Not MTV as it is now. But, like, the old-school MTV. Beavis and Butthead, Unplugged, Real World, Yo! MTV Raps and Road Rules.
My generation, the xennials (taking cues from the generation or two before ours), were really good at setting fire to cultural sacred cows. Question everything. Tear down every metanarrative in sight. The only way is our own individual way before us.
Most of us alive today have this in our cultural blood (yes, I’m even talking to you boomers).
When the advent of the social web (circa 2008), I remember a big thing was to swear online (seems that this trend is working its way down to book publishing with all the titles like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, F*ck This Shit Show, Zen as F*ck, Unfu*k Yourself, and Calm the F*ck Down — all published in 2018).
I’m guilty of it too. Though I’ve never gotten too carried away, I used to swear a bit on this blog. However — and maybe it’s just because I’m getting older and have a kid who can almost read now — I find most profanity and blatant irreverence abhorrent these days. Like, I recoil from it.
Now, there’s nothing like a well-used swear word. Some people can pull it off (like Samuel L. Jackson in his seminal children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep). But they have to absolutely own it. They have to wear profanity like their comfy, tattered college hoody.
If it’s at all a ‘tactic’, I’m out. And most people these days (yes, the authors above) use it as a ‘tactic’.
I’m so over tactics — especially shock tactics. My mental digestion system rejects it now.
All of this to say…
I need more reverence in my life these days.
Seriously. I want to be audaciously reverent. I really dig people who can be respectful but strong and secure in who they are. It’s a hard balance to strike, but it’s so what I’m aiming for.
Have a look at the first definition of the word (via dictionary.com)…
[rev-er-uhns, rev-ruhns] noun
¹a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.
I mean, right?! I know it’s a churchey word, but isn’t that good stuff??!!
Tinged with awe. Veneration. Deep respect.
I want — need — more of this.
I don’t know about you, but I’m at a place in life where I’m tired of tearing things down. I want to reclaim old things (words, especially) and build things up.
I want to move through life — not with a condescending and irreverent smirk, but with a drunken reverence fueled by awe and veneration.
I’ve always been a little skeptical of personality assessments. Knowing thyself is a virtue, there’s no doubt. But I’ve always felt uneasy about the idea of placing a static label on something as seemingly fluid as a personality type.
I’ve especially felt this with the Enneagram. I know that it’s one of the most respected assessments among many — especially in mystical Christianity (Fr. Richard Rohr, one of my favorite mystics, has devoted much of his work to it).
Maybe you know what I’m talking about when I say that there’s a special kind of existential dread when you read about your type. There seems to be an emphasis on shortcomings with Enneagram typing. In my case, the ‘Peacemaker’ can quickly devolve into a ‘people-pleaser’ or ‘pushover’.
They have my number, those Enneagram people (literally).
As I’ve long seen it, sure, sometimes I feel like a 9. I generally disdain conflict and obsess over creating harmony in my environment. But there are plenty of times (particularly on this blog, but also in-person) where I get fired up and call people out on their nonsense. I’d even say I have a bit of a temper (not a good thing) under certain external and internal conditions. That’s never seemed very 9 of me…
Anyhow, I was at the gym the other day, searching for a podcast to listen to when I came across an Enneagram typology podcast called The Enneagram Journeyhosted by a lady who brings people of different ‘types’ on the show to chat with them about life. I scrolled down to type-9 and listened.
What I heard blew me away (hence the reason I write this to you, dear fellow 9 — or someone who knows/loves one)…
First of all, I learned about my 8-wing (‘The Challenger’) which explains my dark, firey underbelly (okay, I thought, so maybe this whole Enneagram thing was more accurate than I’d thought).
But what stopped me dead on my tracks (or, on my seat in the rowing machine) was this…
The host mentioned what she called the ‘two messages’ (1) the ‘lost childhood message’ and (2) the ‘unconscious childhood message’ (she referenced this book if you find this interesting).
The unconscious childhood message is a message that you picked up in childhood that motivates you but you don’t need to know where you got it. The lost childhood message is a message that you needed but you didn’t get.
She said that, in her opinion, the type for whom the two messages have been the most costly is for 9’s. And here’s what she said ours are…
The unconscious message for 9’s is it’s not okay to assert yourself.
The lost unconscious message is your presence matters.
If you’re a 9, this might be hitting home for you in a big way. I know it did for me.
I heard so often — from my teachers, friends, parents, etc. — that it was not okay to assert myself.
And if you’re not a 9, you might have heard the same thing. But you didn’t absorb it as much as we 9’s did.
(See, I’m starting to see Enneagram typology as an internal filtering mechanism. My filter lets certain things in that yours might not.)
And for me, when I was told — or when people insinuated — that I was not to assert myself, I shriveled up and submitted to them. And I’ve been doing it unconsciously ever since (but not now — thanks awesome Enneagram podcast lady*).
Hearing that my presence matters is like lighter fluid to my internal flame. Seriously. It’s necromantic in its effects.
