A Father’s Blessing is a Boy’s Greatest Gift

According to Roman myth, it had been foretold that one of the sons of Saturn would overthrow him, just as he had overthrown his father, Caelus. To prevent this, Saturn ate his children moments after each was born.

In every boy’s life there is a moment when he imagines his destiny outside the expectations of his parents. When that time comes, the deepest wound a boy can suffer is not receiving his father’s blessing.

My dad never overcame such devastating blow.

At age seven, right before World War II, he escaped Germany with his mother and moved to Guatemala to begin a new life at my grandparent’s estate, which, at the time, led out to grassy fields, steep ravines, streams, rivers, and roaring waterfalls. It was every boy’s fantasyland.

Precocious and inquisitive, Dad learned to read at age four and turned into a bookworm with an insatiable appetite for learning and discovery. He loved science fiction and the Tarzan of the Apes book series, devouring them all, more than once.

Dan and Horse

To ease Dad’s transition into his new environment, my grandfather bought him a horse and two dogs. Thereon, every afternoon after school, he’d set off on his mount to explore the vast wildlands of this fantastic realm. From a high point, he could see a shimmering blue lake, far in the distance, backdropped by four imposing volcanoes — two in permanent, fiery upheaval. His favorite resting spot was a waterfall plunging thirty feet into a crystalline pool teeming with crayfish he loved to catch. He’d stop there to swim and play with his dogs, always on the lookout for lianas by which to swing from tall tree to tall tree like Tarzan.

Guatemala was once ruled by the Maya, one of ancient history’s most advanced civilizations. The fields across which my father roamed were thus strewn with obsidian arrowheads, jade beads, stone axe heads, and pottery fragments which he collected and treasured all his life.

These wild experiences, and the books he read, filled my father’s young imagination with a stirring sense of adventure. By the time he was ten, he yearned to climb the highest mountains, trek across the most inhospitable jungles, and draw maps to guide other explorers. Swept-up in his excitement, he wrote about his dream, and, late one evening, waited for his father to return from work to share his budding aspiration.

I never liked my grandfather. He was cold and stern, stiff like a slab of petrified wood. It wasn’t until he died that Dad told me how the old man used to drag him down to a basement and kick a ball at him with such force it often bruised him. “Be a man! Toughen up! Don’t cry!” he’d yell at his son. My grandfather was also of the idea than a man’s identity is solely defined by his profession so worked long hours and was hardly present in my father’s life.

That night, taking Dad’s story from his hesitant, outstretched hands, the old man adjusted his wire-rim glasses and started reading. Dad, meanwhile, looked up at him with an eager sparkle in his blue eyes, waiting for his blessing.

Done reading, my grandfather looked down and scoffed:

Tsk! So a nobody, that’s what you’re saying… a bum, basically. Is that all you aspire to?”

Before Dad could shake his head and explain, the old man’s callous fist crushed his dream and threw the crumpled paper on the floor. “You will write no more nonsense!” he thundered, and walked away.

In my mind, only two things can explain my grandfather’s reaction.

First, that he thought a man could only earn a living and provide for his family by holding a “respectable” job and feared climbing mountains and drawing maps would lead Dad to failure. In other words, he crushed my father’s dream out of love, wanting to protect him from hardship later in life.

Second, he was jealous, and wasn’t about to let his son bask in heroic limelight. As a boy, he too may have yearned to go on a wild adventure… on his own hero’s journey, but couldn’t, for whatever reason. Perhaps some other dream-crushing ogre stopped him in his tracks.

Whether A, B, or both, not receiving a father’s blessing is one of the deepest and most devastating wounds a child can suffer. Had his boyhood dream been honored, my father would’ve made a dashing world explorer. Instead, he became a businessman, just like his father, and lived to regret it.

As a father myself, I’ve always wanted the best for my two daughters and know how easy it is to buy into the prevailing cultural notions of success and wellbeing. Having also suffered great hardship in life, I found myself steering them in their early teens onto the college track out of a fearful wish to spare them from what I had suffered for not having gone to college myself. I now realize that while I was doing it out of love, my actions were misguided.

As we age, life has a very cruel way of robbing us from our youthful idealism and makes us stop asking the magical questions of childhood: ‘What if?’ ‘I wonder…’ ‘If only…’ One day, we simply stop building castles in the sky. We no longer believe the impossible possible and start playing it safe. So when our children come to us with their own dreamy castles, we call them “impractical” and crush them underfoot, just like my grandfather did.

If “security” and “safety” become watchwords by which [we] live, gradually the circle of [our] experience becomes small and claustrophobic. This suggests that to ask “Why face danger?” is the wrong question. The right question is “What happens if I try to build a life dedicated to avoiding all danger and all risk?” — Sam Keen, ‘Learning to Fly’

I wish Dad would’ve defied his father with the same courage displayed by Richard Halliburton, one of the world’s most dashing explorers and adventurers.

At age 18, Richard wrote this letter to his father in response to his wishes that his son return to his senses and back to Princeton:

Dad, you hit the wrong target when you write that you wish I were at Princeton living “in the even tenor of my way.” I hate that expression and as far as I am able I intend to avoid that condition. When impulse and spontaneity fail to make my “way” as uneven as possible, then I shall sit up nights inventing means of making life as conglomerate and vivid as possible. Those who live in the even tenor of their way simply exist until death ends their monotonous tranquility. No, there’s going to be no even tenor with me. The more uneven it is the happier I shall be. And when my time comes to die, I’ll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain, thrills — every emotion that any human ever had — and I’ll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed. My way is to be ever changing, but always swift, acute, and leaping from peak to peak instead of following the rest of the herd, shackled in conventionalities.

Although he drowned at age 39 in a typhoon while sailing from Hong Kong to San Francisco, Richard had already lived a full and adventurous life most men would kill for.

During his short lifespan, he climbed the Matterhorn, got himself incarcerated at Devil’s Island, hung out with the French Foreign Legion, spent a night atop the Great Pyramid, rode an elephant through the Alps like Hannibal, played Robinson Crusoe on his own desert island, retraced the path of Odysseus, met pirates and headhunters, and bought a two-seater airplane he named the Flying Carpet and flew off to Timbuktu. He swam the Nile, the Panama Canal, the Grand Canal of Venice, and even the reflecting pool at the Taj Mahal. The chronicle of his adventures made him a bestselling author.

In contrast, my father became a businessman, an alcoholic, and for the last twenty years of his life merely a shadow of his former self. While he might’ve died younger than at 88, had his father blessed his boyhood dream, he would’ve lived on his own terms, fulfilling the destiny that was his to live and not the aspirations of someone else.

It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly, than to live the imitation of somebody else’s life perfectly. — The Bhagavad Gita

In ‘Men and the Water of Life,’ mythologist Michael Meade says, “If children were simply satisfied with what the parents offered them, they would remain children forever. It’s not simply that parents don’t try to give enough to the child; rather, it’s that whatever the parents give is never enough. The child has a destiny outside the imagination of the parents.”

If a father does not honor and bless the boy’s own destiny, the boy will grow to become another wounding father and devour his children, just like the Titan Saturn, in a never-ending cycle of wound upon wound.


Jeffrey Erkelens is the creator of ‘The Hero in You,’ a book for boys (10–13) meant to guide them toward an evolved expression of manhood and help them develop the character strengths needed to become caring and passionate men of noble purpose. Sign up here to receive updates on the book’s upcoming publication.

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A Boy Needs to Hear the Shape of his Father’s Heart

Heartvoice (n): 1. The unvarnished and vulnerable unveiling of a man’s wounds, longings, regrets, victories and defeats. 2. A man’s authentic story.

I never heard my father’s.

My father didn’t either.

Not once having heard his father’s heartvoice, Dad did not know how to listen to his own so never allowed me into the inner chambers of his hurt. Never unveiled his wounds. Deeply buried, he never reached them himself, thus never healed.

“If a man, cautious, hides his limp, somebody has to limp it,” warns Robert Bly in ‘My Father’s Wedding.’

A few years before Dad died, I tried to limp his wounds by reconstructing his past. I urged him to face his demons hoping to make him whole. But I arrived too late. By then, his heart was an impregnable fortress and he left this world haunted by a thousand regrets.

“The strongest man,” I’d tell him, “is the one who has the courage to be vulnerable.”

My plea was always met by a puzzled, fear-tinged glance, a discomfited shuffle, a nervous smile, and a reflexive hardening of his armor. Like so many men.

“There is a big difference between being stoic and being in denial,” I’d prod further. “Stoicism is not about repressing our emotions but forming conscious relationships with them. If we don’t, instead of wisely responding to them we’ll keep reacting out of the darkness of our unconscious, invariably in negative ways.”

I wanted him, for instance, to go back to the moment of his childhood when his father would take him down to the basement of their house and kick a ball at him with such force it would often bruise him.

Be a man!” the old man would shout.

Or the time when he was about ten years old and excitedly handed his father a note in which he had scribbled his dream of becoming a world explorer only to see it crushed inside his father’s fist and tossed to the floor with a stern injunction to stop talking nonsense. Not receiving a father’s blessing is the gravest wound a boy can suffer.

I wanted him to grant himself permission to hate his father; to allow the rage to burn through so he could finally move to forgiveness. But all my father could do was make excuses for the ogre who’d bruised and crushed him. “I don’t hate my father,” he’d say. “He did what he had to do to make a man out of me.”

For, brother, what are we?

We are the sons of our father,

Whose face we have never seen,

Whose voice we have never heard. — Thomas Wolfe

There is an inevitable moment in every boy’s life when his father slips and falls from his pedestal. When the boy discovers that his father is not a god, but flawed and fallible like everyone else. This usually occurs when the boy himself falls from grace, around the age of ten, or the onset of puberty.

