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Archive for December, 2010

Day 20 (2010-12-31): Living large

1. A kiss

I began the new year shortly after midnight with a kiss from a beautiful woman. It was not a romantic kiss, but I see it as a metaphor for how I want to greet the new year, with intimacy, authenticity, and courage.

2. Vision

I created my very first vision board tonight. I wasn’t too into it, and began assembling humorous pictures in jest, but before I knew it, things started clicking. It is titled “Living Large” and is about challenging conventions and breaking the rules. Another great theme for 2011.

Today’s report:

I give the day a peaceful 7 out of 10. I meditated when I woke up, wrote for several hours, coached a client, connected with friends, reviewed 2010 and began to create 2011. I was conscious of my self-talk most of the time, relatively peaceful and present. There were moments of anxiety and self-judgment, but I never got too lost in them. I’m going to bed late again so I am not going to meditate tonight.

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Day 19 (2010-12-30): I

A very strange day, full of pain, joy, and growth…

I began with a plan for the day, to enjoy some time with friends, one of which is a woman who is often the object of the approval craving I’ve written about. But over the course of the day she acted in ways that I took as being thoughtless and inconsiderate, including disappearing from the movie theater without saying goodbye, leaving me looking for her for 20 minutes wondering if something happened.

I believe that people are allowed to make their own choices, and then I get to make my choice if their choices work for me or not. I don’t believe blame serves anyone or solves anything. So I went through the feelings of being hurt, trying to understand what happened, and trying not to create victim stories of how she wronged me, etc. I started with the awareness that I had an expectation that wasn’t met, and felt pain. I went deeper and recognized that I have a rule that says if you care about someone you say goodbye. I went even deeper and realized that one of my personal love strategies (one of the ways that I feel loved) is knowing that someone thinks about me and considers my feelings, and the pain I was feeling was coming from the thought that she doesn’t love me. And I went even deeper to the core fear that her actions triggered: I mean nothing. Nothing to her, and as she represents (in my mind) all people, nothing to anyone.

So I’m driving in my car at night to go to a party my ex-girlfriend put together so she could see all her Pennsylvania friends (she lives in Florida now and is back to see her family for the holidays). She and I are on good terms, but I keep thinking that if she blows me off too, I’m just going to cry.

And I keep repeating over and over in my head, “I mean nothing.” And the truth of it hits me. I DO mean nothing. What is this I? It’s an identity, a thought I have about who I am. It’s not real. It’s a thought. The pain that I felt earlier today was when it became evident that my friend wasn’t thinking about me. When I wasn’t in her presence, I didn’t exist to her. But that’s reality. People outside our presence only exist to us as thoughts about them. Those thoughts are not real, those thoughts are not them.

Even my own thoughts about me are meaningless. I mean nothing.

It was liberating. There was no problem. There was simply a discrepancy between her thoughts about me and my thoughts about her thoughts about me—which is even another layer removed from reality!

So I felt much better. And I decided to turn on the car stereo. There’s a podcast by Alan Watts I keep on my iPod. He talks about Buddhist philosophy and related stuff. Out of 48 recordings I have of his, I just happened to choose one that began with these words:

I wonder what you mean when you use the word “I.”

He continues:

I’ve been very interested in this problem for a long, long time. And I’ve come to the conclusion that what most civilized people mean by that word is a hallucination.

It was as if the universe constructed a lesson plan for me to understand how identity creates suffering.

And the reward for learning the lesson was a beautiful reunion with my ex-girlfriend. We talked and reconnected, and I left the party full of joy and appreciation for life. It was a wonder-full day.

Today’s report:

I woke up and meditated, but will not meditate before falling to sleep. It’s late and I’m just going straight to bed. I would give today a solid 7 out of 10. What’s most interesting is that the 7 represents the pain as much as the pleasure. I didn’t think that was possible, to have a day that was good because it was painful. Very interesting…

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Day 18 (2010-12-29): Up and down

For most of the day today, I felt good, and even optimistic. I was walking around all morning as if every woman’s in love with me, I lifted weights for the first time in I don’t know how long, I booked a vacation/retreat for April. There was an energy I haven’t felt in a while.

Until about 4 PM.

I started to get tired, I saw a picture of my mom, several people I’ve left messages for hadn’t called me back yet. And I could feel the “poor me” energy start to flow.

This is a great lesson in impermanence. The bad feelings subside as the good feelings emerge and then eventually fade, and so on. “This too shall pass.”

Today’s report:

I fell asleep to a meditation recording last night and then awoke this morning and replayed it before I got up. I’m liking this meditation bookend to my day.

I went to Longwood Gardens and enjoyed the Christmas lights and fountain shows. I had moments of appreciation mixed with moments of romantic longing. Lots of couples walking around.

