What We Need The Most, And Why

What We Need The Most, And Why

This happened only minutes ago as I begin this entry, and I want to record this for some future time when I’m in doubt about how things really work in the world.

I drove my friend Christine to work. During the drive, we talked about the nature of life, that it can’t simply be a series of failures and disappointments, that we have learned from experiences and that whatever shit we’re going through now has to lead to somewhere good. When we arrived at Starbucks, I decided to stick around to do some work.

Looking for a desk, I initially picked a spot on the long table, but my gaze was drawn to a white table in the corner where a man with a Jays cap, a woman in a blue blouse, and a younger guy with tattoos on his arms and face sat engrossed in some conversation.

Normally, I avoid seating myself in the middle of such conversations, but I just went with it.

The man in the Jays cap, Jeff, was talking about Eckhart Tolle when I sat down, and the idea of oneness, the interconnectedness of all things in the Universe, the intersections of science and physics and spirituality and abundance and all of the topics I’ve long explored in my own inquiry. Christine joined us, having arrived a half hour early for her shift, as it turned out, and we listened as we talked about work, the power of our words on reality, the catching up of science to ancient principles, of surrendering to the Universe and accepting what is and getting straight up about what we want versus what we think we should want in life.

The woman in blue, Georgina – who had only met Jeff an hour prior in response to a Craigslist ad looking for other spiritual people to speak with in the Mississauga area – added some elements of quantum physics to the mix. Adrian, the tattooed Satanist who just happened to have been sitting there when Jeff and Georgina sat down, brought up earth-bound topics of success and greatness and manifestation. Christine and I listened, for the most part, adding in a few insights here and there, but taking in what we had been drawn to hear.

Then, all at the same time, the conversation broke up. Jeff had to go home to watch the Jays game, Georgina had another errand to run, and Christine had to start her shift. Only Adrian and I remained, but we both had work to do. We all shook hands, wished each other well, and went our ways. No business cards exchanged, no follow up meetings arranged. The conversation had run its course.

To some extent, we all needed this for different reasons. For me, it was a verification of my assertion that “spiritual” people don’t all have to look the same way: we’re not all hemp-wearing, follow-your-bliss, self-employed vegans hanging out at drum circles and seminars (though if that’s your jam, more power to you!). You can be an ordinary meat-and-potatoes, 9 to 5, analytical worker ant if that’s who you are….and still meditate, still journal, still find your connection to the Divine.

And more to the point of that conversation in the car, after a few difficult weeks for yours truly, it was the latest in a few such meetings that have happened in my life when I needed them the most. Appropriate, given the meditation I’ve been doing every morning for the past month or so, directed to courtesy of Whitley and Anne Strieber: “give me what I need the most, and the wisdom to understand it”.

Says Whitley of this effective meditation: “All you need to do is go into the meditative state that I have described in so many places on this website, placing your attention on physical sensation and taking it out of thought, then ask her to give you what you need the most and the wisdom to understand it. Simply say, “give me what I need the most and the wisdom to understand it.” Place no conditions on it. Don’t be specific. The dead can see us much better than we can see ourselves.”

This was what I needed the most: the reminder that everything is connected, and the experience, as opposed to the comforting words, that I am exactly where and when I need to be, the right man, in the right place, at the right time. My current circumstances are what I am here to experience.

The Last Summer…Ever

It’s the first day of autumn in 2016, and thus no better time to write about the uncomfortable intuition that I’ve carried with me since the weather turned warmer: this past summer was the last one…ever.

Of course, the axial tilt of the planet and its stable orbit around the sun more or less guarantees that summer will go on. Obviously, I’m not speaking of the end of summer in a physical sense. I just mean that, as I was living it, the summer of 2016 felt like, and still feels like, the last one that I’ll ever experience…that any of us will experience.

