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2008 – Viva La Vida

“Live the Life”, is the translation of the title of the Frida Kahlo painting “Viva La Vida”.  This is also the title of Coldplay’s big hit this year.  Here is a link to a YouTube version of the song with decent audio quality. And nice pictures.

“Viva La Vida” (Live the Life) seems to have been my theme song this year and, for some time now, I’ve been pondering why that is, planning to take a shot at discussing it here. I’m at that place where I’ve almost over-thought this … but I’m going to give it a go anyway.

I need to back up to mid-2007. Changes needed to be made. Primarily, major re-construction needed to happen from within. I was stuck on so many levels. Some might say burnt out. However, for changes to occur internally, things need to happen externally. I needed to shake things up on a grand scale – job, personal habits, relationship(s). For a time there, I contemplated new living space but, thankfully, I pulled my horns in from that decision.

Change, meaningful internal change, doesn’t happen overnight. Old habits don’t break and new ones form in their place in the blink of an eye. Change happens, as I’ve come to believe, with steady, small, incremental adjustments. It takes time. I needed the latter part of 2007 to get some momentum going. This was achieved by creating the environments for change and then monitoring and tweaking my responses. A job change. A romantic relationship ended. A commitment to new diet and, eventually, new exercise habits.

2008 has been a year of ups and downs, primarily ups, some dramatic downs and I have learned so much from all of it. Here is the primary learning for me:

I’m not in control of anything more than my responses to my external world. Even at that, I can choose only my behavioural response. I’m not even in control of my emotional response. Emotions just *are*. It is what I choose to do with them that constitutes active decision-making on my part. The harder I try to “control” the world around me, the more the world around me will resist.

This is a hard pill to swallow for someone who is not only a natural planner but a trained planner. An attempt to overly-manage one’s life is, really, an attempt to control the uncontrollable.

Here are some things I believe do fall within my locus of control:

  • how I spend my time
  • who I spend my time with
  • how I spend my money
  • where I focus my energy
  • what I ingest

If I spend my time well, with the right people, if I focus my energies on making good things happen – for me and for others – if I spend my money with wisdom and judiciousness, and if I eat properly consistently … on balance, this will keep me on track for an interesting and healthy life.

If I spend my time around people who are judgmental and cruel, if I waste time and energy working on projects that do not make good things happen, if I waste my money on frivolous things, if I eat badly consistently, I simply won’t feel well, I won’t think well of myself, and I will have failed to provide myself with the internal and external supports I need to feel whole and healthy.

In MBA-speak, this would be called “positioning”. Making the consistent day-to-day choices will, on balance, position me well – with the right people, the right personal and professional projects, the right sustenance.

Another way to think of this is that the right choices, the small consistent ones, create in me enough strength to tackle whatever “big stuff” the external world has to offer me, be it a tough emotional situation to resolve, or a fabulous new project to take on. Both will take time, energy and thought as investment. I need to be well-positioned and well-supported to “live the life” that is presented me.

Here is what I cannot control:

  • how others behave
  • how others feel
  • how others feel about or perceive me
  • how others make their decisions

How much time, measured likely in years, have I wasted worrying about what other people think, and then basing my own behaviours on my assumptions in this regard? Not having the opportunity to be present inside the unique psyches each individual possesses, I can’t possibly anticipate how another person will respond to me or my words.

The only “stuff” I can control is my own.

Which brings me back this fabulous song, Viva La Vida. The lyrics, almost Shakespearean in nature, just knock me over.

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing
“Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!”

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

This first set of stanzas creates a picture, for me, of a person who created a life based on an illusion of control and, upon his/her illusions being challenged, found that his/her life was build on “pillars of salt and pillars of sand”. The thing is, you can get away with this for a while – you can imagine that you control enough of your world, and understand enough about the people around you, to manipulate yourself into a pretty solid looking castle. Until the walls close in, that is …

(Chorus)
I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

This part of the chorus is repeated intact several times and, to me, speaks of the level of ego required to imagine that one’s control is absolute … it is a form of megalomania.

For some reason I can’t explain
Once you’d gone there was never
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

This part of the chorus alters slightly when it is repeated. Here, the “controller” is abandoned either by his/her loved one, or by his/her sense of conscience and ethics, as symbolized by a persona. Without this element, either figuratively or symbolically, the “controller” has no reason to behave ethically, or to trust that what he/she is hearing represents truth, having surrounded him/herself with courtiers (one presumes).

It was a wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

It was a sudden and dramatic event that led to the “controller’s” downfall. Damage and mayhem everywhere and astonishment at the “controller’s” egocentric belief that he/she can, actually, control their world. Harsh judgment and loneliness follows, along with the ultimate question, “who would ever want to be this kind of person?”

(Chorus)

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Again with the judgment … as Saint Peter isn’t going to call his/her name.

But, for me, the song, or the story, ends at the beginning. “… sweep the streets I used to own”. The person survives the experience of a perceptual downfall, from “king” of their world to street-sweeper. And, yet, the song is upbeat, musically, and the title, Viva La Vida, is almost joyful. Has this person not been liberated from the shackles of control, micro-management, empire-building and decision-making?

Musically, the song begins with an almost militaristic, insistent, march-like beat. The beat itself, like a heart-beat, doesn’t disappear but it does get adorned, in layers, as the song progresses. The bridge between the first chorus and second verse is the first significant shift in the musical structure. The “heart-beat” sustains, but a new guitar motif starts sparkling along, almost asking the drums/violins if they should really be taking themselves so damn seriously. After the second verse/second chorus, there is another bridge in which the heart-beat stops, momentarily, and the violins themselves seem to question the wisdom of carrying on in the same manner, as if deciding which path to follow. Then, the heart-beat plunges back in, but is layered with the haunting vocal wailing of the lead singer, Chris Martin.  There is lots more going on at the end, as the chorus returns over the wailing. Then, suddenly, the song tapers off on “… never an honest word, that was when I ruled the world.”

To me, the ending is the kicker, suggesting that less is more. That you really only rule your world when you stop trying so damn hard.

What I want to say about this song, as it pertains to me, is this: the more I set my heart on specific external “needs” and expectations, the more I try to “control” things to make those outcomes occur. And the less happy I am, and the less happiness I bring to others in my world. When I set my sights on my own internal health and well-being, and sit back a bit to see what comes my way, the happier I am, and the more prepared I am to respond authentically to the people and events around me.

Living more “re-actively” than “pro-actively” goes well against my nature, as some kind readers may know. 🙂 It’s ok … I’m learning. 🙂 I’m a Libra, so maybe I’ll find some happy balance somewhere.

Here are some kids having fun with this song … this is by far my favourite rendition.

I spoke with my sister on the phone on Boxing Day and it was lovely to re-connect. It was so interesting to hear how she has, in her own way, come to this same place, at almost the same moment in time.  She too is a planner, list-maker, organizer, “controller”. She told me vignette after vignette, with each little story ending with her finally shrugging, smiling, and saying, “… and then I realized, it is what it is.”

It is what it is.

Live the Life.

Viva La Vida.

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