Good for you for not wasting your breath

Because you don’t want to.

Those five words should be reason enough not to do something.

But that isn’t enough for certain people. They don’t agree that the word no is a complete sentence. They’re always asking us to convince them that our desires are okay. Demanding that we justify our choices in a way that makes sense to their worldview.

Does this interaction infuriate you?

If so, you’re not alone. People’s criticism of our choices can easily send us off into a rage and a torrent of explanation.

It’s difficult to resist. When people start picking at our souls, we scramble for a good reason to justify our preferences until we get our defenses back up.

And we all know it’s not the best use of our brain power. Anytime we’re spending too much of our thought process on things we don’t want, we’re not being responsible shepherds of our own energy.

Codependents learn in support groups about a concept called jade, which stands for justifying, arguing, defending and explaining.

This can be hard for people like us since we’re so conflict avoidant, but it’s a bell of awareness we can use to monitor and, if need be, correct our behavior.

My defensiveness typically shows up in the form of perspiration, racing heart rate, fast talking, short answers, and my personal favorite, making immature, sarcastic, passive aggressive jokes.

It never occurred to me until my wife pointed it out when we first started dating, but sure enough, it’s there.

You transform into a teenager around around certain people, she observed.

Guilty as charged. When people questioned my preferences, it would feel like being in high school all over again.

Thankfully, my wife’s loving mirror helped me learn how to read my own signals. And over time, it’s became easier to nip my defensive reactions in the bud and stay present with the people who challenge me.

It can still be difficult, though. Many of my choice are made as expressions of my identity, so when people call them on the carpet, it can feel like an attack on the self.

Perhaps the goal, as with most things, awareness.

We remain alert to the people and situations that trigger pressure in us. 

How can you check backward in time to discover what triggered your insecurity?

And I thought they smelled bad on the outside

The monomyth includes a phase called the belly of the beast.

It’s that formative time in which the hero doubts themselves and wishes the journey had never begun.

Skywalker famously gets stranded in a subzero wasteland in his journey. And the only protection from certain death in the freezing climate is for his best friend to slit open a dead tauntaun and help him rest inside the stinking but warm carcass.

He’s quite literally in the belly of the beast.

Thankfully, most of us will never get to that point.

We will, however, encounter alien forms that will arrive and throws our schemas into doubt. Whether they comes in the form of opinions, objects, people or experiences, the nagging clouds of doubt will threaten to rain on our existential parade.

Sometimes these doubts will annoy us, and we’ll simply swat them away like pesky gnats.

Sometimes these doubts will invigorate us, and we’ll double down on our position.

Sometimes these doubts will humble us, and we’ll give thanks that our faith has a pulse.

Sometimes these doubts will challenge us, and we’ll blast the furnace heat of faith to turn them into steam so we can blow them away.

Sometimes these doubts will trap us in a philosophical pickle, and we’ll start wondering if the doubter is obliged to doubt that he doubts.

Sometimes these doubts will confuse the hell out of us, and we will find a perverse satisfaction in indulging them.

Sometimes these doubts will fortify our commitment, and we will evolve in spite of them.

Anything goes inside the belly of the beast.

And although we can’t control the smell or the heat, what we can do is be aware of how we feel and respond while we’re there.

During my own moments of deep doubt, one thing that helps me is the combination of connection, consumption and creation.

Like when a group of strangers at some party start probing a bit too deeply into my personal life, and it makes me feel ambushed. The next day, three things are going to happen.

One, start calling friends, family members and other trusted people. This connection helps me process my feelings with others and feel heard in my doubt.

Two, start listening to podcasts, watching movies or reading books. This consumption of media will make me feel less alone in my feelings, learning language to put around my experience.

And three, start writing essays or songs. This creation helps me notice, name, tame and reframe my emotional reality.

Connection, creation and consumption.

Those are the faithful forces that carry me through great seas of doubt. What are yours?

