In the “How you like me now?” Series, I take a blog post from the very beginning of Love Life Practice seven years ago and see how well things have held up. This post comes from November of 2011 (so it’s not quite exactly a year) but it is the earliest “practice” post I have on the site.
How I Sit
I’m a bad Buddhist.
And I can prove it, because if I were a good Buddhist, I wouldn’t say I was bad, because one of the more confusing parts of Buddhism is the idea that you are fine just as you are, wherever that is on your journey of personal development. HA! Paradox!
No, really, the idea is not too hard to embrace – many sects of Christianity include a similar idea with the unconditional love that God and Jesus have for humanity. Having a deity to accept you is much easier than accepting yourself, and even that often requires going to a beautiful church at least once a week just to remind yourself of that fact: “God be with you.”
For me, it takes sitting for fifteen minutes every morning to remind myself that life is a process, not a product, and it’s ok not to quite have the hang of it yet. I began sitting when I was a Marine Corps recruit, trying to reconcile my creative artsy side with the lean green fighting machine that the government was turning me into. At the time, it was the writings of Charlotte Joko Beck that gave me something to hang onto. A few years later it was Cheri Huber who helped keep me going, and most recently I’ve been very encouraged by the writings, both in book form and online, of Brad Warner, author of “Sex, Sin, and Zen” (affiliate link) among others.
All of these teachers come from the Soto Zen tradition, of which I know very litte. What I do know, though, is how they sit. Some would call it meditation, but that polysyllabic word has a lot of connotations attached to it from other spiritual practices, with things like chanting and getting all floaty and at one with the universe.
That’s not what sitting is. Sitting is when you sit. You get into a specific position – legs crossed, spine straight, left hand palm up in your lap and right hand palm up in your right.Â You focus your eyes on an invisible spot in the air somewhere in front of you and down towards the floor.
And you. Just. Sit. There.
No breathing exercises (though Cheri Huber has said you might count breaths, five at a time, if you need to cheat a bit). No closing eyes, no relaxing into ethereal bliss. You just sit and deal with the world as it is, right then, right there.
Sometimes I cheat and put one hand on each knee, palm down. The tripod formed by my spine and my two arms somehow feels right. Often I have to remind myself to straighten my spine, discovering I’ve slumped. But most of my time is spent trying to get my brain to stop spinning. To bring my attention away from what I did yesterday, what I need to do tomorrow, this afternoon, in the next fifteen minutes. To bring it back, over and over and goddamn it over again, to the moment as it is.
The mind is an amazing traveler. It is usually anywhere but where you are. I’ll snap back to the moment after spending who knows how long thinking about computer equipment, having entire conversations in my head with my clients, speculating about friends and lovers and techniques for brewing coffee. It’s sometimes absurd to see where my mind goes. It may be depressed about the state of my bank account, it may be ecstatic about the email I got from my lover, it may be planning on the toppings for oatmeal that morning. I come back to the moment, often wondering what the hell made me go off on that particular tangent.
And that’s sort of the point: to remind myself of how easy it is to not pay attention to the world as it is, and to pay attention instead to the world as I think it should, could, might be. You’d think, since the former is concrete and real and the latter is completely nonexistent, it would be easier to pay attention to the world as it is.
You’d be wrong, though, which neatly proves the point
Sitting is hard. I can only handle about fifteen minutes a day right now, though I’m thinking of adding another fifteen minutes in the evening just to see if I can do it. As it is, I count it a victory if I am able to be “in the moment” when the alarm goes off at the end of fifteen minutes. I count it a failure (Bad Buddhist warning, again!) if I succumb to the temptation to look at my phone to see how much longer I have to sit there, because damn it, I’ve got things to do! I read about “sesshin” – where an entire day, or several days, are spent with hours of just sitting – in much the way a person who has taken up walking reads about marathon runners: with envy and admiration and a distinct feeling of “Wow, I don’t think I could ever handle that.“
I’d invite you to try it out. Not just for one day, though that’s a start. But commit to, say, a week, with five minutes of sitting in the morning right when you get up. It’s simple: you hear the alarm, you get out of bed, you sit on the floor, and set the timer.
That’s it. If you have to move to some pretty view, or put on some chimey soft sounds, or have to close your eyes, well, that’s fine, but you’re cheating yourself out of Life As It Is. It’s not something we get to see all that often, and sitting only gives most of us a glimpse, here and there. I’m not talking about any kind of satori or enlightenment. I’m talking about just being ok, for just a bit, with the way things are, as opposed to the way you think they should be.
