Another Odd Place for a Hill

Jody Aberdeen's Official Blog

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.

image

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.
image

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

The Dark Night of the Soul

IMG_20120929_213217

There are people that I know in my life who deserve far better than they get.

“The Dark Night of the Soul” as a term finds its origins in a 16th Century religious poem, but its applicability to times in life has far outgrown its original Christian roots.  Whether you believe in one religion, no religion, or even in spirituality at all, the term now applies to that phase or phases in one’s life when there is nothing but suffering, no relief, no explanation for why this is all happening, and no signs of hope for a dramatic turnaround (what J.R.R. Tolkien called “eucatastrophe”, the idea of last minute victory when all hope is lost).

Eucatastrophe, however, is exactly what is on the other side of all of this.  The Dark Night of the Soul is as much about confronting the conditioning that you use to deal with challenges as it is about the undeniable reality of the challenges themselves.  And you don’t have to believe in God, religion, or any kind of spirituality to experience it, even though the stream of unfortunate events may appear to move into your life with supernatural consistency.

When I say “deep seated” beliefs, I’m talking about the things that have been around since infancy, as deep as our language.  Bob Proctor once said, take a baby from Los Angeles to Beijing and raise her there, and she will grow up thinking and speaking in Mandarin without a second thought.  Immerse a child in any belief system, or any environment in which certain values and beliefs are elevated above others, then those values and beliefs will form the subconscious blueprint of what is “good” and “bad” behavior in that child’s mind.

Whenever that child does something that strays from that blueprint, he or she will feel that they’re “bad”, and then judge or punish themselves accordingly.  Depending on their temperament, those “punishments” can run the gamut of being little slaps against the wrist to brutal forms of self-flagellation.

In ultimate reality, the world has no morals or opinions.  It doesn’t agree or disagree, doesn’t judge or praise. The world doesn’t love or hate you: it “nothings” you.  The world operates under its own laws, and we live in the world, thus we are subject to those laws.  Michael Beckwith says in “The Secret”: “if you fall off a building, the law of gravity doesn’t care if you’re a good person or a bad person: you’re going to hit the ground.”

The Only Question Worth Answering

So what to make of these never-ending streams of unfortunate events?  The question contains its own answer: it’s all about what we make of them. That’s the question to answer.  The thing is, we tend to focus on another question: why is this happening?

That question is a distraction, but we’re conditioned – either by years of religious upbringing (whether we accepted the religion or not) or simply living in a society whose current secular patterns of thinking about problems were historically shaped by religion – to focus on it because we’re told that’s the question to solve, the root cause of the matter.

There are some laws, like gravity and thermodynamics, that science already understands and has mastered, and there are other laws, like attraction and intention, that are on the leading edge of understanding, and we’re still sorting out how it all works.  My secular-spiritual belief system tempts me to apply this second set of laws to answer certain questions, but because I myself am not a master, the best I can do at any given time is guess.

In the ultimate reality, “why” is a human construct, and there is never any way to answer it except by storytelling.  We make the world mean what we want it to, and meanings are utterly subjective.  That’s why you’ll very seldom find a completely satisfactory answer in the words, ideas, and ideologies of others.  Other people’s stories about why things are the way they are can only take you so far: the rest of it is your own story about why things are happening to you.

HPIM0456

Those stories, more often than not, will find their roots in your own subconscious blueprint about right and wrong, whether or not you consciously agree with them.  If you find yourself outside of that blueprint, you’ll know it by the way you feel: guilt, anger, frustration, fear, sadness, anxiety.

The temptation, then, is to think that the blueprint is right and you’re wrong, but that’s not always true.  Your original blueprint was not created by you, but from everyone involved in your upbringing. If your original blueprint included, for example, a religious interpretation that you were born into sin because of a origin story in that religion’s tradition, you may feel “wrong” when you try to see yourself as an inherently good person, whole and complete as you are.