Adolescence: The age when a boy stops quoting his dad and starts criticizing him. — Evan Esar

In ‘East of Eden,’ author John Steinbeck describes such a moment:

“When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. Who knows what causes this — a look in the eye, a lie found out, a moment of hesitation? — then gods are fallen, and all safety gone… and the child’s world is never quite whole again.”

For me, that moment came at age nine when I finally mustered the courage to ask my father why he and Mom did not make love anymore. I don’t know how I found out but surely must’ve panicked when realizing their marriage and our family were falling apart. I had discovered the sham in their relationship and felt unsafe. But instead of his heartvoice, he stared me down with a wrathful glare and shouted, “What did you say!?” which made my jaw quiver and my eyes brim with frightened tears. Without another word, he got up from his chair and walked out of the room.

I had pressed hard on one of his festering wounds, but being the kind of man who never takes time to examine his hurt, he wounded me instead — the default reaction of the bully.

As it is, many fathers exact on the hides and hearts of their children the ire of their frustrations, the thunderbolts of their distress, the suffocating anguish of their dispassionate marriages, the festering anger of their unfulfilled desires, and the dull ache of their tedious, apathetic existence.

In that wretched state, what wisdom can a father impart if he hasn’t taken the time to grapple with the thorniest questions of existence, or the courage to journey through the dark and malodorous corridors of his psyche until coming to terms with the angel in himself and the devil in himself. In that state, it would be more benevolent if he met each of his children’s questions with “I don’t know,” rather than playing God twenty-four hours a day.

To be clear, before a boy falls from grace, I believe the father must remain King. The boy needs to be able to look up to him as an ever-protecting, omniscient and almighty god. The father must stand high above the boy, benevolent, of course, but awe inspiring, even evoking respectful fear. This runs contrary to the stance assumed by far too many fathers who lower themselves to the boy’s level and seek to become his “buddy” which must scare the hell out of a boy.

As King, however, the father must prepare himself for that fateful day when he is found out by the boy. When that happens, rather than stony silence, a raging glare or specious answers, the boy needs to hear his father’s unvarnished story. He needs to be shown his father’s wounds, his many mistakes and the way he’s dealt with life’s inevitable hardships and overcame them. The boy doesn’t need all the answers, simply told where he might find them.

Sad is the man who is asked for a story and can’t come up with one. — Li-Young Lee, A Story

I worry greatly about the millions of American boys now being raised without their fathers’ presence and with little guidance, I suspect, from other positive male role models. Denied the voice of their father’s heart, it is up to the male elders to respond to the responsibilities befitting their age and help initiate these boys into good men. This has become my mission at this stage in my life.

“As a man passes through the elders’ gates,” says mythologist Michael Meade, “his focus shifts from personal striving and status building to attending to the mysteries at the core of the community. The losses in life,” Meade adds, “become the cloth of the cloaks of elders.”

The losses to which Meade alludes, are precisely the ones boys hunger to hear once they’re at the threshold of manhood. They want to feel our wounds and watch us limp. If the elders hide this from view, boys will be forced to do the limping for us. They’ll continue making the same mistakes and perpetuating the many problems of our world which can often be traced back to uninitiated men. The cycle will never break and the hurt won’t heal. To wit, seventy percent of all suicides in 2017 were male.

“The way to guarantee that someone will continue wounding others [or themselves]”, say Michael Meade, “is to keep him ignorant of his own wounds.”

It’s not only boys who need to hear the male heartvoice but all men must be courageous and vulnerable enough to listen to their own.


Related Content:

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The Purpose of Aging is to Become a Wizard

Dad! Please Find me a Wizard

Turning Grief into Blessings

Like most men, I am incapable of providing comfort to someone who hopes to find a patient ear for their grief.

My default response is to provide a remedy. To pick them up, brush off their dust, wipe their tears, pat them on the back and spur them forward. It’s instinctive. Honed during hundreds of thousands of years during our life as hunters, it is an inherent male trait. Just imagine where our species would be had we sat by one of our fallen comrades to listen to their hurt. There was no time for that. The survival of those back at camp depended on our stoic courage. We had to get on with the hunt or else.

So when asked to lend a patient ear, I itch to offer solutions, and for that lifesaving instinct, men are often called tone-deaf, callous, and insensitive.

My shoulder is not to cry on. Do not look at me for relief. Come to me only if you wish to regain your footing and find a way out of your misery.

“Your bodily soul wants comforting,

The severe father wants spiritual clarity.

He scolds, but eventually leads you to the open.

Trust your wound to a teacher’s surgery.

Flies collect on a wound. They cover it;

those flies of your self-protecting feelings,

your love for what you think is yours.

Let a teacher wave away the flies

and put a plaster on the wound.

Don’t turn your head. Keep looking

at the bandaged place.

That’s where the light enters you.”

— Spiritual Master Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

My approach to grief, however, is conflicted. On the one hand, I know it’s essential to avoid getting stuck in melancholy, but I also often find its source in humanity’s deluded insistence on permanence. Of wanting things never to change. For loved ones to be immortal, comforts eternal, hardship nonexistent, suffering but something which should only afflict others.

We live in a contingent universe. Death and loss are part of the bargain. Reject those and you will be denied life’s blessings. Run away from the pain and you’ll remain in pain. Better confront it, speak to it, listen to it, and you will soon hear its call to a path of greater purpose. If a period of mourning serves for little else than to wallow in self-pity, the ‘gift of the wound’ will be squandered and the light Rumi talks about will never enter.

I’m not suggesting one can or should overcome a loss but to transmute it into a lavish bestowal of blessings. Of using our pain to heal others. To honor our losses by using them as fertile soil for regenerative deeds.

“Perhaps the deepest measure of our character, of our very humanity, says writer Maria Popova, “is how much we go on giving when what we most value is taken from us — when a loved one withholds their love, when the world withdraws its mercy.”

On the morning of December 14, 2012, the world withdrew its mercy from the lives of Jessica Lewis and her six year-old son Jesse who was slain that day along with 19 of his classmates at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Talk about unspeakable grief.

Despite my previous stern and stoic assertions, I’m not so sure I could pick myself up should I lose one my daughters. I do, however, find inspiration in what Jesse’s mother decided to do with her anguish.

In one of the most heart-wrenching videos I have ever watched, Jessica says that when she went back home to get Jesse’s clothes for the funeral, she walked through the kitchen on her way out and noticed three words Jesse had written on the kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died:

NURTURING — HEALING — LOVE.”

That was Jessica’s calling.

“These words were a message of comfort for his family and friends and an inspiration for the world,” Jessica says. “And I knew I’d be spending the rest of my life spreading this message.” Today, the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is spreading its healing love across the entire country and the world.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

These are the words of Viktor Frankl, who, in 1942, was interned in a Nazi concentration camp along with his wife, parents, and other family members. He spent three years in four camps, including Auschwitz, and was the only member of his family to survive.

Frankl surmounted the experience because he realized that there was an important task he needed to complete: a manuscript he had been working on which later became one of the most influential books of the post-war period — ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.

Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something called a “will to meaning,” which equates to a desire to find meaning in life. He argued that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning.

For people who think there’s nothing to live for, the question is getting [them] to realize that life is still expecting something from them. — Viktor Frankl

In 1982, African American Archie Williams received a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. On DNA evidence, he was released 37 years later.

Speaking of his stay at Angola State Penitentiary — classified as the bloodiest prison in the United States — Archie said he had a choice: “Either be strong, or weak, because you will be tried and tested.”

When asked how he coped, he said, “Freedom is of the mind… I went to prison, but never let my mind go to prison.”

Like Viktor Frankl, Archie had a dream for his future. He loved to sing, and he’d watch America’s Got Talent in jail imagining himself on that stage. On May 19, 2020, Archie brought the show’s audience and judges to tears and a rousing ovation while singing ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.’

Unspeakable loss into world healing… horror into meaning… darkness into song; the transformational stories of Jessica Lewis, Viktor Frankl, and Archie Williams are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit once we choose to gift ourselves to the world and transmute our grief into courageous, all-embracing love.

So when in grief, let its fire burn through you, but not all the way to your soul. Just enough to ignite a white spark of inspiration you can cup in your hands and carry with you to bring spiritual clarity, hope and healing to those who await your blessings.


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The Unhappiest Place in The World

Timeless Wisdom for Troubling Times

“You’ll Figure it Out”

A Cautionary Tale of Bloodsucking Codependency

We need more people in our lives

A true legend is no longer with us… my father passed the day after Thanksgiving.

He would’ve been dead decades ago had it not been for a saving angel who rescued him from the maelstrom of his bipolar frenzy… a madness that was further fueled with wild abandon by a bottle of vodka and two packs of cigarettes per day.

Up to the moment of his ‘salvation,’ Dad had burned his candle at both ends and lived an almost mythical life. He was one-of-a-kind. His many adventures legendary; his eccentricities unforgettable; his romantic flair, the stuff of fairy tales.

Exhausted by the white heat, he decided to hang up his spurs at age 44, trading wildness for love, fierceness for yardage, his derring-do for another round of 44. It was a Faustian bargain, in my opinion.

Whisked away by his saving angel to a remote pocket of the world, they erected isolating walls and wrapped themselves in a tight cocoon for two. Family left behind and far away, and barely a soul gracing their home with the blessings of fellowship. Gradually, they restricted their contact with the outside world to the fearmongering of cable news: ‘world’s falling apart, not safe, no one can be trusted, conspiracies abound!

Increasingly fearful, distrustful, bitter, and angry, they bristled like cornered porcupines and began using the phrase: “We don’t like people,” and sought refuge in nostalgia… film noir, B&W classics, old Westerns, that sort of stuff. In self-imposed exile, they lived cradled in bygone, illusory archetypes.