And so, there you have it. For all the 9’s out there, I hope this kicks open some doors and lets a nice, refreshing, enlivening breeze through your soul as it did for me.
I don’t often talk about goals. I’m not a goal-achieving guru of any sort. But I’ve recently learned a bit of a counter-cultural mindset that’s been helping me, so I wanted to share it with you here…
Let’s talk about that big goal of yours. It could be a number of things: writing that book, starting that podcast, getting a date with that person, leaving that other person, moving to that zip code, buying that house, selling that other house, getting your kid into that school, saying those words that need to be said…
It seems so epic. If you could only do/get/achieve it, then peace would be restored and you’d emerge triumphantly.
But you’re stuck. It’s been on your mental ‘want list’ for ages now and you don’t see it getting any closer.
Well, what if I told you that the emphasis you’re placing on the achievement of your dream is total bosh? What if I said that this thing isn’t nearly as awesome as you’re making it out to be and that life will still be complicated and messy and full of tension even after you get what you want?
Would you feel helpless? Hopeless? Disappointed?
Well, that’s not my intention with this piece. Not at all...
In fact, if anything, I want this revelation to lead to your freedom.
Because this notion of ultimate satisfaction should you just get ‘the thing’ is exactly what’s holding you back from taking the steps towards getting it.
See, by propping this thing up as the end-all-be-all, it remains a utopian fantasy in your head. It’s so perfect and shiny up there. But a part of you is terrified. It’s terrified that, should you achieve the thing, this dream will vanish because it really won’t be so profoundly satisfying after all.
I want to help you take a hammer to this illusory dream right now. I want you to realize what you already know to be true — that life won’t be what you’re dreaming it up to be should you achieve your goal(s). But I still want you to try to achieve them anyway. Not because they’re your ultimate salvation, but just because it’s nice to do awesome things.
As negative as it seems, this approach will give you the best chance of achieving your goals because it’s rooted not in dreamland, but in the vulnerable and imperfect reality of the human condition.
Now, should you get what you want, I hope you realize that weighty whisper of disappointment is natural. Because the external world will never bring anything other than temporary satisfaction.
But again, may you take that first shaky step anyway. Yes, you’ll stumble and fall. Yes, it’s very likely you’ll make a fool of yourself (we all do — it makes for great dinner stories).
Focus on the enjoyment of the physical steps up the mountain rather than the crescendo of the summit.
Because really, the summit is only incredible for a few minutes before you head back down and move on to your next climb.
Bring that dream of yours down from the clouds. Nothing about it is utopian in reality. It’s far simpler and way less epic than you’re making it out to be. It’s real.
So go after it. And when you get there — or even if you fall short and decide to throw up your hands in defeat (happens to the best of ’em) — make an about face and go after the next thing enjoying every fumbling footstep along the way.
The other day, I wrote about a thing that was important to me that I walked away from. And yes, many of you solved the riddle, the thing I ‘quit’ was the church I was affiliated with. No, I don’t hate them (check them out here — you can stream their services online if you don’t live in Chicago). It was a conscious choice from yours truly.
That being said, I’m still working towards my Interfaith Divinity degree. It’s a whole separate thing from the church. I’m still very much enjoying the journey as I study ancient religions, philosophies, and mystical traditions. It’s fascinating stuff. It adds to my work on this blog. And it satisfies my urge to make good on the promise I made to my late father of getting a degree of some sort (yes, even long after they croak, we still try to please our parents).
I also wanted to clarify the point that it never was my main j-o-b. I won’t be starving anytime soon. It was my side-thing with the possibility of it being my main thing somewhere down the road. And it still might be in some other form (I just don’t see myself at the helm of a traditional-looking c-h-u-r-c-h). We’ll see…
The good thing that’s emerged these last few weeks is that I’ve been working more and more with the creative branding agency I used to work with. It’s given me the space to step out of the deep, spiritual, heady, mindful, emotional things I tend to obsess about while keeping my creative muscle sharp. And it helps feed my family (I feel so manly when I say that) so I can feed this publication. Which is nice.
Okay, enough about life updates and whatnot…
I want to thank everyone who sent me a kind note of encouragement. So, thank you. Your words mean more than you know. And really, I’m great. Please don’t worry about me.
Which brings me to the point of this post which is: Positivity.
I got a couple well-meaning emails that explained how my posts of late haven’t been as ‘positive’ or ‘inspirational’ as the senders would have liked. That I wasn’t being myself and maybe I was slipping into angsty negativity.
Thanks for being concerned. But I want to go deeper on this whole ‘positivity’ thing…
We need to get off of this positivity kick because I think it’s killing us.
Seriously. Since I was a kid, the goal of the self-help space (and the mainstream spirituality space) has been positivity.
Positive thinking. Attracting happiness. Smile more. And more. Pray for stuff that will make you happy (because you clearly can’t be happy without it). Etc.
Now, I LOVE being happy. Being sad and down and depressed is — by nature — really uncomfortable.
But, as with most things of this nature, the more we suppress and resist, the more the energy builds until something… breaks. And hurts people.