The degree to which your blueprint empowers you or not is entirely dependent on the contents of that blueprint. Change the contents to meet your reality, and your blueprint suddenly serves you.  That’s the principle behind most of the personal coaching and personal development work I’ve done for myself.

That’s why the first question – what to make of these unfortunate events? – is the one to answer, the only one of the two that can be answered with any effectiveness.  And though there’s no single answer for all of the challenges you face, how you find the answers is very simple: create a story about what’s happening to you that empowers you to survive and endure.  That’s right: I’m suggesting that you make it all up.

Actually, that’s what we’re all doing anyway, only much of the time, the reasons we invent either aren’t our own, or don’t help us.  We say that God or karma or the Universe is punishing us for past things we’ve done, or that we’re cursed.  Yet arguing for your own limitations when dealing with crises does not empower you to deal with crises.  It just keeps your mindset stuck in the shit….and naturally, you continue to feel like shit, as if things are happening “to” you, rather than just “happening”.

So since you’re making up the meaning anyway, you can equally invent a story about the events that gives you the strength, the resilience, the peace, and the power to get you through them.

Events are going to happen.  We will fall out of love.  We will lose those we love. Civilizations will rise and fall.  And they will happen in their own time, not yours, no matter what else is happening in your life. Our ability to grieve and release our losses and heartbreaks fully, to endure permanent absence, to adapt and survive in a changing environment: all of them depend largely on the stories we tell ourselves about what is happening to us.

august sunset 2012 windows

One possible story could be that the Dark Night of the Soul is preparation, a process of destroying your old ego, burning your old blueprint, and giving you the space to create a new version of yourself independent of the past.  One day, life is shit.  The next, everything is brilliant.

And that’s where eucatastrophe, that sudden turn of positive events that Tolkien wrote about, takes place.  It’s not about the end of the events, but in the equally miraculous transformation of the way in which the events show up in your perception of them.

That’s one story.  You might tell a completely different one for yourself, you may see something here for you, you may see nothing here for you.  Take from it what you want, if at all.

I believe I create my own reality, but I can’t say for sure about others, about you. What I can say for sure about you is that you can re-create the way that you see your reality.  Just know that you are stronger than you believe yourself to be, always.

Hang in there, you’re going to be all right.

Guest Post: “Write for Money, Write for Life” by Carrie Bailey

carriebaileyMy friend and fellow wordsmith Carrie Bailey kindly offered this guest entry on Another Odd Place For A Hill.  Please visit her official blog at http://carriebaileybooks.blogspot.ca.  ***

In 2009, I started writing. As an experiment, I spent one month focusing solely on building an income as a freelance writer and brought in an average of 250 dollars per week, which I maintained for five weeks by working at least 8 hours per day. No days off. No rest.

After talking to a few established writers, I learned that it was typical for a new writer to earn between 10k and 20k per year. If you’re serious about writing, there are ways to make this happen and make this work for you.

Be real – Not realistic. No, don’t ever bother talking yourself out of your dreams. Be real. Be exactly who you are and don’t apologize for it. Most people don’t trust someone they don’t know who are clearly trying to impress them. If you’re not funny, cute, manly, feminine, wealthy or brilliant, don’t worry about it. Successful writers are more persistent than they are uniquely positioned at the head of the bell curve. However, they do tend to recognize that fine line between staying true to themselves and blindly blasting others with their insecurities and personal trivia.

Define what you want – It’s hard to think objectively when you’re feeling insecure or hungry. While this is something a lot of writers understand, but when you write for a living, like it or not, you are in business. That doesn’t always sit well with our inner artists. But, as a businessperson, you need to define your goals. Break down the steps it will take to achieve them. Research business practices. You are one.

Talk to people who are one step ahead of you – There are the people who will tell you what you really need to know and then, there are the people who will make it sound easy. The most successful writers have had a lot of time to simplify the details of their early struggles and forget the uncomfortable truths. But, the writers still running their victory laps are often ready to brag openly about the hurdles they’ve jumped. And that’s where you’ll glean the timely inside information.

