Turn Around (Brighteyes)

Because I can’t help myself when it comes to referencing unrelated pop lyrics.  

There must be people who read more self-help books than me.  Consumers of TED talks that get to the bottom of way more presentations by earnest smart people offering the answer to everything.  But I’ve read my fair share…

It is entirely possible that I was ruined by writing poetry.  While I’d hate to be held to the poetic standard without exception, I certainly feel free to apply it liberally everywhere else: the best use of words is to say exactly what you mean with as much economy as you are capable of.  A book on Essentialism that stretches to 200+ pages is a contradiction that risks the entire premise of the book.  

Most books have this problem.  We authors tend to fall in love with the sound of our own voice in the same way that children in the midst of a tantrum keep crying: they get used to the rhythm of it and the body just perpetuates the posture.  I’m sure I am as guilty as anyone.  On the other hand, I get fussed at for writing too sparsely, so maybe it is only the blog where I wax eloquently to excess.  

Anyway, pushing aside my digressions, what I’m trying to say is this: much of the self-help advice I’ve come across comes down to a simple chunk of advice.  Turn around and face whatever it is you are trying to get away from.  

There are many ways to get to this:  

  • Mindfulness, which advises to approach with curiosity whatever you’re trying to squash in yourself.
  • The metaphor of a car in an unwanted spin – turn into the spin to regain control.  
  • Ariel and Shya Kane – what you resist, persists.  
  • Dawna Markova (I will be singing the praises of Dawna forever, but even she could have condensed), who advises readers to sit with their demons and seek understanding.  
  • Deri Llewellyn-Davis says fuck the fear and sends you off to do the thing that scares you the most.  

I’d never tell anyone to forgo reading.  Buy a book.  Buy loads of books.  Buy my book, while you’re at it.  All I’m saying is that you’re going to come back to the same simple concept time and time again.  To find that freedom most of us are seeking, turn around and face what constrains you with curiosity and compassion.  Stop running, and your fears will stop chasing you.  Give up, but in the nicest possible way.  Surrender.  

There.  Hundreds of dollars in self help books in two paragraphs, one bulleted list, and some tangential rambling about poetry.  

Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it.  –Jean de La Fontaine

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Turn Around (Brighteyes)

Somebody Else

A hazard of being the product of millennia of progenitors who were good at fitting into the social construct is the degree to which the idea of what I’m *supposed to be* refuses to budge.  This would be one of those things I keep to myself, except that I hear it from my friends as well.  They confront relationship challenges (not just the romantic ones) with this idea that they are *supposed* to have a reaction or approach that isn’t natural.  Who calls, how long before you respond to a text, what is okay to give for a birthday present.  You don’t want to give too much, but you also don’t want to be outdone by the other guy.  No one wants to show up at the birthday party with a homemade card when everyone else is boasting Hallmark.  Or whatever.

But here’s the deal with success or failure in your social endeavors (to include romantic relationships): win or lose, wouldn’t you rather it be for who you are, not for some role you’re playing?

Say you go down in flames.  If you crash and burn spectacularly because you were playing games or trying to be someone you aren’t, don’t you then end up living with the regret?  I’d wonder what might have happened if I’d just been myself, gone with my gut, followed what I was sure of, set my fears aside, stopped listening to the voice that told me there was something I was supposed to be, or the relationship was supposed to be, and just embraced what I was, what the relationship was, and what made me happy.  What if I’d just said what I feel, what I want, and let the cards fall where they might?

Come to think of it, I do live with that…  I can think of three relationships that crashed and burned because of the supposed to’s:  my first love in college – that never got off the ground because the difference between what it was and what it was supposed to be was insurmountable.  Part of the failure of my marriage can be blamed on me not being able to move past the gap between what it was and what I thought it was supposed to be.  I’ll not try to characterize the third relationship here.  Suffice it to say that we all struggle with the gap between reality and “supposed to.”

Moving on.  What if you succeed on the merits of being someone else…  Have you thought through the part where you’re going to have to sustain that charade.  Indefinitely?

I’m certainly not trying to claim that authenticity is easy.  It takes a lot of bravery to say “fuck it, this is who I am, this is how I feel, this is what makes me happy, this is what I want.”  It’s even harder to say all of that with complete ownership over yourself and no expectation that the world is going to bow to your will and deliver what it is that you want.  Consider the alternatives, though.  You can fake it and feel safe because you’re hiding behind the mask you think other people want to see, but succeed or fail, the long-term consequences are pretty difficult.

Between regret or sustaining the lie and the risk associated with just going with the best I can do with my authentic self, I think I’m aspiring to the risk.  If I’m going to go down, I can live with going down on the truth.  It’s easier to live with than losing something over an ephemeral “supposed to.”

