Philosophy Tuesday

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.

Philosophy Tuesday

Still on the Soul train, let’s speak today about attachment, the middle path, and the perils of obsession.

The peril of when we get so deep into it, so obsessed to it, so attached to it, such that we, counterintuitively, lose touch with ourselves and even that very thing which we love.  We become no longer connected to what makes us passionate, what lights us up.  We become, instead, entombed by it.

This is what happened to Anton Ego, the character from (another Pixar film) Ratatouille, where he became so subsumed by his “love” of food to the point where it became his identity.  And inside of that identity the very enjoyment of food was lost.

Soul makes this pretty explicit with the vast sea of Lost Souls, over which hovers the airs of those in the Zone.  In the zone is being passionate and free and excited and joyous and, importantly, hyper-present.*  But it can be a short journey down to the sea when we become attached to something – an outcome, a social result, a status symbol, the experience, a feeling – or to make it integral to our sense of who we are.

And in that sea, the joy, the freedom, the passion, all is washed away.  We still do the thing, but the attachment, again, counterintuitively, kaiboshes that which we want.

Let go of the attachment, and we can float up towards the Zone once more.**

And when we practice mindfulness and paddle down the middle path (river?), we both ease our entry into the zone while ensuring that we do not lose ourselves, either to flighty dispersion out of the Zone or into the swampy sea of attachment and Lost Souls.

 

* That is one of the most interesting facets of being in the zone, and also one of the more “surefire” ways of knowing that we were in the zone – time getting all warbly and losing the sense of time.  In those moments where I have been the most present, whether in wonder or creativity or even battling it out with foam weapons while being suspended from under the Thunderdome, it’s always been fascinating to resurface and realize that time felt very different, and even to not have complete memories of what happened.  Myself (as a being, as my authentic self, and not as my calculating self or identity), time, the universe, were all “one”.

** Of course, the film undercuts itself by going for the cheap joke of the day trader who, upon being reconnected, rebels and shoves everything off his desk, which isn’t necessarily wrong as it is cliché and thus, at least to me, renders it trite and thus diminishes the impact of what they were exploring and illustrating.

Philosophy Tuesday

Continuing our Soul journey, perhaps the most central theme and exploration of the film, the one that also drives all the other insights (including the If/When/Then construct from last week) available within, is its meditation on the simple beauty of being present.

And of the reminder that our life is happening now.  Not someday, not when we get that thing, not once we overcome that, nor if/when those milestones we put out in front of us happen (if they ever happen).  When our eyes are forever towards the horizon (or forever inward, or forever trying to win, or forever attached to being right), we can end up absent from our own life.

This is also not our practice life.  The starting line for when we can ‘really’ start living is not approaching us.  We’ve already crossed it.

It is happening, right now.  This is the experience of life.  This is what it is like.  This is what it is filled with.  We’re already there.

To quote the title of a book by Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield: “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”  Life is life, and it keeps on life-ing.

Equally important is what we bring to it.  Yes, this is the experience of life, but experience itself doesn’t spring fully formed, whole cloth, from the ethers of reality.  It does not impose itself on us.  There is no fixedness to it.  We get to create.  We get to drive who we are being, and who we are being shifts what and how we experience.

Which includes experiencing wonder, peace, happiness, fulfillment, joy, fun, amazement, contentment, love, appreciation, and more.  And sadness and pain and more, for sure.  But those are not to be shunned or considered bad; they can be some of the most healing and honouring ways of being.  And through that whole range of experiences, we are fully alive.

No surprise that it is very much like Jazz (and, thus, Jazzing).  There’s no beginning, no end, and we play with what comes towards us, weaving it into our lives.  And as a bonus, being present always frees us to be our most creative, to be a grander artist. *

This is what Joe gets during his epiphany (with the beautiful music to go with it).  All these moments he wasn’t present for, all these moments he’d buried under his obsession of “how it had to be” or “when it would turn out.”  There’s nowhere to get to, and nothing to get.  There is now.  And now.  And now.

And at the end, it’s great to note that Joe doesn’t say he’s going to enjoy every minute of his life… but that he’s going to LIVE every moment of it.  Big difference.

We don’t listen to a song just for the ending.  We’re in it all the way, in every moment, for every note, for every rise and fall, enjoying the journey to its fullest, all until the next song starts.

 

* Both in creating our lives, but also in any artistic/creative/imaginative endeavour.  When we lock ourselves up in ‘gotta’ and ‘haveta’ and ego and significance and etc that puts the biggest crimp in our creative flow.

Philosophy Tuesday

As promised in my review, there’s lots I want to delve into within Soul!  It is a rich source, with many avenues to explore, and with many ways to look at it, approaching the film from different angles and lenses to tease out a whole host of openings and opportunities for realizations and insights.

I’m going to start with this angle:  A meditation on the traps known as “If only…/then” & “When…/then”

Their structure is right there in their names:

“If only I could X / then Y.” 

“When I can X / then Y.”

“When I have X / then Y.”

It’s a familiar construct/trap, and we can see a bunch of them in Joe:  “When I have the gig, then I’ll be fulfilled.”  “If only people would give me the chance, then I can be powerful.”  “When I’ve made it, then my Mom will be proud of me.”  “If only I can fulfill my purpose, then my life will be complete.” 

And yeah, it sounds both seductive and true.  These type of grand, momentous, goal based Xs really can shift things, for sure.  And they may even prove to be great motivators!

The thing is, however, that in the meantime they also effectively shut a part of our lives down.  They cut us off from possibility and experience.  Through them we are adamantly saying that we can’t get Y until that X condition is met… and so long as X is not met, we’re denied the power/pleasure/ freedom/self-expression/power/peace of mind that could come of Y. 

