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The Deep Sadness of the Stoic Man

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Christopher Walker tells several stories from when he viewed life as a game of winning—"future-dated.” He recalls the first time Stoic Boy entered his being. Stoic Boy developed into Stoic Man, which helped him within the unemotional corporate world until he received bad news. He vividly describes a sudden panic attack and later, the onset of another attack which led to his decision to teach yoga in Bali, where “I actually began to really feel.” He humorously tells of reading in a day a book he’d had for years, and he discovers a meaningful reveal. Christopher now firmly believes life is all about the present moment.

So I felt empty as I looked into my wife's eyes as we sat on the couch at our therapist's office, trying one last time to make this marriage work. And I asked myself, "Why? Why could I not accept her unconditional love?" I loved her. She unconditionally loved me. Isn't that what this whole life thing's about? Isn't this how the happily ever after story works? Why did I feel so empty? Why could I not go all in? What was this empty hollow feeling? It was shame. It was a shame that was fixed deep in me the moment I told her. The moment I looked into her eyes and told her that not only did I have an affair but that I had fallen in love with another woman. I watched her drop, collapse to the floor, crying and screaming. And all I could think about is how could I betray anybody, let alone this woman like this, someone who loved me, who I committed to being for the rest of our lives? How could I do that?

It was not the shame that makes you feel like you did a bad thing. It was the shame that makes you feel like you're a bad person, that you're no longer worthy of being loved. And that hollow feeling in this moment, like how could I feel nothing? Nothing at all, completely empty.

I was five, and I fell, and I banged my knee one time. And I remember my dad coming as I started to cry. He's like, "Chris, just relax. It's gonna be okay. Kathy, don't coddle him." Kathy's my mom. And I breathe. And I was like, you know, the tears went away, and I relaxed, and I was okay. And then I can remember the next time that I fell. And I remember falling. And I remember that pain started to come, and I squeezed, and I flexed so hard that I didn't feel any pain, and I didn't cry.

And that was the birth of the stoic boy cos I was an emotional little kid. But if I flexed and squeezed hard enough, I knew I could protect myself from ever being called a pussy again—a wuss, a little girl.

And that stoic boy turned into a stoic man. That stoic man entered the corporate world with no emotions cos emotion was weakness. Emotion was stress. If you were emotional or stressed, you didn't get the big account. They couldn't trust you to close the big deal. You couldn't get the big promotion. You couldn't be a success. Cos, of course, as a man, we all need to be a success.

So I sat in this meeting one time. My boss tells me, "We're cutting your territory in half." I sit there, of course, just listening like, Oh. Half the territory, half the accounts, half the forecast, half the revenue, and my little chance at winning the little top performer's trophy was like fading away. But, of course, I'm sitting in this meeting cool, collective.

I leave that meeting, and I feel something like in my heart. It just doesn't really feel great. So I walk to my car. I get in my car, and I start driving, and it goes like tick, tick, tick. And then boom. My tears are running down my face. I'm screaming in my car. I think I'm having a fucking heart attack. I literally be like, Get me to the hospital. I pull into the hospital. My wife comes and the doctor to tell me, "You're okay. You just had a panic attack." So I was okay. And only my wife, mom, therapist, and doctor knew that that had happened.

So the next day, you go right back to the office like nothing happened. That stoic man in the corporate world made his way right into my relationship with my wife because I had to be strong. I had to be the pillar. I couldn't do something that might make her emotional because I had to be strong for the two of us. And it didn't allow me to connect to her at all. Cos I was scared if, all of a sudden, like I wanted to have a simple conversation, like "Can we just maybe do these things? Cos I think it'd be fun." Did she think I'm gonna shame her by that? Is that gonna cause a reaction? Might as well ... nope, can't say that. Her job was killing her, and I just wanted to be like, "Can we talk about your job cos it's impacting me too, and I just feel like it's getting in between us?" But I couldn't do that cos I didn't want to create hysterics. I had to be strong for her. I felt like I was playing second fiddle to her family, but I couldn't say anything.

And then one night the phone rings at three o'clock in the morning. It's her mom hysterical, crying. And I can feel that she's about to have a breakdown. And in that moment, I'm like, Geez, I've done all this to avoid the breakdown. And here it comes. And then I felt the tick tick. And instead of the boom, it's that moment like in movies where they throw the bad guy on top of the grenade, except that was my heart. So it went like this . . . and I held the panic attack in, and it just like imploded me. This stoic man was killing me across the board.

And in a moment when I was about to go into standard Chris Walker Fix it Mode, shift the knobs, change the job, change the location, do whatever it is—it'll be fine for another six months, a year—I realized that I had no idea who I was. I didn't know who I was. And like how could I fix what I didn't know?

So I decided to move to Bali to become a yoga teacher. Yep. And backpacked a yoga mat, six books with me and why six books is important is cos I am not a reader. But if I was gonna prove to myself that I was gonna change, I was gonna start reading books. So I get to Bali. Yoga, eat, sleep, repeat. Yoga, eat, sleep, repeat. A little cacao dessert, a little ecstatic dance on the weekends, but leaving so much bullshit behind me.

