No Regrets

Posted: October 1, 2013 in a lonely journey, September 28
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No Regrets

When I said last September that I was going into a self-imposed hiatus I wasn’t planning on turning unmaskd.com into a one-post-per-year site. Alas, that seems to be its present fate. If I keep going at that rate for another year or two, this site will be qualified for a honorary mention in The Guinness Book of World Records as a the least frequently updated blog that still gets some reads.

It remains to be seen whether we’ll get there, but at this point I’m not back yet. Not in full swing anyway. But I’m still around and I’m stopping by today for my annual September 28 post and just to say hi to everyone I’ve missed in the last twelve months. Traditions have any meaning only when they are followed and I’ve come to like mine. In fact, I became so attached to it that this year most of thinking I did on that day was about the tradition itself. I was trying to understand what made me look so eagerly to this day during the year. After all, pondering about one’s life doesn’t have to be limited to a specific date. In fact, in my case it isn’t.

And so, as I was trying to figure out why my anticipation of that day had felt like an equal mix of irritation and excitement, it occurred to me it had become a mix of the past and the future. A day to look at the things that I have done and the things I’m hoping to do. The screw-ups and the hopes of doing better next time. The pride of an accomplishment and the resolve to keep on going. It has turned into a day when despite every moment of weakness I still know I have strength. The day of a simple question: did I get the most out of these twelve months of my life? And so far, every time the honest answer to that simple question has been a deafening resounding NO. Just like it was this year.

But this time there was also something else. That endless struggle, that never-ending fight with the Sloth… what exactly was it all about? It had always seemed like an unavoidable side effect of a human nature, something fully recognized and immortalized by many philosophies and religions around the world. And yet, it’s just plain dumb. Fighting myself over control means that I have conflicting life goals. But I don’t. I really really don’t. There’s no conflict between a shining noble goal and instant gratification, between an ambitious objective and the Demon of Procrastination. Because — despite the poetic beauty of the double-soul concept — there’s just one person. One soul. One mind. And that mind is I. And there’s stuff I want to accomplish, that I want to experience, that I want to do. And if I choose to do something else… well apparently that’s what matters to me.

So at the end, it all comes down to being absolutely clear about what you really want. Those few things — maybe even one thing — that truly matter to you. It could be going after that dream. Or being with your family. Or making a ton of money. Or finding your soul mate. Or riding a bike like a pro. Or all of the above. But whatever these things are, they are the only ones worth living for. Really. They don’t have to sound noble or grand. You don’t need to justify them to others, in fact, to anyone. Even to yourself. You only need to be sure they are the things you truly want. Because they are the things that make you tick. And that ticking is your life.

And once you find those things, just fill your life with them. Sure, you’ll have to spend some time doing stuff you don’t like doing. We all do. But as long as you can fill your time — even one minute of it — with things of your choice don’t fill them with junk, no matter how shiny or easy or satisfying or grand it looks. And that’s the whole secret to living your life with no regrets. Because if you think about it, filling your life by choice with things that don’t matter to you is sheer insanity.

So where does this all leave me? Doing the things that matter to me. As much as I can. As long as I can.

Counting the Moments

Posted: September 29, 2012 in what makes us tick
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When people talk about traditions they typically mean rituals established by someone many generations ago. While I respect (most) traditions of this sort, to me another kind of traditions is way more important — traditions, established by me and by those I care about. Which is why I’m writing my September 28th post, even though I’m not back yet from my self-imposed hiatus. When you do something for three years in a row, it’s a tradition.

As usual on this date, I’ve spent some time thinking — maybe a bit harder than usual — about my favorite L-word. And as usual I realized something. Don’t expect a revelation. What you are about to read is as trivial as it gets when it comes to statements about life. What makes it special for me is that now I understand it deeper than I ever have. A warning: don’t read this if you’re easily depressed. I mean it. Just stop reading right here.

Do you ever get this feeling of moments being wasted as your life passes by? It passes right in front of your eyes, in all its glory and complexity — and you can’t help, but feel that these seconds are being thrown away. You can feel your body getting older with every passing moment, you can sense opportunities being ignored, risks not taken, life not lived. There are life experts around you telling you that life is too precious to be wasted, encouraging you to live it, screaming at you about planning it, establishing bold goals, going after them with everything you’ve got, taking charge, blah, blah, blah. But what do they know? They are people just like you, and their clock is ticking just as steadily. All you know is that you have a limited number of moments in this world and you’re just not using them right. And it sucks big time.

