Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Life

The Sweet Taste of Life

What a difference a day can make! Within just a couple days of having written my last piece, The Sweet Taste of Death, I had an experience that reversed my position on that matter. I mean, I still stand by what I said in the essay, on the quality of one's life influencing one's behaviors and their manifestations as either destructive or productive, but I've changed my perspective relative to that paradigm. I value my own life more, is what I'm trying to say.

This is what happened. I was hanging out with a couple friends from work, smoking and drinking and just generally not being terribly healthy. I hadn't slept much in days, and was likely more fatigued than I realized when I decided to go home. I say I was drinking, but I'd only had half a beer and was not, in reality, drunk. I think I was mostly just sleep-deprived. And high.

As I was driving home, I started to feel as though I were disappearing. This has happened to me before. But this time it was more intense. I'm used to a sort-of spiritual heat coming over me and causing the perception of a dissolution of one body part or another. This happens to many people who use psychedelics, but it can happen to me when I'm just high or when I'm completely sober. I haven't tripped in about a year and a half. Sometimes I freak out when this happens, but if I've had a number of such experiences in close temporal proximity to one another, it doesn't seem as foreign and I'm more likely to just go with it. If ever I need to come down from it, I follow the advice of an older, wiser individual who once said, "Just stick your head in a freezer if you need to feel real again." I somehow make myself physically uncomfortable in order to feel myself.

This time, it wasn't working. I rolled down my window and stuck my arm out, gripping the roof of my car, hoping that the night air would bring me to full physical presence within myself. It didn't work. I began to feel as though my entire body were blipping out of existence, as though the nature of reality itself were coming apart within the seams of myself. Space and time became a physical streaming presence that was replacing me with itself, sending my consciousness into a state of black nothingness. I was terrified.

I realized that I was in an incredibly vulnerable state. I've heard of people blacking out while driving and nevertheless making it home safely, miraculously. However, being as I described in my last essay in a frame of mind that was somewhat suicidal, I couldn't trust myself in that moment not to manifest self-destruction. I felt that if I let go entirely into that moment, it could become my last. For me, this was a near-death experience.

In a panic, I pulled over into the (closed) CVS pharmacy that is probably no more than a quarter of a mile from my house. I decided that perhaps if I walked around, or ran, or did something physically involved, it would bring me back into my body such that I could drive home safely. I got out of the car and started to walk around. As I was walking, the disappearing feeling only heightened. I was losing time, and "browning out." It was like I was only able to witness every other moment. One second, I would be walking, the next would be black nothingness, and then I would see myself again in a different place in the parking lot that was more than a step away from where I had been. Except, time itself had dissolved, so there was no perception of a second-by-second play, but rather a realization that I was losing consciousness. My "self" was dissolving into the greater whole of the moment, but because I was more identified with my fears and my death drive at that time, my consciousness was displaced into nothingness.

I realized then that the greatest sin I had been committing of late was that of not loving myself or my life as they currently exist. I learned a long time ago that I must love every moment in order to have a fulfilled life. Still panicked, I started saying, "I love you, Moment," in the hope that this would redeem me and bring me to safety.

And it did, eventually.

I knew that I needed help of some sort. I'm not the type of person who asks for help until the stakes reach a certain level. Truth be told, I've been in desperate need of some kind of help for at least a month now. I've been slipping into oblivion and death because I've been depressed and dissatisfied at the ego-level of my existence. And I've been completely identified with my ego, at that. But, as it stood at that moment, it seemed inevitable that I would pass out. I didn't want to be alone when it happened. It was late at night, and I knew that the only person I could really rely upon was my brother, Stephen. I returned to my car to get my phone and call him.

After picking up the phone, I hesitated for a moment. Really, it was my ego, still damning me with its refusal to admit weakness. It imbued me with a vision of my greatest fear that would surely manifest if I called my brother. I would call him and ask him to come pick me up. As he was on his way, I would pass out. He would call my parents and they would rush me to the hospital. I would wake up in a bleak room, surrounded by doctors and family members and would be told that I had some terminal disease, cancer, maybe. Lots of tears and so forth, and everyone would pity me and see me as a dying person until I died.

Nevertheless I called him, because my greater Self took control and I couldn't do anything but call him. I said, "Stephen, I love you, and I need you to come pick me up." Without hesitation, he agreed, and I told him where I was and he headed out to get me. After the call, my fears were assauged, and I started to feel real again. I was still in a state of reduced-free will, but I could feel my body and I was no longer losing time. I began to rejoice at the instantaneous-ness of my recovery, and I started praising God, proclaiming myself as His, and speaking in tongues. I was waving my hands and dancing around in an ecstatic fit that I could not control. I was exuberantly happy to be alive.

Within no time, for me, literally, no time, Stephen arrived and I told him what had been happening. I asked him to take me to Wendy's, which was still open, so that I could eat something and come down further. He took me, and I got a salad and baked potato. On the way, he told me that he'd had experiences like mine before as well. We're both a little too interested in drugs.

He took me back to the empty CVS parking lot, and I ate and we talked a little. He reminded me of what I was supposed to be doing instead of hanging out with work friends. He said, in simple honestly, "So, basically, you ditched mom to go get high." It was the truth. I was supposed to hang out with my mom, and I got depressed, and didn't feel like I could handle her presence, so instead I went out in search of weed. Typical me.

I told Stephen that one of us would have to stop all this drug nonsense and get healthy soon, and that it should be me. He agreed. He told me that I needed to stop smoking cigarettes as well, and I agreed. I was, by this point, able to safely drive home, and so I thanked him and told him that if he ever needed me to return the favor, I would surely do so.

As I drove home, with the window down, I constricted my core muscles as to maintain my grip on the present. I made it home, completely safely, and headed for bed. I lit candles in my room, and laid down for a meditative rest. I felt the cleansing of the Spirit, and fell asleep without any trouble. I'd known that it was my destiny to sleep well that night, and so I did.

And since then, I have had a renewed interest in living. I'm still smoking, but I'm gradually weaning myself off of cigarettes (smoking Newport Lights, currently ;} ), and I've set a date for their complete cessation: October 15. I'm eating better, and have decided to return to my vegetarian ways, with the occasional exception of fish. I've started reading this amazing website called Christ's Way (, thank you David for the recommendation!), and a little bit more of the Bible. I'm feeling an elevation, a renewed interest in being at one with the Spirit, and a general satisfaction with everything in my life. I'm making peace with my past and enjoying the present, losing concern for the future and instead choosing to love myself into increasingly grander states of being.

Love and Life are miracles that are ours to have and share. Material circumstances are but illusions that can be mastered through the power of God's Love. How blessed I was to have a moment in which everything was nearly taken from me, so that I could wake the next morning with a revived appreciation for the beauty of All that Is!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Death

The Sweet Taste of Death
Sean Michael Barker

On my way home from work tonight, I stopped by Wendy's and ordered Honey Barbecue Boneless Wings and a medium chocolate Frosty. It's a contemplative sort-of evening for me, so I'm sitting here eating my snack and reflecting on why I'm attracted to things that are gradually killing me. It won't be long before I light another Newport, in this same vein.

For starters, it's clear that I'm going with a certain flow. I am by no means the only person I know who can make an entire diet out of fast food, nor am I the only Danvillian who smokes menthol cigarettes. In fact, for perhaps the first time in my life, I consider myself to be in the majority in this sense; what I'm doing is considered completely "normal" here. Indeed, with two working parents and a cultural endorsement for choosing tasty convenience, I can honestly say that I was raised on fast food. Outside of Danville, it took a great deal of conscious effort to will myself out of my fast-food addiction, not to mention a group of well-meaning friends who lovingly looked down upon it. But here I am again, surrounded by folks who see nothing wrong with a habitual stop at Hardee's or Bojangles or McDonald's or wherever you fancy (pick your poison!), and I have relinquished my will power to the greater judgment of my present context. And, I must admit: I am a lot happier now that I've stopped trying to be health-conscious and vegetarian in Danville, VA.

The question at hand, then, has less to do with why I-personally am making these decisions, and more to do with why we, as a culture, find ourselves constantly doing this. I have a theory which I aim to share.

My theory dates back to my college days, when it was my job to think (or, depending on the class, to repeat others' thoughts). I was a Black Studies major, because the thoughts inspired by these classes were the ones that I found to be the most interesting. Every Black Studies class will at some point address the history of slavery. Most of these conversations will make some attempt to connect the past to the present. This is what I loved most about Black Studies: it helped me to make sense of the world I currently live in, by offering a wider array of conceptions of the past than I found in more "traditional" classes.