Keep records – Whenever you achieve any measurable success, make a note of it. You might not remember later what tactics worked. And review your notes often. You might learn something of value in hindsight that you overlooked before.

Contact the people who pay – I know this seems obvious, but there are writers who attempt to market themselves before they target people already willing to pay for their work. This is working backwards. Write a few good posts on a topic. Offer them to different websites and publications for free. Then, generate a mad flurry of ideas and pitch them to sites that pay while offering links to your previous work. How do you find people who pay? Google. Yes, Google. That, and ask other freelance writers.

Beware the foul weather friend – Don’t worry about fair weather friends. They may be a disappointment, but not a true danger. In reality, it’s the people who love you desperately when you’re down that – more often than we care to confront – will try to keep you there. Distance yourself from people who discourage you, who don’t believe in you and above all, those who panic or just get weird when you start succeeding. Jealousy is poison. Take no more than you can cope with.

Clients as customers – If you’ve been a traditional employee, you’ve probably found release venting frustrations about your boss. It was their fault. As a writer, you are your own boss and it cannot be overstated that you need to treat everyone you work with as customers. Clients are not in charge. You are. And remember, they customer is always right, even when they’re wrong.

Make minimalism sexy – Yes, it’s both powerful and sexy to be the master of your own destiny, but it’s also good for your bottom line. Simplifying your life will ensure your survival through the hard times. It will reduce your dependence and give you more control over the things that matter. Picture one month of your life and all the things you actually need to live until the very last day. Not thrive. Just live. If you can reduce what you need to smallest amount manageable, you will always be able to keep writing.

Get paid to research – If you’re a writer, then you are by default a student of human nature and you can’t do that physically melded to your keyboard. Walk out the door and go apply for minimum wage jobs. Work part-time where you can observe people. Write for sites that pay you to review goods and services that you need.

Give them your heart in a plastic bag – You don’t have to be the most talented writer to be a financially viable one. But, it helps to understand what people really want, you know, your heart and soul. They want to expand their lives by absorbing bits of yours through your experience and your words. But even while you pour your heart into your work, remember: don’t bleed on them. Your audience does not exist to affirm you. Cultivate professionalism in your work. 

Writing is more than a job.

Writers are ready to sacrifice anything to build their business. And if that sounds like you, then go forward. Be a writer. Although the beginning may be grim and your resources meager, you have more chance of making it as an author than you do winning the lottery. That is the good news.

Now, the bad news. If you’re looking for a stable, secure and profitable venture, you’re thinking like an employee. And that won’t make you a successful writer. Think like a businessperson. There are times in our lives when we have obligations, like family, that make any business a selfish venture. The truth is that you don’t have to make a living as a writer to be a writer, but if it is the path you choose, jump on it like it’s the last train out of town. 

Guest post by Carrie Bailey 

Home is Wherever I’m With….Me?

(Transcribed from hand-written pages I wrote while seated at the Orange Cat Cafe in Lewiston, NY during the 4th of July weekend, having stayed with a friend’s family for the weekend, and feeling very much at home)

I could care a lot more about where I live, much more.  By many accounts, and for many reasons, I probably should, but I don’t.

Home isn’t just a place where we sleep and keep all of our shit.  It’s multi-faceted, a term and a concept with multiple definitions and meanings.  If not for these meanings, we’d all be living in little uniform shacks, comfortable enough, equipped for the basic biological needs, nothing more.  That, of course, isn’t where we actually live, but without added meanings, that’s what “home” provides in a purely physical sense.

Home is a status symbol, an investment, a hub for a family, a personal expression of identity, and, of course, shelter from the elements, storage for your stuff.  For some, home is more than that: the promise of a future life for a new couple; a benchmark of “success” at whatever it is you love to do; or a connection to ancestry, tradition, and country, a way of life and human experience.

augusteum

I have a quiet fascination with ruins.  I’ve thought about taking the apocalypse tour of Detroit that urban explorer troupes are now offering.  I’ve driven through the run-down areas of old Toronto, Hamilton, Buffalo, Brooklyn, and Niagara Falls.  Like most people, I’ve seen the ruins in Rome, Varanasi, Angkor Wat, and Macchu Picchu on TV and in books: places built thousands of years ago that are now occupied by peoples and cultures beyond anything the builders themselves could have imagined into existence.