So you just think about something else. You choose not to think about that unstoppable timer. You pretend to forget. In fact, you do forget — until next time. But there always is that next time. And you know what it is? Slavery. We’re being held hostage to our fears. Fear of not using our time wisely. Fear of wasting our life. Fear of leaving this world eventually. And this is so wrong.

It’s wrong because it actually doesn’t matter how many moments we get. Well, it sort of does, but not in the way we usually think about it. These moments are not infinite anyway. Yes, I will run out of them at some point. But precisely because of this it is so dumb to waste any one of them worrying about running out of them eventually. It may happen in 40 years or in 5 hours. Who knows. And who cares? What matters is not how many moments I have left in the bank. What matters is how I spend them. Every single one of them. As it turns out, life is not about how many. It’s about how. Instead of counting the moments I should be living them.

Just like any statement about life these are just words. But once it sinks in, all of a sudden you realize that these words bring you closer to something all us want and only few truly achieve — freedom.

Goodbye — For Now

Posted: September 6, 2012 in a lonely journey

Thank you all for your words of support after my last post — they mean a lot to me. They really do.

I have failed. Which means I have either not tried hard enough or am incapable of being who I want to be. In the first case, I’ll be back. In the second case, this is the last Unmaskd post. When it comes to my identity, Unmaskd has become my most honest expression of myself. I don’t want to betray everything it means to me. Under my other masks, I have an option of living (or rather wasting) my life as someone weak, while pretending that I am strong. I don’t have this option as Unmaskd.

I know what living truly means. It is so much more than breathing and eating, doing work and being entertained. Living your life is so much more. And once you’ve lived a single moment like this you cannot go back, without lying to yourself.

As Unmaskd I’m not going to be weak. I’ll either be strong — or won’t be at all. Running away from yourself is not a way to live. It’s a way to exist. And Unmaskd is all about living.

I hope this is not a farewell. But if it is, please do know that this has been one of the most exciting adventures of my life.

Yours,

This is going to be a strange post, even by Unmaskd’s standards. It will cause some disillusionment. It will cause some confusion. And yet it is necessary.

I have found myself in a tight spot, though majority of people would not see anything dramatic about my present circumstances. Even I can easily imagine a much worse situation than the one I’m currently in. It does not involve health, crimes, poverty or tragedy. It simply involves wasting moment by moment my life — and being unable to change anything about it. The worst part of being in this situation is knowing fully well that it is a direct result of the decisions I’ve been taking very consistently throughout my life, starting with teenage years. The hole where I’m finding myself in is a very logical outcome of these decisions, and it’s amazing that it took to so long to get where I’ve gotten.

Throughout my entire life I’ve been consistently disconnecting my self-declared values from my actions. I’ve been believing in courage, while behaving like a complete coward on many occasions. I’ve been a strong believer in doing what’s right — and consistently taking the path of least resistance. I’ve been certain that I have a free will — and yet acting like a dysfunctional robot, wasting hours and days procrastinating over simplest challenges. I’m a solid case of the most pathetic sort of liar — one who successfully lies to himself.

But what I’ve been good at is putting on masks. Yes, there have been many of them. I’ve been good at pretending someone I’m not. An expert, a brave man, someone with strong values, a success story, a self-respecting man. The list goes on and on. But no matter how well I played these roles, I’ve been a fake for the most part of my life. A fake through and through — and knowing it.

Now I’m simply reaping the rewards of my consistency. Yes, I’ve done some things I’m proud of. Yes, I have some accomplishments behind me that are worth pointing at and saying “I did this and it’s good.” But these rare examples only show how much I’m capable of. Capable to create — and yet incapable to make real. Yes, I have reasons for not doing more than I’ve done. Good, solid reasons. But they are only excuses. I know I didn’t do my best. I know that I didn’t go for it with everything I’ve got. Heck, I didn’t go for it with half of what I’ve got. I know that I’ve been a coward.