I'm not sure which one it was, but in one of my classes, we talked about soul food. As in, the culinary tradition that originates in Southern African-American culture. My very insightful professor told us that slaves--particularly "field" slaves--were generally fed what amounted to table scraps. The master and his family, fittingly, would reserve the choice foods, specifically the "good" cuts of meat, for themselves, and would give the slaves whatever remained that was edible. The slave's diet, then, would be a combination of foods that they could grow for themselves in their precious-little "free" time and their owners' leftovers. This explains why black Southerners (and even some white Southerners of poorer backgrounds) retain their tastes for intestines, livers, dark meats, and what have you. At one point, this was all they had to work with. It also accounts for black people's cultural penchant for rich seasoning: they needed to add a good deal of flavoring to their food to make it palatable, because they were eating parts of the animal that were not even considered to be "food" by the culture-at-large. So, there you have it: a tradition is born, predictably out of the conditions of oppression.

My "original" thought comes in here. I completely accept the narrative that I just laid out as truth, but I have a contribution that I believe adds further insight into the situation. Let's say that you're a black American slave at the turn of the 19th century. You have no personal connection to Africa because your family have been in America for 3-5 generations by now. You work sunup to sundown for a man who does not love or care for you, who beats you whenever he feels the need, who rapes your daughters and considers you to be an animal. You have no conception of a better life than the one you're living now, because you know that any effort you make toward self-liberation will result in a brutal death. You know that you can be separated from your family and loved ones at any moment; your teenage son can literally be sold to the highest bidder. What, then, do you really have to live for?

Hope springs eternal and the will to live is one of the most profound phenomena of human existence. Nevertheless, suicide exists, as do subtler forms of self-destruction. It seems to me that there is a sort-of economic factor when it comes to living. When the cost of living outweighs the cost of dying, perfectly sane people choose to die.

But there seems to be a gradient. We have the extremes: those who kill themselves, and those who completely embody health and vivacity. But we also have a vast middle ground of people who have no desire to die in the immediate sense, but who clearly demonstrate patterns of behavior that can only result in death. Perhaps a similar economic measure can be applied to those in the "moderate" categories.

This is the thrust of my theory: even though everyone knows that certain behaviors, certain foods, drugs and other products are as good as gradual death sentences, people nevertheless choose to engage in/consume them based upon the degree to which they value their own lives. This is why I find more smokers in my social circle as a waiter in workingclass Danville than I did as a college student in middleclass Williamsburg. People here believe that they have less to live for. The longer I stay here, the less I believe there is something to live for.

And who can blame us? Our work is repetitive, degrading, depressing, and soul-crushing. Most of us have aspects to life outside of our work that gives us something to live for. But, when most of our waking life is spent doing work that is not intrinsically rewarding or meaningful, why wouldn't we want to ensure that the release of death draws ever-closer? On the opposite side of the coin, why wouldn't those who lead more fulfilling lives want to prolong it as much as possible? It can all be reduced to a cost/benefit analysis.

And, in the case of good food, good times, and good friends, what better way to go could there be? When no quality of life is apparent, we create it out of thin air. No matter how bad my job was on any given day, it can all be turned around if I have a delicious meal when I get off. When I have no strong desire to live anyway, death can taste quite sweet indeed. It's only when that menacing voice of hope emerges that my habits start to reek of bitterness again. Thankfully, my will toward destruction remains strong enough to silence that voice, no matter how loud it gets. I'm always only one mentholated puff away from where I started, and for the time-being, that's how I like it.

I trust and believe that someday I will find a self-sustaining drive toward health and life. But while my material circumstances dictate my reality, I reserve the right to kill myself a little bit, just to take the edge off of what would otherwise be a completely abysmal situation. My taste for death is completely moment-appropriate, and I do not comdemn myself for obeying my treacherous desires. At present, death to me is as sweet as honey. I will know it's time to move on when it begins to taste as bitter as itself again.

As for right now, it's time for me to reward myself with another Newport :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Life According to Bjork

**I don't really like these sorts of things, and I can honestly say that I do perhaps one of them a year. This is the one for 2009; it struck me as too much fun to resist. Submitted.**

RULES: Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to a bunch of people including me. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think! Re-post as "My Life According to (BAND NAME)"

Pick Your Artist: Bjork

1. Are you a male or female?
Venus as a Boy

2. Describe yourself:
Violently Happy
All Neon Like

3. How do you feel:
Pleasure is All Mine
There's More to Life Than This

4. Describe where you currently live:
Mouth's Cradle
New World

5. If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Hidden Place

6. Your favorite form of transportation:
Vertebrae by Vertebrae
107 Steps

7. Your best friend:
Army of Me
Pagan Poetry

8. Your favorite color is:

9. What's the weather like:
Desired Constellation
Sun in My Mouth

10. Favorite time of day:
cover me

11. If your life was a tv show, what would it be called:
An Echo, A Stain

12. What is life to you:
It's Oh So Quiet
Triumph of a Heart

13. Your current relationship:
One Day

14. Looking for:
Come to Me
Big Time Sensuality
Dull Flame of Desire

15. Wouldn’t mind:
Earth Intruders

16. Your fear:
The Modern Things

17. What is the best advice you have to give:
I've Seen It All
It's Not Up to You
Harm of Will
All is Full of Love

18. If you could change your name, you would change it to:

19. Thought for the Day:
Where is the Line?

20. How I would like to die:
In the Musicals

21. My motto:
Play Dead

Wednesday, August 5, 2009




One of the themes of my life so far has been queerness. Queerness, as I define it, is a state beyond traditional modalities of existence and means of self-understanding or identification. I have for some time now walked the path of queerness, and as I transition into a new state of being, I wish to reflect upon my "career in queer." Thusly submitted herein, with love. Sean Barker.

Queerness is both a blessed and a cursed state. When brought down to its essence, it is the state of separation. "I am not like all of this which surrounds me." This has been my mentality for as far back as I can remember. Externally, my queerness is understood and talked about in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity. Internally, however, I understand these to be secondary to the essence of my difference, the totality of which I cannot properly communicate in words. Even before I had a sexual orientation or a gender identity, I was queer. Simply put, I have always felt different.

In my mind, the rules do not apply to me. I see others as restricted from within; they believe that certain attributes or ways of being are inaccessible to themselves, because they are or are not a certain way. My experience of selfhood has been far less restricted. I can be anything I want to be, beyond the cliche notion through which grade children are encouraged to pursue their dreams. I can literally be anything I want to be: be it man, woman, black, white, elf, wombat, what have you. If I can conceive of it, I can become it. My experiences have demonstrated this time and time again (though, I will admit, I never actually set out to become a wombat). Reality is quite flexible in my eyes; I am too transcendent a figure to take any of this literally. This is what sets me apart from others.

It goes without saying that mine has been a liberated path. There is little which I have denied myself, and much which I have explored without the baggage of the idea of self-contradiction. Properly speaking, I have barely even possessed what I would term a "self." I have been, in every moment, whatever I wished to be at that time. Without holding onto any obstructive concept of self, I have nevertheless been, with nothing but my corporeal configuration as my constant. Simultaneously, I have existed and I have not existed. I am often as a mirror reflecting reality back to itself, and sometimes I am a palate projecting my latest creation. Never am I anything that can be pinned down or understood in simple terms. Above all, I am an enigma. And I've enjoyed this.

Through the vehicle of queerness, I have encountered a tremendous amount of beauty. I find that humans, so-called "normal" humans, are eternally willing to share of themselves with those whom they trust. As a queer, my selfhood has always been performed. All I need do is give something of myself to which the people in my life can relate, and they will happily relate to me. Because I have no solid or stable sense of self, I can relate to anyone. I just have to play the part, and love will take its course. By habitually choosing to relate to people regardless of background or present circumstance, and maintaining a self-conscious taste for diversity, I have come to understand the beauty of all walks of life. I love everyone, in the sense that I appreciate the richness of each and every nuance within the whole of human existence. My hunger for life and its novelties has been insatiable, and thus I have been blessed with an endless supply of fresh ideas and situations. I have embraced these fully, with no manner of hang-up or regard for propriety.

Travelling as I have consistently placed me in a position akin to that of the anthropologist: I have been in many contexts a participant-observer. I have been many things, but always with the understanding that I would not be as such permanently. I have played all of the parts (quite well I will confess), and in so doing gained an immediate understanding of the nature of each position. Instead of becoming a genius in one role, I have opted to be a generalist in that I've wished to know something of everything. When I've had my fill of one context, I move on to the next. As my youthful energy has allowed, I've consistently found myself operating in several contexts at once. Life, I will admit, has been something of a ceaseless crash-course for me. Through queerness, I have experienced a gamut of life-lessons, and I am the better for it.