Overall I would give today a 6 out of 10. There were times when it dipped low, like a 2 or 3, especially toward the end of the day. Going to bed now it feels like a 4. I will turn on my meditation recording and probably be asleep around 11:30.

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Several observations that seem to be building upon one another:

1. You create me

I wrote this yesterday as I was working through my feelings from my friend’s email: Because I am very skilled at all this personal growth stuff, some people place me on a pedestal. It’s interesting to watch their progression. First, I’m a guru who can do nothing wrong. Then, when I eventually let them down (because I’m not a guru), I become a piece of shit in their eyes. But they aren’t taking responsibility for the Curtis that they create. They create the guru and the piece of shit. I’m neither. In fact, everyone creates the person in front of them, and it’s never the real person because we can never truly know anyone.

2. The double bind

I was listening to a lecture on Buddhism by Alan Watts in which he was discussing the double bind. Basically, the idea is that much of our suffering comes from an attempt to reconcile conflicting “truths” about life. But they can’t be reconciled because the underlying premise from which they are born is false. For example, at times I feel separate from everything. At other times I feel connected to everything. The problem is that this “I” identity is not real, it’s only conceptual.

3. Authenticity has no meaning

Authenticity is a double bind. If I try to be more authentic, then I’m trying to be what I’m not, which is the very definition of inauthenticity. But if I lie and present a fake version of myself, isn’t that who I am at that moment, a person who feels the need to lie and present a fake version of myself? So I’m in fact being authentic. So how can it be true that when I try to be authentic I’m being inauthentic, but when I’m inauthentic, I’m actually being authentic?

They can’t. Because there is no such thing as a “real me.” Any definition of me is a story, a concept, a mental construct. Identity is not reality. So this whole conversation about authenticity is pointless and will only lead to frustration. It’s like saying something is a “true story.” How can it be true if it’s a story? Life is true. A story about life is an approximation, and therefore false to some degree.

I’m sure I will still struggle with questions of identity. I’m human with a mind that is built to do that. But maybe I’ll stop taking these questions so seriously.

Today’s report:

I meditated last night as I fell asleep and again this morning upon waking.

I cried this morning thinking about my mom and my friend, Scott. Those last days with my mom keep playing through my mind, how scared she was, how alone she was.

I felt productive, both in work and personal life. I had probably one of my most meeting-as-equals, non-approval-craving conversations with the person I most often crave approval from. It came after all of the insight around authenticity and identity. I’m not surprised.

I would give today a 7 out of 10. Still a good amount of pain and negativity, but my best day in a long time. I should be asleep by midnight.

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Day 16 (2010-12-27): To meet life

1. Meditation practice

Regarding meditation, I’m going to focus intentionally on quieting my mind at night when I go to bed and when I first wake up in the morning. My pattern recently has been to fall asleep to a movie or show on my laptop, and then wake up in the morning and go right to email. I suspect shifting these patterns will be challenging, so I will report each day on my progress.

2. The limits of language

I received an email today from a friend who is reading this blog. It was a gift in that it helped me find clarity on several things.

First, on the importance of acknowledging the limitations of these posts to describe my experiences. Anything I write is reductional due to the limits of time. And it’s filtered through whatever mood I’m in. So nothing here should or can be taken literally. It’s an approximation. Not only is this a caveat for the reader of this blog, it’s important for me to be aware of so that I don’t take what I write as anything more than an expression of my feelings fixed in time.

That said, writing about my experiences puts my thoughts into a form that can be examined. Chasing thoughts in my head is like a dog chasing its tail. But putting them down here, I can see the patterns, lapses in logic, etc. that can cause suffering.

3. The gift of pain

Earlier today I was helping some clients explore various year-in-review type questions, and I was considering my own answers regarding my most valuable experience, greatest lesson learned, etc. I kept coming back to an appreciation for all of the pain I experienced in 2010. The pain pushed me to confront some things I’d been avoiding for a long time. What an amazing gift, for sure.

Then tonight, in response to my Day 5 post about me putting on a positivity for others, my friend confessed in her email that she had long ago given up on trying to have a real relationship with me. I took that as an accusation that I am a liar and not worth the effort of a relationship. Whether or not she meant that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the email caused me pain, enough for me to look for a deeper truth.

4. A deeper truth

In re-reading the “False Positive” post, I see that I may have overstated my inauthenticity in that post because I was feeling a little down on myself. In fact I strive to be as authentic as I can be in my interactions with people. Where I go astray is that I will use the many tools in my toolbox to generate a positivity for others, not for myself. It’s not inauthentic in the sense that it’s fake; it’s a genuine positivity. It’s inauthentic in the sense that it’s generated for others, not for me. It comes from a (mistaken) belief that the best way for me to love people is to be a positive source of light for them.

