I know this is really late, but if you haven’t seen this film already YOU SHOULD!!!
I would not be excitedly commencing this after a long day of work and only 5 hours of sleep, if Black Panther DID NOT live up to the hype.
Firstly, a movie is supposed to be entertaining, and Black Panther is INCREDIBLY entertaining. All social analysis aside, this movie fulfills its primary function which is simply to entertain the watcher. Its action is fast-paced, the dialogue is brilliant, and the cinematography is stunning. But there are a myriad of social, political and economic reasons for why you should go see this film. Its surrounding context renders it exciting, relevant, and important. It is IMPERATIVE that you go see it.
I live in Montreal, and 33.3% of its population belongs to a visible minority group. This seems evident when one uses public transit or attends an outdoor festival, but it is less palpable when one attends a mainstream, artistic presentation. Then, it’s predominantly White. The first thing that arrested my attention was the demographic make-up of the audience: White people were in the minority. The room was predominantly full of East and South Asians, Blacks,a few Arabs and Hispanics. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been at a movie theatre in downtown Montreal, and Whites were in the minority. There was already a buzz in the air, and this added an interesting dimension to the viewing experience.
In the USA, almost 40% of the population belongs to a non-White, ethnic minority group. In Canada, 22.3% of the population belongs to this category. 51.5% of Torontonians are members of a visible minority group, as well as 67.3% of the Great Vancouver Area. However, women and ethnic minorities continue to be under-represented in both the Canadian and American film industries. According to a Huffington Post report from July 31, 2017, in Hollywood, “A staggering 70.8% of characters in film are White.” In majority White, settler societies, the issue of under-representation in the mass media affects us all.
I am not Black, but I straddle that world in-between where I am not White, either. My ancestors were colonized and we still suffer some debilitating effects of having been dehumanized. Thus, I can understand and empathize with the Black struggle to a degree, although my lived reality is different.
The first thing that hit home for me was the majesty of the characters in “Black Panther.” They were strong and full of pride. Because it was a Black-majority film set in Africa, it did not seem unusual that the characters spoke English with an African accent. They were simply speaking English; not trying to speak English. Because the male-lead was Black, I focused on him and found him very appealing. His energy and appearance captivated me. Usually, Black actors are cast as supporting acts in the West, since they are seen as secondary characters. And a lot of the times, quite unsavoury characters. Hence, an erroneous White standard exists, and everything else is seen “other”, if not downright inferior. The sexy Chadwick Boseman drew me in, and I found him undeniably fanciable.
Danai Gurira who played the head warrior-woman, Okoye, was striking and HOT. Her character was strong, fierce, intelligent and ethical. She was my woman-crush for the film. Black and bald, she delivered a powerful performance and was arresting on-screen. She was not subordinate to any White standard of beauty, which dictates that you must have long, flowing hair, pale, flawless skin and fine-features. The essence of her character was amply communicated in her primary speaking role, and made her invigoratingly beautiful.
With an all-Black cast and a variety of natural hairstyles, no one seemed peculiar or bizarre. Hair was hair, and characters were simply human. Even the villain, Killmonger, was simply a violent, unethical turd: Not a violent, unethical turd with bad hair.
One of the most rewarding effects of having an all-Black cast, and an expansive, encompassing human gaze, was the presentation of African spirituality. African beliefs have been demonized by a violent Christianity and Islam, and many Black people do not find power in their own heritage. To have Black spirituality and practices presented as natural and powerful was utterly satisfying. No White preachers or heroes trying to save the “heathens.” No “primitive pagans” parading around, as a back-drop for a European perspective. No sirrreeee! African rituals and beliefs were given their proper space, and ancestor communication was as normal as the sacrament in this film. I liked that a lot.
Corporate Hollywood is really ego-centric, White, male America. Ego-centric people like to see themselves everywhere. They can understand no other perspective. They can acknowledge no other reality. The mass-media has to reflect their interests and bolster what they think is the truth. And that creates a lot of rubbish for the rest of us to consume.
By financing a film that did not limit Black imagination and ability, Marvel did the world a big favour. The success of Black Panther shows that the world is hungry for excellence and colour-blind. Not that people don’t see race. (They do) But they don’t think that power and bankability belong to White people alone. These attributes belong to everyone, and no group is exempt from excellence. Black Panther has made more money than the Pink Panther ever did. So much for Black people not being big box-office draws!
There is a lot of bad karma on this planet. Historical atrocities and contemporary structures which reinforce White privilege, have coloured our perceptions and narratives of Black people. Being Black is regarded as the anti-thesis of all that you should be, and being White is regarded as the epitome of all you should aspire to be. We who are not White, nor Black, are trained to think that we are “lucky” because we are not Black. Depending on where we fall in the racial spectrum, we are “lucky” not to have dark skin or kinky hair. By internalising and promoting this insidious self-hatred, and hatred of other people, we are doing the world a disservice.
Black Panther challenges us to reimagine all that we’ve ever been trained to think about Black people. It accords dignity to their history, reality and ability. It’s a celebration of their humanity: Something they should have never, EVER, had to fight for.
If you actually bothered to read other articles on this site (bravo for you), you might have determined:
1) I was born on the island of Trinidad, of Trinidad and Tobago fame.
2) I am somewhat intelligent, due to my education and life-opportunities to develop fully. Some I inherited, others I had to work my ass off for and strive for.
3) I am VERY outspoken, and embody the essence of not giving a fuck. One of my favourite sayings is “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
The accusation of having an accent began at St. Stephen’s College in Princes Town, the Secondary school which I attended. While I read out loud, my classmates would quietly snicker and say “Accent! Accent!” I ignored them because I’ve never sought to please anyone, nor given a fuck about conformity. I have always striven to be myself and continued reading as I had been taught.
I had a stellar Primary School education at the Robert Village Hindu School. I received elocution lessons along with my classmates as we read out loud. I’ll never forget the day when a supervisor from the Ministry of Education came to listen to us. Instantaneously, she corrected: “The word is in-terr-rest-ting. Not in-tris-ting. We in Trinidad speak English poorly and mispronounce words. We need to pay attention to how we speak.”
And so it began. I received clear educational instructions during my formative years, that standard English was to be spoken and used for learning. Dialect was relegated to solely informal use. I read extensively since my mother was a teacher and we always had a house full of books. She also bought audio cassettes of Disney stories that were created for children in the United Kingdom. Hence, I read along with the narrators and intoned as they did.
Mrs. Dailey, my Form Teacher in Secondary School was more blunt:
Children, I’m going to give it to you straight. You’re not White, you’re not rich, and you’re from a third-world-country. Your station in life is not guaranteed and you’re going to have to work harder than anyone else to get what you want. Education is the key, so study hard and learn how to speak properly. The first thing a person judges you by is how you speak and how you present yourself.”
It was the sagest fucking advice ever.
Much has been written about how people in the Caribbean were colonised, and now have an inferiority complex regarding their accents and local dialects. I have clearly explained how the spheres of acceptable language were delineated to me in my childhood and in my formative years. Now I’ll explain something else: I never gave a fuck about being Trinidadian.
Yes–you heard it right. I never cared to be Trinidadian nor remain in that culture. I recognised very early on that I was consciousness and intelligence, and not bound by latitude nor longitude. I was crudely aware that I was a soul in evolution.
I wanted to leave that place since I was 7 years old. We visited the United States of America then. Everything was bigger, better and cleaner. They had Disney World for crissakes. Being 7 and all, I was unaware of the gross human rights violations that were conducted internally and externally. But travelling to the USA, Curaçao and Venezuela before that, gave me the conception that the world was larger than Trinidad. Trinidad was somewhere that I lived, and could eventually leave.
As I got older, I started feeling confined by the island. Not physically but mentally. We got the internet in 1999, and I started reading atheistic literature and leftist political writings. I was at a dissonance from the created culture, which still is religious, conservative, hypocritical, tribal, hierarchical and grossly consumerist, outside of the Carnival vibration they like to popularise. I felt like an outsider and very alienated from the culture, because I fundamentally disagreed with it. I was afraid that my true self would die there and desperately endeavoured to get out.
When the time came to choose between Canada and the USA for university, I chose Canada:
1) It felt right. I had visited Toronto in the summer of 2001, and will never forget riding above a densely-treed area of the subway line. I thought “This is where I want to live.”
2) Free health and gay marriage were official policies. I thought “This is a highly civilised society.”
3) It didn’t participate in the war in Iraq. George W. Bush was not someone who I liked nor admired. His presidency was one of the most dastardly travesties to befall our planet.
I am not ashamed of being Trinidadian, nor about being born there. I still speak in dialect with my father, aunt, and others who I keep in contact with. There is nothing innately inferior about being born there nor choosing to live there. However, I chose to become Canadian because of the values I thought the country represented. Values that I deeply share and are a part of me. Values which allow me my freedom to be myself.
I am unadulteratedly proud to participate in this society. Et maintenant, je parle français! (And now I speak French!)
JUST SPEAK FUCKING PROPERLY, ALREADY!
