Archive for October, 2016

The Specter of Dating

trainlights

It’s interesting how many people who are in long-term relationships bring up the foreboding idea of dating as one of their first, or even main, concerns about not being in those relationships any longer. And when they bring it up, most of us quickly agree.

Is dating really that bad, or is the fear more about feeling alone? Regardless it seems like a pretty lame rationalization for staying in a relationship. There may be good reasons, but why does this one come up so often? I submit that if this is one of the first things you think about then you need to take a step back and seriously evaluate what’s going on with you.

Choosing the option that sucks less is not the greatest recipe for a happy and fulfilled life. This thought process leads to the risky area of daring to believe you deserve to be happy, and can be happy. How is your self-esteem?

Nobody ever said being self-aware would be easy.

Faith

bridgefaith

Faith is complete trust or confidence. It is absolute. True religious faith is a gift from God. Therefor you have it or you don’t. You can’t will it. While we may all have the capacity, some seem to be chosen to actually have faith. Perhaps it is blind. Perhaps misguided. Perhaps real. But it’s clear that some at least appear to have it, while others do not.

Some might say we are able to choose to have faith. However, and here we go with the linguistic distinctions again, “having faith” in that type of context isn’t always used to convey that it’s something one possesses. Often what we really mean is, trying to make that leap of faith. Or to act with faith. If we are choosing it, then we don’t inherently have it.

When we refer to faith, often what we really mean is that we have a strong belief. We choose that. It’s what we want to be true, or have decided for ourselves is true. True faith would not be a choice.

Belief clings, while faith lets go. Faith can be great for those who have it…although, could it be a type of neuroses? For those who don’t…all of the trying in the world is futile. The best you can do is choose to believe, which can look a lot like faith. It’s a fine line.

 

Yield

Asian culture does a better job of fostering the idea of asymmetrical trades – yielding. Humility.

A maneuverable motor boat yields to a sailboat because it can more easily recover from the turn.

A bicyclist going downhill yields to one struggling uphill, because he can get back up to speed more quickly.

The senior executive invests a little bit of time helping the junior one, because no one else has the skills to do so, not because reciprocation is the goal.

Asymmetrical trades are a key to getting society to work. It starts with giving.

Yield has two meanings, and one leads to the other.

Emotion & Spirituality

spirituality

It is likely spirituality is just an emotion. But…

There are threads throughout this blog that touch on religion. One may not agree with my interpretation, but it’s certainly a valid one. It’s fascinating to observe the ways in which emotion and religion feed off of one another. I question whether religion could succeed without our tendency to be deeply affected by our emotions. Many like to believe religion is driven from spirituality.

  • Religion being based on the belief in and worship of a supernatural being.
  • Spirituality being of or related to the human spirit or soul.

The latter is harder to precisely nail down, and not as well understood. When I label someone as religious, we all know what I mean. A characterization of spiritual means….what exactly? It may conjure images of a Buddhist in a temple in Tibet or a pot-smoking hippie in Haight Ashbury. The former, by the way, is a religion. As a religion, Buddhism seems to get more of a pass as being more spiritual in nature, at least in our western culture.

Some religions do seem to have more of a pure connection to our spirituality than others, but there’s a distinctly subjective component to such an assessment. To a Catholic, her religion may be deeply personal and spiritual, but to a different Catholic, or an outsider who practices another religion, it can seem more like a business. Nice if someone happens to get some spiritual benefit from it, or if it helps society in some way, but the manifestation feels more like a business in its day to day actions. Again, this is subjective – a view I am not declaring as my own, but observe. Don’t mean to pick on Catholics. They are an easy target, but nearly every religion suffers from some of the same. You can think of it as a PR problem, or more.

People who declare themselves as spiritual often have a sort of almost condescending disdain for “organized religion.” They believe those organizations aren’t pure – tainted by hypocrisy and human agendas, not to mention the unsustainable science (not that science is infallible) – and while they can be helpful, they are just as often harmful to society and the world. We all know there is ample evidence to support this claim, which is one reason why it prevails. (Other reasons are that we sometimes believe what we want to believe and what’s convenient for us, and often look at and only “see” evidence that validates those desires or already held beliefs. This debate will likely rage until the end of time, and I have little to no ambition of resolving it here.)

