“The trick is not to glamorize our pain,
But to feel it.”
“The trick is not to glamorize our pain,
But to feel it.”
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.
I used to think of myself as a pretty introspective person. An earlier website of mine even had a section on it titled Miscellaneous Debris, into which I wrote longish dissertations that were intended as introspective.
To which, of a fashion, I guess they kind of were, for they plotted out in detail that which I was witnessing externally and noticing internally. But – and this is the key – they were decidedly limited in what they saw and, hence, limited in their actual introspection: I could only see what I already knew to see.
I could only witness, react to, and ponder on the already known truths that comprised reality as I perceived it. I hadn’t yet learned that key little piece of information… no, that’s not strong enough, because of course I knew it but only within that realm/domain of knowledge and thus I hadn’t yet gotten it (or groked it) in that way that allows for profound awareness of it…. and so I hadn’t yet gotten that key revelation that my view was nothing more than a view, entirely created by me, and shaped by the views I already had and the truths I already knew.
My ability to reflect was limited as I had not yet been exposed to, and taught, how to be present, nor had I been walked through the process to begin to glimpse the heart of ontology and explore the being part of human being. And, even more so, to begin to glimpse and get present to the, quite remarkable, frameworks that made up the frameworks that supported the frameworks of those views and truths. To reveal what I term the fundamental operating system of being human.
Without that revelation, all I could see and comment on and be so aware of (and even arrogant about) was the results of the frameworks, without ever realizing just how far down the rabbit hole could go.
It was the intensive workshops I took and, even more importantly, the coaching afterwards that allowed my perception and experience to open up and blow through into these new realms. It was only by discovering how circular and shallow my awareness had been, and how righteous hit had been, that allowed my practice to begin.
And through that, allow me to gain a deeper understanding of what introspection really is: the being willing to go beyond and to see the gnarly bits underneath; to be willing to give up the automatic, already, always present to see what’s actually there; to engage in thinking instead of thoughting; and, ultimately, to give up what we already know for what’s possible.
I’ve been practicing the Northern Shaolin Dragon Movement Jian form for 15 years or so. Just this week, I had a breakthrough on one of the movements, discovering a new way of performing it that brought new linking and ability.
I absolutely love this about the art.
I hosted a small mindfulness seminar a couple of weeks ago, and on the mind of many there were questions about dealing with these unusual times we find ourselves living in. Questions about the toll of the disruption of the norm, about not being able to go out and do things, or, even more strongly, about not being able to meet with friends or family or mostly anyone in person. What answers can mindfulness and philosophy provide here?
First is to not beat ourselves up about it. Despite the common narrative, no one is squeezed out of the womb knowing exactly how to handle every single situation that comes at us. Resiliency is a practice, fostered and bolstered through mindfulness and philosophy. And even then it is no guarantee – I very much admit to having days feeling quite table flippy.* It’d be easy to relate to that as a loss or failure, but at the same time, thanks to my mindfulness practice for all these years, no table did I actually flip. It’s a bit like driving: when we start out, we have to pay attention to everything and it’s really taxing, but soon it becomes so second nature that we can even arrive at our destination with no memory of how we got there.** But when the unexpected happens, or we reach a bad road, or whatever, it, once again, takes all our attention and is taxing and difficult. Our prior experience and practice helps, but it’s still not automatic or easy. And so it is like that during these unusual times. It’s a new road. We have to work at it. The best part is that, just like driving, after this experience our new practice will make for smoother driving whenever something like it comes our way again.
