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life lessons

5 Life Lessons You Need to Get

5 Life Lessons You need to Get — some lessons are obvi­ous, but the real­ly impor­tant ones are both hid­den and hard. Pen­e­tra­tion of the veil into the depth of who we are is the only way to “work through” the secret of you.

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It’s amazing how unprepared most folk are, for living, for relating, for finding meaning in a purposeless world.

Me too. I remem­ber back in 1968, head­ing off to Chica­go to do my B.A. — and bump­ing my nose repeat­ed­ly over what I thought ought to be hap­pen­ing, vs. what was actu­al­ly going on. Les­son after les­son, most quite painful. Some of my choic­es were mere­ly stu­pid, oth­ers dan­ger­ous, ille­gal. In each case, a con­se­quence slapped me across the chops.

The sav­ing grace came from a cou­ple a peo­ple. My dad, for one. And a sim­ple line, that is one of my mantras: “That’s too bad. What are you going to do about it?” No res­cue, no white knight, no bailouts (finan­cial or oth­er­wise.) Basi­cal­ly, “Whine, then get up and fix it.” Always, always, after a hug.


1. Letting Go

I saw ear­ly on that peo­ple want­ed to con­nect — indeed, they were con­nect­ed –but were defend­ed against expe­ri­enc­ing the con­nec­tion. I tried to help them open up, to remove their defens­es. Then a nat­ur­al process of con­nect­ing could show. I used to say, “If peo­ple let go, they will slide nat­u­ral­ly into intimacy.”

Wong and McK­een, Illu­mi­nat­ed Heart, p. 27
Go with the flow

I was re-read­ing my Mas­ters the­sis, and amus­ing myself at my all-too-earnest prose. Called “The Fear Fac­tor,” it’s clear­ly a stage in my devel­op­ment (from 1983) and has many aspects that no longer work for me. Much, how­ev­er, still resonates.

I want­ed to iden­ti­fy the fac­tor stop­ping peo­ple from tru­ly know­ing them­selves, while also adding in a ton of the­ol­o­gy and psy­chol­o­gy stuff — it was, after all, a the­sis. I do find it hard to believe that I thought that way, but it still reads OK. Any­way, I iden­ti­fied fear of oth­ers and fear of one’s true self as the cause of alien­ation from what The­olo­gian Paul Tillich called the Ground of Being.

One major shift since then is I no longer have an opinion about the Ground of Being thing. I let go of it.

Here’s some­thing I quot­ed from Ram Dass.

As you look at many peo­ple’s lives you see that their suf­fer­ing is in a way grat­i­fy­ing, for they are com­fort­able in it. They make their lives a liv­ing hell, but a com­fort­able one.”

Ram Dass, Jour­ney of Awak­en­ing”, p 15

Letting go of such drama-making has two heads

Phys­i­cal­ly — we need a path to our bod­ies. It’s why we teach med­i­ta­tion, Qi Gong, and sug­gest things like yoga and the mar­tial arts. And Body­work, lots of Body­work. The first line of defense against find­ing inti­ma­cy is a tight, non-respon­sive body. Ben Wong uses the word “defend­ed,” Reich the word “armoured.” Both refer to block­ing out oth­ers by shut­ting down and tight­en­ing up.

Men­tal­ly — even those who avoid dig­ging around in their pat­terns rec­og­nize that a lot of “whack stuff” is going on in our heads. We fear our­selves, and we fear oth­ers. At some lev­el, we real­ize that the solu­tion is get­ting to know our­selves. If we let our­selves fall vic­tim to our own fear(s), we try to run away from our­selves — we clamp a lid on our desire to know, and hide from inti­ma­cy with others.

Loose­ly” defined: inti­ma­cy is let­ting oth­ers in past the defens­es, so they “see” more and more of who I am, and what I’m discovering.

Intimacy takes place in dialogue.

This work can be described in metaphor — it’s what I call “the dance.” It’s a nice metaphor — sort of like what hap­pens on “Danc­ing With the Stars.” Over the weeks, the “stars” find their legs and bal­ance and feet, and begin to be co-cre­ators of the dance with the pros. In the process, emo­tions, thoughts, feel­ings become more appar­ent — they’re right out there on the dance floor. Less defend­ed, more open.

The dance starts out teacher to student, and ends up as a partnership, a flow, a sharing.

Take away: The ten­den­cy is to pull back, to fan­ta­size about life, as opposed to liv­ing it —
to wrap the “uncom­fort­able famil­iar” around us like a cloak.
Let­ting go requires activ­i­ty. Move­ment. Con­tact. Pres­ence. Revelation.

And all of this requires a dance part­ner — some­one who will move with you — from begin­ner to co-cre­ator, to mas­ter. You can’t do this work alone, so find some­one to work with, and push. Hard.