Can’t be true, of course. Who ever truly believes that a time of year can be their last?  Still, the feeling has persisted, all throughout those heat waves, the cold, glistening glasses of beer on the patio, the hikes to see waterfalls and the vain attempts to see meteorites sparkle and streak through unexpectedly rainy skies.

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My mind works much the same as others who are convinced of a radical notion: it starts looking for evidence to support it in my experience, mostly unconsciously. My RAS fixated on conversations in my spiritual groups, to Whitley Strieber’s Unknown Country page that I have been following since the late 1990s, to the resurgence of “The Mandela Effect”, and, inevitably, to the likely possibilities of mental illness and cognitive distortion. Now, as daylight and nighttime share the skies as equal partners for the second of two days this year, this radical notion persists.

What I found was that I was far from the only one who felt unusual. Unfortunately for my empirical sensibilities, almost all of those sources were off in the “groovy” dimension sharing the same intellectual apartment space with chemtrail conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers. Still, it was worth exploring.

One theory, advanced by one of Strieber’s more unique contemporaries, a woman named Starfire Tor who has found a connection between solar activity and shifts in space-time, is that there have been numerous “reboots” of our timeline over the summer and that this usually happens whenever a planet-ending event, such as a nuclear war, has taken place somewhere in a planet’s future.

The Dr. Who-like “edits” to the timeline work backwards from that disastrous future to our present, where changes occur – to events, institutions, even people – to prevent the catastrophe from happening, though like Dr. Who, some events are “fixed” and cannot be altered at all. Because we’re mostly time-bound, we have no idea this is happening, but some of the more sensitive individuals – and there are more of us than I suspect we’d like to admit – still have residual awarenesses of the changes (memories that can’t exist, or inexplicable feelings of unease).

I’ve been aware of my empathic nature for a long time, have been considered “sensitive” since I was a child (and not always in a non-pejorative use of the term) and so that could be one highly-woo-woo explanation for this feeling. And given the qualities of the two presidential candidates running in the U.S election, the spectre of a future apocalypse seems more likely than it has in recent years (Starfire Tor, for one, seems to agree with this notion).

This is, of course, ignoring the climate changes that continue to accelerate (if this past summer proves to be our last, it will also be the hottest ever recorded), as well as the uncomfortable, life-ending realities that have always been around that we prefer not to think about when we’re enjoying cold drinks from our easy-chairs in the sand (asteroid strikes, incurable diseases, gamma ray bursts, etc..).

Of course, it’s also true that my own anxiety-related mental illness grew to its strongest this past summer, and all of this could simply be a form of distorted thinking on my part. The RAS – reticular activating system – will seek out supporting evidence in the environment for whatever pattern you program it with, even if that evidence proves to be bunk.

I suppose, ultimately, the question of whether or not it’s true in reality is irrelevant. What would it matter, anyway, if it was our last summer?

Really, it’s a microcosm of awareness of the overall state of life. I love the summer: I love that we get to bare our skin and not have to wear pants when we head out; that water-side communities fill with people and the smells of cooking and the melodies of street performers; that we can pass entire afternoons barefoot in the grass under a tree, reading books, journalling, or just napping. Or whatever thousand and one things that different people in the northern climes love about the warmer weather.

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The FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is strongest for me during the summer. I live in the most populous, southernmost part of Canada: there are always things to see and do when the weather turns warm, so many so that there’s no way you don’t miss out on something somewhere.

And the warm seasons, though growing longer with each year, are still so short…

As I’ve noted before, though, the notion of the multiverse means that part of me always experiences every possibility. (Of course, I’m stuck in this one timeline, though…anyway). As a microcosm of life, though, you have to wonder: if this truly was our last summer, would you be happy with how you lived it?  As a last summer, anything that you missed out on will linger on as a regret you’ll carry with you for the rest of your time, because there’s no opportunity to try again. That’s why FOMO is like a nasty weed that just keeps coming back no matter what you do to the lawn.

