I felt like switching off Facebook for a while, but then I am too addicted, I guess. 

It also made me think about what understanding really means, and I am going to think about that in the coming days. I’ll keep you posted on any insights I may or may not gain. In the meanwhile, please keep writing !

Yours—Albert

Forgiving myself

Dear Sophia,

Many thanks for your last letter. I didn’t write this week because my daughter and son were here. They study (medicine and engineering, respectively) in my home country, where free access to education still means something. As I see them once or twice a year only – I separated when they  were only 7 and 9 years old – our holiday was intense.

Our times together always are. I used to take them to exotic places – preferably adventures far out in the wild, like a trek, or on the cycle or motorbike, or even a climb – but, now that they are grown up and studying, holidays together are one or two weeks only, and so we went for a city trip: we visited New York and Washington. What great cities ! It is surely not our last holiday together, but the frequency, and the time we’ll spend together, are likely to further decrease. In fact, my daughter told me she wants to go on a trek alone (or, preferably, with a friend) this summer.

It made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because that’s what you want your kids to do: travel, explore. But sad too because it rubs it in: I was largely absent as they grew up.

We don’t always talk about that but, from time to time, we do. Today is the last day. They’re showering right now, and will then pack to leave for the airport. I woke them up this morning, and we spent some time chatting in bed cozying up altogether. They’ve been urging to forgive myself for all I did wrong, and today I did – I think. It felt liberating.

I won’t write too much about it here – it’s a bit too intimate right now, I feel – but… Well… I thought about your words this morning:

“I pledge to honor this gift by working to perfect my practice. Documenting this journey, the good, the bad and the ugly. I ask in advance to continue your insight, inspiration and of course, to call me on my bullshit when you see it.”

You should call me on my bullshit too ! Stay strong !

Albert