2. Uniqueness, Commonalities, and Specialness

Aren’t I just the most spe­cial thing?

The curse of the 60s and lat­er is the cre­ation a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple who think they are “real­ly, real­ly spe­cial.” This is expressed in expect­ing spe­cial treat­ment, unde­served rewards, etc.

From this has come an enti­tle­ment that is endemic.

There are mass­es of folk who think that the world has noth­ing bet­ter to do than to look after their every whim and desire. They are offend­ed when their mis­takes are point­ed out to them, and expect to be “pres­i­dent of the com­pa­ny” right out of school.

All people have commonalities – for example, our bodies are pretty much the same — food, for almost everyone, goes in one end and comes out the other.

Anoth­er, more inter­est­ing com­mon­al­i­ty is the pres­ence of the “void.“All of us sense the “non-being” that comes with “being.” What sep­a­rates us from oth­er ani­mals is that we know that we are “born to die.”

This felt-sense, emp­ty feel­ing, (a key under­stand­ing in Zen…) is shoved down, repressed, ignored — yet it can’t be com­plete­ly elim­i­nat­ed. We end up with an inte­ri­or ache, a gnaw­ing know­ing that some­thing isn’t quite right — there is some­thing huge loom­ing, and pre­tend­ing it’s not there results in numb­ness and anxiety.

Angst is intrin­sic in our being. The more we exist, the more anx­i­ety we feel. The chal­lenges is to embrace and accept this anx­i­ety; this is self-affir­ma­tion in the face of non-being.” 

Illu­mi­nat­ed Heart, p. 155

Spe­cial­ness is a way to attempt to “avoid” non-being. It’s an insis­tence that the world (oth­ers) pave over the pain of alien­ation and non-being. The prob­lem with this approach (and enti­tle­ment in gen­er­al) is that it demands an exter­nal cure for the inter­nal process of being human.

On the other hand, there is uniqueness, which each of us possess. But not how we usually think of it.

Unique­ness is real. My sto­ry, my expe­ri­ence, is unique to me. Now, there is a “scary” ele­ment to this — my unique­ness means that I am essen­tial­ly alone in the uni­verse — no one can (or does) see through my eyes. Con­flict, all of it — comes from pre­cise­ly this — the way I see the world is the way I see the world.

Unique­ness is demon­strat­ed in how we act — it occurs only as we let our bod­ies do what they do. In oth­er words, we are unique in how we express our flex­i­bil­i­ty to be whomev­er we choose to be.

Uniqueness is an element of “the void.”

Unique­ness is unique. Because of the ubiq­ui­ty of fear, most decide that the scari­ness of non-being “snug­gled up” against being means it’s best to hide under the bed. To blend in — to fit in — to fol­low the dic­tates of “the pow­ers that be.”

Many per­sons will not enter the path to being, how­ev­er, because they instinc­tive­ly draw back from the expe­ri­ence of noth­ing­ness. [the void] Instead of truth­ful con­scious­ness [being in the face of non-being, unique­ness] they pre­fer… bor­rowed pre­tens­es… They give them­selves over com­plete­ly to what their cul­ture accepts as real; that is, they allow the myths of their cul­ture to shape their lives.

Michael Novak, The Expe­ri­ence of Noth­ing­ness, p. 80

It’s incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to live life with one eye on the past, one on the future, one eye on oth­ers’ reac­tions, and anoth­er eye on “the rules.” Odd­ly, demand­ing spe­cial­ness is exact­ly this path, as is hid­ing, giv­ing up, and wait­ing from some­one to ride in and res­cue you.

Take away: In order to find our unique­ness, we must look unflinch­ing­ly inside. We must chal­lenge our belief in exter­nal res­cue or exter­nal def­i­n­i­tion. If we are stop­ping our­selves, we need to look at our sto­ries, let go of every­thing that is not cen­tered in “me,” and then tack­le the ardu­ous task of inte­grat­ing not just what we like about our­selves, but the “whole enchi­la­da.” Like a dance, this is best accom­plished face to face, in open­ness, hon­esty, and vulnerability.

3. people are as they do

With aware­ness and respon­si­bil­i­ty, peo­ple are not doomed to be vic­tims of their past or upbring­ing, or even of the uni­verse. As indi­vid­u­als dis­till their under­stand­ing of their behav­iour­al ten­den­cies and arrive at clear deci­sion about what pat­terns they want to empha­size, their lives can be different.

Illu­mi­nat­ed Heart, p. 397

Neu­ro­sis is the way of avoid­ing non­be­ing by avoid­ing being.

