Let's drop this shared illusion

We wouldn't like it if we could attain it.

“I used to resent obstacles along the path, thinking, “If only that hadn’t happened life would be so good.” Then I suddenly realized, life is the obstacles. There is no underlying path. Our role here is to get better at navigating those obstacles.”

[Source]

We have one weirdly entrenched and utterly false belief that gives us lots of trouble: the belief in a static place of being. 

We throw this belief onto the past, and it results in an idolatry of the old. Back in “the good old days” things weren’t static, secure, comfortable, or better than they are now. But it’s easy to think they were, to pull out a few rosy details and imagine that life was a postcard, that culture, economy, politics, and lifestyles were firmly established, accepted, and successful. That everyone knew what to do and when to do it. That life was, in a large sense, predictable, understandable, and static. 

We throw this belief onto the future, and it results in a relentless drive to get somewhere else. Somewhere else in time, somewhere else in space, somewhere else in situation. We have the idea of a peaceful plateau, or an enlightened mountaintop. Once there, we think, we’ll know. We’ll be free from confusion, out of uncertainty. We’ll be set up, good to go, a-ok for the rest of life.

It’s alluring, this idea. It’s also unattainable, because static anything is an illusion. 

Here’s what we’re made of: moving moving always moving particles of energy, waves of energy, mixing and meshing and changing energy. The most solid arrangement of atomic stuff is spinning at crazy speeds, is always coming together or blasting apart. It happens slow and it happens fast, and it happens in a way we don’t notice, but it’s always happening. 

A truer belief is this one: if we could invent or find a static place, a life of ultimate stability, we would enjoy it for approximately 10 minutes… and then we would hate it and find a reason to destroy it.

We’re not static beings, and we’re not made for any kind of unchanging existence. The ebb and flow of life gives us stuff to work on.

The obstacles are challenges, reasons to learn, to grow and expand, to draw forth new powers.

Even the terror—the insecurity, the self-doubt, the imagination of all those bad things that might happen—even that has its place. Fear wakes us up, shakes us out of complacency. Offense, anger, and dissatisfaction are weapons against lethargy. 

If we can drop the idea of some single, fixed, safe way to live, we can see what is and learn to love it. It’s not the obstacles of life that create pain: it’s our resistance to them. It’s not the ever-changing nature of life that makes us feel insecure: it’s that we’re looking for something that doesn’t exist, feeding ourselves an illusion, twisting ourselves into tangles and knots.

We resist change because we tell ourselves we’re supposed to. And we believe we’re supposed to because we accept the idea of “static success” (in one form or another) as the pinnacle of achievement, the ultimate goal in life. 

In a sense, there is a static goal: for all of us, the story ends in the same way. If life is ever-changing, an endless flow, a room full of moving parts, then death is the door we close on it. I have a suspicion, though, that we don’t find any more stability after death than we do before, at least not anything that fits our current definition of stability. Why would we think of death as changing the essential nature of what we are, of existence? What reasoning do we have for this? 

Oddly, the more I release the idea of a static point, of reaching any stage of life that stays the same, the less I long for stability. The flow of life, the movement itself, becomes the stable foundation. It’s a matter of changing our definition, opening up to a new idea of what safe can mean. We’re not really after a static, unchanging existence: we’re after a feeling of safety. We just think feeling safe requires everything being predictable, repetitive, glued in place.

But if we loosen our grip on that particular requirement, maybe we can find safety elsewhere: not in some external point, but in our own internal being. In our ability to learn and adapt. In our depth and creativity. In our honesty and connection.

There’s freedom in the movement and change of life, freedom and flow and a shitload of fun. Challenges, yes. Obstacles, plenty. But these are the experiences that become most rewarding. These are the moments when we become more than what we are, and sense that our own development, our own daily changing and growing, is the most radical transformation of all. 

There’s not really a choice of what kind of life to have: a static, safe one, or a flowing, free one. Life is not a river with a calm shoreline. You don’t get to choose whether you flow with the current or sit tight on the riverbank. You don’t get to opt out of the movement.

Life is a river without a shore, an endless stream of movement and change and energy, fluctuation and expansion. The choice we have is whether to fight it or flow with it. We can react and resist and seek an illusive point of stillness, grabbing at every rock or tree branch that seems solid. Or we can turn our faces forward, take the rudder in hand, and learn to ride the waves.


Links!