I have also acquired much "fodder" for the next stage of my existence: the inevitable culmination of my queer past into a stable, un-queer sense of self. I find that, while every person or group has something to offer, no identity category which I have encountered to date has everything I'm looking for. Some groups have a profound experience of the emotional, while others have a knack for expanding the intellectual. Some people have all the spiritual connection one could want, but absolutely no clue as to what is happening here on Earth. Culture A might have a really keen grasp on preventative medicine and holistic healing, while Culture B just simply knows how to have fun. My explorations have allowed me to have an expansive--if so far nebulous--repertoire of self-potentials at my disposal for the final integration.

So why even bother with stability? Why integrate at all? If it is true that I've had the time of my life being queer, whatever could compel me to suddenly become normal or consistent?

Practically speaking, I've come to find that one simply cannot remain queer forever. Or, at least, I cannot. My ostentatious and indefatigable exploration of identities was made possible by the sponsorship first of my parents and later of my student loans. At present, I find myself a working-class degree-holder with debt. Performance and games are for those who have no bills to pay. I am now making the decision to wake up from my queer dreamland, and settle into the logistical problems of material reality. Questions such as "who am I?" or "whom do I want to be today?" are not nearly as important as "how am I going to get out of debt?" and "do I really want to be waiting tables for the rest of my life?" The time has come for me to stop being a freak and to start being a real-world person with real-world problems. By focusing on the material, I will become financially solvent and enable myself to move on to richer and more rewarding realities.

Additionally, I've reached the point where I can confidently say that I gained all that I needed in the way of self-exploration. In one moment, the reality of my selfhood hit me like a stack of bricks, and I discovered that I Am. Since then, I have been in transition, and am still in the process of incorporating the values and knowledges I've gained into a comprehensive and reconciled Self. My fluid identity is what yielded all of the creative fodder that I can now channel into my most brilliant and permanent role: that of the Real Sean Barker. I no longer need to be enigmatic; I can simply be.

Finally, I will confess that queerness is burden. As a brilliant and undoubtedly insane homeless person once told me, "It's lonely at the top." Inhabiting a transcendent space beyond identity did much to feed my ego and convince me that I was "above it all." But, at the end of the day, I am a human with human needs. Constantly "passing through" identities, friendships, circles of humanity is fun for a while, but in order to have true friends, one must be a true self. Love in its most potent form happens when the wall of separation between you and the rest of the world breaks down and you allow others to see the real you. As you become realer, you gravitate toward your like-matter, and enjoy the fruits of acceptance, normality, and real love. Being brilliant and nebulous has its advantages, but at the end of the day, it cannot replace the power of the healing energy of looking into a loved one's eyes with all of the beauty and tragedy of a shared Selfhood. I am making the choice to be Love.

And, so far, it fits. Though it's taken me a while to get used to being completely honest all of the time, to being transparent, no longer a mystery, I'm finding that the creature-comforts are well worth the change. No longer must I be "on guard," persistently aware of the character I'm presently in. I can just be. I am no longer afraid of getting too close to people, for fear that I will miss them when I move on. I now allow myself to love and be loved. I do not, in my present condition, have to constantly analyze, interrogate, and criticize the world around me, in its pitiable normalcy. I can just be normal--if a bit quirky--and tend to my own affairs humbly and without contempt.

At the end of the day, I am a simple creature. I am an upwardly mobile middle class white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, a great American, a well-adjusted gay man. I am intelligent. I am spiritual. I love to dance and eat good food (vegetarian!). I have behind me a tumultuous, dramatic, exciting youth, and I love to share anecdotes from it with those I encounter. "Man, those were the days," I often quip. Sure, I did my share of identity-exploration, and did so under the self-righteous moniker of queerness. But, who doesn't set out to find themselves these days? Isn't the coming-of-age narrative the quintessential American experience at present? Mine just happened to be a bit more flamboyant than usual. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Of course, I wouldn't repeat it for the world, either.

Normalcy and queerness are simply states of mind. From where I sit today, it's clear to me that I never was nearly as queer as I thought I was. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that I'm pronouncedly normal, in this crazy day-in-age. Ultimately, the transition to normalcy is as easy as flipping on a light switch. And, just like that, I am.

Easy, right?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Becoming

I am a creature in transition. I am somewhere between a fictional version of myself that I have created to keep Love away, and the real Self that I truly Am and was Created to be. This is a precarious position. For I know the beauty of the person I am becoming: his confidence, his appearance, his lifestyle, his masculine grace. When I finally become the Man I am inside, I will be happy and truly at Peace. I will be a “success,” both in the material sense and within myself, as measured by my personal, innermost yardsticks. I will be perfectly conformed to Love, and this I will love everyone and everything. My life will be absolutely filled with Love. 

And yet, I suffer because I cannot completely relinquish the old “me” so that I can be fully Myself. While working through my pain, I find that time and again I need to numb it with something: a bad habit, or a self-denying/self-destructive pattern of thought, or throwing myself into some job or other context that I really don’t intrinsically enjoy or care about. Inevitably, I displace myself such that I feel the need to grow a shell of falsity. I adopt the patterns and mannerisms of my present context such that I “fit in” while denying some important side of me, serving to hold me back from being my fullness. In short, I habitually compromise Myself.

I do this out of Fear. Deep inside, I love everyone and I am afraid to be something that they cannot love in return. Some misguided part of me thinks that the only way to secure love is to reflect the people whom I want to love me. This is only true for the incredibly egotistical. Indeed, these are the people whose love simply is not worth the effort. Those caught in self-absorption are not capable of loving outside of themselves in a satisfactory fashion. They must examine themselves thoroughly, either to discover who they are, or as an obsessive effort to keep from discovering who they are. Either way, they are so tuned into themselves that they simply cannot pick up other frequencies. I know, because I’ve been there, and this is the very pattern to which I return to keep from really connecting with the people in my life. I re-grow my ego.

Ego can be very adaptive. Surely, if we all went around being completely emotionally present and in full Selfness, we could not maintain our very depressing present reality. We would be forced to love ourselves and each other such that we would cease to torture ourselves altogether. For whatever reason, we seem to feel as if we cannot, as a species, handle that yet. We’re not ready for the Truth, so to speak. We’re not ready to be happy, in Love, and at Peace. And so, while we continue to subject ourselves to misery, we develop these coping mechanisms that enable us to persist through soul-crushing circumstances. We find ways to ease or numb the pain. We produce second-selves that act as our personal utility vehicles for the road of Life. We do not have to worry about speedbumps or even pitfalls, for we are secure inside a big machine with a hard shell. As long as we stay inside, nothing can truly hurt us. Our very existence requires that we suppress our pain and carry on when we really need to break down. We cannot take the time to take care of ourselves when there are mouths to feed and bills to pay. And so, we build a plush habitat that allows us to continue playing the Game while we slowly kill ourselves inside of it. It’s what we “have” to do. 

But in reality—Reality—we never have to have an ego. It’s always a choice. Truth be told, it’s always a bad choice. For Ego is the ultimate Enemy, the Devil Himself, if you will. It is the enemy on the inside, the “treason from within,” in the words of Lauryn Hill. She continues that it “won’t be happy ‘til it sees the death of Me.” As you persist in ego and continue to deny your Self, you will inevitably adopt self-destructive habits that outwardly display your inner suicidality. In you completely relinquish yourself to ego, you will eventually quite literally self-destruct. Submitting to Fear is submitting to Death, in the truest sense. 

And so, ultimately, becoming yourself requires that you kill your ego, before it can kill you. This is not an easy task, and it is the one I have adopted as my present ultimate goal. I can tell you that it is quite a tumultuous process, and one that can make you feel absolutely insane. One moment, you are completely filled with Love, being your true Self, and serving as a beacon of Light and a source of warmth for all around you. The very next you may find yourself in an uncontrollable fit of sadness or anger or some other deplorable state. I go from being a kind-hearted dispenser of Truth to a rotten lying prick, all within the same day. There’s so much instability that I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever feel sane or even real again. This process is a full-time job, and yet I find myself with material, so-called “real world” obligations that distract me from my Self-cultivation. This is not an easy path, and it involves above all else a spirit of sacrifice, but this is My path, and I have chosen to bear My Cross. All the pain is mine and I know beyond knowing that letting it come through me is my only real option.

