Dropping Duality by learning flexibility

Drop­ping Dual­i­ty  —  On “Suc­cess” and “Fail­ure”  —  illu­sions, both. The sto­ries we tall our­selves keep us stuck. Until we notice excep­tions, which point us in the direc­tion we want to go.

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On Dropping Duality  —  “Success” and “Failure”

It ought to be appar­ent that things like suc­cess and fail­ure, what we can or can’t do, etc. are not “fixed enti­ties,” but rather beliefs that have no sub­stan­tial­i­ty. We do well to let go of such thinking.

Here’s a question raised by a reader, concerning limitations. I love questions, so feel free to e‑mail me any time!

I’d be inter­est­ed in what you might have to say about per­son­al lim­i­ta­tions and fail­ure. How do we acknowl­edge and accept them in a pos­i­tive man­ner? How do we act with­in our lim­its, yet reach beyond our grasp? There seems an inher­ent con­tra­dic­tion between “set­ting your mind on any­thing” and the real, uni­verse-giv­en lim­i­ta­tions that we are born with. What does fail­ure mean with respect to all of that?”

One of my books is called, Liv­ing Life in Grow­ing Orbits, and the way it works is that there are week­ly con­cepts, and then dai­ly exer­cis­es. You fol­low along, get a sense of the top­ic for the week, and then do what’s sug­gest­ed, every day  —  for a year.

It starts out with Rock beliefs. (click to read a sam­ple) These are the “ancient” beliefs we all have, but are often unaware of. 

We nev­er­the­less oper­ate out of those beliefs, and often on auto-pilot. This is why we keep get­ting into mess­es that seem dif­fer­ent on the sur­face… but with a lit­tle exam­i­na­tion, we see “Same old, same old.”

The sec­ond week, I introduce:

Water Situations (click to read a sample)

Water Sit­u­a­tions are things in our life that fly in the face of what we believe to be true  —  our Rock (or fixed) Beliefs. We do some­thing, and get results we weren’t expecting. 

Normally, we write off the exception, to our detriment.

A sim­ple exam­ple: pri­or to learn­ing to ride a bike, we had a Rock belief that we either “can’t” or “don’t know how.” Most of us, when try­ing to learn, spent many min­utes or hours falling over and skin­ning our knees.

Then, one odd and mirac­u­lous day, we stayed upright, and drove around the block, and had a Water expe­ri­ence. “I can ride a bike!” (Until you real­ize no one taught you to stop, and the only way to do so is to fall over… my dad yelling “Hit the brakes!” not exact­ly cut­ting it…)

So, then what happens? 

The Rock belief (can’t ride a bike) gets over­rid­den by the Water expe­ri­ence (can ride a bike.) The Water expe­ri­ence becomes the new Rock belief (most of us who have learned to ride a bike also assume we still can, even after years of not.)

When we were growing up, everything was hard, until it wasn’t. Bike riding, running, school, dating. Lots and lots of stuff. We just tucked our heads and got on with it

Then, we grew up  —  and in a sense learned about dropping duality

We for­get this “hard­wired-in” pat­tern of learn­ing: can’t, prac­tice, can. Our Rock beliefs are lodged in our heads (Rock head?) and dyna­mite can’t dis­lodge them. We become quite smug in our denial of our abil­i­ty to change.

Let’s remember: when we were growing up, failure was called practice.

We didn’t define our­selves by what we couldn’t do. With­out much thought, we just fig­ured things out. We didn’t lim­it our­selves unnecessarily.

I used to toss in the caveat that we’re not talk­ing phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions here. Sure, want­i­ng to be able to “leap tall build­ings in a sin­gle bound” doesn’t mean we can. I’d point to my height and declare that I could nev­er be a bas­ket­ball player. 

But then I saw a video of some kid who is under 5 feet tall and plays bas­ket­ball extra­or­di­nar­i­ly well. I didn’t believe short peo­ple could play… and now I do… lit­tle peo­ple can play basketball!

In a contest between rock and water, water always wins

We want to under­stand that we are lim­it­ed by our beliefs, not by out­side forces. Then, we under­stand that the solu­tion to the lim­i­ta­tion is, first, a change of belief, AND then a change in behavior.

I know. It’s not easy to admit that we choose each and every one of our behaviours, as well as how we limit ourselves.

We choose what we think we can do, and emphat­i­cal­ly we choose what we will not do. The only way past this, (and why the first two weeks of Liv­ing Life in Grow­ing Orbits is all about list­ing beliefs) is to explore our beliefs with a crit­i­cal eye.

As we unearth and “ver­bal­ize” what we’ve been told by oth­ers, and as we “ver­bal­ize” what we’ve done with those rules, we get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to decide what is help­ful, as opposed to what was help­ful for some­one else.

As we listen to ourselves, we hear our own Rock Beliefs.

  • No one will ever love me.” 
  • All they want me for is sex.” 
  • I’ll nev­er fig­ure out what I’m pas­sion­ate about.” 
  • I can’t let go… lose control.” 
  • I’m not (smart enough, rich enough, con­nect­ed enough) to do what I want.”

Out they tumble.

Rock, lim­it­ing beliefs are easy to find  —  they are always expressed through some ver­sion of, “There’s noth­ing I can do about that. It’s just how I am, (or it is.)” or, “It’s my parent’s fault. They made me the way I am.” 

It’s as if we believe we are com­pelled  —  forced  —  made to  —  behave in a cer­tain way, and no other.

I once worked an artist who told me that he was “a pro­cras­ti­na­tor.” No choice. He could­n’t get to what he’d agreed to do for me, as he’d pro­cras­ti­nat­ed about a cou­ple of oth­er things, which were stacked up ahead of mine.

