So, I’m ashamed to say as a fan of the music of Alice in Chains, I didn’t know a lot of the history of the band. The reason for my renewed interest was a group that has popped up in my Spotify feed now and then. It is the band Mad Season. I was thinking, “that singer sounds just like Layne Staley of Alice in Chains”. Well yeah, one in the same.
So as I read about Layne, its sad but its true. He fell along a predictable path of some of the grunge rockers of the Pacific Northwest. One of my favorite rock icons was Jimi Hendrix who probably paved the way for the success and untimely death of rockers from the Seattle area. I once visited his grave and memorial site a few years back. Layne died on the anniversary of the suicide of Chris Cornell. I think Chad Bennington left us a year after Chris too.
Layne was raised as a Christian Scientist. And before you pigeon hole me as a radical, Bible thumping kind of person (which I am), hear me out. I understand the heartache many people feel when they feel disenfranchised from organized religion. If you never understand the true principles of those beliefs, then it always seems fringe. But of the mainstream religions with deep rich histories, Christian Science is a more modern idea without a lot of roots. But it doesn’t really matter. I know people who were raised in Christianity and have now pushed it away. They are the most vocal anti-Christians in the world. I feel for them sometimes because there are some people in this world who are not to be followed or believed. But that’s the point. Don’t make your beliefs about people. People often fail us. You have to seek answers for yourself.
There are some traditional denominations that discouraged people in the past of reading scriptures. In olden times, scriptures were not readily available. Only the priests read them and shared them orally with others. With the advent of the modern printing press, the scriptures became known to more people. People like Martin Luther started reading for himself and started to question what the Church was doing at the time. So then you are guided by the opinions of Man (and Woman) and not by your own self study, systems of beliefs often fail us. People are not perfect. And when you put all your eggs in the People Basket, you can always be let down.
I feel the same as a yoga teacher. I really honored my yoga teachers when I first started; I still do. I saw them as untouchable, other worldly, and wise beyond reproach. I never considered them as gurus, but as someone who deserves respect. We have a teacher’s room at our studio. Its a place where teachers can place their mats, receive materials from the studio owner, and some will even prepare for classes in there. It kind of sets us apart from our students. But the minute we start to place people on a pedestal, its when bad things start to happen. People start to believe in the hype and start to wear their crowns and tiaras with lots of pride. They want their feet kissed and much more. Its sad but true; people let us down. Never lift anyone so high that they can’t see below the clouds.
Back to music. I really love music. When I listen to music, I’m in total bliss. I’m such an audiophile that I can get lost in the syncopation. I have a childlike curiosity about music. It is always innocent in the beginning. But sometimes, I get curious about a lyric that I just heard. Sometimes its blatant enough that I have to remove it from all my playlists. If it is just vulgar or unjustifiably abrasive, then I remove it from my playlists. And if it turns out that a song goes against my beliefs, then that gets removed as well. I usually try not to think about it. But sometimes its right in your face and you can’t do anything but turn from it.
Personally, I find my foundation in my beliefs. Its what keeps me living and in complete hope for the future. It keeps me from getting too down when I see a world in peril. Its because of my faith that I can live. But when I read about Layne Staley, I realized he would have been just two years younger than me today if he would have lived. He was very outspoken against religion. Many of the rockers of old were the same. Yet their depression and addiction showed they had no hope for the future. They could have had anything they wanted. They could have managed their finances to be comfortable for the rest of their lives. The American Dream could have come true for them. But their disbelief in something higher than themselves puts all their problems on their own shoulders. They can have all the money and friends and accolades the world can give them, but its not enough.
I feel bad for people who end up making the decision to end their lives. Some of it is made slightly easier by being blinded in addiction. Layne of Alice in Chains at over 6 feet tall was estimated to be 85 pounds when he died two weeks prior to being found. He was alone at 34 years old. Very alone. He said in one of his lyrics “Deny your maker”. And that’s what he did. Addiction is such a terrible thing. But its preventable. If you were raised in a loving home by a mother and father who loves you. If you have hope for the future and hold firmly to that belief. If you have friends who don’t try to take you off your path, but instead support you and hold your hand as you walk, then you can’t fail.
Its a choice to take a drug. People say that our vices, no matter how mundane and seemingly harmless, lets us to open up to more illicit vices. When you’re high on weed or alcohol, who knows what next step you will take. When all your friends push you to take the next step and you’re having a good time, then why not? Its always a choice.
My grandpa was a smoker. He was the only smoker in my life. So sometimes we would “play” smoking. We would buy those candy cigarettes and act like we were smoking. There was this funny tree in Oklahoma that would give off flowers that looked like a cigarella. So we would even try to light them and act like we were smoking. I believe the more you are around something that’s not good for you, the more you justify what it is. When everyone does something for the first time, its to fit in. Its peer pressure. Its an intense curiosity about something. And for most of us, its weakness. We are weakened by peer pressure, by escapism, by pain and depression, and by more moderate highs. When I had my first beer, I could barely keep it in my mouth. But I didn’t want to look like a nerd in front of the two people with me. I was like, how do people do this? I couldn’t even drink a whole bottle. Now its an acquired taste that I enjoy now and then. But that’s my vice that I control. Its because I’m a responsible husband, mentor, teacher, and member of my community. I would never want to let anyone down by abusing something that can make you do something stupid. But you see it all the time.
Its Sad, But True. Some people don’t have guard rails in life. Anything goes. They don’t have something that is bigger than themselves. Life occurs randomly for them—there is no creator. Just “bang” and we’re here. We are all “accidents” in the womb that can be discarded at will. Instead of treating like the miracle that it is, we are all products of random chance. That’s what’s sad about some people’s lives. There is no hope. There is no future. Life is optional. Its sad, but true.
I hope you find hope in this New Year. For some people I know, its yoga. It can change your life. It connects mind and body in a different way that’s tangible and you can see progress. But mostly, you feel progress. You can feel yourself grow. And you start to ask questions about your being. Not just your well being in your body, but in what you believe in your mind. It is not religious, but it IS spiritual. It will connect you with whatever you believe is true. It is a gateway drug that has helped so many people. Maybe its not yoga. Maybe its running or hiking or reading books. But find hope for the future. Find something that is bigger than yourself. Don’t be afraid to lean on people, but lean more on your own understanding of a bigger life. The bigness is the hope. If you’ve ever been on the ocean or on top of a mountain, you can feel this. You feel how small you are and how life is fleeting. That’s when you start to know that you need help. Its so huge and wonderful. Believe in something. Now that part is not sad at all. And it is all very True.