There and Back Again
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Self-employment is a personal journey. You really have to overcome a great deal of your own hangup and weaknesses. Sometimes you can (and must) do that on the fly, busting down the walls that only you can see. Other times it requires deep introspection in order to bring forth that growth.
In my own case, I was startled to find that a lot of my personal “studies” were made a long time ago; either in school or shortly after. Nothing wrong with that– in fact, that’s the ideal time to do them. But I was dismayed to find that they had nearly stopped altogether. I still had things I was interested in, concepts and ideas and models that I wanted to explore, but that I hadn’t made the effort to study. I would read something, think it was really cool, write a note to myself to explore it “later” and then never get back to it. I was busy building businesses. Making a sustainable living for myself.
That’s what the priority is supposed to be, right?
But, stupid me, I realized that part of what made me a successful business person was the studies (self and otherwise) that I had made when I was younger. The deep research I had done on group dynamics, human motivation, organizational methods, cognitive biases, linguistic coding and much more, was responsible for a great deal of my success. And in my shortsightedness of making bank, I had neglected what I’ve come to call self-edification.
Self-edification is one of those delightful practices that seem dreadfully selfish and unproductive on the surface, but which are actually quite valuable. Potentially invaluable, but of course you can’t know that yet.
Self-edification is, at the most general scope, the pursuit of excellence for excellence’s sake, exploration for exploration’s sake, and reflection on knowledge and experience in order to live more fully and deeply.
What that looks like can differ a great deal from individual to individual. Because I’m a lover of words, writing is my métier. I need to not only do a thing, I need to examine it verbally. That’s how I learn, and that’s how I experience life, through language; a written journal. Other people might do it through art, through an artist’s notebook, and some people might not even need words at all (although I confess I don’t quite know how that works, I have know people who have done it.)
Being self-employed, there is a certain impulse to submerge myself into my business. I love it. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do and I’m grateful every day to be so privileged.
But when you have little to talk about other than business, that’s a concern. I know I didn’t used to be so one dimensional. I used to write about all sorts of things, but gradually I drifted to only writing things it “paid” to write. Instead of a gift I gave myself, writing became a form of currency.
And maybe some people get stuff all figured out and no longer need to do any self-examination, or learning, or experimentation. Maybe they don’t need to become aware of their habits and ways of thinking and weaknesses and strengths. Maybe they can go through life simply doing. But I can’t.
I also know that there’s stuff about me, and the world, that I still want to understand, non-work-related goals that I still want to achieve, and so on. When did I stop paying attention to those things? I’m not sure. But it’s been a while.
One of the weaknesses in Your Next 6 Months Forever that I mentioned, was that I show people how and why to envision and write down their personal goals at the 5-year and 1-year mark, and then I completely ignore them. I basically say, “So, you’re going to want to figure out how to accomplish these personal goals, but that’s not really something I can help you with. Try not to forget about them, though!”
Part of the reason I couldn’t help you with that is that I didn’t have a system myself to manage them. Treating personal goals like work goals is a good way to become a royal bitch, in my experience.
To be honest, I’m not sure what triggered the realization that I really needed to focus on self-edification. I have told several clients about something called “kaizen journalling” which is an absolutely wonderful thing– it eventually became the backbone of my edification system. In part, I think, was that I started using Evernote and suddenly it seemed possible to have a well organized dashboard, a sort of virtual brain where I could keep all my plans and lists and dreams and research and spreadsheets. In the same way that Leonardo DaVinci’s notebooks could contain plans for helicopters and illustrations of physiology and notes on experiments and lists of things to pick up at the market and books he wanted to read– suddenly I had a place to do that and I realized that I wanted it, desperately.
It was like a thirst that I’d ignored for too long. It burst out of me and demanded my attention. All of it. it refused to be ignored. And soon, I was addicted. It enriched my life in ways I can’t even describe, and I can only imagine how much more valuable it will be after a few months or years.
Because, you see, I’m smart. I’ll admit it. I solve problems, I think profound thoughts, and I have tons of ideas. I do little tests all the time, as do other people, I think. But the question is never, “do you have knowledge?” it’s “what can you do with this knowledge that you’ve accumulated?”
I think far too often, people are moving swiftly from one goal to another, one situation or crisis to the next, without ever stopping to take inventory. What did I learn? How can that knowledge be applied elsewhere?
And what about the other side? Sometimes we get stuck in a rut. But self-reflection can help that. You can say, “What do I like about my life? What do I not like? What would I need to change to be really happy with where I’m at in twenty years?” And then, you can set little goals, make little experiment to see what works.
Right now, I’m testing to see what spending at least twenty minutes outside, every day, does for my life. (Preliminary results are feelings of contentment, more exercise, and a sense of well-being that permeates my days) Another test I’m doing is paying attention to my arousal levels to ensure that I am not over- or under-stimulated, as being in the sweet spot tends to trigger the flow state more effectively. I am also testing a henna shampoo to see if I can go red again without having to piss around with dyes and salons (Problem: I like having auburn hair. But I hate the cost, inconvenience and maintenance of dyeing. Henna shampoo is a possible solution I am testing.)
I feel so fucking alive. I am so conscious of my thoughts, of my experiences. I feel like I’m taking a far more hands-on approach in my life without having to be so calculating and driven as having business goals tends to make me. I have one friend who’s been blogging for 6 years. Nothing special, just his thoughts about whatever he’s reading. He says that his life, since he began, feels more vivid than before. He has a more fully developed inner life, more thoughts about his experiences, which of course make the experiences all the richer.
