Love. Life. Practice.

Personal Development with Gray Miller

learning to wait

“WHAT DO WE WANT?”
“PATIENCE!”
“WHEN DO WE WANT IT?”
“NOW!”

courtesy Robert Dunlap, Flickr CC

courtesy Robert Dunlap, Flickr CC

As lovely as our technological information age has become, it’s certainly speeded things up. One of the reasons I enjoy reading about history is because it puts some things in perspective. When I think about the years my grandfather and grandmother spent apart, only connected by the occasional letter wending it’s way through World War II across the Atlantic, it makes “I just texted her. Why didn’t she respond?” seem a little silly.

I think we all have our particular bouts with impatience. Frustration at waiting in line at the bank, the delay while the server has the audacity to take another table’s drink order, wondering when that Amazon package will ever arrive because it said Two Days and it’s, like, 20 minutes past 48 hours right now!

Has anyone estimated exactly how much time we, as a collective culture, spend watching task bars fill or animated spinning color wheels and hourglasses rotate? It seems like a long time, but in reality, it’s not. I remember working in the early days of non-linear video editing, waiting overnight for a three-minute clip to render. Today on my desk it takes about two minutes…and yet I find the need to fill that two minutes with some kind of busy-work, because I can’t waste time.

The Ten Breath Trick

However, my real achilles heel in terms of cultivating patience comes during morning meditation. I love it, don’t get me wrong – for fifteen minutes my job is to just sit there. Not to plan anything, not to produce anything, but simply to be there now.

Ah, but the monkey mind is tricky. And the concept of now stretches into a worrisome question of too much time. I start to feel that perhaps I didn’t set my timer quite right, or my phone is muted, or any other number of reasons why I might be sitting too long. It’s supposed to be fifteen minutes, but there have been times when either through mishap or deliberate deception I’ve sat for longer than I intended.

Occasionally the brain monkeys convince me to actually check the phone app that I use to time my meditation; most of the time, I look at it right about the time that there are two minutes or less left in my time. And then I feel silly, and impatient, and like a Bad Buddhist.

However, I have developed a trick that works pretty well for focusing myself back on the here and now, while at the same time satisfying the Buddhist Overachiever sitting in “judgement asana”* in the back of my mind. It goes like this:

  1. Breathe in slowly while counting: 1-2-3-4-5
  2. Let the air sit in the lungs while counting again: 1-2-3-4-5
  3. Relax the lungs, letting the natural contraction slowly let the air out: 1-2-3-4-5
  4. Sit in that empty space of no-air, realizing there’s no rush to breathe: 1-2-3-4-5
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 ten times.

I’ve never actually gotten to ten breaths. Every single time I’ve done this exercise, whatever it is that I was waiting for – in this case, the chime announcing my fifteen minutes are up – interrupted the breathing.

It becomes a win-win situation. I’m no longer being impatient – I’m focusing on breath, on the now. It quiets the brain monkeys, and at the same time if I am able to complete the ten breaths it probably means that the thing perhaps is taking too long.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a nice little centering interlude.

It works for more than meditation, and I’d invite you to try it the next time you find yourself in some moment of impatience. Think of it as a low-tech version of Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Kindle, or whatever you usually do.

In other words, don’t fill time. Let time fill you.

loving yourself from the future

I Love Myself.

Well, let me be more specific: I love the me I used to be.

I look back on old pictures of myself, with my kids, in the military, in high school and college. I see, with the benefit of perspective unsullied by emotion and sharpened by distance, the things that made that young man make the choices he made. I know how the struggles panned out, how the efforts sometimes succeeded and often failed.

I understand why he dated that person, or broke up with them, or married them. I can see better where things could have been more clearly communicated, and also where he did things, all unknowing, that were amazing. I know for a fact that he did the best he could whenever he could and the rest of the time he simply tried to do good. It’s hard to be the best all the time, after all, and a man gets tired.

There is, when I look back on that man, an overwhelming sense of compassion. I wish I could squeeze his shoulder and say “It’s going to be ok.” Or “The heartbreak will fade.” Or “She didn’t really mean that. You’re still her father, she’s still your daughter, and the two of you will just get closer.” I wish I could just give him a hug.