They stopped making memories and sullied old ones from too much recollection. Never sought nor fashioned a joint enterprise to bring meaning and vibrancy to their lives. Having exhausted all topics, they fell mostly silent. Cut-off from interaction, they grew increasingly unable to hold a conversation. They forgot words, lost their unique voice, and began to echo each other’s thoughts or simply regurgitated the inanities and absurdities fed to them by the mind-numbing drip feed of media.

Their love story rang like the Spanish ballads of my country’s soap operas: ‘I can’t live without you.’ ‘All the love I’ve waited for I’ve found only in you.’ ‘Without you, my pain knows no clemency.’ ‘You are my existence, my moon and sun, my night of love…’

They embodied Plato’s ‘Myth of the Androgyne.’

At the beginning of time, the myth explains, there were three genders: male, female, and androgynous. Males were descended from the sun, females from the earth, the androgynous from the moon. They were powerful and vigorous and made threatening attacks on the gods. The gods did not want to destroy them because they would then forfeit the sacrifices humans made to them, so Zeus decided to cut each person in two. Because they longed for their original nature, people kept trying to find their other half and reunite with it. When found, they would embrace and stay together, not wanting anything else.

And when one of them meets his other half, the pair are lost in an amazement of love. — Aristophanes.

From the outside, my father’s and his wife’s mutual devotion had all the warm and fuzzy feel of a Nicholas Sparks novel. To me, it read more like a gothic tale of two vampires sucking each other’s blood in a life-sapping feast of affective cannibalism.

“Real love stories,” writes clinical psychologist Sue Johnson, “reflect the wisdom of attachment science, which states that love is an ancient survival code. We are wired by millions of years of evolution for this kind of connection, as essential to us as our next breath. Emotional connection with a safe ‘other’ soothes our nervous system; it whispers ‘safety’ to our bonding brain.

I agree, to an extent. For if your ‘safety’ depends on just one person, once gone, your entire world will dissolve in a stomach-churning plunge into despair.

Now that Dad’s gone, the world of his “other half” is a barren, breathless void. Time she previously occupied with his care now drags endlessly like weightless grains in an hourglass. Now that her sun has forever set, her ‘pain knows no clemency.’

“When a couple has an argument,” said writer Kurt Vonnegut, “they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: ‘You are not enough people!’”

Social isolation is a growing epidemic. Loneliness is being called the “new cancer.” Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone; half of those over 85 do.

I’m no scientist but I am Hispanic and intuit that my cohort’s better health and longer lifespans when compared to non-Hispanic whites has less to do with genes or immigration, and more to do with their broader network of relationships which reduces stress. Comforted by the knowledge that no matter what happens you can always count on friends and family, the notion of the self-reliant individual makes my ‘homies’ scratch their heads. Why would anyone want to live that way? Who would we dance with? Laugh or cry with? Share our food and stories with?

Having left our home country on the wings of his angel, my father replaced that ethos for the lonely stoicism of the rugged individual and the myth of the “other half.” He surrendered his sovereignty to codependency. Gained yardage, but lost the wild glint in his eye.

In his straight-talking book, ‘In Love or Enslaved,’ cognitive therapist Walter Riso calls for “affective liberation”: the establishment of a healthy, unfettered relationship through which each person can seek the development of his or her personality, despite, and even above and beyond the bounds of love.

To obsessive love, Riso counterpoints one of passionate but serene fondness.

To fearful love, a relationship of independent courage.

To oppressive love, one of freedom.

To fused love — in which “two become one” — he counterpoints a loving rapport between two sovereign individuals.

I have found no better affirmation to ensure a healthy and long lasting relationship than this vow proposed by writer Sam Keen:

“I vow to defend the integrity of my separate being and respect the integrity of yours. We will meet only as equals; I will present myself to you in the fullness of my being and will expect the same of you. I will not cower, apologize, or condescend. Our covenant will be to love one another justly and powerfully; to establish and cherish inviolable boundaries; to respect our separate sanctuaries.”

I’d add that those boundaries extend beyond the couple and outward to the wider sanctuaries of family, friendship, and community.

We definitely need more people in our lives. After all, there is only so much blood our partner can spare until their vitality is fully drained.


Related Reflections:

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Dad Died Last Night

The Universal Principles of Love

People Don’t Want to Change

It doesn’t seem so anyway

No matter what they say, most people don’t want to change.

Or at least, if they do, they don’t want to put-in the work. Instead, they thirst for a quick potion to magically solve their dilemma. All in vain. For proof, 11 billion dollars are wasted every year by Americans on such ‘remedies,’ yet a growing number remain stuck in stagnant swamps of despair.

Askhole (n): a person who constantly asks for advice, but always does the opposite of what you tell them.

I just wanna be happy!’ they clamor, but pressed to define what they mean, they draw blanks, like dazzled deers.

I wanna be loved!’ they cry like sniveling infants, without once taking the time to define love.

I need more friends in my life!’ they lament, like so many lonely Americans, but asked what they mean by friendship, they’ll give you a flummoxed stare.

I hate my job and wish I could find my passion,’ they bemoan, but lack the courage to break free to seek it.

Twenty-four hundred years ago, Greek philosopher Socrates — infamously known as the ‘Gadfly of Athens’ — was condemned to death for urging his fellow citizens to think for themselves and arrive at clear and useful definitions — for happiness, love, friendship, work, beauty…

How the hell will you ever find anything if you don’t know what you’re looking for?

But that’s too hard… it’s just too much work, right? And who has the time? So people rather have someone else tell them what these things mean and how to find them, preferably by writing them a 3-step prescription for bliss.

I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t work that way. You must establish your own values, then stack them, from most important to least.

Once guided by your deepest values, the first step on the road to real transformation is to define the kind of life you want to live (in vivid detail), and then examine the chains which shackle you to the life you loathe.

The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. — Samuel Johnson

Fear not, they can be broken, but it requires sacrifice, a word which seems as abhorrent to Americans as a steaming turd.

Eww… you mean I have to give up something?… Yuck! Why can’t I just have it all?’

I see your point. The path to bliss is certainly not for the covetous and lily-livered. As French novelist Romain Rolland said: “He who has freed himself from the bonds and gags of an old rotting world; from its masters and gods, must show himself to be worthy of his new liberty, capable of bearing it; otherwise, let him remain in chains!

In his ‘Song of the Open Road,’ American poet Walt Whitman extended his hand and invited people to journey with him to a place of greater joy and a more meaningful, spirited life. Yet, to whomever wished to accept his invitation, he issued this warning:

He traveling with me needs the best blood, thews, endurance.

Come not here if you have spent the best of yourself.

I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes.

You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn and achieve.

Whoever you are, come forth!

You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house, though you built it.

Out of the dark confinement! Out from behind the screen!

Inside of dresses and ornaments, inside of those wash’d and trimm’d faces, behold a secret loathing and despair.

Smartly attired, countenance smiling, form upright, death under their breast-bones, hell under their skull-bones,

Keeping fair with the customs, speaking not a syllable of [themselves], speaking of anything else but never of [themselves].

Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe — I have tried it.

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! Let the money remain unearn’d!

Comrade, I give you my hand!

I give you my love more precious than money,

I give you myself before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?

Whitman could’ve well have written this in 21st century America for the “secret loathing and despair” he saw in people more than a century ago remains alive and well in the unhappiest place on Earth.

A prison break is no easy matter; you must first know all about your prison. — Henry Miller

The key to your prison turns with a paradigm shift.

You will be happy once you realize happiness doesn’t exist.

You will find the love of your life, but not until you have properly defined what love means, and only once you begin to lead the life you love.

You will be embraced by true friends once you accept that most of the ones you have don’t measure up to the true definition of friendship.

Passionate and meaningful work will forever elude you as long as your values and priorities are ass-backward, and money remains your holy grail and banner of success.

You will never ‘find yourself’ until you stop trying to be someone else, and even then, you never will. For we are each a river with a particular abiding character but show radically different aspects of our Self according to the territory through which we travel. “Today’s identity,” says writer Sam Keen, “is tomorrow’s prison,” and only a self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living, added Virginia Woolf.

Finally, you’ll never travel the Open Road unless you welcome sacrifice and see the path for what it is —  a sacred pilgrimage reserved for the stout of heart and lavish of soul. This will require you to welcome and embrace uncertainty, give up hope and expectations, and vanquish man’s biggest fears: The Fear of Want and The Fear of Death.

Whoever you are, reading this now, I can attest to one thing Whitman was wrong about. The open road is not “safe” as he claimed. It is anything but safe and secure.

But if “safety” and “security” are the watchwords by which you want to live your life, by all means, go ahead, don’t change a thing, and forever remain wallowing in the stagnant pool with all the rest. Just don’t ask me for advice.


Related Reflections:

I Don’t Want to Be Happy

How do I find the love of my life?

I can’t find my passion and purpose in life

Time for Women to Roar!

Calling for a female rebellion

As American cities and the planet burn under fires of hate and plunder, I see no other way out but to call for a female revolt. We men have been at the wheel for eons and have brought the world to the brink. It’s time for women to take over, at least for now.

The idea of a female rebellion is not new. Greek playwright Aristophanes proposed such a radical solution in 411 BCE in “Lysistrata,” an account of one woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace. They play ends with the signing of a peace treaty amid plenty of painful erections.

In the late 19th century, American women revolted against male irresponsibility by mobilizing nearly 200 thousand into the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s campaign to close the saloons and outlaw booze. The American family was under threat, and women had had enough.