That’s what I want, too.
But more than that, I fully expect this sort of explosive consciousness-raising to have a marked effect in my business. I don’t know what that will be, yet, but I greatly suspect this habit is one that will spawn inspired business decisions, even aside from whatever lateral opportunities it brings me; I think self-edification is the sort of hard work that makes you lucky.
The system I’ve developed over the last little while when I dropped off the map is still a bit vague. I’ll tell you more about it later, if you’re interested. But I want to know, how vividly or consciously do you feel your experience of life is? Do you have some process of self-edification, or journaling? Do you think I sound like a pothead puffing on some wicked chronic? =P
I’ve learned two things recently which I found valuable and I wanted to share with you.
The Reason I Get Nothing Done When I Have A Lot On My Plate
This is something I got from my friend Ethan, explaining his new personal productivity system. He explained the difference between throughput and capacity.
Capacity is how much something can hold. Throughput is how much stuff will flow. These terms are not synonymous– in fact, the more you have of one, the less you can have of the other.
A classic example is a freeway. When traffic is light, it moves very fast. But when traffic is heavy, the highway is practically gridlocked. The more you fill your capacity, the further you lower your throughput.
This has very important implications for how you structure your work, and has a lot to do with my recent resolution to design my work like manual labor. Basically, the more you can clear off your plate, the faster your throughput will be. Allow too much stuff to be going on at once, and you’ll be deadlocked.
So on the basis of this observation, I’ve been completely dropping off my list anything that has a dependency on any other action and I’ve started asking myself this very simple question: what needs to be done first? And then doing it, and only it, until it’s complete and I can go onto the next thing.
And the throughput has been amazing! Previously I’ve gotten gridlocked by thinking about all the other stuff I needed to do, wanted to do, or just wasn’t getting done, and the thing that I was doing took FOREVER. Now, I’m flabbergasted at how quickly things are going. (Of course the last few weeks have been rather light and have been very helpful for working through the back log of FIRST tasks, most of which were Creating Systems.)
The Reason Setting Strict Targets Doesn’t Work For Me
I watched the recent interview Leo Babauta did with Tim Ferriss, and something Ferriss said struck me very hard. He told Babauta a tip he got from a ghost writer who had like, 40 books to his name. “Just write two pages. If you do that, the day is a win.”
Ferriss went on to say that, psychologically, we make a target for ourselves and we don’t reach it, we are very disappointed in ourselves, and then we get even more discouraged because we think, “Tomorrow, I have 2x to do just to get caught up.” When tomorrow comes, we procrastinate getting started because we’re already overwhelmed.
This matched so precisely with how I often feel that I immediately took the advice to heart. It’s kind of like what I was talking about with goals. It’s not enough to just set a target- you have to set things up so you win. Maybe we shouldn’t take these little failures to heart, but the fact is we do, and that discouragement is far too damaging to be permitted.
He went on to say that the ‘easy win’, far from encouraging him to rest on his laurels, actual made him feel far more empowered and accomplished, encouraging him to do more.
That’s what happens to me too, but in the past, I’ve always used a really productive session as benchmark, against which all subsequent performance should now be measured, and that’s exactly the wrong approach– by doing this, you essentially punish yourself for your best efforts.
So. “Just two pages. If you do that, the day is a win.”
What valuable tidbits have you learned recently? Share in the comments!
In my Mastermind group last week, a colleague expressed frustration. “I write down what I want to do, and then I don’t do it. I just do whatever projects I feel like doing. I hate that. I need to change that.”
I voiced my opinion that inspiration and enthusiasm towards a project generally had a positive effect on productivity, but it was really just to be the devil’s advocate. In reality, she was doing exactly what she needed to do… Testing her limits.
Between Two Extremes…Is usually where you find your perfect balance.
But you don’t know that it’s the perfect balance until you have context to back it up. You need to visit those extremes, just for the experience. And second-hand experience rarely cuts the mustard.
That’s why I don’t say a word when people of my acquaintance challenge themselves with feats of physical strength and endurances.
100 pushups a day for a year? Do what you feel, brah.
Walk from one end of Africa to the other? It’s your life.
Swear off the internet? Whatevs.
All these are discipline challenges. It’s barely about the act itself– it’s the execution of a commitment.
It’s to see if you can do what you say you’ll do, even when it isn’t easy.
It’s to see if you can persevere once the shine has worn off.
It’s to see if you have the wherewithal to get around roadblocks
It’s because you have something to prove.
But it would be a mistake to end on that note.
All the time I see people getting into the habit of these commitments– forgetting that it isn’t the act that’s the important part.
So they test, and they test, and they test— without actually taking their achievements as proof.
They still feel like they have something to prove.
They don’t take the next step.
After you’ve proven that you can stick to a commitment, (and because you’re human, you know that you can be lazy and slothful) the next step is to learn when each response is appropriate to the context.
People who get too disciplined sometimes retreat into perfectionism and dogmatism. I once heard about a bodybuilder who hadn’t missed a single workout in something like 17 years. Even on the day of his father’s funeral, he hit the gym.
It is one thing to stick to a routine or regimen because it’s a touchstone in your life. It is not okay to exorcise your feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy by retreating into an illusion of rigid, precise control. Worse, you come to regard the people around you as weak or inferior for not meeting your impossibly high standards.
If you’ve lived within the prison of your own high standards for a long time, you must first learn compassion for yourself and your essential humanity. And then you must learn to grant yourself grace.
