Another Odd Place for a Hill

Jody Aberdeen's Official Blog

Rant: Magic, Science, Religion

alchemy1 Brain is full once again this morning.

I want to talk about science, magic, and religion.

Think about your group of friends and associates, your family.  If you’re fortunate, you’re likely surrounded by diversity: different races, different jobs, different geographies, different beliefs.  I am one such lucky person, and as Utopian as it may sound, one of my underlying wishes is that I can put everyone I know in a single ballroom one day and have them all get along without any conflict.

Utopian, you might have already concluded, is a word I use with great irony in this context.

The reality is that difference and conflict are omnipresent and entangled, and in some ways, that can be a good thing. Most people overlap:  many scientists are religious, or hold some kind of magical belief.  At the extremes, however, things literally start getting thrown around at each other.  That’s what I want to talk about: the extremists of the camps.

As with all generalizations, no individual falls complete in one or the other, so this is as much about my way of seeing them as it is about the people themselves.  Keep that in mind.

I guess my main preoccupation is with the science folks, because I am (mostly) one of them.  I prefer to believe in measurable results that anyone can replicate, regardless of what they may or may not imagine to be real. I don’t believe in the existence of an individualized deity watching over us and doling out rewards and punishment.  Like many of my self-declared agnostic and atheist friends, I was raised in religion. I come from a fairly strong Presbyterian family, and, being Trinidadian, was also exposed to elements of Islam and Hinduism.

As it showed up for me, I found Christianity was too limiting, full of hypocrisy in practice and in principle, and utterly incomplete.  The others didn’t seem too appealing to me, either, so I left religion as a teenager to explore other paradigms.  Though I never developed the type of persecution complex that other agnostics have, I have learned, with significant difficulty, that my choices don’t have to be everyone’s choices.  Live and let live.

I believe that science, as a practice, gives us access to consensus results in ultimate reality unlike any other system.  And I also believe that can science easily become a substitute religion among its advocates who grew up in oppressive religious environments as opposed to nurturing ones.

We internalize patterns as children.  Whatever we’re immersed in over time, we adopt as part of our behaviour.  Odds are, if you were raised by strongly religious parents in a faith that advocates proselytization, you were taught that non-believers were “evil” or “sinful”.  You were taught that certain signs of progress in greater society outside your religious community – reproductive rights for women, gay marriage rights, even interracial relationships – were against the will of God.  You may have been raised into certain practices – no meat on Fridays, no pork, fasting at various times, tithing – that showed up for you as oppressive.

atomSo one day, you rebelled against it, consciously, and when you were finally out on your own, you made another conscious choice to live without religion in your life.

However, as liberating as that is, you may have also internalized certain patterns of behaviour and judgement from that time that you now practice.

To be sure, much of the “scientism” that appears on the Internet is a reaction to the downright frightening fundamentalist revival embodied in such movements as the Tea Party, the consistent campaign here at home by the Harper government to muzzle scientific data on climate change, and the continued and scary extremism that we see in conflicts abroad.

And scientifically-minded people do have historical precedent for anxiety:  when the Late Roman Empire fell, European civilization went from a literate, scientific, and educated culture to a deeply superstitious and uneducated patchwork within two generations.   It’s very easy to lose everything that we have created, and the simplistic notions of afterlife reward in exchange for the present-day violence advocated by the extremists of organized religion is all too seductive for many people who are looking for meaning.

So science advocates fight back, by celebrating science itself and attacking non-believers.  They do this because in that moment, they perceive a threat.  However, in that moment, they are no longer being scientists: they are being foot soldiers for ideology.  And many of them, especially the ones who once rebelled against the religious constraints of the previous generation, can’t see their own proselytization for what it is.

And that’s where they lose integrity with science. That’s not what science is about.

Science is a constructed system of practice designed to produce evidence based results through experimentation, repetition, and consensus.  It is absent passion, absent celebration and condemnation. It simply is.  Hypothesis, methodology, experimentation, results, confirmation or rejection, peer evaluation.  Evidence doesn’t fit the theory, then you can choose a different method and keep testing, or develop a new theory.  There is no inherent meaning in science.  Meaning is subjective: science stands objectively.

To use science as a club against religious people or secular spiritual individuals who like motivational speakers and naturopathic practices is to miss the point of what science is about. Science is a made up concept just as much as”God: a system of thought created by humans to produce a result. That’s it. Science itself is not real.  Only its results are “real”, and worth celebrating.

There is one interesting component to “scientism”, though:  for some people, science can be considered a form of magical thinking in itself.  Ask any person who claims to believe in science about the methods used by scientists, and odds are, they’ll have no idea how a result produced by science came about: they just take it on faith that the scientists did their jobs properly.  After all, the result is there, right?

It’s an old philosophical question:  do I really  know Australia exists if I’ve never seen it with my own eyes?  chi rhoAt some point, faith re-inserts itself into the equation – faith that the scientists are doing their work properly – which means that science appears to many people as a mysterious practice that somehow produces a result.  Within a field of scientific study, anyone who isn’t in the practice is called a “lay person”.   That word finds similar origins to the Church’s term “laity”, referring to all those outside the clergy.  Something to chew on.

I said before I was “mostly” scientific.  That’s because I also prefer “magic”. Arthur C. Clarke famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.  Magic shows up for me in my belief in non-religious forces in the Universe that I’ve experienced in my reality, but that science is only now beginning to verify in ultimate reality.  The difference between a pure scientist and a magician is that the scientist will wait until sufficient evidence builds to declare something “real”: the magician takes the leap of faith.

I like the example of nuclear fusion:  the principles were only discovered in the past 150 years or so.  We now know that the sun operates via nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium.  However, for all of those years before we understood the science behind it, does that mean the sun didn’t shine?  Of course not.  Similarly, there are forces now used everyday – electricity, magnetism – that were once considered mystical.  And there are other forces that most scientists currently say do not exist – the Law of Attraction, a universal consciousness, manifestation – that I’ve experienced first-hand, and many others have as well.

A magician is someone who says “I’ve experienced this, I’ve seen this, and I know this is possible, even if no one else sees or experiences this.  I won’t wait for outside authority to tell me it’s real or unreal. I’m going to work with it and see what happens”.   A magician follows his own methodology, the difference between a shaman and a priest.  My faith is that science will catch up to magic, at which point magic will simply become another science.

I’m not a pure magician.  I run into my own skepticism and doubt, but I am open to exploration.  And I know others who are religious believers in the moderate sense, true to their own faiths and principles, sharing, but not imposing on others.  I know many magicians, too, who would consider themselves “Christian”, “Muslim”, “Buddhist”, “Hindu”, or devotees of other established faiths. Many of them are scientists themselves.

The beauty of the diversity of people that I know, and that you know, is that we can take what works for ourselves from each other, and leave the rest to go about their days in peace.

And now my brain is empty on this topic.  Thank you, as always, for indulging.  I hope this serves your day in some positive way.

mindbodyspirit1

The Neverending Waiting Game

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To my new readers, welcome!  Here’s to these words making even a tiny difference in the quality of your lives.

Today, I’ve got to use this blog for its original purpose: catharsis.  Writing out the insights on a challenge I’m facing and then putting it out into the world opens up a possibility for a breakthrough for someone else. 

Today’s challenge?  The Neverending Waiting Game.