Remember, although there’s no magic formula anyone can trust to eliminate all doubt, it’s certainly better than freezing our asses off in the subzero climate.

And you thought they smelled bad on the outside. 

What will help you navigate the belly of the beast?

Suffering a bewildering sense of separation

Carlin once complained that all you ever hear about in this country is our differences.

That’s all the media and the politicians are ever talking about. The things that separate us. That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society. They try to divide the rest of the people, they keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich, can run off with all the money. Anything they can do to keep us fighting with each other so that they can keep going to the bank.

Meanwhile, we don’t put up much of a fight. The human ego hates experiencing anything more powerful than itself, and so, the powers that be essentially have us by the caveman balls.

Our responsibility, then, is to overcome that claustrophobic and competitive sense of separateness. To uncover the bond that transcends whatever perceived differences we think we have. To gather more evidence each day that everybody is actually the same everywhere.

One helpful practice for accomplishing this is through the fundamental human act of worship. Nothing religious necessarily. Rather, the humility of paying reverence and ritualizing our devotion to something that’s bigger than us. Ritualizing our communion with the larger stream of life that holds us.

And the good news is, whatever it is that we worship doesn’t care what our faith is, or if we even have faith at all. As long as there is an intentional activity that tranquilizes the ego and enables us to ignore the sense of separation that we feel in the other times of our life, it’s worship.

And it’s a last line of defense against the idea that we’re different.

If it’s true that the fallacy of separation is at the core of all the suffering in the world, then perhaps it’s time to reach by our side and touch the most high.

Musk, the finest modern inventor of our time, says that humanity is not perfect, but it’s all we’ve got.

May we awaken from our deep sleep of separation and remember that we’re not as divided as the world tells us we are.

Because no matter how many different names are there for that which is larger than us, there is only one name for us.

If you allowed yourself to relax your sense of separation, could you become one with whomever or whatever you are encountering?

You cannot be the same person who once left that place

A bizarre and scary part about growing up is experiencing your home as a visitor, rather than a resident.

It just kind of happens one day. You come back home for a holiday or a long weekend, and you realize that may of the things you used to find comfort in, aren’t there anymore.

Or they are still there, but they just don’t do it for you anymore.

Like that pizza place you used to love. When you were a kid, their thin crust extra cheese pie was the greatest thing that ever was. But as an adult, it tastes like ketchup on a cracker.

Blech. Makes you want to spend the rest of the night stewing in rage and disgust. Feeling homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist anymore.

Wolfe famously wrote an entire book about this, published posthumously in the early forties. His theory was:

You can never go home again. You can’t go back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting, but which are changing all the time. You can’t go back home to the escapes of time and memory.

Sounds like a modern version of the ancient mantra, you can never step into the same river twice.

The question is, what changed more? The person or the place?

Because although the home that you remember doesn’t really exist anymore, the version of you from the days that you remember doesn’t exist anymore either.

That’s the scary part. You feel like you can never get either one of them back. The person or the place.

A friend of mine jokes that coming home is the only real form of time travel. Like one of those science fiction movies where the character experiences severe time dilation as a result of having traveled faster than the speed of light.

Have you ever felt that way when coming home? You return and see everything differently, but everyone that you know is continuing on with their lives like nothing has changed?

It’s deeply alienating. You almost feel like a ghost. Like a skeletal version of yourself.

My guess is, all of these feelings are connected to the fear of change, which is code for the fear of death.

What if a family was nothing more than a group of people who missed the same imaginary place?

In our yearning is our nostalgia for the future

The most penetrating question ever asked:

What if we trusted that nothing was missing right now?

Maybe we could quiet our yearning and listen to our own gifts.

Maybe we could focus on living the life that we have.

Maybe we could make more conscious choices about our experience.

Maybe we could believe that all we ever need is before us, around us and within us.

The possibilities are endless.

