“The mind is inherently stubborn about change, and seems to snap back to its original position like an elastic band.
But there is catch: when we truly comprehend in our guts the finality and truth that THIS is IT, right now, no matter how our life is, then we grasp what Werner Erhard was always screaming about:
that no magic pill or workshop or experience of any sort is ever going to come along and finally “fix” you or me or make us permanently happy, and in that very moment of giving up the search for transformation, a transformation paradoxically does in fact occur.
One recognises that one was never broken in the first place, and suddenly all the energy previously devoted to seeking a way out of or through the problem of the unfulfilled self is freed up to power one’s mission and vision, which is a gesture of giving and contribution rather than one of searching, waiting, and hoping.
And that is a good thing, if a bit sobering, because it means we are asked to step up to the plate in life with what and who we already are. We have been given our piece in the game, and it only remains to play wholeheartedly.”
Kathleen Taylor finishes here TEDx talk with the following exhortation:
Discover and express your amazing uniqueness in the world. Stop bullshitting
Why does Kathleen say this? Because she has learned from spending time working with-counselling the dying.
What can we learn from Kathleen?
Dying people teach us that it is never too late to shed what’s false and to become who we truly are.
Do you and I have to wait until our last days to live authentically?
But I’d like to hope that it is never too soon… So here is the challenge …. let’s don’t wait until we are at the end of our lives to find out who we really are.
Have your ever found yourself thinking about the purpose of your life? Wrong Question!
Have you every been confronted with this question: “What is my life about? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” This question is one that I continue to grapple with. And this is what Kathleen has good news for me:
I think that is the wrong question.
I actually think the better question is “Who am I being with my life?”
What is the relationship between being and doing?
There is an intersect between doing and being. But, I’m pretty sure that being comes first.
And what you are supposed to be doing with your life will flow from who you truly are. You really can’t screw that up if you do it that way.
Why bother with living authentically? Why not just fit in and go with the flow?
Action, and creativity, and innovation that comes from true authenticity is what moves the world forward. And it has the lovely side effect …. of creating joy.
Awaken to the preciousness of time! be authentic, stop bullshitting
Living is the process of dying. Please read that again: living is the process of dying. This is what you and I are almost never present to. Yet, this is not true for those who are dying:
It ends up that some of the purpose of facing your mortality is to look back on the body of work of your life and develop a deep sense of self. And really, to finally awaken to the preciousness of time.
This brings us back to Kathleen’s exhortation:
Discover and express your amazing uniqueness in the world. Stop bullshitting
Here is Kathleen’s TEDx talk
By now you may be in a place where you actually want to see-hear-experience Kathleen’s TEDx talk. Here it is, enjoy!
One of the most insightful talks on the human condition is a speech “This is Water” given by David Foster Wallace in 2005. Having read and listened to it, it occurs to me that David Foster Wallace got life in a way that few of us do. And as such I share this short video of his talk with you.
Here is an adaptation of the speech that he gave courtesy of Shane Parrish:
A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real — you get the idea. But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues.” This is not a matter of virtue — it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.
People who can adjust their natural default-setting this way are often described as being “well adjusted,” which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
Given the triumphal academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default-setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me. Paying attention to what’s going on inside me. As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about “teaching you how to think” is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: “Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.
That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in, day out” really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.
By way of example, let’s say it’s an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired, and you’re stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home — you haven’t had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job — and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the workday, and the traffic’s very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store’s hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can’t just get in and quickly out: You have to wander all over the huge, overlit store’s crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the ADHD kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough checkout lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day-rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can’t take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.
Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn’t fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etcetera, etcetera.
The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I’ve worked really hard all day and I’m starved and tired and I can’t even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid g-d- people.
Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious form of my default-setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just twenty stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks, and so on and so forth…
Look, if I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do — except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default-setting. It’s the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: It’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to rush to the hospital, and he’s in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am — it is actually I who am in his way. Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have much harder, more tedious or painful lives than I do, overall.
Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you’re “supposed to” think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it’s hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you’re like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat-out won’t want to. But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line — maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept. who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible — it just depends on what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important — if you want to operate on your default-setting — then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.”
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.
We go about living as if life is simple. We assume that life is black and white. We assume that reality and truth is one dimensional, and not multi-dimensional. We assume that we can access ultimate reality and truth. We asume that the way that we see it and speak it, is that way that it is. And we are oblivious to these assumptions. As such, we show up in the world and operate from these assumptions. In doing so we generate conflict, we fracture relationships, and we hinder our ability to be effective in the world as it is.
Is there an alternative? Yes, there is and it starts with getting a profound truth about our existence in this world. It is the kind of truth that is pointed out in the following parable:
The Mulla Nasruddin [a wise fool in sufi teaching stories] was sitting court one day. A husband and wife came to the court to settle the matter of who should be in charge of their son’s education. The wife argued that she should be given sole custody, giving many fine reasons to support her view. Mulla Nasruddin said, “You are absolutely correct!” Then the husband spoke to defend his position. In response, Mulla Nasruddin exclaimed, “You are absolutely correct!”. Immediately, a cleric in the back of the court stood up and cried out, “Nasruddin, they both can’t be right!” To which Mulla Nasruddin replied, “You are absolutely correct!”
Is it possible that each and everyone of us has some access to truth? Is it possible that there is some truth in everything? Is it possible that despite our best efforts all we can ever arrive at is some approximation to truth? And what would be possible if each and everyone of us showed up in the world being present to and living these questions?