I look at the gentrification of Detroit and Hamilton, how the 100 year old red-bricks that once housed stores and factories now give shelter to hipster cafes and chic restaurants that attract well-to-do suburbanites back into the downtown.

I think of fancy, white-picket fenced homes in wealthy, “Stepford Wives”-esque suburbs that we later see on the six o’clock news because the husband beat up his wife, or because cops found a meth-lab in the basement.  I think of the houses of divorce, where the definition of “family” transforms to adapt to child custody, new girlfriends and/or boyfriends, or simply something other than the nuclear family.

I’m getting carried away on this tangent.  You get the idea.  The definition of “home” is far more of a fluid reality than a fixed concept.

For much of the past year, I’ve been allowing myself to enjoy the idea of living on the road.  Buy an RV, somehow equip it with mobile Wi-Fi, and wander the land, finding odd writing jobs that pay me just enough to fill my tank and my fridge, wash my body and my clothes, and otherwise allow me to be free.

rv-shelter-regular-metal-rv-carport

 

I’ve also daydreamed about my actual stated goal: getting an apartment for myself in a city that’s central to my networks (Mississauga, in this case), a creative space of my own that is also cheap enough that I can bounce on a moment’s notice if I, say, want to travel.  Again, I would remain free from attachment to a place, while always being two hours away at most from my closest friends and family.

I’m not fully attached to either option.  I’m not entirely committed, either.  What I’m truly present to today is that who I live near, or live with, is what will compel me to inspired action.  For four years, I’ve been “homeless” inside the centre of my being, off on a great adventure of post-marital invention that is now entering its grandest state yet.  As I wrote in my last entry, whoever I find that shows up naturally along this path will most likely determine where I live.

In the back of my mind, I guess that’s why I am remaining flexible about getting out on my own, about not setting down permanent roots anywhere in particular.  As long as my living space provides the context and the instruments I need to create a life I love, the only trump card is right now in the hands of the woman I will meet along the way who changes the trajectory of the game play.

IMG_20130507_192251

 

Taken all together – the possibilities I am living into now, the woman I will meet, the tools and contexts I need to do what I want – “home” is a non-local phenomenon, not any one place, but a feeling that can exist anywhere, that lives in the air of the present moment.  I’ve yet to find one place other than my family’s home that is itself a compelling reason to stay.  I’ve yet to meet the one person who will determine that place for me, but I will.  When that happens, home will transform these ruinous old ideas of where I belong, just like the redbricks in Detroit, Buffalo, and Hamilton, just like the relics of Rome and Khmer.

When it happens, I will transform into the promise of love and belonging, and I will finally be at home in one place, rather than many.

On Being Single and Having Power

It’s funny.  Seeing the photos and headlines from World Pride Week in Toronto, I – a straight male who’s as conventional as they come –  find my thoughts drifting back to love, singlehood, marriage, and the journey I’ve had over the past 4.5 years.

Right now, in Toronto, there are literally tens of thousands of people from around the world celebrating their authentic selves and fighting for their freedom and power to love who they want.  Meanwhile, I’m here, forty minutes away,  present to the reality that one of my biggest obstacles to finding a relationship is fear of losing the power I’ve acquired from being single.

 

IMG_20130817_075748

 

The reality for me is that four-and-a-half years out of the end of my marriage, I have not been in a single romantic relationship.  I’ve not had a girlfriend.  Not one.  I’ve dated, had simple and complicated experiences with women I’ve met, but almost all of it’s been a sideshow to the greater spectacle that has been the ongoing work on Jody Aberdeen 4.0.

The thing is, as much as I have these feelings of longing for intimate connections with a woman, I’m becoming present to the fact they’re really no different than any other natural longings that crop up from time to time: hunger, thirst, rest, et cetera.