  • All of us in this moment. Appreciating the transient experience it is, knowing it will never—in a billion billion lifetimes or realities—be repeated, that this moment is unique, unknown, unrepeatable, and I get to be here in it. I get the gift of this experience.

  • I’m singing all the love songs to myself. Super introspective this week! Oh WAIT THAT’S EVERY WEEK.

  • Through a glass darkly. One of the deepest pains in changing, growing, becoming who you are, speaking your truth, living your own fucking life, is the pain that is not your own. It’s the pain you cause others.

Go forth and do the thing, whatever it is.

It’s a hot date, for me. I love having an oldest child old enough to babysit the younger children. This parenting thing is starting to pay off.

How does it make you feel?

Values, schmalues. Let's talk about your emotions.

“So then I learned, at least in part, to only say things that made me feel like I was together, and that’s part of that coming-together: you can feel that, physically. If you say something deceitful, you shrink and you cower from it. It makes you embarrassed, and it makes you weak. You can feel the weakness. It’s like: Stop saying things that make you weak, if you don’t want to be weak, then. If you want to be strong, stop saying things that make you feel weak. Try it! Try it; see what happens. You can test this out. In a year, things will be way different for you. In five years, you won’t even be the same person. God only knows what’ll happen in a decade.”

[Source: audio, transcript]

We think of deception, lying, as a moral choice to be made. Rather, honesty is the moral choice. Dishonesty is the immoral choice.

And we’re right.

But what we don’t think about is how often we make the immoral choice—dishonesty—without realizing it.

There are a few principles, or ideas, that I strive to live by daily. They have changed the way I view everything, the priorities I have, the decisions I make. As a result, they have changed my life.

One of them is this:

A commitment to complete honesty in word and action

Simple? Should be. Sounds like it. But I’ve discovered that the most difficult honesty is being honest with myself.

Who am I? What do I want? What am I satisfied with? What am I not satisfied with? What works for me? What doesn’t? How does each experience affect me? What values do I really care about? How do I want to spend my time? What kind of people do I want to be around? What strengthens me? What makes me feel weak? What feels right and whole and “from the core”? What doesn’t? What am I allowing in my life for someone else’s sake? What am I doing out of guilt or fear or obligation? What lights me up with joy? What doesn’t?

I’m all for introspection, but introspection alone doesn’t lead to honesty.

I can spend a lot of time in my own head thinking and reflecting, and still avoid real honesty. Surface-level emotions and experiences can keep me busy for a long time. They’re real, but they’re not the whole story. If I’m ignoring a big part of my own story, how honest can I be?

I’ve kept a journal since I was… 10, maybe? When I can’t figure shit out, I write about it. (This is the primary motivation behind the work I do: I’m still just trying to figure shit out.) I set goals and track habits and make lists. But sometimes I’m tracking and logging and listing the wrong things: the should-do things, the must-do things, the obligatory things, the ego-driven things, the socially-approved things, the role-appropriate things.

How successful am I if I build a habit or achieve a goal that’s not something I really care about?

Not successful at all.

Defining our values is difficult. Values—like honesty, commitment, love, kindness, freedom, fulfillment—are loaded with meaning. It’s tough for us to admit we don’t value some of the things we think we’re supposed to value. So we try to keep up with all of them, juggling as much as we can. The result is that we live by none of them, have a lot of internal conflict, and keep ourselves too busy and stressed to notice what’s happening.

No good.

Here’s a better idea: notice how things make us feel. The effect each choice or activity or interaction has on us, in the moment. That’s a path toward finding out what we really value.

“Those questions that we never asked ourselves kept bothering me, so I started to question everything. What made me happy? What made a day worthwhile? What made life worthwhile? I really started to track, compile, list and organize what had an impact on me and allowed me to appreciate the moment. …as long as it was deep and real I took note and tried to embrace it. It was a work in progress but I quickly learned a lot. What made me tick became more clear.”

[Source]

I just hired a business coach. My notes from our first call look like they’re about two different people. Essentially, they are:

  • Functional Annie, who gets shit done and makes progress and has ready answers and can describe her services and ideal clients and unique value proposition and five-year goals.

  • Then there’s Honest Annie, who has no fucking clue most of the time, is all over the place, and is mostly unaware of the stories she’s telling herself.

And now let’s pause while I have an existential identity crisis because I’m not only writing about myself in third person, I’m writing about myself as two people. Send Help.

I’ve been trying to set a few quarterly goals because 1) I like goals and 2) I like goals.