Many of us are in this game.  Waiting for perfect conditions to take some big action that we say we want to take.  It doesn’t matter what the conditions are or in which area – being debt free before taking a trip, being the right weight or having the right income or living space before going into dating, waiting until some big weekend dinner and drinks night is complete before starting a healthier diet – it’s the waiting that kills.

How many of us have been waiting for spring weather to appear in order to be “happy” with our day?

Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and author of “The Happiness Advantage”, notes that there is a very real re-wiring of the brain’s neural make-up when it comes to “success” and “happiness”: we tend to change the goal posts of what “success” is whenever we achieve it, so we never quite get there.  If “happiness” requires the presence of “success”, however we define it, in our reality, then our brain never acquires the state, and thus we are never completely “happy”.  Perpetually “waiting” for optimal conditions is one symptom of that effect.

In my work with Landmark, I’m experiencing first-hand the impact of my “waiting”, and this type of discovery isn’t necessarily a cause for celebration or grief: it’s just stating what is.  My experience of “waiting” is such an ingrained habit that it takes repeated actions right now to re-program what, in hindsight, has been decades of conditioning ever since I was a kid. It’s a pattern inherited from my parents, who are competent, analytical, and particular individuals who prefer to wait for optimal conditions in every aspect before making a change.  They have their stories for that, I’m sure, and even though a parent’s stories are not their children’s’, that doesn’t stop parents from building them into their kids by accident, just by being themselves.

I digress.  The “Be-Do-Have” paradigm is old knowledge to this self-help junkie – everyone from Deepak Chopra to Bob Proctor to Neale Donald Walsch has covered it – but as with everything, a principle that is not practiced is useless: it’s just a “cool to think about” insight.  Be the way you envision, then do the things that get you the results you want to have.  

The breakthrough I had this morning was when I decided to take one action I’ve been putting off: meditating right out of bed, something I haven’t done all throughout the winter? Why?  Because it’s cold in my bedroom at night!  I was waiting for warmer weather to make it easier for me to get out of bed. 

In the meditation, nothing special happened.  That’s not what meditation is always about: it’s simply taking a few moments out of one’s day to focus on now.  It felt great.  And it killed the “waiting”.

Most importantly, for this little rant, it brought me an awareness that I was not, in that moment, actively “being” the way I envision that I want to “be” in the future possibility that I’ve created for myself.  More to the point: I haven’t been living into that future.  Instead, I’ve been waiting for my outstanding debts to be paid before launching a full effort into Liberati Press, which right now occupies only a third of my time and attention, compared to my full time job. I’ve been waiting to lose my midsection fat before launching into dating with confidence (although that’s just one reason).  

I’ve been waiting for a lot of things, but “waiting” isn’t “creating”.  It isn’t “living”.  “Waiting” is “waiting”, and if I let it happen, I’ll always be waiting.

Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t pay your debts, or lose weight, or do all those practical necessities that life demands of us in order to function with integrity.  It just means you do those things AND you live into whatever it is you’re creating for yourself: a healthy body, a thriving business, a romantic relationship.  If you’re busy, it means you create time for that way of being, using whatever tools in the present now – a scheduled, a reminder, an accountability partner or mastermind group – to keep everything in balance (including time out for yourself, which I haven’t quite learned).  

I used to visualize all the time in my meditation: what the future was, what I could become, what I could create.  By stopping the meditation out of fear of getting my ass out of bed in the cold winter mornings, I also stopped living into my possibilities.  The solution, then, is to re-instate the practice, starting today, which I’ve done.  

Does this mean I will be doing this consistently every day from now until forever?  Absolutely not. I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow or weeks from now: all I know for sure is my stand that I create for that possibility right now, and that I can choose to live into that..  Integrity isn’t necessarily a moral judgement, even though we use it as one in our culture’s language.  Integrity is also the make-up of a support structure: take out the spokes of a bicycle wheel, and the wheel doesn’t become “evil” or “Immoral”: it just stops doing what it was designed to do.  The solution in the face of a breakdown? Stop feeling guilty for losing integrity and restore integrity by just keeping going.  Get back on the bike.

I’m off to work now.  Even that “day job” work is something I enjoy, and is part of the possibility I’m living into if I decide it to be. Writing insights isn’t the same as taking action in real life, but having done that in this area, I want to share the insight with others, with you, in the hopes that maybe there’s something here for you.

What’s something that you’re waiting to do?  What’s stopping you from doing it today?  

M.A.Sc. (Life)

So what am I up to?  Many things.  One thing.

You know how you tend to have those two or three cyclical conversations with people, the kind that you have every few weeks or months that are all about the same thing?  One of mine is all about “Jody, you’re doing too much.  You need to focus on one or two things.”  Every few months, someone close to me will say this to me.

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I’ve heard the observation – that I’m spread too thin, that I leave a lot of things unfinished or always in progress, that this pace will drain my energy – and I’ve experienced some real consequences from that kind of activity, mostly in terms of burnout and dejection.  Earlier this week, I actually did burn out, physically.  I was tired after an intense weekend seminar course in Toronto and, combined with Daylights Savings Time kicking in again, my body decided to go on strike and take me out of the game for one morning before work.  That’s my story.

I had the burnout, but not the dejection.  In fact, I haven’t been nearly this energized, mentally and spiritually, in a very long time, and in terms of the particular flavour of this energy, I’ve never felt this way before.

So what all am I doing?  First, I work in logistics as a bilingual specialist, Monday to Friday, full days with a bit of overtime here and there.  I go to the gym at least two to three times a week for a good one-and-a-half to two hours per session.  I am taking an online travel writing course through Great Escapes Publishing, adding to my portfolio of writing services.  I work for three hours every Sunday on my novel “Overlife”.  I joined a business networking group that meets on Wednesday mornings with a general aim to help build Liberati Press. Beyond that, I now find myself serving as a life coach for a few individuals here and there as part of my commitment to transform those in my environment, and I’m creating a vibrant dynamic in my own family here at home.

And I’m taking courses at Landmark Toronto, heading downtown every Tuesday night to deepen the distinctions and practices that I acquired both at the Forum and recently at the Advanced Course this past weekend.    In April, I will complete my Seminar series and begin the Self-Expression and Leadership Program (SELP) from Landmark, which will see the creation and execution of a project in the community, and that will last four months.

Yep, I’ve been busy.  But here’s the thing: there’s not a single thing I will drop from this list.  Nothing I’m doing is superfluous as far as I’m concerned, though it’s interesting to hear the feedback from the people in the different parts of my life.  The writers in my life think I should drop Landmark and focus on “Overlife”.  My parents think I should drop Liberati for now and focus on the day job until all of my debts are paid off.  My Landmark friends are relatively new, so they haven’t said anything so far, but I’m sure I’ll get some insights from them as they get to know me better.  Some of my Phidelt brothers have supported my own personal development, but can’t help themselves when it comes to voicing their skepticism on Liberati, Landmark, and even my love of all things Tony Robbins.

I acknowledge and respect everyone for their interest in my success.  I really am lucky to have these great individuals around me and their love and support, but in the end, almost none of them have to live with the consequences of my choices and any lapse in integrity with my own vision.

So I choose everything that I do.  I won’t drop anything. But I can’t remember the last time I was this busy….

Actually, that’s a lie.  There was a time I was this busy with many activities I could have dropped, but didn’t. That was University.

