No one ever steps in the same river twice,
for it is not the same river,
and they are not the same person.
No one ever steps in the same river twice,
for it is not the same river,
and they are not the same person.
To add to the Opposing Diapoles I mentioned a few months ago, there was another construct I discovered that had been hemming me in: my Evil Triumvirates.*
Unlike the Diapoles, these weren’t contrarian landmines on either side of me into which I was guaranteed to step on no matter which way down the path I went. Instead, these were views/truths/realities that worked in unison, albeit surreptitiously. While, together, they formed a big barrier that affected me in a big way, each also had their own angle or flavour to it. They were variations on the same barrier, sneaking up from different directions and linking to form an interconnected mega-barrier.
This meant that even if I managed to diminish or even remove one of the barriers, the other two still remained to maintain the constraint. I remained trapped.
Even more insidiously, they were so splendidly interwoven that even when I removed one of them, the other two’s roots could still nourish whatever fragment that remained, allowing it to regrow and return. Gah!
Which was pretty vexing! I’d seen the thing, I’d done the work, I’d moved it to the side… so why wasn’t I freer? Why was I still tripping up? Why were my possibilities being stunted? Why did I keep getting snarled? Gah, again!
By bringing mindfulness to the fore, I could let it just play out while remaining present in the inquiry, and I began to catch glimpses of the Triumvirates. I began to see their triple Neapolitan nature, how they operated on me, and of the way they linked together. How fascinating they were!
I gave them their name. And with that, I could begin to untangle them. I could see them for what they were and learn how to complete them and move the barrier to the side while preventing them from recreating each other.
Of course, as with everything else in the art of living, it’s an ongoing project, and new barriers arise all the time. But this is no longer one of my blind spots, and with that comes new freedom, choice, and joy.
* Of course, they weren’t evil per se… they just were. And had an unproductive impact on me. But, like with the Diapoles, making it fun to say was important, both to keep it present and also to disarm them. Making them out to be hilariously melodramatic and almost cartoonish evil shadowy figures hanging out near the margins immediately decreased the likelihood of me taking them too gosh darn seriously, which automatically diminished their hold on me.
** And the poorer experience of life that went along with it. And, also, the lesser results that came from acting within that/those constraint(s)…
Sometimes, it is a big, massive, sideswiping thing that knocks us into a tailspin.
Other times, it is a series of smaller things that will send us into the downward spiral.
Those things can happen all at once.
Or maybe they pile up over time.
And sometimes there is a multitude of background poop that is so ubiquitous we don’t even recognize it is there anymore, we’ve become so accustomed to it. And then all it takes is a small nudge and vwoop! Down we go.
It can be so tempting to belittle those breakdowns and, more harshly, to make people wrong for losing it over such “small things.”
But we can do much better for ourselves, and for others, than to fall into that reductive trap and consider only large things or events as “worthy” or “proper” or “justifiable” causes of great malaise.
We can cast our empathy and mindfulness nets wide and know that we’re not seeing the whole picture.*
We can grant a bit of space and compassion and create a clearing for resolution and peace of mind.
We can pull ourselves out of the tailspin, regain our heading, and plot a course for sunnier skies.
* This, of course, is especially true in the case of other people, since we’re not there in their head and in their experience 100% of the time. Especially when they’re at the outsized effect of outside impacts, limitations, and burdens due to social, economic, racial, gender, familial, and etc factors…
It’s rather remarkable how adaptive we (as human beings) are. I’m not speaking only about our geographic reach, as expansive as that is. I mean just about anything and everything. All so quickly, things, situations, systems, dynamics, societies, and etc all begin to feel normal. And not just normal, but everlasting, intrinsic, and even right. Like that’s how its supposed to be. And like how there’s no way it could be any other way.
Which, of course, is caca. If there’s one thing for certain, it is that things change.** We are always, ongoingly, creating ourselves, creating our communities, creating our systems, and creating our culture. When we get lost in that feel of normalcy, that’s when we can get stuck creating the same thing over and over and over again. Perhaps inadvertently doing so, but the effect is the same. Inside the rut, possibility is greatly stifled.