Three goals. Three quarterly goals. Three quarterly business goals. Shouldn’t be difficult.

I’ve thought of about 127 different options. I hate them all.

Why?

Because there’s a conflict.

Functional Annie wants to keep the boat afloat, no matter what. Chaos is pain.

Honest Annie wants to figure out what she really wants to achieve. Wants to venture to that field out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing. Wants to ask and answer the more important questions. Wants to notice what matters, not what should matter. Wants to be still long enough to hear every part of her own story and tell it true, tell it whole.

Hmmmmmm.

Tell it true, tell it whole.

No matter where it leads. No matter what it means. No matter who it might displease. Not matter what chaos it might generate. No matter what.

Tell it true, tell it whole.

Then live it true, live it whole.


Links!

  • Don’t start with goals; start with clarity: If I had a penny for every time I’ve written something and then a few days later I’m like “OH MY GAAAAAH I WAS JUST WRITING ABOUT THIS AND NOW I AM DOING THE TOTAL OPPOSITE THING OF WHAT I SAID TO DO,” I’d have like, a dollar.

  • How to build a content dashboard: Time to balance out all these feelings with some solid freelancy contenty content. Wheeeee!

  • What do we need to live?: A tiny shopping cart, first. Then an assortment of fine-point pens, fast wifi, and coffee.


❋I switched to “Source” with a link instead of the name/title because of something I noticed in myself: when I recognize the source of a quote, I validate or invalidate what it says based on my opinion of the person/organization/etc. Now that’s not entirely bad. If information comes from an unreliable news site, for example, it’s a good idea not to trust it.

But what about ideas? Concepts? Principles? Feelings? Opinions? These aren’t factual items to confirm with data and research, but insights and lived experiences. How many insights have I dismissed because of my prejudice against a source? Hmmm. When we dismiss the experiences of others—and the lessons they’ve learned from them—because we don’t agree with them on something else, we miss out. We miss the chance to learn. We miss the chance to gain a broader perspective. We miss the chance to understand, to connect.

I don’t want to miss those chances. I don’t want you to miss them, either.

Someone who is still not good enough

Helloooo Self-Criticism, my old friend

“…We can effectively affirm only that which we know, and we know only that which we are. It is herein that we see the necessity of providing within a greater concept of life; a bigger idea of ourselves and a more expanded concept of the Universe in which we live, move and have our being. This is a matter of inner growth together with the enlarging of all lines of thought and activity.”

Ernest Shurtleff Holmes

I’m my own worst critic.

Are you?

The negative voices that fill our heads may come from any number of sources but we are the ones who let them keep ringing out. We are the ones who keep giving them validity and keep believing them.

I see and celebrate my successes, sometimes.

I acknowledge my worth occasionally. (I’m getting better about this.)

But I never miss a failure. I never overlook a mistake. I see my weaknesses, my missteps, in all their naked truth. Usually, the only time I give any weight to my identity is when I’m reviewing the things I’ve done wrong. Negativity is heavier than positivity, awful but true.

A focus on failure

When we get tired of our negative identities (the ones we give ourselves), we try to change something. Usually ourselves: our habits, our behaviors.

“I’m going to do better.”

What we mean is we’re going to fail less, or in more acceptable ways.

For example, if I want to lose weight, maybe I’ll go on on a diet. I’ll start working out more.

I’ll lose some weight.

But what does my mind do? Celebrate? Rejoice? Enjoy the moment?

More often than not, all I will see is how much weight I still want to lose. Maybe five pounds are gone, but what about the fifteen still hanging out on my thighs? Maybe my calves are slimmer, but look at those upper arms!

I can destroy my success by focusing on not being something I don’t want to be. This isn’t pursuit of a meaningful goal. It’s a retreat, an escape, running away, trying to outdistance some (seemingly) negative aspect of my identity.

There’s no victory in this approach to life. There’s no real success.

There are only varying degrees of failure.

No matter how hard I try, or how much I progress, my identity is fixed: someone who is still not good enough.

Two ways to grow

There are two ways to grow: the first way is to notice how we fail, and try to fix it, to change it. We can accomplish a lot this way, but it’s painful and demoralizing.

Our motivation is poor: we’re running away from something negative rather than running toward something positive and good.

No matter how much we change, we always see the negative past behind us, the failures stacking up, and the changes are never quite enough. We can never truly move our identity from the negative by focusing on the negative. We can never see ourselves as victors when we are retreating.