“Yeah? Well, F*** You!”

1988: So proud of my ELECTRONIC TYPEWRITER!

1988: So proud of my ELECTRONIC TYPEWRITER!

The thing is, even if I could, I don’t think he’d be too responsive. In fact, I know he wouldn’t, because I have journals where I literally have yelled at my future self for the fact that I am over whatever crisis I was writing about. “You’ve had time to get over the pain. I’m in it NOW, and I don’t give a **** about it going away!” and words to that effect.

How could I blame him? He was in the thick of it. Frankly, to have some serene and healthy and non-stressed version of yourself come and pat you on the back? You’d want to punch him! I mean, I’d want to punch him! I mean, he’d want to punch me!

Before the metaphor gets too tangled (this is why I don’t write time-travel sci-fi) the point is that I’m pretty sure that self-love goes one way, from your present to your past. Past-me would never have understood why I gave up on some goals and created others. We would probably get along in some areas, but so much of what I do and have now is so far beyond that man that I can’t help but think it would be infuriating.

Just as I imagine myself with no particular fondness thirty years from now. For one thing, I’m looking at at least that much time still as a part of the work force – and frankly, that’s pretty tiring. I’m really worried about the state of the world right now, whereas Future-Me will have had three decades to acclimate. By then he’s probably going to have great-great grandkids to enjoy. I expect he will have divided his kingdom evenly among his daughters, planning to travel and stay with each of them in turn during the year, in order based on how much they love him/me.*

Whatever he does, I’m certain I will blame him for not keeping up with some things that are very important to me now, and also for going into things that I really don’t see the point of doing. But there is one thing that Past-Me didn’t do that Now-Me is going to do in regards to Future-Me:

I’m going to enjoy his love.

I’m going to remember, when my career path is confusing and my workout is unmotivating and my attention is wavering, that there is a version of me who understands exactly why I am making these decisions. He will either be thankful that I worked out, or understand that it didn’t make that big a difference that I sat at home and watched Big Love instead. He will look back on me, just as I am now, warts and all, and smile fondly.

That’s a nice thing. Whether you have all the love you need in your life or if you feel utterly alone, there is a version of yourself that will look back with compassion, with fondness, perhaps even with nostalgia, and love who you are, right now.

Enjoy it. And keep sending it back to Past-You, too. Whether they appreciate it or not, they need it. Trust me.

Part 9: The Defining Moment Arrives

Do it.

That’s all there is to this step. Oh, there’s more stuff to do, but that comes after. In the meantime, you really have run out of excuses. You’ve marshaled your resources, you’ve come up with a plan of action, you’ve not only calculated the risks of failure you’ve also considered the risks of success.

There’s nothing left. There’s nothing else keeping you from it. So it’s time: let your Defining Moment happen.

Don’t Miss Your Moment

One thing you do need to work on, probably, is the ability to be present in the Moment.

  • Don’t tweet about it.
  • Don’t instagram it.
  • Don’t take any pics at all of it.
  • Don’t start blogging/journaling about it in your head as it’s happening (you know who you are)

Just pay attention. Pay attention to everything – the feeling of your body, your emotions, your reactions. Don’t try to predict what’s going to happen – just experience it happening.

Some Defining Moments are easier to do that with than others. If you’re skydiving, for example, then you pretty much don’t have a choice. Gravity works, and this is happening!

On the other hand, using the example of the person picking up my book in a bookstore without even knowing me that is my Defining Moment, well, I have a ways to go, right? And how can I manage to have it happen “spontaneously”? There’s only one way for that to work, and it’s exactly the same as fishing.

The First Step to Catch a Fish

…is to find a lake.

In the “author” Defining Moment scenario, I have to do a lot of things, including writing a book. But even when the book is out I still need to remember to spend the time at the bookstore. Not watching my book! That would be creepy. And a little sad, I think.

No, the point is that I need to hang out in the places that make my Defining Moment more likely to happen. If that’s wanting to see people pick up my book, then that’s the bookstore, right?