Grace isn’t a term often used outside of religious contexts, but it’s loosely defined as “unmerited favor”. The chief aspect of grace is that it can’t be earned; it is only granted. Only you can grant it, and love yourself and your foibles in your entirety.
Now before I lose you completely, I want to point out the fundamental usefulness of this view.
Primarily, it means that you don’t need to struggle to earn good things. Good things happen to you without any particular merit on your part. (Bad things too, of course). But like we discussed last week– you won’t know which is which. You’re simply able to go with the flow, in the understanding that things happen, and you will act appropriately, in the proper measure and intensity.
That’s it. That’s pretty much the essence of Zen lifestyle there. I’m not guaranteeing it will bring you happiness, but it will certainly lower your stress level.
But it’s a long road to that level of self-control. And the first necessary step is to test yourself, and learn who you are. And then you must take the proof of your character that you gained in those exercises, and with that wisdom, neither over- nor under-react. Not seek to control what you can’t control, or give up when you shouldn’t.
When you approach life with self-knowledge like this, every action you perform will be right for you in that moment. You will rarely be torn about the proper action. You will not worry about the future, because you have the discipline in the present to do what you can to protect yourself, and you have confidence in your ability to act correctly should something you couldn’t have planned for occur.
And finally, you must practice. Every day, you have to keep clear in your mind who you are and what you stand for, and you must will yourself to have you actions reflect that.
It’s damn hard work. But there’s a sort of euphoria to it as well. Zen Buddhists call it satori, but it has a place in Western tradition, known as “grokking-in-fullness“. Have you ever grokked yourself so deeply that there was no doubt or dissemblance, only a profound assurance? And more importantly, do you want it enough to work for it?
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” Mr. Spock, The Wrath of Khan
This has been a conundrum I’ve wrestled with more or less endlessly over my life. I’ve come to see that this has been a function of the tightknit rural community I was raised in, and luckily, my desires were never too far out of the norm that I was never forced to completely rebel in order to be who I am. I’m considered odd, but not outre.
But weighing my needs and desires against the needs of the group has weighed more heavily on me, with my background, than perhaps it does with the average Westerner. After all, we have an individualistic ideal, a hedonistic approach to life, and strive towards self-actualization. To contrast this, recall that many modern cultures, and the cultures from which we ourselves descend have an iron-clad conception of duty and honour above all — personal fulfillment and happiness were not a consideration if they conflicted with the overarching pattern of things.
It seemed to me to be and unsolvable paradox, until I realized that I talk about these paradoxes all the time in my client sessions—– and there aren’t any unsolvable paradoxes. They simply require a shift in perspective.
And I realized that I had too broadly interpreted the phrase. The needs of the many. Typically, when we talk about needs these days, we’re referring to emotional fulfillment. Basic needs like food, shelter, safety and respect are considered a given, and therefore often excluded from consideration.
But that’s exactly what we need to consider.
Too often, we attempt to make people responsible for our needs: It makes me insecure when she flirts. If we don’t hold hand in public, he doesn’t really love me. My boss is a prick and I hate my job because of her.
So it’s pretty easy to extend the concept to: well, if I leave my marriage/become a vagabond/choose to die, it might make me happy but all these other people will be adversely affected. The needs of the many, and all that.
It can be sticky, no question. But often, I found that all my inaction did was insulate others from reality; from chaos, change, tumult, and the potential of pain.
I would rather suffer myself than potentially cause others pain.
Which is kind of dumb. You are not responsible for the reactions of others. You’re not responsible for their happiness, their complacence, or their contentment. Spock didn’t mention any of that.
As a human being, you’re responsible for their NEEDS. It’s not worthy of you to act in such a way that deprives other human beings of food, shelter, or self-respect. Everything else is fair game.
Now. What kind of ideas does that give you?
First of all, I’d like to point out that the majority of rules you follow are self-imposed. Call them a personal code, self-imposed limitations, call it, going along to get along.
Don’t kid yourself. You participated in writing the script.
In the same way that one child of an alcoholic grows up to abuse alcohol as well, and the other becomes a teetotaller, at the base of every set of circumstances is an element of personal choice.
People don’t respect you? Really.
Your life is a struggle? Huh.
No matter how hard you try, you can never overcome your past? Is that right?
It’s all okay. I’m not blaming you. I love you.
Listen. Much as we’re all wired to take credit for the good things that happen and blame the bad stuff on our circumstances, the fact of the matter is, the only thing in this whole motherfucking world that you have any goddamn control over is yourself.
Every time you say, “It was out of my hands,” or “I couldn’t help it.” you give away what precious little power you have.
That’s why we love our stories about hard-bitten cowboys, swash-buckling pirates, and honourable warriors. We revere them. We idealize them. Here I am, too, telling you to go be all heroic and go live life on your terms.
But sweethearts, you have to remember, living life to a codified standard is functionally impossible.
That’s where the part about breaking rules comes in.
Let’s say you believe in, for simplicity’s sake, keeping your word. Now, I strongly feel that simply as a matter of prudence, underpromise and overdeliver, but lets say even that fails you. Lets say you’re forced to break your word.
What are you going to do now?
This is where a lot of people get bogged down. They tend to believe that, having failed in the standards they’ve set for themselves they are worthless human beings and worse still, hypocrites.
You see this every January after the New Year’s resolutions falter. You see it every time someone breaks a promise to themselves (because society doesn’t punish you for breaking promises to yourself). What happens next? Denial. You tell yourself you didn’t really mean it; it wasn’t your fault; it didn’t matter.
Let’s all be big girls and boys here:
It mattered, didn’t it?
You thought less of yourself.