Then the doubts will crash in, the baby will start crying, the cat will start puking up a hairball and your boss will text you reminding you that today is when that report you forgot about is due. All part of the busy beauty that is life. Sitting just gives you a chance to stay in touch with reality, and takes away your excuses to avoid it – i.e., your “to-do” and “wish” list. As another zen writer put it:
Before studying Zen, mountains are mountains.
While studying Zen, things become confused.
After studying Zen, mountains are mountains.
– D.T. Suzuki
Don’t just do something. Sit there.
How you like me now?
I confess to feeling a bit of pride, because this post definitely holds up. Not only is it still accurate (as far as it can be from a layman’s perspective) it is also a practice I still engage in – 10 minutes, 15 minutes, occasionally a half hour a day. I have, since writing it, even done as long as (gasp) 45 minutes at a stretch (though to be fair, that was because the person I’d trusted to tell me when 30 minutes was up fell asleep).
It’s still an invaluable tool – and no, I haven’t been completely disciplined in my Practice. There was a period of a few months where I fell off the wagon, but I noticed the difference (and so did my partner). Now, every morning, we both do our own meditations (she’s more the “mindfulness” type).
It’s a relief to see that this post holds up, as well, because if it didn’t, I’d have to do some quick editing – this is a key chapter in my book The Meditation Manual. If you like what I have here, you will probably like the manual, as well. And if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.
I’m also available for coaching and online meditation sessions now, thanks to the magic of online video conferencing. Not because I think I have anything special to offer – I mean, I’m basically going to tell you to sit there with your thoughts. No bliss, no transcendence, not even really any peace.
Just…things get better. Incrementally. Sometimes almost infinitesimally.
Sit with me?
There are a lot of blog posts about Imposter Syndrome. Most of them are probably better-researched, more aptly worded, and have prettier pictures than this one. I’m not really sure why I think I have anything to say about it. Certainly not anything in particular that is new, or thought provoking.
But it’s my blog, and I’m supposed to write about something, and the prompt I gave myself was “The Comparison Trap.” Funny thing: I’m not sure that was supposed to be an idea about Imposter Syndrome. But I wasn’t clever enough to write down what it was about – Past Me just assumed, erroneously, that Present Me would remember – and I’ve been running into Imposter Syndrome a lot this past week, and so…here are three worthless questions.
I say “worthless” because if you find yourself asking them, it’s very likely that it’s not a rational question, but rather something that your subconscious cooked up. I have some recommended answers to said questions, as well.
“If I do this, I might look stupid.”
Yeah, I used that word – or rather, the Imposter Syndrome fear will use that word, because it’s triggering in a lot of people. If you want, you can substitute foolish, silly, incompetent, take your pick. Basically it’s the fear that people (sometimes specific, sometimes general amorphous masses in your imagination) will see you trying something, and judge your performance.
- “Might? I hope I do look stupid! That will make them underestimate me!”
- “I’m the one in the Arena. Those spectators can say whatever the @#$% they want, until they get down here in the sand it’s nothing I have to listen to.”
- “Yeah, I’ll look silly. But I’ll look silly with panache.”
“Everybody’s going to know I’m faking it.”
This reminds me of a scene in one of my favorite science fiction epics, when the main character, upon becoming an adult and an officer, has the horrifying realization that along with the title, the uniform, and the responsibility, he was not suddenly also issued the wisdom, experience, and knowledge to do his job. Worse, he realizes: no one else had it, either. I can’t find the quote, but it was something like “nobody actually knows what they’re doing. We’re all faking it. We’re all making it up as we go along!“
Now, this is a horrifying thought when it comes to things like brain surgery and the Oval Office, but it’s also a liberating one. One has to remember that everyone was a beginner at some point, and the only way a few of them eventually started looking competent was by reflecting on their experience.
And one of the definitions of “experience” is “making mistakes.”
- “But no one will know that I know that they know I’m faking it. Or that I know they don’t know that they’re faking it too.”
- “As soon as they find somebody to replace me, I’ll not only get a vacation, I’ll get to watch somebody else fake it. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the perks.”
- “Fake it til you break it, that’s the Marine Corps motto. Wait, what?”
“Who am I, to think I can do this?”
Ah, hubris. It is not an attractive trait, and being “full of yourself” is a classic insult. I’ve always wondered: who else am I supposed to be full of?
If you’re in a position of privilege and about to give some opinion or take some action that is “outside your lane”, then yes, you may want to take this question seriously. For example, if I decided that I was suddenly going to produce a podcast about indigenous cultures’ religious practices, this would be an appropriate question to ask.