It really is only natural to want social connection of some sort, regardless of how that connection manifests.   And it’s also true that a relationship can also be a huge distraction from bigger things that I could be (and am) doing with my time and energy.  The main difference between this need and the others is that I won’t actually die if I don’t have this one met.

When Jody 3.0 was released  four-and-a-half years ago, there was one dominant fear: that I’d be alone forever, and I wouldn’t be able to take it.  I’m still not entirely comfortable with being alone at times – again, same way I can’t quite stay on a diet or go all night without getting drowsy – but I’m not terrified of it any more.  In fact, I welcome it at times because I get to re-charge, to try out new things without looking over my shoulder for the silent or loud judgements of other people.

Then I thought I was ready, over the hurt, and I dated here and there for a time, but they didn’t go anywhere.  There was something not quite there, a level of commitment to the possibility of an actual relationship that is a prerequisite to any intimate experience.  I haven’t been on an actual date in a year now.  I’ve only been on a handful of them since becoming single in 2010.  A lot of that has been because of fear of being hurt again, but stepping out of that, I find now that I care more about having the access to the ability to start a relationship than actually having the relationship.

 

burlingtonbeachsunrise

 

Think about it.  If you’re like me and you haven’t dated a lot, or you’re just bad at it, or otherwise not like the people we know in our lives who can find a mate the same way you and I can just pick up a carton of eggs at the grocery store, having the access to the ability is something that matters a great deal. We want to feel that it really is the case that “I can do that, I choose not to”  I want my bachelorhood to be a choice, not that I’m alone because I suck at talking to women I’m attracted to.

On top of that, I don’t want to distract myself with making finding a girlfriend a main goal.  I have too much at stake right now in my writing career, way too much.  The very fact that having a girlfriend and having the life I want show up for me as being in conflict says a lot about why, despite my confidence of the past few months, I don’t go up to women to talk as much, even if they catch my attention.  I just want to know I have the option, at any time, to just get dressed up, go out with the lads to a place with a lot of ladies, and strike up a conversation from a place of authentic power that could lead to something bigger.  I just want the access.

Or could this just be fear of hurt manifesting itself as practicality?

In any case, the main thing for me these days is that whoever I meet needs to be someone along the path I’m walking towards the goal I set myself.  Any girl who appears in my line of sight who meets my twenty criteria (yes, I have a list: what else could you expect from the author of “Convergence”?) needs to somehow contribute to that greater version of my life.  On the flip side, from her perspective, I’d also have some utility to whatever she has going on for herself.  As unromantic as it may sound, we should be useful to each other.  Otherwise, we will diminish each other.

Anyway, I suppose this is just a way of emptying my head so that tomorrow, when I do head back out in the world to build the future I’m creating for myself, I won’t get stuck in my head with all of these limiting thoughts if I do see someone that catches my interest.  This way, I can actually have a conversation and see what opens up beyond her just having a pretty face.

And for those thousands, forty minutes away to the north east, who are finding power, expression, and freedom in love, I wish them the best, and hope that for myself, I will find love that will empower me in much the same way. twinflame1

The Sweetness of Writing Nothing

I feel like writing something….anything, and to be seen writing it. Unfortunately, Starbucks is closed and I’m in my sleeping clothes, so the most I can show you at this late hour are my words.

I suppose I could go to Denny’s, but that would require changing. I suppose I could go to Denny’s as is, but trust me, you do NOT want me out in these short shorts. They’re built for comfort, not style. You want to see that much leg skin in the Brampton area at 12:31am on a Sunday-into-Monday, go to the Airport Strip. At least those legs tend to be shaved.

Er, I mean, I’m assuming they are. I’ve never been to the Airport Strip. Seriously.  For real.

Yeah….where was I?  Right. The writing part.

I’ve gotten so used to prescriptive writing on this blog that I forget that sometimes, people don’t always want to get advice. They’re just curious about what I have to say this time around, about anything. This whole idea of giving blogs and writing a purpose – really, giving anything a purpose – is more of the business side talking, a product of aligning oneself with a results-oriented culture.