It crushed a little part of you that looks for people it can depend on, didn’t it?
It kills you to know there’s no one you can depend on — not even yourself.
Dear hearts, no one is perfect.
Even the best people fall down sometimes.
But you know what makes people get back up, and try again, and heartens them against weakness and despair?
Love, my precious.
Love yourself, and you will be strong. Love yourself, and you will work to stay worthy of it. You will grow to be dependable to yourself, and on the rare, vanishingly rare occasions when you fall down, you will know you did your absolute, straight up, level best—for the one who loves you most.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
– Tao Te Ching
A label is an act of definition. Definition is a point of reference. Reference points are how you navigate.
THIS DOES NOT WORK IN REVERSE.
You would think this would be self evident, but it isn’t.
Just last week, I was considering taking a job that I knew with every fiber of my being I did not want to do. But I was considering it anyway.
Because it looked like the smart and responsible thing to do.
And I wanted to feel smart and responsible.
When you explain it that way, it looks dumb. Darwinisticly dumb, even.
And yet, it makes a weird kind of sense.
We might think of it as affirming our aspirations. “Be the change you want to see…” and all that.
But we miss one crucial detail:
Acting happy makes you feel happy. Doing things you think will make you happy do not.
It’s a subtle difference, and language doesn’t really support the distinction, but doing things so that you will feel a certain way is largely ineffective and will make you feel like shit. Ask anyone who’s ever been in a relationship in the hopes that it will make them feel better about themselves. It’s never gonna happen.
You have to feel that way before you can feel that way. Yes, it’s all very annoying and Buddhist.
At the very least, you won’t waste your time on actions an achievements that are supposed to make you feel a certain way– but actually leave you feeling hollow and cold.
I’ll let you know when I figure out the other half.
I am a confident person. The last post might have given lie to that, but for the most part, I am sufficient unto myself. I don’t worry about the opinions of other people, I don’t ask for guidance or direction, and in short, I’m almost always intrepid and fearless.
Except when I’m not.
Not much to say about that, really. You can’t be all one way all of the time, or the term ceases to have quantitative meaning. Light requires dark, and all that.
I’d pretty much just come to the conclusion that every now and then, I’ll wake up in a nightmare where I’ve lost my internal compass, my wit, my equilibrium and suddenly I question everything. Nothing is safe, nor so solid that my faith in it cannot be jostled. I question my motives, my abilities, my passions and my virtues, as well as those of the people around me. It really is like a dream, where I stumble around blindly, hoping to find my way out.
I always do.
But the whole process sucks.
But what else are you going to do when you lose your Pole Star?
I don’t know if it’s a function of getting older, or a true testament to online friendships, but I have better, stronger, more supportive friendships now than I ever have before. Perhaps it’s because I know that we’re not friends simply due to proximity and habit; friendship online has to be a priority for each participant, because it’s so easy to let drift get the best of you.
Suddenly, when I had voiced my concerns, I was inundated with support and encouragement. Wtf? This had never happened to me before.
Apparently, I give off the vibe that nothing much ever bothers me….which is mostly true, I suppose, but my friends were castigating themselves for not seeing my discomfort sooner.
Best of all was that without exception, they echoed my inner voice. It was almost like they’d found it, submerged, muted, drowning under the weight of all that indecision and uncertainty. They found it, magnified it, and reflected it back on me, so that I would hear my truth.
And soon I was free of my nightmare.
I suppose this would be the part where an ordinary blogger would tell you how to go about getting friends that amplify your truth. This is not that kind of blog. Realistically, I would just be blowing smoke up your ass, because I have no idea how I got so lucky.
But I’ll tell you what I learned from this whole experience. Maybe it’ll help. I know I’ll probably refer back to it later, anyway.
- Share yourself. Even if it’s hard, even if it’s scary. My friends could never have helped me if I hadn’t been open about my experience. Not just when I was in need — but when I was in my power, too. One friend re-sent me an email I had written in January telling him about a profound and humbling experience I’d had, connecting with a stranger online. “How can you doubt yourself, when you do things like this?” he asked.
- When they tell you something that resonates, write that shit down. For some reason it takes on greater weight when someone else sees your strengths. For me, that goes a long way towards defeating the sapper in my head. Write it down, because that shit is gold.
- Ask for a narrative. What do they see going on? When you’re stuck in the nightmare world, you’re caught up in a story of your own creation, and they are so hard to see outside of. Asking for an outside perspective creates an alternate narrative for you to choose. And often garners some incredible insight. (I found my THING!)
- Cherish them. They are your candle in the window, and though you are deserving of help and support, never cease to be grateful for that gift.
I wrote some time ago that I was scared nearly all the time in this space. (For the record, I don’t count this as a bad thing.)
In a forum that mostly exists as a way to explore my world, both inner and outer, I feel compelled to be as exposed and authentic and vulnerable as I can possibly stand.
Because, on the internet, when no one knows who you really are, the only hope you have for authentic connection is to be brutally, excruciatingly honest.
It was hard, but I didn’t really give it much thought. What’s the point of even showing up if you’re not going to put some skin in the game?
I was going to give this up. Set it aside for a while, I told myself, concentrate on something else. But I’m sure we both know that was just a comforting lie. I was giving it up because I was scared. Afraid people thought I was a loser for spending all my time on a going-nowhere “hobby” while my husband made sure the bills got paid. I told myself I was only going back to work in order to maintain a little equilibrium… maybe I was taking this “transforming lives” thing too seriously. I really needed to get out of the house… I needed routine… It would be just until my practice grew to full time.