For pain is the very stuff of becoming, of growing. This process, though agonizingly unpredictable and tumultuous, is the only way in which I can become the Man I am. It is my role to kill my ego on the ground, as a real human being. I must do so gradually, so that the process can be successful and the results lasting. I must fully submit to Self and become a beacon for Truth, Beauty, and Love for all the world to see. By allowing my very being to become a pure expression of God’s Love, I will demonstrate to those who know me and/or experience my presence that they, too, can have the joy and fulfillment of Divine existence. I will remind people of their own divinity, and bring others to the paradise of ego-lessness. Or, rather, I will let the Almighty pull them through me. 

And so, I welcome this process of becoming and all of its requisite pain. Indeed, I love it, for this is the very substance of Life. Life is always a process of becoming, and so there is always pain. It is in the Next Life that we will simultaneously know existence and painlessness. Life as we know it is pain, and so I embrace my life and my pain with open arms. I know that these memories that are my present will one day be as precious as treasure to me. When I exist in ego-lessness, all of this will be as a dream. I will lose memory of pain; I will have Heaven-on-Earth. 

But for now, I simply am not ready. There is more that I need to experience, more pain that must chip away at my ego as a chisel removes the excess marble to reveal the beautiful sculpture beneath. I am getting there: I feel it, I trust it, and I know it. But there’s no need to rush, and indeed the timing is not mine to decide anyway. The destination is glorious, but the road possesses its own unique beauty. Though I often feel as a weary traveler on a treacherous and impossibly long, winding path, I know that the destination awaits, and all of this will be worth it in the end. 

And so: I have learned that in order to simply be, I must first become. And yet, in order to become, I must be. Becoming is a cursed paradox, and the excruciating reality of my present. But one day, I will let go and truly be. And my, won’t that be glorious!


Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Necessity of Sin

**I started this about a week and a half ago, and finished it this morning. I like it, because it explicates my insanity pretty well.**

The Necessity of Sin
Sean Michael Barker

It is presently the season of Lent, and Christians who observe this tradition take time each year to reflect upon sin, sacrifice, and the roles that these play in their lives. We do this by examining our personal sins and by giving up a specific one in order to strengthen our walk in faith and our relationship with Christ. Though Lent is traditionally observed by Catholics and Anglicans—and I am neither—I decided to participate this year in order to improve myself and attempt to understand why I sin and what I need to do to stop sinning. 

We are currently two weeks into the forty-day Lenten season, and I have already failed in my personal commitments to stop smoking and overindulging in sweets. Though I started off strongly, I never quite achieved the focus necessary to carry my goals all the way through. I haven’t given up; I plan to get right back on the proverbial horse and try again, but I must admit that, as a Christian and a spiritual person, I’m not quite “there” yet. Though disappointing, this is an important revelation.

It tells me that, despite the tremendous personal/spiritual progress that I’ve made over the past year and a half, I am still very much a sinner. There still exists within me an impulse toward destruction that I have not conquered, nor have I allowed my Savior to vanquish for me. In my pride, I have attempted to control something that is in fact beyond me, without taking the necessary steps or making the requisite sacrifices to rid myself of it. I’m just not there yet. 

And so, here I am, a sinner, meditating for a season on the nature of sin. Thusly positioned, I am aware of what sin does for me and what it does against me. I fully recognize that the cons outweigh the pros, but, in what I may someday view as a foolish self-defense, I will choose now to focus on why sin is a necessary and perhaps even a good force within one’s life.

So what exactly is sin? We have a common definition, and most people would probably produce a list of examples if asked such a question. I will do the same to illustrate my point, but I believe that sin is a purely relative notion with perhaps some overarching ideas that apply more widely than to the self. I subscribe to the idea that we each have a purpose on this planet and a core Self that is perfectly designed to fulfill this purpose. I believe that free will is a necessary illusion and that, ultimately, everything—no matter how seemingly wrong or heinous—is in fact acceptable. I believe that the will of God is perfect and that there is no such thing as a mistake or a misstep within the Great Plan. 

One might say that I don’t really believe in sin at all, and that’s fair. Then again, I’ve already self-identified as a sinner, so I’d need to believe the way I do in order to continue as such. You can see the paradoxical nature of being me here: ultimately, I do personally believe in sin, but I also believe that God created everything, including sin, and is in complete control of both sin and salvation. To me, it is all a beautiful and perfect experience that must be taken as a whole in order to be appreciated. Much as I recognize the illusory nature of this whole concept, this narrative if you will, I value it too much to let go of it and not live out my own story of darkness-come-light. 

Reality exists in layers. I find this to be true, both personally and in an aggregate sense. My higher self understands that it’s all just a story and that it must be lived out from start to finish. My common self—the one I am most frequently—believes in free will and thus believes in the possibility of causing harm to oneself and others in such a way as to incur blame and therefore guilt. Though this seems very complicated, it makes sense to me, and I understand myself to be a reconciled multi-dimensional figure. Let me assure you: we’re fine just the way we are J

To simplify it for the reader, let’s say that I self-consciously choose to believe in sin, because I see it as a valuable way of contending with this very strange and complex world. I cannot look around myself without seeing Good and Evil. Therefore, I cannot look at or within myself without identifying both of these forces within me. I am possessive of a utopian ideal that I call Good, and I want for Good to conquer Evil and make the world a paradise. Therefore, I must rid myself of all that runs counter to this goal; I must purge the Evil within. 

For me, Good is the perfect harmony of God’s grace reigning everything such that peace and beauty prevail as the hallmarks of this planet. Evil is man’s impulse toward control and desire for God-like status—created by Fear—that cause him to ruin what would otherwise be Heaven and subject himself to ceaseless misery. Good looks like a visual cornucopia of uninterrupted life, a very natural and beautiful vision of Love itself expressed in an endless dance of water, air, earth, fire, and flesh. Evil, on the other hand, looks like a grey perversion of asphalt and steel, a harsh and ruthless cacophony of consumption and slaughter. From this point of view, Evil is currently winning, just as it was written. 

But Good prevails in the end according to the story, and it is this story that I have chosen as my own. Love conquers all. We will someday understand that God is and always has been in control, and that Evil was allowed its season so that we could have the chance to understand more fully God’s perfection and submit to him the will that was rightfully and indeed truthfully His the entire time. But, like myself, we are not there yet.

And so, here we are, sinners, needing to be sinners so that we can get beyond both sin and salvation. While we are here, we must conquer not only our personal demons, but the quintessentially destructive force of judgment that holds us back more than all of our petty vices combined. It is for this reason that I will explicate my purely relative conception of sin.

As I said, we are all created beings with a predestined purpose inscribed in the very core of ourselves. We must fulfill our purpose, and doing so requires that we obey the forces within us that are beyond us. Desire and belief are two forces that inhabit this irrational space. We all have desires, and we all have beliefs, and it is our mission to enact these. We are all individuals, and our desires and beliefs are thus quite diverse. No two people share the exact same purpose, and so no two people possess the exact same desires or beliefs. Sin occurs when we refuse to obey these forces. 

The world is full of liars who will tell you that they possess an objective definition of sin, and that salvation can only occur if you adopt and adhere to their strictures. Anyone who has tried to live for someone else, by someone else’s moral code can tell you that it doesn’t work—that is, if they choose to be honest with themselves and with you. They won’t choose to do this until they’ve moved beyond that way of living. Salvation lies in finding one’s own core, in coming into one’s own as a spiritual being and understanding one’s purpose. Until you know who you are, you cannot be what you need to be in the fullest sense.

Unfortunately, knowing yourself is only half the battle. Once you have that part figured out, you must then take on the all-important task of being yourself. From my perspective, that of someone who is quite odd, this is the hard part. It seems to be easier for those who are more normal, but perhaps they lack self-awareness and are actually conforming. This isn’t for me to decide, but I think about this a lot, especially when I’m in a self-pitying/self-destructive/sinful mode. Suffice it to say that being oneself in the fullest sense is a formidable task, and those who achieve it—no matter who they are—have my deepest respect and admiration.

Within my relative framework, sin is knowing who you are and doing things that are inconsistent with that person at the core. It is misrepresenting yourself. It is holding yourself back and committing acts that impede your personal progress and mission. It is trying to be something you’re not. 

I will use myself as an illustration. Because of the conception of Good that I laid out earlier, I believe that we all must examine ourselves and our habits to identify the things that we do that contribute to the destructive forces that are eating the planet and making us all miserable. This entire mess that is the present is nothing more than the sum of all of our decisions. And so, each decision must be interrogated within the context of the whole. 