No. Not at all. The place I need to hang out is my desk. My computer. The places where I write. I’m going to end up at bookstores anyway – but in order for the Defining Moment to happen, I need to create an environment where it can happen.

That environment is not a bookstore. It’s a bookstore that has books by me. And while technology is a wonderful thing, the books still do not write themselves.

Is your Defining Moment going to happen on it’s own? And if not…then what are you doing to make it happen?

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the practice of respect

“I don’t just give respect. You have to earn it.”

I’ve never understood that idea. It requires a level of magical thinking that just doesn’t work for me: “I expect you to understand what I value, what kinds of actions I admire, and act in accordance with them before I will recognize your worth and value.” How am I supposed to know that? Sure, you could tell me – but at that point, am I taking actions that are authentically motivated, or am I doing them in an attempt to buy your respect through my actions.

It’s a common trope in dramas: someone, usually a son, does some heinous action or some complex plot to finally get some father figure’s respect (Inception, I’m looking at you). Or the flip side, when someone, usually a woman, chooses to take independent action (often sexually related) and is asked “Don’t you have any self-respect?

Um, yes. In fact, I know for a fact that it was when I was trying to live up to external expectations that I showed the least self-respect.

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courtesy grahamc99 via Flickr CC

Given, Not Earned

I would like to put forth the idea that respect is not ever something you can really earn from anyone else – not in any genuine sense of the term. Rather, I think that respect is something that can only be given. I can choose to respect someone, based on whatever criteria I choose. What is respect, anyway? I’m not going to choose the easy route and look it up – instead, just think for yourself: what does respecting someone mean? Here’s some of the things that I can think that it means:

  • Admiration, perhaps even emulation
  • Inherent Value
  • Acknowledging their right to self-determination
  • Seeking their counsel, or simply their presence
  • Listening to what they have to say, and seeking to understand it

Now, I’m not saying that one should admire everyone. Nor is everyone qualified to give counsel on any subject (present company included). But I also don’t think that there’s any reason not to acknowledge inherent value, a right to self-determination, and above all seeking to listen, not just hear, and to understand, not just respond.

I don’t see why that shouldn’t be a level of respect offered to any human being. Notice it did not excuse them from the consequences of their actions, nor does it have any expectation that they will extend the same respect to me.

They don’t need to. I have my self-respect, and part of it is the necessity of giving respect to everyone I meet and know, even those that I despise with a passion.

But it takes practice. Constant practice and vigilance, and there are times when I have to remind myself that respect applies even when someone is not present to feel it. Gossip doesn’t hurt only the subject of the comments – it lessens the people talking with each other as well.

If I were a better philosopher, I could probably draw some direct comparisons between “respect” and “compassion” – both as concepts and as practices. As it is, I just have this feeling that the two go hand in hand. On a hot July afternoon, that’s enough.

What do you think? Is it possible to earn respect? Or is it simply something that you can increase the odds of being given by leading a good life?

modeling the adult you want to see

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OK, I admit, that’s not necessarily the best role model up there – feeding donuts to my grandsons before lunch. However, they are Greenbay Packer donuts from the Greenbush Bakery in Madison, WI, so at least…um…they’re kosher?

A Better Model

My grandson on the left there, Harvey, doesn’t have much contact with his father. That makes Father’s Day not a terribly enjoyable one for him. His mother, my Eldest Daughter, noticed that, and so she decided to create a different holiday.

She called me and a few other men in her life – my father, her stepfather, a few friends from work – and invited them over for what she called “Great Men’s Day.” What she was looking for was for Harvey to get the idea that there are men in his life who care for him, and for him to spend some time with them. She had originally thought of having “Manly Contests” such as belching, meat eating, and…well, I don’t know exactly what, but I’m happy to say that she instead listened to Harvey and asked him what he wanted to do.

What’s a Man?