Which dovetails a bit into the second point, which is to consider this: that we’ve been relying, inadvertently, on some crutches. Again, not in a pejorative way – nothing productive comes from beating ourselves up – but simply to look at where we may have been reliant on externalities to supply distraction, or meaning, or normalcy, or interest, or excitement, or joy, or etc. To the point where, in a way, we’ve become addicted to it, and with all of those gone we’re now suffering from a double whammy of both withdrawal and emptiness/lack of stimuli. It’s similar-ish to the ideas of dopamine detox I’ve seen floating about (learning to wean ourselves from the immediate/always/already available distraction of our phones/media/etc). Because of the ease of distraction and etc through happenings and friends, it is often a matter that we never having learned how to generate for ourselves and/or, more profoundly, how to just be with ourselves. And this pandemic forced the immediate removal of our/those usual crutches. Like before, this leaves us with an opportunity, the opportunity to practice and build up our internal sense of self and begin to generate on our own, which is great in its own right and even better is that when we get back to our activities, friends, and more, we will enter them more fully and they will be even fuller and more powerful experiences for us. The double bonus part here is also that, even while we begin to practice, the very act of knowing and naming this unease and strain and feeling of loss, and recognizing it’s just a result of our crutches no longer being there, can do wonders to keep ourselves from sliding things into the realm of suffering.
Which, again, dovetails a bit into the last point, which is to recognize the role that agency plays. As I’ve written about in previous posts, agency is one of our prime desires. And nothing kaiboshes our feeling of agency more than when not one, not two, not three, but multitudes of our ‘normals’ get cut off… further compounded with many unknowns, especially including how little we knew about COVID itself when this was just starting. Having a lack of agency can drive us completely batty and have us do some very unproductive (and harmful) things to try to get it back. Here, again, just knowing that’s what’s at play can be a great salve. If we find ourselves going spare, we can check in and talk to our calculating selves to say, “I know my agency feels thwarted. I understand.”
By being mindful of all of the above we can center ourselves and let our turbulent waters become still. And from that place of stillness we can create, striving forward with possibility and peace of mind.
* Less, I think, from the disruptions and more so from the inequities, discrimination, and power plays that this pandemic put into stark relief…
** Which, to be clear, is maybe not the best state to fully slip in to. Being present while operating several tons of metal is recommended!
We are always piercing things together to form a reality. Everything we experience, whether personally or through stories or through both passive and active observation becomes fodder for our automatic, unconscious, reality-deducing machinery. We piece together all these bits of information and draw inferences, see cause and effect* and craft a strong sense of what things are.
This includes things that people can be or can become. Even if we are not it right now, or don’t use it right now, and maybe don’t even see ourselves ever becoming it, we know it and know how it operates.
So that in that moment when we become it, all that ‘knowing’ comes to the fore, because our mind grabs what it already ‘knows’ as a predictor for how to behave and, thus, as the way to succeed.
And there are many moments like that in our life, where we weren’t something and suddenly now we are: student, employee, citizen, on our own, driver, homeowner, significant other, spouse, parent… if it can be a label, it can be an it.
When that proverbial light switch flips and we find ourselves – suddenly! – in that new situation with that new label, being that it, we end up acting out just like things were done before.
Even if they’re not productive. Even if they’re not helpful. Even if they don’t represent the best expression of who we can be.
But we do it because that’s reality. It is how it is.
And then we laugh (or recoil) and say, “I’m just like my parents,” or we later say, “I understand what they were saying now.”
Except that it’s not really that way at all. Instead, it is just that we’ve fallen into it by the virtue of not being aware of not being aware. Instead we’re asleep with no agency, just repeating the past, ad nauseum.**
Bringing mindfulness to the situation (even years later) lets us interrupt that cycle and interject ourselves into the now of our it so that we regain our agency and choice. We allow ourselves to be informed by what came before without needing to become it. We get to think about things complexly, rope in our other experiences, and create.
By bringing our central selves to the fore, we can truly make it our own.
* I’m sure it goes without saying that we see cause and effect supremely often where no such relationship exists… yet we form our realities as though it is so.
** It’s important to get how insidiously powerful and prevalent this is, how much we become subsumed into that already always knowing to become the thing, that it, forever being perpetuated into the future. We don’t even get to have our own experiences. The experiences of others we’ve gleaned over the years are instantly our moment-by-moment experience of that it, shaping our behavior, actions, and experience going forward in a cycle.
“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”
— Joan Didion
What’s so is always just what’s so. What’s so doesn’t care what you think, feel, intend or wish; it will not bend. You can be freaked out or driven over what’s so, and it won’t change what’s so. If you’re late for an appointment, getting freaked out about it won’t have you arrive any earlier. If you’re having a bad day, being freaked out won’t change what’s so. That which you seek will not bring you satisfaction – aligning with what’s so will. When you’re upset, you’re never upset over what’s so. What’s so is just what’s so, and you’re upset.