But more often this is a way for the Demon That Eats Your Self-Esteem to try and use a good trait (humility) as a weapon of self-sabotage. It’s basically a diversionary tactic that has nothing to do with the thing you want to do. You are who you are – who else would you be? And what does that have to do with anything?
- “What has that got to do with anything? I know who I am; let’s get to work.”
- “I dunno, but I know who I’m gonna be: I’m gonna be the Me that Did This.”
- “I’m the only person who can do this my way.”
Of course, none of these answers will stop Imposter Syndrome. I don’t know anyone – regardless of how talented or successful they are – who doesn’t feel this at some point.
Perhaps, though, a snappy answer can function as a battle cry that will take you past the moment of doubt into the moment of action. And that’s the funny thing about Imposter Syndrome; once you’re doing the thing, there’s really no room in your head for these kinds of questions. You’re too busy to have time to pretend you’re not supposed to be doing it.
And that’s a feeling worth pursuing.
What tricks do you use to get past those moments when the Demon That Eats Self-Esteem is facing you head-on? I’ve heard everything from high-intensity interval training to blanket forts; share what works for you!
Today was supposed to be a much simpler post.
It was going to be a simple layout of how I do my notebook…ahem how I aspire to do my notebook, both for the monthly layout and the daily one.
However, I think I need to own up to a different issue, one that ties in pretty nicely with the last Life post that I put up, Your Schedule is Not Your Life. Because shortly after putting up that post, I clicked into my Editorial Calendar (a great plug-in for WordPress) and planned out the next two weeks of posts here. Three times a week, writing prompts about love, about life, about practice.
And then Thursday we got on the road, and drove to Cleveland to visit our friend the author Ferrett Steinmetz (yes, I’m name dropping, but only because I want you to do a search on Amazon for him and buy all his books) and somehow in spite of being in the car for hours I neglected to write a post for Friday.
And on Friday, when we were again in the car for many hours on our way to Gettysburg (where I was presenting on The Defining Moment among other things) I again Completely Forgot to write any post at all, much less the post about Love I had planned.
(That one had the working title of “Yelp Yourself” and was supposed to be about the joy of making lists of things you loved. For example, I recently started a list of cigars I enjoy. Guess what I didn’t update when I had a lovely Diesel cigar Saturday afternoon?)
As I mentioned, I can’t pretend that I didn’t have time to write that post. What I failed to do was set aside the time to write it. Time was spent on Twitter, reading the Star Wars comic series (a much better way to prep for the next movie than trying to watch Episodes 1-3), and driving and teaching. My partner Natasha and I took a tango class that was great – but that was ninety minutes that I wasn’t writing.
The good news, though, is that I can see where the way I spend my time can be changed. I don’t even have to “give up” anything, and I can leverage things to be rewards for habits. For example, I can set a boundary for myself: No twitter on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday unless the blog post is up.
I still get my dose of dopamedia, but I have a motivating factor to get it done proactively. In fact, that motivates me to do it the day before, scheduling things so they release at 8am on each of those days.
Becoming The Me-Whisperer
Any good dance lead will tell you they don’t really “lead” their partner — they create a space for their partner to be and then “invite” them to occupy that space. It’s similar to the idea of the horse-whisperer (caveat: I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the book so I may have a false idea of what that word means). Basically, instead of berating yourself for not sticking to habits, calling yourself a failure, or trying to muscle through things…create a space for yourself to do the thing you want to do, and make it inviting. Make it as joyously inevitable as your soft bed at the end of a hard day, or a warm shower after coming in from a cold one.
It’ll be easy to see if this works: just come back on Wednesday and Friday and see if the post is up! Meanwhile: what are you going to whisper yourself into doing?
I am not a fan of compromise. Especially when it comes to art. It’s strange, for someone with so many liberal and social justice-oriented leanings as I have, that when it comes to art I am something of a fascist. I have been part of “group works” where the goal is a sinergistic melding of the minds…but the reality, I always find, is that the process ends up with a watered-down piece of work that inspires no one. Even great creative duos – Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Goldhuber and Latsky, Astaire and Rogers – all brought something different to the creative table. It was their ability to let their partner play to their strengths that made them create such unforgettable works.
(Incidentally, this is why I’ve always hated that saying about how Ms. Rogers did everything Mr. Astaire did but “backwards and in high heels”. That is not how partnering works in ballroom dance, and it does an extreme disservice to her actual skill as a dance partner. I mean, just watch: )
I’m not saying you can’t have communal groups; I just believe that the best work is made when one person has a vision and then inspires the rest of the group to help them achieve it. Yes, it is better than the director could have done by themselves, usually – but a good director also inspires the creative team into brighter and stronger works than they would have been capable of without the director’s vision. In the best situations, you have people take turns being the director, and whoever is in the driver’s seat has the complete support of the whole cast.
