Much To Be Thankful For, My Friends

Happy Thanksgiving, my natural-shouldered brethren. There’s so much to be thankful for, so let’s jump right in. For starters, as a follow-up to our spate of posts on the great RL, you can stop calling him “Uncle Ralphie” (never understood that one) and start calling him Sir Ralph. That’s right, after a lifetime of drawing upon aristocratic Anglophilia, Ralph Lauren has become an honorary knight of the British Empire! Pause for a moment and consider this metaphorically: The man who has spoken throughout his life of being a dreamer, and weaving dreams for all of us to revel in, has manifested a dream into reality. Talk about fake it till you make it. That ought to encourage you all to think big.

And if you’re ready to think really, really big, then be thankful for the miracle that we’re all here, all part of the divine will, cosmic consciousness, or the unified field that physics is uncovering.

Below you’ll find a new Level Up essay by me from the back page of the new issue of Veni, the women’s fashion and Hollywood talent magazine I edit. It includes some ancient wisdom on how to navigate life’s dark periods.

Speaking of which, I’d like to give a special shout-out to one of your buttondowned brothers who’s in a very bad place. He first reached out to me in February after I put up the “I’m Here For You, Brother” post. As you know, the holiday season is the toughest time for people who are depressed, and last night, on the eve of Thanksgiving, a reader I’ll call MMB — for Man with Many Brothers — emailed me in a desperate state, rock bottom, ready to jump off a bridge when what is really needed is a leap of faith which, to draw on other ancient words, begins with a single step. So chime in and let MMB know he’s in your prayers this Thanksgiving, and that he’s not nearly as alone as he feels.

My best to you all. I’m thankful for the opportunity to inform, entertain, and occasionally inspire you. — CC

* * *

The Last Judgment
Possibly the greatest bit of ancient wisdom might just convince you to pause next time you make a snap judgment about yourself
By Christian Chensvold
Veni Magazine, Fall/Winter 2018

Screenwriters are clever people. They have the advantage of knowing how their story is going to end, and so they play with us as they take us along for the ride. Characters say things that are the opposite of what is actually true — what is called verbal irony — but we in the audience take these utterances on face value, unaware of the meaning that is really intended. The real meaning is only apprehended upon subsequent viewings (or readings, for members of the cast), and that is what makes a screenplay rich and multilayered. 

Now if only we could examine our own lives as closely, taking a step back and rewinding and looking objectively. In doing so we would see that we’re constantly uttering verbal ironies, making false assumptions, and thinking one thing when the opposite is true. Here’s one of the most poignant examples, and one of the most practical and timeless pieces of wisdom ever to come from the mind of the ancient philosophers. 

Let’s say you’re working hard trying to do the thing you’ve always dreamed of doing. You get some encouragement, but you get a lot of rejection as well, which you know is par for the course. But on one particular day, when you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you find out that a sure-thing you were counting on has gone to someone else. “Great,” you say to yourself despondently. “Another things in my life falling apart. First my relationship, now this. How am I ever going to make a living? Why don’t they recognize my talent? Maybe I’m just no good.” And down into a tailspin you go, a dark black mood of depression and an anxious night of tossing and turning. 

The next day you’re even worse, ready to give up and about to call your parents and say you’re leaving the big city and coming back home. Then you get a text that a job you thought was a longshot is all yours — the biggest break of your career! You mood leaps from lower-than-a-snake to cloud nine. Now if only you could look back and see the irony in all those things you said just 24 hours before about having no talent.

It comes down to this: as we go through life we constantly base our emotional response not to events and objects as they really are, but into the opinions that we form about them. It happens so instantly and instinctively that we’re not even aware we do it. Every bit of news — typically the bad news — is viewed not objectively as a simple fact of life, but is imbued with all sorts of symbolic importance about the state of our lives and our value as a person. The event itself was neither good nor bad, it simply was. But we assigned it a good or bad value, and then let our emotions react to that judgment, not the actual event. 

This insight has been with us for centuries. Shakespeare has Hamlet say, “Nothing’s good or bad but thinking makes it so.” The  idea comes down to us from the ancient world, and the Roman philosopher and emperor Marcus Aurelius said it as wisely and succinctly as can be: “If any external thing causes you distress, it is not the thing itself that troubles you, but your own judgment about it. And this you have the power to eliminate now.” 

If you can grasp this concept, and really catch yourself and feel when you’re responding emotionally to a subjective judgment you’ve made that may or may not be accurate, you’ll find that life becomes much less of a tortuous drama. And instead it will feel like an even, balanced rhythm of ups and downs — all of which you’re more than capable of managing — with everything coming out pretty darn well in the end. 

23 Comments on "Much To Be Thankful For, My Friends"

  1. Happy Thanksgiving, MMB. I’ve been in that dark forest, too. You’ll find the path that leads out. There are so many wise helpers. The hermetic principles are true: seek and ye shall find.