I was obliged to become bilingual at the age of 26. It took me a number of years. I lived alone and had classes for 6 hours a week, during a period of nine months. I busted my ass off learning this language. (Figuratively, not literally. I still have a fine rump!)
Speaking another language opens you up to a whole new world and a different way of perceiving life. I realise that I could have been socialised in a multitude of fashions: The expression of my true self could have manifested in diverse skin-colours, genders and languages. My true self embodies the values which I hold dear and how I choose to act: Nothing more.
Having had to learn a second-language though, taught me this fundamental truth: Sounds should be standardized so that we can fucking understand each other.
Regional accents do exist, and these should be preserved because they emerge from, create and maintain a culture, but for true understanding and cross-cultural exchanges to occur we fucking need to standardize sounds, in order to communicate with one another in the first place.
Case-in-point: I was walking to my French class one day, and a young but not very well-educated man approached me. He wanted to know the time. I deduced this because he pointed to his wrist. I did not know what the hell he was saying for the majority of the time that he walked alongside me. He came from a small village in Quebec, and was just being himself. But, if I can make the effort to learn your fucking language properly why the hell can’t you? It is tremendously frustrating to understand the news, documentaries, movies etc. of a culture, but not some of its people. I don’t see why I should have to work harder and descend to their level, when they can simply do the work and arrive at a common standard. It’s sheer laziness, ignorance, and sometimes arrogance.
In a nutshell, I do acknowledge that there are different valuations attached to various accents, and some of them are incredibly racist, given the colonization processes which have scourged the planet. I have Indian, Spanish and Carib ancestry yet speak French and English. I do the best that I can with each language, depending upon what I was taught.
I am also tremendously intellectually ambitious, and make no apologies for this. I have a brain and I use it.
I had a look at “Côté çi, Côte là”, the Trinidadian dictionary which not so incongruously has a French title, since we were colonised by them at one point. The Aboriginal peoples who originally inhabited the island were almost destroyed, so not many words from their languages remain. What we have is a concoction of French, English, Spanish, Hindi etc. and human creativity.
For example, the phrase “pass with a push“ means barely acceptable.
“Even self” means “even if.”
“Crapaud smoke your pipe” means you are in big trouble.
These are undoubtedly very colourful ways of speaking and highly entertaining. However, they do not propel me to interrogate myself nor external reality. I am interested in quantum physics and the reality of of nature. In oppression, repression and societal realities. I commit myself to pursuing limitless possibilities and eventualities.
My island of birth, its culture and local dialect does not foster that.
I WAS NOT put on this planet to conform to anyone’s expectations of how I should evolve. How I should behave. How I should talk. How I should dress. I am here to develop and self-determine.
I pay my own bills now and that’s the first step to freedom. Ignoring haters and naysayers is the next.
Photo credit: “Talk” by Moiggi Interactive, Flickr.
If you’re anything like me, you find the idea of a deterministic God completely atrocious. This type of imagined deity gives me no peace. We’re asked to accept unquestioningly and unconditionally, ‘its will.’
‘God has a plan for you! God loves you!’ Yes, God loves you no matter if you’re raped brutally, or a witness to your family being murdered. God particularly loves you, if you’re a member of royalty and can legitimately live off the labour and taxes of others. Meanwhile, society’s love is limited if you’re actuallyborn poor, and attempt to imitate this pampered lifestyle–on a less grand scale, of course. (Think welfare benefits) Then you’re a bloody leech! God ESPECIALLY loves you, if you tap into your simian impulses, whilst shunning the traditional hirsuteness of this condition, in order to become a reality TV star. For those of you who don’t know what this means, it means behaving like a total ape whilst being immaculately waxed.
If I sound like the fox who has no grapes, trust me–I don’t want those grapes! I don’t want the spoils of those conditions, and I use that word purposefully: I consider them spoilt.
*Spoilt: to be excessively damaged, decayed or ruined.*
I possess elevated principles and egalitarian tendencies. This does not make me a communist, socialist, or any definitions which are now widely used in a pejorative sense. It simply makes me caring. No more, no less.
The reason I am writing this article, is that conscientious people have a difficult time dealing with injustice. Like most people, we seek spiritual solace and salvation. We wonder about the origins of the universe. We wonder about our animating principles: Our thoughts and our feelings, which shape our experience of the universe. We wonder why this all exists! And if, there’s any point to it.
We seek answers. We seek philosophies that make sense. But we do so using our own filters, and those are personal and environmental.
My parents do not worship the same God, if we consider their beliefs at face-value. My mother is an Evangelical Christian and my father is a Sanatanist (not Satanist!) Hindu. For some Christians, he might as well be a devil-worshipper, although I’ve never heard him profess a love for Beelzebub. Satan is bad in his metaphorical book too.
Anyhow, I had no choice. I went to both the church and mandir, which deprived me of precious and never-to-be-retrieved time with Sunday morning cartoons. I went to religious ceremonies in Hindu, Christian and Muslim homes, since we had Muslims in the family too. I grew up thinking that God was one entity, and everybody just worshipped God differently.
I read the Bible, Quran, Ramayana and Mahabharata, but not simply because I was curious: My primordial egalitarian instincts had made me distrustful of priests. (And this was way before the Catholic church scandals) I simply did not think that I was less capable of interpreting the word of God, than some priest.
I was literate and progressively being educated. I was neither daft nor inferior. (And with that one sentence, I can see why certain males, religious and non-religious, are opposed to women and girls being educated and empowered)
After reading Kissing Hank’s Ass, I embraced atheism. I became a skeptic who repudiated religion. My education gave me a world-view which I have not shed to this day. As part of my Public Affairs and Policy Management program, I studied History, Economics, Politics, and the constituents of Canadian and global policy processes. In addition to this, I became familiar with alternative societal discourses. Thus, myth and tradition lost their literal power. They retained a psychic allure, but facts and reality were what interested me most.
“The Secret” and all of that bullshit!
We live in an age where fraudulent Science is being peddled as the secret to success and happiness. In Dumbination not Domination: Why ‘the secret’ is just stupid, I explain very clearly why I don’t believe in the ‘Law’ of Attraction. In her book, “Bright-Sided: How positive thinking is undermining America,” intellectual and writer Barbara Ehrenreich, writes about how the focus on our personal dispositions, is undermining our ability to have informed economic, political and social analyses. By shifting this focus, the real culprits of our unsustainable world-order are not held accountable. Julie Gray wrote a brilliant article for the Huffington Post, showing the links between positive thinking, New-Age thought, and ‘practical’ applicability.
“Lost your job? You manifested that. Ugly divorce? Soul agreement from another lifetime. Terrible economy? Collective manifestation. Broke? Because you don’t believe you deserve money.”
By insisting that people take “100% responsibility” for their thoughts, and allow zero-negativity to accumulate or be expressed, people are then ENTIRELY responsible for all events that happen to them. It sounds like a whole lot of bullshit to me!
This is not to say, that even the most skeptical amongst us, have not had our share of mystical experiences, which challenge our rational orthodoxies. Take for example, this news-report about a boy who remembered eerily accurate details about a past-life.
Even Ms. Ehrenreich herself, who has been a life-long atheist, has detailed her spiritual questions after a preternatural experience when she was a teenager. I personally don’t dismiss ideas once they are backed up by proof. I have done research into this issue, and while I can accept at face-value that reincarnation possibly happens, I CANNOT and WILL NOT accept the idea, that we CHOOSE these incarnations. For the simple reason that this idea does not bring me any peace.
If we chose our lives, it would mean that collective racial suffering is CHOSEN. (Bullshit!) Rape is chosen. (Bullshit!) Poverty and economic disparity are chosen. (Double, double bullshit!) War is chosen. (Overflowing, eternal bullshit!) I see our world as a manifestation of unequal power and desires. People have been and are dominated by elites. They have been suppressed and conquered. Some lives (arbitrarily) matter more than others. The world is like a large chess-game, and the majority of us are pawns.
Artist and activist Stephen Fry, who also happens to be an atheist, stirred some controversy recently. When asked what he would say to God after his death, if God did exist, he stated:
I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about?
How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil.
Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God, who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?…
We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that?
The entire video (2 mins 25 secs) is worth watching.
I love Stephen. I really get him. I love him a lot more than I did our last Prime Minister, another Stephen. I couldn’t wait to see him voted out of office.
ON THAT EUPHORIC aria, I’d like to launch into what can actually help you achieve peace, if you don’t believe in God or the “Law” of attraction bullshit.
Please note: I am aware that I am writing this for an audience, which must be reasonably educated or affluent. You may not be rich, but you’re able to access the internet and a computer. That’s some kind of privilege.
I am fully aware that because of the nature of many people’s lives, they don’t have the privilege of introspection. I am writing this for those who do.
Being Honest: ‘Honesty’ can be such a lonely word, but mostly what YOU need, from YOU. (Credit to Billy Joel for writing that beautiful song. Go have a listen) But honestly expressing your feelings will empty what’s really inside of you–no matter how toxic, poisonous or painful it is.
Imagine if it’s that virulent or agonizing coming out, how horrible it would be to have that remain inside of you. Feelings need to surface and be acknowledged. Once they’ve run their course, you can analyse them and make decisions from a place of truth.
