Philosophy Tuesday

“What do you define as success?” This a question sometimes gets posed in conversations with people of note or, perhaps somewhat bizarrely, in job interviews.  However, leaving aside the second one especially, and taking it on in a mindfulness context, this can be one of those laser focused questions that cuts through our everyday autopilot to prompt some actual reflection and thinking.

Because when we look at it, we often discover that we’ve never really chosen it for ourselves.  Often, we find we’re just living into the default view and measurements about success and what success is that we inherited from our context (including our upbringing, community, colleagues, etc).  Or if we did choose, we may have accidentally slipped back into those typical contexts after we’d suffered a setback or two while in pursuit of our desires.

So in giving it some reflection and thought, it’s common to notice that what we’ve been pursuing under those default contexts – often some variety of money, and/or status or fame, and/or control and/or some material items and/or some family/social unit or activity – isn’t actually aligned with what we truly want, such as love, connection, peace of mind, fulfillment, joy, excitement, making a difference, aliveness, beauty, gusto, wonder…

And sure, money and the like may provide some pathways towards that which we truly want.  But even beyond the long-held truth that money can’t buy happiness, when we focus on those reductive measures of success like money we can very much forget what we’re actually aiming for.  We get stuck on the default treadmill, aiming for the tool rather than the thing we want to create.  To bring back a quote from an earlier post, “It’s easy to confuse what is important with what is easy to measure.”

Which is also why when we attain those default measures of success, they rarely leave us fulfilled or satisfied.  And, rather nefariously, because we’re absentmindedly stuck on the treadmill pursuing those default measures, we fall into another pitfall of, to quote yet another previous post (one of the earliest!), “I gotta get a bigger hammer!”  In other words, we surmise that if these haven’t brought satisfaction yet (and everyone is saying they should), it must be because we haven’t gotten enough of “it” yet.

So we stay on that treadmill, our eyes firmly off the real prize.

Which brings us back to that laser-guided question we can ask ourselves “What do I define as success?”  With mindfulness and care and creation we get to choose that which will leave us delighted, radiant, and fulfilled.  And then we can align ourselves and our activities towards attaining that, including right-sizing our focus (or whether we choose to engage with them at all) on those default measures of success.

And with this clarity of success, we empower ourselves and those around us towards living the lives we want.

(And if we need a good starting point in designing our measures of success, Ben Zander’s “shining eyes” is a great foundation.)

Philosophy Tuesday

Transformation is a bit like folding space (in the science fiction faster-than-light travel kind of way).  It isn’t about changing something, it isn’t about shifting our views, it isn’t about moving things around.  Instead, it’s about opening up and broadening our (accidentally already limited) view to wide new vistas, and then creating a new way of being to live into.

Note that, in that moment, our circumstances don’t change.  We’re still the same person and we’re in the same situation and we have the same trials and tribulations and conditions and events and all of that ahead of us.

But, because we have shifted our view and, more importantly, who we are being, not only does our experience of life change – Actually, let’s pause here for a moment, because to be honest that is really important!  Our experience of life is in some ways everything, our experience of life is what we’re here for!

Getting back to it, not only does our experience of life change, but so to do our capabilities change.*  We approach things differently.  Our options expand.  Our agency and confidence grow.

While we face the same circumstances, everything feels and even seems different.  We step into paths that might never have even occurred to us before.  We travel towards those things in life which we all want.

Which in turn boosts our experience of life even more.  Joy, love, fulfilment, comfort, security, and peace of mind, all available to bask in.

 

* Our capacity doesn’t change… it already was pretty darn unlimited, we just had erected barriers in front of it.  With those barriers gone we can do the work needed to step into and develop our capabilities.

Philosophy Tuesday

The other evening I was speaking with a friend, and I brought up something about shame.

Or, at least, that’s what I was trying to do.  Instead, I misspoke and instead of shame what came out of my mouth was “Shane.”

Which, in of itself, was a bit funny.  But then I envisioned this guy Shane, leaning against the wall in the corner, dressed in a to cool to care kind of way, theatrically shaking his head at me.  And in that personification of my shame, I found it completely hilarious.