The storytelling part of my brain that likes to create comparisons where they  don’t already exist absolutely loves this concept.  At McMaster, I remember at one point I was living in an apartment with my girlfriend, working on a full course load in History, English, and Political Science, serving as Vice President of a Fraternity chapter, serving as a policy advisor for a political club, writing two weekly columns for the campus newspaper, going to the gym, and working a part-time job on weekends.   And that’s not to mention going to parties, social nights, date nights with my girlfriend, and hangouts with friends.

When you’re in University, very few people will question the fundamentals of how busy you are.  That’s because it’s understood that  if you’re really committed, University requires you to do a lot of things at once that you ordinarily wouldn’t do, or see as a single body of work divided into distinct parts.

Obviously, I’m not in University now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not engaged in higher education.  I’m pursuing a Masters of Arts and Science in my own life.  My life is an Art in the way I create a broad vision for my future from nothing but my imagination, and then live into it now.  My life is a Science in the way I distinguish and action the particular, reliable, and practical methods that create the specific, measurable results that I desire.

landmarktorontocompletionLandmark is at the centre of this curriculum.  I look back on the older entry from not too long ago about my skepticism about the group and chuckle a little bit: that was written by someone who was a much smaller person than the being behind the words you’re reading now. Landmark’s experiential learning practice that forces me to act on the library of personal growth insights that I’ve internalized over the years has proven transformational, and in a remarkably short time.

Landmark has helped me breathe new life into my manuscript “Overlife”, inspired the Manifesto of the Liberati, shown me the possibility that the Great Escapes travel writing course holds, has opened me up to a way of being powerful right now, and has done more for me in two months than nearly all of the self-help I’ve studied in the past nine years.  I could do a whole insightful entry on my experiences at Landmark alone, but that’s for another time.

For now, I consider myself a privileged grad student, happily engaged in the good work of the school of Life, not yet a full master, but well on my way.

When you look at my activities separately, it does seem like a lot, but they are all united by that purpose: creating a life I want to live, and no longer merely waiting for life to adapt to me.

Check back a month from now, if not sooner, for my next update.

First Exercise in Practical Madness

ImageTwo weeks ago, I took a course called the Landmark Forum.  Landmark Education has been circling around the periphery of my entrepreneur and personal development networks for years now, and having finally dismissed the personal and outsider obstacles and experienced the course for myself, it’s proven to be a game changer in my life for the better.  In the process, though, it’s brought up a few things here and there, stories and patterns of behaviour that don’t necessarily give me the warm and fuzzies as most personal growth courses do (although there have been a lot of those, too).

I strongly recommend Landmark if you’re into personal development and you are willing to approach the experience with openness and faith in the instructions and the process.  I don’t recommend it if you’re still grappling with major devastating issues, if your boss paid for you to go to it, or if you’re overly analytical: it’ll be a waste of money and everyone’s time if you’re not there in a state of authentic willingness to experience what it’s about.  It never ceases to amaze me, the people who will sign up for the Forum, or karate, or a writing class, devote their time and money to showing up, and then fight the teacher tooth and nail as if they’re back in Grade 9 math class.

Obviously, I’m in the former category, but this isn’t about Landmark, it’s about what I’ve found about myself and my life since then…

Tonight, I find myself working a night shift (and yes, my boss told me that it’s perfectly kosher to blog so long as I respond to the after-hours emergencies for which this shift exists), and just thinking about these bits of personal programming that the machine part of me – that is, the one that operates from ego, that runs computer-like programs of behaviour learned throughout my life that are so automatic that I have to become completely present to the moment in order to see them for what they are – has been running.

I have a story that I’m not where I’m supposed to be at 33. In fact, I have many stories. What’s happened in my life has been a series of events that, without stories, add up to my being here, writing these words at this job on this night.  The multitudes of stories I have built around these events string and intertwine and connect and conflict in a great frayed tapestry that is my life as I’ve perceived it to be.  I see people I know who buy houses, have babies, complain about jobs they’ve stayed at for years that were precisely what they went to school to study, and the story tells me that I’m doing it wrong.

ImageThen I look at the entrepreneurs, the activists, the artists, the people who are more in line with what I am about: I see them making a full time committment to their causes and crafts, even if it means poverty or otherwise not having all the material goodies or creature comforts….and another story tells me that I’m doing it wrong.  I don’t know how to make it “right”.  I don’t think it’s about making it “right”, but just finding what I can about where the disempowering story comes from….then dropping it.  That doesn’t seem easy….or so the stories go.

I have a story about my family that says I don’t belong, and have never belonged.  Blood and shared history are the only things that connect me to my uncles, aunts, and cousins.  I have always been different, or so the story goes., and that it was wrong for me to be different from them. I remember a time when I was a teenager and I dropped into my aunt’s house where one of my other uncles and a couple of my cousins were playing cards.  I suggested playing a game – I can’t even remember what it was – only to have my uncle tell me “Sorry, we’re not playing the white people games over here” in a squealy, computer nerd voice designed to ridicule.  I remember the rejection, the idea that “Jody, you’re doing it wrong. You can’t behave like a Canadian. Who cares if you were raised here and this is the experience that you know: you’re Trinidadian”, even if it wasn’t conveyed in those terms.

There is love in my family, and for me from my family, but “love” is a distinction separate from “being understood”, or “accepted”.  I can never get that from my family, especiallly now that the trajectories of years and divergent experiences, the manifestation of “acceptable” careers and ways of thinking, have made me a very different individual, someone who deviated from a norm that was somehow expected to survive immigration and exposure to new lands and beliefs.  Who I really am and what I really believe was made invalid in the eyes of some of my family members long ago, a validation I’ve long since found in the friends who I consider more family than family.  For that, I’m judged once again by some of my family members for wanting the simple experience of belonging somewhere and being accepted for who I am at the same time, and choosing the people who provide that experience for me over those who don’t.  Or so the stories go.

ImageI feel unattractive and out of shape.  I have a story about that that says that my mother, because of her own attention to cleanliness, detail, and her penchant for drawing my attention to myself and state of being, inadvertently cultivated a self-consciousness in me about my body, my appearance, my weight, my health, what I eat, that’s been dysfunctional since childhood.  I can’t lose the midsection weight, I rebel against diet plans because she’s been telling me what to eat and not to eat and “oh, you’re eating too much! You’re going to get fat!” and who is she to tell me those things? Don’t tell me what I can’t do. I don’t approach dating with as much confidence as I have in the past because I don’t feel attractive, I don’t feel ready, I don’t feel complete or acceptable as I am physically, and getting divorced certainly didn’t help…..or so the stories go.

There’s so many of these that it becomes like counting sand.  It gets paralyzing, not in the devastating way that a crisis does, but more a quiet feeling, that of just staring at the bedroom ceiling in the mid-afternoon listening to instrumental music and being present to the existence of the machine-mind and its programming.  Just watching it whirr and click and buzz and feeling apart from it at the same time that it is, in fact, also me.

I was warned that this kind of bubbling up of insights and rackets and origin stories would happen as a result of the Forum, no less than by people I know who I look up to, who became great mentors in large part thanks to the Forum.  I have a business to continue building, a novel to write, a body to exercise and nourish properly, and these require effort, the kind of motivation that comes when somehow you’re present and yet also absent the awareness of the whirring, clicking, and buzzing of the constructed self.