  2. Rik Meyer Serrano | November 22, 2018 at 7:22 pm |

    Well done, Christian.
    As one sage-like fellow once said: We are what we pretend to be,so be careful what you pretend to be.

  3. I offer some random thoughts below in response to Christian’s post – after overeating and drinking too.

    Mellencamp popped to mind. His “It All Comes True.”

    And it all comes true Yes it all comes true
    Like a wheel inside a wheel It turns on you
    And you think, What have I done? What can I do?
    What you believe about yourself
    It all comes true

    Yea, what we think about ourselves is essential in determining an outcome.

    And, Marcus Aurelius had some excellent advice with “This day I shall have to do with an idle curious vain man, with an unthankful man, with a talkative railer, a crafty, false or an envious man. An unsociable sarcastic man. A greedy man. A deceiver. Such is the way of the world, and I shall be no more affected by it than I am about changes in the weather.”

    I do find it easier to dress for miserable weather than deal with most people. But, MMB, whatever causes your darkness, see the light. I was on the ocean last night, and it was dark, but the moon shone brightly and kept me company.

    I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday!

    Cheers, BC

  4. My Father died on Thanksgiving day 1991. My brothers, Mother, and associated family were there when I discovered him dead, sitting in his wheelchair. It was expected but painful nevertheless. It has given the holiday a far deeper meaning of gratitude than it ever had before for me.

    Interestingly I have a fraternity brother as well as a coworker who’s fathers also died on Thanksgiving. The weather? Longer nights of the coming Winter? Who knows?

    It was a dark time for me for many years, but all these years later, with a wonderful new wife of 20+ years and seven beautiful children, my life is richer by far than I ever imagined it would be then.

    MMB, hang in there. Remember the words of St Thomas Aquinas
    “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine”. It’s worked for me.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  5. René Lebenthal | November 23, 2018 at 2:59 am |

    Thank you for this post Christian.
    One should never forget that under every button-down shirt there is a soul, a human being.
    Never forget to be kind, help- and thankful, and you might be a better person every single day.
    MMB, go on seeking you are not the only one, I can assure you.
    We are all ecperiencing the same, some day in our own specific way.
    Happy Thanksgiving from Paris to all my natural shouldered friends in the world!!

  6. Trevor Jones | November 23, 2018 at 3:16 am |

    To MMB, here’s to the fight. Hard to see it now but you’ll be stronger because of it. In the words of Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I think the key here is “through”, you haven’t arrived at your final destintion of hell, you’re merely passing through. Of course, this isn’t always the easiest to see from your own vantage point, but trust in the process; God does have a plan for you and you’ll be a stronger man because of your experiences. Keep fighting the fight!

  7. MMB’s circumstance always makes me listen to Lucinda William’s brilliant ‘Sweet Old World’. Emmylou Harris’ version is every bit as powerful. “See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world….” Take your pick, but listen.

  8. Lucinda’s original should have posted, too:

  9. Old School Tie | November 23, 2018 at 6:46 am |

    Post tenebras lux

  10. @ MMB,
    Hang in there. Situations are never as bad as we all make them out to be. If I may quote G. Gordon Liddy,

    “What does not kill me, only makes me stronger.”

    Life is no bowl of cherries. We all have our crosses to bear. Things work out for the best in the long run.

    Keep the faith.

  11. Lexington, VA | November 23, 2018 at 9:00 am |

    I have no right to be here (being a woman), but I do lurk and am always pleased when I come across one of Christian’s gems like the post above–especially the mention of MMB. In my 65 years, I have yet to meet a person who has not had to go through some very dark tunnel(s). I wish I could say that I am the exception, but no. The past few months have been another one of those where because of circumstances, all nerves and feelings are close to the surface. The kindness of others is extremely touching and stirs strong emotions. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. The skin can be tissue thin in both cases. I hope that MMB experiences more of the former, and Christian has contributed to that here. I don’t know who said something like this, but forgive what is trite for what is true: “When one door closes another one opens, but the hallways are hell.” Blessings to MMB.

  12. Thanks for that Churchill quote, Trevor. I’d never heard it before and it’s fantastic.

  13. @Christian that’s what studying for a semester in England will get you!
    Seriously though, it’s a good one. It undoubtedly proves itself true time and again. Easy to say from the outside, but I think it’s good advice for MMB.

  14. CC At Starbucks | November 23, 2018 at 12:38 pm |

    Yes, from experience it makes more sense when you’ve actually made it through. When you’re in hell, it feels like you’ll never get out.