So spirituality seems to exist on some moral high ground in our linguistic interpretation. It is almost by definition pure, and so one who is very spiritual, or connected spiritually, not only doesn’t “need” religion, but is thought to be operating on a higher plane, even if that person happens to also practice a religion. When viewed this way, it sure does start to sound like religion is frivolous. Like a bunch of rules stapled to the real or true underpinnings that are supposedly what make it viable in the first place.

But what is spirituality really? Once we get past the linguistic interpretations and visual images that concept conjures, what actually is it really all about? The human spirit is often thought about outside of the confines of spirituality, even though they’re presumably based on the same thing. Again, our linguistic interpretations get fuzzy, making meanings soft, and able to shift around in different contexts.

Is spirituality just a manifestation of whatever our human spirit happens to be, or is it some mystical quality – or even a force – that we don’t/can’t fully understand, but can only hope to tap into through disciplined practice? Spirituality doesn’t require a God, but it does seem to require…something. Something not part of us, at least biologically.

Several years ago I told a dear friend that I speculate God is in each of us (as opposed to some metaphorical king on a throne in heaven). Sounds kind of “spiritual,” eh? We have a very respectful disagreement about religion, but it hasn’t included me fleshing out this idea of what I meant by that. The depths of what I’d have to go through to do it here aren’t practical, unless the reader is seeking a treatment for insomnia, but I can summarize a couple of options.

  1. Some abstract manifestation of the Holy Spirit. 1/3 of the Trinity (even if you don’t believe in the other two parts). Not something separate from our spirit, or something that influences our spirit, but it actually is our spirit. Or our spirit is it. Whichever way you want to look at it. It is this quality that is in us that gives rise to everything we ultimately associate with spirituality and religion. I don’t necessarily mean this to indicate it is false, and we made the rest up (though that is a distinct possibility). Taking it a step further (than I would), it could even be that this quality is a part of a greater whole in some capacity that connects us on a very deep, unconscious level, or acts as a sort of force that directs us in subtle yet profound ways. Taken far enough, that interpretation could get us pretty close to conventional wisdom about religion – right up to that greater whole being God, or part of God.
  2. It’s emotions. Our body chemistry doing what it does, and our mind applying all sorts of deep significance and meaning to it. On the surface this makes it seem like something that only manifests within us – chemistry and cognition combine to produce something psychologically, which implies it isn’t real in a conventional spiritual (and certainly religious) sense. That’s possible, but it’s also possible those things are real, and do in fact connect us in very deep and profound ways that we may only be beginning to have the understanding to leave room for. One possibility here is to view it in a quantum context. At the quantum level, things that don’t seem like they even could be connected, are. We do not understand how or why it works, but it is demonstrable. In other words, there are forces (and I use that term loosely) at work that we cannot pinpoint to a cause, or understand how they work. (Sorry, but a whole treatise on quantum theory is well beyond the scope of this writing. To get you started with the tip of the iceberg, look up quantum superposition and quantum entanglement. Then work from there). When things are mysterious to us – can’t be explained – they tend to get assigned all sorts of mystic qualities because in our linear/cartesian (non-quantum) way of generally perceiving the world, we assume there has to be a “force” (in our limited linguistic definition of force) that is acting on them. For example: before humans understood weather, we knew storms were driven by a force, but couldn’t explain it, so it was mysterious and became tied to everything else that was mysterious about the world. It’s easy to see how this would give rise to the concept of a master controller, and how we might still be doing that in other domains today. But I digress. Anyway…

1 & 2 have a lot of potential overlap between them in a sort of Chicken and Egg way, though they can each stand on their own as well.

Or, it’s really just purely emotion, and chemistry, and nothing else.

But there’s that nagging feeling (emotion) that there is something else going on.

