Wander

I like to wander. I like to take untrodden or forbidden paths to explore new territory, where the travel is an end in itself, not the means of getting to a destination. If I come to a fork in the road, I can choose the most appealing path without worrying where it will end up or whether I will get lost. When you go places you’ve never been before, you open up your mind and realize that what you know is only the tiniest sliver of everything that’s out there.

My mind likes to wander too. To explore forbidden or eccentric ideas and see where they take me. To let curiosity guide me down unfamiliar trails where there is no end in sight. That’s where the best discoveries happen—you stumble upon them when you’re least expecting them. You don’t have a particular end in mind or a problem to solve, you just let your mind play around.

This type of exploration makes for the best conversation. You can voice the thoughts that pop into your head without evaluating them for appropriateness or fearing judgment, because you’re merely exploring the thought with another person. There’s no such thing as a wrong turn, because you’re not in a hurry and you can always circle back. You can follow the tangents and see where they lead you. Because you never know when you’ll come out of the woods to a stunning overlook of the world beneath you, where all the muddled pathways are laid clear.

Stop Being So Polite

Whenever I’m expressing heartfelt thanks to you, I don’t want you to tell me it was “no big deal”—not if it was a big deal for you to help me.

Whenever I’m genuinely apologizing to you for something hurtful, don’t tell me not to worry about it.

Whenever I give you a compliment, don’t thank me for my “kind words” or tell me you “feel flattered.” If what I express is genuine, then I’m not saying it out of kindness or flattery—I’m saying it out of honesty.

Whenever I’m confiding in you about something that’s upsetting me, don’t tell me that it’s nothing to worry about, even if it’s the most trivial thing in the world. Don’t tell me that you’re “sorry to hear that” either, just because that’s what you’re supposed to say.

If you’re going to do nothing but regurgitate pre-programmed responses, then I might as well be talking to a robot.

I want to know how you really feel about it. Tell me that you’re glad I noticed how much work you put into something. Let me know that you felt warm and fuzzy when I told you that. If you felt hurt or sad, express that too. If you forgive me for having hurt you, then let me know. If you’re unable to forgive me because you think I’ll hurt you again, tell me that too. You can even tell me that you’re at a loss for words.

All of the above responses have one thing in common: they dismiss my emotions, treating them as misguided and insignificant. The thing is, there’s no such thing as a wrong emotion. All genuine feelings flow naturally from events and causes. While they can be expressed in unhealthy ways, on their own there is nothing wrong with them. Dismissing them doesn’t make them go away, either. It merely shoves them out of your path so they can resurface in some other way.

So when you tell someone that what they feel strongly about is “no big deal” or nothing more than “kind words,” that communicates that what they feel doesn’t matter. It will likely discourage them from sharing their feelings with you in the future if they feel that they won’t be valued.

Being guilty of this myself, I understand that most people don’t respond like this with bad intentions. I think there are two reasons people make these mistakes.

1) It’s hard to respond with sincerity, because it puts you in a vulnerable position. The listener might dismiss your emotions or use them against you.

2) Etiquette. As children, we learn that we can only express certain sentiments if we want to be accepted. In the name of politeness, we are taught that we must censor the feelings we have that are inconvenient to those in authority. Thus we fall into ruts of predictable conversation in order to protect ourselves from punishment.

But as adults, we no longer have to live to appease authority figures (assuming you’re not in a job where you do—if you are, get out.) We can now escape the shackles of our history and cultivate the habits that serve us best. When speaking with people who are close to us, we can make the effort to abandon the Script of Etiquette and choose to speak from the heart.

The world would be a much better place if we could simply express our true feelings.

Betrayal

notrespassingWhen somebody betrays your trust and breaks all the promises they ever made you, it’s easy to overgeneralize and lose faith in all of humanity. It’s easy to become callous and swear to never again let anyone trespass on your soul. After all, what’s to stop others from turning on you in the same way?

Maybe that would protect you from ever feeling that heart wrenching pain in the future.

But instead of intense stabs of unbearable torture, your soul will go through a slow decay until you’re completely numb.

And I don’t think that’s worth it.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
― C.S. Lewis

Youtube Comments

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Note to self: Don’t waste one more minute of your life reading Youtube comments.

I think that’s where all the repressed anger of the world is released.

When people talk about the vile pit of hatred and ad hominem arguments that is the comment section, they usually blame it on the anonymity and impersonal nature of the Internet. I’m sure that’s partly true—people use words that they would never dare to speak out loud and insult people in ways they could never get away with in a face-to-face conversation.

But there’s more to it. Such repulsive vitriol and utter contempt for the feelings of others doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s hiding inside people, pent up by years of suppression, only to erupt as caustic tirades of hurtful words. That’s because people never learn how to have a healthy outlet for their emotions. With all the obsession with “positive thinking” and being polite, we’re taught that negative emotions are unacceptable. But just because we ignore our emotions doesn’t mean they’re going to go away. It just means they’re going to find another, often unhealthy, way out.

As kids, we aren’t allowed to express anger. We learn that it’s not acceptable and repress it deep into our subconscious. We never learn that—just like any other emotion—anger can be healthy when expressed in a productive way. Until we remove this taboo on being open and honest about our feelings, we’ll never be able to live in harmony.

I’ll end with a powerful quote from TK Coleman about how to harness your anger for creative productivity:

All emotions are forms of energy and are therefore capable of being assimilated into the creative process. Instead of attempting to “purify yourself” of anger, explore the possibility of channeling it along productive lines.

Frustration, when bottled up and suppressed, corrupts the soul. But when redirected away from what is unwanted towards what is wanted, it becomes a most powerful constructive force.

