Archive for the ‘Mastery’ Category
Our relationship had been broken almost from the start. A tentative dance between two people with two left feet. The final break was years later, and it was the first time after a break-up that I didn’t rush to fill that void that was left. I felt neither happy or sad. I felt..nothing. Maybe that was what was meant by “being at peace.”
Anyway, her and I. We still talked.
So I sat and listened when she said, “Love is a feeling. It’s not about anything else.”
I shook my head. “Love needs an object. You love something or someone because of some value you get from it or him or her. You need to define love in that context.”
I thought about that some more, and realized that there was something significant in what she said. Love is a feeling. And feelings originate within you. They are created by you. And the saying how you can’t control love has a little truth in it, too. Love is when you value someone more than yourself, which is an irrational state. It’s totally emotional, illogical. But when that love ceases to come from you, and your control over love is given over to the object or person, this is where it can slide into a coup, where you become helpless to the situation or the other person.
There is a fine line between seeking love from another, and finding someone to give your love to.
Relationships can be two people who are seeking validation and value from each other and their trade results in a balanced relationship. However, I don’t know if they love each other..or they like the attention the other is giving to them. The latter is not love.
So she was right. Love starts with you. Who you choose and the time and effort you’re willing to spend. You control that decision. No one else.
I was climbing yesterday. I sat at the wall and watched with envy as a guy calmly twisted his way up one of the most difficult routes. His body was almost parallel with the ground at times! It was beautiful. And I was jealous. Afterwards, I started talking to him and learned a lot, not from what he told me, but from what he did afterwards. I learned that my envy was misdirected towards what he did, and should’ve been towards what he didn’t do.
“Did you just do that black and purple route?” I asked.
“Yea,” he nodded. He had tight curly hair that covered his head and came down to form a neat beard around his face.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone complete that,” I said. “I don’t even think I’ve seen someone try it, but it’s hard to tell.”
He smiled. “It’s tough. I worked at it though. I did it so many times that now I know exactly how to do it.”
I was jealous. I was inspired, too. But I thought more about how he did it, and how I couldn’t. I didn’t think about how it was good that someone from the crew here at the wall had practiced and mastered that route. My insecurity hummed loudly in the back of my head so I didn’t really listen to what he said.
I tried another route, one that I’d been trying to get. Failure. I reached for that hold, the problem one. Slip. A short fall to the padded ground.
I sat down and let my throbbing shoulders and forearms recuperate. The guy I had been talking to was now going up another difficult route. I watched expectantly, as he reached carefully and methodically, pulling himself up. A small hold that required significant grip strength was the next one, and he reached for it. And missed. He rolled into his fall, and got back up. He said nothing and sat down. He tried again. I knew he would make it this time. But he failed. But he tried again. And failed again. And then again. Fail. And then again. Fail.
I often hear that failure makes you stronger. I hear it, but like many things people tell you that are good and right and you should do, I nod and don’t act on it. Maybe because of ego, maybe laziness. Then I have the opportunity to see someone who is skilled and how he failed. Again and again and again. And I’m reminded of how failure works:
Failure sucks. You fall. And it hurts.
And it doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished before, because at present, you’re failing. But that’s the point. If you’re not failing, you’re sitting, watching the wall, or going over and over the same places you’ve gone before, and you’re not getting better. And you know it. But at least you’re not getting hurt. At least you’re not losing face, right?
We focus on the success. I looked at what the guy did, but what made me appreciate what he did was what he didn’t do afterwards. On the second route, he didn’t make it up to the top. He repeatedly didn’t make it. And I didn’t see him make it that day. But he kept trying.
I tried my route several more times yesterday. I never reached the top. But I will. Because if you’re paying attention, failure teaches you, and then you make it. It teaches you to put in the time. Consistently. Over and over and over. And maybe that time gets you to the top of a climbing route. Or graduating from school. Maybe it’s finishing writing a book. Maybe it’s doing a lifting regime to strengthen your body, or a meditation practice to settle your mind.
Maybe most importantly, failure teaches you that things aren’t alright, and they never will be.
There’s always going to be that new route that you’re not going to be able to do. And you learn to accept that. Or maybe you learn to accept your father’s judgments, because sometimes, people don’t change. Or maybe it’s facing up to your own faults, accepting yourself so that life stops being a competition to win, and instead it’s an opportunity to learn. To help others. To spread the love, instead of hoarding it all for yourself because you just can’t afford to let any out.