A true woman is serene until her den is threatened, and then she fights like a lioness to defend it. Now is the time for real women to roar. — Washington Irving

Until very recently, I still harbored the illusion that the sexes could reconcile and return to the harmony and cooperation which reigned for thousands of years during our egalitarian life as hunter-gatherers. Now, I’m not so sure. The growing rise to power of male autocrats, cheered by legions of groveling ‘men’ who have lost their individual power is threatening the den of the world on a social and planetary scale.

These slavish legions of weak men, said Hannah Arendt in her Theory of Totalitarianism, are the product of a specific conjuncture. They constitute the detritus of all social strata which have lost their former social identity and emotional bearings as a result of abrupt political, geopolitical, and economic dislocation. They compose individuals who live on the periphery of all social and political involvements. Bereft of power, organizational affiliation, inexperienced in conventional politics, and lacking conviction, these men offer virgin territory for the totalitarian movements to harvest.

At the end of the First World War, British poet WB Yeats saw the writing on the wall and wrote this in ‘The Second Coming’:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Twenty years after Yeats prophecy, men were back in the sandbox with their guns and bombs and plunged the world into another bloody episode of anarchy and carnage where 85 million people lost their lives.

Humanity may have left behind the days of world conflagrations but look closely and you’ll see spreading fires of unrest, discontent, strife and looming chaos, against the backdrop of planetary collapse. The Third Coming? I say it’s time for women to roar and save the den.

As for the men, American statesman Frederick Douglass’ once said that there are days when it seems most adult men are beyond repair, and from the look of it, I’m afraid he’s right, but I refuse to give up on the young. So, while women heed my call to revolt and take over the wheel, I will assume my rightful place as a male elder of the human tribe and help initiate the coming generation of men.

Besides an urgent preoccupation with the state of the world, my effort is a way to ‘pay-it forward’ on behalf of my father. Had not it been for his fortune, he would’ve been a Nazi, indoctrinated in a hateful ideology conceived by a man who felt small and powerless and who stoked the fire of racism and hate festering inside the vast majority of German men who shared his sense of despair after their country’s humiliating defeat in World War I.

The most dangerous man is not one with power but one who feels powerless. — Dr. Michael Gurian, author of ‘Saving our Sons’

The loss of power, social identity, and emotional bearings as a result of political, geopolitical, and economic dislocation which Hannah Arendt said were the underpinnings of male discontent, will only get worse. If we now have what many call a “boy crisis” on our hands, we’ll soon face a full-blown catastrophe if we don’t properly guide the young.

Besides helping boys become critical thinkers, teaching them how to harness the power of rage, and confront their innate biases so that natural prejudice doesn’t turn to racial violence, I begin my book with the universal story which gave origin to us all… before race, borders, nations, and diving ideological lines. “We’re all made of stardust,” said astronomer Carl Sagan.

It was not until the Agricultural Revolution, 14,000 years ago, that the distancing between the male and female worldview began to widen; between egalitarianism and male domination. A distancing which grew wider when men began to tell themselves stories to justify their ascendancy. By the time of the Mycenaean Bronze Age civilization, around 1600–1100 BCE, the rule of men was firmly established.

To make sense of this significant shift and it’s ruinous consequences, I take boys on a journey back in time…

Minoan women
‘Ladies in Blue’ – Minoan Civilization fresco

Once we settled and built permanent houses, we had room to start accumulating and storing goods, mostly our grain crops and animals and began to worry about stuff. Forgetting how long we had lived and thrived from the land, we worried about whether we had enough food for the future. Before, if we didn’t find food in one place, we just moved. But now, we were stuck in place and depended more on the weather for our survival.

More food meant even more people, so populations began to explode. BOOM!

Larger cities were built to make room for growing populations. By the late 13th and early 14th centuries we started drawing lines on maps and calling them “borders,” which pretty much are imaginary divisions between skin colors, languages, or ways of looking at the world. They are like the outlines in children’s coloring books, yet children, as we all know, are masters at coloring outside the lines. We adults have much to learn from you kids.

Some people now had more than others, so fights broke out. We then started raiding other cities for their food and land. Battles broke out. Then all-out wars. BOOM! KABOOM!

Our growing brains were getting us in trouble. Our late cousins, the chimpanzees, must have been scratching their heads wondering what the heck was wrong with us.

People were not only fighting for food and territory; they also fought over ideas.

To explain this, I’ll tell you the story of two groups of people with very different ideas. It’s a true story, with some embellishments to make it easier to understand.

One group lived on an island called Crete, in ancient Greece, about 3000 years ago. They were the Minoans. I call them ‘Minnows,’ like little fish. The others lived in the mainland, two hundred miles from the Minnows. These were the Mycenaeans. I call them ‘Myce,’ like those furry beasties who scurry across kitchens making old ladies scream and jump on stools holding brooms.

The Myce had come from higher up the Eurasian continent. They were nomadic, which means they were always on the move. They herded cattle, which was their primary food source. They had also learned to tame wild horses. When their previous territory became cooler and drier because of climate change, they spread south and settled in Mycenae, two hundred miles from the Minnows.

Hunter-gatherers had first showed up in this area about twenty thousand years before. Over the next twelve thousand years, the sea level gradually rose, and large game animals were no longer available, so hunter-gatherer populations came to depend increasingly on plants for their survival and the problem became to develop a reliable supply. Girls were really good at this. After all, women in hunter-gatherer societies had developed the greatest knowledge of plants because they were the principal gatherers of this food. It has been estimated that men and women contributed about the same amount of food, in terms of calories, to early hunter-gatherer groups. This is starting to happen again, with both Moms and Dads working to provide for their families.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Minoan society was especially prosperous, peaceful, and happy. It was also a society in which women were as important as men. After all, they saved our butts when large animals became scarce. In the palaces of Knossos, the most important Minnow city in Crete, archaeologists found paintings on walls that show women holding high positions in Minnow society.

Meanwhile, over at Mycenae, the city of the Myce…

There, archaeologists uncovered a very different story, one of a warrior culture ruled by powerful commanders who made themselves rich by conducting raiding expeditions near and far, as well as by exploiting local farmers.

The main differences between the Myce and the Minnows were:

  1. They spoke different languages.
  2. Minnows were far more artistic.
  3. The Myce made burnt offerings to their gods; the Minnows did not. Burnt offerings consist of taking a poor animal that’s happily munching on grass, and then killing and burning it over an open fire to ask an imaginary being up in the sky for help. Sometimes they weren’t even nice enough to kill the animal before throwing it into the flames.
  4. Palaces in Myceland were heavily fortified. Those in Minnowland were not.
  5. Weapons were common in Myce, not on Mino.
  6. Minnow society granted women higher status. Myce, by contrast, were patriarchal — men held all the power and women were excluded from it.
  7. Goddesses played a greater role in Minnowland as evidenced by the large number of female figurines and paintings found around the ancient city of Knossos. In contrast, the most important and powerful God of the Myce was ‘Sky Father,’ later called ‘Zeus’ in Greek mythology; the bearded guy who throws thunderbolts at people he doesn’t like and is constantly unfaithful to his wife.
  8. Before the Myce were able to overtake the Minnows, a massive volcano eruption and tsunami — one that may have inspired the myth of the lost city of Atlantis — crushed the Minoan Civilization.

The Myce and their stories took over.

And they were not good stories.

Listen to some of them:

Humans! Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. [Genesis 1]

Since women give birth to babies like the Earth gives birth to plants out of seeds, it means women are the same as the Earth. But since sometimes the Earth goes dry and doesn’t produce plants, the Earth is evil. If Earth is the same as Woman, then women are evil too. The Earth sometimes also acts all crazy with storms, floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, ice ages, and hurricanes. Since the Earth is like a girl, then girls are scary crazy too. [From the Babylonian Creation Myth and the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone]

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as men are. [Exodus 21:7–11]

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. [Isaiah 13:1]

Go and strike and destroy all that your enemies have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey! [Samuel 15:3]

Slaves! Submit yourselves to your masters with respect, not only to the good and gentle masters but also to the cruel ones.[Peter 2:18]

A prophet should not have prisoners of war until he has made a great slaughter in the land. [The Qur’an Verse 8:67]

Do not permit a woman to teach or boss over a man; she must be quiet. [Timothy 2:12]

If the wife of a man who is living in her husband’s house, has persisted in going out, has acted the fool, has waster her house, has belittled her husband, he shall prosecute her. If her husband has said, “I divorce her,” she shall go her way; he shall give her nothing as her price of divorce. If her husband has said “I will not divorce her” he may take another woman to wife; the wife shall live as a slave in her husband’s house. [Code of Hammurabi c. 1700 BCE]

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. [Exodus 21:24]

Boy, oh boy…

Subdue and dominate our Earth and rule over everything; girls are evil and crazy; sell your daughter in slavery, dash the children of your enemies against rocks, slaughter away, keep women quiet… these stories make my blood curl. I feel like that old lady who stands on top of a stool with a broom in her hand trying to squash nasty mice.

What’s crazy is that many have listened to these stories and done exactly what these stories have told them to do. It makes me want to go back to our life as hunter-gatherers.

But we can’t go back.

So why not come up with better stories? Just like Abraham Lincoln did to end slavery. Or like Rachel Carson when writing Silent Spring which started the modern environmental movement. Or Gandhi, who said that if we all started poking people’s eyes because they poked ours, by and by the whole world would be blind. Stories like Buddha’s Second Noble Truth which says that people suffer because they crave stuff they don’t need, believe stupid stories, and because of their hatred and destructive urges.

Buddha started his life as a spoiled brat shielded from the outside world. Before he became known as ‘The Buddha,’ his name was Siddhartha Gautama. He was a prince, living in a luxurious palace with everything a boy could want. His father, the king, made sure he never suffered nor stepped foot beyond the palace walls. He did not want his son to go out into the world and see sick people, old people, or dead people. Only beautiful, young, and healthy people were allowed in the palace.