And surprisingly liberating.  Or perhaps not so surprising, for I’ve seen a bunch of exploration and research lately about this approach of personification.  Mostly it’s where you end up speaking to those unproductive bits of yourself in the second or third person.  With Shane here it might be a bit different, as I’m taking whatever bits of shame I’ve got and sticking them into this Rando McRandomson dude in the corner that I might never talk to.  But it remains fruitful because I don’t need to talk to them.  Firstly, the humour of it all is enough to reduce the significance of everything – as Loretta Laroche would point out, humour in of itself can be excellent at knocking things back into perspective.  And secondly, that kind of random scorn from someone isn’t something I’d likely pay much attention to in the first place.  All of which interrupt any downward spiral and allow mindfulness to return and either complete things or bring them to a place of productive guilt.

Right on.  It was an inadvertent and complete slip of the tongue, but it ended up granting access to a whole bunch of space to live and grow, and a whole lotta peace of mind.

Philosophy Tuesday

“Everything I had thought was wrong.

Everything I had expected to see was wrong.

I had thought that going into space would be the ultimate catharsis of that connection I had been looking for between all living things—that being up there would be the next beautiful step to understanding the harmony of the universe. In the film “Contact,” when Jodie Foster’s character goes to space and looks out into the heavens, she lets out an astonished whisper, “They should’ve sent a poet.” I had a different experience, because I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.

It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna . . . things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral…

[Seeing our precious earth from space] can change the way we look at the planet but also other things like countries, ethnicities, religions; it can prompt an instant reevaluation of our shared harmony and a shift in focus to all the wonderful things we have in common instead of what makes us different. It reinforced tenfold my own view on the power of our beautiful, mysterious collective human entanglement, and eventually, it returned a feeling of hope to my heart.

In this insignificance we share, we have one gift that other species perhaps do not: we are aware—not only of our insignificance, but the grandeur around us that makes us insignificant. That allows us perhaps a chance to rededicate ourselves to our planet, to each other, to life and love all around us.

If we seize that chance.”

William Shatner

 

Philosophy Tuesday

And now for some lynx musings on all types of art! *

  • Art for beauty’s sake is OK.  Not all art needs to have deep, layered, meanings or messages.  Art for pleasure and the visceral experience is a thing, and it can be a great thing.
  • Art that is rife with intended meaning is also a great thing.  Art that causes us to reflect, discover, that shakes our foundations, that leaves us moved, that are profound, are all great.
  • Move around.  Stand close to the work.  Stand far away from the work.  See it in context.  Focus in on a little detail.  Watch the light fall across it.  Whole new experiences can be had just by observing differently.
  • It’s OK to love something.  You don’t need to erect a barrier between you and it through intellect, or identity, or etc.  Think of Anton Ego from Ratatouille – his big transformation comes when he drops his identity as a critic and returns to liking food (and being able to enjoy it).
  • Very importantly adding to the previous: you can like something without needing to define it in opposition to something else.  Avoid that trap.
  • Liking something, and critiquing something, are two different things.  Critiquing is its own and developed skill that requires contemplation and consideration of the work from several angles.  To make a critique is to put yourself on the line, vulnerable.  At the same time, you must also stand outside of yourself;  a critique may include whether you like it or not, but the bulk of the critique is irrespective of that (dis)like.
  • Art is hard.  Ever create something?  From scratch?  It can be HARD.  A struggle, even.  Remember that it is often difficult enough just trying to communicate something to a friend through words, let alone trying to emote or connect to a stranger through artwork.  Remember this before you dismiss a work.
  • If visiting a gallery, remember to pay attention to the gallery itself.  The architecture can be a piece of art in its own right!
  • Variety makes life awesome.  That things exist outside the “ordinary” bounds or definitions – or outside of what you like/find lovely – is vital.  Let diversity flourish, even if its not your thing.  And (at least occasionally) engage with it… who knows, you may find yourself coming around to it.
  • Installation art and spatial art are the best.  (Ok, natch, this one’s not a musing… but I do love them!)