Acceptance: After recognizing the truth both internally and externally, you have to accept it. Mentally and emotionally resisting what is, just delays your agony. It does not mean that you accept the situation as right, fair or comforting. It just means that you accept the situation for what it is, and surrender trying to control the uncontrollable. You are not all-powerful and you do not have to be. Humility becomes more potent in achieving internal peace than rebelling against facts.
Unlimited exploration of thoughts and ideas: You cannot feel as though you have limits put on your thinking. Realistically, none of us knows everything, and our supplies of knowledge can be limited. But not feeling free to explore ideas and options, can feel like a prison. For instance, during my training at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa, we were shown a video of a woman testifying about her healing. She had been raped by her father as a teenager, and went for help from her Catholic priest. The priest was adamant that she should forgive her father and not make an ‘unnecessary’ fuss! She became ‘the problem’, for in his mind, ‘God’s’ message of forgiveness and the family unit were of paramount importance!
Thank heavens for atheism, agnosticism, feminism and secularism, which has led to the diminished power of organized religion in most Western countries. I encourage people to explore their ideas without boundaries, as well as those of others. The process is certainly freeing in and of itself.
Gratitude: When we concentrate on what we have and enjoy, we avoid fixating upon what we don’t have and lack. It’s not rocket-science: By acknowledging what we do have, we can use that appreciation to propel us even further, mentally, emotionally or physically.
For instance, let’s say you’re unemployed. Joblessness can be extremely frustrating. However, if you’ve got skills, food and shelter–You have resources. If you’ve got friends and family who love and support you–that feeds you. By focusing on what you do have instead of what you don’t, you learn to value positives in your life, instead of ruminating upon negativity.
Self-discipline: This involves taking control of your thoughts and your actions. For me, meditation is integrated into this. Why Tantra succinctly explains why I chose to have a Tantrik spirituality. Shiva and Kali (the god and goddess) simply denote consciousness and energy. They personify the source of life, but do not possess the controlling and interventionist characteristics of the Abrahamic God. On a micro-level, they personify aspects of our mental being.
For instance, Kali can be compared to raw emotion: The raw energy of our feelings, no matter what they are. Shiva personifies the observer function, that part of us that can be aware of our emotions without being controlled by them.
Shiva personifies the consciousness which can shape our perspectives, inform our judgment and direct our course of action. In other words, Shiva is our will.
For instance, you may be going through a horrible divorce, and have feelings of hatred towards your ex. It’s only natural; these things can get bitter. However, you may have property issues to sort through, children to co-parent and court-matters to attend to. No matter what your feelings are, you have to apply your will to this situation, and create functional and positive outcomes in an atmosphere of civility. That involves strengthening your will by being committed to the results that you want.
Meditation: A quick google search will lead you to all manner of websites, prescribing techniques for stress-relief and peacefulness. Like every idea, it becomes infused with the culture it is trying to penetrate. How to benefit from meditation in 3 minutes or less , was clearly written for busy Westerners. It sounds like a time-out from a busy life, which is perhaps what some people need. I’ve never been able to quiet my mind in 3 minutes, unless it was already mostly tranquil to begin with.
Jiddu Krishnamurti makes infinite sense when he speaks about meditation thusly:
There are various schools, in India and further East, where they teach methods of meditation -it is really most appalling. It means training the mind mechanically; it therefore ceases to be free and does not understand the problem.
So when we use the word ‘meditation’ we do not mean something that is practiced. We have no method. Meditation means awareness: to be aware of what you are doing, what you are thinking, what you are feeling, aware without any choice, to observe, to learn. Meditation is to be aware of one’s conditioning, how one is conditioned by the society in which one lives, in which one has been brought up, by the religious propaganda -aware without any choice, without distortion, without wishing it were different. Out of this awareness comes attention, the capacity to be completely attentive. Then there is freedom to see things as they actually are, without distortion. The mind becomes unconfused, clear, sensitive. Such meditation brings about a quality of mind that is completely silent of which quality one can go on talking, but it will have no meaning unless it exists.
Do not make meditation a complicated affair; it is really very simple and because it is simple it is very subtle. Its subtlety will escape the mind if the mind approaches it with all kinds of fanciful and romantic ideas. Meditation, really, is a penetration into the unknown, and so the known, the memory, the experience, the knowledge which it has acquired during the day, or during a thousand days, must end. For it is only a free mind that can penetrate into the very heart of the immeasurable. So meditation is both the penetration and the ending of the yesterday.
For me, mantras work. Here’s an article describing the effects of mantras on the mind. I have definitely changed since I commenced meditating in 2007. I am more focused, able to control my emotions and reactions. I can concentrate for very long periods of time and I have extraordinary bursts of creativity. During a neurological experiment for which I’d volunteered, the grad student remarked that she had never seen anyone as still as me: I appeared like a corpse, not even breathing, and was phenomenally focused. That is entirely due to meditation.
This practice has enabled me to remain calm, in the midst of many storms. You can also cultivate your intentions with this practice. I urge you to try it.
Music and movement: I linked these two together, even though they’re now regarded as separate. In her book “Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy”, Barbara Ehrenreich details how traditionally, humans would come together to sing, dance and celebrate life. This resulted in communal states of joy and ecstatic connections with our life-source. It enabled people to return to their work, invigorated.
Then, that unholy alliance of European monarchs and Christian churches, instituted a mix of capitalism and puritanism. It suppressed the joy and primal connections of those who were dominated. Literally, White people could not dance! (OMG! The tragedy!)
Coming from Trinidad and Tobago, I am often accused of being ‘ridiculously happy’ and ‘hyper-active’ by Anglo-Canadians. I am continually asked “How come you’re so happy? Where do you get your energy from?” In addition to the climate, I believe it’s the fact that our culture revolves around having a good time! Joy is a birthright, and life is to be lived to the fullest.
Latin Americans and Caribbean people in general, are like that. No matter the social, economic or political problems, the party never stops! And nor should it. If you waited around for reasons to become happy in this life, well, perhaps you’d be waiting forever!
The effects of music on the brain, are progressively being researched. “This is your brain on music” by Dr. Daniel J. Levitin is a book I highly recommend. No one here can dispute the therapeutic effects of music. When I couldn’t work for 19 months due to my immigration situation in Canada, Sting’s music was the only thing that could comfort me. This quote by Bob Marley sums it up:
One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.
And from Billy Joel:
I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music
Love and support from others: This is critical. No person is an island. Everyone needs a person or people to love them. I am not referring to romantic love here: I am speaking about the type of love that is given, when another person truly knows you. When your soul has been paraded naked and you are your honest self. As John Lennon said:
Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right ones.
Love and be loved.
Have a purpose: Life has to be meaningful, for you. Not for anyone else. This quote from fictional MTV character Daria Morgendorffer, sums up my approach to life thusly:
My goal is not to wake up at 40 with the bitter realization that I’ve wasted my life on a job that I hate because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens.
Choosing one’s vocation is a SUPREME privilege. Most people in the world do not have this choice: They are stuck trying to survive life, because of our vicious capitalist system. However, if you are empowered to have some sort of choice–Take it! It doesn’t follow that we should all live in communal misery, and foster an attitude of depressed tolerance. Find your passion and never give it up.
…A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. (p. 4)
He identifies the following as essential elements involved in achieving flow:
Having clear goals every step of the way
Having immediate feedback available, to measure the results of one’s actions
Having a balance between challenge and feasibility. That is, the activity must be challenging but within one’s range of abilities
Fear of failure disappears
Actions and awareness become merged, so that one’s self-consciousness disappears
The perception of time is distorted, so that time is forgotten and irrelevant
The activity is so enjoyable, that one does it for the sake of doing it
I would urge you to find a flow activity, even if you do have to work at a job you don’t really like. You do it for its own sake, and that is sure to guarantee you happiness.
Spending time in Nature: Numerous studies have demonstrated the uplifting effects of nature on our psyches. It boosts energy, reduces stress, lifts depression, fosters peacefulness and encourages positive attitudes. I personally count the hours spent in nature, amongst my happiest on our planet. There is so much beauty and symmetry to behold.
I do not consider nature to be separate from myself. There is a Native American saying:
Respect the land that you stand on for it, too, is your body.
It is now commonplace to hear this statement, repeated by many including David Suzuki:
What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.
Yes, it may be excruciating to live on this planet sometimes. But we are our only hope. We have to manufacture compassionate action: It’s not coming from the sky. It takes dedication and diligence. Let’s try to cultivate those things.
I’ll end with a quote from my good friend Mike Standup:
Expectations are like piss in your cornflakes. Don’t go getting attached to them.
Yes, you can remain in the present moment, and try to be positive. But don’t expect your thoughts to control all outcomes. I’ve already established that I don’t believe in an Abrahamic God. What makes you feel you’re one?