When he was about 16, Siddhartha married Yaśodharā who gave birth to their son, Rāhula. But even though Siddhartha had everything he wanted, something bugged him. He wanted to go beyond the palace walls and see the world for himself. One day, he ordered his charioteer to take him out into the city. On the road, they encountered a poor person, an old person, and a corpse. As they returned to the palace, Siddhartha passed a wandering monk wearing a simple robe. Siddhartha decided to become a monk, and left the palace, and his wife and son, in search for the answer to the problem of suffering in the world. Once he figured out what he thought was the cure for suffering, he became ‘The Buddha,’ for which the practice of Buddhism is known. Today, there are over 500 million people in the world who practice his teachings.

People like Buddha, Abraham Lincoln, Rachel Carson, Gandhi, and Jesus were heroic people. They were not locusts, like the Myce, but bees, like Minnows, taking care of the garden… trying to erase the vile and destructive ideas that originally spun out of the heads of the Myce. They came up with positive stories which enhance the wonderful unfolding story of our universe that began 13 Billion years ago.

That’s the purpose of this book. To write a better story and guide you on the path of a hero to grow to become a bee.

So now that you know where you come from, where you are, and have heard some of the stories — good and bad — that humans tell each other, you are ready to be trained in the Life Forces you will need to start your own adventure in life…


My call for a female revolt is not one of violence but leadership; a call for women to wrest the reins of power from the many weak and ignoble men who seem hellbent on maintaining the status-quo. To our luck, a growing number of inspiring women across the world have begun to do just that.

While their legions grow, I’ll keep working to ensure that the next generation of men rises to the occasion and joins its female counterpart — as comrades once again — for the urgent work ahead.


Jeffrey Erkelens is the creator of ‘The Hero in You,’ a book for boys (10–13) meant to guide them toward an evolved expression of manhood and help them develop the character strengths needed to become caring and passionate men of noble purpose. Sign up here to receive updates on the book’s upcoming publication.

Related content:

Understanding Prejudice – Teaching Boys to Confront their Innate Biases

Critical Thinking in a Crazy World

Warriors Wanted to Save the World!

Shock and Fluff In The Age of Distraction

A writer’s conundrum

Tristan Harris is right. We are currently “engulfed in an arms race to the bottom of our brain stem to capture our attention.”

Think of that little timer counting down the seconds on Netflix or YouTube as you’re reaching the end of an episode. Or compare both the noise level and the speed at which scenes are switched in a modern-day documentary, with one filmed, say, before the 1990s. It’s enough to cause one vertigo and often feels like some two-bit swindler is trying to hypnotize you so he can steal your wallet.

And what about the news? now forced to shock its distracted audience with hyperbole: ‘STOCK MARKET PLUMMETS!’ ‘CARNAGE IN CAIRO!’ ‘MONSTER STORM ENGULFS GULF COAST!,’ ‘MAYHEM IN MINNEAPOLIS!’

When the news is finally delivered, it’s as anticlimactic as masturbating, even on a good day, they say.

Are people simply becoming dopamine junkies? Like porn, needing an increasingly higher dose after each hit?

This scourge has also infected the work of other writers, bloggers, and editorialists. If they wish to gain and audience they must perfect the art of screaming and stirring outrage and peddling snake oil instead of meaningful content. Moreover, they must adapt to a culture whose attention span is now shorter than a sneeze.

No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the masses. — H.L. Mencken

As an artist who approaches his craft like a Michelin Star-winning chef, I refuse to sully my work with shock or fluff. Especially fluff! I also refuse to compress complex, meaningful ideas into fast food for the brain. Not surprisingly, my work withers mostly unread.

I come from a land of siestas, meriendas, and sobremesas… lazy naps, midafternoon grazing, and endless after-meal conversations with loved ones and friends, so have always wondered why Americans are in such a rush. It doesn’t seem like they’re getting much done. Not lately, anyway. In fact, in their frenzy, they’re not only crashing against each other but toppling everything around them, like, say, the entire planet.

It’s not enough to be busy; so are ants. The question is: what are we busy about? — Henry David Thoreau

In ‘Lazy: A Manifesto,’ Tim Kreider writes that “if you live in America in the 21st century, you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy Busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.’

“Even children are busy now,” laments Kreider, “scheduled down to the half hour with enrichment classes, tutorials, and extracurricular activities. At the end of the day, they come home as tired as grownups, which seems not just sad but hateful. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter. The busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness: Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Is that what it is? A sense of meaninglessness, existential dread, and emptiness? People needing distractions to avoid confronting their misery?

Wounds don’t heal in the dark and skeletons don’t simply vanish through neglect. At least not mine. In fact, they get angrier. They only way to appease them is by bringing them out of the closet and engaging them in deep, focused conversation. Which is what I try to do with my work, hoping to help others deal with the thorniest dilemmas of human existence so they can heal.

But this takes time and cannot possibly be delivered in a 5-point listicle or quick-read book. Chances are you’ve read more than one and soon forgot all the magic recipes and instant formulas. Case in point, Americans spend over 11 billion dollars per year on self-help and personal development stuff yet live in the unhappiest place in the world… wtf!?

Because it’s the land of the quick-fix and the magic pill. Where instead of wrestling with the underlying causes of despair, people numb them with drugs and distractions. It doesn’t take a genius to realize it’s not working.

One of my most read articles on Medium, for example, is ‘The Meaning of Life.’ I figured that in a country hungry for meaning, the least I could do was offer a remedy and a way forward.

Like most other forums, Medium is now compelled to post the time it will take a reader to get all the way through. God forbid it’s longer than 6 minutes because most readers will ignore it. ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy Busy.’ Who has more than 6 minutes to spare nowadays?

Mine is 7 minutes long (sorry), and although now read by over five hundred people, the average time devoted to the article by each person has been 1 min 5 sec. Really? Speed-reading through the meaning of life?

“A writer has power over distraction and fragmentation, said author Saul Bellow, “and out of distressing unrest — even from the edge of chaos — he can bring unity and carry us into a state of intransitive attention. People hunger for this.”

That may be the case in Europe, or in my country, Mr. Bellow, but in America — the land of the microwave, the 3-minute cake, the quick-pass, “quickie,” and life in the fast lane — people hunger for instant gratification.

A man’s constant escapism into busyness is the greatest source of his unhappiness, suggested Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, a sentiment echoed by Blaise Pascal who said that the sole cause of man’s anguish is that he does not know how to sit quietly in his room.

For the longest time, I’ve been trying to invite people to sit quietly and take time to work through the toughest afflictions of the modern world, and together, figure a way out of their despairing lives.

Alas, refusing to use shock and fluff, my tireless work goes mostly ignored and the despair never ends.


Congratulations! You made it all the way to the end and I only stole 5 minutes of your precious time.


Related Reflections:

Do You Have a Minute?

Time Out!

The Unhappiest Place in the World

 

Crying Over Spilled Milk

Is the only way to die with few regrets

They say there’s no use crying over spilled milk, and I couldn’t disagree more.

The use in crying lies in what’s left in the glass and in figuring out how you spilled it in the first place.

Careless, inattentive and unaware, we spill our years under the delusion that we’re eternal. In fact, we often kill time by waking up late to shorten the hours not knowing what we’d otherwise do with ourselves with so much time on our hands. “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity,” said Henry David Thoreau.

Just wait a little, wait a while’… we tell our hoped for dreams and repressed longings. But while and while have no end, wait a little is a long, long road, and time waits for no man.

And then one day, you wake up and realize there is more spilled milk than what’s left in the glass and the spilling won’t stop.

You panic, cry, regret… What’s the use?

The use is in making sure that whatever milk is left, trickles, instead of spilling. And the trick to the trickle is to live attentive and aware from that moment on.

When Australian caregiver Bronnie Ware wrote a blog in 2009 listing the five things that most haunted her terminally ill patients, she had no idea it would become an internet sensation. The blog took on a life of its own. By 2012, more than eight million people had read her post.

No one, it seems, wants to die with these 5 regrets:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

At 54, I realized how much milk I had spilled, and then and there, decided not to allow one more drop to fall without my awareness. And the only way I felt I could do this was by setting fire to the life I’d been leading up to that point and journey into the unknown on the knife-edge of uncertainty.

That was four years ago… 48 months that have felt like an eternity and I don’t regret one second.

One by one, I’ve examined these 5 venomous regrets and worked-out the antidotes.

Authenticity

Death, says philosopher Alain de Botton, is a terrifying agent of authenticity.

When you take stock of the milk you’ve spilled and how little remains, you realize there is no time left for pretense. No time to show up on stage wearing an ill-fitting costume and mask. Not a second more to waste on pleasing others by denying yourself. The only time you have is for growing into your own plumage, brightly, and end the weary, and ultimately fruitless charade of trying to be someone you are not. As written in the Bhagavad Gita, “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly, than to live the imitation of somebody else’s life perfectly.”

Seeing how our modern world is hellbent on making us blend-in like sheep, it is one hardest battles you will ever have to fight. But if you don’t wage it, you will be voicing this regret once your last drop of milk is about to spill. Authenticity, I’ve also discovered, is one of love’s most powerful aphrodisiacs.

Overworked

I don’t think it’s a matter of too much work but the type of work on which we devote our time.

What many call “burnout,” “stress,” or “depression,” author Sam Keen examines under a more useful light.

Burnout, Keen warns, “is nature’s way of telling you you’ve been going through the motions but your soul has departed.

Stress is not simply a dis-ease; it’s a symptom that you are living someone else’s life (Regret #1).