I believe that greed and fear are the driving forces of destruction. And so, every time I make a greedy or fearful decision, I am sinning. I can be both very greedy and very fearful. I very much enjoy my luxurious lifestyle, which is full of delicious food, material comforts, and over-stimulation. I eat more than I need to, I waste time that could be better spent, and I am in no particular hurry to fulfill my spiritual mission (knowing full and well what it is). I am a greedy person. I want what I want, when I want it, and I do not sacrifice these things when I clearly need to. 

Perhaps if I ate less, there would be less hunger in the world. If I took the hour that I use to watch an X-Files rerun and instead wrote something important, I could perhaps create a ripple effect that would make the world that much better. If I weren’t so afraid of losing my material comforts, I could quit my job waiting tables (feeding into other people’s greed and gluttony) and instead do something really valuable with my life. There is much that I choose to do and choose not to do that is inconsistent with the person I am at the core, with my most cherished beliefs and my most powerful desires. I am, therefore, a sinner. 

I want very desperately to be good. I want to be fully consistent with who I am from the depths of my being. I want to overcome sin and be myself. Thus, when I commit sinful acts, I feel ashamed and depressed. My misery outshines my love, and the people around me thus suffer with me. I project my pain in every direction, and everyone who comes into contact with me will bear witness to my sinful nature and share, to some degree, in its destructiveness. I become a bad influence and a bad friend, son, coworker, brother, and so forth. As my sinful cycle continues, I eventually reach the point where I feel as though Life itself is against me, and I adopt a “fuck everything and everyone” attitude. This only fuels my negative decision-making, and before long, I find myself in the state of being a selfish, irresponsible, self-loathing, spiteful prick. 

My life seems to bend toward darkness when I’m experiencing a season of sin, which further compounds my misery. As I cease to be pleasant company, and cease to care about how my actions affect others, I find myself drifting in a sea of self-isolation. I feel as though I cannot connect with those around me. The very people about whom I care the most seem to reject me, and in my self-pitying, I cannot blame them. My material resources deplete because I waste them on sinful implements. I become a less conscientious worker, and so my pay—largely tip-based—decreases. All of this, of course, gives me further reason to hate myself and to engage in self-destructive behavior. 

Though these cycles are very difficult to get out of, inevitably, I find my way back to the light. Something will click inside of me, and I will remember who I am. I will recognize that I am choosing to be miserable, and will make changes to get back on the right track. Often, I will break down and experience some set of emotions that my sinfulness had been numbing, and will in that moment feel a change occurring within me that will ultimately decrease my inclination to sin altogether. This is the moment of salvation. The evil within me purges itself, and I once again feel the presence of God in my heart and in my life. It is as if I am breathing for the first time after a long period of suffocation. The River of Life washes me anew, cleansing my soul and purifying my mind. There is an influx of ecstasy, accompanied by the security of the Almighty’s loving embrace. I am renewed in both innocence and vitality.

And, sure enough, my life will reflect the change as well. A cherished friend may give me a call out of the blue, reminding me that I am in fact loved. I feel a refreshed will to live, and I seek out and gravitate toward precious moments, which I experience in their full beauty. I have no concept of loneliness, and I am pleased with my actions, as they are now life-affirming instead of life-destroying. My resources increase as more people are willing to give me more, and I do not waste money on frivolous and detrimental pursuits. In short, I am happy, and I know that I am doing the right thing and being who I really am. 

As you can probably tell, because I describe it so thoroughly, this cycle of sin and salvation has repeated itself many a time in my life. I realize that the goal is to forfeit the sin entirely, and I am ultimately working toward and incrementally achieving this end. However, I believe that the reason why I cannot yet let go of the sin is that I have such a profound appreciation for the experience of salvation. The intense beauty, comfort, and warmth of the light simply cannot be known unless one also knows the intense misery and coldness of the darkness. I am still a very intense person, and my youthful energy sustains my intensity. I still have the ability to experience these emotions to the fullest, and I take full advantage of this. I go from the highest highs to the lowest lows and back again, taking the occasional break and allowing for moderation. Moderation, to me, is overrated. At this point, I would much rather experience my existence at one extreme or the other. 

I know that this cannot last forever. Youthful vitality inevitably yields to the wisdom of maturity and the harsh reality that the body’s energy does not last forever. Ultimately, this pattern of intensity is merely creating the lifestyle that I will one day enjoy in a much more settled fashion. I will eventually relinquish both the egregious mistakes and the extraordinary periods of correction. I will accept myself as a generally good but clearly imperfect individual, and enjoy my favorite vices with temperance. No longer will these acts snowball into sequences of intense self-destruction, and, sadly, no more shall I know the beauty of bringing myself out of such a sequence. There will be a simple and enduring peace that will carry me through my adulthood and enable me to contend with the trials of life in a perpetual state of clarity. 

But, for now, I will steadfastly contend that sin is, in fact, necessary. As long as I live, I will remember this phase of my development, and the intense liveliness that it brings. I will fondly remember the drama of sin and salvation that characterizes my young adulthood, and cherish the stubborn foolishness of it all as a trapping of youth. I will look upon my present self in the eyes of nostalgic love, never longing to repeat the cycle, but infinitely thankful for the way it will have shaped me. From the position of peace, I will fully appreciate the existence of the war. Perhaps this is what it will feel like when we all relinquish sin, and become once again united with our Creator. Maybe that is the ultimate lesson: in order to appreciate peace, we must first experience the war. 

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Kids and Drugs

**Note: I wrote this one maybe a day or so after the previous post. I tried to get this published in the Opinions section of the Danville Register and Bee, but the decision-maker never responded to my email. I may very well pursue this avenue again, but for different pieces.**

Kids and Drugs
Sean Michael Barker

In grade school, I was taught that journalism addresses the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. I emphasize the last one because a recent series of articles in the Register and Bee left me hanging, wondering why a group of middle school students are abusing and distributing Xanax. Surely, I am not alone in my bafflement. 

I’m no stranger to drugs. I’ve been exposed to alcohol and marijuana since my own middle school days, and when I went to college, I came across a vast array of psychoactive substances, from prescription pills to hallucinogens to cocaine and heroin. I’ll go ahead and admit to some experimentation, but I’ll leave it vague and say that, to this day, I feel very comfortable with the decisions I made. 

Still, I am alarmed that people in this generation that is only one behind my own (I’m 23) are using harder substances at increasingly younger ages—in Dry Fork, Virginia no less. Drug use in college makes sense to me. There’s something of a cultural imperative to “find oneself” in a context full of youthful agency and free of parents. Plus, at least at the school I attended (William and Mary), there’s a persistent pressure to succeed, and the professors don’t exactly make it easy to do so. Pretty much all of my college friends used something at some point to relax, to escape from a bleak day-to-day, to explore altered states of consciousness, or to bond with one another. And, around exam time, there’s an incredibly robust black market for study aides. Drug culture, I can report, has become the mainstream in the American university. 

But what on earth could a middle school student have to contend with that would impute drug use? What manner of lows are they experiencing that, for them, necessitate an artificial high? What are they so anxious or restless about?

One obvious possible answer is the ceaseless, pervasive problem that confronts every generation of Danville/Pittsylvania youth: boredom. Simply put, there is nothing to do here that appeals to young people, and the same-old patterns of school/church/consumption become tiring once the inevitability of adulthood and its promised “freedoms” come into view. When lacking other options, kids find their fun in all the wrong places. Maybe someday we’ll work with our young people to address this in a manner that suits all interests.

But I suspect that there is something much more serious at work here. After all, if boredom alone were the culprit, we would have been popping pills ten years ago. It seems clear to me that what we are seeing now is the coming-of-age of a new Lost Generation. And I for one can fully understand why they would be so lost. 

Since feminism, the double-income/no stay-at-home-parent household has become the norm in middleclass America. The 70s brought us the idea that women should be considered equal to men, while the 80s and 90s ushered in the modern era of rampant materialism and a somewhat grotesque obsession with ever-increasing access to technological niceties. Each year brought us a fresh wave of must-have gadgets and gizmos, new things that promised to make our lives richer and more fulfilling. Our culture quickly adapted to each onslaught of expensive developments such that luxuries became “necessities.” To keep up with the Joneses, mothers left the home and went into the workforce, where they were now welcome and—thanks to Affirmative Action legislation—nearly recruited. 

Though these parents meant well, and their kids did indeed enjoy having the latest video games, cell phones, and music-playing devices, the price of all this was ultimately much greater than mere dollars and cents. 