Through my super brief stint into ACT, I’m learning how to make room for all of it. To detach from my thoughts of negativity and angst and dread so that I can see them for what they are… Just thoughts. Just mental yappings from my survival-based brain that has evolved to “serve me” by effectively scaring the shit out of me on a regular basis.
There is no stopping it. No shutting it up. And the more we try, the louder it gets. (Which means, the more ‘positive’ we try to be, the more backlash we experience down the road.)
It’s how things work. Have you ever tried to get someone to stop crying by telling them to ‘stop crying’? By telling them to ‘just think happier things’?
It’s not the nature of reality. Nothing works like that. We must provide these things space to be. No, not to unconsciously buy into them. But to be.
We must be able to name them and honor them and poke fun at them so that they can fade away (which they can only do on their own schedule).
Yes, I can get all wrapped up in my thoughts about quitting yet another life path and being almost 40 and how irresponsible and flighty I am. But would any of this be helpful? (Maybe a little?) But if I were to hang on to them, they’d drag me down further and further into the abyss of self-doubt. Which would not help things.
It feels so amazing to be able to occupy the same space as those thoughts and still be… Okay. In fact, I feel incredibly well. Because I know that my life is bigger than any one of these thoughts — good and bad. There’s plenty of room for them to pull up a chair and have a chat. I know they’ll move on and come back and then move on again. But all the while, I can also write about how absurd they are.
Life is about being able to live peacefully with the entire spectrum of emotions.
Yes, I could try to push those thoughts away. I could do affirmations and pray until I’m blue in the face. But by doing that, I’d just be shoving them down into the shadows of myself.
I see this so much in spirituality. There are so many fake happy faces in that world (okay, maybe I’m a little bitter, but this is my blog, so I can do what I want). They smile, smile, smile until one day — snap. Holy shit. Things just got real. Where did that come from? Oh, they’ve been doing that all along? I didn’t even smell the dead bodies rotting in the trunk. Huh… Weird…
But isn’t their whole MO to have us live these lives of happy happiness and perfect perfection? That God is only love and light and butterflies and rainbows? I dunno. I’m questioning a lot of it right now.
I say it’s too much for any of us to bear.
Now, I’m not a fan of hard-core vulnerability porn either (soft-core is okay). I think that getting attached to pain and suffering is just as harmful as getting attached to positivity.
We’re human. We think things. We feel things. We have these brains that are still based on the survival rules of the jungle and at the same time, we live in a world where Alexa can oder us on-demand hush puppies on a Tuesday night as we shamelessly stream old episodes of The Office.
It’s fucking complex. But you know what, it’s amazing. We live in amazing times. We’re breathing. We have beating hearts. Yes, we can be happy. And yes, we can be sad. And yes, we can feel defeated. And yes, we can feel like we’re absolutely #winning. And yes, we’ll probably revisit these emotions and thousands of variations of them in random order as long as we live.
May they provide us with great stories, great friends, steady health, legendary failures, supreme successes, and a lot of lukewarm mediocrity in between.
P.S. And yes, I’ll get out of my angsty little cave eventually. Thanks again for your words of encouragement:)
You know, where people jump on Facebook (yes, it’s always Facebook) and say things like, “Sorry guys, I’m at this place right now where it all might be ending.”
And everyone’s like — wait, whuh?! What’s going on?! Is she dying or moving or eating somewhere new for lunch? Because she NEVER eats anywhere new for lunch! 😱😱😱😱
Those posts have always frustrated me. But now, I kinda get it (but just kinda). Because love it or hate it, a lot of our lives exist in the social sphere (did I just say that?) these days.
Vaguebooking is narcissistically cathartic. So, although it puts our friends and loved ones into a frenzied tailspin of worry and anxiety, it feels good to air things out a little. And it makes sense that we might not be able to name names or explain details right away. Because that might be too much and it might hurt some people close to us.
See, I just quit something. Something important. Something I moved halfway across the country to be a part of (largely). And I feel like a bit of a failure right now. Do I think it’s my fault? Their fault? I dunno, it’s complex.
Some of you know what this thing is — especially if you’ve been following my work this last year or so.
I’ll just say it rhymes with birch. And perch. And lurch. And search.
A lot of my identity is tied up in this thing. My ego’s fingers are sore due to how tightly it’s been hanging on to this persona.
But another part of me feels freed up. Vulnerable, yes. Exposed, indeed.
But as terrifying as it is in that wide open space, it’s just as liberating.
Sometimes, the best-laid plans don’t work out as planned. So, this is like my vaguebooking post (albeit on Medium, which is interesting). Because this is as many details as I’m willing to let out of my digital hat right now. Maybe more to come. Maybe not.
It just feels good to write it down for you. Because maybe you’ve been there. Or maybe you’re there now. And knowing we’re not alone is nice.
No lesson to be learned. No happy ending (yet). No life lesson attached at the end of the post. I’m not even spiritualizing this thing (weird, right?).
Just a heartfelt note from a guy on the other end of the internet here.
Life is complex. Communities are complex. There are a lot of moving parts. It’s amazing we get along with each other as well as we do.