The same fire which can burn a house can also be harnessed to cook a meal.

Like the forces of nature, our emotional energy can flow in more than one direction and serve many ends.

The next time your emotional fires are stoked, look at it as an opportunity to harness the activity of Spirit.

In the same way you might use a burning candle to light a dead one, actively seek out ways to transfer the spark of those emotions towards an area in your life that needs to be ignited.

We are not left to choose between resenting our moods or being stuck with them. What we call negative feelings can function as our greatest allies in manifesting the life we desire when we learn to work with them and not against them.

Does Art Have to Be War?

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I’m working through Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, as part of my personal development project. As the title suggests, the book describes the process of making art, and writing in particular, as a constant battle against the inner forces of “resistance.” He defines it as “an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory with one object only: to prevent us from doing our work.” Resistance will never go away, so successful writers must simply get used to it and learn how to consistently overpower it.

The artist…has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take more pride in being miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.

Certainly not the most encouraging advice for a budding young writer like myself.

But what’s interesting is how much this idea contradicts several of the books I’ve been reading recently. These books take a Buddhist psychotherapeutic approach to the relationship with the self, prescribing compassion and self-love as the panacea for inner demons. They explain how inner critics will sabotage our efforts and prevent us from achieving greatness in a desperate attempt to get us to introspect and hear what they have to say. If we could only listen and give them the credit they deserve, then these enemies would become our closest allies, propelling us towards greatness. By listening I don’t mean giving in or letting them control you, I just mean being attentive and cultivating compassion for them. Of course, becoming friends with your enemies is no easy task, and these books describe the arduous journey of self-knowledge required to get there.

So who’s right? Should we fight our inner demons, or should we love them? Or is there some other option, perhaps some combination of the two?

I can’t say I know the answer. I do, however, have a hunch. I know that I don’t like war, whether it’s in real life or in my head. I know that healthy relationships do not involve a power struggle, and that the best way to solve conflicts is through negotiation. I know that punishing children into compliance when what they really need is someone to soothe their fears merely exacerbates the problem and causes lifelong trauma. So maybe we should take the same approach when dealing with those unfriendly voices in our heads. Either that, or we gear up for a life-long battle.

How to Meditate

To me, meditation feels like SEO. You read about these simple steps that will bring you a never-ending list of benefits—but when you implement them, there’s no way to tell if you’re doing it right, and you have to wait indefinitely to see the results. Sometimes it seems like it’s not worth the effort, but all the cool people are doing it, (cool=people I respect) and I desperately want those results that all the science is proving.

I’ve tried it using Headspace, I’ve tried using guided meditation audio from Youtube (the kind with the tinkling nature sounds) and all sorts of other ways. It’s frustrating when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, and you’re not even sure where you’re supposed to be going.

Whenever I’ve asked for advice on how to meditate, I usually get an answer like this: “You just do it. That’s how Steve Jobs was able to be so creative. Just sit there for 20 minutes and clear your mind. And don’t stress yourself out over it.” So I can just sit cross-legged on my floor for 20 minutes every night and become the next Steve Jobs?

I appreciate the effort, guys, but I need more detailed instructions.

Finally, something clicked from one of the books I’m reading. The book describes meditation as a way to train your mind to acknowledge stimuli and impulses without responding to them. You feel an itch. You acknowledge the itch, but you don’t scratch it.

It’s the ‘it itches, I must scratch’ reaction that is at the root of most of our suffering. But you can just notice that it itches and not have to do anything about it. You can realize that you are having a conditioned reaction to a sensation. You don’t have to take it personally. You don’t have to react to it.

If you learn once that you don’t have to react that way, you’re free of it. You prove to yourself that you won’t die and you won’t go crazy and parts of your body won’t fall off. You can just be there and be perfectly fine. Then something hurts and you can sit through that. It just becomes interesting. You’re not resisting it anymore. It’s just kind of fascinating how it hurts there and pretty soon it hurts here and then it doesn’t hurt at all.

Eventually, it all beings to quiet down.

I think that’s what freedom is. The freedom that gives you the power and peace and compassion to be the kind of person you want to become. Imagine possessing that.

Maybe everybody else already understood this and I somehow missed the memo. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be on the right track now—and we’ll see what kind of mental traffic increases this gives me.

Live with Unorthodox Curiosity

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It means admitting that you don’t know it all, that maybe you don’t even understand the beliefs you proclaim as your identity. It’s an intellectual humility that frees you from the ego-driven power struggle of feigning knowledge you don’t have. It’s an acceptance of ignorance that requires self-confidence rooted deeper than your reputation.

It’s that burning itch to relinquish your ignorance and then fill that emptiness with knowledge. It’s the thirst you have to quench with answers to questions you never even knew existed. The passion to scrutinize your beliefs down to their very foundations and abandon those that don’t hold water.

It’s that faint spark of doubt in the back of your mind that authorities tried to smother in order to control you—a doubt that questions the virtues of obedience and duty. It means fanning that spark into a flame of curiosity that will shed light on the mysteries obscured by shadows of faith.

It’s the fire that drives you to relentlessly pursue truth no matter the cost, to overcome the obstacles of stigma and popular disapproval.

It’s the empathy that inspires you to listen, truly listen, with a desire to understand rather than simply confirm your preconceptions. It’s a compassion for others as well as yourself that waits to judge until you fully comprehend the emotions and their reasons.

It’s a willingness to depart from the trodden path of orthodoxy, to follow the light shining through the forest that will lead you into the sunshine of freedom and enlightenment.