But I don’t want to do anything.  I barely want to be here.  I feel that I’m waiting for the new start that’s slated for Monday to do everything else, because Monday is a new routine in a new place at a new time.  The more I tie two or three new beginnings into one single one, the more likely all of them will meet with success and consistency.  Or so the story goes.

I think I will need a weekend away somewhere soon, just leaving southern Ontario altogether.  That will solve this malaise.  Or so the story goes – this doesn’t stop, you see, the awareness of the program, that I am still hooked up to the Matrix.

There’s a part of Landmark’s experiential teaching called “Already/Always Listening” about the loudness of one’s mind, the judgements, the assessments, the analysis, the fears of looking bad and the indulgence of a sea of outsider opinions that all keep us from being present to possibility.  I don’t know how to turn it down now.  I did then. It was so easy in the room, and so hard when it’s just me here.  Online contact doesn’t help.  Phone calls don’t help.  I need to be in that room again, or in an otherwise safe space with others who have been where I’ve been.  Or so I tell myself now: a new story being perceived and created simultaneously.

ImageWhat can I create for myself?  What new realm can I live in, a state of being that’s independent of past, but that’s also a future being lived right now?  What possibility do I choose to create right now, in this state of awareness?  Right now, simply living in possibility, being here in this state, is enough….but it means I’m not *doing* anything.  I’m allowing the machine-mind to continue its programming while I watch, allow it to drive me to work, to take me through the motions of tasks, to give the people I love the impression of increase when I speak with them, to work as a professional, to say the right things and do the right things that get me the results I want in the moment (my strong suits, another kind of program)…..but with some residual guilt, what feels in this infinite star space like a distant echo from a tiny, far away corner of the ultra deep field, telling me “you need to get your business moving”.  Or “Overlife isn’t gonna write itself”.  Or “Convergence isn’t going to sell itself”.

But then, this, too, is the voice, isn’t it?

This blog has helped, this little exercise in practical madness. I may be writing more of these in the future.  It’s entirely possible, and it’s from possibility that we can transform ourselves and the world, or at the very least, time spent in an empty office on the nightshift, alone under the cold winter stars.

Winter Weekend Stroll

I always write with an agenda, I’ve noticed. An update, an opinion or three, or observations. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written just for writing, so while I will be sharing this entry, be forewarned: it may not be that exciting to you. Of course, that’s not the point in any case. This is my brain out on a winter weekend stroll.

Outside, the leading edges of the next deep freeze, like pale finger tips, start to curl around brick houses, parked cars, and branches that remain from the pre-Christmas ice storm. Inside, I wait for bedsheets to finish their spin cycle, the lingering after-taste of Doritos and orange juice still souring on my tongue as I darken my screen, one pixel-cluster at a time. Songza serenades me with quiet indie melodies that feel like they were either conceived on days like these, or for them.

It’s warm here at my computer, but make no mistake: I am out on a stroll.

I left my store at the end of December, for other work related reasons that I’m tired of getting into, plus that would be re-telling of the kind I’ve tended towards and want to avoid here. My point in saying so now is so you’ll understand that it’s an open weekend. All my weekends have been open this New Year. and yet how quickly they get filled up with something.

Inauthenticity occupies my mind space of late, as do authenticity, being (or conceptions of it), the ways I treat those closest to me, the ways in which I excel without fail, my machine nature and my existence beyond it. A new language of description built from ordinary English, two dimensional words that only find realization in three dimensional experience: a holographic language of transformation and emptiness in equal measures. Something I’ll have to return to later on, when I feel more like sermonizing.

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My great intentions fell apart not that long ago, or rather, the stories I had about them before did. They fell during the Great Paradigm Shift that happened about a week ago, in the city not far from here that serves as the archetype of all cities in my subconscious, and has since I was younger, riding with my parents out of tiny seats in old cars at night. A time when I had no conception of buildings, but could perceive multitudes of lights and darkness whirling past me like stars in a vortex, our spaceship/station wagon hurtling through it at highway speeds that seemed infinitely fast to the eyes of an infant.

That city, the city’s spirit that speaks to me more than others, that aims to seduce me but never gets me more than as a tourist, or a temporary bedfellow; it was a witness to transformation, to transformations, only days ago.

Millions of people, all alone in a neon-lit night. Just another day for so many, but not for all of us.

From time to time since, I lie back during unprecedented idle time and stare up and simply “be” in the place of possibility, and see that visions are declared from the place of authenticity and integrity need no building or “rebuilding” . I am all possibilities, and from that place, I choose to be extraordinary, affluent, influential, and compassionate. I choose the possibility of being loved, that the One will find her way to me based on my being authentic. I choose the possibility that money and cars and condos and success will, in turn, fill the clearings that I’ve made for them. I see a future that I want and live into that, knowing that now is the only time for action and that future and past, to invoke David Mitchell, are conventions, like all boundaries. Now is the only moment.

….and I’ve lost it. Wandered a bit too far, reached the edge of the development, reached the ever-retreating line between houses and wheat fields (the houses keep pushing them back). This has been a fun walk, warmer and comfortable despite the frost, and now it’s time to turn my back to the snow-covered wilderness, the untouched snow plateau that betrays only the smallest hints of animal tracks, white nothingness vanishing into the roots of evergreen trees that seem closer than they are actually far.

Time to turn around, placing one foot into the boot tracks the other foot had made not all that long ago to get here, and wander back through the flakes and flurries along the way I came, to get back to the start, to get back home.

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Life Aikido and Other Lessons From 2013.

profile pic staring2013.

An absurd, difficult year in many respects. I lost my maternal grandmother, eleven years after her husband, my grandfather, passed away just as suddenly. I went back to full time work in logistics and had a stressful first few months adapting to the rigours and pressures of the role. I went through many personal and professional challenges that have seen many of the goals I’d set a year ago go unfulfilled. There is a lot that I am sorely missing from my life as these last hours of 2013 elapse, second-by-second.

What was it all for? That’s where the absurdity is: I have no clue. There may be no inherent meaning, and so I’m free to assign it whatever meaning I choose. As with anything, not all of us can see the long-term consequences of the choices we make.

Apple founder Steve Jobs audited calligraphy classes at Reed College during his last few months as a student there just because he liked it. It would take nearly a decade before they found practical expression in the word processing technology of the Macintosh and, by extension, the entire domain of home computing.

I’d like to think that we don’t think as much as we should in long counts. If we did, maybe we’d end up finding more meaning in the little things that we do, the itty-bitty little seeds that we plant that sometimes blossom into entire forests.

ImageOn the other hand, I end the year tougher, braver, more ambitious and even more inspired than when I started it, if a little bit sharper around the edges. I reconnected with family, brought my writing to the public in a huge way requiring guts I didn’t think I had a year ago.  I’m still building on that while taking everything to an exciting new direction: the opening up of my own publishing company in 2014.  I’ve connected with amazing game-changers in the arts and find myself not very different from them.

I’ve achieved traction this year, and traction is huge.

What lessons did I come away with from 2013?

Wait me out. This is a quick FYI for my friends and mentors who find themselves frustrated by my stubbornness at times to accept alternate views: give me a year. I find myself now seeking the very goals and objectives, entertaining the same ideas now, that I’d rejected a year ago. I don’t know why it works that way with me, but I guess I prefer to test things out myself. It’s nothing personal. In fact, my mom’s learned this fact about me, so even though she knows I’m arguing with her now about a professional or creative direction she wants me to take, she also knows that all she has to do is wait. Just the same, if you’ve got an idea or teaching that I’m resisting, just give me some time to come around.