We’re doing good. All of us. Yeah, it’s messy. But interesting, nonetheless.
This is where he used to sit in front of an open window on the first floor of his downtown London apartment… Naked.
Here’s what an article from the Smithsonian said about it…
And early most mornings, before he set to work, Franklin would sit, he wrote to a friend in France in 1768, “without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season,” at his open, first-floor window, letting the air circulate over his, by then, considerable bulk. What the neighbors thought is apparently not recorded.
Got the visual of seeing ole’ Benny Franks sitting there sprawled out naked in his living room soaking in the breeze? Doesn’t seem very founding-fatherly in the puritanical sense, but ya know what — that man had it figured out.
Connecting with the physical world around us is something most of us don’t do very often today. We’re so caught up in our heads and in our electronic devices that we live a large percentage of our lives not… here.
I mean, forget about meditation in the technical sense. No need to pay a guru a couple grand for a mantra. Also, no need to take an air bath (although, if you’re bold enough and have the wherewithal to do so — take advantage).
Just set your timer for noon and 3pm (or pick whatever other times work best for you). When it goes off, stop what you’re doing (if you’re not driving or operating heavy machinery), look around, take a big abdominal breath, let it all out, feel the ground beneath your feet and soak in to the sensory smorgasbord your five senses provide you in every moment.
What are you smelling, seeing, hearing, tasting, and feeling against your skin?
We’re constantly walking on holy ground.
We’re so caught up in our thinking. So much chatter. So much distraction. So much judging of self and others. Our defense mechanisms are constantly triggered. It’s trade wars this and nuclear that.
Stop. Let the chatter do its thing. Pull back from it. And sink in to the world around you.
It’s still a little chilly here in Chicago for an air bath, but I’ll see what tomorrow holds. Me in my birthday suit with a cold beer, an open window, and the Masters on TV seems like a fantastic Sunday afternoon.
Not sure if my wife and daughter would agree, but that’s their problem, I suppose.
This is a fun little game that my daughter tries to play with me.
“You didn’t scare me… Try again.”
She doesn’t understand that this game almost never works, so she gets frustrated.. I’m hardly ever successful in scaring her when she prompts me to.
(Yes, if I escalate my scare tactics, I can get a bit of a jump from her. But not much.)
It’s a universal truth…
When you’re expecting it, you’re essentially unscarable.
(Now, I have to say, the best horror films are really good at scaring the sh*t out of you even when you know someone’s going to jump out from behind the GAHHH!)
Maybe this is the ‘service’ our fears provide. If we’re expecting something horrible, it can’t scare us very bad. So we live expecting the worst (so that, if/when it happens, we’ll be less shocked).
Only thing is, meanwhile, we work and live in a fearful and defensive inner world.
Oh, the client won’t like that. They’re going to tell me how horrible I am, so I may as well round the edges and make this thing mediocre now.
I’m never gonna get hired doing that thing I’ve dreamed about since 9th grade. It’s probably a path littered with disappointment and poverty and despair. I’ll just get this here job doing what I always have until I get that call one day out of the blue.
I really want to tell her how much I appreciate her, but she’ll probably just see it as patronizing and inauthentic.
You gotta let yourself be scared. Stop prepping yourself for the imaginary man lurking in the shadows.
If he jumps out, deal with him.
But until then, don’t let the illusion of him determine your path.
I played Ninja’s at the park with my friends today, Daddy.
Oh, really? That’s great. Did you know that Daddy used to be a Ninja?
(Trying to strike up a conversation about my martial arts background so as to impress my 4-year-old daughter as I braid her hair before bed.)
A real ninja?
Yyyyyeah, a real ninja.
(Some hesitancy in my voice knowing that I trained in Aikido, which is about the least bad-ass martial art out there. We didn’t wear ninja uniforms. We wore baggy black pants that resembled skirts. Although, on second thought, that’s kinda bad-ass in and of itself, it’s too complex of an angle to take with a preschooler…)
What kind of ninja, Daddy?
Well, I was more of a samurai than a ninja.
(Trying to back-pedal and justify the skirts — the hakama — because they’re part of Samurai culture, but it’s not really working.)
Oh, well, I’m a ninja. And I hit real.
Weeelll, Rory, we don’t hiiiit. *Dad voice*
(I wanted to say how, instead, we blend and redirect, but — never mind. I’m so not-cool right now. I start to realize the stark reality that my dadness has killed every last shred of whatever coolness I had before.)
We hit, kick, and run away. Like, yyyyah!
Wow, Rory, that’s pretty powerful. A lot of fury there. That’s good. You’re just playing, though, right? You don’t actually hurt people?
(My coolness is done. Gone. Ugh…)
Yeah, it’s a game. But it’s a game that I win.
I’m a hard ninja.
A hard ninja?
Yeah, like a rock. Hiiiiiyyyah!
(Wow. A hard ninja. So boss. I’ve never been this cool.)
Right on. Which color pony tail do you want? Pink or blue?
You got it.
