Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Parallel in the Universe

In the wake of a special and utterly timeless man's passing a few weeks ago, I know it is my turn to speak, not only for my own processing, but in the service of apprising a society that so often shrugs off discussions of mental health.  Robin Williams was a man of many eccentricities, and yes, anxiety was one of them.  His toils, his strains, his pulls, and his stresses made him into the sensitive, exuberant, and completely empathetic man we had the pleasure to know...a man who has surmounted endless discomfort, accomplished so much, and brought joy to so many people.  Just try to tell me this man (with his pal Koko) is a coward who took "the easy way out."

I don't claim to be an expert on Robin Williams, his work, or his stressors, but I have encountered many degrees of perturbation in my life.  Living on a university campus alone qualifies me as a frequent observer of mental exhaustion and overproduction.  And while many have suffered more mental anguish than I, I'm certainly no stranger to overthinking, over-worrying, and overloading.  While these activities may sound harmless at first, their repercussions are countless.  The slope into potentially disastrous measures is often slippery indeed.

My intention in writing this post is not to prescribe a mode of thought or action to anyone, be it a man who too often contemplates such struggles or one who never devotes a single morsel of thought to them.  Rather, I wish to express to everyone that mental distress exists and that no one is immune to it.  Because we are high-functioning humans with brains and emotions capable of rocking the universe, it's no wonder many of our psychological states share a term with that of disruptions in the galaxy around us.  Take "perturbation" for one.  My handy MacBook dictionary lists as one definition: "a minor deviation in the course of a celestial body, caused by the gravitational attraction of a neighboring body."  In other words, one body--man--becomes inundated with "attractive" insecurity and/or frustration, leading this body to stray from his desired course of action.  Unlike in the galactic sense, however, perturbation in the human sense does not always stop at the minor, but often crosses over into the injurious.  But maybe the structure of our universe can shed some literal light on the subject.

What at last prompted me to complete this post was a brief yet undeniably poignant tribute to Robin Williams made by Billy Crystal at the Emmy's last night.  A key component of Crystal's speech, time is an element we often associate with the universe, a foundation constantly moving forward yet preserving its history arrantly intact.  Crystal notes about Robin that "It's very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all of our lives."  He goes on to compare him to "the brightest star," in "the comedy galaxy," no less.  More important, he extends the analogy to a "celestial body," long cooled, but whose "beautiful light will continue to shine on us forever."  "Robin Williams [and a legacy trickling with every bit of light we have all produced], what a concept" indeed.  Darkness doesn't stand a chance.

If the universe is any indication, it's not remorse or aggravation that we ultimately contribute to our surroundings.  It's all the joy and magnificence that precedes, coincides with, and follows it.  Take a cue from the stars and let darkness recede into smaller and smaller portions, slowly but surely.  Relax and reward yourself, because whether you feel you're in a good place or not, you've already given so much light to the universe, light that is unique to you and to the strength you carry in being human.  This strength can empower and it can hamper, but as a source of energy, it cannot be created by anyone else, nor can it be destroyed.  The galaxy is in this sense the quintessential win-win situation: your worries pass with time and become negligible darkness, but your triumphs transform into the light you see before you.  I'm no physicist, and this is just a theory, but I think we can all see who the natural victor is here.

Plunging your head in the clouds--or the stars--is not necessarily the frivolous practice your parents warned you about...

Take a shot at it,
Amanda :)

Trench: Saks Fifth Avenue.  Jean jacket: J. Crew.  Necklace: J. Crew.  Shoes: J. Crew.

All photos by Sean Su.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Soul Proprietor

Quite a while ago I read a quote inside Humans of New York that took me aback more than any anything had for a long time.  Having stored these words in my ETR (The Elegant in the Room) vault, I recently (meaning just this minute) tracked down these three lines:

"Of course it's absurd to talk about fairness in the universe."  "Why is that absurd?"  "Because there's no such thing as karma.  I mean, when you're a good person, people can sense it and they'll reciprocate that goodness.  But the universe isn't keeping some balance by guaranteeing you a reward."

Beyond the complex metaphysical question tackled, what I find most enchanting about this quote is its frankness.  Sure, my neighborhood pundits spouting steadfast ideologies miff me as much as the next gal, but when it comes to necessary issues of the soul and ethics, most people seem hesitant to take a stance at all.  Their heart, their experience, or their fear prevents them from first, sincerely contemplating, and second, consolidating all their contemplations into a meaningful set of values.  Such a working game plan, attuned to both your instincts and ambitions, may sway and alter, but it will always be the whole, accessible philosophy that you alone created.

Granted, the quote starts out somewhat disheartening, suggesting that no aspect of our world is truly fair.  But once you read further, you notice that what the author really means is that the universe itself isn't goodness, but, rather, that we are the goodness; that is, if we choose to be.  In other words, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul": when external remedies appear bleak, we can always rely on ourselves and the thought we have put into the road ahead.

And this quote coming from an everyday woman walking the street, someone who gains no advantage by being smarter or more successful than the rest of us.  A rare intelligence and communication shines through nonetheless, and the quote turns out to be one of the most optimistic I've ever read.  Little is more empowering than the realization that we have full capacity to reward others and ourselves for our biggest feats and smallest niceties.  What's more, the acceptance of this capacity better equips us to approach head-on and and feet-down the very real challenges we face everyday, challenges that can't often be mitigated by an elusive worldly power.

To be sure, I do not mean to criticize faith, religion, or anything of that nature in this post, for a discussion of values and beliefs is insufficient without them.  On the contrary, I wish to provide a human and realistic perspective on the forces that have the most immediate sway in our universe, namely, our minds and our actions.  While a higher power may control some of the more principal aspects of life and death, we have ultimate license to control what's in front of us and what's to come as we take infinitely more steps toward a plan of our own.

With goals so methodical and feats so distinct, it must be ourselves with which our journeys are linked.

We come even closer with each and every blink. ;)

Dress: Anthropologie (old).  Necklace: J. Crew (old).  Flowers: Dierberg's Florist.

All photos (and french braid) by Amber Schlomer, owner of Natural Images Photography. :)