ImageBoundaries are everything. We’re so used to people talking about freedom that we forget that boundaries are a key part of that experience. Revolutions and declarations of independence are all about re-defining boundaries that were set for us, but they’re never about eliminating the boundaries altogether, nor do they have to be as dramatic. In the day to day, it’s the boundaries we set for ourselves at our jobs, in our friendships, for our own projects, that empower or disable us, or that act as governors over our growth rate. If you’re naturally timid, you may have acquired the idea a long time ago that worst-case scenarios will always transpire if you ever set your own boundary, especially with difficult people and situations: loss of friendship, loss of jobs, even loss of physical security, loss of life. Most of the time, though, that doesn’t happen, and any hard feelings from your peers are temporary. Practice saying “no” when it serves you, and you’ll see that the sky doesn’t fall. Setting boundaries has been the single most important talent I’ve developed in 2013.

ImageBe comfortable flying solo. I spent more time alone this year on my free time than anytime in my whole adult life. I explored cities and tourist sites in my area alone. I went to restaurants I wanted to try alone. I went to a lot of events on my own. A lot of people didn’t get it, I pissed off more than a couple of them because of it, but a few of them eventually figured it out, and though I’m starting to reconnect socially with the friends I have missed, I still can’t help it: I just feel stronger in my own skin doing my own thing. As you get to know people, you start to notice that the clear-cut definitions of “introvert” and “extrovert” are anything but: as individuals, we all resist typology to some degree, and social scientific categorizations find themselves checked by the reality of the personalities of the subjects they presume to put into convenient boxes.

That being said, it also means that people can be “mostly” a thing, and I’m still mostly introverted. I will screen calls and texts, not because I’m trying to be an asshole, but because I’m not feeling the need to socialize at that moment, but it’s in that moment. I may be in a more sociable headspace tomorrow, which may not be convenient for the schedules of people looking to hang out, but is what it is. Looking at the long count of things, I’m overall just happy going about my own business (which, by the by, really helps this whole writing thing very much so!), and it means when I do reconnect, I’ll be much better company than I otherwise would be. And, of course, it ties into the boundary thing.

Practice “life aikido”. (Or jujitsu, I always get those two confused). On more than a few topics, we’re conditioned to think “either-or”. In the Bradley Cooper movie “Limitless”, his character Eddie, blocked on a book he’s writing on a contract, faces the choice of sticking it out on his own or losing his advance and going to work full time for his dad’s hardware store. Really, though, why can’t you have both? The paradox I found from working full time and part time was that my writing productivity skyrocketed: I produced more words in 2013 than during all my time in 2012 working only part time. Turns out I have to make the time now: otherwise I’ll just lollygag around.

Full Time work for someone else puts a premium on the time you have for your dream. Instead of “either,or”, try “and,with”. The idea of “either,or” is often a lazy mental convenience that saves you from looking out for more than one option. Prioritize your bigger goal and then make the things you “have to do” serve that end. Do your best to turn every loss, every step backwards, every defeat, into a victory by harnessing the energy of all opposing forces in your favour.

ImageFind out what you are outside of what you do. Go to any party where you’re meeting new people, and the default follow-up question to the icebreaker introduction is often “so, what do you do?” It’s convenient, of course – again, helps us slot this new person into a box of understanding – but it’s almost never accurate, or rather, it’s never complete. Each person is immeasurably worth more than just their job, but it’s not terribly convenient, from a wine-and-cheese standpoint, to ask someone you just met “what do you believe?” or “what do you represent?”.

Eventually, if the conversation goes well, you’ll get to that point, but until then, it’s just good to keep in mind that the value of a human being isn’t necessarily based on professional action and outcome, not even religious or political belief, but on what they add to life. Most importantly, though, it’s to learn to recognize in yourself that YOUR value is far more than than what you do.

What do you add to life? What would you like to add? And what’s stopping you?

What would I like to add to life in 2014? I want to continue to leave everyone I meet with the impression of increase. I want to empower as many people as I can, to wake them up to bigger realities, and in the process awaken myself to larger possibilities. I want to continue to explore things on my own when it empowers me to do so. I want to take one trip somewhere outside the country (I’m thinking New York right now, though that can change any minute).

And I want to continue writing, continue creating, and making the most of life, and contribute to building the next greatest versions of everyone I love, and thus myself. Better than any resolution or set of goals, that, I feel, is what I’d like to do during the next twelve months.

Happy New Year, everyone. May it be grand.

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W.I.P.

ImageI owe an explanation, I think, to a lot of my friends who I haven’t seen for a long time now. 

Much of that in recent weeks was personal: my grandmother passed away in October, and I was (and am) there with family, as can be understood.  Before that, though, I was (and still am) working a lot, both at my jobs and my writing.  I had an author event at the start of November in Etobicoke, the last of the year, selling many more copies of my novel “Convergence”. Now that we’re into the Christmas shopping season, my weekends largely find me at my bookstore while the weekdays continue to see me following a steady routine of day work at the office, then gym, then more writing before heading home in the early dark for a very early rest.

I am affected by the darkness of this time of year, and after all that I do, my energy levels usually bottom out about 9:30 or 10:00pm. I’m too tired to go hang out much of the time, especially since the bulk of my friends are an hour away, but even if that wasn’t the case, I’m finding myself looking forward to my alone time at the end of the day. It will likely be January before I find myself with a free weekend again. I’m not sure what that will look like.

I’m also not sure what’s happened and what is still happening to me in 2013.  This year has been a challenging one, but I find myself toughening up and growing, just not in the ways I predicted for myself.  I’m gaining traction on one or two of the bigger goals that I set for myself and I now have the confidence to get them done: you wouldn’t have seen me do book events in 2012 the way that I’ve done this year: the only reason I haven’t scheduled more is mostly due to timing, available money, and energy levels.  I’ve been able to accomplish much of this by sacrificing the bulk of my social life as well as other ambitions that weren’t in alignment with these goals, like moving out or dating.

ImageMore than that, for the longest time, I’ve felt this urge to advance in my life beyond the places I’ve known, to new possibilities. Unfortunately, moving beyond the places I’ve known has tended to include not seeing the people who reside in those places. I can see how this can be unfair to them, given their loyalty and friendship with me, but I find there’s….well, I’m not sure how to describe it in one or two easily-consumable sentences.  Saying that “we’re just not in the same place” or that “I’m just doing me” doesn’t completely cover it, though those two are true.

The closest I can find to describe what it is I’m trying to do comes from a Bob Proctor motivational session I saw on YouTube before it was removed on copyright grounds.  In it, Bob was talking about the people that you have in your life – friends and family alike – who you attract and keep in your life based on whatever groove or vibe you’re in at the time.  Everything’s fine and dandy as long as you do as they do, stay on their wavelength, show up the way they expect you to.

The trouble starts when you decide that you want to do something more, evolve beyond what you are.  Maybe you decide to become a writer, or travel to Peru, or go back to school, invent some new device, perform comedy, whatever. That’s when they try to stop you. They may not completely realize they’re doing it, though the few jabs and criticisms here and there hint at an underlying motive to keep you in your place.  On the other hand, they may flat out tell you that you’re crazy, that your goal is dumb, and you should just accept things “the way they are” and keep showing up to the same bar every Friday, or have the same conversation about the same dysfunctional stuff every day, or otherwise just give up on whatever glimpse you’ve had of a better life beyond the routine.