Biologically speaking, there are a lot of traits that are different in men than women – but not as many as you’d expect. Men are not from Mars; Women are not from Venus. There aren’t “masculine” and “feminine” traits like sexual aggressiveness or bonding or cuddling or competition; there are simply traits that are influenced by levels of hormones such as testosterone and oxytocin, and both of those are present in various levels in every human being, from the raunchiest player to the most stoic asexual to the completely monogamous couple celebrating 50 years of marriage.

It’s a beautiful spectrum. And I’m really happy that my daughter gets that, and she didn’t force any stereotypes or cultural memes on Harvey. When he said he didn’t want burping contests, she was ok with that; when he said he wanted music, she made sure there was some playing.

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Because of schedules, the men showed up in staggered groups. First my Dad, then myself, and we fired up the grill and told him stories about my Grandfather. The time when I rolled a toy right through a plate glass door. The time my Dad drove his car into a lake. The time he’d served in North Africa and Italy fixing bombers, reading papers by the fires of the burning wings (as he used to tell it).

We also emphasized that he had loved us very much, that we couldn’t remember him yelling or hitting or losing his temper. Then Chris, the other grandpa, showed up and talked about theater and musicals and more with Harvey. When I had to leave, the young boy was earnestly trying to get my daughter’s work friend to play with a little action figure. I laughed as Harvey finally sighed, looked mournfully at the man, and said “You probably don’t understand anything I’m telling you…”

As the man sputtered “I DO understand! I DO!” I just shook my head and smiled. Harvey is turning into a wonderfully creative, sensitive, but also mischievous young man, and it’s because of the love that we share with him and he gives right back. I’m proud of my daughter for seeing the need and giving him what he needed, and proud of my Dad for dropping everything and showing up, and grateful to the other men for helping my grandson turn into one of the good men.

Lord knows we need more of those.

The Defining Moment Part 8: Resources

Whatcha Got?

If you’ve been trying out these various exercises – figuring out what your Defining Moment is, working out the details of it, assessing the risks of trying for it and then also trying to foresee the consequences of success – you may be pretty excited. I hope you’re pretty excited, anyway! When you look at the composite parts, it’s a pretty amazing thing to realize just how close your dream might actually be.

Time to step back.

That’s right. I said step back. Because now you need to take a moment to figure out what things you need vs. what you currently have that can help you get to your goal.

These resources need four pages of their own, each with two columns: have and need. The resources are divided into four main categories: People, Skills, Tools, and Information. Let’s start with the “Have” columns, because they’re going to be much, much bigger than the “Need” column, and that will feel really good.

1. People: Who do you know? Make a list of your family members, your friends, your business partners, your acquaintances. You might want to branch it into people you’ve heard your friends/family/biz partners talk about, too. Basically this is a list of the people to whom you have some kind of access. Don’t let yourself give any “Oh, but they wouldn’t want to help…” answers. WRITE THEM DOWN. They are (I assume) human beings, endowed with free will, and you do not get to decide for them whether or not they’re willing to help. You only get to decide if you’ve got the guts to ask, and if you’re willing to accept what help they want to give.

2. Skills: What can you do? And don’t you dare say “nuthin’ much”, because if you can read this then you are certainly somewhat capable with computer skills. You probably have other skills, as well, and keep in mind that “skill” falls into the realm of “something you can do.” In this case, yes, you probably want to keep it in the realm of your “Defining Moment” – but let your mind wander. One skill that I have that I used today was putting up shelves. How does that relate to my Defining Moment of watching a person pick up a book I’ve written in a bookstore? Well, perhaps the bookstore belongs to an acquaintance, whose agreed to give my book a premium spot on the shelves if I install them. Stranger things have happened; one of the best authors/illustrators I’ve ever read, Nick Bantock, got his start because of a drunken dart game. So if “inebriated cricket” is in your skillset, put it down. Because you never know.

3. Tools: As I mentioned, you’ve already proven your ability to leverage one of the greatest tools ever: the Internet. But don’t stop there. Vehicles are tools. Rooms and houses and furniture can be tools. Clothing, machines, silverware…make a list of all your available things that might help with your Defining Moment. I’ve got a computer, a keyboard, a lot of books on writing, and a schedule that I can use to motivate creation. I’ve got WordPress, which enables me to write this book. What do you have? Cars, roller skates, that weird doodad you got from IKEA that looks so cool if you could only remember what it does…they all count. Write them down!