Anyone who knows me knows that I have an obsession with Sting. It’s a passion bordering on mania, but this is a spiritual arousal: Not an unhealthy fixation indicative of dementia. As another dedicated member of the Sting official fan-club pointed out (thank you, Sabine), “Let’s face it – Sting puts a lot of himself out there on purpose and we just lap it up.” Besides, as ALL celebrities know, the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about. So, I do manage to integrate him into conversation with effortless frequency, bubbling naïveté and truckloads of admiration and gaiety.
I first encountered Sting when I was 10 years old. I am originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and we had a second television station added in 1991. The state monopoly on broadcasting was broken, and MTV, VH1, Grammy and Academy Award spectacles made their way to our islands. Sting had just released his Ten Summoner’s Tales, so he was all over the entertainment media. In 1993, my first impression of him was that he was a hard man. Not particularly attractive in my eyes, but mysteriously compelling. I wondered why this older man was still a star! When he opened his mouth and sang “If I ever lose my faith in you” I understood why.
It was a beautiful song. Its rhythms reminded me of a hallowed church, a holy place that would provide me with refuge had I sought any. Its gentle melody was full of sentiments simultaneously ethereal and palpable. The zen-like softness that flowed out of him, was at odds with his indurated exterior. This inner quality both captivated and captured me almost two decades later.
I was relatively impervious to Sting in the years that followed. I paid cursory attention to his album releases, and enjoyed his songs whenever they were played. However, I was not a diehard fan. All of that changed in September of 2011.
September of 2011 found me extremely discontented, and a hair’s breadth away from being thoroughly demoralized. I was living in Canada, and had graduated with a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management. Prior to an enforced period of unemployment, due to immigration proceedings, I was living my dream and working in the Social Services sector. I had the supreme privilege of helping people, within an organized and remunerated environment. Then, for 19 long months I was subjected to unpaid inactivity. Those 19 months were the most excruciating period of my life, to date.
I HATED not working. I do not believe that using synonyms, nor repeating that word, adequately conveys the anger and frustration experienced. I was mouthing obscenities as much as I was chanting mantras. My normally calm and compassionate self was in upheaval.
I had been meditating for 4 years by then, but this situation was extremely challenging. Meditation is designed to bring you into contact with your authentic self, but when your authentic self is inextricably linked to your external activities, as an expression of your inner self, a cataclysm must occur. The false identity that is associated with your profession must be destroyed. This is an extremely difficult process to endure.
I was 28 years old and bursting with impatient energy. I considered my ‘self’ and my talents trapped. However, I endeavoured to stay calm and occupied my mind with various pursuits.
Enter Sting: One night, after a Nritya Yoga session, I turned on the television to search for interesting French programming. “My Music Brain” documentary had been translated and was showing on Radio-Canada. I reclined in my leather chair but then could not relax: Sting was walking through the hallways of the Montreal Neurological Institute, and I felt extremely euphoric and uplifted.
I had NO idea why I felt so happy in his presence. Why was I inexplicably elevated? Why had this blissful feeling materialized out of nowhere? Why did he make me feel this way? WHY STING?
I had hitherto been incredibly disinterested in celebrities. I paid scant attention to what they did, beyond analysing their contributions to world affairs. I was both baffled and intoxicated by this sudden fixation with Sting. Who was he?
I googled his name like a woman possessed and obsessed. I read all the articles that I could find about him. I ordered his autobiography ‘Broken Music’ online. And I thanked my lucky stars that he was touring!
He was approaching his 60th birthday and coming to play at Massey Hall in Toronto. I made it my business to obtain a ticket for his performance. I failed miserably after my first lack of attempt. I overslept by one hour the first day they released concert tickets. Then, thankfully the organisers added an extra date, and I awoke on time to resounding and ecstatic success! I procured a good seat in the balcony section, and Sting said one word that would forever change my life…
“FUCK!” He let loose an expletive, as microphone feedback overpowered the room. “FUCK!” The problem reoccurred. I sat there speechlessly absorbing the fact that no one gave a shit. I believe that concertgoers were in shock and awe! The majority of us did not have the privilege of saying “Fuck” at work. I re-evaluated myself and my life until that moment. I had always said the right thing, done the right thing, held politically correct beliefs and been a genuinely good person. Did anyone care? NO! One rock-star said “FUCK,” and 3000 people thought that was friggin’ fantabulous!
Right then and there, I envied Sting. Not for his money, nor his fabulous lifestyle, but for his freedom. The liberty to express oneself without fear of judgement, nor material deprivation, is true freedom. It can certainly be enjoyed if one is not wealthy, but it’s more sublime if one is. I left Sting’s concert feeling slightly high and emboldened.
Before leaving for Montreal, I chastised a young man who was wrongfully berating a street-woman. I told him quite unequivocally that she needed compassion rather than abuse.
Sting could have easily become the working-class man depicted above. He was born Gordon Sumner to a milk-man and a hairdresser, in a far-flung corner of England called Wallsend. At the end of his boyhood street, lay the Swan Hunter shipyard. The most gigantic ships to ever traverse planet Earth were built there. These ships blocked out the sun for most of the year, and young Sting was deeply terrified that working there would become his destiny.
Sting was and is an extremely intelligent individual. He won a scholarship to a prestigious Grammar School, and became seduced by the refineries of an intellect-based existence. His dreams grew larger than those of his working-class peers. He incubated and hatched his fantasies of glorious escape in this milieu.
In his autobiography, he recalls waking up at 5 a.m. from the age of 7 to assist his father with the milk-rounds. During winter-time, it could sometimes be so frigid that there was frost inside of the windows!
The winters of my memory are grim, and there are mornings when I have no sensation in my feet for hours on end, my hands and face blue with cold…Because my dad is tough and stoic I too never complain, or ask to be sent home.
It was during those early-morning hours that he let his imagination run wild. In the silence of those hours, he created “fantastical futures” for himself: He vowed to travel the world, be the head of a large family, own a big house in the country, and be wealthy and famous.
Sting dedicated himself wholeheartedly to his dreams. He endeavoured to become a musician to accomplish these feats. He took inspiration from the Beatles, who came from a background similar to his. He figured that if they could achieve wealth and fame through their music, he was not excluded from this possibility.
He worked determinedly. He taught himself how to play guitar, but quickly realised this wasn’t his forte. He calculated that in order to become hugely successful, he would need to perfect his bass playing and singing. For 16 years, he practiced playing his instruments as a member of various bands. He played different styles of music in diverse arenas: Theatres, bingo halls, local bars and even a cruise ship. Apart from being a musician, he earned his livelihood effecting jobs such as bus conductor, construction site laborer, tax officer and teacher. He was compelled to take welfare checks at certain stages in his life. He writes:
Walking to the Lisson Grove dole on Wednesday afternoons will put me into the blackest of depressions. I hate signing on, queuing up in long straggling lines with hundreds of others like me, able-bodied but marginalized individuals made to feel utterly useless by an impersonal and dehumanizing bureaucracy. But like most of these others in the noisy hall, I really have no choice. We have a baby to feed, we have to find the money to pay the rent…In my quest to become unique, I’ve become a statistic.
Yes, Sting embarked upon his quest with a wife and baby in tow. He was not yet 26. In his father’s eyes, he was highly irresponsible and pursuing ‘pie in the sky’ ambitions. He had quit his job as a teacher in Newcastle to move to London. In doing so, he subjected his wife and baby to uncertainty and near-poverty. It was sheer madness and gargantuan nonsense to his father. Yet, despite these immense pressures, Sting writes:
Even at these low points,I still have no doubt that I’ve done the right thing in coming to London. I can give no rational reason why it feels right to have done this, except I know that London is where the prize is. I know that at the center of this labyrinth, this multidimensional, socioeconomic, psychocultural, and artistic puzzle is the glittering, singular trophy of success. It may be elusive, but it is so powerful in its gravitational pull as to render everything else insignificant.
The rest, as they say, is history. We all know what happened. And we benefited from what happened.
The Last Ship
I glanced at the miniature screen in front of me, and jubilantly saw Sting.
It was January 10th, 2015, and I was on my way to St. Lucia. Sting was participating in a New York Times Talk interview, which I had already ingested when it first aired. He was promoting his Broadway play, ‘The Last Ship,’ and I was thrilled to see it presented on my flight. I hopefully but warily interpreted this as some sort of sign. Unbeknownst but to two of my friends, I had booked my holiday between New York and St. Lucia, to accommodate the off-chance that I would meet Sting, and acquire his signature on my copy of ‘Broken Music.’ Since I had obtained just one paycheck instead of the expected two, ahead of my vacation period, I was forced to be fiscally conservative. Seeing ‘The Last Ship’ was down to winning the daily ticket lottery, but I intuitively took the risk. Others thought I was crazy for substituting 3 days in St. Lucia, with time in New York, but the possibility of meeting Sting was not one that I felt impelled to reject.
As we descended over the Caribbean paradise, an ad for ‘The Last Ship’ aired. I was torn between beholding the majestic Pitons and watching the ad. In the end, they both won.