We have become a generation—now two generations—raised on fast food, internet, and cable television. Over half of us are the products of broken homes. For the overwhelming majority of us, the idea of a “home-cooked meal” means something that came from a box that a tired mother slapped together within 20 minutes after returning from her 9-to-5. Most of us probably ate that meal in front of a television set. Anything resembling “family time” was spent frustratingly avoiding real conversation, waiting for the chance to leave the table and chat with friends online. The art of domesticity has been reduced to another consumerist cult, and the idea of parenting as an endeavor has all but gone out the window entirely. 

Families run on auto-pilot these days, cycling through the same patterns of instituted separation, collective consumption, mutual avoidance, and sleep. Children become more identified with their schoolmates and with pop culture than with their parents simply because these are the forces that take up all of their attention and quality time. Similarly, parents think of themselves primarily in terms of their career, leaving little-to-no energy or attention to invest in the home. Parents and children have no basis for relating to one another, and plenty of distractions to occupy their time. And so they simply do not communicate with any degree of quality or depth. 

Is it any wonder, then, that today’s young people would look for something more? What do we expect from a generation who learn their values through Myspace, Youtube, and MTV? Have you seen the crap they put on television these days? 

And then there’s the question of access. The way I figure it, we either have one or more corrupt pharmacist in Danville, or these kids are stealing pills from their parents and relatives. Frankly, the latter seems the much more plausible possibility.  Middle schoolers can’t drive to CVS, after all. 

Caught up in the rat race of working and spending, and unable to handle the reality of the black hole of meaningless that has become their lives, parents are increasingly resorting to psychoactive prescriptions that enable them to persist without perceiving any of the problems that continue to build around them. If parents are buying their happiness in a bottle, why are we surprised that their children are seeking it from the same source? And who’s really to blame, when that’s the case?

What these young people and others like them who have yet to be caught need is not our punishment and collective public ridicule, but rather our compassion and attention. Certainly, an event like this is disappointing, but we must be holistic in our consideration of the factors that create such a grave situation. As much as these kids have let us down, we have let them down. Parents, pastors, community leaders, and, yes, even our schools have seriously dropped the ball with respect to these kids. Instead of shipping them off to alternative school, why don’t we ask them about their lives? Why don’t we find out what the root of this problem is, and address it directly? Surely we aren’t so dense as to assume that these 11 students comprise the entirety of the local middle school drug scene. If we allow this incident to drift into the recesses of our public consciousness, we will continue to see our young people resorting to destructive behaviors. 

Kids grow up fast these days, and the very concept of innocence has tragically lost its currency in the cable television/internet era. But what if we’re all still innocent, in a sense? What if these kids truly do not understand what they are doing to themselves, simply because they have not been taught any better? Who are the role models in their lives, and how do the words and actions of these adults influence their adolescents’ behavior? If you ask me, these students are only reflecting the reality of their environment. Rather than pointing the finger at them, calling them the guilty ones, perhaps all of us should examine our own guilt with regards to this matter. Until we do so, healing and progress cannot and will not occur. 

Danville and the Economics of Global Power

**I wrote this maybe three weeks ago. I hope to get this published in one of Danville's papers, but I somehow think that may be unlikely. Maybe even unwise. Comments appreciated.**

Danville and the Economics of Global Power
Sean Michael Barker

“Blind with the wickedness / Deep in your heart, / Modern-day wickedness / Is all you’ve been taught. / Lied to your neighbor / So you get ahead, / Modern-day trickery / Is all you’ve been fed.”  Lauryn Hill, “Motives and Thoughts”

Born and raised right here in Danville, I took a 5-year hiatus to go to college, have some adventures, and find myself. I moved back here at the beginning of this year, and I now see my hometown in a different light, with a fuller sense of clarity. I feel compelled to share my perspective with Danvillians, in hopes that it can offer solutions to the problems we commonly experience. I do not mean to offend herein, but I will not sacrifice candor at the altar of political correctness. 

When I look around this town, I see an endless string of depression. I speak here both of the economic depression that has been ours all the long and is now sweeping the nation, and of the deep emotional void that comes with a complete sense of displacement. We are a depressed community, from top to bottom, left to right, and black to white. In our collective numbness, we may not feel it from moment to moment, but our misery is recorded on our faces, in our bodies, in our habits, ideas, and in our self-presentations. We all are lacking and longing for something more, and we wear this reality as if it were a skin. 

Economics is but one facet of existence, and yet—here especially—it is one that wields an inexplicable, incredible power to affect all others. In Danville, Virginia, our approach to economics is killing us from the inside out. My education has provided me with a global perspective on the inseparability of economics, power, and oppression, and this is what I intend to offer here: a bird’s-eye view of Danville’s position within the global economic superstructure, how it affects us, and what we can do to change it. I will begin by providing a snapshot of the present-day manifestation of power on the global scale. 

Global power is best represented geometrically in the form of a pyramid. The few at the top get their power from the many at the bottom. The base of the pyramid supports the entire structure, and without it, the whole would cease to exist. The base represents the poor, the top represents the rich, and the gradients in between represent the middle classes who separate the extremes of have and have-not. It is no coincidence that the ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramids using Israelite slave labor: the structures became the physical manifestations of Egypt’s hierarchical caste system.  

At the global level, economies are created and regulated to serve the interests of those in power. This is apparent when we examine the major political bodies in which we invest authority over ourselves: the rich rule the poor. Even in the United States, which purports to be the world’s largest democracy, it is clear that a hierarchy exists, and that only those who are at the top can have any real say in what policies are implemented and executed. America is unique in that it is possible to traverse from bottom to top, but only insofar as one is willing to serve the interests of the elite in exchange for material security, to “sell out,” as we say. Even then, there are people in this country who, simply because of the conditions into which they are born, will never have a real chance at success or any manner of influence within our political/economic sphere. 

People base their entire lives on trying to move up within the structure, to secure a greater degree of material comfort relative to their position of origin. Though on an individual scale, this struggle and its journey can be rewarding and, in a superficial sense, fulfilling, the realities of poverty and depression persist because everyone is only concerned with “getting theirs.” 

Though our pyramid is admittedly more fluid than most, it is still a pyramid, and the only truly variable segment is the middle class. Upward mobility generally occurs in the space between the top of the bottom and the bottom of the top. In other words, it takes money to make money. The system is set up such that the only way to get money is to play into it, to become party to the scheme that supports the ruling class. Middleclass people are thus more identified with the wealthy than they are with the poor. They long to become rich, and so they absorb the values fed to them by the haves in hopes of breaking into that bracket. On the whole, they shun the poor and seek with every effort to distance themselves from the very people who produce the capital that provides their relative comfort.

As the middle classes admire the rich and seek to become them, the rich shun and distance themselves from the middle class. To the wealthy, everyone below them is expendable and abject. The middle class functions to keep the lower class from uprising; it serves as a buffer that insures the safety of the rulers and their riches. They know this, and they do all in their power to keep the middle class identified with them, while simultaneously controlling who can and cannot break into their ranks. 

The people at the top of the pyramid are constantly crafting strategies that keep the system in place. Divide and conquer is the name of the game; they want us to be at war and in competition with each other, so that we do not unite against them. Any and all manners of splintering strategies are employed in this pursuit, and, on the whole, they are doing a really good job at keeping us working against each other while they sit untouched by our efforts. 

The rich and powerful are working singularly toward a penultimate goal: total world domination. This may sound far-fetched and melodramatic, but it is absolutely true and they are very close to succeeding. When you examine the progression of world affairs over the course of the last century, it is clear that power is shifting from the many to the few, and that World Government—once a very unpopular and supposedly unlikely idea—is gradually taking hold. A few basic developments that evidence this include NAFTA, the EU, the UN, the World Bank and IMF, Codex Alimentarius, and so forth.  Without going into detail, I will say that, having researched these topics extensively, it is my belief that the elite of nearly all nations are working together toward this end, and that their intentions are sinister and detrimental to most humans. From this point forward, I will refer to these people and their co-conspirators as “the Globalists.” 

In pursuit of a single government and total domination, the Globalists have created a system of economic interdependence that binds together nations all around the world in a web of trade agreements. When you wonder why 80% of the products in your home come from eastern Asia, and why our country is so indebted to China, this is the reason. Globalized trade necessitates globalized regulation, in addition to creating entire industries such as international shipping and distribution. Multinational corporations, most of which were seeded by old money, have a distinct advantage in a global market: the ability to operate on a large scale due to the enormous amounts of capital required to do so. Thus, increasingly, world trade is being run by super-conglomerate, privately owned firms that dominate and monopolize markets of all sorts. Each of these corporations employ the same pyramid structure that the Globalists use; thus, within any of these entities, the many at the bottom are working to support the few at the top. As their agenda progresses, fewer individual firms will be providing the basic needs to the world’s masses, and these entities—backed by World Government—will have the authority to determine the rules by which they and their consumers operate. Invariably, these rules will further enforce the agenda of the haves at the expense of the have-nots. 