  15. I have been checking out this wonderful website for a few years, but never posted. For most of my life I never knew who I was, then over time, I realised that the clothes I wore were part of the ivy/trad/prep style. Being female and living in England I have assembled clothes from the UK, much has come from the US. This website has shown to me that I am not alone in the world in liking what I like, even if I have never personally come across anyone this side of the pond who shares my tastes. OCBDs, cords, Shetland wool sweaters etc..ivy style is not just how I dress, it is a huge part of who I am. It is part of what makes me happy and confident in myself. But a few weeks ago I suffered a terrible, heartbreaking loss. I now find myself alone and beyond sad and what once made me happy seems empty to me and I do not know if I can ever come back from what has happened.

  16. Dianec,

    I am sorry you are going through such a bad time. Always know that God loves you. Though I don’t know you, I will include you in my prayers.


  17. Rik Meyer Serrano | November 23, 2018 at 2:40 pm |

    Dear MMB,
    Please consider this: suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
    Also, while you’re considering things, please try enumerating all the things that you are grateful for. Whenever I’ve felt frayed around the edges, I start counting everything. You know: fingers and toes. Music. Not starving at the moment. Casablanca. Nobody is dropping bombs over my head, I have that going for me. And so on.
    Doing this has always put me in touch with myself. Put it all in perspective. Eventually I’ll find myself saying, “Hey, don’t let it throw you, buddy”.
    Blessings & Peace

  18. DianeC, you’re the first UK-based female Ivy fan I’ve heard of. That’s very interesting. When you’re feeling better — and you will some day — we should talk about having you write something for the site.

    In the meantime, there’s a lot of collective wisdom here. Please reveal as much as you’re comfortable with and maybe we can help. Did you lose a loved one or have a relationship end?

  19. Terry O’Reilly | November 23, 2018 at 4:58 pm |

    Very nice thoughts here today. God bless you all.

    Says my main man G.K., “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”
    Be the master of your own destiny MMB!

  20. Set small goals and know you can (and will) achieve them. Improve something.

    If you can’t do twenty push-ups, aim for ten. Or even five. Add one a day. Ditto for sit-ups. Jog for a minute, then walk for a minute, then jog for a minute…and so on. , Add twenty seconds to the jogging every day. You get the idea. Small steps add up to jumps, which add up to leaps. It’s the oldest but most reliable wisdom: start small and add a little bit every day. Keep a journal and, five years from now, you’ll smile upon the progress you’ve made.

    This works with people too. Kindness is more powerful than anger and fear combined. Smile and offer an especially genuine “thank you” to the cashier at the store, the teller at the bank, the janitor who sweeps and mops that building you frequent. We’re just now discovering the power of gratitude–especially when it’s directed toward another person.

    It’s extraordinary–the difference that seemingly “ordinary” stuff makes. If divinity is essentially creative power and opportunities to create (build, form, improve, develop, grow, expand, etc.) are everywhere (and they are), you’ll begin to see/find God in all sorts of situations, events, people, moments, and so on.

    Spend more time outside and inhale/exhale slowly and deeply as often as you can.

  21. Rik Meyer Serrano | November 23, 2018 at 10:06 pm |

    Dear Dianec,
    It’s absolutely brilliant that you chose to write. When you can, please accept Christian’s welcoming invitation to write more.
    Here’s hoping that from now on it goes easy and smooth for you.

  22. and then there’s this: beware of too much exaltation of stoicism. It can deaden the soul and result in a dreadful numbness to the pain we must necessarily feel before moving forward.

    If you fail at accomplishing a dream or goal, it’s not only natural but completely appropriate that you would feel some sadness, grief, or even heartbreak. Embrace it. Feel it fully. The fact that you spiral downward for a while means the goal/dream actually mattered a great deal, which is a source of reassurance (that you’re fully alive and engaged). That disappointments shape your moods–this is totally natural. It’s fine. If you’re a feeling, aspiring human being, emotional up’s-and-down’s are to be expected.

    Further, it’s totally appropriate that a person feels the sting of jealousy and/or envy from time to time (“Why do others have more than I do?”). The act of attaching feelings and opinions to setbacks and failures is, to repeat, perfectly natural. It’s human. To be expected. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find you’re not capable of a Aurelius-level apathy (apatheia). Apathy is a first cousin of ennui and even lethargy. So, permit yourself the freedom to be bothered and irritated by not getting what you want. Again and to repeat: perfectly human.

    Sometimes we lie to ourselves about what’a happened (to us). We’re overly critical of ourselves. True enough. But other times, the voice within that scolds, reprimands, or chastises can, in time, become the same one that inspires one to stand up (and tall) and press on move forward.

  23. S.E. said it well: do some constructive thing, however small, then do another. Attitude can be strengthened just like muscles, through exercise. It will take some time, but positive results will start to appear quicker than you’d think if you concentrate on the process.

    And don’t compare your inside to other people’s outsides. That mask is often made of BS, and they’re fighting their own devils, everyone one of them.

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