Darshan in Sanskrit means ‘auspicious sight.’ It refers to an event where a devotee beholds God, or some other manifestation that heightens the person’s consciousness or spirituality. When I was going through my immigration ordeal, Sting’s music was the only music that could calm me. Hindu holy songs (bhajans), Buddhist chants, offerings from other artists; none of these could provide me with peace. Sting’s ‘Soul Cake’ became my sole balm. I believe this is because he constructs his music around a framework of silence. In his 1994 address to the Berklee College of Music, he postulates:
I’m wondering whether, as musicians, the most important thing we do is merely to provide a frame for silence. I’m wondering if silence itself is perhaps the mystery at the heart of music? And is silence the most perfect music of all?
I believe that source and silence contain the ethereal matter of which all webs are spun.
I would equate music for me as a kind of combination of two things. It’s my mistress. It’s also my religion. It’s my spiritual link to creation. I don’t belong to a church but I’m very devout in that way it’s a spiritual path.
So, did I meet Sting?
These were the fish that I saw while snorkelling. They’re sergeant major fishes.
This is the cover of ‘Broken Music.’
I interpreted this as a sign. A wonder of nature, reduced to a young boy’s jumper to serve my purposes.
On January 15th, when I arrived outside the Neil Simon Theater, I looked for a partner with whom I could enter the lottery. Flo (another member of the Sting fan-club) had suggested I double my chances of winning. Ana Krauchik from Argentina was on-hand. She had a quiet energy which seemed triumphant. Indeed, she had won a ticket in the lottery just two days prior. I wisely aligned myself with her.
Later on, I would find out exactly how triumphant she was. She had photos with other members of The Police, Dominic Miller (Sting’s guitarist of over 20 years), and a photo with the man himself in Romania! She had the ‘juju’ as Kim (another member of our fan-club), would put it. The move paid off and we got front-row seats for $30 a piece.
This was the end result:
Without Ana, this would not have been possible. I am eternally grateful to her. But, I do a disservice to other members of the Labyrinth, if I do not speak about the love and support that flow freely within its realms.
The Labyrinth (lab) is an online community of Sting-lovers. The forums are curated by Dave, Wendy and Tina, the official managers of the Sting website and fan-club. They are wonderful people, allowing us to do what we like. (Providing we don’t offend or abuse anyone!) They also organise loads of contests and giveaways, including concerts or promotional events featuring Sting, and even meet-and-greets with him.
This was my initial reason for joining the fan-club. However, once I started interacting with its members it became a true community. People speak about their triumphs and tribulations. Counsel is shared on a wide-range of topics from grief, to divorce to dysfunctional families. We celebrate all types of anniversaries: Weddings, birthdays and adoptions. We discuss politics, religion and spirituality, very cordially. We even have a haiku thread! I’ve also done yoga with Bryan Kest, courtesy Sabine. But most important of all, it’s a safe-space and haven of love and light. The photo below is a wonderful analogy for our lab.
Taken in Montreal’s Baldwin park, in the summer of 2014, I observed how the dogs gravitated towards each other, and instantaneously became friendly. It was a loving recognition of “You’re like me!” That’s exactly how we are: Sting-obsessed individuals, gravitating towards his love and light and then sharing it.
Sting’s journey has become a part of our lives, and we have become part of each other’s. There’s an excerpt from a French film called ‘Superstar’, which chronicles the life of an ordinary man who became famous, but then became unknown once more. In his ghost-written autobiography, ‘he’ writes:
I hope my story will help those who have battles to wage, who feel lonely and misunderstood, there’s always hope. My story united people who never should have met. Each of them helped me. I wanted to thank them for having loved me a little because being loved means you’re useful.
Sting: You’re very loved and very useful. You have brought joy into the world, and hope for countless others on physical and visceral levels. You are a link to the divine consciousness that has manifested us all. You are a mere man, but you have shown us what is possible. Thank you, infinitely.
Sting, by Scott Ableman, Flickr. (Photo 1)
Sting, by Roberto Rizzato, Flickr. (Photo 2)
Bermuda Floating Dock ready for launching (ca. 1900), Wallsend, Newcastle-on-Tyne, by Municipal Archives of Trondheim, Flickr (Photo 3)
Sergeant Majors, Neil DeMaster Flickr (Photo 6)
Sting, by Ana Krauchik, used with permission. (Photo 8)
It doesn’t sound logical. It really doesn’t! We’ve been brought up to believe that animals just say “Roof roof!” Or “Moo moo!” “Quack quack!” Or “Neigh! Neigh!” And we vary how we interpret their sounds, according to our human languages. But animals can communicate with human-beings and vice versa, as evidenced by this video:
In it, Animal Communicator Anna Breytenbach, soothes and calms a black leopard which has been abused. It does not trust human beings. After communicating with Anna, it becomes more at ease with it’s human handlers, and emerges from the seclusion to which it has hitherto confined itself. This majestic being just wanted to be respected and appreciated.
Indigenous Hawaiians also communicate with sharks during a traditional way of fishing. My good friend Mike Standup, is a Traditional Healer from the Mohawk nation of Kahnawahke. He spent time with Native Hawaiians and they spoke to him about their techniques. The fishermen paddle out to sea and then throw their nets overboard. They then take their paddles and start banging on the side of the boats. What sounds like a ruckus is more of a dinner-call: Sharks respond to the vibrations in the water and gather around the boats. They manoeuvre schools of fish into the nets, and then fishermen take the catch. In return for their assistance, the fishermen feed the choicest fish to the sharks. I found proof of this communication online.
Who are ‘Aumakua?
Katherine Nichols wrote about “Sharks as ‘aumakua”, in an article for the Honolulu Advertiser. ‘Aumakua is a Hawaiian word for benevolent guardian spirits or family protectors. Kahu (Shepherd or religious leader) Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., explained that “An ‘aumakua was actually a dead ancestor’s spirit that was deified into an entity.”They could be clouds, trees or animals. In ancient times, people either lived in the mountains or near the ocean. Thus, owls, eels and whales were popular incarnations of ‘aumakua.
This did not and does not mean that every owl, shark or whale that someone encounters is an ‘aumakua. And even if one of those animals happened to be an ‘aumakua for someone, not all other members of that species would automatically be benevolent towards that individual. Carol Silva, a researcher of Hawaiian culture explains that “‘Aumakua are identified very specifically by body markings, and are named. They are part of the family. There is a direct connection, a blood relationship.”
So, how do people know when an entity is their ‘aumakua? Silva says there is usually some sort of sign. An ‘aumkua can make itself known by behaving in a non-threatening manner, or even coming to the aid of a family member during a dangerous situation. Therecognition between the human and the animal is usually instantaneous and mutual.
Kahu Maxwell recounts the story of a tour-boat that sank in the 1930s. Sharks circled and all of the tourists were attacked and killed. The captain of the ship started to chant and his ‘aumakua appeared, offered his dorsal fin and carried the captain safely to shore.
What is real?
It can be difficult to accept with our logical minds the validity of some of these beliefs. I am not postulating that all Aboriginal beliefs are true. What I am suggesting is that we open our minds to investigating them, without the prejudices we may have unconsciously ingrained in us.
Indigenous beliefs and practices have historically been derided as demonic, superstitious or both. Mike has told me that people did communicate with animals, and listened to their wisdom through dreams and visions. Healers also learnt about the medicinal properties of plants through similar communications with plant-life.
There was and is no hierarchy of life in an Aboriginal value-system. Every being has a right to exist, and be treated appreciatively and respectfully. This is in recognition of our interdependence and connection to the same source.
It is really clear that other beings besides us, have intelligence and feelings. They are not dumb animals or inanimate forms of life. It’s time to extend our respect and compassion to those we presume to dominate. This means treating the animals that we encounter differently, including those that we rear for our consumption. It’s time to demand that our food-suppliers live in accordance with ethics of love, respect and balance. We shouldn’t diminish ourselves and other creatures, simply in the process of living.
Photo credit: Luz Rovira, Mila (baby black panther), Flickr.
We’ve all had those dreams: We’re SOMEBODY BIG! We look damn good! We’re excelling in some field. We’re recognized as experts and people LOVE US! No, LOOOOOVE us! We’re celebrities and it’s fun!
Truthfully, I never envisioned that kind of life for myself. I simply could not! I was born and raised in Trinidad, where the most amount of wealth I saw was in Westmoorings. For those of you who don’t know the island, that’s commonly referred to as the “White people” area. People in general there are very light-skinned ,and can afford luxuries such as private security. They also have access to yachts and thousand-dollar beauty therapy treatments. By now you would have guessed these are tremendously atypical things for average Trinidadians.
I became aware of the Westmoorings lifestyle, when I took a body-therapy course at a local spa. (Yes folks-I know how to give professional massages!) The order and affluence that I witnessed there, had hitherto only existed in my glimpses of America. I did want to be famous, but I couldn’t envision all the pomp and splendour associated with American celebrity. I saw myself, rather, in the mould of Jackie Collins or V.S. Naipaul. I dreamt I was a famous author, known and recognized for my work. I lived comfortably rather than extravagantly and I had a happy life. Do I still want those things?
