The Key to a Confident Life

Remember when I was talking about how we all are part of our own narrative? About how we can write our own stories, and live our lives with a perspective of our own choosing – being the hero, the victim, the villain, even the comic relief if we want?

There’s a reason that trick works:

We’re making it all up.

The whole idea that “the world is out to get me” has to be founded on a completely ridiculous notion: that somehow “the world” is separate from “me.” It’s kind of like the silliness of “mind/body” type stuff – the “mind” is just a bunch of firing electrons, governed by genetics, hormones, environment, conditioning, all sorts of other things. It’s not “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”, it’s more “the spirit is willing because the part of the flesh that creates the spirit is weak.” That’s why diets don’t work.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Wordsworth, David Whyte, Mark Manson, and Stuart Townsend Go Into a Bar…

…or, in a better version, they walk into my brain via a few different media.

In his book The Three Marriages: Love, Work, and Self, the poet David Whyte talks about a particular scene painted by an earlier poet, the aptly-named Wordsworth*:

The sea was laughing at a distance; all
The solid mountains were as bright as clouds,
Grain-tinctured, drenched
And in the meadows and the lower grounds
Was all the sweetness of a common dawn-
Dews, vapours, and the melody of birds

– Wordsworth: The Prelude 1805 Version Book IV

Whyte talks about how this tableau took the Victorian poet to a different kind of awareness, an acceptance of his place in the Big Picture of things and even further into his life’s calling as a poet. Whyte further stipulates that it is through this kind of understanding that you can better understand how best to find your fulfillment in life:

“Life can find you only if you are paying close attention to something other than your own concerns, if you can hear and see the essence of otherness in the world, if you can treat the world as if it is not just a backdrop to your own journey, if you can have a relationship with the world that is based not on triumphing over it or complaining about it. When something beautiful and overwhelming like a waterfall or the morning light on the moutainside takes us outside our worries we are put in a privileged position that is far more than the ability to appreciate a good view.”

– David Whyte, The Three Marriages (emphasis added)

The Confidence Man

When I heard that word “privilege” (as I was listening to the book read by the author, which I highly recommend) my brain took it in a less flattering direction: the constant arguments and reminders of the intersections of “privilege” that we all have to some degree. One of the uncomfortable aspects of examining your own privilege is that it can create a crisis of confidence – we no longer feel quite as sure of ourselves, and there’s this really sour feeling that life is not as fair as we’re taught it needs to be.

To combat this there are a zillion books and articles about how to boost your confidence, using affirmations and twisted logic (from Gamergate to Meghan Murphy**) and all manner of ideas. A solution that resonated with me comes from the blogger Mark Manson, who wrote:

No, the solution to the confidence conundrum is not to feel as though you lack nothing and delude yourself into believing you already possess everything you could ever dream. The solution is to simply become comfortable with what you potentially lack. – Mark Manson

It may be a stretch, but I believe that in a way you get both the lack and the completeness when you are able to find that place that Wordsworth and Whyte are talking about. When you look into a child’s smiling eyes, when you deliver that combo that takes down the Boss Level, when you really lose yourself in the flow of the writing or the feel of the dancing – when, as Stuart Townsend phrased it, “you don’t play the music, you play the song” – that’s when you are confident because you are not the center of the universe.

Instead, you realize there is no center – there’s just everything, and you’re a part of it.

Not that I think it’s terribly easy to do that for more than a split second. Then all the attachments you have to the rest of life come crashing back down, the dirty diapers, the bills, the problematic chapters and the confusing change to 5/4 meter.

But wow. That split second. That sure is something.

  • I really hope, when I have another grandchild, my daughter names them “Blogsworthy”

  • *Oh Great Blog-God, please protect me from the dangerous flames of mentioning both of these names in the same post!

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