“They don’t follow me. They allow me to lead them. There’s a difference.” – Mary Gentle, Ash
This applies to life, too. Because there are always many directors trying to take charge of the way your life is created. There’s the social director, telling you to devote your life to good works. There’s the business director, reminding you that lunch is not free and you might as well get rich first. There’s the director of love who just wants to follow your bliss, things will take care of themselves! And of course the tragedian who reminds you of what happened the last time you followed your bliss/business/charity, and the comedic director who tries to make you laugh through the pain.
If you try to satisfy them all, you end up with a blurry mess. Thankfully, if you were a movie theater they’d have to call you “Legion” because you contain multiplexes. So you can have a comedy playing in one theater, an action thriller in another, and a romantic comedy in another. You can leave the other one dark until you get that perky small-business triumphant tear-jerker ready to screen.
Thing is, if you want to really get the most out of whatever’s showing, you need to be there. You don’t want to try and switch in the middle, because you’re likely to miss out of sections and possibly lose track of the entire plot.
Yeah, that’s right, it’s a roundabout way of saying be present in your life. But it’s not because one director is better than another; it’s because you have, in your life, room for every director to have their turn. Just because you are goofily in love doesn’t mean you’re an unrealistic fool about to run your business into the ground; just because you feel like a monster after the fight with your spouse doesn’t mean you’re not still also in a Regency comedy of manners.
There’s room in your life for all of it; rather than following blindly, though, allow yourself to be led through the dramas and appreciate them for what they are. “The only way out is through.” Your life is no exception.
The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity…Tell your dangerous story.
– Brené Brown, Rising Strong
This is kind of a sneaky Life post. Because yes, it is focused on NaNoWriMo, and yes, it will give you a great way to get your word count up. But at the same time it’s also giving you a tool that comes in pretty handy in the rest of life, as well.
I’ve mentioned before about the power that narrative has in our lives. We don’t observe our lives – we observe the effects that our lives have on us, and then draw our own conclusions. Let’s say we have a stressful day and end up snapping at someone. We may tell ourselves several different stories about our behavior. These may range from the useless I am so thoughtless and mean! to the insidiously passive-aggressive I should have been able to handle that better to the more fair and objective I could have handled that better. Maybe next time I will.
Brené Brown has a little formula she recommends using in any given situation where you have the self-awareness to know that you are creating a narrative around a situation. Basically just fill in the blanks:
What is the story I’m making up about:
- My emotions:
- My body:
- My thinking:
- My beliefs:
- My actions:
In the above example, it might be something like this:
I am having lots of angry and frustrated emotions from my day plus guilt over how I snapped at that person. The tension is in my forehead and my shoulders and I feel hot, like my face is red. My hands are shaking, too, and I think I didn’t eat in a while. I’m thinking that this is just a sign of what a bad person I am, and that story is based around the belief that I am a bad person who is mean to people who don’t deserve it, a weak person who loses my temper arbitrarily, and an incompetent person because I can’t just shrug it off. My actions want to lash out more, or just huddle in a corner and not force the world to have to put up with someone as pathetic as me.
Not a very fun read, eh? I can tell you it wasn’t very fun to write, because it’s right up their with my own fears about myself. But that’s the point: we have to dig deep into our own fears and pull them out through words so that they can be revealed for what they are.
Putting them down on paper also helps separate me from them – instead of me thinking them, I’m reading the thoughts of someone else – The-Me-That-Was – thinking them. That gives some perspective. Rather than just write a sentence about each part, though, I can take more time to explore what each means, and at the end have more of a complete story – and more importantly, a better awareness that it is just a story.
The NaNoWriMo Magic Word Count Surge
Hey, writers – did you notice, that’s about 160 words, just by filling in the blanks? What would it reveal about your characters if they did this – if they all did this? What if you made a paragraph about each part – that’s 160 x 5, that’s 800 words right there! Let’s say you have two characters – you’ve got 1600 words set to go!
The sneaky part is that even if you don’t choose to go into your own experience for the writing, you are still learning a technique that you can do for yourself. Don’t let your characters avoid the questions, or answer them shallowly; dig deep, and it will reveal a lot about them.
And you, too. But that’s just the sneaky part.