A lot of pain has been present in my living over this last week. So much physical pain that I have done little even though I had plans to do a lot. Truthfully, I have been much less than I aspire to be. I found myself distant from my family. I have found myself being snappy with one of my son’s. I found myself just wanting to be left alone to deal with my pain. And when it got too hard I took the easy way out: I took muscle relaxants which eased the pain and knocked me out.
And in this very week, what shows up in my world? Inspiration. Heart touching-moving inspiration from two sources. The first is from “the happiest man in the world”. And the second is from 12 year old Jessie Joy Rees.
The happiest man in the world
I find myself watching this man, listening to him and being captivated. Captivated by what? His stance in life. The way he shows up in life. The way he counts his blessing. His philosophy of life. His wisdom. I am clear that he gets it. And as such I am delighted that I have come across him.
Jessie Joy Rees and the Joy Jars
What can I say? I find myself watching this video and there are tears running down my cheeks. I am inspired to ask this question:
How can I help them?
I have a question for you: how can I help you? Please think about it and let me know.
We spent a large part of last weekend at the home of our friends: Gisela, James, and Jasper. As Gisela says, it is our home in the countryside. It strikes me that coming from someone else this would strike me as mere words, intentions, or simply being nice, being polite. Yet, Gisela’s words do not show up that way for me: they show up for me as truth – my home in the countryside.
What is it about Gisela, James, and Jasper that leaves me feeling loved and loving them as I do?
1. I notice that there is genuine joy in their being when I show up in their home. And vice versa.
2. It never occurs to me that I am being judged: right-wrong, good-bad… And I do not judge them. What is presence is acceptance and the space that creates for us: to simply be.
3. One-upmanship is absent: nobody is out to show that they are better, or not, than anyone else. Yes, we rejoice in each others gifts. And we leave it at that: there is no judgement about those gifts. We take delight in each other, not judgement/evaluation.
4. I am not being advised nor educated about life. Nor am I being questioned or interrogated. There simple is no space in our being for that kind of conversation to show up.
5. Nothing shows up as being forced. It does not occur to me that anyone is doing their best to please others against their own feelings-needs. It occurs to me that there is an absence of pretence. And as a result there is a certain ease and gracefulness.
6. There no faking, no bullshitting, no preening, no grandstanding, no falseness going on – none that I pick up or have picked up yet. What there is, is, even if it is deemed to be “bad” or “inappropriate” by conventional wisdom and morality
7. We share. We share the shopping if there is shopping to be done. We share the cooking if there is cooking to be done. We share our speaking and listening. We share our joy in being present with one another. We share smiles. We share hugs. We share what we have found on TED, or elsewhere, that speaks to us. We share the joys, challenges, disappointments and heartaches of life: that which works and that which does not work in our lives.
8. Smiles, hugs, laughter and even play is present. And what an amazing difference that makes. To get up in the morning and be greeted with genuine warmth/affection made visible through smiles and hugs.
I am left asking myself, “What if I showed up for all the people in my life, the way that I show up with Gisela-James-Jasper?” And the thought occurs that it would be “Awesome”. What a way to show up in the world!
It occurs to me that if you and I treat everyone that we meet the way we treat our very best friends then together we would transform our lives and the world. What do you say?
What does it take to generate joy? I say this is a question worthy of my attention, your attention, our attention.
Is there an experience that is more nourishing than joy? The joy of being alive- present to the gift of life? I say for me there is no experience that nourishes me more than joy. What about you?
How often do you experience joy? Are you present to joy every moment? No? How about every minute? No? How about every hour? No? How about once a day? No? How about once a week? No? How about once a month? No?
When was the last time you experienced joy? When was the last time you opened the doors of your being to allow joy enter your life? When? Can you even remember? And if you and I do not experience the joy in living then I ask this: what is the point of our living, of being alive? Why bother with it all?
As I grapple with this question what shows up for me? That my default way of being-in-this-world is to be on a journey. What goes with a journey? Planning. Preparing. Travelling. Hurdles-Obstacles-Surprise. Dealing with obstacles-hurdles-suprises. Breakdowns. Dealing with breakdowns. Busyness. Arrival at destination. Rest. Onwards to the next destination. And the cycle repeats.
If you and I are so busy on busyness of life and our focus in on achievement then the doors of our being are locked. What are they locked to? Being present to that which is present. Being present to the miracle that is our existence. Being present to the wonder of this world. Being present to joy – the joy of being here right now in this world.
I stopped the other day. I took over the left over bread. Slowly patiently I tore it up into little pieces. A smile was present on my face and in my being. Then I opened the door, went into the garden, and left these breadcrumbs in the right place – place where I see the birds hopping about. In that being/doing I was a little child once more. Joy was present. The joy of being connected with life. The joy of transcending selfishness and being of service.
On returning to the house it occurred to me that it really does not take much for joy to enter my house of being. All it takes is thinking of my fellow participants in this game of life and engaging in little acts of kindness. Making a cup of tea for wife or sons. Giving a hug. Receiving a hug. Telling a friend that she shows up as a source of inspiration for me. Cleaning the house so that it sparkles. Reading a book. Watching a movie. Writing. Going for a walk and allowing my face to be touched by sunshine.
Sometimes it doesn’t even take that. It just requires being present. Yesterday, driving daughter over to the gym, she asked me if she could turn on the radio. I said yes. Shortly, she was listening to one of her favourite songs, singing along beautifully and then the following came forth: “I just love music!” Wow! I found myself to be sharing in some of her joy.
It occurs to me that joy shows up when I chose to be joyous. It occurs to me that joy shows up when I wonder that I exist, the sun exists, the sky exists, laughter exists, hugs exist, movies exist, that I can drive…..It occurs to me that joy shows up when I put myself into action and contribute to the wellbeing of others. How about you?