That said, again of course, it’s not bad that we are so adaptive! It’s great that we don’t smell the sewer after a few minutes. Or that the lake stops feeling cold after jumping in. Or that great shifts soon feel much less disruptive.*** But, like just about everything else that comes with being human, there are aspects of it that are empowering, and aspects that are disempowering and even destructive.
By remembering this great capacity of ours we can remain mindful to see where we’re letting something slide. Where we’re giving things that are harmful, or don’t work work, or aren’t right or just or equitable or verdant, or anything of that sort, giving them the automatic pass and thinking “well, it’s just how it is.” Or, worse, getting caught up in it all and doubling down on it.
Here’s where we can step out of the adaptiveness ruse. Nothing is inherent. Nothing is intractable. We hold the agency for ourselves and who we are being, for our relationships, and with the communities and societies we ongoingly build.
* From the frigid arctic to the intense deserts, all without the use of what we consider “modern and necessary technology” – which is a whole avenue of exploration in of itself! But to quip shortly about it here, we have done a lot and even thrived with just our wits and less fragility… AND that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s the same main thrust of this post: we’ve become accustomed to and thus adapted to a very narrow temperature range, and anything outside of those bounds feels like death.
** Not always for the ‘better’, which is another reason why this feeling of normalcy can be so deleterious, for it will allow the ‘little’ normals to become ‘big’ normals very quickly, and if those little normals are not great, then the effects and harm also spread and become widespread.
*** To whit was how, in short order, the way of working, remembering my mask, new ways of communicating, and etc all due to the pandemic started to feel most normal.
“Some of the thoughts you have inside your head aren’t even yours…”
(A great reminder about how much of our world view, our reality (which we experience as capital-R Reality), is formed by inherited contexts, picked up through osmosis because that’s just what’s “normal“. Our brains are amazing pattern-making machines and are always reading between the lines and determining what’s “true “and what’s “real”. And what we’re immersed in we tend to become and believe. And thus, we thought it out all the time.
But it isn’t ours. We didn’t create it. We didn’t examine it. We didn’t even realize there was anything to examine — so seamless was our automatic adoption that it seems to come fully formed, as real as the hand in front of our face.
Except it isn’t real, in the way gravity or rocks or water are. It’s just a context. And because of that we can examine it, reflect on it, meditate on it, and bring mindfulness to it.
If it’s useful, we can keep it.
If it’s not useful, or productive, or nurturing, or empowers us and those around us, we can put those thoughts and views and beings aside, and, in that clearing, create new possibilites.)
We need to watch out for, and push back on, and resist, those who perpetrate the “Siblings in the Back Seat” ruse.
You know the schtick: where one sibling will poke and prod and annoy the other until, understandably, they push back, and then it’s all “MoooOOoOooooOOOOooom, they’re hitting me!” And thus the instigator turns themselves into the victim, and the actual aggrieved is the one who gets punished.
It’s a depraved and cruel way of behaving, though it is most certainly cunning.* Cunning enough to become adopted and carried forth through life, where the stakes become much higher than that in the back seat and where the effects are felt not only interpersonally, but through families, communities, companies, and even to the level of countries. Where the stakes are very high indeed, and where this trickery is used to delegitimize and dehumanize, as a pretext for theft and persecution, to justify highly asymmetric responses, and, in general, to excuse and even try to legitimize all manner of deleterious and harmful behaviour.
But it is possible to see through this deceit. Once we observe enough back seat shenanigans, we can begin to recognize the pretense. We can stop falling into the trap. We can call it out, and align ourselves accordingly.**
Even on ruses that have been perpetrated for 73 years.
* This is, in many ways, a variant on the DARVO technique.
** We can do this even if, once, we bought into them. Perhaps even bought into them fully. Unquestioningly. Gleefully.
*** Said another way is simply this: We need to be very wary of and verify the stories of enthusiastic aggressors.
“Vermeer celebrated real people. Doing ordinary things. He offered the radical idea that you didn’t have to be special, or important, or magical, or legendary to be worth being painted or thought about or remembered.
So it turns out there are two ways of explaining history. We can be like the early Romans and invent these magical, wonderous, brilliant people who gave everything to us.
Or, we can be like Vermeer. A bunch of ordinary, everyday people built Stonehenge just by working together and putting time and effort into it. A bunch of ordinary people make video games by working together very hard for hours and days and years to make it. A bunch of regular, ordinary people built Rome over the span of a very long time, contributing to what would later be remembered as the exploits of one man.