Yeah, it’s probably just emotion that becomes a belief.

Comfort

marshmellows

We seek comfort. Not just the nice sofa kind, but the emotional kind. You can see it in people’s actions all the time. We avoid what produces a FEELING of discomfort and gravitate toward what soothes and keeps us feeling safe. Comfort in the short run can be overrated and too much of a driver of our actions, while comfort in the long run may be underrated and isn’t focused on enough. We should be disciplined and take care of our futures. Those are the basics.

So we have been taught in many ways that comfort in the short term is not that important, and maybe even immoral. Don’t cave to your wants and desires. Instead remain disciplined, do the hard work, and stay the course. It’s that classic dilemma of what actions must be taken now to produce the future one wants. We think we sacrifice now to set up the fate (**) we want.

We fight against our tendency to live in the now. Yet, so many self-help experts tell us we need to live in the now more.

It shows in religion, career, saving money or other resources. Sacrifices. It shows in living a less than full or ideal life in hopes that we’re not squandering the future.

However comfort, when we have it, isn’t fully appreciated. We routinely take perfectly adiquite situations and blow them up trying to get more of something (excitement) or something different. We are taught that this is reckless and unwise. No, it can be in certain contexts, but it isn’t inherently so. It is simply our nature – to strive and have an ambition that there is something more. When we program people too much in the discipline of being disciplined, sometimes we inadvertently squish the life out of them. We chip away at the human sense of adventure, and we end up with a society of people who live in fear, can’t create, lack initiative, circle the wagons, and don’t contribute much beyond (maybe) hard work. Nothing wrong with some good hard work, but when it becomes out of balance with the human spirit to “go for it” then we get stagnant, and things begin to go sideways. The real “specialness” of being human is lost, and we risk becoming drones toiling away to get through a life avoiding too much thinking about what we aren’t. All for the sake of trying to protect an unknown future.

But we don’t recognize that the long run eventually becomes the short run.  It’s going to blow up by the time we get there anyway.

There is a balance to be had. Save a little money. Spend some time learning and improving. Don’t forsake your body or mind, but for heaven’s sake, live a life. Force yourself (if necessary) to have a sense of adventure, or act like you do and it will come. Take risks. Blow things up. Start over. I’m not advocating being reckless. I am advocating some actions that could appear as reckless to those around you who want to play it safe. Maybe that play it safe person is you. Blow that up. It is not as audacious as you may think, because if you’re playing it safe (also a risk), it’s probably at least partially because of the almighty fear, which is you not giving you enough credit for being capable and able to figure out how to navigate through the storms you chase.

You can do it if you really want to. The question is, what do you really want? Comfort or happiness?

LettingGo

`(**) – Meant to write “future” there, but it came out as “fate.” I kinda’ like that.

Missed Versus Execution

keylocklight

When you think back over the last few years, how much of what you haven’t achieved is due to missed opportunities (the product you didn’t launch, the relationship you didn’t foster, the service you didn’t choose to do, the path you didn’t choose, the effort you didn’t extend, the vulnerability you didn’t let through) and how much is the result of doing it poorly?

_____ % missed/avoided   vs.  _____ % incompetence

Now, compare those percentages to where you spend your time, your focus and your anxiety.

 

Stuck

ManandWomaninCupEverything that happens to us is generated from something we did, something someone did to us, or just a chance occurrence. Regardless of which it is, the ball is in our court to act, or wait until someone or something changes things. We generally would prefer to take action, but sometimes we can’t see the way out. We are stuck, unable to move forward, or to move it off center. It happens to nearly all of us on occasion. We get stuck for a variety of reasons. Three that come to mind are:

  1. We can’t see the forest for the trees or just don’t see the problem for what it really is.
  2. It’s scary to change our current situation because it’s serving us in some way, or there is a fear of the unknown. What if the change makes things worse?
  3. We are in a double bind, which means we feel damned if we do or don’t.

To get unstuck, there are a several techniques to try. I think these are somewhat obvious, but seeing it in writing can help provide clarity.