I don’t have a lesson for or point to this post aside from the obvious (live to the fullest, blah blah blah), and that’s fine. I’ve gotten back into self-censorship in anticipation of the inevitable disagreement of members of my sparse readership, and I’m trying to break out of that with this entry. But now that this is out of my system, I’m hoping this will go the same was as all of my “summer is ending, winter is coming” posts do, and just fall away in the breeze with all of the other dying leaves of the season now past.

And if this is my last summer, ever, if there’s some sort of life-ending disaster on the horizon that I can’t see, that none of us can see, I for one will carry a near-equal share of regrets and gratitudes, with the scales tipped ever-so-slightly in favour of gratitude.

Much like all of life, in other words: the context of a single season does not change the uncomfortable reality that it’s any one of us at any time, and that it’s always been that way.

The Guns of August

This summer feels like the Wild West.

The world occurs to me as something of a multitude of new frontiers, wonderful and horrifying in almost equal measure. Are we equipped to deal with them in a way that ensures our survival and prosperity?

I’ve loved the title “The Guns of August”, ever since I first learned of the original book by U.S. historian Barbara Tuchman. One dominant theme of the book proved to be influential for John F. Kennedy when he was confronting the Soviets on their installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962: namely, the notion that all strategies to deal with the events on the battlefields were based on the last war, and were now obsolete in the face of new technologies, different political realities, and cultural shifts. However, the field commanders and generals of both the Triple Entente and Central Powers were the last to know this fact.

The first months of World War I witnessed such deadly absurdities as bayonet and cavalry charges against machine gun nests, a phenomenon due not to negligence, but simply because the field commanders were trained to use 19th Century tactics to confront 20th Century weapons. The reality on the ground had outstripped the understanding of the leadership, whose training was designed to help them deal with a world that no longer existed. This is one of the core messages of “The Guns of August”.

When I say this summer feels like the Wild West, it’s because, from the personal to the grandest levels of being, it seems that the entire world as we have understood it is being upended, and the rules that we’ve created and were indoctrinated into to deal with it are now obsolete.

On the personal front, my relationship ended, and I was transformed (and am still transforming) into someone who would not only not make those same heartbreaking and hurtful mistakes again, but who would commit to a lover from a place of curiosity, fun, and unconditional love and appreciation. My family is making plans to leave our childhood home within the year, and it’s entirely possible that this will be the last summer in that house. And I am completing old assignments and making way for a new business vision that will be realized before the year is out.

In a rapid order, the changes in my reality are exceeding my long-established rules on how to relate to my reality, and so I find myself in the odd space of re-introducing God into my vocabulary and surrendering to divine guidance every day (more on that in a later entry).

Beyond the personal, we have worldwide preoccupation with the U.S presidential election, with two deeply flawed candidates who have millions of ordinary people worried about the direction that the U.S and the world will take come November. When one of those candidates entertains the notion of using nuclear weapons, and when he doesn’t seem to decline in the polls, you have to truly wonder if this will actually be everyone’s last summer.

If our social media and old media sources are to be believed, we are being convulsed with transformations in nearly every scale. However, can they be believed? Mark Manson writes that ignoring the sensationalist reports, we can look at actual statistics on crime, stability, abundance, and other topics and see that things are objectively getting better, and we’re just more sensitive to all that’s terrifying and outrageous, thanks to social media.

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On a more esoteric note, many spiritual figures in the New Thought movement have said this summer is very closely aligned to the 1967 Summer of Love, and is a time of true transformation. They say that deep within the headlines and the status updates and the personal, political, and global upheaval is the spiritual Armageddon that we’ve long heard about, that some of us have been waiting for. Beneath it all, light and dark are battling it out, and light is winning. You need only observe the desperate, insane tactics used by the darkness to know this for certain.

Source communicates with me and through me far more frequently these days than at any other time in the past. It tells me now that we have crossed a tipping point in the global system, and now we face the simultaneous death swoon of the old order, and the sprouting of whatever new reality is coming in the next few decades. I’m feeling this personally: on many levels, I’ve shed the caterpillar I used to be. Many others in my experience are doing the same, and the ones who are aren’t seem to be suffering from their own resistance to the inevitable.

I suspect our traditional imaginings of how it all collapses need revision: the culture won’t change in a dramatic blaze of glory, but a piece at a time, a shimmering, incremental shift like a heat mirage on the highway. And maybe each piece gets replaced, one at time, until one day, we find ourselves driving around in a civilization that’s got nothing of the original make left. That’s when we’ll re-write the book of how to deal with reality.

Anyway…the Wild West feeling – of new frontiers and unspoiled landscapes, of hidden dangers and lawless travelers and gunslingers wandering the land, governed only by their wits and their own integrity – it’s still here, in my experience as I conclude this entry. There are no paved roads, only open and closed paths, and the horizon is yours if you want it. But you have to keep your wits about you, accept uncertainty as part of the deal, let your integrity travel with your other values, and do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Lady’s Choice (and Other Modern Relationship Realities That Drive Men Crazy)

As men, we’re raised with a few basic mental programs, two of which are particularly active: never show weakness, and women exist for us.

(This is a North American heteronormative context, I might add: other cultures, countries, and regions will have their own versions of this).

Vulnerability

The call for looking strong usually causes us to condition ourselves to be invulnerable: the flipside then becomes that we make any notion of being vulnerable bad. We confuse it with weakness. Vulnerability starts to mean that we’ve left a part of ourselves uncovered, open to attack. No man can accept that.

I’m not comfortable with vulnerability, and that’s the point: it’s not supposed to be comfortable. Vulnerability is supposed to wake you up.

Vulnerability is the key to intimacy: we stand naked and exposed to our partners during sex, and we seem to have no problem with this, for the most part. Intimacy means that you should be able to stand openly, as you are, with your loved one and feel safe, and yet at the same time, exhilarated by the experience of exposure.

Most hetero men have no problem being naked with a woman. It’s the emotional exposure where we get tripped up, because we’re simply not outfitted to deal with it for the most part. We become convoluted when we put our feelings on the line, and the reality of love is that we need to put our feelings on the line. That requires vulnerability.

Entitlement to Women

The other training that we have is the notion that women were somehow made for us. We’re conditioned to treat women as prizes to be won; the helpless princess in the castle that needs rescuing; as status symbols for your prowess as a man if you can get a “high status” woman hanging off your arm. Part of the big story of success that men tell themselves as teens and twentysomethings is that we’ll someday find “The One” and she’ll be “meant for us”, and then we’ll win relationships. And so we treat the women we meet on those terms, by and large.

So it’s a source of profound discomfort for us to learn, when we do fall for someone, that it’s not entirely up to us to have a relationship with them.

Lady’s Choice 

In relationships, it’s always the lady’s choice. No other reality about dating and relationships drives men over the edge more than this one, and most of them have no idea this is what’s at play behind their insanity.

The principle of “lady’s choice” is simple: if you choose to be in a relationship with her, your choice alone is not enough to create and maintain the relationship. No matter how much you may love and desire the woman who’s captured your heart, she always has the final say on whether or not you two are or will become an item.She must consent, in all things.

For men who don’t do vulnerability or who don’t do it well, this is a most terrifying reality to fathom: that we could finally open our hearts, express our most intimate feelings to someone we perceive as “the woman of our dreams”…..and then have her turn us down. It feels like we’ve been attacked after being assured that we could let down our guards.

Such rejection, we understandably believe, would be fatal. For those men who feel unworthy, it can be enough of a deterrent to keep them from even taking the chance in the first place.

expectTIONSREality.pngUncertainty

In the film “500 Days of Summer”, the following exchange happens between the boy and girl:

Tom: I need to know that you’re not gonna wake up in the morning and feel differently.
Summer: And I can’t give you that. Nobody can.

These are simply the realest words about relationships that have ever been uttered in a movie script, far more realistic than “you complete me”. The uncomfortable truth of relationships is that they are all the results of a ongoing series of decisions by both partners to say “yes”.

On any morning, someone can wake up and choose “no”. People, men and women alike, have this happen to them all the time. Nothing is permanent. Lovers can change their minds about each other and there is not much their partners can do about it.

To the men who are in love and do choose “yes”, this can be an agonizing scenario, so what do we do? Simple: we pressure and control. This is where you see men following women down the street, men persisting with women at the bar who have already told them to leave.

There are also other men, who you may never see, refusing to enter the arena at all, believing that the only winning move in love is not to play, lest you get hurt. No one wins under controlled conditions of this sort. The uncertainty is too much to bear.

Soothing the Anxieties: Boundaries and Trust

Relationships that have conditions in the form of boundaries created and respected by both partners win, whether they last 5 weeks or 50 years. Brene Brown has the best definition of boundaries: an agreement by both partners on what’s okay and what’s not okay behaviour in the relationship. Most people don’t like to set those rules up: they run counter to the sappy romanticism of our pop culture that says “love is enough”. It is not: you need agreements. My friend/boss Cailen said it best: love is unconditional: relationships are conditional.

Within reasonable boundaries of respect and compassion, every man needs to get comfortable practicing being uncomfortable at times: that is, with practicing vulnerability, both physical and emotional. It takes knowing that it’s all right to feel what you feel and that if what you feel is sadness and heartbreak, to reach out to your partner for reassurance, and absent her presence, staying connected with your friends and family.

Finally, there’s the trust issue. Some men may read this and believe that I’m letting our girlfriends and wives off the hook. Not at all: they are responsible for themselves, their boundaries, and their actions within the relationship. We have to trust our partners to manage themselves in a responsible way, and then focus on ourselves.

This is big if you’ve ever been cheated on. There is this term called psychological “schema”, the way in which we organize the trillions of bits of information coming in at us from the outside world. When someone cheats on us, it’s easier for our brains to re-arrange the data to fit the basic premise of the schema. We distrust it when we see our partners log on: we wonder “which of these guys is she talking to? Are they hooking up behind my back?” That’s just the damaged schema at work, filtering the data to suit past experiences.

Always remember: she may talk or flirt with someone else, but she chose you. Take her at her word.

Trust means believing our partners when they say “I choose this relationship”, and trusting that they’ll choose it again tomorrow, even if you never know for sure. In a way, that little bit of uncertainty can help ensure you don’t take her for granted in the relationship. If that’s too much for you, you can ask for regular reassurances, but just know that you are both here by choice, and you have the power to choose differently.

Love Made Simple, but Not Easy

If all this sounds easy, it’s not, but it is simple. Walking this path for the last little while, I can tell you, I long for the basic certainty of knowing where I stand, one way or the other.

In the end, I would say the simplest thing is to learn to love without conditions, to love her as much as you can and in the ways that she can best receive you, and to do so in an emotionally healthy way.

To look after yourself, stay in line with your own mission or desires in life outside other human beings, and fill yourself up as much as you can to overflow and give to the lady in your life. That, I feel, is our main responsibility to our lovers, and to ourselves.

Dismantling Unworthiness

peer pressureThe first five years of my life were spent in love, abundance, and belonging. Then I started kindergarten.

I don’t remember how it started, just that the other kids began to tease me. The teasing led to outright social isolation and bullying, and without understanding the reason why, I came to a conclusion in my kid-brain that I had somehow done something to deserve it.

When my Grade 4 teacher, who had some kind of personality conflict with me, joined in the teasing a few times, it wrecked both my grades and my sense of safety. From Grades 4 to 9, I spent every recess alone and anxious. Despite having once been considered for the gifted program, my grades didn’t recover until high school. I had no confidence.

I learned at an early age that, outside my immediate blood relatives, I was unworthy of love. I would always be awkward, unattractive, and alone. I didn’t even entertain the lofty notion of having a girlfriend. Not only that, I decided that outside my immediate family, I could trust no one, especially not an authority figure like a teacher.

These two mental programs, Unworthiness and Mistrust, have been my sword and armor for over 30 years in my interactions with people, and for the last six of those years, they’ve been at their strongest.

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When I fell in love with a girl at 15 years old, asked her out at 18, married her at 26, and then, at 29, watched that relationship end in her infidelity with a close friend (whom she later married), these two programs went into overdrive. I had let a beautiful woman into my inner circle from the outside who later deceived and rejected me in favor of someone else whom I had also let in.

When it all went down in 2010, Unworthiness declared “See? I told you: no good woman will love you”.

Mistrust, always in the service of Unworthiness, raised the shields and declared “Never again. No one gets into the Green Zone without passing through the checkpoints.”

People have to earn my trust over time to get beyond my outer circle, and even when they’re in, it takes the smallest offence to my sense of safety to get me pushing them right back out again.

Since an authority figure (my Grade 4 teacher) was also part of creating Mistrust, this also means that no matter how many times you may tell me about one of my bad habits, or some shitty belief I need to release, I won’t quite believe you. I have to actually make the mistake over and over again myself until I really “get” it.

This is unfortunate, because it usually means my relationships get damaged in the process of my own empirical testing.

aberdeengardinerThe Impact of Not Doing Anything About It

None of this is new. I’ve been aware of this path I need to walk for a long time, but in my laziness and failure to take responsibility for what needs to be done, I’ve just gone about my days doing what I do, but sounding really smart and enlightened that I “know myself” so well.

But I have been hurting someone I love, thanks to actions I’ve taken rooted in these beliefs. Looking back with a critical eye, I see I have mistreated many people I’ve loved, some of them badly, turned them into caricatures of who they actually are, and then dismissing and distancing them so I can feel “safe” again.

The Ripple Effect (or, How I Hurt the People I Love)

Here’s what it looks like in action.

My friends will sometimes tease me. They’re doing it out of good-natured fun. They’re not trying to shame and distance me the way the kids at school did. I know that intellectually, but deep down, where that hurt 5 year old runs the show, it reminds me of the schoolyard. This activates Unworthiness, and I hurt.

To stop hurting, I isolate myself from my friends, the “sources” of the teasing and thus the pain.

secondloveIsolation, in turn, causes me to over-rely on one person – my girlfriend Nikki – for the sense of connection and validation I would have otherwise gotten from my friends and other loved ones that I’ve pushed away.

That over-reliance causes Nikki to rightly desire her space.

Nikki’s retreat then causes me to believe that I’m not getting my needs met.

That belief then causes me to dip into my Soulmate Superstition, wherein I then measure Nikki up against a made-up fantasy woman whose qualities no one can match.

That comparison, ultimately, puts the relationship in doubt for me, which reminds me of how the last one ended.

That reminder re-activates my Mistrust, and I push Nikki away through words and actions, hurting her in the process until I feel safe again. At that point, I reconnect and want her back. No one deserves to be jerked around in this way, especially not her.

Meanwhile, my friends stand at the sidelines, wondering where I’ve gone. No one wins.

The chain reaction ripples away from the original source to the point that you can’t recognize the original cause for what it is, but make no mistake, it’s all Unworthiness.

And in hurting them, in letting Unworthiness and Mistrust run the show, I am hurting me, and that’s not where I want to stand.

I choose to stand in connection and love. To do that, I need to confront my own sword and armor.

Dismantling Unworthiness and Standing Down Mistrust

The first step, obviously, is stopping doing those things I’ve been doing and spotting myself when I’m doing them. That’s the first, and the easiest.

Mistrust serves me sometimes. Having a sense of skepticism about the world is helpful. It keeps you from falling for scams and bullshit, keeps you safe from unscrupulous people who actually want to take advantage of you. There’s no taking apart Mistrust: it’s an instinct that serves us when conditions call for it.

But how often does that actually happen? Jim Carrey talked about the distinction between an imaginary dog that could attack you versus an actual dog that’s actually biting you: too often, I look at the world and believe it’s full of criminals, some of them disguised as lovers and best friends, as clients and bosses.

Truly, there’s nothing to fear from people who have already chosen to work, play, and/or be with me, unless they give me a clear, unambiguous reason to be afraid or mistrustful. Unless that happens, it’s best to holster Mistrust and only use it when needed.

Walking The Talk

Knowing that a hurt and sad five year old is pulling the strings is powerful awareness, but it’s just the beginning. I am worthy of love, friendship, and relationships. Grown-Up Jody gets that. Grown Up Jody has never been more grateful and happy to have learned this, but that belief has yet to soak into the subconscious where that 5 year old lives.

Two solutions, then. First, making the time to connect with the people I love the most. Many of my closest, oldest friends are scattered, but even seeing them once a month, chatting on the phone whenever it works, and just keeping up with how they’re doing will help me feel connected and loved.

Second, when I am alone and feel lonely, using the tools I have been trained in, and writing some  good ol’fashioned affirmations and incantations, with appropriate visualizations, will help soak the idea into my subconscious that I am indeed worthy. I’ve known that I can do this, but I haven’t actually done it faithfully. Even starting the day out with these will help.

Detachment and Love For Its Own Sake

What I desire the most in my relationships is to love as much as I can, add my energies to someone else and create as much joy for someone else as the other person wants to take without requiring anything in return.

And even though I’ve heard it a thousand and one times – that before I can love someone completely, I have to love myself – I’m now finally prepared to listen, walk the path, to fill myself up through self-care and connection, before I can give that unconditional love to others.

This isn’t easy, and it won’t get easier, I’m sure, but I am starting immediately. I can’t afford to waste another instant not standing in connection and love, not with so much at stake.

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The Credibility Gap in Self Help Writing

invocationofthemusesMy girlfriend and I were talking recently about a book idea she had. I won’t go over what it is, but after describing the concept in some detail, she said “the only problem is, I don’t think I’m qualified to write it”.

“Well,” I said, “I wouldn’t mind writing it for you.”

To which she replied, “Are you a licensed psychologist?”

Nikki reminded me in that moment of something that I’d forgotten: we’re not qualified to be “experts” on everything just because we’re capable of writing books about it.

One very common quality that both Nikki and I share when it comes to the books we love and value is credibility: deep, well thought-out hypotheses; solidly-researched findings; empirical evidence; and above all, expertise from people who have spent years studying in their fields.

One very common tendency in the overabundance of self-help books out there is the very absence of this type of credibility.

In the desire to sell more volumes of books, everything is dumbed down to the bare messages, with only one or two layers of actual deep research or concepts to support the claims. This isn’t new: self-help has been notoriously full of “easy answers” for decades.

What is new is that the advent of self-publishing, the ease and availability of print-on-demand services, and the entrepreneurial push to make marketing more important than substance, have now damaged the overall credibility of self-help books.

The advantage of traditional publishing is that they have editorial standards: that is, you can’t just write any bit of nonsense posing as “science” or “psychology” or “diet research”: you have to pass rigorous standards of scientific and peer-reviewed evidence because publishers know they could be held liable for spreading false information. That’s one reason why it’s so hard to get published traditionally.

By contrast, self-publishing gives everyone a voice. That’s terrific – I’m a self-published self-help and fiction author – but there’s almost no editorial standards being enforced, meaning anyone is free to print a book with any number of pseudoscientific ideas posing as psychology and medicine; conspiracy laden paranoia posing as industry exposes; and just complete BS with no basis in reality outside the personal beliefs of the author.

Credibility matters. It’s not simply about science – I hold a number of non-scientific beliefs, refer to teachings from Abraham Hicks (a channeled entity) for my higher guidance, and am open to unconventional ideas: I just don’t claim that they are “scientific” – but also the author’s command of the powers of reason and intellect. If you’ve been educated in this field of study for years and you know it better than most others, than that in and of itself should give you credibility.

All too many self-help proponents bristle at that notion: they’ll say the “letters after one’s name” do not make the person all-knowing. That’s true, but it does make them qualified. Nor is it only about the letters, but the field experience. It may not take certifications and years of experience in architecture and engineering to recognize a crooked building when you see one, but it does if you want to fix it.

Why protest? It’s simple: many of them are not themselves sufficiently trained or experienced in the subject matter they want to write about. The best they can offer are insights. No wonder they get upset. After all, if you have too many legitimate experts and you have no formal training, how many people are you going to be able to get on your side? How will you be able to sell your books?

However, degrees and training are indeed not all you need: you have to be able to assemble a compelling argument, and this is especially true if you are challenging an existing idea, because the burden of proof isn’t on the establishment to defend their position, but on you, as the challenger, to make your case beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you can lock down both factors – years of experience and training and the ability to make a reasonable case – then you bring credibility to your book. And, to my mind, the credibility gap represents a huge missing in today’s self-help world, and a golden opportunity for anyone who can fill it.

My Soul Mate Superstition

This was going to be a far more in depth post than what’s actually going to result at the end of this entry, but there was no need. What I have to say is simple:

I’m ditching the quest to find my “soul mate”.

Born out of the end of my last relationship, this soul mate ideal got me through that long, slippery climb back up to worthiness and validation. It powered an entire novel in the process, and acted as a lifeboat, a bit of solace whenever I felt low: that there was someone out there for me, made just for me, perfect, just for me.

Obviously, I was bound to run into trouble sooner or later.

Ever wonder how the online activists never seem to run out of actual things to get offended by? How your buddy can buy a new Hyundai that you’d never heard of, but you’re suddenly seeing it every time you stop at a red? Have you ever had a song caught in your head that was so annoying that you wanted to punch someone in the face, but everywhere you went, it seemed to be playing from somewhere?

That’s a function of your filter. Some would say it’s the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in your brain that helps you recognize patterns in the data you receive from the outside world. Others would argue it’s Law of Attraction, and there’s some merit to that, I’m sure.

But for the most part, what’s true of the world is that there is every variety of love, hatred, injustice, abundance, beauty, and ugliness out there, and we can calibrate our lenses to see more or less of any of them in our experiences.

Properly calibrate the lens through which you see the world, and you’ll see what you want to see, something real and actually there, and nothing else.

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So…you’d think my Soul Mate Lens would help me see a soul mate, then, right?  Nuh-uh!

In fact, my soul-mate superstition has caused nothing but damage. My image of a perfect partner is so perfect that it actually has the opposite effect: instead of seeing the person who I want magically appear out of a crowd, I look at women right in front of me who actually exist, who truly love me, and see everything that they aren’t.

That’s right. Presented with the possibility – no, certainty – of true love, I nonetheless reject anyone who doesn’t match the contours of my Soul Mate Lens as I have defined it. Then I go back to my hoping and wishing: “She’s really out there, guys!”

My soul mate superstition is wrecking my love life. It’s keeping me from taking risks in love. It’s already damaged one relationship, and if left intact, it would ruin the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that.

There’s a cliche floating around the meme-verse on Facebook and Tumblr: “love means seeing an imperfect person perfectly”. That’s exactly what I am now committing to doing.

In order to do that, I’m tearing down the altar to this soul mate superstition that I’ve laboured on for years. It will be a hard habit to break, to stop comparing real and beautiful flesh-and-blood human beings to an idea, but now’s the second best time to start retraining my brain. The actual best time was six years and six months ago.

I just hope it’s not too little, too late.

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