Yesterday Petrona put a comment on my post about following passion that I had some trouble with. It’s from Amos Bronson Alcott,
“We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes.“
I did some further research (ok, I actually just read the wikipedia page, but that counts, right?) and I can understand the comment a bit more in light of his life. He was a family man, like me, with many strong-willed and intelligent daughters (many of you may have heard of one in particular: Louisa May). However, his life was very idealistic and he struggled to bring his vision to life without much success. To quote him again:
“None of us were prepared to actualize practically the ideal life of which we dreamed. So we fell apart.”
And to me, that’s the difference. Practically. I don’t sit here and think that your following your passion – or, to stay with the theme of the day, pursuing that which you love – is going to automatically make everything fall into place. I know there are those who do believe that (The Secret comes to mind) and I think they, like poor Amos, are writing themselves a prescription for failure.
At the same time, I also completely can understand that even when his dreams failed, Alcott found happiness with his family and probably, at the end of his life, took some satisfaction in daring greatly. It reminds me of another quote from a novel I’m guiltily enjoying, when the protagonist was asking the Goddess of the Roads for some advice:
“What I can tell you is what I tell anyone in your position. When you get lost, and you will get lost, keep going and don’t stop till you hit the end of the road. There will be something there, even if it’s not what you were looking for. And something is always better than nothing, isn’t it?”
Excerpt From: “Kill City Blues: A Sandman Slim Novel” by Richard Kadrey
Wherever you are on the road of love, I hope you keep going. It’s worth it.
Happy Fourth of July! How about celebrating with a bang by supporting Love Life Practice?
Natasha and I are having a long-anticipated vacation in sunny San Francisco, and I’ll be taking a week off from the blog. I’ll be back on June 8th, though, promise!
We’re Sorry We Can’t Take Your Call…
That’s a screenshot of an email I sent to Chris Guillebeau, shortly after posting my review of his new book both here and on Amazon. When I wrote it, I didn’t have any expectation of a reply. It’s the launch day! He’s wrangling twitter strategies and guest blog posts and more, trying to hit the bestseller lists. When I did get the email from him, it was brief, terse, and to-the-point: an acknowledgement of my email.
It wasn’t terribly eloquent, but that made it all the more personal – this is the email I would expect to get from someone who was insanely busy but wanted to take a few seconds to let me know he appreciated my message of support. The fact that it was there at all actually felt really personal – like this was a real guy, someone I could enjoy having coffee with in less harried times. The fact that it showed up three hours later made it feel very authentic, as if he’d come across it during a day of constant checking of messages.
On the other side of the spectrum was an email that I won’t post here. I was inquiring about a speaking opportunity at a convention run by a fairly successful presenter – someone who has big-media connections and is definitely a star-on-the-rise. At the same time, I did have something of a personal connection – we’d met back in the early days of podcasting at an LA convention, and while they were certainly far more successful, I would consider it a closer professional tie than, say, Chris Guillebeau.
At the same time, I was very aware that I would likely get no response at all – this was simply part of the numbers game, bread cast out on the waters on the off chance I’d get a nibble. But let’s face it, I’m one blog among many, a tiny voice in a crowded room, and while I believe my message is worth getting out there, I’m under no illusions as to my “fame”.
Much to my surprise, though, I got an email – a response right away. Obviously an automated response, which is fine; I’m used to them from tech support places that say “This is an automated reply to let you know we got your message and will get back to you soon.” But this wasn’t like that; no, this one started out “Hello, Lover” and proceeded to do several things:
- Assured me that my email was read;
- Promised to try to respond to it on a website or podcast;
- Meanwhile, here are a few tips that might help… (they had nothing to do with my email)
- By the way, here’s a subscription link to my newsletter!
- You also might want to buy something from my store!
- You can also use this coupon code to get something from that store!
- Did I mention there’s a newsletter? And a store? And another store? With a coupon code?
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for people making money for their content. In fact, my first reaction in reading the flurry of marketing pitches was Wow, I really need to up my marketing game, I’m way too subtle.
The problem was not with the marketing – it was with the imitation of intimacy, of caring, in what was obviously a form letter. I would have preferred no response to the response I got, because that just tells me that regardless of what I actually want to talk about, I’m first and foremost a source of money.
Of course I realize that Chris Guillebeau might have simply figured that out a bit better than the other person. It’s entirely possible that a week ago he set up a timed delay for automated responses, carefully designed to be the kind of email a Very Busy But Still Have Time For You kind of man would send.
That’s fine. The moral of the story, either way, is: Don’t fake caring. Or if you do, do it well.
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