4. Information: This time do not mention the Internet. Why? Because the Internet is where you go to recall or acquire the knowledge you don’t have. What do you know how to do now? Again, put down everything. Juggling. Pancake flipping. Stripping an M16 in less than a minute. Stitching a wound. Wiring a porch light. Prepping a cigar. What do you know how to do? I know how to write a book; notice I did not say I know how to write a good book. So maybe I’ll put the former in the “Have” column and the latter in the “Need” column on the INFORMATION page.

When it comes to needs, don’t worry about it much. First of all, by doing the “HAVE” pages first, you’ll probably find out you already have most of what is required to get to your Defining Moment. As I mentioned, that’s a good feeling. Any time something does go in the “NEED” section, take a moment to ask yourself “Do I really?” Just once, no need to belabor it – but it’s worth double checking if you’re making up “NEEDS” because what Steven Pressfield calls “The Resistance” is trying to keep you from your goal.

I confess, this whole exercise is something that I love to do in group sessions, because invariably someone comes to an obstacle of some kind and someone else in the class – often a complete stranger – will raise their hand and say “Oh, is that all you need? I can give you that.” I’ve seen it happen with everything from private tutoring in Portuguese to the loan of an isolated cabin in the mountains outside Seattle.

If you’re doing this exercise solo, it might be a little more difficult to arrange that kind of kismet. But you might be surprised if you put it out there that you are working towards a Defining Moment – something you are passionate about, something you love, something that will make you smile so widely – at how many people want to help you make it happen. I’m not one of those people who believes that the universe will re-align on a quantum level to adjust to your wishes. I do, however, believe that Fortune favors the bold and Of course the game is rigged – but if you don’t play, you can’t win. Or, as one of my idols puts it better:

…the threads of circumstance that lead to tomorrow are so tenuous that all the fussing and worrying about decisions is futile compared to the pure randomness of existence.

I must admit I like that.

- Nick Bantock

Note:I didn’t get any feedback the last time I created a worksheet to go along with an entry like this. If you would like to have some “Resource” worksheets created and distributed, just let me know.

what I learned from Ignite

I realized the other day that while I had talked a lot about the Ignite talk I did here in Madison, I hadn’t actually posted the video.

Since giving the talk I also ran my own mini-Ignite event at a convention in New Jersey. The experiences had some interesting similarities as well as differences. Here’s a few of the thoughts:

  • Focus is exhilirating. One of the newbie mistakes I made with my first Ignite was trying to shoehorn an existing essay into the five-minute format. When I stopped and stood back and asked “What am I actually trying to say?” it suddenly all became crystal clear, and watching it all fall into place was immensely enjoyable.
  • Keep It Personal. The best talks were the ones that the presenter obviously was passionate about, and had a personal and direct interest in.
  • Rehearse, but not too much. The strongest Ignite talks that I saw were the ones that were not over-rehearsed – that is, they didn’t seem to have every word in place, or seem like they were just reciting from a script. It relates to the message being personal, and letting your feelings carry through.
  • Five Minutes is Enough. Every presenter was able to make their point within the time limit. Even extremely technical subjects such as nerve pathways through the arms were able to be clearly and dramatically expressed. This might hold some bearing the next time you or someone else thinks you need a long time to talk about something. Do you really? Especially when…
  • Five Minutes is Powerful. By the end of both events, my head was swimming with new knowledge, crammed into our brains by the presenters. It was like finishing a great book, or an engrossing movie, or losing yourself in some stage play where the actors really catch you up in what’s going on. If you really want to drive a point home, maybe it’s worth paring down the message to only five minutes, because the impact will be powerful.

What do you think of the presentation? Of the format? One last thing I found: it’s addictive. I can’t wait to do it again…

love is more resilient than we know

Tough Love

…unconditional love? Stop telling that story.
Courtney A. Walsh, “Dear Human”

There won’t be much to this post, because first, I’m driving across the country to give a talk in Akron, OH, the land of two of my heroes: Brad Warner, author of Hardcore Zen, and also David “Chuck” Jones, a former marine buddy of mine with whom I defended the beaches of Southern California from the imminent threat of Communisim.