The second way to grow is better.

It’s to notice how we are right, how we are winning, how we are what we want to be, and to open up to more of the same. It’s to notice how we are already good and beautiful. It’s to acknowledge that goodness and beauty inherent in us, and to make room for it, live it, embrace it.

Most of us have a really, really difficult time with this.

We have these deep, old, rumbling voices telling us that there’s nothing inherently good about who we are.

They scream our unworthiness.

They review our failures, over and over.

The most courageous thing we can ever do is to tell those voices to get the hell out of our heads.

When we grow in the second way, the better way, we grow from positive motivation.

We see good, and we bring in more good.

We see beauty, and we create more beauty.

We see worth, and we acknowledge it, and we begin to live according to the best of what we already have and are rather than focusing on what we lack.

We find what we love about ourselves, and we celebrate it. We increase it, expand it, make more room for what is already good.

When we act from positivity, we remove the fear and stress. We throw away the guilt, the shame, the painful effort and self-inflicted punishment.

Growth becomes easy, as simple as taking one little step after another.

“If you had a thought once, it has no power over you.  Repeat it again and again, especially with emotional intensity, feeling it, and over time, you're creating the grooves, the mental river. Then it controls you. And that is why a focused mental loop is the solution.  Take this one thought, I love myself.  Add emotional intensity if you can - it deepens the groove faster than anything.  Feel the thought.  Run it again and again. Feel it. Run it. Whether you believe it or not doesn't matter, just focus on this one thought. Make it your truth.”

Kamal Ravikant


Links!

  • An internal blueprint: Start where the real choices are made. Start in the place where you are simple and true and have a self that is your own. Know that self.

  • What change feels like: Varying degrees of terror, basically, but there are ways to make it better.

  • Personal growth for broke people: Happy to report I’m no longer broke. These lessons still hold true for me, broke or not.

  • Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It: A short, profound read. Apply it and see amazing things happen. If you related to anything above (i.e., feeling like someone who’s still not good enough), make this book your next read.

Consciously chosen partnerships

Why accept defaults when they don't work for you?

SURPRISE! IT’S ANOTHER NEWSLETTER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEEK!

Lately Joe and I have been having a lot of deep talks about our relationship. 

What it was. What it is. How it started. How it’s changed. What we want it to be. 

Of course, all this exists within the context of the institution known as marriage

I’m a big fan of marriage.

But let’s be real: there are a lot of toxic marriages in the world. That’s not the fault of the institution of marriage, really. It’s the fault of people who have toxic relationships and decide to make ‘em legally permanent. Or—more commonly—toxic marriages happen because real people, with plenty of real issues, want to form a particular kind of partnership: a romantic, fulfilling, exclusive partnership of equals. 

Marriage is a structure built to provide such partnerships, right?

Well, no. NOT AT ALL.

Here are my hot takes on what marriage-as-a-structure is built to be or provide. Feel free to disagree vehemently. 

  • Marriage as a spiritual institution is a structure for modeling archetypes (and thus demonstrating spiritual principles). In the Christian context, that’s Christ and the Church. 

  • Marriage as a religious institution is a structure for establishing (or validating) the authority of whatever-religion-you’re-in. 

  • Marriage as a political institution is a structure for validating the authority of the government and creating a set of legal boundaries that you (an autonomous, free-thinking individual) accept as a valid, even inherent part of the most personal aspects of your life. It’s kind of absurd. No, it’s really absurd. 

  • Marriage as an economic institution is a structure for combining and controlling wealth. The foundations, in this sense, are revoltingly patriarchal, and not in a tame, theoretical “man is head of house” way but in a legal and definite sense of “woman is property of man” kind of way. Gross. 

  • Marriage as a social institution is a structure for providing stability in a chaotic world and making it easier for all of us to interact with each other on the basis of commonly held and accepted social rules which we can reliably depend on so we don’t have to come up with social norms every single time we want to interact socially. Also, so it’s easier to raise our offspring into viable adulthood.

Of course that’s an incomplete list. Marriage can and does mean a lot of different things, some beautiful and some nefarious. 

But here’s my realization: 

  • When you accept something as it is, as a whole, then you accept all the implications it brings. 

Then, along the way, you may find yourself trapped in a box you don’t remember building, living in a structure that doesn’t feel good to you. 

Clearly I do not want any part of, say, the traditional economic implications of marriage. Myself as property? Of another human? I can’t even find words to express the rage this concept provokes in me.