Yes! Great wealth will not make me or anyone really happy. Michael Jackson’s millions could not convince him he was externally beautiful. His inner demons ravaged him. I’ve had similar moments when I’m crying and I realise that the size of the television screen will not comfort me. Whether it’s a 50-inch plasma TV or an antiquated 20-inch set makes no difference: I will STILL hurt.
It does piss me off, however, to see Snooki making more money than me. Seriously folks? Being stupid gets you $150,000.00 an episode? And a $25,000.00 appearance fee? And RUTGERS UNIVERSITY will pay you to speak! And then DEFEND it’s decision! Ahhhh! It’s a real travesty when according to Sting, “You can become famous by sticking your dick in Macy’s window.” We’ve gone from merit to madness!
In the good old days, celebrity was earned. You could be really fucked up, but you had to be talented. Now you can be simply fucked up and that’s considered a talent! Consider the Kardashians and the cast of Jersey Shore. The dumber you are, the more humorous you seem. Just keep in shape, wear fashionable clothing, style yourself in a conventionally attractive manner, and your simian shenanigans will seem socially acceptable.
So why do people want to be famous? Aside from the accompanying fantasies of wealth, why do wewant to become famous? Here’s what Robert Fuller Ph.D. has to say.
“In a world that sees people as somebodies and nobodies, indignities abound. The primary source of man-made indignity is rankism. By analogy with racism and sexism, rankism is defined as what somebodies do to nobodies. To be sure, not all somebodies abuse their power advantage. We’ve all known somebodies who are devoted to serving others and wouldn’t think of abusing their rank…On the other hand, most of us, even quasi-somebodies, have gotten a taste of the indignities routinely visited upon those taken for nobodies…Nobodies are marginalized to the point of invisibility. Since humans are social creatures, banishment carries a threat of being deprived of social and material resources critical to health and happiness, and sometimes to survival itself…Fame promises an escape from whatever ghetto we’re in, real or imagined..The more recognition we can amass, the less likely it is that anyone will dare to nobody us.“
So we’re protecting ourselves. We’re smarter than we think we are. We subconsciously figure out how society works, even before we’re fully self-actualized. We also really need recognition.
“Recognition is to the self what food is to the body…Too little or too much can be harmful.”
It’s a spiritual need. It starts from childhood. I’ve seen my friend’s kid, Chase Dundas, respond to his father’s instructions. Since he was able to speak, his dad Roger has had him repeat “I am kind, I am smart, I am important.” Chase’s face lights up with glee, even though he really can’t pronounce the word ‘important.’ But he gets it. He giggles with understanding and shines brighter and happier, than he did before hearing it. He won’t suffer the deprivation that others unfortunately have to endure.
BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE
Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently –Maya Angelou.
Dream big. The biggest dream that you can dream. Dreams can be manifested on this physical plane. Nothing is guaranteed, but it is entirely of possibility. Apply all the knowledge and persistence that you can–something is bound to happen either way. You’ll always be on the right path once you live in accordance with your truth.
I would encourage people to take heed of the fact that we are spirits. There are needs of ours that can’t be met by the physical manifestations of the world. Loving people, earnestly and extravagantly, is what brings true satisfaction. Love is the most powerful force on the planet, and the one we need the most.
It’s okay to want to be rich and famous. The world we live in was not created overnight, and inequality has always been a feature of it. It is detestable, but such is life. If you have a lot of wealth, you have a lot of power. If you’re someone famous, you hold more sway over people’s opinions than other people do. It’s not right, and it’s not fair, but such is life. I would rather that we heap attention upon people who have something of substance to say. Something meaningful and inspirational. Recognition that is merited. Not attention bestowed upon people who behave worse than primates.
We must remember, we don’t need to be rich or famous to make a difference. Or be somebody. People can be somebodies simply by being themselves. In the process they can become famous! True power can emerge from the force of personality and beliefs. Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama are wonderful examples of this. They crafted their lives in the moment, the same way we can. They will be remembered long after the memory of Kim, Kanye and Snooki fade away from our collective consciousness.
I’d like to end with a quote that comes from the Spelling Bee of Canada founder, Julie Spence. I originally interviewed her for an article that was published on Byblacks.com. She says:
“Everyone in life has a purpose. It’s really not about you. It’s about how you can help someone, and in turn, help yourself in the process. This is what I think about every day.”
Photo credits from Flickr: THE PIX-JOCKEY for ‘MADONNA and CHILD’. 4WardEver Campaign UK for ‘Maya Angelou’.
It’s sold over 19 million copies worldwide. Been translated into 46 different languages. Grossed over 300 million in DVD and book sales, according to a 2009 article by Forbes. What is ‘The Secret’?
It’s a carefully marketed and presented pseudo-science, that teaches people they are in total control of their lives. Due to a so-called ‘law’ of attraction, everything that happens to us is a manifestation of our thoughts. We’re gods, really–we are! This means that if the Queen of England and I both willed it, she could will the monarchy into continuity, and I could will it into extinction: Both would happen!
Seriously, anyone who says that 6 million Jews attracted their deaths, should not have an ounce of credibility. Yet, Rhonda Byrne is wildly successful. Are you still reeling from the fact that she blames victims for their own deaths? Her exact words to account for tragedies are:
Often [people] recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event. By the law of attraction, they had to be on the same frequency as the event. It doesn’t necessarily mean they thought of that exact event, but the frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event. If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances, those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Seriously woman: Are you telling me that the Jews who were killed under Hitler, were exterminated because they feared the Third Reich too much? That their survival rested upon them believing they were invincible? Horseshit! My outrage takes my language to the stables.
So who exactly is Rhonda Byrne?
There have been many articles written about her. This one from The Australian Magazine gives a comprehensive look at her business practices. Note to the reader: She doesn’t seem exactly trustworthy. Here is what former collaborator Esther Hicks had to say about her, in a New York Times interview:
I’ve got to give Rhonda credit…I’ve never seen anybody do that like she’s doing it…And never mind honesty, and never mind doing what you said you were going to do, and never mind anything. Just stay in alignment.
To say that this former TV producer from Melbourne has successfully screwed many people over, is an understatement. However, Byrne is undeniably savvy. She could have called this film “The Law of Attraction”, but strategically tapped into our curiosity and proclivity for mystery: We are programmed to uncover “The Secret”. This extract from The New Yorker magazine sums up her ‘law’ of attraction packaging pretty concisely:
The Secret” was released around the same time as the film version of “The Da Vinci Code,” and it was cleverly packaged as a historical mystery. There are lingering shots of faded cursive script on parchment paper, often accompanied by pounding drums or wordless choirs, and Byrne talks about “tracing the Secret back through history,” revealing all the great thinkers who have harnessed its power. (According to one title card, “The Secret was suppressed,” though we never learn how, or by whom)
Utter bullshit! (In the stables again) I recently re-watched the film, and wondered how people could buy into such unfounded garbage. Not to mention selfish stupidity! I’ll leave the latter for another blog-post.
I would like to highlight the fact that Byrne has cleverly avoided the media since 2007. After her appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and an interview with the New York Times, she went into seclusion and has avoided critical questioning. This means that the litigation to which she has been subject, is not widely covered in the press. The more asinine of her pronouncements have not been defended. Apart from this article in the New York Times, briefly mentioning her legal victory over a former associate, there is no other information easily available (on the web at least,) with the results of other litigation involving her. Byrne continues to build her empire writing books for an audience whose faith is unwavering. She appears on mediums such as private blogs, which are uncritical and supportive of her message.
Who is her audience?
Until the publication of the 2007 New York Times interview, “The Secret” DVD had sold 1.5 million copies at $34.95, with no paid advertising or theatrical release. More than half of the copies had been sold in the month preceding. This was attributable to Byrne’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in January of that year. What was formerly popular in exclusively New Age circles, crossed over to the mainstream.
The American self-improvement industry is valued at close to $11 billion. John LaRosa, President of Marketdata Enterprises, released this report in November 2013. 70% of self-improvement consumers are affluent women, living on the East and West coasts of the United States. There are very few barriers to entry in the industry, permitting the activities of numerous entrepreneurs and small firms. The industry is guru driven. Hence, it was very easy for Byrne to appeal to a mass of people, whose concerns included wanting more money, better homes, fancier cars and more functional relationships. There was a market craving her message.
The truth and the fiction
Byrne’s prescriptions are not too different from those of Shakti Gawain, author of “Creative Visualization.” In chapter 3 of her book, Gawain offers us an affirmation: “Everything I need is coming to me easily and effortlessly.” Deepak Chopra in his book “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success”, posits that the 4th law is the “Law of Least Effort.” Merde! (This is the French word for shit. Now I’m mucking about in French stables!) I think of my deceased grandfather who had to cycle 2 hours one-way to work each day, to build roads for the British colonisers. His day began at 4 am, when he tended to his crops and animals before heading to work. When he came back from work, there was more work to be done. See how many times I used the word work? Nothing came easily or effortlessly. He was not so fortunate in the lottery of life, as to be awarded the birth of a privileged American consumer of the self-improvement industry. Even if he wanted to be rich, famous and materially successful, he couldn’t have manifested it. His life circumstances did not allow for it.