Jonas Ellison is a writer who blogs through his life over at Higher Thoughts, one of the most popular single-author publications on Medium. Subscribe to his daily-ish missives and musings at JonasEllison.com
It’s going to be hard for me not to make this woo-woo #af, so I’ll just say it…
It’s amazing how differently your words come out when you envision them coming out of the center of your chest — your heart area — as opposed to your mouth.
I don’t know a hell of a lot about chakras, but Anahata is a powerful one (not gonna lie, I had to Google ‘name of heart chakra’ to get that).
This is extremely useful in a multitude of ways…
When you have to tell your 4-year old daughter to stop interrupting daddy in the middle of client calls, you sound like less of a jerk when you drop the words on down to anahata (totally going with the chakra lingo here).
When you have to draw a firm boundary with a relative who you really like but is just a liiiittle passive aggressive and enjoys those head games a bit too much, you draw the boundary with compassion when you drop it on down to anahata.
And yep, it works with writing too…
When you have copy to write and you’re up against a deadline (or four), the words come out with more warmth and resonance when you — you guessed it — drop it on down to anahata.
When you have a piece to write about a controversial subject and you’re terrified of offending people, but you really want to make your point in a strong way — drop it on down.
I mean, might as well, right? You’re going to use the words anyways. Might as well drop ’em on down to the heartspace so they come out in a more powerful way.
I was struck today by a deep insight that I love what I do for a living at the moment. Here’s what lead to that epiphany…
I was scrolling around on Instagram (like ya do) and stumbled into the spirituality section where I found someone who’s images looked interesting enough, headed over to their profile page, thumbed through some of their posts, and here’s what I saw…
Quote-image after quote-image of statements like (and I quote, directly)…
Don’t listen to what other people think.
Do what you love.
Dreams come true.
Have a brave spirit.
Damn it… I’m so. Bored. Already.
Not that this stuff is bad or harmful or anything of the sort. I’m sure he’s a good guy who’s trying to spread a positive message(?).
It’s just that I so often see the same recycled drivel in the spirituality space that has about as much depth and complexity as a potsticker (with no soy sauce).
Then I start wondering if I’m doing the same thing. Am I caught up in this death loop of empty platitudes and feel-good fluffery that one can easily find themselves in when they have their heads so high in the clouds that they lose consciousness from extreme spiritual boredom?
See, this publication is my space (no, not MySpace — I wish it were that much fun) to explore spirituality and the deeper matters of my life. I give myself the freedom to do that here.
But it’s times like these where I’m SO happy that I have a line of work where I can sit down and work with people who are creating real businesses and projects in the physical world (just so happens that, because I write often about spirituality and such, I attract clients who are more aligned with my values). Where I can obsess over their stuff rather than my own inner wonderings and ponderings for awhile.
It keeps me grounded.
We must stay grounded. And if we find ourselves bored with our writing, we must mix it up and step out of context.
Good writing comes from friction in daily life. In trying new things. In getting out of our own heads so we can take a breath.
Yes, sure, you can walk through life with the belief that everything that happens is random circumstance. That you’re just a helpless victim in this random, non-caring, shifty universe. You can defend and uphold that worldview to the death…
But is it worth it?
I mean, may as well switch it up, right? I don’t know if this serves anyone. And is it really provable? Are you sure you’re right?…
Try this, instead. Just for a week.
Tell yourself that everything in life — no matter how horrible it seems (but don’t forget the good stuff as well) — is conspiring in your favor.
Adopt the worldview that all of it — even seemingly unconnected events — have meaning. Create situations as you need them and know that you are a partner with fate rather than its victim.
Become a conspirator with fate. Collaborate with it.
Think it’s just coincidence that you’re reading this?
Earlier this year, I took a short break from social media — mainly Instagram (Facebook, I’d already been broken up with for months).
I wanted to enjoy my moments more. I wanted less brain space taken up with concerns about social approval. I wanted to stop posting photos of my daughter so much (it’s getting to the point where she’s a little person and I felt I was taking advantage — plus, internet weirdos are a thing, or so I heard).
It was so difficult at first. So difficult.
And then, it was awesome. I had all this new space in my psyche to read books or write more or just… Be bored (this was huge — more on this soon).
But then, I was ready to get back. I didn’t miss Facebook at all, but I missed Instagram. When I scroll through Instagram, I’m good. It’s not nearly as toxic as Facebook. However, I wanted to do Insta in a more mindful fashion this time around. Yes, I wanted to play in the sandbox again. But I didn’t want the sandbox consuming my mind.
So, here’s the rule I instituted for myself…
Take the photo now. But don’t post until tomorrow.
It’s the age-old wisdom of writing the angry letter now but not sending it until our heads cool off. (Usually, what happens is that the letter ends up in the trash.)
Even though what you’re about to post might not be an angry letter, I’m guessing it’s coming from an unconscious place. Maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe it’s a subconscious one-upping of someone you saw earlier. Maybe it’s a blatant promotion that’s rushed to get clients in the door. Or maybe it’s just a way to kill some time.