It was seductive. Oh my god was it seductive. I could go back to my old industry, almost like I’d never left. There was status there, an easy answer to “What is it you do?”, the certain je ne sais quoi that comes from being a woman in a man’s world.
I just wanted to feel like I’d made it, y’know? Like I was worthy of respect.
I felt my way into it. Shared my plans with a few close friends.
En masse, they rose up and slapped me down.
I’ll never forget the words of one friend, a vociferous skeptic. “You’re right where you need to be. You help so many people.” I scoffed and said, “You don’t even know what I do. I could be poking pins in voodoo dolls for all you know.” He shot back “I do know what you do. You change lives.”
I do believe I may have burst into sobs at that point. Possibly.
I forgot that part. I change lives.
I’ve had clients tell me that. And at least once a week I will get a note in a similar vein about something I said or wrote.
My friend continued earnestly, saying, “A lot of people don’t make any kind of profound difference in the world. Oh, they have their families, and the people who love them, but you don’t seem to realize how rare it is to affect strangers the way you do. To be able to touch a stranger on that level, where they feel so heard and understood, when they hardly even expect that understanding from their children or spouses. That’s an amazing skill, and you don’t seem to realize it. You’re so disarming, so guileless, so fresh. People feel safe around you, because you make them comfortable. You have no expectations for how they should act or who they should be.”
Maybe this was when I started to cry.
Damn, I have smart friends. That’s my “Thing!”
The ephemeral, mythical “Thing”.
Goddamn, you guys. I found my Thing.
They always say it’s something you take for granted.
So I’m not going anywhere. This is my THING, people! I’m not going to let an inconsequential little detail like insecurity stop me from doing my Thing.
pphhhht. Perish the thought.
I’ve got skin in this game. Let’s go win this thing.
I thought I had that down.
Except when I told this to the healer that I didn’t understand why it felt it had to pointed out: I almost felt this dreadful burden of potential, that understanding I had no limitations made me almost cringe with the enormity of it all. If I could do anything I must be a failure for not having done it already.
Ah– yes. I see that that’s a tad dramatic now.
But what I can accept is that all limitations are fear-based. They are based on the fear of what would happen if the impossible was actually achieved. Would others resent me? Would standards suddenly reset to something I can’t maintain? Would I be able to handle it, whatever it is, without it turning me into someone I don’t like?
What I noticed is that those are all external markers. When I turn inward, and look at what I what to accomplish, and make, and be, it becomes so straightforward to get started– as long as I don’t try to manage the reactions of the world at large. I have to ignore them. Because first they’ll scoff, then they’ll actively try to dissuade me, and finally, whether I succeed or fail they’ll say they knew the outcome all along. Clearly, the world is not worthy of giving me input.
Limitations are Protection
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? ~ Marianne Williams
I like Drew Jacob’s Religion of Heroism. However, I find that when I look too hard at what the heroic vision would be…well, I get a pretty bad case of stage fright. In fact, the only way I can get anything done at all is to do what makes me feel most amazing to do. It’s not the most graceful of methods, and it involves a certain amount of feeling my way into things, but when I full the pull of the gulf stream, I know I’m tapped into something that makes me larger than life. And that is my religion.
The hardest thing to remember is not to look around for validation, to see if other people are doing the same thing I’m doing. This is completely stupid, and I have to stop doing it. I can trace every single crisis of faith to looking around, seeing that I’m by myself, and completely losing my shit.
I know that I’m “gorgeous, talented, fabulous,” and I’m also a trailblazer. Looking around and NOT seeing anyone, ought to, if anything, be a good sign. When I stay centred, I’m completely in tune with the power that guides me.
Now I Know
A medium recently gave me this message, “If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him.“
Until this very moment, I didn’t know what that meant. But now I know. When you’re following your own path, and your own dharma, any distraction from it, no matter how profound or wholesome-seeming, is actually a grave misstep, along the lines of a moral failing. Only I can be me, and do the things I was meant to do. To allow myself to be distracted from that means I’ve limited myself, diminished myself, denied my own birthright.
And that’s not okay.
Other posts in this series:
Accept No Limitations
I have a tendency to be outside myself. While I am being, enjoying, doing, there is generally some other part of me that is simply observing.
While this certainly grants me perspective, there is also the self-protective aspect of it. If I’m not fully present, I can’t fully internalize any conflicts. If I’m not in the moment, engaged with my whole heart and mind, failure doesn’t hurt so bad. If can withhold just a little of myself from the world, I will never get sucked into a maelstrom of misery and suffering.
On the other hand, there are many joys that I am too cerebral to appreciate fully. I am sometimes too cool to attract exciting possibilities. I am too distant from the process to engage in wild success.
I am working on that.
It seems so simple
I am an enthusiastic person, engaged in pushing my boundaries. But.
There seems to be a firewall. Some sort of failsafe.
Something that says, “Look here, dear one. I know you love to throw yourself into new challenges. I know you don’t always look before you leap, and sometimes stubborn pride and misplaced sense of responsibility digs you deeper than you ought to go. It’s great that you will still push those limits, even though it seems a little dumb. After all, some really cool things happen sometimes after all seems lost.”
I think the of the firewall of kind of a big sister. She’s the one who watches dispassionately and lets me screws up, but then also helps perform the debriefing.
“So, what went wrong?”
“What could you have done differently?”
“Did you learn something here?”
“Was there something you overlooked that was important?”
“What are some other ways you could interpret the data set?”