Depression is more than low self-esteem; it is a distant early warning that you are on the wrong path and that something in you is being pressed down, beat on, imprisoned, dishonored.”

Purposeful work, that which matches your talents and passions to a particular need in the world, is one you will never tire of.

A holiday is a necessity for someone whose work is an unchanged daily routine, but for me everything is constantly fresh and always new. I love what I do, and my life feels like one long vacation. — Playwright William Herzog

But what if you’re still uncertain what you’re passions are and are stuck in a job you hate, like 70% of Americans?

Consider it then as a means to an end; one that can subsidize a period of exploration until you feel a spark. “Seek and you shall find,” said Jesus.

Expressing feelings

I assume that what Bronnie’s patients meant by this regret is what Mary Evans referred to at the end of this poem:

If there be sorrow

let it be

for things undone

undreamed

unrealized

unattained

to these add one:

Love withheld

… restrained.

Also what writer Anaïs Nin wrote in one of her journals:

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of wounds, weariness, of witherings and tarnishings.”

And, finally, what Erich Fromm wrote in The Art of Loving:

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get — only with what you are expecting to give — which is everything.

Beyond love for others, we also betray ourselves by not having the courage to express and actualize our deepest longings. We repress them out of fear of what others may think… the fear of having our dreams judged unrealistic, impractical, fanciful — even childish.

As we age, life has a cruel way of robbing us from our youthful idealism and makes us stop asking the magical questions of childhood: What if?’ ‘I wonder…’ ‘If only…’ One day, we simply stop building castles in the sky and no longer dare the impossible.

Genius, said French poet Baudelaire, is childhood recovered at will, and I have since killed the old cynic in me.

Dying without this 3rd regret, then, requires us to love with abandon, selflessness, attention, and supreme care, and to give voice and wings to our dreams.

Not staying in touch with friends

Today, more than three in five Americans are lonely, with more and more people reporting feeling left out, poorly understood, and lacking companionship.

The key lies in the last word of the previous sentence: “companionship,” which, at root, means breaking bread together, and springs from the same source as the word “compassion,” or suffering together.

When I finally broke free, I realized how encumbered I had been with frivolous acquaintances, most of whom had only showed up in my life when times were good. The few that did appear when feeling blue, did so with the intent to feel better about themselves and their own fortune.

Approaching my 60th birthday, I’ve since discarded those unworthy of the name “friend” like one would discard a pair of tight-fitting shoes or the unwholesome leaves of an artichoke. I am down to one, but oh! what a companion he is; showing up —both— on sunny and stormy days, patiently watching me spill my guts without once casting judgment as we break bread together.

You know you are in the presence of an empathic man when you feel you have been given permission to be yourself. — Robert Bly

Like Sancho Panza to Quixote, he rides by my side — in victory and defeat — loyally serving me as the voice of conscience when I stray, and not once allowing me to wallow in self-pity or complacency. He is the thorn on my side, not my echo.

“Do not seek friends,” said Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, “seek comrades in arms!” And you will find them once you understand the meaning of friendship, dare to be true to yourself, and work on something which nurtures your passions.

I wish I had let myself be happier

Christ, I was happy! But for the first time in my life I was happy with the full consciousness of being happy. It’s good to be just plain happy; it’s a little better to know that you’re happy; but to understand that you’re happy and to know why and how, in what way, because of what concatenation of events or circumstances, and still be happy; happy in the being and the knowing, that is beyond happiness, that is bliss! And if you have any sense, you ought to kill yourself on the spot and be done with it. — Henry Miller

Happiness is not a pursuit, as the nation’s founding fathers have led you to believe. It’s an orientation, steeped in awareness, as Henry Miller discovered. It’s mindful attention to what exactly gives us joy, pleasure, and delight. It’s counterbalancing our unpleasant moments with a heavy dose of gratitude and by recalling positive experiences in the most vivid language we can.

Since the moment of my reinvention, I have sustained an almost daily practice of writing down 3 things for which I am grateful, along with a recent positive experience. A year ago, I tallied and categorized the 118 positive moments I had recorded up till then. This I did to determine the type of experiences which had provoked an emotion, strong and memorable enough, to make me want to write them down. The result was stunning, but not surprising.

A third were moments of kindness and love (given and received), or simply making someone happy, or involving ‘meraki,’ a word modern Greeks use to describe doing something with soul, creativity, and love — when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing, whatever it may be. Many were moments when I cooked and shared a meal and stories with loved ones. These kind, loving gestures, however small and seemingly insignificant, will prevent me from being forgotten, something that to ancient Egyptians was one of the worst fates the soul of the deceased could suffer.

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

A second third had been moments of utter calm and serenity. No dramas, no emotional upheavals. Where the future — with all its hopes, wants, and wishes — was annihilated. A state of mind known in Greek as ‘ataraxia,’ a lucid state of equanimity characterized by freedom from distress and worry, which, in my case, usually occur out in nature.

One tenth were moments when I celebrated the successes of others.

Close behind were times when I experienced “flow,” the mental state in which time seems suspended while doing something immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment, like William Herzog.

Moments when I displayed grit and discipline when tackling challenges comprised six percent of my positive experiences.

A similar proportion was when I rewarded myself, say, with a double latte as a prize for a small victory.

I was up to 97%, and money, fame, and meaningless thrills and distractions were conspicuously absent.

I discovered what truly brought me joy.

I wish I would’ve savored every moment

This regret is not on Bronnie’s list but I’m sure that, if prodded, her dying patients would have nodded in agreement.

As I recently wrote, when first becoming conscious of the little milk I had left and the much spilled without awareness, I was gripped by unspeakable terror, especially when realizing that many of my past experiences would never repeat themselves. As writer Maria Popova says, “one of the greatest betrayals of our illusion of permanence, one of the sharpest daggers of loss, is the retroactive recognition of lasts.”

I now live with the urgency of the terminally-ill, hurried by what Germans term Torschlusspanik— literally, “gate-closing panic”- the feeling that opportunities are shutting down. But rather than panic, I now think of it this way: Every time I’m about to experience something, whether a solitary walk, a kiss, caress, or moonrise, I assume it won’t happen again and savor each blissful drop. Every act, then, acquires a heightened intensity and deeper meaning, leaving behind an indelible soulprint.

No doubt, I will die with some regrets, but I’m on a spirited quest to do so with the least amount possible.

What about you?

Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one, wild and precious life? — Mary Oliver


Related Reflections:

I’m Aging Really Well

Dad Died Last Night

I can’t find my passion and purpose in life

 

 

Understanding Prejudice

Teaching boys to confront their innate biases

Let’s face it: we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. It’s only natural.

“Tribal prejudice, says Elizabeth Culotta in Science Magazine, stems from deep evolutionary roots and a universal tendency to form coalitions and favor our own side.”

Like most, I’m sure you think your family is the cat’s meow compared to all the rest and that you’d risk your life to defend it.

Even in arbitrarily-constructed groups with no shared history, psychologists find that people still think those in their ingroup are smarter, better, more moral, and more just than members of outgroups. Think of the time you were last partnered with a stranger when playing a board game.

“Outgroup bias is core to our species,” says psychologist Steven Neuberg of ASU Tempe. “It is part of a threat-detection system that allows us to rapidly determine friend from foe.” The problem, he says, is that like smoke detectors, the system is designed to give many false alarms rather than miss a true threat.

In the Implicit Associations Test, for example, people are asked to rapidly categorize objects and faces. The speed and pattern of the mistakes they make show that people more quickly associate negative words — such as “hatred” — with outgroup faces than ingroup faces. In disturbing tests using a video game, people looking at a picture of a person carrying an ambiguous object are more likely to mistake a cell phone for a gun and shoot the carrier if he is an outgroup male. Remember George Zimmerman?

Neuberg studied what might turn this detection system up and down. “When you feel threatened,” he says, “you react to danger more quickly and intensely.” People, he adds, also “startle more easily in the dark. That’s why prejudice rears its head in a dark alley rather than a well-lit field.”

Keep your lights burning. If one is whole, one will be filled with light, but if one is divided, one will be filled with darkness. — Luke 12:35 and The Gospel of Thomas

The light to which Jesus referred is the light of reason, and I have no doubt Trayvon Martin would be alive today had Zimmerman been using his brain.

The Psychology of Extreme Hate

Writing for Psychology Today, Allison Abrams corrects a common misconception. “While all racists are prejudiced,” she explains, “not all prejudices are racist. Prejudice involves cognitive structures we all learn early in life. Racism, on the other hand, is prejudice taken to the extreme against a particular group of people based on perceived differences. Not all individuals who discriminate against others based on differences are motivated by hatred.”

According to cognitive behavioral therapist Marion Rodriguez, hate can be rational, such as when we hate unjust acts. On the other hand, hate of certain ethnic groups, religions, races, or sexual orientations is based on irrational beliefs that lead to hatred of others as well as hate crimes.

Abrams goes on to list the factors behind extreme hate:

1. Fear

2. The need to belong

3. Projection

4. Emotional incompetence

Fear

Psychologist and political advisor Dr. Reneé Carr says that “when one race unconsciously feels fear in response to a different race group — fears that their own level of security, importance, or control is being threatened — they will develop defensive thoughts and behaviors. They will create exaggerated and negative beliefs about the other race to justify their actions in [an] attempt to secure their own safety and survival.”

Hate crimes, for example, reached an all-time high in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The Need to Belong

Some members of extremist hate groups, Abrams says, are motivated by the need for love and belonging — a basic survival need. For some, especially those who may have difficulty forming genuine interpersonal connections, identifying with extremists and hate groups is one way to do so. Take the case of Reinhard Heydrich, chief architect of the Holocaust.