So how does Danville figure into this picture? Though we have our own class structure locally, our own definitions of “have” and “have-not,” Danville is, on the whole, a city of slaves to the global system. The biggest employers in town are all national and/or multinational firms, and the wealth created by local employees goes, for the most part, to already-rich individuals and families located somewhere else. The average Danvillian works for someone (s)he has never even seen. Furthermore, the majority of consumer outlets here are similarly “foreign-owned” in nature. The profits received by these businesses also go somewhere far away from Danville. 

As an illustration, imagine that Joe Danville works 40 hours a week at Goodyear, as a typical, bottom-of-the-pyramid, factory-floor employee. He spends a great deal of his time and energy supporting a superstructure that does not care about him and will never compensate him adequately for his life’s work, which is, to him, meaningless. He then spends his earnings maintaining a home, a vehicle bought from a multinational firm (even the American firms are multinational), and the rest he spends on niceties and necessities most likely bought at Wal-Mart. So, the money he earned slaving away his life, in large part, goes outside of this region to support the efforts of rich people who want to be richer. Does anything about this picture strike you as inappropriate? Or at least unfortunate?

This is the reality of Danville’s economy. We have slowly been taken over by enormous corporate superpowers that do not have any vested interest in our community’s wellbeing and are literally siphoning off our very life-force in the name of greed. As a whole, we are the base of the pyramid providing the time and energy needed to generate the excessive lifestyles of the rich. In this game, we are the losers. 

And, as the losers, we are relegated to lives of misery and meaningless labor. This is the root of our collective depression. Our economy is weak because all of our labor is wasted on outside interests, and all of the goods we consume come from somewhere else, with the profits going somewhere else. Having a weak economy necessitates that each individual work longer and harder to make ends meet, and this leads to an enormous deficit in our quality of life. As we become more and more drained by this system, we take out our frustrations on one another and lose the sense of community belonging that characterizes a fulfilling existence. In a ceaseless effort to fill our voids, we resort to over-consumption of just about everything, and unhealthy behaviors. This only makes the void grow larger, in addition to further draining our already scarce resources. 

Perhaps the most psychologically damaging part of this reality is the complete sense of powerlessness created by this dynamic. I have heard many a wise local quip that, should Goodyear or any of Danville’s major employers decide to leave (a very likely possibility), the town would undoubtedly go under. “Depression” would take on new meaning. Our entire livelihoods depend on the whims and financial conjectures of people who are, again, far away and totally unmoved by matters such as our quality of life. We have forfeited our destiny to these capitalists, and we all know and feel this from the center of our being. 

I have painted a really bleak picture here, but I hope that by identifying the root of the problem, the solution is then clear. If we desire to take control of our destinies and improve our quality of life, we must take back our sovereignty from these entities and work for the good of our community. The truth of the matter is, no matter how powerful these corporations may be, they depend on us to a far greater degree than we depend on them. We are the base of the pyramid, after all, and they are only the tip. Our situation is ultimately determined by the sum of every decision that we, as individuals and as a community, make. 

If we stopped shopping at Wal-Mart and started supporting our local producers, our purchasing power would remain within our borders. If we stopped slaving away for the benefit of far-removed corporatists and started investing our energies in the betterment of the Dan River Valley region, our work would gain greater meaning for us, and our lives would improve tremendously. In short, we need to reject the pyramid in favor of a circular economic model. We have the ability to take charge of our lives, to take the time and energy we currently spend supporting rich outsiders and use it to build wealth within our community. We can start producing everything that we could possibly need right here within our region. We can then choose to support local production efforts and keep our money in local hands. Instead of going to an unknown destination, our economic power would stay right here. 

As more wealth is generated and kept here, our local sovereignty would increase as would each individual’s ability to build a life of great quality. We possess within us the possibility of becoming self-sufficient, leaving this mess of a life behind and building something better from the ground up. It would take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but it would be well worth the efforts if we would only take the initiative and make it real. 

I ask the reader to examine his or her life within the framework that I have laid out here. What decisions are we making on a daily basis that contribute to our collective misery? How does each purchase, each hour spent at work affect your quality of life and that of your neighbors? Do you even care?

If we each start with ourselves, then move toward organizing and acting as a community, the path to freedom and self-determination will become crystal-clear. If we choose to love ourselves, our neighbors, and our community more than we love the comfort and security provided us by our captors, we will surely prevail over them. Our work is certainly cut out for us; everything about our culture is designed to prevent us from doing such a thing. But we can do it, if we choose to do it.

I ask you to believe in yourself and your community. I ask you to entertain the possibility that there is more to life than an endless cycle of meaningless labor and consumption. I ask you to view your life through a new lens and make changes that work to your and everyone else’s benefit. 

It all starts with one. If we change our minds, we change our world. Let’s make the decision to make life better, and let’s get to work. We won’t have the ability to choose to do so much longer if we don’t act now. 

The Erotic and the Thanatoic

**Note: I wrote this in October 2008, and it was the first essay I'd completed since college and I was quite proud of it at the time. I felt accomplished. I still like the essay, but my life has changed a bit such that this still applies, but not as neatly as it once did. In any case, I hope someone out there can make use of it.**

One of the foundational essays upon which I’ve built my personal life philosophy is Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” I was a college sophomore when I first read this revolutionary piece, and admittedly somewhat dense and naïve. Lorde used this word “Erotic”—which I had previously associated primarily with Madonna and all that was risqué, forbidden, and abject—to describe a beautiful spiritual force deep within women that could guide each to her greatest sense of fulfillment and liberation. I found myself thoroughly seduced by Lorde’s conception of the Erotic and what it could do for women, though I was somewhat dismayed and jealous that, as I male, I was presumably excluded from its power.  

It was perhaps this idea that women had “something extra” within themselves, some access to mystical, non-rational truth that led me to explore gender and, for a period, identify wholly with all things feminine. In a peculiar reversal, I willingly relinquished my male privilege in the hope of finding this mysterious source of energy and knowledge. I centralized the feminine in every aspect of my being: my external persona, my aesthetic, my thoughts. I gravitated toward the great songstresses of the twentieth century, most notably Nina Simone. I would spend hours listening to ballads of love unrequited, lost, and abused and try to experience the artists’ pain as if it were my own. It was through this phase of my life, this identification with women and their emotional experiences that I came into my own as an emotional being. To this day, I find it incredibly unfortunate and counter-intuitive that my culture denied me this way of being by codifying me as a male, and that I had to suppress my masculine qualities in order to open my heart—but that’s a different narrative altogether. 

By allowing myself the space to explore traditionally “feminine” emotional experience, I opened my heart enough to be able to tap into the Spiritual and find the Erotic that was, surely enough, inside me the whole time. I know now that all humans have the ability to find this source of inner strength, and that Lorde’s characterization of the Erotic as feminine is accurate only to the point where emotions themselves are considered to be the exclusive domain of women. Indeed, I have found its clarity and its power to be a magnificent, even divine force within my life, and it is thus that I want to share it with as many people as I possibly can. With this piece, I hope to describe the Erotic and how one can activate it within her/his life. I’ll also explicate what I know of its “evil” twin, the Thanatoic.  

I’ll start with the feeling itself. Perhaps you’ve had points in your life where you felt completely at home. There is no fear, no doubt, no wondering. You are totally in the moment, well aware of your vitality and of the infinite value of the present. A deep warmth grows within you, and you can feel yourself relaxing and relinquishing all of your pain into the beauty that is the very substance of life. As a child, I would call this “the Christmas feeling,” because I’d experience it every Christmas at my grandmother’s house. This is what I would now refer to as an Erotic hot flash. They happen during the moments where we feel the greatest sense of Love. No matter what the impetus for the feeling—person, place, thing, or idea—the love remains the same and activates within us a powerful and comforting arousal. For me, it feels as if a warm hand from Heaven is hugging me, assuring me that everything is and will remain okay.  