  • Play out the fear of change all the way to the worst case scenario and then evaluate if it’s really all that bad or if there is anything good about it. If there is some good (this is the key), move towards it. Just try it and feel good about your courage to grow in the most positive direction possible. You will work the rest out.
  • Ask what the costs are if you stay stuck, and play it out to the worst case scenario. If nothing changes, who will be hurt and how bad can it get? You may be able to continue to be dissatisfied, though it’s not good for you, which probably means others are being negatively affected.
  • Ask yourself what someone who truly loves and wants the best for you would advise. Sometimes, we aren’t as compassionate with ourselves as we are with those we love. Hearing and trusting their voice in our head can be used as a guide for what to do. But be cautious. This can easily turn into you choosing what will make others happy. That’s not the point. And keep in mind…they are afraid, too. Not objective. You have to weigh the agenda of the source, but it is worth considering.
  • Look at how the current situation is serving your needs, even at low levels. Sometimes we settle for low level fulfillment instead of going for the thing that will really fill us up because it feels safer to stick with the devil you know instead of the one you don’t. Consider the positive benefits of raising your standards. I was once told that “it’s never a bad thing to raise your standards.” This goes for yourself and for who you’re with.
  • Ask yourself if you have a true commitment to growing. If you do, and you recognize that if you aren’t growing, you’re dying (inside), then consider what you’ll do to grow. Will you take a chance and try something new, even if its scary and there is no guarantee it will work out? Can you feel good about yourself for being brave enough to just try it and course correct later if need be? (Hint: Yes)
  • Consider that there is a life lesson in this situation, and determine what it is. Ask yourself if you are ready to learn it now, and if not, why. Are you hoping the Universe will take over and make the change for you? Not choosing is still a choice. And if you don’t make a change, something happens that’s not your choice and you have to deal with it anyway. Isn’t it better to make the choice on your own and feel like you have some semblance of control over the situation? When you don’t, you open yourself up to something happening that takes the control away from you, requiring you to put the pieces back together and move on with your life, the hard way. You also open yourself up to the problem repeating until you show up for it and “walk through the fire” by making the choices that are authentic to you.

As with many things in this blog, it’s easy to say. Easier to read and understand. Hard to do. Sometimes you have to push harder.

Layers of Lost

img_9047

Being lost produces a dreaded feeling of helplessness. We hate/fear that feeling. Thus we rarely will intentionally venture beyond the known. Too bad, because the security provided by standing pat is somewhat of an illusion.

Nevertheless the fear is real to us. The severity depends on how lost one feels he is or could become. A puzzling computer problem may upset you, but once you research it and find the solution you can pretty quickly get back to normal. You could survive an airplane crash somewhere in the Amazon, or just get confused about some turns you took in a big city. In either case there is a systematic process one can execute to find your way. You may not have the competence to make the best choices, and your efforts may not succeed before some other fate befalls you, but you’re probably going to try something, at least until you give up and give in.

Another kind of lost: An addict usually knows he’s addicted, and like the person who is lost in the woods or a city, usually even knows what to do about it. The difficulty arises from not having the will to be able to. He may try a thing or two, but when the results don’t come, or when the pain is too great, the will erodes. It can make cowards of us all.

Not always our fault in a strict sense. Certain dependencies are extremely hard to beat, but even in those cases the bottom line is we just don’t have the will to do it.

It would seem to be so much easier if our problems were based on ignorance, like the aforementioned computer issue. That’s usually the easy layer of lost to solve. The one where we know what is going on, and can’t get out of our own way, is much harder. Our emotional and electro-chemical needs, and the lizard brain protecting us from fear, wreak havoc on our lives. We may keep reading and learning, as if some new information or realization is going to come to light that will finally solve it for us.