There are a lot of dreams…All of them cannot be fulfilled.
This thinking is not just relegated to her, an impoverished child from the third-world. Rock legend Sting has attributed his success to hard work, persistence and an element of luck. He has cautioned his own children against believing in their invincibility. Billy Joel as well sings in”Vienna”:
Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.
If people who are part of the wealthy 1% can acknowledge their own limitations, why can’t we?
The desire for control & entirely of possibility
In “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes (pages 10-11):
Over the course of human evolution, as each group of people became gradually aware of the enormity of its isolation in the cosmos and of the precariousness of its hold on survival, it developed myths and beliefs to transform the random, crushing forces of the universe into manageable, or at least understandable, patterns. One of the major functions of every culture has been to shield its members from chaos, to reassure them of their importance and ultimate success.
This is what “The Secret” provides for some people: A feeling of control and positiveness that their dreams will be manifested. In an American society where rags to riches is possible, and great wealth and fame attainable, it becomes easy to believe that you can achieve it. You will achieve it. However, how many actually make it? How many actually succeed? Csikszentmihalyi quotes J.H. Holmes on page 9:
The universe is not hostile, nor yet is it friendly. It is simply indifferent.
Some might hesitate to believe this. They may feel as though they’ve been blessed, and have enjoyed the workings of beneficence in their lives. I am not disputing their experiences. I just can’t comprehend why some people should receive blessings and other people should receive blows; for apparently no good reason. “Some guys have all the luck,” sings Rod Stewart. I have come to believe that our life here on this planet is entirely of possibility.
I believe in the power of intentions and the vibrations from energy. I regard visualization as a very useful tool for goal setting and creating positive feelings. It also develops our imagination. It should not be construed, however, as the key to controlling our universes. We cannot will everything that we want to happen. Nobody has that power. Where we are on this planet is a combination of choice and circumstances. We’re better off accepting that we co-create our lives with the knowledge that we apply to our circumstances.
“The Secret” achieves “dumbination” more than life domination. The ‘law’ of attraction is not based on hypotheses which have been rigorously and scientifically tested. It is conjectured to appeal to a segment of the population which is already receptive to its message. It offers a feel-good beacon of hope to those who don’t care for scholarship. Rather than seeking domination, we should simply seek truth.
It’s becoming quite popular in the Western world to define oneself as spiritual rather than religious. A Forum poll commissioned by the National Post in December of 2012, showed that two-thirds of Canadians identify as spiritual while half say they are religious. A quarter of those who profess ‘no religion’ still maintain a belief in God. Further research has shown that ‘nones’ really behave like ‘somes’ since they are spiritual seekers in their own way.
Surveys indicate that a fifth of ‘nones’ attend religious services annually. Two out of five believe in God. One in five say they have experienced God’s presence and more than one in ten pray weekly. A third believe in life after death and the same number consider their religious and spiritual beliefs, important to how they conduct their lives. In Canada, ‘nones’ are a diverse group including militant atheists, freelance spiritualists, onetime Catholics, non-observant Jews, secular Muslims and others. You can add Tantrik to the ‘nones’.
Tantra was never an organized religion, but an accumulation of ideas and practices. It’s unifying thread was and is uniting one’s consciousness with that of a primordial ‘source’ consciousness. Over time and in various communities, meditations and rituals were developed to access the supra-mundane through the mundane. Most famously, or most concentrated upon in the Western world, was the sanctifying of the sex act. However, Tantric practices have been used by Buddhists and Hindus alike, to unite with their respective deities and manifest their qualities. The focus of Tantra is upon individual pursuits and experiences, as opposed to group conformity.
I chose Tantra and not the other way around. I was born to a former Presbyterian mother and a Sanatanist Hindu father. My mother has since become a Seventh-Day Adventist. My brother and I were baptized into Christianity at her insistence. My father did not resist this at all, for he saw no harm in it. We were exposed to the two religions growing up, but taught to identify ourselves as Christians. I felt like I was lying every time I filled out a government form. I saw checking the “Christian” box as a denial of my father’s beliefs and my real self. It was a half-truth.
I also had the fortune of being exposed to Islam, since my maternal and paternal aunts married Muslims. My childhood interpretation of their various faiths was “They’re all right.” They all believed in God, so I didn’t see anything terribly different underlying their faiths. The differences in their belief systems just seemed normal to me: As normal as the differences in our physical appearances. At the age of 16, however, I became an atheist.
We got the internet in 1999 and I read “Kissing Hank’s Ass” by the ‘Reverend’ James Huber. It made me chuckle out loud and nullify my belief in God. Further exposure to atheistic arguments had me convinced. I was very non-spiritual until the age of 24. Then extreme stress made me take up meditation. I only started practicing it after I read an article discussing its benefits in stress reduction. The research was carried out by Harvard University scientists, so I accepted it. My conscious mind could not rationally accept a belief in God, so I set about creating a system of beliefs that I could consciously adhere to.
“The Lord who is half-woman” is an androgynous composite of Shiva and Shakti. It is a synthesis of the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ energies of the universe. It is regarded as both energies, whilst realizing that our conceptions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, are premised upon our biological constructions and inferences. What we categorise as ‘male’ and ‘female’, are really intangible essences which are linked to and inseparable from each other. In Tantra, the Ardhanarishwar reflects the union of energy and consciousness as the seeds of creation. Their biological equivalents are what we call ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, but gender research has shown that gender identification is created in the mind. It is not at all contingent upon our external genitals.
I chose a representation of ‘God’ which was ‘male’ and ‘female’, but neither. It just seemed wholistic to me. I couldn’t believe in ‘God’ as an all-powerful force which governed everything. That would force me to accept a God that allowed suffering and injustice. That thought gave me no peace and still gives me no peace. I could not and cannot love a God like that. Hence, it was easier to conceptualize ‘God’ as a theoretical force for good and nothing else. A counterbalance to negativity. That I could believe in.
I found mantras online which were related to Shiva and Shakti. They covered everything from attracting good fortune and good health, to acquiring knowledge. I chanted them because I wanted more positive thoughts filling my head. The end result was a calmer and more focused mind.
I found that whatever it was I deeply desired, I concentrated upon and worked towards. My mind blocked out all the background noises in my head. I was aware of having fears and anxieties, but I realised they had no power over me. I consciously focused upon whatever it was that needed doing at the time, and the unpleasant feelings receded.
I gained more control over my thoughts and actions with meditation. I consciously used Hindu and Buddhist meditations whilst tele-supporting survivors of sexual assault. Sometimes, I would hold on to a tiny marble statue of the Buddha of Compassion, to remind myself that I was there for the other person. Other times, I thought of Shiva as a manifestation of mental control and calm. It helped me remain mindful during difficult conversations.
I am now capable of concentrating for very long periods of time. I become still and almost corpse-like. I recently participated in a Neuroscience research project, and was told by the researcher that she’d never seen anyone so still. I am now more attuned to myself and others around me. I have a deep connection with nature and a profound appreciation for all life-forms. I possess a feeling of internal tranquility which money cannot buy. I am supremely grateful that I developed this capacity through meditation.
The term ‘spirit’ means “the animating or vital principle in man and animals.” Spirituality used to be defined as “a process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals.” Since the 19th century, it has become more separated from religion. Now it’s more individualized and encompasses a person’s subjective experience and psychological growth.
This reality angers some like the Reverend Lillian Daniel. She believes that Christians need the church. She stated:
“Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach.”
Hmmm. Maybe if Reverend Daniel realised that not everyone agrees with the church’s definition of “sins”, she’d realise why more people choose to follow Christ on their own, as opposed to worshiping amongst those from whom they ‘need forgiveness’.
She also stated that the spiritual but not religious path is “too easy.”
“It’s self-indulgent. There’s nothing unique in it, it merely reflects our culture of narcissism and individualism…Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating.”
If Reverend Daniel bothered to enlighten herself about the realities of people, she would realise that ancient religions tend to construct realities for people which are outdated, unscientific, unbelievable and oppressive. Spirituality is a conscious reaction to the dogma of religion. What she sees as an act of cowardice (the ‘easy’ way out), is a necessary survival mechanism. People need to have the freedom to contemplate and construct their own beliefs, contingent upon their knowledge, lived and living realities. Take for example, Kanwar Saini. Facebook locked his account for 12 hours, because a photo he posted was deemed ‘offensive’. It looked like this:
Kanwar is openly gay and does not believe in God. Yet, he strongly identifies as a Sikh. I asked him some questions and he was kind enough to reply.
What does being a Sikh mean to you, given that you don’t believe in God?
K: It is still a significant part of who I am. IMO, Sikhism was the original anarchy, so there is room for alternative lifestyles and beliefs. The faith itself went from existential to martial over the course of its development. Although God was a focus, many many other things were too. Sikhism is accommodating to non-believers in this way as well. There were social/political motivations that kept it cohesive. I consider it my heritage, but I try not to define myself only by it. I just deleted God from my life, and freed myself of a lot of complications it’s followers impose.
Why do you not believe in God?