And this is the real insight for me: It’s not my job to be a source of light for anyone. In fact, what I’ve realized is that doing so only leaves me feeling drained, empty, and alone.

I think our only job is to meet life as it is with love, acceptance, appreciation, or whatever other word we want to use to represent harmonious alignment with life. And sometimes “life as it is” includes sadness, doubt, self-pity, anger, etc. That’s my 100 day exploration, to see what it’s like to meet life as it is.

Today’s report:

For the most part, I had a pretty even day. There was a short but acute feeling of sadness, as if a part of me that knows the truth saw the part of me that feels hopeless and lost, and was sad for him.

I’d say the day was a 4 out 10, with periods of 5. It’s 11:30 now and I’m going to bed as soon as I post this.

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Today I got to talk to a very special friend who I don’t see very often. She is someone I deeply respect, someone who out of everyone I’ve ever met best embodies a conscious, intentional, and peaceful life. I shared with her my journey of the past 15 days or so, and she helped me see the beauty and the humor in it.

One thing we discussed was my mom’s death. Something I’ve been struggling with is how to reconcile my choice to take my mom off life support. It was a family decision, but they all looked to me, and I believe they would have gone with whatever choice I made. So my mom died as a direct result of a choice I made. That’s a tough one to swallow. It’s not that I regret that choice. I just don’t know what to do with it. No one else has ever died as a result of my choice. That experience stands alone. And I don’t know where to put it. So my mind dumps it in convenient buckets like guilt or tragedy or travesty, all of which create suffering for me.

My friend suggested that it’s okay if I never resolve it. It’s just a part of my experience that I will carry with me until I die. I have a friend who is a nurse, and I think I will ask him if he knows of others who’ve made a similar choice. I think knowing that I’m not alone in this experience could help me accept it.

Today’s report:

I had two writing sessions today and made good progress. Although it was still a struggle, I felt much better than I did on Thursday and Friday. I also spent some time with some good friends. My craving showed up from time to time as I checked my voicemail (still no calls from two particular women whose attention I crave). And I find it very difficult to stay off of Facebook. I went on there today for literally 30 seconds to find out if an event I was planning to attend tonight was still on (it was canceled), but it was so tempting to stay logged in. It’s like a fucking addiction. Makes me all the more convinced I made the right choice.

I give today another 6 out of 10. For the most part, I was grounded and emotionally stable, except for those periodic bouts of approval craving and negative self-talk. I am going to bed now (11-ish).

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As I was driving home tonight from my sister’s and listening to Alan Watts speak on Buddhism, I began to ask myself some questions: Why do anything? And why do it well?

I don’t believe there’s any objective answers to these questions, no natural law or religion that provides any answer more satisfying than a lazy parent’s “Because I said so.” Therefore, we must each answer these questions individually, subjectively.

So in a general sense, the answer to “Why do anything?” is this: To have some desired subjective experience. And so the answer to “Why do it well?” is this: Because doing it well equates to doing it presently, which will give you the fullest and richest version of the experience you desire. And so a philosophy of mastery is born: I will choose clear and simple intentions, focus on those intentions as I act, observe my experience, and then gather insight to inform my new choices. (This series of steps is modeled after some recent studies on excellence that I read about in the books Talent is Overrated and Outliers.)

I think this dovetails nicely with the guidelines I proposed on Day 2. Joy and peace will indicate progress; stress and suffering will indicate an adjustment is needed.

Today’s report:

My lower back pain returned. I did sleep on a couch at my sister’s last night, so it could be physical. Whatever the cause, I’m taking it as a hint to slow down, to do less, to focus on fundamentals and apply my theory of mastery.

Today was Christmas and a good day, a 6 out of 10. Today also provided a valuable insight. A perfectly enjoyable day can be poisoned by the habit of approval craving. I was surrounded by people who love and appreciate me (my one niece told me she loves me several times today, and my other niece gave me an hug when I was leaving, something she’s never done before because she doesn’t like goodbyes), and yet my mind kept returning to this habit of craving approval from women. Besides the one woman who tends to be the focus of that craving, there are a few others whose approval I would like. So I kept checking my voicemail and email throughout the day to see if anyone had written or called to say Merry Christmas. And I was aware as I was doing it that I was squandering this beautiful present (in both senses of the word) of time with my family.

It was crystal clear that my life is heaven and is made hell by an untamed mind. I have several resources for learning meditation. I’m going to explore them all in the next few weeks and create a meditation practice that I believe will help quiet my mind and break these negative thought patterns.

I expect to be asleep by 11 tonight.

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