Further, we’ve laid ourselves a double whammy, for we’ve set a single path, a single X, to get there.  Out of all the possibilities in life, we’ve said “this is the one,” which means that we have one path for success, and an infinite number of failure paths. 

Even if we have 4 or even 10 X paths to get Y, that’s still a whole lot of few paths to success compared to all the other ways it can get there.  We are so good at kaiboshing something that could lead us to something great just because it doesn’t fit what we think it should look like…

And that’s the double trouble (well, I guess by now we’re up to a quadruple trouble), for what we want out of the Y isn’t often Y itself, but the ways of being and experiencing that come along with it.  We don’t need X, and we don’t even need Y.  Note above I said “could come of Y?”  Exactly.  What we’re often really looking for Z, and those ultimate pleasures/freedoms/self-expressions/fulfilments/joys/peace of minds. 

The invitation from Soul (and self-cultivation in general) is to see how our various If/When/Then constructs can be a hindrance and a trap to us, and how they (unintentionally) cut us off from that which we truly want. 

Philosophy Tuesday

On the one hand, I’m a bit surprised I’ve been writing these philosophical posts for well over six years.

On the other hand, I’m not surprised at all.

Life, and our lives, are a vast and many varied thing, after all.  There’s much to explore, much to uncover, much to delve into, much to get present to, and much to grok.

We are art, ever in progress, ever unfinished.

Every day is another chance to get present, to unconceal, to transform, and to open new realms of possibility.

To which… wow, how cool is that?  Very cool indeed.

Here’s to the past six years of reflection, and to many years of discovery to come!

Philosophy Tuesday

A coach once pointed out something to me, something that I’d been so skillful and slick at that she hadn’t noticed it for several months.  Which, of course, meant I was completely oblivious to it while it shaped (and perhaps even ran) my life and my art of living.  And it was this:  I had a lot of views and assertions and stakes and end states that were direct inverses to each other.  Which meant essentially this:  no matter what I did, I would, on some level, lose.

Absurd, but there it was, and with the light now shining on it I began to see it.  And to cement that new awareness, I gave it a name:  My Opposing Diapoles.*

They were everywhere, and they were certainly clever!  Insidious, to be sure, but deliciously clever,  crafted in such a way that whether I took action A or action B, or whether I achieved result X or result Y, or did nothing or did a lot… no matter what, in every direction, there was still some way my calculating self could let me know how wrong I was.  Some way for me to end up on the losing/incapable/messed it up/grrrr end.  Again.**

And just like when someone points out a particular colour of car, and you suddenly start to notice that colour of car everywhere, so too that I began to recognize all these traps I’d/my calculating self had laid out before me.  It was fascinating and even hilarious just how screwed I was inside of those perspectives.  It was guaranteed success… to fail in one way or another.

We certainly are funny creatures.

But armed with this new awareness, and by keeping myself present to it, I could begin to do the work to dismantle those barriers and all those landmines, clearing my way to take action towards not only successful results*** but also, and more importantly, satisfaction, fulfillment, and peace of mind.  Freedom to be, and freedom to savour my victories.

 

* Yes, the correct word is “Dipole”, or, at least, the real word is dipole, for even “Opposing Dipoles” might not really make actual and logical sense.  But giving it a fun name not only helped it be more memorable (and thus allow me to more readily keep it and thus myself present) it also brought levity and a good dose of keeping myself from taking myself too gosh darn seriously.

** All in service of keeping my context and my views of myself/my self-identity intact.  Empowering it was not!  But that’s not uncommon in the least…

*** Which I’d had before as well, just with this clearing there was room for even greater success.

Philosophy Tuesday

It was just one of those days where I woke up being annoyed.

I didn’t know why, or about what, yet I was.  Grrrr.  Wrong side of the bed and all that.*  Just farking annoyed.

But it was a Saturday, and I wasn’t going to waste it or have it be ruined by being annoyed!  So I didn’t let myself be.  I ignored it.  I pushed it aside.  I resisted it.  When it welled up and I got growly, I growled it back down.

Soon after dinner, though, it was getting old.  A whole day of this!  What the heck?  So I swore and told myself, “Fine, you want to be annoyed?  Then go ahead, be annoyed!”

And in that moment, the annoyance completely, utterly, lifted and disappeared.

Then I got really upset!  “Come on … I’m finally ready to be annoyed and now I can’t be?  Gah!”

With the annoyance gone, though, that passed pretty quickly and I could only laugh.  I was so odd!  And as I sat in that oddness I got something for myself, that whole thing was a great example of the adage:

“Resistance equals persistence.“

I’d spent the whole day resisting the annoyance – I don’t want to be, it shouldn’t be, this is stupid, there’s no reason for it, not gonna let it get to me, etc. etc…  Yet to do that I had to keep creating the annoyance in order to have something to resist against.**

But when I listened to it, got present to it (in a mindfulness way), and let it be for what it was (I’m feeling annoyed) and what it wasn’t (everything else), then it disappeared.  Like I’d flipped a switch.  Being heard and known, it ceased to be.

And I had a most lovely evening after that.

 

* Though, at the time, I was living in a place where there was really only one way to get out of my bed, so…

**And it’s good to note too that I also didn’t just succumb or surrender to it.  That’s not the same as being present to it.

Philosophy Tuesday

When told by a violinist that a difficult passage in the concerto was virtually unplayable, Stravinsky is supposed to have said: “I don’t want the sound of someone playing this passage, I want the sound of someone trying to play it!

— as recounted within The Art of Possibility


“It’s seductive to stand outside the arena and think: I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive.

But the truth is, that never happens.

And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see.

We want you to go in.

We want to see courage.

We want to be with you and across from you trying to play it.

And we just want, for you, for ourselves, for the people we care about, and for us all, to dare greatly.”

— Adapted from the words of Brené Brown