The idea that we need more information is outdated. We have a universe of it at our fingertips. By all means learn. Learn as much as you can, but the first step to a true solution is to stop tranquilizing ourselves through seeking more and more information. Yes, finding something interesting, provocative, or soothing can provide momentary emotional relief. That’s fine, for a while. But if you find you’re going in circles, then you’re stuck (a variation on lost I will tackle tomorrow). Eventually moving it off center means applying more will, giving up, or some more radical action that you probably already know is an option.

“You Have to be Pleasant”

jobsandgatesThat was a quote from a friend of mine some time ago. So much is revealed in words.

You don’t really have to be kind or pleasant. It’s a choice, like so many others. They all have consequences. For certain desired outcomes to happen, yes, you may well need to provide a pleasant mood.

“Have to” implies it’s a chore. It’s not what you really  want (to do). Or it is, because the outcome you may get is important to you. Either way, it’s really a choice.

You probably don’t really have to “be” pleasant. You may merely choose to act pleasant.

Thus is the story of our lives. We hide behind tricky language to define our reality when it’s really about deciding  (even if it’s subconscious) to do things so that we can get what we want, whether that’s validation, a sale, friendship, sex, to satisfy a need to feel good about ourselves, or quite simply a Pavlovian effort to get our body to produce some chemicals that make us feel good.

Only I could turn a pleasant interaction into some dark, selfish act! Of course it is not so bad. These are things we’re accustomed to doing to get along in society. Little lies. Sometimes bigger lies…and sometimes really big ones. No clear lines, which means we’re always navigating on a slippery slope. It’s all tied to context and mood, which aside from being questionable morally, also makes it unreliable.

I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if our culture was based around being more genuine with each other.

Pride and Face

loseface

Pride is one of those words in our linguistic interpretation of the world that has so many nuanced meanings as to be unable to fully convey a thought without a clear accompanying context. Strictly, what it really means is the derivation of pleasure or satisfaction from an achievement, but we have sort of twisted it into two more polarizing definitions. A person characterized as prideful…

  1. (Negative) – Exhibits hubris. Conveys a mood of being too satisfied with oneself. One who is boastful and arrogant. Often includes a lack of empathy or sensitivity towards others (indifference). It can sometimes manifest in condescending ways that may feel pretty insulting. To some it is considered one of the most negative human traits that surfaces.
  2. (Positive) – Someone who takes care with himself. “He takes a lot of pride in his appearance.” Or, “…in a job well done.” When we say these things, we don’t just mean that the person derives satisfaction from something accomplished. What we’re really inferring is that he does a good job. “He takes pride in his lawn,” connotes that his lawn looks good to us (our own assessment) and secondarily that he gets satisfaction from it, which helps explain to us why he takes the time.

To further illustrate the lack of clarity, consider the antonym for pride. Is it, gloom, melancholy, woe, disgrace, humility, modesty, shyness, low self-esteem? These and more are listed as antonyms. For beings so utterly dependent on our linguistic interpretations, we sure lack precision with them a lot of times.

The range of meanings likely stems from the need to characterize the degree of pride one exhibits, the context for it, how it manifests, whether we value the issue ourselves, and how steadfastly one holds on to a particular point of view. Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to consider!

“He has too much pride to see the world as it is and change,” or “he can’t back down from being wrong” means something very different from, “he is too self aggrandizing,” which is different from, “he takes a lot of pride in how well his daughter handles herself.”

We view it morally, even though in one instance it can be a good moral characteristic, and the next a bad one.

When someone’s actions are significantly driven by a desire to look favorable to others or to please people, this is also a version of pride. It is our attempt to look good to and feel good about ourselves, as we perceive we might be or are being viewed through the eyes of others. Whether it’s the good kind or bad kind of pride is pretty subjective and contextual. Are we dressing nicely, or keeping up appearances?

This moves us into the area of losing or saving face, which is intertwined with pride in the way we use and think about it linguistically. Again, we are not precise in how we understand it. The phrase is used like a verb (losing face or saving it), but connotes a characteristic. To lose face indicates we have done something wrong, been bad, been shown up, or have been humiliated, therefore we’re often perceived as being bad, wrong, weak, etc. It’s not simply an alternative for humiliation. It’s a special type of humiliation. Losing face connotes more self-imposed guilt or moral wrongness than mere humiliation. Like we were trying to look good (saving face) in spite of being wrong, but it went awry and now we have lost face instead.