And even if you don’t make it, you know something now. You’re no longer a spectator. Because you’ve put in real, intelligent effort, and you have skills that the consumers and the critics who are only watching may have some idea about, but they don’t really know like you do. Because you decided to wade into the mess.
Congratulations. You’re no longer afraid to get dirty, afraid to fail, or too lazy to try.
You are in it now.
And this is where life gets good.
When I was in middle school, I noticed that I was smaller than most of the other kids. And I hated that. I hated my skinny arms and legs. So I started lifting weights. And eating… and taking supplements. I got bigger, but I always found fault. Even throughout college, I compared myself to other guys.
For years, I forced myself into this lifestyle until it became a habit… until one year. I stopped working out. I had met someone, the first person who showed care for me. We moved in together. I soon realized that I had never been training for me. Now, years later, I exercise for myself, for the good feelings I get. And I focus on getting fit, not big.
Changing something in your life means taking control. And where does that control come from? Your personality, values…your attitude, right?
So the first step in changing our actions is finding out what values are driving them. Is it because we’re unhappy with ourselves? Because no matter how much you “improve”, you will never become happy with yourself if you’re not already content with life.
Once you gain this self-awareness, then whatever changes you want to make aren’t hard, because…well…because you want them. When my goal changed from getting validation to being fit, it was almost unconscious. I didn’t obsess over becoming healthy. I didn’t hold myself to a strict program. I didn’t read books about why it was better to be more fit. I didn’t do those things because I didn’t need to do those things.
A measure of the value of a goal is how much you want to do the grunt work. But if the drive to change comes from inside you, you will embrace the grind and it will cease to be one. Facing the challenge of something new will become exciting, not paralyzing. The sacrifice won’t feel like a sacrifice.
But it won’t really work if you’re doing it because you think you must or you have no choice. You can’t do it if fear is driving you, or if you’re forced to.
People do change. We evolve. Just don’t force it. Evolution is natural. Other people and your environment can supplement a change in your values, but the truest values, the ones that drive us to do the right thing, always come from the inside.
So what’s the secret to really changing yourself?
Let go of what you think you need.
Free yourself. Because no one else will.
We were meant to evolve. And we have the self-awareness and freewill to do exactly that.
I have trouble sitting down to work sometimes. My focus is on many things, and so it is on nothing. Then I realized how to let go. And it was more than simplifying and prioritizing. It was the realization that I needed to acknowledge and then ignore many things. In order to get stuff done, I needed to ask myself throughout the day, day after day, week after week: “What do you want? What are you doing?”
The other day, I was returning from the bathroom to continue my writing and saw the new handheld vacuum I had purchased recently. I like tools, and this was a bright, shiny new one. Soon, I was unplugging it, having just swept the kitchen. I stopped suddenly and thought, “What am I doing? Why am I not writing?”
Vigilance is key
Neil Gaiman has a great analogy for making tough decisions in life. If your goal is a mountain, make sure your decisions are taking you towards that mountain, not away. The mountaintop is far so it’s ok if it takes you a long time to get there, as long you’re making your way to it.
My experience would make me add this to his analogy, “Make sure you’re not circling that mountain, neither going towards it or away from it.” To this end, I think it’s vastly important to reiterate to ourselves, “What do I want? What am I doing?”
The day I started ignoring things was ironically the day I took the blinders off. I looked up from the solid foundation I was laying and noticed all the options that were open to me, from professional to social, and then I decided to stop and ask, “What do I want?” It is overwhelming, but the possibilities appear around you, and it is the first step towards accomplishing what you want.
The saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’ isn’t true. We’re not animals. To achieve bliss we must be conscious of our surroundings and taking a stand and making choices and adapting. And this requires taking the blinders off and asking ourselves repeatedly, “What am I doing? What do I want?”
Don’t think and the days go by, never to be done again, except in our heads. If only I’d done this, if only I’d done that…
But doing what? I’m often busy doing things as the days go by, but not really any thing. I’m buying things. Moving things. Cleaning things. Trying to maintain a steady state of constant activity. A mind occupied by everything but my self. Activity is the appearance of production, like a big leafy top to a little carrot.