I was just supposed to wait.

Instead, I offered mon­ey and a dead­line  —  and con­nect­ed the two. I guess no one had done that with him before. He got his work to me one day late. Not bad. 

Every inter­ven­ing e‑mail, though, reit­er­at­ed how far behind he was, and how he hadn’t remem­bered com­mit­ting to a dead­line. And yet, he got the job done.

So, it begs the question: who makes him procrastinate, and will he choose to get past it?

Water stories remind us that nothing is graven in stone.

As we look at these “con­trary” sto­ries, we can make the leap that any­thing that gets in our way orig­i­nates in our own perception. 

Rather than pro­claim­ing stuck-ness, we can change our approach to the sit­u­a­tion, and also change the rule(s) that got us messed up in the first place. 

Just like the pro­cras­ti­na­tor who now has one Water sto­ry of being on time.

So, what does this have to do with the question I received?

The question is all about how one chooses to define the situations confronted. Here’s an example:

I once coun­selled a 17-year-old who had been abused. After the event, she thought, “Because of that, I’ll nev­er be able to trust any­one again.”

For the five years after her expe­ri­ence, her Rock belief was set in the cement of “nev­er.” She missed tons of excep­tions, always noticed things that sup­port­ed her belief.

I helped her to change her def­i­n­i­tion of the abuse to “a sit­u­a­tion I expe­ri­enced, and worked my way through.” She learned to drop blam­ing the abuse for every­thing that didn’t work out in her life. 

And she learned to trust again by… wait for it… trusting.

We’ve all been trained from birth to label the events of life as either “success” or “failure.” I’m not so sure that life is quite that clear cut. Learning this is what I mean by dropping duality

I think that my rela­tion­ship with Dar­bel­la is pret­ty much the most ele­gant rela­tion­ship I see around me. I say because I’ve been hang­ing out with Dar since 1982. 

On the oth­er hand, my mar­riage to Dar is my third.

Now, here’s the ques­tion  —  were my first to mar­riages fail­ures? Of course not. Unless I choose to view them that way.

Pri­or to age 32 (when my sec­ond mar­riage end­ed,) I was dumb­er than a stump when it came to rela­tion­ships. My moti­va­tions for being in rela­tion­ship were cloudy. I also thought it was my god-giv­en right to insist on every­thing going my way.

Then, I “got it.”

Out of my expe­ri­ence with the end of my sec­ond mar­riage came “The List of 50,” which is now a full length book called Find Your Per­fect Partner.

I learned that I had begun past rela­tion­ships on the basis of how the per­son looked in a tube top. I’d meet some­one, and think, “Well, she’s not whom I want, but I can change her.” 

I real­ized that if I put ener­gy into think­ing about what I real­ly want­ed in a part­ner or a friend, I’d have a much bet­ter chance of find­ing them.

This was the lesson of my second marriage.

Per­haps, then, the only “fail­ure” is when I do not learn from an expe­ri­ence, and there­fore end up repeat­ing it. That being said, I also am the sum total of all of my experiences. 

The real ques­tion is, am I stuck, or am I chang­ing what isn’t working?

A second part of the writer’s question concerns limitations.

I’d like to sug­gest the idea of “expand­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties.” I am sug­gest­ing that, far from there being lim­it­ed choic­es for your life, there are end­less oth­er ways of being.

The lim­i­ta­tions we con­front are “self-made” con­struc­tions, bol­stered by the sto­ries we tell our­selves. Or, as the expres­sion goes, “Argue for your lim­i­ta­tions and they are yours.”

We have the poten­tial, in dia­logue, to exam­ine and re-exam­ine the sto­ries of our life. We can lis­ten to what we tell our­selves, how we describe our sit­u­a­tion, and we can begin to under­stand that, far from see­ing our lives objec­tive­ly, we see them through our beliefs / stories. 

If we do not choose to con­front our beliefs, we will find our­selves liv­ing self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cies that are lim­it­ing and lim­it­ed in the extreme.

I believe that all limitations are self-imposed.

Sure, some things are beyond my con­trol  —  that would be all the stuff out­side of me. We walk in ten­sion between the things we can con­trol (our thoughts, beliefs, behav­iours,) and what we can’t (what hap­pened in the past, the behav­iour and beliefs of oth­ers, “cir­cum­stances.”)

The wise person is he or she that can narrow their focus while broadening their horizon, seeing, for themselves, both what is possible and what is worth the effort.

It is so, espe­cial­ly in the West, that we can have pret­ty much what­ev­er we want. We’ve tak­en that to mean acqui­si­tion of things as a mea­sure of worth. 

The “sys­tem” sup­ports such thinking. 

Or, you can choose to deter­mine your “suc­cess” based on per­son­al sat­is­fac­tion with a job well done.

So, let’s say I want to be a “best sell­ing author.” Hmm. There’s a dif­fi­cul­ty in think­ing that way. 

I can con­trol the “author” part. The “best sell­ing” is deter­mined by the pub­lic. I would be bet­ter off set­ting my sights on being an “above aver­age,” then “excel­lent” writer. 

Hav­ing achieved the best I can achieve, giv­en my skill set, I will either be, or not be, “best selling.”

Take van Gogh. If mem­o­ry serves, he sold 2 or 3 paint­ings in his life. Ques­tion. Did he “suc­ceed” or “fail” as an artist? Hmm.

The ques­tion is one of real­is­tic expec­ta­tions, cou­pled with suc­cess mea­sured not on com­par­isons with oth­ers, but on com­par­isons with myself.

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