 

* Including painting, sculpture, photography, cooking, architecture, writing, movies…

Philosophy Tuesday

It took me a while at ILM to realize my imposter complex would show up which would be about 70% of the way through every single build at ILM.  I thought someone would come up and tap me on the shoulder and tell me to go home because clearly I didn’t know what I was doing.  I was there for about a year and a half before I realized that this was happening on every build.  And thus, after that, once it showed up I’d be like, “right, this is part of the process”.  It’s no fun, but… One of the hard parts about having a brain, is that you can know how it works, and it doesn’t help.  You can know you’re going to have this negative response to a thing and even knowing that doesn’t really assist you in getting out of that sooner.  But it does help in terms of lowering the stakes.

Because before I knew when I would have that dip I’d be looking for what is wrong.

Adam Savage

This is a great observation/share, and I especially love two big things in this quote.  First, that I have that VERY SAME concern about someone tapping me on the shoulder.  Like this time years ago when I was at a huge dance thing.  While I was out there in the midst of everyone, enjoying the awesome tunes being created and dancing away, my inner voice kept warning that someone was going to come up to me and say “Stop!  What the heck are you doing?  Ugh, get out of here!”

Sure, intellectually I “knew” that was highly unlikely someone would do that, but that concern still hung around… which leads to the second thing I love which is how the quote begins to describe how we can be mindful about it and, more importantly, simply just be with it.  Yes, there might be some transformational work to be done that will maybe have it go away, but either way it’s not necessarily a problem that it’s there.  We can just be present to it, like “oh, hey, there’s that thing.”  We can even expect it and bring humour to the situation: “About time you showed up!”

When we stop resisting it, that “it” loses its grip.  (Remember that resistance equals persistence.)  The phrase “lowering the stakes” is also a very apt description.  “Thank you for sharing,” we can say to our inner voice, “and I’m going to go and do it anyway.”

Which is what I did that night all those years ago.  I let that concern be just that – a concern – and didn’t become it.  Instead, I got into the groove and danced with (mostly) abandon into the night.

(The humorous coda to this story is that a year later, in nearly the same place, I was once again dancing away, this time with full abandon, as that concern had indeed lost its grip and wasn’t there at all.  And then… someone did come up to me and said, “Stop!”  Uh oh…

But they continued:  “I just wanted to say that your mixing of dancing with kung fu is f’n amazing!”  “Really?”  “Yeah, not too many people would recognize it, but I do and it’s totally awesome!”

And with that gave me a high five and danced off into the crowd.)

Philosophy Tuesday

With this post marking the 400th Philosophy Tuesday post* it has to do something special and fundamental… so let’s dive some more into our identities.  Because it’s hard to get any more at the root of so much of our lives than that of our identities.  I’ve talked about them a bunch already and explored many of their facets (this post links to many of them), but one side I haven’t really delved into yet is this.

Our identity (or identity of identities) is not an inherent thing, ascribed to us by the fates of the universe.  It can also be limiting and can trip us up in all sorts of unproductive and deleterious ways.  Yet, at the same time, we can’t really live without an identity – or, perhaps more properly expressed, it’s useful to have an identity.  They can be fun and fulfilling and give us a sense of meaning and purpose and, well, identity, while at the same time they can be of service to us, acting as a guidepost and shortcut rather than having to invent everything every moment from scratch.**

So the question becomes, what are some guidelines around what we choose (and perhaps a little bit of what “should” we choose) when we’re building our identity?

Well, in an ironic first step, one thing not to do is to define ourselves as an opposite (or in opposition to) something else.  While defining something as “not that” is easy (or easier than defining something from nothing), it is a trap and incredibly constraining.***  Plus, by its very nature it has conflict potential built in.

The other thing to avoid is making beliefs, stances, or ideologies part of our identity.  These tend to be rigid and inflexible, and very susceptible to triggering our survival mechanisms (remember that our brains cannot tell the difference between an attack on our body or an attack on our identity).  These hamper our ability to adapt and learn.

Status or ability or appearance are other aspects that are very much subject to change due to outside forces (or just the passage of time).  This can quickly engage our calculating selves in a defensive storm, at best leading to unhappiness but at worst often self-destructive behaviour.

Where this leaves us is creating identities that are generative (rather than negating or against), enlivening, value-driven, and about ways of being.