Yet, if I don’t pause to see and define what I do want in marriage, I may end up living in an enraging, absurd patriarchal box. 

If we don’t define things for ourselves, we end up living in the default definitions. 

So that’s what Joe and I have been doing lately: defining things for ourselves.❋

We, as all people do, have grown and changed over the years. We’ve learned more about ourselves: who we are, what we want. And the “marriage box” we were living in is defined by defaults and layered with implications that don’t have a lot to do with us as we are now. 

Don’t get me wrong: we’re still married, committed, in love, gleefully together. But we’re defining our marriage in our own terms, thoughtfully, consciously. This can be (and has been, many times) a very emotional, terrifying, painful process. 

But what have we learned? Ah, yes: we have to walk through the pain to get to what we want. 

MOMENTS OF POWER, baby. 

Freedom is not found in running away from what restricts you: that method simply makes you a different kind of prisoner. You’re stuck in “running away” mode, but your options are still defined by that limitation and whether you’re accepting it or avoiding it. 

Freedom comes when you face what scares you. Maybe that’s a concrete limitation. Maybe that’s a complete lack of limits. You face it, then you get to experience yourself being bigger, stronger, more powerful, just-in-general-MORE than whatever that scary thing is. 

Once you do that, you can breathe and decide what works for you.

What do you want? What kind of partnership do you want to have? What kind of structure do you want to build in your life? What implications do you accept, and which ones do you reject? What definitions work for you? Which ones need to be completely changed? 

We’re always establishing partnerships. Marriage—or really, any sort of romantic relationship—is a big one, obviously. But it’s not the only one. We establish partnerships with everyone, unspoken agreements about who we will be for each other. 

I’m learning to pay attention to these partnerships. I’m learning to think about what I want from each one. I’m learning that relying on default definitions is the easy way, the passive way, the way that almost guarantees your life will be unfulfilling in some important ways.

We don’t have to built or engage in partnerships by default. We can choose.

When we choose to think about our partnerships—with our significant others, with our children, with our parents, with our friends, with our coworkers, neighbors, community—we can consciously choose the kind of agreements we want.

We can make them meaningful. We can make them satisfying. We can make them way more fun. We can make them exactly what we want them to be.


❋I’m thankful that Joe is willing to do this work with me. Not everyone is so lucky. If you’re stuck in a partnership that isn’t working for you, and your partner isn’t interested in changing it, together, what can you do? 

You can still think about it. You can still look long at the implications you accepted. You can weigh each one and decide if you still accept it. You can still choose what you want from the partnership, what you want to offer. And once you know those fundamental things, you can communicate them and begin moving away from the defaults and into your consciously chosen definitions. 

The ball is in your court

I'm not very good with sports metaphors

“Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settles one thousand later decisions. It’s like deciding you’re going to become a doctor instead of a lawyer. One strategic choice eliminates a universe of other options and maps a course for the next five, ten, or even twenty years of your life. Once the big decision is made, all subsequent decisions come into better focus.”

—Greg Mckeown, Essentialism

Here’s my waking up routine: my first alarm goes off at 4:30, I hit snooze, and in the ensuing eight precious minutes of silence, I let myself gradually wake up.

My mind turns on (to some degree) with the first alarm. The snooze ritual gives my body time to catch up.

That’s cool, and works well (most of the time, if I’ve gone to bed at a semi-decent hour—if not, multiple snoozes and lots of cursing), but today—today!—it didn’t get a chance to work. The first note of my first alarm sounded and all of a sudden there were fireworks, trumpets, a parade, several clowns, the dog barking, and a list of urgent demands being read in a strident voice while a siren blared. 

At least, it felt that way. 

The actual scenario might have been more like this: my alarm rang, and Joe—who had been awake, apparently, for hours—jumped up, turned on the light, and said, “Hey! Good morning! If I run to the post office, will you pick me up?”

I did not handle this scenario gracefully.

I was, in fact, deeply agitated.  

It all sounds very stupid right now (it is, but then, aren’t most things? Essentially stupid, essentially perfect) and I felt very stupid for letting something so minor upset me.

I stood outside crying and pretending to stretch, the dog looking at me like, “WHAT THE HELL LET’S GOOOOOOO” and finally I quit hoping Joe would come outside to fix everything and I took off, knowing I would either find some clarity or be so busy trying to breathe and not slip on an unseen mango pit that I’d forget about it. 

That’s pretty much what happened.