See, for me, the scenario was often this:
I’d be out somewhere with my family and the perfect Instagrammable moment would arise. Suddenly, my mind would shift into how I could frame said moment in the best way for my friends on social media. I’d take the photo. Then, I’d ponder what caption and clever hashtags I could use for several minutes. All the while, I’d be missing the moment. I’d consciously be absent from my life until I hit that ‘publish’ button.
Not now. Now, I just snap the photo (takes 5 seconds) and put the phone back in my pocket. Then I go back to enjoying my day.
The next day, if the thing is still novel, it’s post-worthy. If not (and typically, it’s not), I either delete it or leave it for my family/personal scrapbook.
Create more space between your life and your social media feed.
You deserve — and your friends and loved ones deserve — your full presence in your life. Be there.
Live first. Post second (if at all).
P.S. After I wrote this, I did some searching and noticed that the NY Times has a fantastic article on this point titled, The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter. Check it out here, if you’re interested.
First, a disclaimer… We, as a culture, need to chill a bit when it comes to ‘getting better’ (yes, that’s why I baited you with that headline, because maybe you’re someone who’s a biiiit — shall I say — driven to succeed).
A lot of us in our culture today are severely unhappy due to the constant thriving and striving to improve.
We need to knock that shit off. Seriously. We’re here. We’re alive. We’re breathing. We have life and light flowing through our veins. It’s all a gift.
I believe more focus should be placed on celebration and connection with life rather than improvement born from an ego ideal that won’t make us much happier anyways.
Okay, there’s my disclaimer.
Now, we’re human. I get it. We like to get good at stuff. Yes, there are a lot of ways to get good at things (practice comes to mind), but as I write this, I can’t think of many in my experience that’s been more powerful (yet subtle) than this:
To get good at something, stay in the conversation around it.
Now, what I’m talking about here are things that are more creative/intellectual in nature rather than physical/athletic. Although you future Olympians may find some nuggets of truth here as well.
I’ll take writing as an example. Yes, I’ve done (and still do) the work… Years ago, I’d trade in hours of sleep every night for hand-copying old long-form sales letters. I bought every book I could about the craft. I’d read blogs I loved for hours (this was back in the days of Google Reader when you could just keep scrolling through the archives of blogs like a long book).
But all the while, I stayed in the conversation. I stayed curious. I talked to people both inside and outside of the writing world about it. I’d talk to myself about it all day long. I’d contact my favorite writers and try to pick their brains (there are a lot of unanswered emails out in Gmail land somewhere). I had serious doubts about the way things were being done. But I knew that if I stayed present in that world and did my work, I’d grow and learn and evolve. And I did.
It’s happening right now with my spiritual studies. I’m going to school to become an interfaith minister and we’re currently studying New Thought pretty heavily (I won’t go into what that is here — you’re a Google search away from the answer). For some time now, I’ve been running into some doubts and inner challenges around it.
But I’ve stayed in the conversation. I’ve hung out at my spiritual center, taken classes, accepted mentoring, talked to people, challenged people, and asked questions knowing that this is a long-term game. It’s why it’s supposed to take us years of study and apprenticeship to be able to do this work.
All the knowledge and insight in this realm — or any realm, in fact — doesn’t come from watching a few videos, reading a few books, and taking a few courses. Yes, they’re stops along the way. I don’t mean to discount them. But none of them are the finish line.
It takes staying in the conversation for the duration. It takes patience with yourself. It takes staying in through the dip to see what’s on the other side.
We need to let go of the notion that ultimate knowing and uncertainty will ever come. Getting ‘good’ at something takes patience and tenacity. It takes being humble while having an insatiable curiosity. It takes knowing when you’re ‘doing it wrong’ so you can change it up. And it takes knowing that the possibilities of improvement are endless.
So what’s the rush?
Stay in the conversation and you won’t be able to help but grow.
So many of us have a certain kind of inner debate going on in our heads. If you’re like me, maybe you grew up poor, bullied, or worse.
In this inner-debate, we plot ourselves against our life/God/the universe/etc. (I’m just going to call it ‘Life’ with a capital-L for now).
So in our mind, there we are on one side determined to be the one who’s right (because it’s all about ‘winning’ in the ego’s world, isn’t it?) and there Life is in the opposite corner of the ring.
What we hope to win in this insane argument is an acknowledgment from Life that we don’t have what we need. We shake our fist and claim that we’re lacking, we’re permanently broken, and thanks to this, we have no choice but to continue on this path of struggling and striving to just carry on in the world as we always have.
As disempowering as this debate obviously is (when seen with a calm mind), to the ego, it’s empowering. This is because, by ‘winning’, it’s off the hook. A true victim is helpless. Why even try? We can remain in our illusory separated state from Life itself. Might as well just be pissed and bitter and… right.
But let me ask you something…
What if we lost this argument against Life? What if we were wrong? Would we actually have lost?
I like to imagine, when ‘losing’ this argument, Life speaking back to me and saying something like…
I’m sorry you ‘lost’, good friend. In fact, the only losing that happened is in your head. Because in reality, you just claimed your spiritual inheritance.