Nicknamed “The Blond Beast” by the Nazis, and “Hangman Heydrich” by others, Reinhard was the leading planner of Hitler’s Final Solution in which the Nazis attempted to exterminate the entire Jewish population in Europe. As a boy, he was a target of schoolyard bullies, teased about his high pitched voice and devout Catholicism. He was beaten up by bigger boys and tormented with anti-Jewish slurs amid rumors of Jewish ancestry in his family. At home, Heydrich’s mother believed in the value of harsh discipline and frequent lashings. As a result, Heydrich grew up a withdrawn, sullen, and unhappy boy. At age 18, he became a cadet in the small elite German Navy. Once again, he was teased. By then, Heydrich was over six feet tall, a gangly, awkward young man who still had a high, almost falsetto voice. Naval cadets took delight in calling him “Billy Goat” because of his bleating laugh and “Moses Handel” because of the aforementioned rumored Jewish ancestry and his passion for classical music.

Think about this… a bullied, beaten, withdrawn, sullen and unhappy boy was the chief designer of the nightmare that killed 6 million Jews. But he is not the exception. In ‘Wounded Boys at War,’ I profile other atrocities committed by wounded and alieneated children… all male.

In both Heydrich and his tormentors, we find men who lash out at “the other” driven by unconscious fears, prejudice, and hatred — those defensive thoughts and behaviors explained by Dr. Reneé Carr. We also see an innate expression of tribalism.

We men are tribal by nature.

In 1954, social psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted one of the most famous experiments on tribal behavior. He convinced twenty-two sets of working class parents to let him take their twelve-year old boys off their hands for three weeks. Sherif then placed them on a remote location in two separate and equally numbered groups. For the first five days, each group of boys thought it was alone. Still, they set about marking territory and creating tribal identities. A leader emerged in each group by consensus. Norms, flags, songs, rituals, and distinctive identities began to form. Once they became aware of the presence of the other group, tribal behavior increased dramatically. They destroyed each other’s flags, made weapons, raided and vandalized each other’s bunks, and called each other nasty names.

“The male mind appears to be innately tribal,” writes Jonathan Hait in ‘The Righteous Mind.’ “It is structured in advance of experience so that boys and men enjoy doing the sorts of things that lead to group cohesion and success in conflicts between groups in contrast to two-person relationships for girls.”

Projection

“The most rapidly increasing type of crime is that perpetrated by degenerate sex offenders. Should wild beasts break out of circus cages, a whole city would be mobilized instantly. But depraved human beings, more savage than beasts, are permitted to rove America almost at will.”

Referring to homosexuals, those were the paranoid words of FBI Director J Edgar Hoover published in his 1947 article for The American Magazine titled ‘How Safe is your Daughter?’

During the 1950s, Hoover engaged in a maniacal persecution of gays which was later labelled ‘The Lavender Scare.’ Not surprisingly, he was also widely suspected of being in a secret, same-sex relationship with his deputy, Clyde Tolson.

“The things people hate about others are the things that they fear within themselves,” says psychologist Dr. Dana Harron.“Projection is one of our natural defense mechanisms, and it allows us to avoid facing our perceived shortcomings by transferring — or projecting — them onto others.”

Omar Mateen (29) killed fifty people and wounded an equal number at a gay club in Orlando in 2016. He was said to have been frequently angered by the sight of two men kissing. Regulars of the ‘Pulse’ reported having seen Omar at the nightclub where “he would go over to a corner and sit and drink by himself.” Kevin West, a regular at Pulse, said Mateen messaged him on-and-off for a year before the shooting using the gay chat and dating app Jack’d. Cord Cedeno also said he saw him on it. “He was open with his picture on the sites… he was easy to recognize,” said Cedeno, who said he was also contacted by Mateen at least a year before.

Low Emotional Competence

Loma K. Flowers, of the nonprofit EQDynamics, defines emotional competence as the “integration of thinking, feelings, and good judgment before action.” This is where bigots and haters, like George Zimmerman, lose their footing.

“It is easier to believe fallacies,” says Flowers, “than to think and understand yourself. People often swallow racist rhetoric and unspoken assumptions without examining the issues.

“Thinking takes work… to line-up facts with feelings… to sort out, for instance, how much of your anger is really about being laid off from your job versus being about others objecting to Confederate statues erected to symbolize white supremacy… or how much of it is about the bullying you have endured in your life (like Reinhard Heydrich). The challenge is to link each feeling to the right context. Whether these beliefs are generated internally from feelings of worthlessness and projected onto others and/or learned from teaching or modeling by family members or your community, they are one of the most destructive manifestations of emotional incompetence.”

If the Jews were alone in this world, they would stifle in filth and offal; they would try to get ahead of one another in hate-filled struggle and exterminate one another. — Adolf Hitler, ‘Mein Kampf’

In this excerpt of Hitler’s manifesto we hear a man whose deep seated prejudice and self-loathing are projected onto an outgroup while simultaneously attributing to ‘the other’ his own hatred and genocidal intentions.

A more contemporary example is Donald Trump’s comments while campaigning in 2015:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems…they’re bringing drugs… they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists!”

Those that can make you believe absurdities, said French writer Voltaire, can make you commit atrocities.

Nine months after the 2018 midterm election during which Trump repeatedly warned the country of an imminent invasion by Hispanic immigrants, a 21 year-old gunman massacred 20 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” he wrote in his manifesto.

History, I’m afraid, will continue repeating itself unless society helps young men, especially those who feel alienated and powerless, to develop emotional competency, and taught, at a very young age, about their innate tribal tendencies, ingroup bias, and outgroup prejudice. This is one of the main goals of my book for boys, ‘The Hero in You.

Here are some of the things I tell them:

A Boy Like You Cover
Book by Frank Murphy and illustrated by Kayla Harren

“We are all made of stardust,” said astronomer Carl Sagan.

When I first learned that all the atoms in you and me are the same as in everyone else it made me think of Lego blocks. Although they come in different colors, they’re basically the same.

Say you were to build an awesome castle or cool spaceship. You wouldn’t use Legos of just one color, right? That’d be dull. Same goes for people. If I was in charge of populating planet Earth, it would be pretty boring if I only used one color to make humans. Or think of painting. Imagine you take a big, white canvas and paint it white. What do you get? The same bland, white canvas all over again. Personally, I’m rather thrilled Earth decided to use not only white, but also red, yellow, brown, and black to paint us humans. Study nature closely and you’ll discover that her secret ingredient is diversity.

(…)

Now let’s talk about what makes a man unique.

It helps to think of a man as a computer assembled by nature using a unique set of parts. The software written into the male computer was programmed during the time we lived as hunter-gatherers, or, in our specific case, as male hunters. That experience wrote the instructions which guide our behavior, even today.

For example, we men don’t talk much and there’s a good reason for that. Imagine you’re out on the savannah with your hunting buddies and one of them just won’t shut up. You would never catch anything, and you, your buddies, and all the members of your clan would starve to death.

We are also less empathetic than girls, less sensitive to other people’s feelings, pain, and suffering. Think again of our past as hunters. If one of our hunting buddies fell and got hurt, we just didn’t have the time to sit by his side to comfort him. We picked him up, brushed him off, maybe gave him a pat on the back, and we both kept running after our next meal. We had to. Those waiting for us back at our camp depended on us to bring food. We bond with our buddies by challenging them.

We’ve been programmed to be territorial, just like our closest primate ancestors, the chimpanzees. In 1954, a famous social psychologist convinced twenty-two sets of parents to let him take their 12 year-old boys off their hands for three weeks and took them to a remote place. He then separated them in two groups. For the first five days, each group of eleven boys thought it was alone yet set about marking territory and creating tribal identities by coming up with rules like, perhaps, “no farting” or “no girls!” They came up with songs, rituals, and flags. One boy in each group was chosen as the leader. Once they became aware of the presence of the other group, territorial behavior increased dramatically. They destroyed each other’s flags, raided and vandalized each other’s camps, called each other nasty names, and made weapons. You see? We are still warriors at heart because when living as hunter-gatherers we had to defend our clan.

We are also protectors. When we see someone of our clan or family in danger, we run to their rescue, even if it means we’ll die in the process.

But much as there are great things about the male software, it also has its bugs and glitches like any computer program, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t constantly work on making it better. After all, we are Homo Sapiens, or wise men.

There is, for example, no reason why we can’t train ourselves to better express our emotions besides shouting, hitting desks, slamming doors, or punching people in the nose.

Although we are less empathetic, I don’t see why we can’t develop rational compassion which means using our brains to understand someone else’s suffering, and then using our warrior skills, strength, and courage to help out.

Knowing we are tribal and territorial, the next time we come across another group of people who look different, think differently, or speak a different language, instead of destroying their flags, raiding and vandalizing their camp and calling them nasty names, we can choose to see them as part of the human family, learn from one another, and work together to make the world a better place.

(…)

Unless you plan to live on a deserted island when you grow up, you will need to strengthen your social intelligence.

I say “strengthen” because you already have it. It’s a gift from the way we evolved as humans and the one that allowed us to become the dominant species on Earth.

Let’s start by making an important distinction between baseline intelligence and social intelligence. I know a lot of highly intelligent people who seem clueless when it comes to getting along with others, and I’d much rather spend time with an uneducated and simple-minded friend, who is otherwise gentle and kind, than with a selfish, insufferable know-it-all. Truth be told, I often behave like one. There are days when I can’t stand myself. Like all humans, I still have much to learn.

Social intelligence is intelligence in relationship to others.

It means knowing how to relate to others by deciphering and understanding what makes them tick, by being aware and appreciating what they want, how they feel, what they believe in, and how they think. It’s the ability to establish and maintain positive relationships; to know how to behave in different social situations, handle conflict constructively, and to compromise and collaborate.