If you try to deviate from that, the people you call friends and family, if they are not as sold on your greater vision as you are, will project their own limitations on you to keep you in place, even if they don’t realize it, but especially if they do.  And for people like me who have a tendency to overvalue what other people think of us, the littlest critique from someone I care about can throw me off for days.

I’ve written about this before, and Bob Proctor says it best.  “If you hook these people up to a lie detector and really wring the truth out of them, they’ll say that they want you to win, but they don’t want you to leave.  Why?  Because they’ll have to adapt to your absence. They don’t want to do that. They want you to win, but they don’t want you to leave, and you can’t win if you don’t leave.”

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I think this applies more to my Phidelt friends than most of the others, simply because they’re among the close friends who’ve known me the longest. How do you explain to people who are your “brothers for life” that you want to get some psychological distance from that whole older chapter of your life towards something new?  More to the point, how do you tell people that “it’s not you, it’s me” without making them think it’s really them (and pissing them off in the process)?  I guess I’ll have to give it a shot. I owe them at least that much.

When I was an undergrad, I would look at a lot of the older alumni of my chapter who were then in their thirties and forties, many of whom had wives and kids and thriving careers, and get a little annoyed at them for not keeping in touch with the students who were preserving the chapter they once helped to build. I vowed at the time that I wouldn’t be one of those distant guys who would come down from their ivory towers of “adulthood” only once a year to our Founder’s Day anniversary and then never see them until the following year.  I’d be in touch, always available, always willing to help or guide or lend my knowledge and advice to the younglings.

The trouble is, though, as I mark a month and two weeks of being 33 years old, I’m starting to understand why these guys were distant, not simply because of wives and kids and thriving careers (of which I barely have one going), but because it makes no sense to resist the passage of time and tide.  The older alumni had goals, greater versions of themselves they were working to manifest into their lives, whether or not they thought of it in those terms.  Time doesn’t wait for you: you have to move with it, have to move on to the next chapter.  I am building and gaining real traction towards manifesting great things in my life, and I have no time to spend lingering in the past.  You can’t win if you don’t leave.

Sadly, this means that if you are in that stage of life that I’m leaving behind for whatever reason, we’re not going to see much of each other, not because of who you are, but simply because of where you are relative to where I want to go.

ImageThis is, of course, one of the objectives of Phi Delta Theta as an organization: to create self-actualized men who go out into the world and leave it better than how they found it.  I browse the famous alumni on our Fraternity’s home page and I notice one thing in common: with few exceptions, if you never heard of Phi Delta Theta, you had heard of these men, which says to me they went on to make achievements outside the organization. They had to leave in order to come back with pride, to take what they had learned from the experience and then grow out from it, even if it meant growing out of it.

Lame? Maybe.  True for myself?  Definitely.  Am I going to change that just to satisfy someone else feeling a bad way about my doing me?  Not likely. Do I care if they’re pissed?  Well, of course, but I can’t betray myself in the process of pleasing anyone else.

But is our friendship still intact even though I’m gone a lot of the time?  Absolutely, unequivocally, yes, for my part, anyway.

I’m still just as connected with the brother who brought me into the Fraternity who’s now a teacher and who I only see once a year at his Canada Day camp-out as I am the day we became friends over pool and politics back in 2000..

I’m still just as connected with the brother who shared a pledge class with me, being my best friend for most of my twenties and early thirties, even though he himself hastened a departure from daily contact with me for almost two years now, carving out a new identity for himself beyond that time of his life much the same way I am doing now for myself.

I am connected to the others who have recently gotten married, gotten their houses, and are living the successful suburban dream. There are more than a few of you, and some of you are even new daddies. I haven’t seen you in a while, either.

And I remain connected to those who are about to or have graduated, having gotten their first “big boy” careers and who are now finding out new things about life, their goals and dreams, and the wonders they will accomplish as they enter this scary time called “adulthood”.

This also applies to my other non-Phidelt friends, the ones who I have worked with at various jobs; played sports with almost three years ago; friends who motivated me starting back in 2012 to make me the best version of myself so far, who showed me what was possible; and my compatriots in the arts and media who are also creating masterful things and unlocking major achievements in their own fields.

Absence doesn’t equal disconnection, even if it feels like it in the short term. Absence, in fact, is sometimes necessary to create the next greatest version of yourself outside of the expectations and unconsciously-imposed limitations of the people with whom you share a history, who may be otherwise used to you showing up in a way that you’ve now outgrown for yourself.

enterprise riverside shipyard

So yeah, I’m doing me for now.  I’m not in the same place as many of the people I used to hang out with on the regular.  But we are still connected, always connected, and this is my chance to do something amazing during this time of my life.  This is work that’s best done alone, so I can focus, so I can strengthen a fragile vision that’s not yet ready to stand up to even casual critique and scrutiny from the outside, and so that I do not become stuck in another one of life’s ruts, as tends to happen to me.

This recluse phase could go on for another few months.  Then again, it could end within days.  I don’t know, I’ve never done anything like what I’m envisioning right now. This isn’t an experience that’s guided by my reason and planning, but by intuition, gut feeling. A work in progress. Right now, it feels right to stay the course, and for those of you wondering why I’ve been so absent, this is my answer to you.

I hope you’re all doing well, and know that even if we’re not seeing each other or talking in person over a pint or two, I am rooting for each of you, for all of you, to be, do, and have the best of life in your lives.  That never stopped.

Anyway, back to work…

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Butterfly Wings, Part II

morpheustheblogger“FREE YOUR MIND”

When it comes to stories that talk about questioning one’s reality, “The Matrix” may not be the best example, but it’s one of my favorite.  I remember watching it back when it first came out on DVD and feeling a little physically sick to my stomach after the scene in which Morpheus reveals to Neo the true nature of the world, and what the Matrix really was. As wake-up calls go, that is probably the biggest bucket of ice water anyone has ever imagined.

Still questioning my own reality during this minor breakdown/breakthrough, I re-watched “The Matrix”.  In fact, I re-watched the whole trilogy and “The Animatrix” (all of which are highly underappreciated, in my highly subjective opinion), and it really occurred to me to explore our own “system” a bit more closely.  Of course, with my life continuing to be the lazy-busy epiphenomenon that it is, I didn’t hit the university bookstacks or interview any particular experts in the field.  Instead, I went to Netflix.

Netflix has an entire documentary sub-section with some pretty interesting stuff, from Michael Moore to TED talks.  I watched the first one, “I AM” by director Tom Shadyac, which explored the true nature of human beings.  I took it in, liked it, gave it 4 out of 5 stars, feeling pretty good.

Then I watched “Zeitgeist”, and for a little while there, the metaphorical shit hit the fan.

Here, I thought, was my Morpheus moment.  The three-part structure used by director Peter Joseph, linking religious hegemony, 9/11 conspiracy theory, and critiques of the global financial system, was something new: I’d read about each of these topics on their own, but I’d never seen them linked.

Of course, even a cursory fact-check of the arguments that Joseph cites in the film is enough for me to advise any new viewer of “Zeitgeist” to bring along a few grains of salt to accompany their intellectual digestion.

