drake smoking in front of planes, looking sad

 Marvin’s Room (Shlohmo’s thru tha floor remix) – Drake by shlohmoA question I hear frequently asked about Toronto based Hiphop/RnB rapper/singer/child actor Drake in the press is why his new music is so depressing sounding and what does he have to be unhappy about? He’s young, rich and famous! He’s got a seemingly endless supply of adoring fans, pretty women, drugs, alcohol, money and a venue for his artistic expression to talk about his feelings. Hot97 is his psychotherapy couch.

When he sings:
‘Cups of the XO
Bitches in my old phone
I should call one and go home
I’ve been in this club too long
The woman that I would try
Is happy with a good guy

But I’ve been drinking so much
That I’ma call her anyway and say
“F-ck that nigga that you love so bad
I know you still think about the times we had”
I say “f-ck that nigga that you think you found
And since you picked up I know he’s not around”

(Are you drunk right now?)

I’m just sayin’, you could do better
Tell me have you heard that lately?
I’m just sayin’ you could do better
And I’ll start hatin’, only if you make me’

Drake strikes me as being honest here. Even though he has all of the above material and ego-enhancing things that many of us want, he is still not happy.  When artists are honest and speak about what’s really happening with them instead of repeating tropes that seem like the ‘industry standard’ (I’m balling! I’m awesome! I’m getting money!) it adds a richness of meaning, the texture of personal reality.  The current vogue for sipping XO (aka sizzurp, purple drank, or cough syrup made with promethazine and codeine) popularized by many rap/rnb artists including recently Drake and The Weeknd seems to support this pretty well. Codeine is an opiate, the same active ingredient found in heroin. It’s a central nervous system depressant that makes you sleepy and dulls pain when used when you’re sick. If consumed when you’re healthy it pushes pleasure buttons in your brain and feels great.   Taking codeine also kills you.  If you slow your central nervous system down enough you’ll just stop breathing. RIP DJ Screw and Pimp C. My question is: how much must you be suffering to make this glamourous lifestyle choice? Scientific research has pointed to links between the way we experience physical and psychic pain, like the pain of depression, including the fact that depression sufferers seem to have more acute physical pain.  As far as I can tell people who are happy and fulfilled don’t need to constantly take large amounts of central nervous system depressants like codeine and alcohol.

Where does this pain come from?  For many of us who are artists or musicians we, secretly or not, spend a certain amount of time thinking about why so-and-so got their name put above ours on a flier, or got a better review or record deal or  fee for their show or more views on YouTube. Why are they more loved than us? It feels unfair and can be demoralizing. This is because our feeling of self-worth is connected to our rapidly fluctuating ego. One moment we just had a great gig, review, bit of feedback from a fan and are flying. The next moment something goes badly or we notice someone else doing better and suddenly we are dissatisfied with our own success that seemed great a minute ago. I feel that whether they admit it or not many, many people who are perceived as successful suffer from these same feelings. In fact I think that many people who believe that material and ego success will make them happy, then achieve it and realize that they’re still not happy are actually in a tougher spot than those who are still striving.  If you are still trying to get there you can at least believe that once you get rich and famous you’ll leave your current unhappiness behind.  Once you get there and realize you are STILL unhappy and that a change in external factors isn’t going to solve it that must be pretty difficult to deal with. Elvis and Marilyn Monroe come to mind.

I recently read a book by the Dalai Lama called ‘How To Practice’ about ways to a meaningful and happy life.  For those unfamiliar with him here is a person who absolutely radiates satisfaction, kindness and deep happiness. This is in spite of the fact that he is a leader of a nation in exile who have undergone brutal cultural genocide at the hands of the People’s Republic of China including torture, mass murder and attempts to undermine and eradicate the Tibetan Buddhist faith which the Dalai Lama is a senior figure in.  A key distinction he makes which I found to be very helpful in thinking about these issues is the distinction between Pleasure and Happiness.  Pleasure is the result of a state change: from sobriety to drunkenness, hunger to satiety, arousal to orgasm, feeling un-appreciated to feeling admired, and so on.  We experience a momentary burst of pleasure which can be pretty awesome. What tells us that these things are not intrinsic sources of happiness is that we cannot continue to experience them indefinitely. Drink too much and throw up, smoke too much pot and get nervous and paranoid, eat too much and get a stomach ache, receive so much fan adulation that you can’t walk down the street and consequently feel isolated and lonely.  All of these, while resulting in transitional pleasures which feel great when they happen, do not satisfy our inner desires for things like meaning in life, a long term feeling of satisfaction or freedom from the roller coaster of egotism.

The Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Buddhist prescription for these things is instead of constantly looking at ourselves and trying to scratch our own itches for more fame, food, drugs or money to look outward and look at who we can help, how we can be more caring, how we can contribute to others happiness and lessen their suffering. In a word: compassion.  If you’ve ever experimented with compassion you’ll find that it provides a much less fleeting and much longer lasting feeling of happiness, even if sometimes in the immediate moment the act itself is not directly pleasurable. For me the major experience I’ve had in this department is being a father to two young boys. Even though at times it is not easy and can feel like a terrifying and overwhelming vortex of poopy diapers, extreme and prolonged sleep deprivation, yelling, crying and trips to the emergency room there is nothing I have done in my life which has given me more deep and lasting happiness. Counter-intuitive though it may seem the realest happiness I’ve found is in sacrifice, giving freely of myself and serving others. It doesn’t fluctuate, increase or decrease based on external factors or go away when I scratch the itch. In fact, the more I scratch the more it deepens, expands and the richer and more satisfying it becomes.

I am not holding myself up as an example here for admiration. Loving your children is a bare minimum necessary act for any human being. In order to feel like I’m actually doing something that is a net gain for humanity and to deepen my compassionate practice I need, and plan, to do more than that. I’m only speaking from my own, limited direct experience to convey my point.  It’s possible to be happy, but it doesn’t come from consuming anything or from stroking the ego.

cross-posted from my personal blog at mattshadetek.com


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