Superheroes, in contrast, are loners and therefore sad and lonely. They sulk in dark caves, like Batman, crouch alone atop rooftops, like Daredevil, hide behind shields like Captain America, or under ice, like Iceman. In that sense, they are like those guys who waste a great part of their lives in front of screens or playing video games.

The only way superheroes can relate to the world and feel important and in control is if there’s a villain to destroy. Because they mostly live in isolation, they are incapable of understanding what causes villains or bullies to do what they do, and, therefore, never solve anything. They just blow things up. That’s why as soon as they destroy a villain, another one takes his place. While it makes for good storytelling, you’ll do much better in the real world with the Life Force of Social Intelligence than with all the powers of flight, super-strength, super-speed, and x-ray vision.

Before we continue, we need to make another important distinction. Social intelligence does not mean playing nice all the time, or not standing up for what you believe in, even though some people might disagree with you or get their feelings hurt. It doesn’t mean you have to be liked by everyone or fit-in all the time. People pleasers have very weak King energy and low emotional intelligence.

That is why emotional intelligence is the first ingredient for strong social intelligence. If you’ve paid close attention up to this point and completed the exercises in your Warrior’s Workbook, you already know what emotional intelligence is and have begun to lay a strong foundation for it.

But just in case you’ve forgotten, emotional intelligence is knowing yourself, your unique temperament, what makes you tick, understanding where your different emotions come from, what they want from you, and how to harness them to react properly and make good choices.

The second ingredient for strong social intelligence is listening.

Notice I did not say “hearing.” Superman can hear things from miles away, but can he listen? True listening requires more than just your ears. It requires a receptive heart, and to open your heart, you must truly care about others. If you can’t care, you cannot love, and if you can’t love, you can’t serve like a true hero.

Fred Rogers, an American T.V. personality, said that there isn’t anyone we can’t learn to love once we hear their story.


We will continue to despise people until we have recognized, loved, and accepted what is despicable in ourselves. — Martin Luther King Jr.

Minessotta riots fire
Young rioter in Minnesota - May 2020

As American cities burn with rage, violence and despair, I am reminded of this African proverb:

“If don’t initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat.”

In ‘Raising Boys,’ Stephen Biddulph says that “by understanding the psychology of boys, their stages of development, their hormones and hard-wired natures, we can raise them to be fine young men: safe, caring, passionate, and purposeful. Millions of boys have poor life chances because we have failed to understand and love them. We can save them still.”

Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd, was recently described by his wife thusly: “Under that uniform, he’s just a softie.”

Had Chauvin been properly guided as a young boy, I am convinced we would not be dealing with the current mayhem.

As a male elder of the human tribe, my mission to properly initiate boys has now acquired a greater sense of urgency.


Related content:

Rage! Harnessing the Power of our Emotions

Critical Thinking in a Crazy World

How do I find the love of my life?

You won’t.

That is, not until you first know yourself, and then choose and act upon the life you’d love to lead.

Figure out these two, and the right one will find you. No need to rummage through haystacks.

Many a man, when thinking of tying the knot, will ask himself these questions in the wrong order: ‘Where am I going?’ and ‘Who’s coming with me?’ I know this because I once was such a man. Not only did I marry the wrong person but dragged her into the maelstrom of my confusion.

I should’ve listened to the indigenous wisdom of the Maya, the first inhabitants of my native country. In their culture, a man must first marry his own soul, his spirit-bride, before he can truly love a flesh-and-blood woman.

A man’s spirit-bride has two dimensions: An intimate understanding of who he is, and a clear sense of where he’s going and the kind of life he wishes to lead. Absent those, you’ll inevitably blunder into this other mistake humorist Evan Esar warned us about: “Many a man who falls in love with a dimple, makes the mistake of marrying the whole girl.”

My ex may not have had cute dimples, but, oh! what lustrous, flowing, ravenblack hair! What gorgeous, dreamy eyes, and feminine charm she had! She spun me like a top, stole my breath away, and put me out of my mind.

Let us recognize that “falling in love” is an inferior state of mind, a form of transitory imbecility. Without a paralysis of consciousness we would never fall in love. — Jose Ortega y Gasset.

So smitten, and without a clue of who I was and the kind of life that would best suit my temperament, I walked blindly into love’s slaughterhouse like so many bleating lambs.

Her once dizzying charms soon faded, of course. And because I’d also fallen blindly into my early line of work without first considering my true self and passions, the sham eventually exposed itself and my whole house of cards tumbled. The business empire I’d worked long and hard to build, collapsed, seemingly overnight.

Once I dared reveal myself to her in naked authenticity, she no longer found me attractive for I had ceased to be the man she had fallen in love with. Her once ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ had lost his shine, his armor, horse, sword, and entire kingdom, along with his desire to pick up the sword anew and resume the fight. Her fantasy of a carefree life in wealth shattered, and her once successful, steadfast provider, realizing at last he was never meant to be a businessman, now said he wanted to be a writer instead. This whole mess, I admit, was entirely my fault, not hers. I had lured her with counterfeit goods.

Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly. — T.S. Eliot

Let my folly be your guide.

Get to know yourself first. Explore and heal your wounds as much as you can. Don’t arrive at a relationship dragging a trainload of rank baggage. Become intimate with your longings, passions, quirks, your temperament, fears, flaws, and the qualities in a partner that are essential to you; those deal-breakers which, left unsaid, will eventually sunder a relationship. Work to arrive at a union in wholeness, preferably carrying an instruction manual, as suggests philosopher Alain the Botton — “a manual to your own rather tortured, odd, but ultimately, always, rather loveable soul.”

I for one, crave affection. I know it to be a childhood wound. But I’ve also taken time to realize that this need is intrinsic to who I am. As I crave it, I also dish it out with lavish abandon and it’s not something I can do without, change, or am willing to negotiate. It’s a deal breaker, and it would be a disservice to both myself and any potential partner if I wasn’t upfront about this quirk.

I also know where I’m headed, and the life I wish to lead, thus no longer seek a romantic partner but a comrade in arms. “Love does not consist in gazing at each other,’ said French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

While in physics, opposites attract, it doesn’t work so well in a long term relationship. At least not at a fundamental level. Take my current partner, for instance, who, while possessing qualities which I lack and strive to emulate, were she fundamentally attracted to the “good life,” such stark contrast with my preference for a simpler one would be irreconcilable.

I am also incorrigibly romantic and idealistic, thus, a dispassionate cynic, however down to earth or otherwise attractive she may be, would be dreary oil to my effervescent water.

This is not to say that I’m so naive to believe that somewhere, out there, the “perfect one” exists. As deeply flawed as I am, such notion would be the apex of arrogance, narcissism, and infantile delusion. I am also sufficiently wise to know that one will never find someone who can provide everything one needs. Trade-offs are the stuff of maturity.

My partner is faithful to a fault. This virtue of hers gives me peace of mind. Yet she tires rather quickly from my flights of fancy and mental cogitations. As you may have noticed, I love to ramble, talk on end, dream big and philosophize. But my priorities are rightly ordered. Fidelity comes first. I can always find a patient ear somewhere else… a friend, say, or priest, or you. Nowadays, as Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel worries, people expect their partners to be everything to them: best friend, confidant, therapist, healer, lover, mother, cook and crutch, and — if you wouldn’t mind — please manage my finances while you’re at it.

Helplessness is as repellant as bug spray.

Perel’s discovery of what makes most people drawn to their lovers confirms what I said at the start: Once you know yourself, live your truth, and lead a life that ignites your passions, the love of your life… no!… your comrade in life will find you. Sometimes, as they say, you need to run away to see who will come with you.

Across the world, those interviewed by Perel said to be most drawn and turned-on by their partner when: “He is in his element. When he is doing something he is passionate about. When I see him hold court. When he is radiant and confident.”

What these magnetic personalities have in common is an exuberant wellspring of erotic power.

Eros,” at root, means passionate and intense desire. It is the impulse or energy that links us to the whole web of life rather than strictly a sexual-romantic thing. Greek philosophers considered Eros the prime mover, the motivating principle in all things human and non-human. Thus, in the original vision that gave birth to the word, erotic potency was not confined to sexual power but included the moving force that propelled life from a state of mere potentiality to actuality.

Eros seems to have gone extinct in America, and I believe it’s partly because most people misdirect and exhaust their erotic energies into work or the accumulation of money and power. They invest more time, energy, imagination, and creativity on their professions than they do on their relationships. No wonder this country is experiencing a “sex drought.”

Authenticity and passion open the floodgates to an inexhaustible fount of erotic energy, and are indeed, some of love’s most powerful aphrodisiacs.

No partnership of equals — that is, no truly satisfying partnership — can be complete without each partner recognizing and respecting in the other a sense of purpose beyond the relationship, a contribution to the world that reflects and advances that person’s deepest values and most impassioned dreams, in turn adding creative, intellectual, and spiritual fuel to the shared fire of the relationship. — Maria Popova

Presenting yourself as a false copy of who you are is not only a huge turn-off but an ultimate game of deception where the most tragic dupe is you. Likewise, if you tie the knot without first knowing where you’re headed in life, your ship will soon run aground and capsize, drowning not only you, but the one who joined your aimless journey. Not fair, to both.

I know well how hard it is to be authentic in today’s world. As E.E. Cummings said, “to be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” But hard as it may be, it’s the only way the right partner will find you, once bewitched by your radiant, erotic, and irresistible allure.


Related reflections:

“I can’t find my passion and purpose in life.”

You’re the Woman of my Dreams – That’s How I Know You’re not The One

Raised a Gentleman, I Can’t Afford a Girlfriend