Nearly two months ago, I sat down with MoMondays founder Michel Neray, just ’cause, just for coffee. The conversation turned into an idea for a blog entry about precisely this topic, one I’ve yet to complete, partly because afterwards, I decided there had to be a grand purpose to it. I’ve yet still to carve out time to make it happen and re-create the topic, and for that reason, it may not happen, because the idea itself emerged from a completely purposeless meeting. We just wanted to have coffee and chat, so having to purposefully develop an idea that was born for no reason whatsoever melts my brain a little. For now, we’ll just have to live with the reality of this tasty paradox floating around the ether.

Image
Recently, I re-watched “Eat Pray Love”, and the film covers that same idea: “dolce far niente”. “The sweetness of doing nothing”. All
sarcastic, smart-assed remarks about Italy’s economic powerhouse status aside, this is a way of living that we are losing more and more in North America, and we could sorely use from time to time.

Even “writing for nothing” is something that’s not quite fashionable, especially when blogging is concerned. Everyone’s worried about SEO. Everyone’s worried about word count limits, short attention spans, target audiences, etc..

When we’re wearing our businessman/woman hats, of course we should be concerned with those things. But what about just writing once in a while just to be seen by the people we already have, just for the simple validation that someone is reading our words and thus getting an insight into our souls?

The other day, I had a Facebook rant after a stupid argument with a loved one that in the end, was for nothing because the loved one in question and I reconnected after a couple of days and squared up with each other. People kindly offered me feedback, among them, my Landmark Self- Expression and Leadership Program leader Kara, who offered me this bit of advice. She said that I didn’t show up as powerful in that moment, and that I am responsible for my communication. And she’s absolutely right, my Facebook rants carry far less power and far more drama and acrid humour, depending on the context.

At that moment, though, I’d wanted to be seen for all the turmoil I was going through. Why that mattered, I have no idea.

Well, actually, no, I do have an idea. It matters because I’m a human being, and I crave the same basic level of intimate connection that almost every other human being requires to thrive in life. A girlfriend, priest, therapist, or a friend or relative could perform this function of “insight” (literally, seeing inside), but in that moment, I had no such person available to me. I could have just written it on a piece of paper, as my “Artist’s Way” book taught me to do, but that didn’t suffice. In that moment, I just wanted human connection, and social media offered it to me.

I suppose that’s a big reason why I’m writing this out tonight. Someone’s going to read this, I’m sure. Doesn’t matter who, but someone, and someone who knows me, at that.

Louis CK would probably have my ass for this post for that reason.

aberdeengardiner

The guy’s insightful as hell, as many comedians are. That’s why they make us laugh: it’s the truth that the expose that we’d rather not talk about. Louis is deep, though.

In this clip from Conan O’Brien, he talks about why he hates cell phones, and at one point, he says words to this effect: we use technology to stave off those little moments of sadness, those feelings of being alone, or that life is empty and meaningless. The end result, he says, is that “You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel “kinda satisfied” with your products’, and then you die.”

On the other hand, if you just let these little sadnesses wash over you, they tend to be replaced by happy feelings, and a deeper, more profound presence to life and the now. All we have to do is just not check Facebook on our phones. Or write out meaningless blog entries, I suppose.

(And if you watched the clip, yes, I vastly exaggerated Louie’s words back there, but you get the idea).

That’s as good enough a place to stop as any. Thanks for reading, if you’ve stuck it out this far. This is where I’m at this Sunday night.

I have a lot happening, a number of big changes that I’ll be bringing about consciously, in my own life. They all require Olympic-scale focus and performance on my part to accomplish.

Every now and then, though, I want to make sure I just write because I feel like it, because some part of my spirit finds replenishment in the sweetness of doing nothing, in feeling deeply, and experiencing the joy that lies on the other side of temporary aloneness.

Night y’all.

Post Navigation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 540 other followers