But sadly, the minute that most of us feel a pang of longing, there’s a bruising wallop of inadequacy that causes us to start comparing our lives with others. Blinding us to all the wonderful things our current reality has to offer.

It’s kind of like looking at a picture of yourself from when you were in high school or even college. Remembering that back when you were nineteen, you were deeply shameful about your body. Always obsessing about how you didn’t match up to your peers or, god forbid, those celebrities featured in the media.

But the irony is, a few decades later, if you were to look at that same picture, you would probably marvel at yourself and think, hot damn, look at that sexy young thang! Not bad at all.

If only you had appreciated back then just how beautiful you were. Maybe you would have actually enjoyed yourself.

Maybe that’s why people say youth is wasted on the young. It’s our yearning that creates a nostalgia for the future, but also a thanklessness for the present.

Dayton’s book on trauma healing suggests that in our strong yearning for the original lost object, we spend much of our time hoping and wishing and trying to make our present day adult situations into relationships and careers that will give us what we lost.

But of course, it’s not possible.

And so we move through cycles of excitement, disappointment and disillusionment and abandonment.

It’s an interesting exercise. Trying to pinpoint what it is we’re trying to recover.

My workaholism, driven by the obsession with being heard by as many people as possible, could absolutely have been a bid to heal my wound around feeling estranged, alienated, misunderstood and different as a youth.

Because if success and notoriety can’t help you find the ideal self that will be seen as lovable, what else will?

As you might suspect, that cold pursuit ended with complete and utter burnout, having never found enough love to fill my void.

And only when that tight wrapped coil finally let go, did it finally occur to me that there was nothing else to yearn for.

It’s here. It was always here. Patiently waiting to be accepted.

To quote my favorite poet, and let the remnants of my longing burn like ancient wood on the fire of my soul.

Are you still pining for the perfect thing that can meet all our needs and satisfy your every yearning?

The shades and hues of a more vibrant you

We tyrannize ourselves with shoulds.

All of these cognitive distortions, typically inherited from social and cultural expectations, tell us a story about where we think our lives ought to have be by a certain time or a certain age.

Spencer, the brilliant award winning actress, delivered an inspiring commencement speech about this very topic:

She told the students that what defines you now will be mere shades and hues of a more vibrant you over the next five or ten or fifty years. There is nothing more liberating than knowing that your life will look differently than you think it will.

The problem is, we’re constantly bombarded and indoctrinated with shoulds. From the media, from culture, and especially from each other. Everyone is telling us that everything in our life should fall into place like a perfectly choreographed puzzle.

Our turbulence in our teens, our career ambitions in our twenties, our finances and romances in our thirties, our families in our forties, and so on.

But if history has shown us anything, it’s that human beings are notoriously lousy at predicting how the future will go, and what will make them happy when they get there.

We’re just guessing. All of us. Nobody knows anything. The best we can do is meet reality on reality’s terms, join the waterfall of life happening in each moment, and be grateful that we’re still around to enjoy it.

Because if we’re always waiting on something to happen or someone to appear, according to some imaginary timetable we cobbled together when we were twelve years old, then we are going to miss our lives.

My friend recently got engaged to his longtime girlfriend. But after proposing, rather than weeping with joy, his fiancé became instantly furious.

Turns out, dude waited a little too long to pop the question, and now their wedding date won’t be until next summer, which is several months after the woman’s thirtieth birthday.

And that is not okay with her. All of her friends and sisters and cousins got hitched before they turned thirty, and she simply can’t handle that.

Enough with the shoulds. Everything didn’t need to fall into place a long time ago.

Remember, the greatest path to personal fulfillment is our ability to accept that our musts aren’t everybody else’s shoulds. That their expectations and milestones don’t have to escalate into our absolutistic and unachievable demands. 

What if you believed that you had plenty of time to do, be and have everything you wanted?

We are constantly asked to carry less

Getting better doesn’t always mean doing more.

Sometimes the gateway to growth is less. We create blank space where there had not been any before. And in that void, the natural order emerges.