Trying and failing is tiring, but manageable. I could live with this. But it’s being a fake that I’m ultimately tired of. Fake and weak. You get used to living with regrets about your past. You can’t get used to living with regrets about your future.

Ever since I became Unmaskd I’ve had a single rule: no bullshit. I don’t lie in posts in any way, shape or form, even though sometimes it’s so tempting. And yet this picture is still deceptive. It only shows my strength. It doesn’t show my weakness. And I’m not going to let it become another fake mask. I have enough of those. From this point on Unmaskd exists only as long as I’m capable of being the best I can be. The moment I willingly take the path of least resistance Unmaskd will cease to exist. This is my promise to myself and to all of you.

I’ve been lying to myself my entire life. It’s time to get real.

Have you ever wondered if you’re a person of integrity? I’ve got good news for you: yes, you are. Always have been. Only it is likely not what you thought integrity was.

Integrity is consistency of actions and values. But despite of what you think your values are, real values are those that get manifested in actions, not the ones manifested in thoughts. If you wish to be strong, but act as a weakling, your true value is not strength, no matter how much you like to think of it. Your true value is weakness. You always stay true to your values. You may just not like them — the same way you can dislike your height, voice or color of your eyes. Yet, they are always there, defining everything you do.

But here’s the catch. Once you truly realize that your actions are the only manifestation of your values you have a choice. You can continue acting the same way you’ve always acted or start acting in accordance to the values you thought were yours. In the first case, you will continue longing for imaginary integrity based on phantom values, while slowly hating yourself and making endless Monday resolutions. In the second case, you will eventually get to the point where you’re proud of your true values — and yourself. That choice — and consistent non-stop adherence to it — is the only true test of your true values.

You always have integrity. But it can be either automatic mindless integrity by submission or conscious integrity by choice. And that choice is the foundation of every other choice you make in life.