Successfully, I might add.

Second, I really think that everything I hoped to say is said in that poem above, so I’m hoping you’ll take the time that would have been spent reading the next 800+ words reading that poem slowly. Reading it out loud. It speaks truth in the way that only good poems can.

And the Too Long; Didn’t Read version is: stop worrying about whether or not you’re loving “right” or “wrong.” Love is tough; it will be there, and keep coming back in some form, no matter how many mistakes you make. The key is that you try,

That you shine and fly and laugh and cry
and hurt and heal and fall and get back up
and play and work and live and die as YOU.
It’s enough. It’s Plenty.

Defining Moment Pt. 7: the consequences of success

What If It Works?

“You could go with this. Or you could go with that. Or you could go with us!” – Fatboy Slim

Risks are one thing. They are mishaps that can happen along the way to your defining moment. If you want to skydive, the obvious risk is that your chute might not open. But then there are also the risks of the airplane malfunctioning, the pilot making an error, you tripping as you climb the ladder into the plane, having a car accident on the way to the airport – all risks.

But the thing is that our inability to accurately foresee the future makes us forget that even when things do go according to plan, the result is rarely what we expect. The next step in your Defining Moment process is to try and figure out what the results of success might be.

Succeeding is not Success

The purpose of this step is to try and prepare yourself for at least some of the possibilities. For example, let’s suppose that you have a dream (as I have) of going to Paris. I would like to be eating beignets and sipping espresso as I watch the pretty French people walk by with their noses in the air at the scruffy Americain in their midst.

Let’s ignore all the steps necessary to get there and say that I was there. What are some of the possible outcomes?

  • I will discover I don’t like Paris as much as I’d hoped, and lose that dream of a city that never was.
  • I will discover that I love Paris far more than I expected and leave everything behind to live there, probably over the Moulin Rouge.
  • I will miss so much work during my trip that I lose my clients and my living.
  • I will get enough material on my trip to write the definitive memoir of this millenium’s American in Paris.
  • I will contract food poisoning from undercooked beignets.
I won't look anything like this. But I'll FEEL like this.

I won’t look anything like this. But I’ll FEEL like this.

This is a simplistic list, but as much as it varies, it all is a possible outcome of my making it to Paris. Stranger things have happened from milder events. For example, in spite of having many friends who skydive, I have never had the urge – until I recently, on a whim, watched an episode of a spy show where the heroine jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, gleefully, and cavorted around in the sky.

I suddenly realized: I want to cavort in the sky. And so begins the saving of money, the lessons, the tandem jump, and eventually, the cavorting. I’ll let you know how it goes (or, I suppose, someone else will). It wasn’t the military, or a lifelong love of thrillers, or dating the daughter of a U.S. Ranger Parachuting Instructor, or anything else that made me want to take up that risky goal. It was simply the fact that I set, a long time ago, a goal of being a “Location Independent Professional” – that is, able to work and relax anywhere I was.

So when I found myself in an airport, having just finished an article for a client, I treated myself to an episode of Covert Affairs on my iPad. And boom, I now have a new, completely unexpected goal as a result of succeeding at a past one.

Success is a myth, anyway - success as a result of succeeding, that is. Anytime you work towards a goal, you automatically move the goalposts. The moment you arrive, you see somewhere else you want to get to, and the journey continues. Strangely, the only way to reach “success” (the noun) is to stop “succeeding” (the verb). It’s that moment when you say “Ok, this is enough. I can make my place here.”

I think that’s also called “being happy.” Sure feels like it, anyway.

the practice of joy is hard

“Shared joy is increased…” – Spider Robinson

In some recent travels my co-presenter and I were discussing the idea of joy and misery. She remarked that there were times that the misery in the world seemed overwhelming because there was so much of it.

“But isn’t the world also filled with joy?” I countered. “Even in the most miserable conditions humans manage to find moments of joy, laughter, connection…that’s been proven time and again.” I’m a big fan of Maslow, as you might expect.