I actually began to really feel. I began to focus. I began to feel what I could only describe in that moment—it was just like this little glimmer of what felt like somebody wrote in a book about this thing inner peace. Like it just kind of felt like a little peaceful. I began to feel. And dare I say it just a little bit of may I call it self-love? Just a little bit. Just like a little salt on top of the dish kind of amount of self-love. But like I was feeling, and this shit was fucking awesome.

But then I get a phone call. I get a phone call from my wife. She's been deported. She's in a holding cell in Gatwick Airport about to be forced to go back to France with absolutely nothing. And all I could think about is I need to be there for her. At the drop of a hat, I buy a ticket to Paris because I love her. I want to show her that I love her. I also wanna show her that like I've changed. I'm like a new fucking person right now. Like this is really, really real.

I'm on the way to the airport. And I've got a book in hand. I call it 'The book.' Brené Brown's Daring Greatly. Now this book is the book for me for a specific reason. It's maybe six years before my mom gave me this book. That book moved to three flats in San Francisco, moved to London, came to Bali, had never been cracked once. So I'm going. And I can even remember through the difficult times in life and only now looking back on it, I could call it depressed states that I was going through, that my mom would say, "You know, Chris, I think it'd be a good idea right now if you read that Daring Greatly book I got you." I can remember hearing my wife being like, "You know, this might be a really good time for you to read that book your mom got you." Of course, I don't listen to them at all, but I lay a gauntlet out for myself. I lay a gauntlet that says I'm gonna read this book cover to cover in one day because that'll really prove to me and to her that I've changed. Cos the old Chris Walker could not read a book in one day. I had read about twelve books in my entire life up to this point. So I got this pink highlighter, and I'm sitting on the plane. Two hundred pages. All right, twenty pages tick. I get to ten tick marks the book is done. Twenty pages tick. Fading into, okay, take a nap. Back. Tick, tick, tick. I get the 10th tick. I finish the book, mission accomplished. I sit there, tears running down my face, and I'm like, "You mean vulnerability is not weakness. It's a superpower. What?"

Ahh. I can laugh about it now, but in that moment, and I don't do anything half-ass, I knew there was only one thing to do from here. I was to repropose to my wife. So with vulnerability as my little superpower—on that, her Airbnb in Paris, I'm standing crying butt naked reading the vows that I had rewritten. This new commitment, this new love, this new me was there. And at the end, I asked her to be my wife, and she sat there crying and smiling at me. And she said, "I can't." It destroyed me. Like the feeling leading into it was so beautiful. It was so pure. It felt so good. It felt so amazing. I felt, I felt this whole time. I felt like I had never felt before. I was experiencing what it was like to go in, and regardless if she said yes or no, I knew that I had changed. I knew that I had feelings and a connection to this thing called vulnerability that I had never had before. But there was this deep sadness, like why couldn't this have happened two months ago? Like why couldn't I have found the whole sense of self two months ago, and I would've fixed everything. Right? How did I get dug into this hole? How did I believe vulnerability was a weakness for so long?

Seven-year-old Chris knew vulnerability was weakness. I played basketball. This kid, David Baird, couldn't dribble with his left hand. And I terrorized him. I stole the ball from him over and over and over again. I was an asshole. It's okay, though. I was just thinking, ding, ding, ding, I didn't need to score a single point. Every steal was a win. I was winning, and I lived the rest of my life with two things moving forward from that point; a belief that everybody else was me. They were gonna take advantage of my vulnerabilities just like I took advantage of David Baird's vulnerabilities. And so, I began to live life strategizing on how to win. Cos why wouldn't you want to be a winner? Why would you wanna be a loser if you could be a winner?

But obviously, with this story, it caught up to me. So now I stand committed to no longer seeing life as a game that's all about winning. I choose to see life as a game that's about experiencing. For life is not all about winning. Winning is this future-dated idea outcome. Focusing on winning kept me from fully feeling, from fully expressing, from fully connecting to who I was because I might put in jeopardy the win. It took me completely out of the present moment. And isn't life about this present moment? For when all we're doing is focusing on the outcome, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We set ourselves up for upset, suffering, depression. What if you create the company and the only reason is to make a bunch of money, and it goes bankrupt? If the only reason that you get into the relationship is so that it'll last forever, and it ends. If you build all the money so that you can be accepted as a success, and then you're still not. You focus so much on the result that you just let life go by, and you just miss experiencing all of it.

So we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity right now to drop the stories. To drop the stories that told you what you were supposed to look like, what you were supposed to do, what you were supposed to feel. You can drop all of that bullshit and connect to the present moment. You can connect to the most authentic truest version of yourselves. And maybe you can even share the present moment with somebody you love. But you can begin to feel and share along this beautiful yet not always easy journey that's life because if you don't, life will pass you by one moment at a time until you either die or you tell yourself that you have had enough. Thank you all for your time.


if you're looking for something to transform your life then they should do FABx. ~ Hoda Monika Agah
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