The most notable opportunity is with our schedules. Instead of scrambling from meeting to meeting, call to call, activity to activity, we install buffer for exits and reentries.

Instead of working right up to the moment we leave the office and head straight back to work as soon as we get off the plane, we take a few minutes, hours or even a whole day to reorient ourselves.

That way we can return feeling refreshed, not rushed.

Try that and see how your performance at work goes up.

Another place we incorporate less is in our thinking. Creating a blank space in our brains so all of those difficult thoughts can float up to the surface and teach us a few things about ourselves.

Fires, mountains, oceans, deserts, forests and any other picturesque natural settings are perfect for this mental space. These environments create a soft focus, relieving our brains from their typical high level of processing power, filling us with feelings of meditative stillness.

For example, ever had an epiphany about yourself while watching or swimming in the ocean? It’s not an accident. By choosing to do less in that experience, an inner space opens up a chasm of feeling, and that changed the way you see things.

Let’s talk about another way to get better by doing less.

Stop carrying so many things.

Not emotionally, but physically.

People have too much stuff on their person at any given time, and it’s not healthy. Walk down any street in any city in this country, and you’ll see pedestrians carrying bags like tons of stone on their shoulders.

Just looking at people carrying shit is exhausting. After schlepping my laptop to work everyday for a year, it finally occurred to me that my company had laptops for all their employees. Apparently, all you had to do is ask for one.

Who knew?

The next day, walking to work was pure bliss. I felt lighter physically, which made me feel lighter psychologically, which disproportionately improved my commute experience. Haven’t carried a briefcase to work since.

Are you making your life heavier than it needs to be?

Perhaps your gateway to growth with be less.

Remember, the armor that weighs us down, the heaviness that exhausts us, these things are rarely as noble as we think they are.

These boulders that we kick over our shoulders, heroic as they might make us feel, are often more trouble than they’re worth. 

How might you effect small, concrete ways to make your life lighter?

Losing our ability to tolerate ordinary misery

If you’re the kind of person who consistently complains about your expensive, mediocre, unsatisfying lunch sandwiches, that you physically went out and purchased with your own money, then you don’t get even a wink of sympathy from me.

People who complain about situations that they create, decisions that they make, are in desperate need of some upside down ankle shaking.

My patience has officially run out.

Carlin used to joke that he didn’t have pet peeves, he had major psychotic hatreds, and this one is up there for me.

It’s not even about complaining, either. That’s the symptom, not the problem.

The deeper issue is that we have crafted a society where people have little or no tolerance for errors, delays, or generally anything that goes wrong in life.

Fifty years ago, we demanded things to be good, fast and cheap; today we demand them to be perfect, now and free.

People have insane expectations around the products and services they purchase, as if they will actually work without problems, every time.

But that’s not how things work around these parts. Shit breaks. The world disappoints us. Imperfection is practically our national pastime.

And unless we train ourselves to be harmonious with all that life sends our way, our cortisol levels are going to shoot through the roof and our rising blood pressure is going to send us into cardiac arrest.

How could this have happened to me?

Simply. Accidents happen. Bad things happen. These are the normal downs of human existence, and you are not special.

Pinsky, my favorite addiction medicine specialist, has been preaching this message for years. He notes that we’ve become aversive to ordinary misery. And in fact, we should be celebrating it.

That’s where resilience comes from. Learning from something uncomfortable, finding a solution and moving through it. And learning to tolerate and process that frustration with other people.

Not by engaging in another round of competitive suffering, but figuring out how to put ourselves in unison with the imperfection of the world.

If the food at your favorite sandwich spot is too expensive and not satisfying enough, then either learn to cook, ask for a raise, get a new job, take a seminar on patience, or try intermittent fasting.

But for the love of all that is holy and sacred, stop complaining. It’s ruining my lunch. 

Can you tolerate unfamiliar feelings and then ride them through to the other side?