The only possible caveat here is if your authentic self is a creep or an asshole.  In that case, become a nice person and then be your authentic self.

Somebody Else

Investing

The tv-to-person ratio in the house I’m living in is at about 2:1.   When not living in a roommate-situation, I don’t really pay attention to the TV.  It sits there forlorn and dusty waiting for movie night while I go along my merry way doing other stuff.  What that other stuff is, I don’t exactly know.

Recently, however, I find myself turning on HGTV while I’m in the kitchen, and have gotten sucked into love it or list it, a Canadian renovation/real estate porn show.  So there I was, sitting in the kitchen because I’d finished what I was there to do but I just *had* to know which apartment a nutritionist from Silver Spring was going to pick in Paris.

Wait.  Hunh?

And the thought came to me…  why am I investing my time in someone else’s life when there’s my own life that could use the investment.  So I turned off the TV and I’ll have to live the rest of my life not knowing which Parisian flat the lady chose.

Seriously.  Invest in your own life before you invest in the lives you see on TV.

Investing

The Philosopher’s Toothache

It is said that there was never a philosopher yet that could bear a toothache gracefully.  I’m going to add moving to that list.  My bookshelf has been abandoned.  All the books that make up an identity, both from what I’ve ingested and what I aspire to read but haven’t gotten around to, are in boxes.

I’m moving in with a friend and I suspect it is going to be chaotic for a good long while.  I also suspect that my philosophy is going to abandon me (or I abandon it) until my bed is made up in the new place, I know where my camera and my computer are, and I have a place for my odd collection of talismans that make a place mine.  The dog looks at me like Really Lady?  Again?

Yes.  Again.

The things I say to myself aren’t working.

Look, there is only so much you can control here.  Do what you can and let go of the rest.

Surrender.

There will be a time after this.  All you have to do is breathe until you get there.

You can’t fight this.  Let yourself go under it instead of trying to keep your head above the water.

Aye right.  The problem is rarely that we don’t know what to do, it’s our expectation of there being a how involved.   There’s no how in surrender.  Either you do or you don’t.

I haven’t surrendered yet, but I’d better get around to it quickly.

The Philosopher’s Toothache

Working Doesn’t Work

I read a book called Working on Your Marriage Doesn’t Work when I was in the midst of my divorce.  It didn’t save my marriage, but it helped.  From the book, I got the following maxim:

what you resist, persists.

In other words, the harder you fight something, the more energy you give it, and the bigger it gets.  So, for example.  If you’re obsessed with losing weight and the inner dialogue goes like “I really should give up cheese,” or “I’m not going to eat sweets,” you’re keeping both cheese and sweets in the forefront of your mind.  And then, because you’ve been thinking about them and resisting the want, when you’re confronted with them, you put them in your mouth anyway because you’re so sick of fighting.  Well, the truth is that there was neither cheese nor sugar at your desk, but you spent all that time when the problem wasn’t even in front of you to solve fighting, and fighting valiantly   No wonder you’re tired when you get to the temptation.  You’ve committed all of your energy to those two objects which, had you been focused on something else, you might have never noticed.

There was a Fiona Apple interview on NPR when she says, and I paraphrase: I’ve given up.  Not the bad kind of giving up, but the good kind.  I’ve given up on expectations, on being mad when things don’t turn out the way I wanted them to.

So, to myself as much as to anyone else, I offer the following benediction:  you have permission to give up.  You have permission to quit fighting.  Let those demons do their own thing unsupervised while you start doing what you can from where you are.  Let’s face it.  The demons are only there because you pay attention to them.  Like your intuition, if you ignore them for long enough, they’ll go away.

Working Doesn’t Work

Permission

About a year ago, I read Seth Godin’s Lynchpin.  In it, he talked about permission.  The anecdote was Richard Branson getting stuck in an airport and, instead of sitting around helplessly, he found out how much it would cost to charter a plane, then put up a sign advertising seats to the destination of the plane that had been cancelled.  People bought seats and off he went to his destination.

I know my backside wouldn’t have done it.  I would have been thinking that I didn’t have the permission to put up a sign, it might be perceived as weird, or that there was some rule written down somewhere that explicitly said that I was not allowed to do such a profoundly sensible thing.

Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about permission.  Who is qualified to give me permission?  What can I do that doesn’t require permission?  What permissions are mine to give myself?  If habits are the key to everything, then I might be making progress.  I now habitually ask myself what I can do that doesn’t require permission.

Next, I just need to work on doing that thing more consistently.

Permission