The Demon of Procrastination
“How do you fight your demons, sage?” asked a man with a tired face, as he stopped by the house of the world famous sage Puram Bam.
Puram Bam, busy at writing something that looked like a letter, looked up.
“What makes you think I have demons to fight?” he asked.
His visitor had a strange face, a face that seemed young–yet beaten by life, fresh–yet old. It was the face of a young man who woke up one morning to discover in the mirror that he had suddenly aged overnight.
“Everyone has demons,” he said, his voice full of conviction. “If you don’t have demons to fight you are dead.”
“Or free,” said Puram Bam.
“It’s the same thing,” said the man.
“For many,” answered Puram Bam. “But not for everyone. Which one of your demons did you want to talk about?”
“The one that sucks the life out of me,” replied the man, his voice hard. “He’s been haunting me ever since I was a child.”
“Demons rarely haunt us uninvited,” said Puram Bam, moving his unfinished letter aside. “Tell me more.”
“He attacks suddenly,” said the man, his face going dark. “I can never see him coming. One minute I’m busy doing something — and the next moment he’s there and my will is gone. No one can see demons, and yet I can almost sense the presence of this one. I can feel him sneaking into my room. I’ve never caught a glimpse of him, but somehow I know what he looks like. He is a large gray limp mass that moves silently and swiftly. Gray and cold. Very cold. And when his coldness touches my forehead, I am no longer me. No one can notice a difference, for I still act the same way I always do.
“In fact, when he takes over me I get very busy. I read wonderful books, I make plans, I do things I’ve been postponing for ages, I write letters to people I have not spoken to for years, I feed my dog, I sharpen my sword. But when I do this I know that my sword is already sharp, my dog is not hungry and the people I write to would scratch their heads trying to recall my name. But I still do it. When this demon takes over me I do anything — anything except that thing I was about to do when he sneaked into my room. And I don’t know how to fight him. I don’t know how to fight the Demon of Procrastination!”
“You can’t fight a demon,” said Puram Bam, “unless you call him by his proper name. And the name you’ve just said is not the true name of this demon.”
“What is it then?” asked the man, his face brightened by sudden hope. “Tell me! Please!”
“You have to guess it yourself, if you want to have a chance against him.”
“Guess it? How? Everyone knows him by this name!”
“What do you feel when he takes over you?”
“I feel as if I’m slowly drowning in a cold swamp and have no power to struggle. All my senses work as usual, my hands are are strong as ever, but my mind goes numb. It feels like it’s being wrapped in some thick soft fabric, layer after layer, thicker and thicker. And it’s so comforting, so lulling, so calm. It feels like there is no way out, that I will drown completely, my mind wrapped in that fabric and my will gone, but somehow this doesn’t frighten me. The the worst thing is, I don’t even want to get out. When this demon takes over me, I don’t want anything.”
“But you do come back, eventually.”
“Yes. I get out of that swamp every time, but it’s becoming harder and harder. It used to take minutes. Now it takes hours. But I do come back.”
“And the first thing you do is finish whatever you were doing when the demon came?”
“Yes. Always. All of a sudden everything seems so easy. Somehow just being back makes me powerful. And that’s what I just can’t understand. People say that this demon takes us away from things we don’t want to do. That he snatches us at the moment of weakness. But I don’t believe them. Yes, he comes to me when I have to do something I don’t like. But he also comes to me when I do something I love! And I find myself just as drowning in that swamp. I don’t believe people when they say that he is not that bad, that he helps us escape. They say that he helps us escape our fears. Fear of failure, fear of success… But why in the world would I want to escape from something that makes me feel alive?”
“You are asking wrong questions,” said Puram Bam. “Ask the right one.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You do. People avoid asking a right question, when they don’t want to face the answer. But you–you want it. Tell me, do you enjoy doing things you do once he takes over?”
“Enjoy? I hate doing them! And I hate myself for being so weak, for not being able to stop. But you see… it’s not actually me who’s doing all these things. It’s almost like someone else is moving my hands, opening my mouth to speak, making my eyes to read. It’s the demon.”
“Our demons are not as powerful as we think. They cannot move our hands. Only we can.”
“But this is what it feels like. And if it’s not me moving my hand then who?”
“I knew a man once,” said Puram Bam, “who used to ask this question. He doesn’t ask it anymore. It’s another wrong question to ask. Do you know what you are escaping from?”
The man shrugged.
“Fear?”
“You can’t escape fear, without taking it with you.”
“Doing something unpleasant? Or . . . pleasant. Pleasant, but difficult.”
“Do you still think about that difficulty, while drowning in that swamp,?”
“No! I know it’s somewhere out there, but I don’t think about it. I don’t think about anything. I simply don’t think.”
“And when you don’t think you don’t exist,” said Puram Bam. “You may think you’re escaping a difficulty. But you’re escaping life itself.”
“Life…” the men repeated after Puram Ban. “Where does one escape life?”
“Now you’ve asked the right question,” sad Puram Bam. “And this means you are ready to face the answer.”
“In death,” said the man slowly.”This demon… he is the Demon of Death himself.”
“He has many names,” said Puram Bam. “But you’ve just named the only one that matters. He comes to you when you secretly wish that you’d rather not exist than face life with its choices and their consequences. He offers you sweet escape of his swamp, where your mind will slowly drown while your body is busy doing meaningless things. But what’s a body without mind? When your mind doesn’t think, you’re dead.”
“But why…” said the man, “why do I come back then? Every time. Why?”
“You know this answer too, “said Puram Bam, smiling.
The man smiled back.
“Because I want to live,” he said, his face younger and filled with wonder.
“Yes,” said Puram Bam. “And once you fully realize what this means you won’t need to fight demons anymore. You simply won’t be inviting them.”