You and I are inseparable. You may have found yourself in the midst of physical and/or mental lack. But the story that surrounds it is entirely made up and perpetuated by you who clings to ‘being right’.
Be wrong, friend. Surrender this story. Lay down your shield from me — your Life — and let me in.
You have all you need. Lay down the argument and find yourself at home in your true inheritance as a natural-born empowered being this very instant.
There’s life coursing through our veins. We have beating hearts. We have breath. The future is unwritten.
I know I totally made that little monologue up, but… Wait…
When you’re in the content-creation world, there’s a temptation to be someone you’re not. This is the nature of the internet. We can drum up whatever profile we want on social media and create content around it.
(Kind of like the self-appointed #thoughtleader. I digress.)
I recently fell into this trap a bit, but not in a deceptive way…
When I first signed up for divinity school, I was so enthusiastic that I decided to own the part. I started taking on the role as a minister and spiritual teacher when in actuality, a quiet-but-wise part of me (you know what I’m talking about, right?) didn’t feel that I was quite there yet.
I got way over my edges and it got to be too much. I had to come back to center and own where I was knowing that I will evolve, in time, to the next phase — whatever that turns out to be.
When I did that — when I owned the fact that I’m still a working writer who has a fairly high proficiency of (but is still in learning-mode about) spirituality, I could be much more easeful about my content. I could consider offering more services that were in my wheelhouse rather than stretching for a competency that I haven’t yet gained.
In this online world, we can easily make up a fake life. This always has consequences.
Readers can energetically tell if you’re bullshitting. Even if you’re not trying to be devious, you’re still bullshitting nonetheless (mostly, you’re bullshitting yourself).
One day, I might be firmly and comfortably in that world that I was stretching to. And that’ll be great. But right now, I’m here. I’m kinda straddling two worlds — the old and the new (the professional writer and the burgeoning minister). And that’s beautiful.
Come back to the ground beneath you. Own where you are. Love where you are. And as you grow, your story can organically change along with you.
Dad, look at me. Dad, look at this. Dad, watch this. Hey, Dad. Hey, Dad. Hey, Dad. Look at this, Dad.
This is my life right now. My daughter, as you may know, is four.
She’s all about showing off. She wants approval. She wants attention.
All. The. Time.
Everything she creates is a display. Every heart she draws. Every little doo-dad she cuts out and pastes to another doo-dad (yes, we have a lot of doo-dads in the apartment right now). Every new dance move. Every cool stunt she learns. She must showcase it to us, right away.
Nothing is more important than immediate approval of her self-expression.
Yes, it’s adorable. But damn, it gets really overwhelming and outright annoying at times — especially when I’m tired or stressed or wishing I was doing something else (these are the real feelz, as a parent).
It’s during those times that I see how easy it would be to unconsciously murder her creativity. Absolutely slaughter it.
Telling her to knock it off and sit down so Daddy can do this really important thing has bumped right up against the inside of my lips a number of times. I don’t think I’ve blurted it yet, but I’ve come really damn close.
Shut up. Sit down. Stop showing off. You’re not that big of a deal.
At four, coming from your parents, this is the world.
Listen… We’re going to mess our kids up. At least a little.
And they’re resilient. We have to be kind to ourselves as parents.
I’m not saying you should drop your entire life and never draw boundaries with your kids. But when you do, may they be boundaries drawn with care and expressed with love. It’s a fine line, but there is a subtle difference. You know in your heart how to draw that line.
Killing a kid’s creativity is so easy to do.
I just hope to keep that little creative flame alive inside that little girl as long as possible.
Since I was a kid, I’ve had this idea of ‘making it’ someday.
Like, one day, I’d wake up and realize…
Wow… I have a gigantic house that’s modern and awesome and nothing is ever out of place. I have the perfect relationship. Financially, I’m set for life. My kid(s) are perfectly behaved and my wife adores me, endlessly. I have a few cars in the garage. My dog likes me. I make millions while I sleep. Life is good…
(I could go on here, but I’m sure you can see where the rest of my delusion is going.)
There was this finish line. If I could just cross it, I’d be done. That would be it. I could golf and ski and read and have a lot of sex and donate to charity and vacation and relax. (I’m pretty sure this was the dream of 98% of my fellow poor white American teenage males my age.)
And for a long time, I felt like an utter failure for not having reached it (still do, when I’m not paying attention).
But having lived a little, I’ve come to know a lot of different people from many walks of life — rich, poor, and in-between. What I observed is that happiness and fulfillment are alive and well in each camp (as are misery and strife).
Here’s something I have to remind myself of, constantly:
There is no such thing as ‘making it’. (Thank goodness.)
You might get breaks. Some will be bigger than others.
But ‘making it’ is an illusion (one that’s been amplified through marketing and advertising).
You could say Jerry Seinfeld ‘made it’. But, as is documented in his 2002 documentary, Comedian, he got really bored. And so, he drummed up entirely new acts and went out to these little hole-in-the-wall comedy joints to start all over again.