I had a great run, rhythmic breathing, faster pace, loose, open. Felt great. Actual footage below. There’s been lots of rain lately.

On my walk back home I realized what it was really all about — and it was not at all about the wake-up, the question, the interaction. It was all about the meanings I’d assigned to those things.

  • Joe’s actions felt harsh and abrupt, and if that’s how he’s treating me then that must mean he doesn’t care about me, doesn’t notice or care about my pain. 

  • Then, although I reactively said No to his request right way, inwardly I agonized over it… because saying No to someone must mean you don’t care about them, don’t notice or care about their pain. 

Just like that, in the briefest of interactions, I made myself feel unloved and unloving

The meaning we assign to something always matters more than the thing itself. 

Once we see the meaning, we can evaluate it. Understand it. What we understand, we control.

It can be the slightest shift, and it can make the biggest difference. 

Also, the snooze button is important.

But waking up is most important.


The only real choice you can make

Good writing❋ has always been a beacon for me, a way to know myself and know that I’m not alone, at the same time.

That’s important, because those twin desires—or twin fears, depending on your perspective—are the source of almost all our hesitation, indecision, and failure to act.

Hesitation, indecision, and failure cause a great deal of our suffering, so anything that addresses them is worth paying attention to.

Actually, it’s not the desires/fears—let’s call them needs, there’s the word—that cause suffering; it’s the unresolved conflict between the two.

These two needs seem to be pointed in different directions. Not just off from each other by a few degrees, but fundamentally opposite, leading down opposed paths, toward opposite outcomes: a continual conflict between Individuation and Connection.

They’re both deep, essential, these desire/fear pairs that reverberate under and through all the chaos and noise.

But they seem opposed: how can I truly know myself except by being alone? Yet how can I live, and why would I want to, if I am alone?

Every decision point has some element in it that relates to these needs, even the most mundane: 

  • “Should I say Yes to the restaurant he wants (connection!) or insist on getting what I want (individuation!)?”

  • “Should I choose the career my parents approve (connection!) or pursue the work that I find more fulfilling (individuation!)?” 

This morning’s experience is a superbly mundane example.

Joe’s question, a simple request: Hey, will you pick me up in town in an hour or so? But it conflicted with what I wanted (to go for a run, then come home and write — not be running around town).

I felt huge tension over a simple decision because I didn’t know how to resolve a conflict: 

  • Do what Joe wants (connection!) ↔ Do what I want (individuation!

Ah! Oh! No! Conflict!

So, yes, of course we feel conflict greater than these decisions merit. Of course we have tension. Of course we delay, procrastinate, avoid. Of course we second-guess our decisions and doubt our wisdom, our instinct, our desires. Of course we hesitate and hesitate and hesitate to take action, because we are afraid of saying Yes since, by saying Yes to this direction we are saying No to this other, equally important direction

Compounding the tension are the layers of meaning we frivolously pile on.

We love to attach meaning to… well, everything. Not just words, but tone of voice. Not just actions, but expressions. 

  • “Did you see the look on her face? You know what that means…”

[Side note: we have a lot of shared/common meanings, but much miscommunication happens because of the assumption of shared meaning:

  • “He should know what I mean.”

  • “She knows better than to do that…”

But they don’t know, do they? So it doesn’t matter if they should or not; they don’t. You can either communicate your meaning or accept that they don’t share it. Getting angry at others because they have different meanings assigned to things is a crazy-stupid but crazy-common source of interpersonal conflict.] 

We also have a lot of individual, personal, and usually hidden deep in our subconscious layers of meaning. When we face any decision, those meanings are there, under the surface, attached to all the elements, the backstory, the characters, the words, the environment, etc.. Everything involved in every decision has a meaning.

That’s a lot of pressure, pal. 

In this set-up, every decision is much, much more than a simple choice.

It’s a major conflict, with deep implications, between two dominating needs.

We want to resolve/fulfill both needs, but choosing to fulfill one looks like choosing not to fulfill the other.

This internal conflict is difficult to name, to recognize, to draw out into the open. So, we do the noble, heroic, courageous thing: ignore the internal conflict that’s causing all our pain, and focus on the more obvious, easier, external target. That’s usually the other person involved in whatever decision is at hand. 

A grand and complex illusion

The resolution for this scenario is to realize that there is no real conflict.

All dichotomies are false, including this one which presents two internal, eternal needs as opposing forces. 