The Eyes of a Beggar

Posted: March 26, 2012 in Unmaskd Tales

The Eyes of a Beggar

“My life is dull,” said glorious Emperor Moktut.
He had just finished listening to his Royal Advisor’s briefing and sat staring straight ahead, as if not seeing his palace, which had been said to be the most luxurious palace ever built on earth.
“Bring me a mirror,” he ordered.
The Royal Advisor rushed to fetch a mirror. He could have and even should have sent one of the servants to bring it, but he was glad to get away from the Emperor even for a few minutes. He had always known how to deal with the Emperor’s fury. But he was terrified by these new moments of unexplainable misery. The Emperor was not supposed to feel miserable. If he — the most powerful man in the world — felt this way, how common men were supposed to feel? Emperor Moktut had never shown any signs of misery — until two moons ago when he spoke to that horrible arrogant man by the name of Puram Bam.
“I am the most powerful man in the world,” said Moktut, studying his own reflection. “I should be happy. I should be far more than happy. So what is it that makes me feel so–”
He broke off.
“I need to talk to him,” he said, turning to the Royal Advisor. “Go and invite him at once.”
“Me?” asked the Royal Advisor in astonishment. He had never seen such a violation of the royal etiquette. His shock was so strong that he even dared to ask, “Your Majesty, do you mean that I should send the Guards to bring that man here?”
“Yes,” said the Emperor. “If you want to spend the rest of your life in the dungeon. But if you intend to keep your job, go tell him that I’m inviting him to live here as my guest.”
The Royal Advisor and left, his knees shaking.
“He said what?” asked Moktut three days later. “Are you sure?”
The Royal Adviser nodded, not daring to to look at the Emperor.
“Yes, your Majesty,” he muttered. “He said that he would’ve gladly accepted your invitation, but he would not do well in a company of beggars.
“Beggars?” repeated Moktut, his voice puzzled. “Go tell him that in this palace he will live among the richest men of my empire. Men who can buy anything and anyone. Men who eat from golden plates and travel in palanquins decorated with diamonds.”
This time the Royal Advisor left without asking questions.
Three days later he was back, trembling.
“He said, your Majesty,” he reported, his voice full of horror, “that these are exactly the men he means.”
Moktut sat still for a long time.
“Tell him,” he said finally, “that he should not be concerned about spending his days among those who are only attracted to material goods and are poor like beggars when it comes to matters of spirit. Tell him that in this palace he will find poets who care only about sharing their poetry, preachers who possess little more than their robes and who only want to preach, and painters who create their paintings asking for no reward. Go now.”
The Royal Advisor left, silently cursing Puram Bam and shuddering at the thought that he was about to curse the Emperor.
Another three days passed. The Royal Advisor was back. Alone.
The Emperor’s silence was more menacing than his wrath could have been.
“He said,” the Royal Advisor conveyed, wondering how in the world he ended up in a position of a message boy, “that these poets, preachers and painters are also the people he was referring to. He also wanted wanted to remind you that a beggar is someone who throws himself at the mercy of others and pleads for something they have while offering nothing in return.”
“The hell with him!” replied Monkut, gravely. “He has pushed my good will too far.”
The Royal Advisor felt relieved. The Emperor was coming to his senses, at last.
“It is almost time for the Summer Royal Celebration,” he dared to remind the Emperor. “I’ll see to it that we have the most majestic celebration in years. This celebration will make the people of this empire feel proud, while making other nations envy your splendor. The attention of the entire world–”
The Emperor’s palm flew up, making the Royal Advisor stop in the middle of a sentence.
“Attention,” whispered Moktut.
“Yes,” happily went on the Royal Advisor, “attention of the entire world! We will–”
But another irritated gesture of the Emperor made him stop again.
Moktut’s eyes were looking far beyond the vast hall. He didn’t see the flabbergasted face of his Royal Advisor. He didn’t see scared faces of his courtiers. He didn’t see indifferent faces of his servants. He saw something else.
He saw the richest men of his country spending millions on luxury they neither needed nor appreciated. These millions were spent with the only goal — to impress others, rich and poor, men and women, old and young. To make them gasp in envy. He saw poorest men of his empire doing the same — depriving themselves of something they needed so they could buy something to boast about in front of their neighbours. He saw poets frantically writing their poems, hoping that one day everyone will know their name — the name, not their works. He saw himself, sitting on his throne, bored by people’s admiration — and still wanting it with all his heart. He saw people going around asking, pleading, begging for attention — and accepting it as alms, not caring if they had any value to offer in exchange. He saw beggars begging beggars — and making that begging the ultimate motive of their life.
“Should I get the preparations started?” asked the Royal Advisor. The Emperor nodded, indifferently.
“Go,” he said. “Make them gasp. Oh, and take that mirror away. You’ll bring it back one day.”
“On the day,” he finished in his head, “when it won’t show me the eyes of a beggar.”