These are good skills. There’s no disputing that. Goodness knows people come to me to help them learn how to do exactly this. But ^those^ skills? I’ve got them nailed. Now I have to learn the skill of giving over completely.
How about you? Do you have a certain skill or set of skills that you know people would kill for, but you actually need to develop the opposite? Share in the comments!
Other posts in this series:
- Engage fully
- Accept no limitations
- Give freely
- Breathe deeply
These are four pieces of advice I got through a guided meditation with a healer once. I remember complaining, “I wanted specifics!” and she laughed and said, “You don’t get much more specific than that.” I suppose not.
I’ve been sitting with them pinned to the wall in front of me for four months now, and I suddenly noticed a common thread. They are specific actions for overcoming specific fears.
People often seem to have the impression I have everything figured out, or at the very least, that I don’t really struggle with the questions the way they do.
That’s both true and false. There are a lot things I kind of mulled over in my own head until I was happy with the conclusions that are widely applicable, and so I share them. But I do struggle with things in my own way. Not as suffering, but as we’ve previously defined the term, I do find certain things challenging.
They are difficult things for me to remember, and to live. They respresent, to me, at least the tasks of Heracles, simply something I must overcome in order to free myself of my personal constraints, in order to grow into something bigger than myself. You know, after Heracles completed his labours, he freed Prometheus, impregnated 50 virgins in one night and helped sack Troy. Just sayin….
So I’m going to share my biggest struggles and shortcomings with you. I hope it comes as no big surprise that I talk a lot: it will be a series.
This was inspired by Reba’s post at Navigating by Heart, and largely lifted from my long-assed comment there.
I know there is no Truth, but I get really frustrated when people imagine me a nihilist for saying such things.
I think the problem is that people depend on a dogma or an idee fixee as a sort of North Star by which to mark their inner compass. They tend to believe that without Truth, we would all be rudderless, and, often, they tend to believe that we would do terrible things, or at least, never live up to their potential or achieve any kind of legacy.
You can correct me if I’m sounding condescending here, but I think these fixed points, this insistence that “THIS is true” and THIS is true, and here are my landmarks by which to steer my life, come from a deep uncertainty of how to handle change. Or that change and chaos even CAN be handled, and not merely waited out.
So for me, my small truth is that things are only “true” moment by moment, and that each new moment brings the possibility that what was once true is not true any longer. Accepting the ephemeral nature of “truth” means that I am less able to delude myself by steering by these landmarks, rather than always assessing the lay of the land and my interaction with it. Rather like the NLP saying “The map is not the territory”
I’ve been told by some people that it’s just too hard to have to keep re-assessing the situations and circumstances of life and that they just want to relax and not feel like the sky will fall because they’re not paying attention. I must admit that I don’t know quite what to do with that reaction, because to me, keeping a weather eye on the horizon is psychologically much easier than wearing a blindfold and telling yourself that “Probably nothing much has changed.” That might be true, but wouldn’t it be easier to know for certain?
Oh, and to get back to the nihilist thing. I find the idea that nothing is fixed to be kind of freeing, in a footloose kind of way. Because you cannot reasonably expect anything to stay the same for long enough to measure any kind of progress by, it follows that the only kind of progress you can even mark is your own, against yourself. I just kind of envision where I’d like to be, or what I’d like to do, and I head in that direction, following the lay of the land. It’s at once tremendously difficult and stunningly simple, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing has very much meaning, and that’s how I’ve decided to spend my time, like a weightlifter trying to beat her own record. The only true mastery is over self, and all that.
Now, it might be that you don’t feel the need to work at self-mastery, and that instead you have other ways to occupy your time in this world. Maybe you live in service, maybe you travel and become an ambassador to humanity and a citizen of the world.
I invite you to think about it: If you knew that nothing you did would matter, if you knew that your presence on this earth would leave no lasting mark, that no memory of you would grace the cosmos… even knowing the futility of it all, how would you spend your time?
Chaos Magic posits no beliefs — at least none to be considered absolutely “true”. Nothing is true. You are therefore free to take anything you like and use it AS IF it were true. Everything is permitted. And the amazing thing is that even if you’re faking it it still works!
A belief system, ANY belief system, even one cobbled together from bits and pieces, copied or original, if it’scontinuously subscribed to as being absolutely true by the magican, it ceases to be Chaos Magic.
Chaos Magicians are magical agnostics. They don’t know what might be absolutely true, and suspect that nothing is — and they DON’T CARE.
Chaos Magic sees nothing but infinite chaos, stochastically dragged into existence by each and every observer according to their predispositions, and by manipulating these predispositions it can be bent in desired directions by a canny intelligence.
Abby posted this a couple weeks ago, and it’s a monument to how much other good stuff I had on the go that this… this… BRILLIANCE … had to wait.
I am officially a Chaos Mage.
That’s all there is to it. This completely nails my worldview.
- There’s no way to know what’s absolutely true
- It’s quite possible nothing is
- But if you can take anything you like and MAKE it true, at least for a while
I like talking to people, because once in a while I’ll hear Something Very True cross my lips, and I’ll have a “eureka” moment. I love eurekas. Last week I told Abby (@oriridraco) that I was studying “the courage and discipline to only do what’s worthwhile to me.”
Have I mentioned before how fucking brilliant I am? (Humble, too, you’ll notice.)
After long reflection, I am announcing the following policy change:
I am now only taking clients by referral. In order to get my email address, you will have to get it from someone I’ve worked with. If you don’t know anyone who has worked with me, you will have to get creative.