She nodded, but then shook her head. “I know. Maybe it’s just that I’m more sensitive to the misery…it’s just so much more noticeable than the joy.” It reminded me of my undergrad, when I was trying to create pieces about happiness and positive emotions in the midst of a cohort of angst-and-anger-filled dance students.

My professor at one point chastised me, saying that in order to make meaningful work I needed to stop chasing fluffy clouds. “Happiness is overrated!” he declared.

“Oh yeah?” I challenged. “Well, misery is easy!”

Something Happened

Of course, from a zen perspective neither joy nor misery are anything but the added layers of meaning we put onto things that happen. If I stub my toe in the night, is it because I was a clumsy idiot? Or because my partner thoughtlessly moved the table? Or because I’m starting to lose my eyesight, as indicated by my lack of vision in twilight?

It actually doesn’t mean any of those things – it simply means that the table met my toe at a moment in time. Everything else is a meaning that I give it, and even if it turns out that I am going blind, that is also simply a thing.

What that implies is that we do, technically, have the ability to remove the filter of misery from things that happen. I stub my toe, I say “OW!”, and that’s that. My toe and the table don’t benefit from worry, from blame, or made up stories.

But it’s hard to get out of the habit of dwelling on the misery, especially as you work to develop a practice of awareness. My co-presenter quoted a feminist slogan for me: “The Truth will set you free – but first it will piss you off.” The more you pay attention, the more awful and injust and downright bad the world can seem.

Practicing the Joy Filter

Plus, it’s entertaining. People want to hear about other people’s misery, hence the rise of journalism, reality TV, soap operas, epic fantasy, and the blues. We are surrounded by a miasma of portrayals of misery combined with marketing designed to convince us that we are also miserable – until we get that new phone, that new watch, that new thingummy.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t practice, once in a while, the joy filter. You don’t have to get all polly-anna-ish and declare only the good things. I think it can be more subtle than that. I think it has to be more subtle than that. One technique I’ve heard of, for example, is the practice of ending each day by writing down three things you’re grateful for. Supposedly that practice will change, gradually, your perspective on life.

It sounds worth it to me. Personally, I am currently in a place in my life where I’m more happy and fulfilled than I ever could have imagined. I look at my life just a few years before and wonder “What the heck was that guy thinking?”” Part of why I’m feeling so good these days, though, is because I was lucky enough to have the free time to really study how to be happy, and try to make it work.

Most people don’t have that luck. And yet even knowing this, I still sometimes fall into my old habits. If someone says “How’s it goin’, Gray?” my first reaction is to say something like I’m so busy! or Tryin’ to pay bills! or Overworked and underpaid!

Why is it so hard to just tell the truth: I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life, and it’s because of the people and work and play in it?

It’s because I’m out of practice doing that. So I try, in small steps. Sometimes when I’m heading off to some exotic locale (such as Piscataway, NJ, where I’m returning from as I write this) I hear someone make some comment like “Gee, rough life, eh, Gray?

I used to respond quite angrily to this: “I worked hard to get where I am! I have a right to what I’ve accomplished, and if you wanted it, you would do it too!” Thankfully I got over that, mostly, but then I would often respond with some long, drawn-out explanation of why this life is not actually glamorous, of the many pains and sacrifices and frustrations that come from self-employment.

But that’s not really helping either. I mean, if they look at my life and have an inaccurate idea of what it’s like, so what? By trying to correct their impression I’m just taking away from a happy thought.

So my conscious practice now is, when I hear someone say that, to respond with “Yes! I am a very fortunate man!” In my head this is said with cheerful smiles and a merry tone. In reality, according to at least two of my friends who heard me say it this past weekend, I’m still sounding grumpy and maybe even a bit whiny when I say it.

That’s ok. The practice of “fake it til you make it” is a time-honored method of habit change. It is a wonderful thing to remind myself that I have a great life.

After all, if you don’t notice the good around you, there’s no way you’re going to enjoy it. And wouldn’t that just be a shame?

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