However, the shift in consciousness I’d achieved from watching it was what mattered to me more than the film’s factual accuracy.  For days afterwards, I no longer took anything I saw for granted.  In fact, one of the best exercises in opening your mind that I can suggest is to watch “Zeitgeist”, then make a run to Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon.  You won’t look at it the same way: more than just banal, it’s downright tragic, the way we’ve allowed ourselves to become.

The hidden power systems, deliberate inequalities, and subtle control mechanisms that I’d learned to ignore through years of “positive thinking” have all re-surfaced in my awareness.  It’s no longer enough to simply pursue selfish goals for their own sake.  After all, another modern-day use of the term “solipsism” is as a synonym for pure self-absorption.

There is a world out there, I am part of it, and I have a choice, as you do, to apply my talents towards improving it, leaving it as is, or making it worse.  I don’t want to make it worse, and doing nothing will precisely achieve the status quo.  How could I go about adding to the world?

“THE IMPRESSION OF INCREASE”

Sometime during all of this, my 33rd birthday rolled around.  The number was insignificant enough, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it.  I spent most of the days before and the day itself sulking, hiding from it as much as I could.  Facebook, of course, played a factor as I watched the birthday greetings come in from my really awesome friends, most of whom having no idea that I was as “blah” towards the day as anyone could imagine.

Since that conversation, I’d largely stayed off of Facebook, not feeling comfortable exposing my thoughts and feelings to debate, but not having too many people close enough with me to know when I just wanted to be listened to rather than debated with. Even then, I didn’t know what to say.

The cause of these birthday blues, in hindsight, was that I wasn’t all that much better off in 2013 than I was this time in 2012, though there were some improvements.  There were also a lot of things that hadn’t happened: my book didn’t take off as I’d hoped it would from our book launch back in February; I was still living at home, hadn’t auditioned, hadn’t made that much more of a dent in my manuscript and had even re-boot the whole project twice.

All in all, I didn’t feel that I had advanced, even though evidence existed to the contrary.  Even then, the goals I had set until that point – to make $250,000 from my writing, to move out, get my M1 license, get a dog, travel, among others – didn’t inspire me as they used to, because they were all so meaningless if just for me. What was I doing to contribute?

Then, later that night, among the Facebook birthday wishes, I received a lovely one from my friend that saved my birthday and helped me along the next step along this breakdown-breakthrough.  We were relatively new friends, having met for coffee conversations several times in the spring before she relocated to the U.S.  She wrote me that she had an uncanny knack for attention to mannerisms and voice in the people that she had met, and that unbeknownst to me, she and I had had several “conversations” in her mind since her departure, such was the impact that our meetups and chats had had on her.  I’d had no idea, and I was, and am, very grateful that I had touched her life that way.

That is what I want more than anything: to impact as many lives as I could, in person or at a distance, and leave people feeling better about life, and more empowered than when we met.

Today, before I started writing this, I re-watched “I AM”.  This time, I damn near got teary-eyed, because it touched on that same idea: that we are more connected than we believe, both to the natural world and each other, and helping others is a form of species survival.  We help others to help ourselves, because at a certain level, we are one.  The flipside of solipsism, then, but now informed with the intellect.  I upgraded my rating to five stars out of five.

Empower others, improve the world. This is, of course, the goal of most coaching and therapy, but in this case, it’s far more authentic.  This is my form of service, to “leave everyone with the impression of increase” (one of the positive takeaways from my last coaching program).  It’s not something I want to make money from, because I can sustain my finances through other means and my return for the time is the knowledge that I’ve left my mark on the world in the form of another person’s greater happiness.  That seems to me a far more meaningful and, frankly, more influential legacy to leave the world than a shit ton of money, big houses, and some kind of celebrity status.

So, what’s next?

I’m still not completely out of the woods on this latest bit of inquiry, but my goals have been refreshed.  I circle back to that idea of a truly holistic personal growth philosophy that values the intellect as much as the body and spirit.  Applying rational thinking and analytical discourse towards the process of self-growth is as classically Western as you can get, and it’s also the slowest way to reach bliss, because you’ve got to make sure the connections are all logical before you can proceed.  Yet to my mind, it’s necessary to think hard and think often about what it is that you’re doing, because some part of you will always hold back, will always feel incomplete for being ignored in favour of the flesh and the esoteric.

Beyond that, there is an awareness that everyone can reach via these means and others that we are much stronger than we think we are, that what fulfills us may in fact be far simpler and far less materialistic than mansions and millionaire parties, or even suburban housing and condos.  If the end result is greater joy in our daily lives, we may be surprised to find that the key is to want fewer things and to be more to other people, to finally figure out what we can really be happy with, and just get that. I still don’t know what that is for me, but the happy thought I now have in my head is that it may be far less ambitious, and thus far more attainable, than what I thought before.

Assuming, of course, that it exists independently of my own thinking. And that you do, dear Reader, for that matter.

Somnio, ergo sum?

(Just kidding).

(*This is the nutshell edition of solipsism.  For the more detailed explanation, Google the term yourself. I’d explain it further, but to quote another great thinker of our time, Sweet Brown, “ain’t nobody got time for that”).

Butterfly Wings, Part 1

mecreepyIt all started with a Facebook post I had about a month ago.

The simple status update may as well have had butterfly wings, for all of the unexpected effects it has had, weeks later.

I wanted to know why it was that so many people were inclined to debate other people’s individual preferences when it came to arts and entertainment with the same rigor as intervening in another country’s civil war or a woman’s right to choose. So, I asked the question to Facebook.  At one point in the discussion, someone brought up the word “solipsism”, and at this point, I will take this word out of the context of the original conversation, because at that point, *I* left the original conversation for some other realm altogether.

BITING YOUR TAIL

I first learned about solipsism in my first year Problems in Philosophy class at McMaster, nearly fourteen years ago.  The professor taught us the term within the context of French philosopher René Descartes’ famous statement cogito, ergo sum (“I think; therefore, I am”).

It’s the idea that everything in one’s existence is subject to doubt, starting with the external world at large (which you perceive through your five senses, which tend to trick you from time to time) continuing with your body (again, something you sense physically) and ending with your own internal belief systems (which may be rooted in irrational thought and illogic).  All that you’re left with at the end that you know to be true is that you’re thinking, because when you try to doubt your own thinking, you find that “doubting” is, in itself, a thought.*

What, then, to make of everyone and everything in the “outside” world?

My return to solipsism at this particular time in my personal development triggered what amounted to a minor breakdown, which usually precedes a breakthrough. Since my first exposure to the idea in 1999, I’d spent many of the years since immersed in the personal growth industry.  As the three or so regular readers of this blog are aware, I’ve spent a lot of word space in the handful of entries in 2013 picking apart the whole industry.

There was just something wrong with it that ran deeper than just the overall materialistic, pseudo-scientific flakiness of the whole movement, something I couldn’t identify. In “solipsism”, I had found the word I’d been looking for to describe the problem: it all was just, as one person put it on the group, a “great big circle jerk”.  It was like that mythical Nordic serpent that Vikings believed circled the world, biting its own tail.

The problems are as follows:

- Positive thought at the exclusion of all others: even when you’re authentically not feeling good, you’re supposed to transition yourself out of it like *that*.  This, of course, creates more negativity in the form of guilt, the New Age version of how old Catholic nuns would make disbelievers feel, because you know you’re supposed to feel happy, and thus feel bad for not being happy.  Bad coaches will advise you, in some way shape or form, to fake it until it becomes real, but that tends to create psychological damage via suppression.