Once you get my email, there is a process. This is to weed out the people who want me to wave my magic wand and make their problems go away. They mistake me for their fairy godmother, I think. I only want to work with you if you’re going to work with me.
Every who gets into this biz does it to help people. I’m no different. God knows it isn’t for the luxury goods and the Caribbean cruises. I want to serve my Right People. And Catherine Caine makes a very good point. I must turn away my Not Quite Right People.
My People are gutsy, driven, and willing to take chances. I want people with passion, and purpose, who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. I’m here to be Merlin to your Arthur, Dumbledore to your Harry Potter.
I will not bestir myself for dilettantes. I am looking for dragon slayers.
There is one other way you can stay close to my white hot presence: Join the CataLyst. (Affectionately referred to as the Guinea Pig Army.) That’s where I recruit volunteers to test my ideas, try out my (unorthodox) methods, and shower with my peculiar brand of story-telling and wisdom. Oh, and the only other place I mention openings in my schedule. I start recruiting for my next project in a couple weeks, so if you’d like to be close to the action, you can click here to sign up. I promise not to use you as cannon fodder. Or your email address, for that matter.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what constitutes compassion. It’s understandable; mention the word compassion, and it evokes the image of Jesus being tortured to death, still imploring on behalf of the jeering crowd: “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
One man I spoke to was disgusted with how the liberating energy of compassion has been corrupted.
“Tara who wields swords and sits upon the corpse of a dead man his ripped out heart in her hand, a symbol of both suffering and liberation, destroyer and creator. Her later incarnation into Buddhism [Kuan Yim, the goddess of compassion] took something from her that was not returned.”
I told him that I didn’t think he had to worry; compassion was terrible and beautiful and not for the faint of heart.
I don’t think compassion embodied is a kind of simpering virtue. Compassion is holy fire.
A lot of people grapple with the idea that life really ought to be kind and just, even when inundated with evidence to the contrary. Then they further struggle with the question of “What kind of Power arranges things this way?”
My own thought is — a compassionate one.
Let me ask you a question. How do you learn best? How to you get things, in a visceral way?
Do you read about it? Do your research? Take good advice?
Of course not. You do it. You struggle, you fail, you fall down, you get hurt. You survive. And then you really know. Whatever your question was, you got answers. Not all the answers, of course. That’s for the next time. But for right now, you learned something, and you learned it good.
Try taking that away. All your past hurts, all your suffering and pain. What remains? If you’re like me, not very much. A lump of iron, never forged. Good for nothing.
Compassion is not the art of relieving suffering, succoring the helpless, or protecting the weak. Compassion is the art and the discipline of allowing things to be as they are without being motivated to “save” people from their suffering. Compassion is staying centred in the knowledge that everything unfolds as it should. It’s allowing pain to pain to exist alongside pleasure, both in your own life, and the lives of those you love. That’s what’s terrible about it.
What motivates your acts of compassion? Do you agree or disagree that compassion is terrible as well as kind?
Stresses are not created equal. Obviously, the loss of a loved one is not equivalent to getting cut off in traffic. Receiving a Nobel Prize and having to give an acceptance speech is not the same as getting called out by your boss.
Basically, stress is any stimulus that triggers your body to activate the sympathetic? nervous system. It’s often referred to as the fight/flight/fuck response, but this is too simplistic.
Eustress — It’s the Good Kind
Simply put, there are two kinds of stress. The negative kind is simply ‘stress”. The positive kind is eustress (the prefix means ‘good’ in Greek)
Eustress is rarely referred to outside of psychology literature, but you might see it referred to as ‘challenge,’ ‘stretch goals’ and competitiveness. Quite simply, eustress is stimulus that triggers a stress response in a way that is productive and beneficial.
Exercise is eustress. So is sex. Any mental or physical challenge that you perceive to be interesting, possible, and worthy of your time, is eustress.
This is why entrepreneurs work a lot, and why they tend to spend their downtime in hair-raising pursuits: they like the high that eustress brings.
Does this describe you?
It doesn’t have to, of course. I see these days a lot of emphasis on gentle approaches. But what I’ve come to realize that that just isn’t how I like to roll.
Of course, chasing the battle fever has it’s dark side. Chasing that high can get you hurt, some times badly.
Look at me. I’m *cough* closing in on a quarter century and I’ve been in several accidents, and exhausted myself to the point of hospitalization twice. I won’t say I was necessarily having fun by that point. But it started off as fun. I guess the reason the medical field doesn’t differentiate between stress and eustress is because the effects on your body are identical.
What happened to me is that, over time, I overstimulated my adrenal glands to the point where they never shut down. Even though I rode the wave with fierce confidence and determination, in spite of being in top mental and physical form, I went to the cupboard and the cupboard was bare. No more adrenaline for me. :(
I can’t be fighting all day, everyday.
Even though I love it.
But I sure as fuck am not retiring, either.
Slow and steady does absolutely nothing for me. About the only thing that I can attest to is that it’s hard to maintain the pace. But who cares? As long as I get systems in place to allow for down time, I’m gonna BE a sprinter.
Enough About Me– What About You?
If you’re a sprinter, brawler, scrapper, or fighter, accept that you have significant cycles in your energy level. Chase that excitement, as long as you also listen to your body when it’s time to chill.
That’s our weakness, isn’t it? I mean, I promised my husband I would quit work faithfully at 5 everyday. I hate it! There’s so much I want to do, and I generally get a wave of creative energy at three in the afternoon. I could, and would, keep going until 7, but by that time it’s been a 14 hour day.