I’m sure the biologists have their explanation for this phenomenon. It likely has to do with glands releasing chemicals that give us exactly what we need at that moment to ensure our greatest chance of reproducing. As a non-biologist and a non-reproducer, I can only account for what I feel when these moments occur, and give you my interpretation of where the feeling comes from and what it seems to be trying to accomplish. I believe in a God, and that there’s another side to this reality that we cannot perceive using only our designated “five senses.” I believe in destiny and synchronicity, and that, ultimately, We are all expressions of the same entity. At our core, we are perfect and beautiful. Each of us has an individual path, making us a perceptual cornucopia of diversity; but, ultimately, we all came from and are headed to the same place: eternal Light and Love. As created beings, we have the capacity to feel and interact with Creation—including those parts that we cannot see, smell, hear, touch, or taste. Those glands and their chemicals are the physical stuff that allows us to perceive energies that cannot come through any of the organs that receive the stimuli that we call our traditional senses.  

In other words, the feeling of Love does not simply generate itself within us; Love pours itself into us like water into a vase. When we inhabit a particular place in space and time, or do, think, or say something that brings us closer to everlasting Love, our Creator gives us an intense dosage, so that we remember the moment and the events surrounding it. These places, people, thoughts, and actions we love simply for their own sake are what we are designed for. We are creatures of Love, and with Love we wish to remain. If we simply follow our feelings, they will gravitate us toward Love every time. When we get these feelings of warmth, happiness, and divine protection, God is telling us that, as we delight, so does He delight with us. These are the moments that clearly guide us toward our destinies, letting us know that there is a Heaven, and that we can have it here on Earth if we only follow our hearts. Like moths to a flame, God guides us toward his warmth, and that is where we most want to be at the end of it all. We need only follow these moments to get to where we are going.  

As Lorde says, “The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.” Indeed, when it becomes obvious to us the reason we were blessed such an infusion of bliss, we can no longer deny the Truth within our bodies and still claim that we love ourselves. Striving for more of these moments, and for more of this feeling in our every moment, is the task that befalls us, for it is in this pursuit that we become most fully ourselves.  

Self-actualization is the place where our every decision, every movement is consistent with the core of our being. It is perfection—not in the traditional, homogenizing sense—but in a deeply personal and spiritual sense that defines connection to the Divine. Outside forces such as culture and the economy give us a laundry list of attributes to which we should aspire. To the extent that such intentions do not produce an erotic impulse within us—or, worse, produce an opposite effect—they constitute sin against the Self. By denying the person on the inside, we deny the Divine within us. We delay the process of self-actualization and bear false witness to the reality of our being. We should instead obey our core, and cultivate its vitality within us. In other words, we should seek with all of our energy in every moment to find Erotic quality in our existence. We should always move toward that which will most intrinsically please us. We must strive to be ourselves, and be happy. 

Sometimes, we slip so far into darkness, so far away from being our True Selves, that we cannot even fathom an erotic moment. Indeed, Iniquity is so powerful at this historical juncture that there are those among us who have never experienced such a feeling. Most of us—at least those of us who were fortunate to have an innocent and happy childhood—have known intrinsic pleasure, but have long forgotten it in the abyss that is modern living. In times when we are so far from the light that it cannot even touch us—let alone inspire, arouse, and overcome us---the Erotic’s twin brother steps in to guide us along our path. I have decided to refer to this as the Thanatoic, or the feeling of Death.  

Essentially, the Thanatoic is the same thing as the Erotic, but pointed in the opposite direction. It is what Freud might call our death drive, or our physical attraction to our own destruction. Its pull is every bit as powerful as the Erotic, but one instead feels the terror of heading toward his demise. When it hits me, it is the most fearful experience I’ve ever had. At its strongest, I feel nearly devoured by fear, holding on to life by a thread. More commonly, though, I experience an awareness of death, and my environment manifests a reflection of this awareness. Conversations, for instance, may turn toward the topics of dying or of those who have died recently. Whenever I get this feeling, I understand that my present situation is not ideal for me, and is ultimately serving to my demise. In order to avoid this sensation again, I must alter my situation and the pattern of behavior that created it.  

This moment, though horrendous in many respects, is in fact a gift from God. He has allowed me the clarity of understanding that my actions and decisions are leading me astray, and that the path to everlasting Life and Love is in fact straight and narrow. I must forfeit the falsities within my being and return to my true and most Self. The intensity of the feeling lets me know how serious my deviance has become. As I stray further and further, more death-consciousness enters my being, and eventually I get an overwhelming dosage of Fear that is jaunting enough to force me back onto the path. At that moment—in the state of emergency—clarity returns, and I remember that I am not owed a second chance (let alone a fourth or fifth). I come to value Life more, and the true Self within me, and I know beyond knowing that adhering to its principles and directives is my only real option. Moral ambiguity falls far to the wayside when one looks upon the face of Death.

Given my experiences with these two self-same, magnificent forces, I’ve come to develop a mental image that I feel precisely captures the human condition, as viewed through this lens. All of us exist in the space between infinite Fear and infinite Love. Each side is pulling us toward itself in a ceaseless metaphysical tug-of-war. Ultimately, both sides take us to the same place. We are always headed toward our next state of existence, which—within the sensory paradigm that restricts our thinking in this life—appears to be nonexistence. What we feel the moment we enter that next state of existence will completely define its nature as we will experience it. Everyone chooses which force he wants to submit to and effectively “die” into. Though all roads lead to the same place ultimately, I find that my experience of the Erotic is much more pleasing and comforting than my experience of the Thanatoic. Given the choice—which I am—I would prefer to die into Love and experience an entire lifetime of its energy than align myself with Fear and carry its weight for an eternity. Thus, I will obey the Self within, and persistently move toward the life-giving force of the Erotic as a lab rat moves toward cheese and as flowers grow faithfully toward the Sun. I know that, as long as I keep pursuing the Truth that is inscribed into the center of my being, the Almighty will bless me with His Love and Grace, and will one day take me into His everlasting embrace.

First Entry - Intro

Hello all!

For those of you who know me, you may or may not (probably wouldn't) realize that this is my first blogging venture since my early-college Livejournaling days. Back then I was a confused little lad trying to sort out my emotions in a public/voyeuristic forum, and livejournal was the perfect fit for those purposes. I must admit, as hokie as it was, and as embarrassed as I would be to even look at it now, getting things written down and having other people read them was quite helpful in its way. 

Things are different now. I am older, and have a fuller sense of self. I still have emotions, and the really complex ones still confuse me, but I have a much clearer perspective on who I am, what I want, and (sometimes) where I'm going. So, what I'm trying to say is: don't expect me to air the tumultuous details of my travels in Love, my family issues, or anything of the sort. This blog will be a different thing entirely. 

I'm creating this because I very much need a space to share my ideas with others. I've been doing a fair amount of writing since I graduated college, and have even completed some pieces. I want to post those, and to use this blog as a motivating force to write more. I'm not sure what sort of audience this will or won't attract, but I do hope to eventually have real readers who are interested in what I have to say and willing to offer useful feedback. 

I'll round this out by decribing my current position in life. I graduted from the College of William and Mary in May 2007, and spent the subsequent year and a half "finding myself" as they say. Through a failed pursuit, an emotional roller coaster ride, the right combination of common illicit drugs, and a lotta help from my friends, I got there. I found my center, met my spirit, and am now ready to offer whatever the world can use of me. Because I want to get to know my family better, I moved back to my hometown of Danville, VA and currently live with my Dad. I work as a waiter at the local Outback Steakhouse, and am *very* ready by this point to leave the food service industry. I have no regrets, but I can definitely appreciate those who make career-oriented decisions when picking their college majors and after-graduation plans. That was never my bag, and I'm satisfied with the hand I'm dealt. 

As far as career plans, I hope to pursue alternative healing/preventative medicine, writing, and performing. This is the year in which I invest in these deeply personal interests. I'm continuing a pursuit that I began over a year ago of perfecting my eating habits, and I joined a gym last week. In the near future, I hope to start taking Tai Chi and singing lessons. Gradually, I will get to the point where I can transition out of shitty, what-I-gotta-do jobs and into moneymaking ventures that further my personal goals. I have faith that this will happen.

I have a tremendous amount of faith in general. I feel the Creator in my every waking moment, and I trust her/his/its movements and design. Without a doubt, a big theme that will develop herein is my walk in faith and how it affects my personal life and my worldview. Many if not all of my posts will in some way relate to my belief in the Divine. Others will wax political and/or poetic. I'm not entirely sure what kinds of pieces will come out of this, but these are previews that I'm confident in offering at this point. 

I could probably go on, but nothing interesting would come of it. If you're real and reading this, thank you, and welcome to the little world that is my mind! Please leave a comment or something. And, I can always be emailed at 

Much love,

Sean Barker