More important is YOUR thing. That which will make you happy. It will leave you smiling at the end of day. But then I think too much on my thing, and the same situation is created. Stymied by thoughts and words. The paralysis of analysis. I find the best is when I plan. Then do.
The thinking comes first, so that the doing will flow… eternal, unconscious and unrestrained.
I walked into the grocery and picked up some food for the week. In the self-checkout, the bill rang about $13. I walked out to my 12 year old car. It started up without hesitation. I pulled onto the road and got home in 5 minutes. I made dinner and then settled in to read one of eight books I had borrowed from the public library, one of three branches that are within 5 miles of me. I thought, “I have a lot to be thankful for.” At the end of the evening, after a relaxing time reading, I realized I hadn’t finished my writing for the day and I felt bad.
Recognizing what we have is vital. Gratitude is the foundation of happiness. But what’s just as important is recognizing what we want. Our wants come from the hedonic drive to have more. Not just to have more stuff, but to have more accomplishment. It may be that the accomplishment value lasts longer than the material value, but the cycle of wanting and getting and wanting again continues either way.
The fact is, we’re here for more than a comfortable life, because we will acclimate to whatever standard of living exists in our present day society. What we’re here to do is create something valuable and connect with others who value our creation. Determining what’s valuable is up to each of us. It will lead to our purpose, and then taking action on it. Whether it’s a form of art, or being the best damn office manager ever, we will be happy as we master something.
So realize that our hunger is unstoppable. The trick is, learning how to feed it as our appetite shifts.
When are you at your happiest?
This past weekend I went on a run that changed my life. I had started running a few months ago and slowly picked up advice on technique from here and there, changing my running style after getting each new piece of information. My runs had been good. Ok. But everything changed on my last run when I found my almost perfect form. And all it took was disciplined open mindedness.
Even simple things need practice
Running is a simple movement. You put one foot in front of the other. Yet, even this simple action needs practice or else you might become a fist-pumping, shoulder-rolling mass of swaying body parts that is wasting energy and causing pain and injury. In my case, my form started with arms swinging, and soft heel strikes rolling forward into a long stride. After forming this habit, I stilled my arms and tried landing on the front of my foot, almost on the balls of the feet and pushed off with my toes. As I moved through my practice, I was without a coach, but I drove myself forward to learn.
We are creatures of habit, but we need to listen to ourselves
I had made habits of the techniques, but did not think about adjusting the technique to my body. Instead, I thought about how I could force my body into the form that came from the authorities. This is a mistake. There are experts in different fields, but if we are mindful, we are the best qualified expert on ourselves. Human beings can become acclimated to most anything, good and bad: The constant stress of war, the hardship of poverty, or the work of regular diet and exercise. In my case, my running technique had resulted in a habit that provided me an ok run, and I acclimated to that, but because of my drive to improve, I realized “ok” could become awesome.
When things are ok, it’s time for some experimentation
When I started out on my run, I had done the extremes, both soft and heavy steps on the heel, and bouncing off the balls of the feet. My practice, just like the meditative practice of a monk, made me familiar with my body. I knew how it moved and how my feet felt striking the ground. On this day, I started with heel strikes, short strides, and light steps.
As I warmed up, I moved up to the balls of the feet. Less than half mile in, I settled my feet into a mid-foot strike, my heels barely touching the ground before my foot picked up again. I placed my feet like this, step after step, getting a sense of the ground, in tune to how my feet touched the earth. At mile one, I felt the usual resistance melt away, but this time it was different.
As I placed each foot on the ground, it whipped back effortlessly, gliding over the ground rather than pushing off of it. It felt as if I wasn’t in my body running, but a spectator. My mind had been evacuated and that left only my soul. And my soul was smiling.
At mile three, I was in awe. I thought, “Now this is what awesome means. Right here.” I was unfettered. It felt like I had just started my run. It was incredible. After the fifth mile, I was nearing my car, where I’d started my run, and I thought about the comfort of stopping. After a couple of seconds, the thought faded away. I felt no anticipation for the end. My mind and its worries had surrendered to action. I was fully present running.
Immerse yourself, and after many trials, the answer will find you
Experiences like this are important in teaching me the value of immersing yourself in a task. Practice your passion. Be willing to form habits and just as willing to break them and try new ones to hone your skill. This will help us find a new way to do something which we never thought possible: Whether it’s for running, running a business, or creating a product. We can then realize that ok can become awesome.