It’s also best to diversify.  When our identities are narrowly focused, even if they’re empowering in the moment, when the situation changes**** then that can cause quite the consternation and breakdown.

Similarly, be broad.  Identity items that focus on a narrow outcomes or on narrow ways something can be expressed or be successful become restraining and ripe for being thwarted, and thus again creating consternation and breakdown.

Interests and activities can also work, if they are created and live for us in a broad way to encompass values ways of being.  For example, my identity as “Architect” is in an interest in the whole realm of architecture, including beauty (a value) as well as curiosity and creativity (ways of being), and it ties into other interests each with their own values and ways of being.

Even with all of the above, there still needs to be some judiciousness – values and ways of being are great, but there are both values and ways of being that are unpleasant, unproductive, and harmful to us or to others.  It pays to do the work to not be hoodwinked by something we may see as necessary to survive or “win” that, in reality, is inaccurate, overblown, and often produces the very thing we’re trying to avoid.

And whatever we choose, it’s good to remember the Identity Tiers and slot things appropriately.  It may be even best to not slot anything into the Tier 1 category, or at least be very judicious about what gets slotted there, given how that can easily become attachment with all the landmines that entails. Use the lower slots as appropriate for the “strength” of that aspect of our identity, with values and ways of being higher up, and interests and others lower down.  This keeps our identities light, which can be hugely freeing.  With things in the proper slots, rather than cling and defend we can instead engage and dance with all of life.

That dance is important.  All of this only scratches the surface as a starting point, and crafting our identity is not something we only get one chance at doing.  As we move through life, as things and our situations change, as we learn and grow, as our interests and visions shift, as all is mutable, we can revisit and rework our identities, forever crafting them to enliven and empower ourselves and all those around us, and seeking that which we all want:  being related and connected, fulfillment, joy, self-expression, making a difference, and peace of mind.

 

* In reality it’s probably over 400th, if you include the days when they weren’t specifically titled Philosophy Tuesday as well as counting the bonus posts around a certain movie

** This is, of course, why they can be unproductive and deleterious.  If we fully go on autopilot with them then we’re not present or mindful and can head down “wrong” paths for quite some ways before we notice and try to correct our course.  And if we’re fully in the throws of our identity, we may never notice we’re down those dark paths and will follow them no matter how much they lead to ruin.

*** One common example is the “I will never do what X would do” or “I will never be like Y.”  And while it may feel like throwing off the yoke of a dominating or controlling other, you’ve actually just sentenced yourself to being dominated and controlled by them because now you HAVE to act in a way that is in opposition to them, even if something(s) they do/say/think/etc could be useful or fit in with your other identities.

**** Which doesn’t have to be as a result of random fortune, it might be a very logical progression.  For example, if our identity is narrow around parenting, or around a certain person, then when the children move out or that person passes on by definition the identity will be disrupted.

Philosophy Tuesday

Riffing a bit off last week’s post, albeit in a 180 degree way, since it is firmly within the opposite realms of explanation and excuses… but what’s up with those situations, often at work or were there is a sort of hierarchy/seniority context, where someone asks you for a reason why you did something or why you did something a particular way, and when you explain it they  get mad at you for “making excuses”? 

I mean, that’s weird, right?  Because they don’t even address the reason or the reasoning behind it, and rather it gets all accusatory.  Well, what gives is that the question is a ruse.  What they want as a response is to capitulate to being an idiot for not doing it exactly as they want it, exactly as their narrow view of it says it must be done.  The real question is “I wanted it done this way, why didn’t you do it this way?” 

So any answer other than accepting blame (whether you feel there should be blame or not) is taken as a dodge, and thus an afront to them. 

And all of it is some petty power play BS. 

It’s a bully tactic.  They don’t say what they mean up front to set a trap.  Nor do they have any kind of understanding or teaching or etc as an intention.   They don’t want the answer.  They want you to be wrong and admit to it and, even better, grovel about it. 

Which, while it speaks volumes about who they are being, is a poopy thing to have to deal with.  But with this distinguished and with mindfulness we get to keep ourselves grounded, avoid furthering any blame game, and can choose our response to create our own path forward.