If your house burns down and you get upset, does it bring your house back? What’s so doesn’t care if you’re upset; it’s up to you how you handle what’s so. There is no confusion in what’s so. When you don’t know you just don’t know – there is no confusion there. There’s nothing right or wrong about what’s so. What’s so is always open to different interpretations. There’s always just what’s so, and then you have an interpretation. What scares you isn’t what’s so, it’s your interpretation. The interpretation is never true; what’s so is real, the interpretation is not.
Who you’re being is just who you’re being, and what’s so doesn’t care if you’re happy with it or not, so why should you? When you’re not being with what’s so, that’s also just what’s so. Why should you concern yourself? Other people should always be the way they’re being; if you think they shouldn’t, that’s your interpretation. Bring yourself back to what’s so about them. Until you can be with what’s so, you can’t be with anything or anyone. You may have control over other people’s what’s so, but none over their interpretation – give it up.
If you take action or not, it’s still just what’s so. If it works out well or not, it’s still just what’s so. You can never make a right or wrong decision, or take a right or wrong action. Whatever you do will always bring you more of what’s so, and then you have an interpretation about it. Whatever you don’t have, so what? Whatever you’ve done or thought in the past, again so what? Whatever happens in the future is not to be feared. It’s just going to be more of what’s so. The challenge is to spend as much time in what’s so as you can. The chatter in your head is more interpretation, and it has nothing to do with what’s so. There’s nothing wrong with the chatter, it’s just you listening to a fantasy.
The thought that there is something wrong is an illusion; there is nothing wrong, there is only what’s so. Notice when you’re comparing what’s so to some fantasy of how it should be. Bring yourself back to what’s so and it will be OK. Ask yourself what’s so, and align with that. Align with what’s so and it will not matter. That is the foundation of transformation and satisfaction. Not aligning with what’s so is the only thing that will ever bring you hardship or suffering. Life in what’s so will bring you harmony, grace, and balance.
Ask yourself – what’s so about your situation?
— Werner Erhard
(This is great stuff. And a great reminder that we can never deal with anything powerfully or fully until we are straight with ourselves about what’s so, free from the bits of our interpretation, wants, judgements, stories, narratives, and etc. We need to bone up, mindful, get present, and be straight with what’s so, right now, in a “just the fact’s, ma’am” kind of way. Then we can breathe, centre ourselves, engage our central selves, grab the reins of responsibility, and make our choices on who we are going to be, out of which will spring our actions and steps to take all in line with and dealing powerfully with what’s actually so.)
Most of the time, we take credit for our successes and – at best – make excuses or – at worst – blame others and the circumstances for our failures.
It turns out, though, that taking ownership of our failures and being generous in sharing our successes is where real power derives.
To make it very, very, clear:
That is to say that just because you know something about how our brains operate – whether about fallacies, or cognitive dissonance, or ontology, or psychology, or sociology, or ANY of those – just because you KNOW that they exist, and that we can fall prey to them, does NOT mean that you are IMMUNE from them.
And I want to make this hyper clear, because I have seen far too many posts recently from people who I think would “know better”, who are not only falling prey to these very things but are also accusing others of it. Using their knowledge as a cudgel* while simultaneously through its use exhibiting the very blindness they claim against the other. They are using their knowledge to ensure they don’t see their own foibles and failures of the very same thing.
The knowledge makes no difference on its own. Quite the opposite. It’s just a tool, one that can be used well and properly, or, not well and in the most destructive fashion.
Being present is the key, using the tools on our own self, our own views, and our own actions.
That’s when the truth can begin, and the delusion(s) can end.
Along with the lies, and hurt, and ruin.
* In a completely ignorant, stingy, vindictive, harmful, division-inducing, and worldsuck-creating kind of way. The kind of way that doesn’t create a world that works for everyone, the kind of way that instead seeks to perpetuate harm and, moreover, inflict pain and suffering on others.