Beginnings

*** DISCLAIMER: Ramblings ahead. I woke up thinking the first line and wanted to let it come out, dragging a magician’s string of handkerchiefs behind it if it so desired. But I did want to publish it because that adds some reality that I couldn’t afford it if the bits and bytes that recorded these thoughts stayed locked away inside a digital den like so much treasure hoarded by a greedy dragon. ***

I sometimes think that my life didn’t really begin in earnest until I reached college. Specifically when I began attending Bradley University. It was then that I actually began to experience a tremendous amount of growth as a person – a trajectory which I would continue to see (grow and change) ever since.

I remember very clearly a moment when that growth was mentioned to me sometime in my second year. I was told by an acquaintance in Alpha Phi Omega that they thought I’d grown a lot in the last year and they were really impressed.

It was almost the first compliment I remember receiving that I had actually believed and taken pride in. (Sarah compliment) I don’t know if it was that moment that catalyzed the change I would continue to see in myself or if it was just a moment that would stick with me until now and hopefully for many years to come. But I do know that changing and growing has become more and more a part of me that I am proud of and focused on.

While I have many things about myself that I choose not to focus on out of fear or prioritization, there are many others (mostly internal perspectives and thought processes) that are constantly being re-evaluated and modified.

But these aren’t things I’m focusing on and then modifying. It’s more like being at the gym and working with a personal trainer where they are focusing not on the weights you’re lifting or the exercises you’re doing but on the form and movement of your body. (training with Khaled)

You start developing better habits around those movements by having awareness of where your body is out of alignment. It’s the awareness of things I want to do better in my life that helps me change.

The only issue I’ve run into that I have the most difficulty dealing/struggling with is that the more someone ELSE wants me to bring awareness to something and the less it was MY idea, the less likely I seem to want to change it.

A great example is biting my nails. I was never a hugely prodigious nail biter. I didn’t usually bite them down to the quick or have a lot of bleeding fingertip moments, but I did bite them quite a bit. I know I recognized the negative impact of biting my nails, but it continued on until sometime in 2011 or 2012 when I was taking guitar lessons. I wanted to learn how to finger-pick and that required having longer nails, so I stopped biting them.

That was it. No one asked me to stop biting them, or told me that I had to. It was just a question of “yeah, you’d probably be able to pick better if your nails were longer.”

Same thing with biting my fingers – I just decided I wanted to stop and while it’s been a much harder thing to quit, I find myself sticking to it more.

Ditto with smoking. I smoked from 1997 to about 2001 with a few months off around 1999 ¬†when I was trying to quit for my girlfriend at the time, (Jen). I recognized the negative aspects of smoking but they didn’t really stick in my head, nor the importance of stopping sooner than later.

I’m tempted to say something about how when you’re young you think you have all the time in the world, but the reality is that we’re always young, so that’s simply not a valid hypothesis. More accurate would be to say that our lives without focus and intention are not lives at all, but a string of experiences washed over us by an ocean of possibilities.

Someone posted on FB recently “vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.” That was my life until college. And it’s not that it changed instantly that year and everything was different, but it was then that things began to shift.

And it took about 10 years from then for the shift to accelerate to where I am now. Somewhere in 2012 is where I started really living with intention. Focusing enough of my energy every day on living with intention that I felt a shift from experiencing life to living life.

It really is a subtle shift, but it’s an important one. And that doesn’t mean I’m in control of my life now any more than I was before – you can’t control the world. But you can impact how you experience it.

I say impact because I don’t believe you can control yourself any more than you can control the world. You can influence both but you can’t control either. It’s really just a question of living with intention at the time and truly believing afterward that you did the best you could.

Because doubt truly is the mind-killer. It shifts our focus implicitly into the past tense and does a really good job of keeping it there.

“I wish I’d been …” is evil. It goes against not only the natural order and the laws of space-time (as far I understand them) but also against who you are. Because you are the sum of the experiences you’ve had and the choices you’ve made. So if you were to change ANYTHING in your past, you wouldn’t be EXACTLY who you are today.

And if you don’t want to be exactly who you are today then how can you begin to become the person that you want to be tomorrow? More importantly, how will you ever be able to believe that you’re doing your best?

In a way it comes down to a simple statement which I think you can either accept or reject: “I am the best version of myself that I can be and I intend to continue as such.”

If you accept that statement completely and permanently, then you will never doubt your choices and you will have a firm foundation upon which to build every day of your future.

And that’s the blissful part of life for me. The thing that really keeps me going and moving forward at what can sometimes seem like they would be break-neck speeds. (skateboard)

I don’t doubt or waver or question myself – just do the best I can. That doesn’t mean I always know what to do or what will yield the “optimal result”. But it does mean that regardless of the result it will be optimal.

I had a great conversation with David S and a few others a while ago that was around the duality of the reality of life. Specifically that you have no control over what happens but you have complete accountability for it. I can’t control the things that happen to and around me, nor can I control the results of my actions. But at the same time, I create the world I experience and therefore the things that happen to and around me, and every result of my actions.

In most conversations I have with folks there’s an implicit assumption that either they have NO control over life, the universe, and everything, or they have FULL control over the same. The latter tend to be fewer in number, but the “manifestation” crowd is definitely growing.

I’ve also met a very small number of folks who speak about the third option – BOTH and NEITHER. Jack Butler was I think the first person to introduce me to this concept in a workshop that he did on being a conscious change agent.

I still remember seeing a chart on the board (enneagram?) that had four quadrants which I believe were segmented based on varying degrees of your influence over reality and reality’s influence over you.

One quadrant was the victim – no influence over reality or its influence over you, just stuck experiencing the world as it’s handed out. There was also the author, who on the opposite end of the spectrum influenced everything around them including (albeit passively) the color of the sky and the firmness of reality.

Then there was the shaman. This quadrant assumed a fluid ability to navigate and adjust their reality. Accepting the influence of the world on the self and the self’s influence on the world as equal in measure and importance. This is the quadrant that I was discussing with David et al and referring to above.

There was another quadrant but I don’t believe we ended up talking about it and I’m not sure what it would be. Reality has no influence over you and you have no influence over reality … hmm … I imagine a leaf. A phantasmal leaf forever blowing in an unsteady wind – unable to change, only to observe. It feels like a lonely existence.

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Ever since I was a kid I’ve occasionally had a kind of recurring fantasy: leaving everything and everyone I know behind and either surviving in the wilderness or moving somewhere far away and completely different.

Often that fantasy is preceded by recognizing some kind of lack in myself or something I want to improve. I like the idea of being able to go work on myself alone for a while. In fact anyone who’s ever gone on a retreat to figure out a problem or find a spiritual solution probably knows exactly what I’m talking about.

In “Imagine: How Creativity Works” there are a few examples of how changing your scenery or situation can spark a moment of ingenuity that enables you to overcome an obstacle or even just get your creative juices flowing. The idea is that if you remove yourself from your day-to-day situation you (at least temporarily) break free from the preconceptions and assumptions you have made about yourself, or that others have made and you’ve chosen to believe.

The problem is that eventually you have to come back to “the real world” and get back to whatever life you live. Hopefully you can start integrating some of the things you’ve realized or learned, though that’s certainly not always the case. There are a few great teachers out there trying to help people bridge the gap between these amazing realizations and how you apply them in day to day life, but it’s still a difficult journey.

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