I’d just as soon work 14 hours for four days and take three off to do nothing in particular, but that’s not how it works when you cohabitate. Still, by being aware of my ideal rhythms, I can recreate them when my husband travels.
Think about your own situation now. How have you negated your own preferences and rhythms because it was inconvenient or it seemed weird, or you’re getting older or what-the-fuck-ever. I’m not knocking the marathoners, now, goodness knows they’ve earned their day in the sun. But if you lived alone, and worked on your own schedule, how would you operate? If you didn’t have a clock, if you had no way of knowing it was a weekend or a weekday, what would your rhythms be?
Now, how could you rearrange things so it was closer to ideal?
When I was learning to drive truck, my trainer bet me that I couldn’t drive all day without grinding a gear. If he lost, he couldn’t smoke in the the truck. DONE.
Could you make bets with a loved one to improve your focus? Could you hide your laptop in a drawer until your morning pages are are finished? Could you create benchmarks on your projects just to see how much you can destroy them?
Are you a sprinter, or a marathoner? How does that work in your world? Do you find yourself at cross-purposes, or does it work well for you?
I found another note to myself! Goddamn, I’m proud to be me.
In my tickler file:
Tell your fears to one friend, then carry on as if they didn’t exist.
Your fears are your mind’s way of saying, “Hey, I’m not quite sure of this.” Make them feel heard, but don’t let them stop you.
To become a spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of life. — Oscar Wilde
I’ve come to see suffering as being like the weather; you can bitch and moan about it if you like, but it still has to be endured. The Buddha said “Life is suffering” and it was neither more nor less than the truth, simply an absolutely factual statement.
What I find so poisonous about modern life is the tendency to put our suffering on a pedestal, to compare and contrast in a sick game of one-upmanship. I suffered more than you did! Such is our sense of privilege that we resent the people who don’t seem to suffer, realizing at some level that the vast majority of our suffering is self-manufactured.
I’ve really made an effort to step out of that cycle and not make more of it than it is. For goodness sake, weather isn’t out to ‘get you’. It’s our reaction to it that makes it so terrible.
Yes, suffering exists, and actually, it exists under circumstances that we with our internet connections and full refrigerators can scarcely imagine. But most of our suffering, our fear, our pain, our angst and our grief— are constructions of our mind. Yes, they’re real. They’re very real. But focussing on them, making it a competition, is what really hurts us.
I am a scribbler. I write notes to myself. And sometimes they show up and I’m all like, “Whoa! Am I ever smart!”
Today I found a note, and it just blew what I was going to write right out of the water. And since it tied in so well with what I was saying yesterday, I decided to read it as Highly Symbolic and run with it.
Want to know my personal Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything?
More of what’s good, Less of what’s bad.
I’m just going to give you guys all a second to absorb that.
More of what’s good, Less of what’s bad.
Also awesome? I get to choose. Good? Good is a value judgement. I decide that good is all around me, and it is. That’s how fucking stupendous the powers of my mind are.
Bad? What bad?
I’ve been thinking about my bedrock beliefs, about the fundamental of my worldview. It’s been pretty interesting, because every time I think I’ve got one thing nailed down, I realize it’s actually supported by a host of other beliefs.
I give up already! Not really :) But I sure as hell won’t be able to give you what I’ve found out so far wrapped up in a tidy bow.
So instead I’ll tell you a bit of a story, in the hopes that it will be somehow illustrative.
I was always an exceptional kid. We won’t get into that, but suffice it to say that I didn’t really have friends in middle school. I wasn’t actively picked on, but I didn’t really understand the bizarre social etiquette of “friendship” and rather than struggle where other found it so easy, I just read a lot.
My school was really small. I went to school with the same 7 kids in my grade from kindergarten to graduation. I read my way through the library and then began compiling lists of the classics, and then proceeded to self-educate in the manner of auto-didacts everywhere; read everything you can get your hands on. I was mostly interested in how people considered themselves to be well-educated and sophisticated in the days before school grades and university degrees. I loved Victorian manners, Renaissance intellectualism, and above all, the classics.
I integrated certain mores from my reading that I certainly never picked up in my hometown. I think the most important of those is that I was willing to be taught.
A lot of people resist this. Because implicit in learning something new, is that quite likely, whatever you thought you knew is wrong. I say, whatever. Integrating new information and knowledge as it comes to light is the essence of scientific thought. Let me reiterate, for clarity. Changing your mind in the light of new information doesn’t make you wrong. It makes you underinformed. Refusing to change your mind in the light of new information makes you wrong.
I can trace several crucial turning points in my life to integrating new information. I’ll tell you about the first one:
I was a prudish little girl (at 14). I had read the feminst tracts and really, truly believed that until a boy could be in every way my partner, ready to stand by me for the long haul, through thick and thin, until I could be reasonable certain that he loved me no matter what, there was no way we should have sex. People who had sex with out those key ingredients were simply seeking affirmation and love in a transactionary and ultimately unfulfilling manner. (As you can see, early indoctrination is key, people.)
Then I went to a summer camp for budding writers and met Felicia. She was 16, and she was having sex with her boyfriend.
I was aghast, but, since as a fellow writer she clearly had developed cognitive abilities, I decided to ask her for her reasoning. Why would you give that up? I asked, referring to the semi-mythical powers of ‘holding out’. And she said, I love him, and he loves me. Why wouldn’t I share a loving experience with him, rather than withhold it?
She didn’t convince me then, but it marked the very first time I realized that some one could have all the information I had, all the knowledge and powers of reason, and still reach a different conclusion.
And neither of us was wrong.
How bout that?