To know yourself is not to separate from others. To connect with others is not to separate from yourself. 

These two needs take us in the same direction, not in opposite ones.

We think they’re opposite directions because we think in linear terms pretty much all the time. We think in linear terms because Time. But time itself is an invention, or illusion. Or both. It’s a way of experiencing reality, but it is not reality.

“Time is what prevents everything from happening all at once.”

John Wheeler

The linear view doesn’t hold up when we step back and gain a broader perspective. The lines streeeeeeeetch, then curve: 

And so we see: it doesn’t matter which “way” you go, you’re going to end up in the same place. The opposite lines curve around, head back toward each other, and meet at the culmination point, the final destination. 

The more important question

Suddenly, there’s a much more important question than Which path should I take?

If all paths lead to the same destination, the only important question is What is my destination?

Well, it could be the culmination of love, of what you desire: a place of knowing and being your Self, fully and simultaneously a place of knowing and connecting with others fully. In other words, it could be the place where you get everything you ever wanted. 

Or it could be the culmination of fear, of what you resist: a dark and terrifying place of being utterly alone with a Self that you can never know, a place where you are stuck experiencing everything you’ve never wanted. Hell seems like a good name for this place. 

The only real choice you ever make

Every decision offers a choice, but it turns out that every choice isn’t leading to a different destination: you’re choosing between paths, not between destinations. 

The only choice that affects your destination is the only real choice you’ve ever made, the choice between Fear and Love. Or whatever terms you prefer: Growth or Comfort. True or Not True. Fuck Yeah or Hell No.

This is the choice you’re making all the time and it’s the only choice that matters. Whatever you choose becomes your destination.

How do you know what you’ve chosen?

Look at what’s in your life. You know by what you notice.

What gets your attention? That’s what you’ve chosen and that’s where you’re going. Once you’ve set your destination—by directing your attention—any path you choose will get you there. 

All other decisions are subordinate to this one defining decision that you’ve already made, that you are always making. 

You choose with your attention.

In my opinion, this is great news. This is not a once-and-done deal, so relax. Take a deep breath. You don’t have to figure out your passion, heal your trauma, get in touch with yourself, complete the twelve steps, or transform your life to start making a different choice.

You just shift your attention. A little bit. As much as you can.

None of us are at the final point, the destination. If we were, we wouldn’t be reading (or writing) these words. These words are only for those still in the midst of it. We’re all still choosing. That’s what life is. 

We can waste time on choices that aren’t real choices. We can spend our lives avoiding the only choice that matters.

Or we can get clear on what kind of paths we like best, and frolic through life knowing and being who we are, enjoying deep and honest connections, and doing fun shit.

Is it that simple?

I think it is.

There’s only one real choice to make, so wake up and make it consciously.

Although you can keep hitting the snooze button, if you want.  

The ball’s in your court!

(It always is, if you’re paying attention.)


Here’s a cheatsheet to stay focused on the only real choice.

It’s for me. You can also use it, if you’d like:

  • Decide which destination you want: love or fear.

  • Pay no attention to what you do not want/want to be.

  • Give all your attention to what you do want/want to be.

  • Be honest about what kind of paths you like best and choose them… or choose something different every time and enjoy the adventure.

  • Discover and become more of who you are with every step.

  • Develop meaningful partnerships with those who share your paths.

  • Learn from those who walk different paths.

  • Accept the inherent lack of stability that seems to be a feature of our universe.

  • Appreciate the simplicity and peace that comes when you quit putting so much weight on every single decision.

  • Breathe deep. It’s just life.


Links!

  • Better questions will get you a better life: Questions provide the framing, the structure for our answers. We have to focus our attention, and to do that we need boundaries. Many questions, however, provide a shoddy structure. They put the wrong boundaries in place, focus the attention in the wrong direction, or cut off relevant options arbitrarily.

  • Journey through grief without losing yourself: We can lose someone we love, and we can lose some version of ourselves. What we don’t realize is that when we lose one, we also lose the other.

  • The art of Alex Gross: What’s your favorite? Your least favorite?

  • 7 Must-Read Books on Time: I haven’t read any of these, so don’t believe anything I say about time.

  • Guano Apes: my new favorite band. I’ve had Open Your Eyes on repeat lately.


❋ By good writing, I mean writing that connects with something inside of you in a real, emotional way. Writing that helps you see something you haven’t seen before. Writing that shows you more options. Writing that expands your perspective. Writing that helps you go deeper or higher or both.

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