This way is no where near as magical as we like to imagine put our worlds together.
The truth is often very mundane.
But maybe that’s OK.”
There was one bit in Soul that got a big “NOPETY NOPE!” from me: ”Okay, first stop is the Excitable Pavilion. You four. In you go! You five, you’ll be aloof. And you two, why not.”
It’s played off for a joke, as in ha-ha kids these days, so aloof and detached and acting cool. But, in a movie that is working to create, and illustrate, so many fine things, what this creates is not fine at all. That we come into this world with a personality or traits already stamped upon our head, already fixed in place?
We are not fixed objects, set in stone. We are not destined to be a certain way. Nor are we only a certain way either! We contain multitudes, and we have the capacity to generate, and be, all sorts of ways.
A huge part of what self-cultivation is about is unlearning all that and recognizing our freedom and choice in creating who we want to be. It’s all about the art of being. And the art of the ongoing freedom to choose who we are being, in any moment, under any circumstances.
That’s what gives us power and passion and joy and connection and fulfillment and excitement and compassion and our humanity and oh-so-delicious peace of mind.
There’s plenty to take from soul. But in chasing a (what I consider to be) easy and cheezy joke, they put something out there that’s detrimental and perhaps* even downright harmful.
There are no permanent labels stamped onto our foreheads. Neither we, nor what we call our personality, are a carved statue.** We can always get in touch with our Great Before souls, touch our spark, and (re)create ourselves and who we are being.
* For a couple of reasons, beyond the way it can keep us from seeking that self-cultivation to alter those ways of behaviour and being that are counterproductive and possibly harmful in our own lives. For one, it can prevent us from treating others with dignity or possibility, writing people off as incorrigible or destined to be a thief (or whatever) and fostering stereotypes and biases. For two, relatedly, we can, inadvertently, hem people in and prevent their growth and exploration and their own self-cultivation. Especially with our kids, hemming them into only the narrow path of life that we see possible.
** As one of the greatest mentors once put it: “Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter.” Happy May the 4th Be With You!
We are not worthy by accomplishing some external dream. There is no milestone to clear.
We are worthy of love and belong just by being alive.
By being present to ourselves and to others, we grant ourselves that freedom and security and love.
By being present to the world around us, we grant ourselves exhilaration and beauty and wonder.
And inside of all that we can engage with life, living every minute of it with gusto, delight, and with our whole hearts.
(Also, congrats to Soul and to Pixar for winning the 2021 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature!)
Floating along on our ongoing Soul Expedition, let’s talk about fish.*
It’s that moment when Joe attains all he ever wanted, after a killer performance, and he stands on the pedestal of all he’s ever envisioned… and… now what?
It’s important to get here that the movie isn’t saying that interests, or goals, or hopes and desires aren’t worth having, or that they’re foolish, or even that they’re bad. What it is saying is what we’ve covered in the previous weeks about if/then statements, and about attachment, which can be summed up neatly in this way:
When we think that the achievement will solve our life.
Not that it won’t be amazing – it probably will! But it won’t solve everything. Because there’s no milestone in life when we “make it”. As in, BAM! We’re done and solved and forever good, we made it. And even if it did, it’d be precarious, ready to fall apart at the next shifting circumstance.
Interestingly, this is one case where art imitates life, for this happened to the film’s composer, Trent Reznor, after his first big Nine Inch Nails concerts. Which were great, and amazing, and then… he had to come back and do it all again. Where he got that there were diminishing returns.
Again, it’s not that there’s anything wrong, or worthless, or that it feels rotten, or that things immediately cease to be fun or exciting or that we stop loving the thing we’re doing. Reznor certainly loves it and keeps doing it!
And that’s it: We can love it, remembering all the while that it will not, and is not, everything.
Joe’s disappointment after the big moment isn’t because it’s done, it’s because of his (unintentional, and impossible) expectation that wasn’t met.
The beauty for all of us in letting go of the if/then constructs and any attachments, and in returning ourselves to a state of being present, is that we can experience that love and joy unfettered, and ongoingly.
* Which is a reference to a story by Anthony de Mello, but also makes a nice side reference to David Foster Wallace’s amazing “This is Water” commencement address.