Ensure your own fulfillment moving forward

When my friend’s oncologist told him that his chemotherapy treatment would require eighteen months of limited use of his mouth, he had to dramatically rethink his business model.

Because as an entrepreneur, the majority of his job was talking. To clients, to small groups, to the media, most of his work involved flapping his gums for profit.

And he was extremely proficient at that skill. Every time he opened his mouth, the people in his constituency received something valuable.

Sadly, verbal communication was about to become the unusable arrow in his quiver. Which meant his enterprise was in dire need of diversification.

As a result, he made the decision to license his intellectual property. He hired a curriculum consultant to help him build out a turnkey system that enabled him to duplicate himself for clients. Now he could spend time working on his business, rather than be the mouthpiece for it.

Fast forward to a few years later, his cancer thankfully went into remission, and he was able to resume normal business activities and communicate verbally again.

Meanwhile, the new department of his brand continued to expand without his direct involvement. The combination of which created more wealth and fulfillment than he ever had before his diagnosis.

This is the kind of thing that’s possible when we’re willing to let go. Once we force ourselves to begin painting a picture of our life that doesn’t include the thing we thought we couldn’t live without, everything started to pulsate with possibility.

We unlock new sources of growth and opportunity.

Even if you’re not at the crossroads of injury, sickness or loss, it’s still an exercise worth trying. Here’s a question to spend a day thinking about:

If you knew that you would never, ever be able to do this thing again, what kind of a plan would you have to make to ensure your own fulfillment moving forward?

Kind of puts things in perspective. Makes you realize that freedom is something only you can give yourself.

But only if you’re willing to leave a part of that old self behind. Only if your willing to imagine and ultimately live a life even in the absence of that which has defined you in the past.

Just because it was a part of you for so long, doesn’t mean it needs to be the heart of you in the future.

People change. That’s all we do, every damn day. We change.

May as well be intentional about it. 

What can you live with, and what can you die without?

Don’t talk to people on the subway, it’s in the handbook

Wearing a nametag on a crowded subway during rush hour is fascinating experience.

Because in most big cities, people are expert at ignoring others. They’re trained at pretending that other people don’t exist.

And so, if you try to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know, that person will likely treat you like you’re either unhinged or trying to get a date.

It’s a violation of social norms.

As our landlord joked with us when we first moved to the city, don’t talk to people on the subway, it’s in the handbook.

But although fellow commuters will rarely use my nametag to start a conversation on the subway, there is a subtle interaction that happens about once a week.

Initially, the person on the train will make eye contact with me. Once they establish first contact, they silently motion with their index finger towards my nametag, awaiting my realization that I’ve mistakenly left this sticker on my clothes.

At which point I will offer one of two responses, depending on what kind of mood I’m in that day.

The first option is to simply smile and give them the thumbs up, as if to thank them for assisting me in saving face.

However, if I’m feeling a little sassy that day, I’ll stare them down across the train as I slowly open the left side of my jacket and direct their attention to the second nametag on my shirt.

It’s a priceless moment. People either crack up laughing or immediately avert their eyes and try to locate the nearest exit.

The irony of this whole situation is, connecting with others increases happiness, and yet, strangers in close proximity routinely ignore each other.

But we don’t have to. In fact, it’s to our benefit not to.

There’s an interesting study from the journal of experimental psychology that found people are much happier on their commutes when they engage another passenger in conversation.

Does that mean we have to talk to every person on every train? Absolutely not. Especially if their armpit is resting on top of our ear.

It does make you wonder, though. Loneliness has become the most common ailment in the modern world.

And if people in the biggest and busiest city in the world are willing to break the silence over something simply like nametag, the possibilities are endless.

If I can make people say hello here, I can make it anywhere.

How many people did you go out of your way to ignore yesterday?

Sign up for daily updates


Daily updates straight to your inbox.

Copyright ©2020 HELLO, my name is Blog!