- Willful ignorance of the plight of world events because, well, they’re usually negative, and we don’t want to contaminate our vibe. Bad coaches and New Age teachers who advocate practice of the Law of Attraction will tell you to ignore the news, ignore social issues, ignore political controversies, etc., because your attention to them will add to them, and detract from your own vibration.

Ignoring troubled people and situations because they’ll cramp your thoughts on wealth and positivity is bad citizenship at best, and just plain heartless its most basic.  How so-called “spiritual” teachers who financially profit from their wisdom can get away with advocating apathy towards suffering is among the worse hypocrisies of the self-help movement.

- If you’re not getting the results you want, you’re in the wrong, not the system of thought.  This is the issue I personally had with my most recent program.  I wasn’t allowed to deviate from the school of thought I was studying, and by the time I understood it all, I saw the big picture for all of its flaws and all of its advantages.

Fact is, there are many “successful” people in the world who have broken nearly all of the “rules” of the system in question and lived pretty good lives afterwards.  My guess is, there are many more “unsuccessful” people who buy into coaching programs such as these and then get nothing, but somehow, the idea isn’t to improve the methodology, but fault the student, which is unscientific to say the least.

In all three cases, the common factor was the same: there is no acknowledgement of the reality outside certain boundaries of most personal growth systems.  In fact, there is no “outside”.  And if we are to apply rational thought to these boundaries, the same systems of thinking that have produced all the scientific and social breakthroughs that have led to the wholesale improvement of living standards on the planet to date, we are faulted for “thinking too much”, and simply not just “being” with it.

That shit doesn’t fly with me, because all of what I’ve just said notwithstanding, I do believe in holistic evolution and growth. I support the idea of personal growth and self-help, owe my current awareness and make-up to the good mentors and coaches I’ve had.  I believe in developing and evolving the whole person….but in all of those cases that “whole” also includes my intellect.  To suppress the mind while advancing the body and spirit is to commit a crime against oneself just as equal as suppressing the spirit for bodily and intellectual acquisition, because they’re a three-in-one package deal.

That’s what the re-introduction of the term “solipsism” did for me in the beginning of this breakdown/breakthrough, but it didn’t stop there, because an upgrade to society’s fragmented self-improvement program was only the beginning….

How I Spent My Summer (Non) Vacation

I feel the best alternate title for this could easily be “My Big Fat Introverted Summer”

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Today was Labour Day, the unofficial end of summertime, at least as far as long weekends go.  Next one coming up for those of us here in Greater Toronto is Thanksgiving in October.  Of course, the season itself still has three weeks of official life to it, and even then, as recently as two years ago, we’ve had temperatures in the thirties well into Turkey Day weekend.

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Around this time of year, you hear people say things like “Oh man, where did the summer go?” or “it went by way too fast”.  But I dunno, this summer went by at a pretty normal pace.  I’m grateful for my choice to focus on the Now as often as possible, since it has an odd effect afterwards: it pegs the moment in your memory like a milestone in time.

Afterwards, you think back to, say, when you went camping for Canada Day, or spent the evening on the patio with visiting family members from Trinidad, and it seems not only in its right place, but somehow even further back in time than it actually was.  Other people lament that it seemed like just yesterday: for you, it seems more like years.

I don’t speak of a summer “vacation” because I had the opposite: I went back to full time working in early May.  The experience has been financially rewarding, stressful, has forced me to face some aspects about myself that I’ve shied away from, such as dealing with workplace bullying, money anxiety, setting boundaries, and keeping myself in as much integrity as the practical reality of working for someone else will allow.  For both of my jobs, I intend to stay until they don’t want me any more, but it has meant that this summer was mostly spent at work.  I guess that’s how you know you’re a grown-up, or at least a mediocre one.

A few years ago, while on a patio night out with friends, I spoke with this couple sitting at the table next to us who ran their own business, but shut it down every May 24 weekend until Labour Day, relying on what they saved during the colder months of the year to enjoy the hotter ones.  That’s the model I’d like to adopt, I think, though my Ideal Day would still see me doing what I love all times of the year.

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert at her inaugural tour for her new fiction novel “The Signature of All Things” (the advance copy of which I’m thoroughly enjoying).  At the event, she said something that I’m hoping will be the subject of a “Chatelaine” magazine article about the writing process.  Liz hasn’t written in a year, and while she acknowledged at the time that this is admittedly a luxury that she can afford thanks to the immense financial success of “Eat, Pray, Love”, she did say that there is a season to everything. There’s a time to write, a time to rest, a time to promote (as she is doing now with “Signature”), and it’s all right to take a break.  This, oddly enough, is the opposite of what I had long taken from Liz’s famous TED talk in which she talks about “showing up” every day to do your job.

Context matters, of course, and I’m sure Liz would have clarified for me had I thought to ask at the time, but the way I reconcile those two apparently conflicting statements is this: you can avoid showing up to the fields in winter and still be considered a farmer, but come the spring thaw, you need to be out there all the time doing what you do best.  Same thing goes for writing; promote and relax in those seasons when they’re here, but when writing returns, show up.

This summer was not quite a fallow time, writing-wise, for myself: I put more words on paper for my manuscript “Overlife” , finally began the reboot of my very first book, “The Quarter Life Opportunity”, and I held the first signing events for “Convergence”.

These past couple of weeks also saw the advent of  Wordslinger Press, the natural business outgrowth of my little writer’s guild, still largely in the conceptual stages, but beginning start-up operations soon.  I still journal, handwritten and private.  And, of course, I have blogged, though only twice from what I can tell in the last three months.
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But I did do as much as I could, spent a lot of time in Toronto, didn’t go to Hamilton more than twice or three times, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t have a single pub night with my friends.  Most of my time was with my immediate and extended families: this year, we had a lot of relatives from my Mom’s side come up from Trinidad and Florida, including a few who had never been here before.  Their visits were staggered, so as one set of visitors finished their trip and went back, another would show up within a week.  House parties, trips to the city, to picnics in conservation areas out of town: these all took up a lot of my free time, but it was very much worth it to meet my kin and make them feel at home.

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Other than that, I was, as the kids say, “doing me” for the most part, just going places solo, doing my best to maintain my centre in between work and family commitments.

I stopped dating, something I never expected I would do, since summertime gives you a lot of romantic opportunities (i.e. trips to the beach, patio dinners, night walks, etc..) that the rest of the year doesn’t usually offer.  I dunno, I suppose I felt content, part of this latest phase of introversion.

Out of this romantic hiatus has emerged one rule, though, that’s replaced most of the other superficial ones, the only “rule” that should ever be in place when you’re out to get great things in life: only pursue those who are naturally going the same way you are.  Interpret that as you may, but I know what it means for me: in the natural course of accomplishing the goals that I’m working towards, I will meet the right woman for me.  I don’t mind waiting until that day because, well, I have a lot to do in the meantime.

Anyway, this entry’s become more of an information dump than I anticipated it would be, so I’ll just end it soon by saying that I’m looking forward to the fall, to the continuity that the season brings now that fewer people go on vacation, host barbecues and parties, and otherwise make my attempts at setting a good productive routine fail miserably (honestly, who can resist a steak and a cold beer on a warm Saturday night?).  I’m looking forward to rebuilding a steady rhythm to my life, a rhythm that resumes tomorrow.

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