The movie shows him bombing. It shows footage of him stuttering and freezing up on stage while trying out these new acts.
But a part of him loves it. It needs to keep… Going. And growing. And expressing.
People who don’t do this, die to life.
By realizing that he hadn’t ‘made it’ (and embracing that fact), Jerry Seinfeld found new life. And he seems really damn happy these days (I mean, have you seen his new Netflix show, ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’? That dude is a happy comedian — and that’s hard to find.)
You’ll never make it.
If those four words strike terror in your psyche, you’re looking at it wrong. Because in them is everlasting peace.
Life doesn’t stop. It’s always unfolding — always happening through us. Whether we want it to, or not.
You’ll never make it. But you’ll always be making it.
You know how, when you hit those winning streaks in your work, you feel a sort of rush of enthusiasm and joy (and — dare I say — love) rush up inside of you? You can feel it, quite literally, like a fountain of energy welling up and consuming your being?
I hope you know what I’m talking about. I know you’ve experienced it at least once.
Suddenly, the world is right. Your work takes on a new light. You get to the gym more often. You have better sex. All the good stuff.
And then, something happens and you become… Blocked.
Usually a period of blockage is triggered by something in the world. Maybe a bad client interaction or a negative review.
Suddenly, you’re tired. Sluggish. You start eating horrible food. You blow off your friends and spend a disproportionate amount of time on Facebook.
This blockage happens to the best of us.
Here’s where the spiritual lesson comes in…
It can seem that this wellspring of life that you experienced before the blockage was because of something ‘out there’ (that winning streak we were talking about earlier), but it really isn’t.
This spiritual energy (for lack of a better term, although other cultures have called it prana, ki, chi, etc.) is yours. It’s your birthright. It’s infinite. And you control it.
All it needs is your openness to it. Your receptivity.
To trigger this good creative juju (okay, THERE’S a better term for it), all you need is an inner opening in the heart-center.
Yes, I’m totally going yoga-teacher on you here, but that stuff is real. Think of it as a spiritual valve that you can open or close at will.
There is a spiritual valve in the center of your being that you can open or close at will. Take control of it. Connect with your life. Become enthusiastic in your work. And create anew.
I’m guessing, if you’re reading this, you’re in a decent place. Like, your life isn’t in danger. Hopefully you’re in a fairly relaxed state. Do me a favor and feel that inner valve open up from right in the center of your being. Feel that enthusiasm and joy — FOR NO REASON AT ALL -swell up inside of you. Maybe you can even bring a smile to your face.
Yes, I triggered it this time, but you don’t need me. You don’t need anyone. You’ve got this.
Really, how high do you want to get on this stuff? How much love and enthusiasm do you want to feel for your work? This is an inside job, not an outside one.
Thing is, due to ego influence, we see value in keeping it closed. We use our ego discernment (not judging here, I do it too) to select the things in life that make us happy and those that make us unhappy. We set the rules…
And so it is.
Try tossing the rules. You made them up anyways.
Money low? Open the valve anyway. Wife tired of pulling the weight as you experiment with your new direction? Open that valve. Client hate the work you did? Open that damn valve, amigo.
Now, the interesting thing is, you may not WANT to open that valve. Seriously, feeling bad sometimes feels good.
Just know that, no matter what the ego says, IT DOES ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD TO KEEP THAT VALVE CLOSED. Closing that inner valve will never once help your lot.
I could go on about this, but I’ll end here.
Open that valve. Enthusiasm, joy, love, and connection are all we really want as humans. They’re what lead to our best work. We think money will bring it to us, but it’s not true.
A lot of our strife as creatives comes from the flawed notion that we, as individuals, are on our own. That we’re left to dream this stuff up through our isolated individual will.
This is a terrifying inner-state to put ourselves in. And it’s totally unnecessary. (But we’re free to do it.)
This is, in a large part, where spirituality comes into play. It gives me a wider, more expansive view of an intelligent, creative, resilient force that’s underlying my existence — our existence. One that’s pushing up through us wanting to express itself in the form of our lives.
Close your eyes. Can you feel it?
Something wants to live and create through you.
In fact, it hurts to not let it.
This is far beyond you or I.
Just like my index finger is a thing, in and of itself, it’s also nothing but an inert piece of blood, bone, and flesh without the greater hand, arm, and body.
If I were to keep going, that body is nothing without the thing that beats its heart, its hair, its fingernails. That thinks through its brain and creates through its spirit and actions.
The finger is nothing on its own. If it could have a free will where it just did its own thing, there would be a problem.
Sometimes, after a few Belgian ales, when I try to play the piano (because, well, Belgian ale), I believe this is the case. My fingers just do what they want. They have a ‘mind of their own’ (in a bad way).
But for those who keep practicing, soon their fingers become more attuned with what the mind is instructing them to do. Before too long, they’re playing Jerry Lee Lewis without even looking at them.
This is when they have a ‘mind of their own’ in a good way. A way that’s aligned with the musician’s spirit.
Now, my focus shifts from forcing, manipulating, striving, and fighting to…
Allowing, surrendering, extending, and connecting.