Pride makes us want to save face, or avoid circumstances in which we risk losing face. Most of us put a terrific effort into maintaining our image, in spite of what may be percolating underneath. We will consciously do things that are not in our best interest or that of others for the sake of saving face, so long as it doesn’t appear we are doing it simply to try to save face.

Unlike pride, we don’t see a morally good version of face – saving or losing. “Face” refers to one’s own sense of dignity or prestige, but is all about an interpretation of how we feel we are being viewed by others. However there is a little nuance in it that leaves room for another interpretation.

  1. Trying to save face, while never positive, is sometimes understood as being a normal behavior and accepted. Recognizing that someone is trying to save face somehow seems a little more forgivable than someone who is too prideful. The former is an action, limited to a specific context, whereas the latter is more of a general characterization.
  2. Losing face is seen as morally bad because the assumption is face was trying to be saved in spite of mounting evidence that the person or entity in question was wrong. But recognizing that someone is willing to lose face is very different. That can be viewed as humility, or even character.

Let’s play it out and see where this goes. There are some useful examples listed in a post from a few years ago called When Character Battles Reputation. Check it out. The concepts of character and reputation have interesting parallels to face and pride. Now we have four terms in the mix that all have pretty strong moral baggage attached to them along with intricate nuances in how they are used and what they mean contextually.

Let’s look at the example of quitting. Depending on the context, one can quit due to either version of pride, or suffer either version of face.

A person considers leaving a marriage. She resists in part because it’s perceived as a face loosing thing to do. Pride (we might say the good kind) is at the root of that. However, if we believe this woman has what are to us valid reasons for doing so, then the tables turn, and the losing of face is considered brave and strong; something she could be proud of, in spite of the failure not being something to be proud of.

Check this out: sometimes losing face is the best way to save face!!

Staying the course and making the best of it are considered morally good in one context, but in a different one would be viewed as stubborn or prideful. Or possibly weak and lacking self respect — no pride in oneself.

Do you see how the nuances of all of these concepts that appear to us as having reasonably objective definitions can so easily move around? This is because it’s all perception, including morality. Some of you will stand back and declare that we know right from wrong, and the rest is simply semantics or excuses. This black and white viewpoint neglects the fact that OUR INTERPRETATION OF REALITY IS FOCUSED THROUGH LANGUAGE. The fact that our language is imprecise merely is a reflection of the fact that while we may believe we have an objective view of the world, and that black is black and white is white, we really do not. It is subjective. Contextual. Perception. All of it. It comes to us from our culture, or surroundings, and things that turn into our beliefs – our morality, which seems unchangeable. But that doesn’t inherently make it right, and that certainly doesn’t make it what’s best for us. As a society we by definition tend to agree on a lot of the interpretations we use, and are therefore sometimes confused or even offended when others don’t see it the same way.

To give those interpretations too much weight is to cage oneself in worry about what others will think to the point that we betray our true Selves.

So lose face. Bask in the fear of it, because it’s just an emotion – your lizard brain trying to keep you safe. Others are going to judge or hate. That’s their cross to bear. They don’t serve you. They only serve themselves and do not want to have their way of life or beliefs perturbed, or to have to think through them beyond the boundaries they have been given and accepted. By all means take a reasonable amount of pride in who you are and what you do (i.e. try to be good and do good), but the pride of face saving is a tranquilizer that interferes with you being your authentic Self, which is a vital skill to master on the road to happiness.

Just remember, it is not some objective reality out there. It’s in you and your interpretation. You can’t ignore that the interpreted, subjective reality is where everyone lives. That would be too arrogant and prideful, and ultimately not productive, but you can’t allow yourself to be ruled by all of that either. That’s just a different kind of pride that’s no better.

Lose some face. It’s not so bad.

 

 


Pages

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


%d bloggers like this: