Another Odd Place for a Hill

The Ongoing Life and Education of Jody Aberdeen

Strawberry Fields Forever

I find the lack of reality disturbing. You should, too.

The 21st Century zeitgeist is precisely this whole idea that there is no ultimate reality. At best, we can have consensus reality, an agreement between a sufficiently diverse, numerous, and qualified body of the human species on a specific set of qualities and measures that determine what’s “real” and what’s “imagined”.

It would be fine if this was just limited to metaphysics and psychology, but there’s no way such an inquiry can be contained inside of any one discipline. All disciplines are invented by the human mind, and do not exist in “nature”: that is, the “outer” world of five senses, three dimensions of space, and one dimension of time.

Problem is, that “outer” world of four dimensions only occurs to us through five imperfect biological senses that we have always known are susceptible to error. Consensus reality helps with this – this is why scientists must subject their data to peer evaluation and confirmation – but in the end, there is still a margin for error, no matter how slight, in how humans define their “reality”.

Agreement Reality

I learned a new term at my seminar recently: an “agreement reality”. I have no idea what Landmark’s actual definition of the term is, and for the purposes of this thoughtpiece, I don’t care. All I know is that it’s connected to Mount Everest, Roger Bannister, and the boiling point of water in a stovetop pot. An agreement reality, to me, is synonymous with consensus reality.

Often, it takes just one highly publicized breaking of the agreement to open up space for the advancement of all humanity. You look at them and it’s almost as if the vast majority of people were hanging back for a second and third breakthrough, just to make sure the first wasn’t just a fluke.

A Watched Pot Always Boils

Mount Everest was all but unclimbable until 1953. After 1953, a few more made the ascent. Soon enough, dozens of people were conquering Everest every year.

No one could run a mile in four minutes. When Roger Bannister did it to great fanfare, six people broke the four minute mile the next year.

A boiling pot of water on my stove will shimmer, then ripple, but as soon as I see one bubble, three more appear, than ten, and then it’s roiling, all within a few seconds.

But people aren’t physical objects. Surely some partisan of a Newtonian reality is reading this and finding everything wrong with these metaphors, but that’s just it: you get the idea. Really, you get the idea, because it’s all a series of shared ideas about the world: it’s all made up. And today, that’s what the cutting edge of scientific inquiry is saying is the truth of the matter (indeed, the truth of all matter).

You create your own reality. How much scorn and rejection have those who have made this statement endured at the hands of the very scientific community that’s now taking a fresh look at the nature of reality and thinking “hmmm……”? Could the the scientists simply be the last ones to get in on the joke? Could the mystics and shamans of thousands of years ago right up until 2015 have gotten to it first by other means, using other languages?

Recently, scientists proved the observer paradox via actual experimentation. They’re even fashioning a test to see if the entire universe – from the smallest atoms making up the lettuce leaves in your Caesar salad to the most distant proto-galaxy in the Ultra Deep Field – isn’t some computer simulation cooked up by our descendants from far in the future.

Pay No Attention To the Man Behind The Curtain

Are you bothered by this? I am. And you should be, because if it’s not already just there for us, if the man behind the curtain in the Great Wizard’s hall turns out to be us, then we’re responsible for a lot more than the environment or poverty. We’ve got to take great responsibility with what we create with our intentions, words, and actions, because it’s creating the world around us. These scientists, by even questioning our agreement reality, are remaking the world in language.

So there may be no reality outside of ourselves…fo’ realz. That’s some really sour candy to suck on.

Strawberry fields

Party Like It’s 1199

I would suspect that this discomfort experienced by both Western and Non-Western peoples at this idea are one unacknowledged force behind the fundamentalist backlash we are experiencing worldwide. Of course, the question of reality as a motive for violence probably factors in a little less significantly for the guys being bombed from the sky by flying robots than, say, the getting bombed by flying robots thing. Either way, there’s no justification for violence, even if you can also understand their rationale for choosing a way of life based in Stone Age thinking, and being willing to kill for it.

If the trends seem to be leading to a future with no solid reality that exists outside of our perception of it, or even our own creation, then the only place to find certainty is in the past. (Steven Pressfield, screenwriter and author of “The War of Art”, touches on the differences between the artist and the fundamentalist: you should read his book for his debate-provoking insights.)

Can’t Touch This

If my education over the past five years has shown me anything, it’s that people will justify anything with anything, including avoiding responsibility. This isn’t the same as control. Everyone from Warren Buffett to Shifu from “Kung Fu Panda” will tell you: you can’t have a baby nine months faster by getting nine women pregnant. A peach seed will never grow into an apple tree (not without some serious genetic engineering, anyway).

Responsibility, however, involves acknowledging one’s power to alter the conditions that are within one’s sphere of influence. When you look at it, that sphere can be much larger than you might expect for yourself. That means that we may be on the hook for creating more violence, cynicism, pollution, heartbreaks, atrocities, and scandals in the world than we want to believe. And that would well and truly suck.

So where does that assertion leave us on the question of reality? For myself, I still would love to have science verify everything. I would love to know there’s something beyond what my mind and body can touch.

And it’s a simple matter of faith that science will get there eventually. But when science shows a pattern of being the slowest on the uptake, then I have to wonder if Mercury really does fuck everything up when it’s in retrograde, or if a simple act of visualization can bring me that car and ideal body faster. I have to wonder if meditation in the park may legit bring about world peace and harmony.

Reality.  Nothing is real, nothing to get hung about. Seriously, why aren’t you freaking out?

Channeling My Inner Klosterman

A few weeks ago, on my way to a birthday barbecue with my girlfriend’s family in St. Catharines, I called in an order to the Universe for an answer to this question: what’s the thing that I’ve wanted to say for weeks, but haven’t said out loud for fear of offending friends, inviting disagreement, or otherwise looking bad?

On the traffic-laden drive down from Clarkson, I found myself activating the Voice Recorder on my phone.  My order to the universe had come back in 30 minutes or less.  Here it is transcribed,  cleaned up only for grammar and spelling and such things:

——-

When you live in a generation in which everyone is raised to be a superstar, the only way to buck the trend is to deliberately choose ‘failure” and mediocrity.

There actually is nothing great about our generation.  We’re a privileged little bunch of shits.  Even if you were born broke, you’re still born with these expectations that someone is just going to hand you a job.

Everything gets cheapened and diluted here. Everyone’s got to be a superstar which only cheapens and dilutes superstardom.

When the previous generation found out that they weren’t all going to be movie stars and astronauts, they started fight clubs.  When this generation finds out the same, they start Tumblr feeds.

Everybody is a sudden expert. When did everyone become such a fucking expert?   You write a couple of things and suddenly you’re an expert author and writer and coach  You open up a small mom and pop shop in the middle of a shit part of town, and suddenly you’re an “entrepreneur”.

Even worse, you may decide you’re going to be an entrepreneur and your whole business revolves around telling other people how to be an entrepreneur.  You got rich off of nothing, like a snake eating its own tail, like blowing oneself.  That’s really what it is.  Imagine an entire generation that makes its fortune off of masturbation, auto erotic asphyxiation.

And in the face of this, all of these images of mansions, we have McMansions.  Someone figured out how make a widget for mansions, too, as if there wasn’t already a market for it, as if you couldn’t already get rich doing that.  And now you go about making six figures and still being broke, living the same type of lifestyle you vowed you wouldn’t live.

Where are the authentic people anymore, the real ones?  They ‘re living poor, not beyond their means.  They’re leaving for each other to make themselves happy.  And yeah, they get into scrapes, they get into fights, they sometimes don’t vote or pay their taxes or credit cards, but they try their best.  But this isn’t an avocation for the working man and woman, either. It’s just for something that’s just goddamn real for a change.

Bigger species on this planet, dinosaurs and mastodons, died out because they consumed too many resources and when the environment changed, there wasn’t enough for them to fill their bellies.  And we know what we’re living through: there is an overabundance of things here, but at an environmental expense, and all the people living large, they’re just tomorrow’s dinosaurs: what happens when things dry up?  How will you live without your mansions, without your trust funds, without your swimming pools and movie stars?  What are you going to have then?

Maybe the single biggest hypocrisy out of this generation has been that we vowed we wouldn’t be workaholic parents and divorcees, that we would lead good meaningful lives, we would make something of ourselves, and then stay together for the sake of the kids and raise the kids well on solid values.  Instead what we’ve done is turn dating into a commodity.  We have a higher divorce rate than our parents did, and we’re just as hooked on the toys growing up as we were when we were kids.  Maybe even more than our parents.  Who here doesn’t have an iPod?

chuck klosterman

Lessons from a Ghostwriter (So Far) – Part 1

invocationofthemusesIn theory, the preference among those lost in the maze of freelancing should be to heed only the advice of those who have already found their way into the clearing of success and establishment.

However, we can also think of freelancing as a labyrinth, and the nature of a labyrinth is that no matter how ahead or behind you may be compared to others, you’ll eventually find your way out.  This means that sometimes it bears listening to someone who’s still in the brush, but fifty feet ahead of you on the same path.

They may not be able to speak in confidence and authenticity about the exit, but they know more about the forty-nine steps ahead of you than you do.  They will eventually get there, just like you.

In July, I’ll be a full year into full-time professional writing.  Ghostwriting as a vehicle has not yet delivered me all of the results, in the form of financial measures and renown, that I would like. As those measures have been ever-evolving throughout this process and as I have been acquiring new experiences and insights, this isn’t entirely caused by writing as a vocation.

Declaring a new path and walking it are two different things, and in the final analysis, what I want from those who would be my guides is lived experience and evidence, not mere possibilities.  

I know of no other way to be credible with those looking to take those first steps on the path to making a living and a life by doing what they love. As with any trade, the awareness is something that can only come over time.

Staying true to that commitment, I will only share what I know to be true in evidence, not theory, with those who follow after me.

LESSON 1: PRICE FOR WHAT YOUR WORK IS WORTH, NOT WHAT YOU THINK YOU’RE WORTH

In the beginning, I priced myself much lower than what the market can bear for my book ghostwriting services.  In so doing, I was able to secure clientele out of the gate who otherwise might not have wanted to pay regular rates for a new writer.  Not long afterwards, I let slip the ropes from my full time day job and set out on the open seas of freelancing with an eventual aim towards true entrepreneurship.

I don’t think I could have asked for more inspirational projects to start with, some of which are still in progress.  I’m very happy and grateful for the relationships I’ve built up with my authors during our time together.

Ten months later, though, the original pricing regimen no longer works to pay my dues, and about two months ago, I realized that the time had come to raise my rates for new clients.  Almost immediately, all the stories of self-doubt that, like most writers, I carry around in my subconscious at all times, popped up.

“You can’t raise your rates, Jody.  You haven’t been in business long enough!  You don’t deserve it!  You can’t do it!” along with other blah-blah-blahs of the background mindchatter.  This is, I would assert, a common phenomenon with many self-employed creatives.

Ultimately, the mindchatter means nothing.  Pricing ghostwriting services has nothing to do with one’s personal worth, even one’s experience, and only slightly about previous results and experience.  Pricing is entirely based on what’s practical, given the realities of what it takes to ghostwrite a whole book.

Money Buys Time, Time Equals Quality

Quality work is time-intensive, plain and simple.  You need to have the time freed up to focus on producing great content, to do your research, to learn your subject matter so proficiently that you can write in the same voice as your author, who has already spent years developing his or her own expertise in the subject.

A ghostwriter simply can’t deliver quality if what they are earning from the work doesn’t pay their bills. I’m hard pressed to imagine any professional in any other trade that would.

In such a scenario, the writer would have to take on other smaller assignments to make ends meet. This has a cost in time, momentum, and peace of mind.  Even when fulfilling on the contract, in the back of the writer’s mind hover all of those anxieties about notices and collections, debts and scarcity.

If he has to, he may even have to go back to a “J-O-B”, which would pay his bills, but significantly reduce his available fulfillment hours.

It all has a cost in the quality of the book that the writer has to deliver AND the writer’s ability to deliver. This is what has happened to me lately, and so from here on out, I have raised my prices for new clientele.  Far from being too expensive, I’ll now be priced according to the minimum amounts stated by the 2015 Writer’s Market for ghostwriting a single manuscript (roughly $20,000).

Your rate has nothing to do with your value as a person.  It’s everything to do with what you need to have in place in your life to do the work, deliver it on schedule, and do so with excellence.  Show your prospects the value of your work and how you can help them, and the right ones will hire you. Plain and simple.

(For more, read “Lessons from a Ghostwriter (So Far) – Part 2”)

The Missing Mission

artcommerceI don’t want to be a “businessman”. Never did. I’m a writer.

It’s true: by many assessments, I exhibit all the traits of an entrepreneur. Ghostwriting is a business. Coaching is a business. But I was never interested in being “in business”. All I’ve ever wanted to do is making a living and a life doing what I love.

It’s a constraint of today’s language, the contemporary nomenclature we use to describe people and the specific things those people do that carry certain similarities to each other. English has a special built-in disposition to categorization and division. Separating and parsing concepts and ideas and all of their subjects ad infinitum.

Deep down, I am not an “entrepreneur”, though I’ve described myself as such in the language of the trade. I never had a deep seated yearning to open a “business”, though in reality, that’s what I’ve done. The concepts and names seem divorced from “art” in my perception of the terminology, in a way that many of my colleagues who have “creative businesses” don’t seem to experience. As long as it occurs that way in my perception, that’s what I’ll experience, much the same way that the Inuit can experience multiple types of “snow” in their occurring of the world simply because their language has words to describe them.

I’m lacking a single word that captures the artistry and the enterprise of what I do in one fell swoop, and because of that, I’m two minds about my role in the world.

My intention again: making a living and a life doing what I love.

“Writer” is the basic word that describes the “what” of this intent.

I “am” a human being who writes, not an author, not a ghostwriter, not a copywriter, even though I “do” authoring, ghostwriting, and copywriting. “Writer” is simply “what” I am doing; the rest are all subcategorical manifestations of “how” I do what I do, not identities in and of themselves.

And yes, my intent requires learning the technicalities of business, but I’ve recently become present as to how much I’ve been trying to cloak myself (that is, my “self”) in the shiny identity of “entrepreneur”, to parse myself into the language of “business” which, in my occurring of the term, is a diminishment of what could otherwise be a spiritual calling.  I don’t share the same fascination with entrepreneurship that many of my colleagues do: like a snake eating its own tail, my journey along this path seems to have come full circle.

My authors aren’t mere “clients”, they’re friends and visionaries, partners in co-creation. When I come from that space in my work with them, we join the high vibrational “flow” of creation. When I see them as “clients”, however, it becomes stilted and non-productive, an “us and them” context sharing way too much with the corporate work I was doing before for my comfort level.

Traditionally in “business”, it’s bad to look bad, even if the thing you have to express is authentic and real. Especially if it’s real. In this way, “business” and trying to squeeze myself into “entrepreneur” is a constraint on my full self-expression.

pirate

Beyond all labels and categorizations of an imperial language, beyond the two-dimensionality of the trade, of using a social medium as a 21st Century version of newspaper want-ad, there is a far larger existence, a grander reason for why we are nowhere: that is, “now here”.

All that’s missing is a mission, a future that’s so compelling and beyond the limitations of me that I would be pulled in rather than having to push myself to enter.  I have the “what” and know the “how”.  What’s my “why”?  Mere survival doesn’t inspire me: it’s what I’m doing right now.

I don’t have one, and I feel that I need one. But what could it be? And will it stick? The half-life of all the previous candidates for a mission-centric future has averaged only months before I start looking for the next thing.

What could it be?

Until it finds me, I’m legitimately afraid that I will continue to chase my own tail and go nowhere, all the while mistaking every new lap on the same racetrack as progress.

The Cinderella Effect

The dream was lurid, and though only dead now for a few minutes as I begin, the afterglow still floats in the middle of my chest like a stubborn, anemic heartache.

Soon, it too, will be gone.

I dreamed of my classmates last night, gathered together one last time in celebration out on the town.

barThe party was joined by hundreds of others and spanned houses, hotel rooms and lobbies, bars, and coffee houses throughout the archetypal nighttime city of my subconscious, all separated by what in real life would have been great distance, but thanks to the ephemeral reality of the dream, were easily crossed in seconds and thoughts rather than steps and miles.

There was great drinking and laughing, people playing pool, dancing. A few clustered together in deep, significant conversation, engaged in their fascinating intellectual co-creation. Others sat huddled together, wiping tears from their eyes and holding each other in heartfelt love and consolation at the inevitable, drawing closer with every tick of the third hand on the clock.

Still others were nowhere to be seen, and their absence was a splinter wound on the heart: not fatal, but the ache to see their missing faces ran deep. Though not dead, they were not here, they were not now.

They had missed the only chance to step into the stream as it was tonight, and we all felt heartsick at the diminishment of “us”. As far as the moment was concerned, that diminishment was forever.

For my own avatar in this dream, I experienced him getting tired around the 3am mark. He looked around his peers with a silent, desperate reluctance. To honor the body’s desire for rest or be with this? But what else was there, after this? A sunrise and a waking up. Some dim awareness of a job and a life,of seeing the same individuals under different lights, one at a time.

Obeying his body’s needs, my dream self left the party, returning to the lobby of his hotel only to find that it was not yet the end, that there was still some money in the meter.

Drawn back to the festivities in those predawn hours one last time, my dream self returned to find many others had gone, or had changed clothes and packed their suitcases. There was talk of impending bus arrivals and airport shuttles among the travelers. A few sat in tear-stained smiles holding hands and trainstationgoodbyestaring out at the brightening glow outside the windows.

And soon, I – the person writing this now, in this reality/dream – found myself beginning to wake up into my own pre-dawn darkness….and the stubborn heartache has nearly exhausted itself. Typing on fumes with still that last mile to go.

When two or more are gathered together in a conversation that matters, it’s always a sort of fairy tale celebration, a deliberate dream weaving. Inside of it, we spin ourselves into whatever forms and avatars we choose. We dance in the conversation, we eat from the banquet table, we share our hurts, our angers, our fears, and our passions garbed in the most elegant of dresses and dapper jackets.

And then, before we know it, the clock strikes midnight, and the coach turns back into a pumpkin, and we all go home, as individuals…

It could be our preoccupation with “forever”, with “preservation”, with “keeping it going”, though born of good intentions, is misplaced. When we roll the credits on the film, or close the last page of a beloved novel, the Bittersweet leaves us present and so utterly alive with love and grief, creating a possibility of reverence that we bring to bear on the first page of the next book, the first scene of the next film. The twinned illusions of “forever” and “keeping it going” rob us of that delicious vitality.

Where we are at right now, and who we are with, carries all the permanence of a breath vapor on a cold spring morning. Bear witness to the mist while you can.

Vanilla Sky1

Unconventional Bohemia

What a time of life this has been, and continues to be.

Mid-thirtysomething lived as though I’m 23 and hungry for an existence outside the comfort of Mom and Dad’s ivory tower, away from the sticky-floored subsistence of the student home or the sadness of the broken marital home.  Solitary for the time being, but missing the security of friendly murmurs down the hall or downstairs.  No more steady harvests from the 9 to 5 work farm, thought those staple crops always remain available.  Instead, I’m a hunter and trapper, laying cages in the snowy woods and moving through the brush looking for my next paycheque.  It’s the freedom of tomorrow’s self-made man still in the making.  I don’t miss the office, am still fair-weather friends with the warehouse production line, and though not worth the time, I still retain a heart-ache for the retail book store life, and the fun I had there.

sunflareWhat does 21st Century bohemian living look like?  It could take the form of sitting upstairs in a townhouse with a sleeping dog three feet behind and to the right, writing the next big bestseller on a six year old laptop that’s stood the test of time.  It could be shopping for fixtures and staple items at Dollarama before heading off to help a housemate find work in the area.  It’s listening to Vance Joy, Stars, George Ezra, and the Lumineers on the radio while I drive to faraway cities for my personal development courses,  watching the snow-covered houses of little towns and villages along the mountain-framed Interstate and wondering, “Who lives in these places?  What’s a day in their lives like?”

There’s a richness to the human experience that transcends all boxes and slots of age, race, income, faith, or celebrity. For this wordslinger-for-hire, life outside of the old story of where I “should” have been by 34 years old is proving to be an unconventional Bohemia.  In this alternate timeline, “truth” is found in both in the verifiable facts of the world and the stories I invent about them; “beauty”, in the barren, post-industrial train tracks behind the townhouse complexes by the lake, in old brickwork buildings finding new life as coffee houses and apartments; “freedom” in the thrill-terror about being fully responsible for the matter of one’s existence that strikes in the first thirty seconds of waking; and “love” in no particular person, but in myself and the world, the boundaries between them existing only as linguistic conventions.

There is so much more road on the horizon.  This morning, I’m anxious to start walking again, to see where I’ll end up by the dusk.  I’ll let you know what I find.

2014: Back to the Drawing Board

Sunset2014I’ve been having trouble getting this entry done.  There are so many ingredients that I want to chop up and throw into the mixing bowl that my brain just sits there, looking for some momentary pleasure to distract from the unpleasant feeling that non-performance brings. Sometimes, 9gag really can be a blight upon the world.

Multitudes of ingredients, not always the significant turning points or major events of a year gone by, but this time, little moments.  Moments like driving on the highway a couple of days ago and catching a light from my cellphone, glancing downward, and seeing not a notification signal, but the waxing moon set against reflected skies.

Sitting atop a grassy hill in a Burlington suburb this past August with two dogs that I was looking after for a friend, one of whom would become my own only two months later, under highly unlikely circumstances.

Walking the historical district of Philadelphia, past the gravestone of Benjamin Franklin and the hall where the United States first came into being.

Biting into a glorious salty and umami slice of New York City pizza in the shadow of the Freedom Tower under the last of the warm skies.

Attending my first conference as an author at the ROM, my confidence level as big as the T-Rex fossil in the main foyer.

Enjoying post-reception lobster omelette at a French restaurant in Yorkville with the newlyweds and party members, some of my closest friends.   The list goes on.

Little moments, multitudes of them. No way to capture all of them, or their meanings, certainly not in a single sentence, like “2014 was amazing”.  Maybe that’s just a hang up, the source of the blockage traced back to the feeling of necessity of inclusion, that I simply must write about 2014 and summarize it.  Much like sharing family vacation photos with people who didn’t go on the trip, I’m pretty confident my recollections of 2014 aren’t nearly as fascinating to anyone reading this as I should want it to be.

More than that, I myself am not nearly as interested in the moments of the past year or their meanings as I am their one common component.

Namely, the feeling of aliveness.

Take ResponsibilityAliveness.  Vivaciousness.  Vitality.   The challenge of being an English speaker is that our language collapses numerous combinations of meanings and definitions into the same word…or the same meaning across different ones.  I ain’t no linguist, so if you are, I’ll leave you to indulge your fascination on your own time. On the subject of language, however, I will say this much: 2014 showed me…no, helped me truly experience, that the world as we know it is created out of language.

Without a word for it, a “thing” doesn’t exist, and when there are too many or too few words common to that same “thing”, we find ourselves stuck, like a hobbit in a spider web, entangled in our own semantics.  And it’s all fun and games until we realize the connection between our words and the way we perceive our lives and the world. Then we see that our being stuck in the web equals being stuck in our dead end jobs, in our shitty relationships or singledoms, in whatever craptastic circumstance that impacts our ability to live life fully.  Or, if life is good, we start to see the limitations in place that keep us from taking it to the next level.  How we do anything is how we do everything.

Often, though, recognizing the connection between “word” and “world” helps us see that we’re just well and truly effed.

I’m tempted to call 2014 my Landmark Year, simply because it has been the single biggest difference in the quality of my life this year….but I won’t, solely because of the incredibly lame pun that would result.

Still, the Landmark Forum did help me untangle ideas that I had collapsed together that created very crippling contexts in areas of my life before.  Among my breakthroughs, the one with most relevance to what I want to create in 2015 is this: for me, all words, all material accomplishments, all possibilities are merely access to the same way of being: aliveness.

A few days ago, I allowed myself to fall in love with the idea of being in a relationship once again.  I’d been resisting dating most of the past year as I built my entrepreneurial career, rescued a dog, and started the process of moving out again, but this time, I allowed myself to enjoy the idea of it.

How would I feel to hold the hand of a girl I love, to hold and be held,kiss and be kissed back under falling snowflakes or tropical skies?  Amazing!  Spirited!  Passionate!  ALIVE!

bellagrassA couple of weeks before that, I was out with my dog, Bella.  Bella could set a land speed record given the proper terrain and nutrient level in her blood. Take her off leash on an open field and tell her to run, and she’s off before the “n” sound leaves your mouth.  Again, all fun and games until Bella sees another dog or a large human male, which is what happened in that case.  Feeling my chest tighten and my lungs burn as I tried to catch the little black and white blur, I thought to myself: I need to get back in shape, if for nothing else than to be able to keep up with my own dog!

Then I wondered, what would that be like, being in tip top shape and able to keep pace with this spirited little half-Bluetick, half-something-or-other, to run with her rather than after her?  Amazing!  Energizing!  Present!  ALIVE!

Same thing with money: how would I feel about having complete faith of knowing that I always had more than enough money to support my lifestyle and what I wanted in life?  I’d wake up every morning excited to greet the day.  I’d feel amazing!  Grateful!  Abundant! ALIVE!

You see the trend by now, I’m sure.

And here’s the trick: if you want those things that give you the access to feeling aliveness, you start by feeling the aliveness first.  Then you build in structures in your life – meeting the people you need to meet, developing the skills or acquiring the information you need, or cultivating the habits that you need to have – to bring the aliveness out of your own head and into the world of experience so it can exist beyond your mood of the moment.

Then, you watch as the relationship, the job, or the material goodies that you think will give you that feeling of aliveness appear, seemingly like magic.  By then, however, you’ll understand: you don’t need the lover, the vocation, or the toys to give you aliveness: aliveness is what you’re already being and feeling.  All of those people and things are drawn to your song; they aren’t what cause you to sing.

That’s what I discovered- no, lived, in 2014.

There’s an American English expression. When something doesn’t go the way we want, we “go back to the drawing board.”

Imagine such a board.  Since my student days, I picture the chalkboard in the lecture room inside McMaster University’s Hamilton Hall, circa 1999. In its pre-renovation state, it was the quintessential college classroom: big windows, auditorium seating, little swinging lap-desks for taking notes on pen and paper (does that still happen today?).  At the bottom were these four big green chalkboards, and always white or yellow chalk sitting in the dusty trays.  That’s the room I picture when I hear the phrase “back to the drawing board”.

Everything starts with a mark on a surface.  It’s the first act of all art, all design, all engineering….and all language.

The end of every year brings us back to the drawing board in our own lives, so that we can design the next one.

In my mind’s eye, I go back to my drawing board for 2015, and as I pick up the chalk, there’s only one word, one possibility, that I choose to create, for it is the source, reason, and motivation for anything else I would ever want to have, do, and be.

In 2015, the possibility I am creating for myself and my life is the possibility of aliveness.  And as a favourite sci-fi writer of mine once added, “everything else is negotiable”.

May whatever you create for yourself mean just as much for you.

Happy New Year!

aberdeengardiner

Dating Straight Talk, 2015 Visions, and Putting “God” Back in My Vocabulary

5:21am on a Sunday isn’t that uncommon of an hour unless you’re waking up to it, and that’s why I’m here. Deadlines make for strange sleeping patterns, along with blockages in the flow that require clearing out through other means. Dusting off a blog that hasn’t seen an entry in two months is one of them.

thebuddychristGod

I’ve started putting “God” back into my vocabulary, a reclamation of the term, an idea garnered from Mrs. Sarah Hall, a gifted painter, a fount of tribal wisdom, and a dear friend of mine in my Landmark Introduction Leader Program. Sarah has her reasons for de and re-legitimizing “God”, and when I explore mine, my reasons for stopping my relationship with deity was purely based on gossip and misrepresentation. There’s a bumper sticker: “God, save me from your followers”. That’s basically what happened with me.

Imagine a group of people claiming to be your fans invoking your name every time they manifested hatred, violence, and bigotry in the world. For those outside your fan club, it would be easy to conclude that you were all about what they said you were about. In addition to suffering from extraordinarily bad PR, it also doesn’t help that numerous rules and practices ascribed to God no longer apply to the current age, but that doesn’t stop the fan club from invoking them (Leviticus being one notable one).

Years ago, I distinguished the difference between shaman and priest, courtesy of my own unknowing mentor Robert Pirsig and his book “Lila”. Priests operate within an existing system of contemplation and inquiry into divinity that, more often than not, they themselves never experience directly. A shaman often works alone, experiencing God in his or her own direct way. The Persian mystic Rumi was one such man: imagine if his ecstatic, loving experience of Allah  was what spread across the world under the banner name “Islam”. All too often, it’s the priesthoods, within Pirsig’s usage of the term, who impose their rules and seek to persecute non-believers. The shaman simply heads out to the wild.

My experience of God comes via the Law of Attraction and serendipity, in these bizarre and wonderful feelings of possibility that I get whenever I’m working on a creative piece. And I had orphaned God’s name, not because he’d done anything to piss me off, because I associated him with his crazy ass fan clubs (using “he” as a linguistic convenience for my own long-entrenched habit; God is just as easily and rightfully female), choosing “Source” or “the Universe”. I still use those latter terms when sharing with others, so this isn’t an either-or thing, but a with-and thing.

The truth is, I miss praying to God.  I’ve also noticed a certain utility in asking him directly for help and guidance, because the signposts appear faster. This isn’t about whether or not God is real (there’s something there) or about if Christianity or Islam or Judaism or other religions are “true” (my
relationship with God bypasses religion); it’s about what feels right for me, and what works for me. And it feels right to call upon the Source by his name.

serendipitiyDating Straight Talk

Those who know me best know I’m often full of it. (And admit it, guys and dolls, you kinda love me for it). Recently on Facebook, I posted an article  which I felt to be the best articulation of what being single is about. Since the end of September, my business-building has escalated, and my financial situation has grown more challenging. I have an awful lot happening that require attention and action, so casual dating has not been a game I’ve been playing, not since the summertime. No distractions. That’s been the story.

And yet, yesterday while working hard on a client’s book, I found myself feeling….lacking. Something was missing, someone. Ignoring the inner critic giving me shit for falling off the wagon, I went back on OkCupid to check my profile, found a nice match nearby, and messaged her. No response as of this
writing, but I wondered to myself, why would I suddenly be feeling the “something is missing” feeling now?

Later on, driving out to a Landmark Home Introduction I was assisting at, I drove past a church in Brampton I don’t normally see. On the sign appeared these big letters: “RELATIONSHIP IS EVERYTHING”. I no longer question serendipity when it happens in my direct experience. There’s something to this occurrence.

The other story I’ve been telling myself is that any woman I date has to be useful to what I’m doing. That’s regarding another human being as an object, and just terribly unromantic. But swap out three words in that sentence, and we get “any relationship I’m in has to be useful to what I’m doing”. Still not quite in Cassanova territory, but it points to a bigger principle: seen from a high enough distance, when everything in life works together, it also fits together.

I’m building all manner of connections with new friends and contacts, and I’m assembling my own team at Liberati Press. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that I find partnerships along the way, but I’ve been closed to it recently, and things are not working. If this Personal Development Year has taught me anything, it’s that the solution to a particular problem isn’t always as simple as fixing the problem itself.
If the underlying inauthenticity isn’t healed, it’ll simply generate the same problem in another area, like a neverending game of Whack-a-Mole.

Could having a girlfriend somehow lead to a breakthrough in my business? In my finances? That seems like the very definition of counterintuitive, but it could be. Like God, “dating” may have to return to my vocabulary. The winter may be that much longer, otherwise.

back-to-the-future-part-ii-poster2015 Visions

I can almost taste it on the air, the possibility of being on my own again in 2015. Not completely, of course, I’ll likely have roommates, though I remembered recently that that was an experience I’d wanted to have (back in university) that I never got. With at least two good friends already interested in joining me, possibly three, it’s now only a matter of finding the place.

A house in the Port Credit area with a big backyard for my new dog Bella to scamper around. Six book clients earning me enough money to sustain me comfortably without constant hustle for new, short term work. I can work in my track pants at my own desk in my own place. Going out and having the option to bring a girl back if that’s where the evening leads: I haven’t had that option in years.

Most of all, feeling independent again, definitely living my purpose, as I want, and being me.

And hoverboards.  Definitely hoverboards.

2015 is going to be an amazing year, and I’m living into that now.

6:38am and the pipes are clear. Time to go to work!

The Possibility of Kindness

SCHOOLYARD TUSSLES

Early in grade school, I started to realize that the other kids didn’t talk to me like they did each other, and I didn’t know how to react.

I have a variety of stories that I can tell about that, but the one that’s relevant to this little blurb is that as the bullying got worse,  my parents had the same solution: fight back.  Movies and TV didn’t help:  even Mr. Coriander, the seemingly wise bookshop owner from one of my favourite movies at the time, “The Neverending Story”, asks Bastian of his tormentors who’d chased him into the store, “Why don’t you just punch them in the nose?”  Bastian’s answer was the same as mine: “I don’t know.”  I had no interest in pushing back when I was pushed. I just wanted to go on with my day.

Of course, there were times I fought back. I remember clawing this one kid, Jeffrey, in the face and breaking his glasses after he pushed me down at the baseball diamond.  After some prolonged provocation, I reactively kicked another kid in the stomach right before class, somehow escaping punishment (by then, my teachers knew I was being singled out by the others, so I’m guessing they decided to look the other way).

I was bullied, but I did establish a basement level boundary to what I would tolerate.  Pushing back, though, was completely against my natural instincts. I didn’t want to fight anyone.  I just wanted everyone to get along.  The world, though, between my parents, teachers, books, films, and TV, seemed to tell me my instincts were invalid, wrong, and worst of all, unmanly.

WHAT MAKES A “REAL” MAN?

That same theme of unmanliness would return in adult life, somewhat during my long relationship and marriage, but definitely in the past four years since my divorce and singledom.  One thing I learned from the authorities – books, relationship coaches, other single buddies – is that I had to be more “manly”.  One woman I was seeing casually expressed “I want a fucking MAN, someone to take the lead, make the plan, show me how it’s done.”

How these observations landed for me looked like this:  a “real” man was a mutant combination of fighter, aggressive, dominant, wealthy, successful. A tattooed six pack badass  who looks good in three piece suit, a tall, charming alpha who’ll buy a girl flowers, take her out on the town to places she didn’t know she loved, and then fuck her brains out in the sack.

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Media images of all manner of “guy’s guys” – Tony Stark, David Beckham, Jordan Belfort, Hank Moody, pretty much the whole cast of “The Expendables” – fed the idea.  This is what women wanted.   Nowhere in these considerations were introverts, or guys with a little bit of belly flab, who weren’t driven primarily by sex, or who drove cars built in the mid-90s (if they even had cars at all). The capitalistic, consumeristic notion that what makes a good man, a man worthy of love and attraction, was all based on material manifestations combined with Neanderthal-like animal magnetism- seemed once again to run counter to my own enfranchisement in this experience.

The bottom line of all these considerations:  I had to become something other than who I was.  And it didn’t help that this led me to believe that the type of women who have qualities I prefer – beautiful, feminine, non-religious, intelligent, no bullshit, university-educated Caucasians with little interest in becoming a deferential, white picket fence hausfrau/breeder and with great interest in books, movies, geek culture, and personal development – wouldn’t go for me if I didn’t generate some of those traits.  Thanks to my experiences in Landmark, I have accessed the ability to generate those traits, but there’s always something missing.  Nowhere in these attributes was kindness.

A KINDER WORLD

Why do I talk about school aged bullying and thirtysomething dating?  These were two areas in my life in which my natural inclinations, deep down in my essence as an individual spirit, were put at issue.  Specifically, these are times when my natural desire for kindness in my environment was put at issue and at odds with what the outside world was telling me was workable and appropriate.   Kindness did not live anywhere in these contexts.

Kindness is not what modern Western culture considers a “manly” attribute, at least not on the surface.  It’s still associated with wimpiness, passivity, or – heaven forbid – the feminine (which definitely says something about how we still regard women).  In the past, I would operate in that very context and invalidate and disempower myself from going for what I want.  Not anymore.

When I stand in the possibility of kindness and a kinder world, I stand in my power.

I remember that time as a child when all I wanted was softness and lighter moments.  We call that “innocence”, a word that simultaneously draws up derision and nostalgia when it’s spoken in our culture.   But my, wasn’t that a source of pure energy all on its own, back when it was active in the experience of our day?   That time as children in which everything was a game, life was play, when we needed no reason to justify anything.  Author Whitley Strieber writes about his own extraordinary childhood experiences as a “force” in and of itself, the type of energy most of us only get glimmers of as adults, and dismissed just as quickly.   Back then, I’d posit that, aside from the odd monkey-brain outburst, kindness was every child’s natural disposition.

But if I’m here today, only weeks away from my thirty-fourth year in this body, and I can generate any way of being that I choose, then I choose to stand in the possibility of kindness.

WHAT DOES KINDNESS LOOK LIKE?

It starts in kindness to myself, being willing to set boundaries and ensure others respect them, defending them with force only when absolutely required, and cutting ties with those who fail to respect them out of respect for myself.   It means forgiving myself for mistakes and abstaining from self-punishment on behalf of someone else who has since moved on.  It means recognizing that I’m always in a learning mode, and mistakes are part of the process.

It’s compassion for the overworked service person who is obviously stressed, but continues to try to deliver a great experience for me in a coffee shop or a restaurant.

It’s a kind word for someone who is suffering, or if necessary, a firm coaching conversation for someone who is hiding from the power I see in them (“kind” doesn’t always have to equal “gentle”).  Sometimes, it’s ceasing to indulge someone in their own disempowerment when I become aware that’s what I’m doing.

Kindness is volunteering in the service of unwanted or mistreated pets, creatures who are so full of love for us humans and who are often treated with great cruelty in return, who deserve our protection and affection.
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Kindness is in sharing the same experiences that I’ve received that have given me access to these long locked-down superheroic abilities: courses like the Landmark Forum, paradigms like the Law of Attraction, or stories and songs that speak to the grandeur locked inside all human beings.

And it’s in the paraphrasing and practice of the last line of the oath that all those who pledge my Fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, must uphold: to strive in all ways to transmit the world to those who may follow after not only not less, but greater – and kinder – than it was transmitted to me.

I will never again dismiss, for myself, the transformative power of a kind word over someone’s day, or the endless ripple effect of a kind act, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.  It is in these actions, from this place, that we will move the human race forward and the world with it.  In this place of possibility, all the stories of past failures and disempowerments fall away, and the slate is wiped clean.

I am a man who stands in the possibility of kindness and stands for a kinder world.  You’re welcome to stand with me if you’d like.

The Spirit and the Machine

 At any given time, I am being one of two forms of self: the Spirit Me and the Machine Me. 

IronmanThe two do serve each other, at times forming a tenuous, uneasy alliance when the situation calls for it, usually in matters of survival. The protection that the Machine Me offers can lead to the outcome I want, but in those fields beyond battle and endurance, the Machine itself becomes the enemy of Spirit Me, and there I find the cause for all my personal development and inquiry.  I am the ghost in the machine, and I am often also the machine.  How to tell the difference is something I am still learning for myself, but I have a few ideas so far.

The Machine is an identity that assembled itself over time in response to movement through life experience.  Think of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit from the Marvel comics and films, an appropriate metaphor given that Iron Man’s genesis was in response to a life or death situation. The Machine Me identifies threats to my life and lifestyle in various areas, mostly those that closely threaten my physical state.  If I get an angry boss or client, Machine Me fires up, ready to strategize and carry out tactical maneuvers based on those strategies (charm, apology, correction, or argument).  If I sense the impending loss of a relationship that I know will hurt, the Machine Me figures out how to stall the other person’s departure, or cajole them into submission and agreement.  If I sense constraints closing in from a game I decided to play – a personal development course that challenges me, membership in some new club that loses its luster – I will simply snap my fingers and teleport off the playing field.

All of this ensures survival.  In that way, like Iron Man, the Machine Me is a strong suit, armor that serves and protects me, but it has its limitations.  Operating within very specific parameters, the Machine Me responds to all outside happenings as a potential threat, even the ideas – especially – that would vastly expand my life.  Having been in existence for so much of my sentient life since childhood, the Machine Me operates subconsciously, beneath ordinary day-to-day cognition, coming to the surface in the form of automatic reactions to situations familiar and new.  And the Machine Me, because of its origin in reaction to past events, never forgets, even when I think I have.  In that way, every past hurt, every past loss, past pain, remains alive and active in the microcosm of the Machine Me’s memory.

Like a national security apparatus that curtails freedom within the country it serves while claiming to defend it, the Machine Meshieldhydra limits the context in which Spirit can express itself into the world. You can’t argue with the Machine directly, because it will invoke reasons that no reasonable person can debate.  Threats do exist. There are people and forces out there that intend equally real harm. There is the risk of failure and hurt in branching out beyond the security of the perimeter.  In those assertions, the Machine is correct.

The result of living solely within the Machine Me’s aegis, however, is a life of comfort and privation of what I dearly desire, but haven’t already gotten.  I can’t exceed the limitations of the Machine while relying on it for protection.  I remain safe.  And less. And lonely.

Spirit is authentic.  Spirit is the aspect of me that delights in life, that looks with wonder at the panorama of farm and acre atop the escarpment on a sunny Sunday drive.  It’s the part of me that marvels at the flavour of a woman’s tongue with the same carnal awareness as I do the scent of a gourmet meal being prepared in a fancy restaurant.  Spirit expresses into the room whenever I am grateful for the lessons I have learned and will soon experience.  It appears in the laughter at a puppy at play, the appreciation of fantastic technologies that we carry in our pockets, beyond the most whimsical musings of our ancestors.

The spirit is a quantum phenomenon in superposition, always waiting to collapse into celebration of the present moment, of just being here, and being me.  It lives in possibility, in futures of light and heat and unity.  And it fears nothing, respects no limits, and uses every opportunity it can get to birth itself into life.

How easily, then, does the very form of self that the Machine Me evolved to protect becomes its biggest threat.

janus

The Machine would never directly harm the Spirit.  It cannot.  What it can do instead is sabotage Spirit’s intentions to expand.

What does this sabotage look like?  The case of the flu that suddenly takes the body down just as that job interview comes up.  It shows up in the lie that you find yourself telling someone you love who tells you they only want to be friends.  It’s in the failure to pay your taxes, or balance your checkbook, or otherwise keep your life in order.  It’s in the sudden drop in your energy when a course that you’re taking tests your vulnerabilities, to the point that you convince yourself you want to leave something good.  It’s in the failure to finish what’s begun.

Whatever the manifestation, the result of the Machine’s tentacles taking hold of the wheel of your life is always the same: the conditions in your life stay as they are, or they become worse.  And you’re forced to rely more on the Machine to get by, thanks to the loss of power you experience as a result of these automatic reactions.

You’ll never see the sabotage coming, not unless you take on the inquiry of self that millions of people are now doing in various forms and disciplines.

Blaming one’s Machine self for a setback makes no sense.  It’s not as if it’s an entity outside of self.  I am that Machine Me. I’m responsible for the choices I make from that form, but I have to first be aware of that responsibility, and accept it, to be able to take it.  Often, the Machine Me’s programming and reactions are so buried that I don’t realize it’s happening until after it’s happened.  The only way to such awareness is inquiry into the self.

Phoenix

One result that becomes possible from such inquiry is that the Spirit erupts from the Machine, bringing with it vulnerability, courage, completion, and daring.  Spirit will be authentic to people in life on what it expects from its relationships, sharing from the heart with abandon.  Rather than lie and cajole, Spirit has the courage and fortitude to say goodbye to those who have  declared their intentions to travel on paths that diverge from my own.  Rather than throwing up invented obstacles to getting things accomplished, Spirit will simply do the work.  Spirit will commit itself to the realization and full experience of life, and the creation of meaning with no regard for the past, minding only the information that it requires to function.

When I am my Spirit, I acquire powers to rival the greatest superheroes of story and fable.  Even still, the Machine Me will always recapture me, for it too is an aspect of my Self.  It, too, is my creation, and every subsequent capture is an opportunity to re-generate the expression of Spirit once again.  And, like any good servant, it’s always there to protect me from actual dangers when they arise.

That’s why inquiry, once begun, never stops.  Like Sisyphus, the work never ends.  Unlike Sisyphus, I can and have made it to the top of the mountain by the last light.  The satisfaction – no, the acquisition of that state of full expression, is always a temporal phenomenon, evanescent, and then gone.  The rigors and practices of inquiry provide me with the ability to return to that state of grace and possibility.

You can never get it done.  That’s why it’s not about a destination, but the climb up the mountain to the light, and the whole being you become as a result.

sisyphus-happy

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