K: The only risk in not believing in God, is social. Social risk defines learning in my opinion. You are actively pursuing new territory and putting it into practice in life. Learning is a big part of my heritage as the word “Sikh” means student. So, I took a social risk giving up on the concept of God. Believing in God was too risky socially, emotionally, financially as my life has shown me over and over since childhood.
How are you perceived as a Sikh? By your own community and by outsiders?
K: I have a unique vantage point as I am popular within the diaspora for being out, queer, and unmuted. Some think I epitomize Sikh values in content, despite my appearance. I do not look like what idealists would like a Sikh to look like. Others want to see me dead for what they think I’m doing to the stat(us) of the faith. Then there’s everything in between.
People who are interested in Sikhism as outsiders, are seemingly disappointed as I may behave as though I represent the attrition of ‘Sikh values’ (I have a different style beard, tattoos etc). But this is an interaction with race. I’m the son of immigrants, and live a different set of ethics…a whole new style of living than my parents. Non- Punjabis and non-Sikhs seem to think “I’m supposed to do this” or “Supposed to do that” because I’m Sikh. They don’t afford me the freedom to live mentally free. At the same time, the Punjabi Sikh community does the same exact thing according to their own thoughts on Sikhism and culture. (Very gendered and conservative) They too also do not afford me the ability to live as a North American Sikh boy with a Punjabi heritage. So, outsiders think they know what and how I should be according to their view, and insiders do the same. The result (is) I’m probably perceived in a number of ways, none of which are important in a Sikh ethos.
How do you find peace in the world?
K: Existentially, peace is fleeting and needs to be pursued but balanced. In reality, politically the world is an unstable place. Peace of mind is reserved for people of privilege who come in a variety of colours and circumstances.
I asked Mike Standup, a Mohawk Traditional healer about his views on spirituality and religion. He said:
“Religions are man-made cults. Spirit is nothing physical. Spirituality is nothing that you can grasp, with anything but your mind. You’re supposed to feel whatever it is you’re feeling at the moment. It could be anger, joy, sadness, happiness. Spirituality is all. It is living your truth, or it living through you. Spirituality is a form of belief. Religion is a form of control.”
I asked him then what were the differences between Aboriginal and Christian spirituality. He said simply “There is no difference. Spirit is Spirit.” I thought that was the best reply ever.
Photo credit: Meditation by Hartwick HKD, Flickr. Kanwar Saini’s photo used with permission.
Desmond Tutu said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
And, “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Don’t even talk about wicked senses of humour! (Things that are not too kosher to say in the work-place)
Should we feel fearful about being policed online? Is Facebook intrusion an unwarranted invasion of our privacy? I thought this was a democracy, and it was okay to have a personality!
But I think this is useful advice, coming from “Thinking out loud”, who commented on the firing of Mike Crowder, a former cleaning-crew supervisor at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. Crowder was terminated after sharing on Facebook that former disgraced senator, Mike Duffy, had been “pompous and arrogant.”
“When are people going to learn (Facebook) FB is a dangerous place to vent anything about what you see and hear? Millions of people instantly hear and see what you have to say or show, whether true or not. Gone are the days when your own stupidity stayed between you and your immediate buddies who saw you and had a laugh with you only to be forgotten as time goes by. Now it is stored forever deep inside the nebulous archives of FB, Google and numerous other data collectors only to be dished up years later, out of context and as a negative “excuse” to inform people you are not fit for your job or unfit for public office. Wake up sheeple! Big brother is watching and storing your every move. Get used to the idea.”
Hmmm. Since I have a blog, I’ve got to be careful. I’ve got to watch what I say, right? I will.I believe that with freedom of speech comes responsibility. I’m an enormously responsible person! However, I do believe it would be better to admit to ‘Big Brother’ what my world-vision is. It will save it the trouble of figuring it out.
Dear Big brother,
I am not conservative in my beliefs. However, last time I checked, it was OKAY to hold peaceful and differing political beliefs. That is what we’re trying to cultivate in some parts of the world, right? Tolerance and peace.
Just for the record, I don’t believe in war and I abhor violence. I support gay marriage, abortion and free health care. Indeed, these are three of the reasons that compelled me to move to Canada in 2003. I found this country to be spectacularly progressive.
I love Russel Brand, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and other irreverent comedians. I find them chock-full of common-sense!
Does that make me a bad person? NO. Does that make me a compassionate person? YES! Does that mean I have a sense of humour? YES! Does that make me unprofessional or unfit to hold office? NO. Does it mean I want the freedom to be myself? YES!
As an inhabitant of this planet, I am responsible for what goes on in it. I share that responsibility with others. So, I’d rather be thoughtful and articulate than ignorant and silent. My sincere hope is that others will join me in doing so, to create a better world.
I see that others already do. I am kindly asking you to allow people to live their truths and voice their opinions, without fear. We’d ideally like to live in conflict-free, environmentally sustainable democracies. Not hypocrisies.
Jiddu Krishnamurti first came to my attention through a Facebook share. My friend, Roger Dundas of byblacks.com shared this quote by him:
I agree with him in principle. However, I don’t believe that adhering to non-definition, will necessarily help marginalized people of the world. They may recognize the humanity in us all, but their exploiters might not. Take for example, white cops who kill innocent, black men and children in the USA all the time. There is no US in the USA. (Or in the world for that matter) It’s more like “US” and “THEM.” If Black people did not organise themselves and raise awareness of these issues, I doubt any attention would be accorded to them. Black solidarity is what ensures human solidarity, and is the catalyst for movements and actions to address these issues.
But commenting on American race-relations is not the point of this article. My wish is to share segments of Krishnamurti’s farewell speech, when he dissolved The Order of the Star in the East. Krishnamurti was born on May 11, 1895, in Madanapalle, southern India. He and his brother were adopted as youths by Dr Annie Besant, then president of the Theosophical Society. Dr Besant and some others proclaimed that Krishnamurti was going to be a world teacher, whose coming had been predicted by the Theosophists. In 1911, a world-wide organization called the Order of the Star in the East, was founded to prepare the world for this coming. A very young Krishnamurti was made its head. However, in 1929, he relinquished his role and dissolved the Order. He returned all the money and property that had been donated for its work. From then on, for nearly sixty years until his death in 1986, he travelled throughout the world talking to large audiences as well as individuals. He addressed the need for a radical change in individual and collective human thinking. Here are some excerpts from “Truth is a Pathless Land.”
You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it.”
I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do.
Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley. If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices.
…I maintain that no organization can lead man to spirituality. If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth.
One newspaper reporter, who interviewed me, considered it a magnificent act to dissolve an organization in which there were thousands and thousands of members. To him it was a great act because, he said: “What will you do afterwards, how will you live? You will have no following, people will no longer listen to you.” If there are only five people who will listen, who will live, who have their faces turned towards eternity, it will be sufficient. Of what use is it to have thousands who do not understand, who are fully embalmed in prejudice, who do not want the new, but would rather translate the new to suit their own sterile, stagnant selves?
You are accustomed to authority, or to the atmosphere of authority, which you think will lead you to spirituality. You think and hope that another can, by his extraordinary powers–a miracle–transport you to this realm of eternal freedom which is Happiness. Your whole outlook on life is based on that authority…When you look for an authority to lead you to spirituality, you are bound automatically to build an organization around that authority. By the very creation of that organization, which, you think, will help this authority to lead you to spirituality, you are held in a cage.
You are all depending for your spirituality on someone else, for your happiness on someone else, for your enlightenment on someone else; and although you have been preparing for me for eighteen years, when I say all these things are unnecessary, when I say that you must put them all away and look within yourselves for the enlightenment, for the glory, for the purification, and for the incorruptibility of the self, not one of you is willing to do it. There may be a few, but very, very few. So why have an organization?
As I have said, I have only one purpose: to make man free, to urge him towards freedom, to help him to break away from all limitations, for that alone will give him eternal happiness, will give him the unconditioned realization of the self…I maintain that the only spirituality is the incorruptibility of the self which is eternal, is the harmony between reason and love. This is the absolute, unconditioned Truth which is Life itself. I want therefore to set man free, rejoicing as the bird in the clear sky, unburdened, independent, ecstatic in that freedom.
Another quote from Krishnamurti made me realise something: Whilst I do identify as a Tantrik, it is simply a label. It does not define me. Indeed, I chose it to define my beliefs, in the same way that others choose it to define theirs. We may not define or interpret it in the same way. By itself, it is a meaningless label until we infuse it with meaning. In The Krishnamurti Reader he pointed out:
There are those who don’t believe in God and yet do good. There are those who believe in God and kill for that belief; those who prepare for war because they claim they want peace, and so on. So one has to ask oneself what need there is to believe at all in anything, though this doesn’t deny the extraordinary mystery of life. But belief is a word, a thought, and this is not the thing, anymore than your name is actually you. Through experience you hope to touch the truth of your belief, to prove it to yourself, but this belief conditions your experience. It isn’t that the experience comes to prove the belief, but rather that the belief begets the experience. Your belief in God will give you the experience of what you call God. You will always experience what you believe and nothing else.”
Bearing this in mind, I simply seek truth, peace and happiness.