Paul Tillich, “The Courage to Be, ” p. 66

Yeah, I know. It’s so very, very “contemporary” to proclaim, “I’m a human being, not a human doing!” and then to get your “smug on.” This expression has created generations of quiescent navel gazers. Ashrams, yoga centres, zen centres, are full of them.

Life is quite real, thank you, and all we have to go on to fig­ure out the game is our reac­tion or response to what we per­ceive. It’s like this (and all of) my arti­cles. Nice words, yet words are use­less if they do not lead to both a change of heart, and a change in behaviour.

My upbring­ing, mis­takes, stu­pidi­ties, mis­steps — all irrel­e­vant, so long as I move past them. Back to the quote, above, uttered repeat­ed­ly by my dad: “That’s too bad. What are you going to do about it?” Empha­sis on “do.”

You can’t change who you are, (impos­si­ble — no way, no how. This does not stop peo­ple from try­ing — they imple­ment “reflec­tion, or prayer, or affir­ma­tions” — oth­er­wise known as bull­shit inter­nal games.)

You change what you choose to do, right here, right now. In the quote above, Wong and McK­een speak of “pat­terns they want to empha­size.” What this means is that “every­thing” is still there — func­tion and dys­func­tion, weird and won­der­ful, and all that changes is what is empha­sized — what the per­son brings fore­ground, what the per­son moves to background.

Your “doing” is nev­er con­di­tion­al on exter­nals. Noth­ing is hold­ing you back, this one time, from act­ing in vari­ance with what you did last time. And noth­ing keeps you from repeat­ing what works, and stop­ping repeat­ing what does­n’t, this one time.

Nothing holds you back, that is, but you.

The oth­er thing about doing is this: the only thing that mat­ters is what you do. What you say is imma­te­r­i­al if it’s not backed up with an action that match­es. If I say I’m going to com­mu­ni­cate self-respon­si­bly, and then there’s an issue and I tear you a new one, I am out of integri­ty — a liar — no mat­ter how much I whine and protest and try to shift blame. 

Take away: you are not being your­self if your doing is not being done. Get off your butt and your buts, pick the next thing, and choose, con­scious­ly, to do what you say. Open the door on your fears and tri­umphs, dark­ness and light, and act from there. Your choice is to engage ful­ly and unique­ly, or hide behind fan­cy words and excus­es.

Your choice!



4. Your Job is to Figure Yourself Out

There is no ulti­mate “truth” — only indi­vid­ual per­spec­tives to dis­cov­er. The indi­vid­ual con­science is the final author­i­ty, with con­se­quences for every deci­sion and action taken.

Illu­mi­nat­ed Heart, p. 39
Just one more and then I’ll
write my Sun­day School lesson…

For at least the first 18 years of our lives, peo­ple were telling us what to do, and mak­ing it seem (through per­sua­sion to coer­cion) that these per­spec­tives were “true,” “good,” and “right.”

We were social­ized by those invest­ed in get­ting us to behave accord­ing to the rules of our cul­ture. Because we accept­ed much of this as “true,” we devel­oped a moral­i­ty based on tribe, cul­ture, and often, some ver­sion of “god.”

Because of the underlying fear of being ostracized, we toe the mark. We want to belong. To do so, we compartmentalize. We stuff stuff into drawers, hide thoughts that deviate from the norm (thus, the “deviant thought or behaviour.”) We become fractured.

The “unap­proved of” feel­ings that arise are dis­con­cert­ing, but most­ly we’re encour­aged to bury them under a haze of diver­sions — social, chem­i­cal, and com­mer­cial. We are taught to dis­tract our­selves, much like mom­my dis­tract­ed us with a favourite toy. This form of stuff­ing also led us to believe that “mom­my” would always be there, toy in hand — that it was the duty of some “oth­er” to res­cue us from our tantrums.

If we keep our atten­tion on exter­nals, and blame feel­ings on oth­ers or the sit­u­a­tion, we miss the only impor­tant data — the les­son that our dis­con­tent is inter­nal, and points to our need to explore our beliefs and behaviours.

In one of my books, I wrote about this sto­ry: a female client broke off her engage­ment because her fiance had sex with a female friend. The cou­ple got back togeth­er, worked on the rela­tion­ship. Then, she had sex (on a pool table) with a male friend.

I sug­gest­ed that the two events were the same. She replied, “No! He had sex because he was horny, and I had sex because I must be in love!” Hmm.

I con­tin­ued to invite her into her own process — one where oppor­tu­ni­ty and horni­ness met to “cue up” some hor­i­zon­tal mam­bo. Her part­ner may have pro­vid­ed some visu­al eye-can­dy, but it was “all her, all the time.” Her dif­fi­cul­ty was that sex was in a com­part­ment labelled “love,” and “good girls” don’t have sex on pool tables, so “obvi­ous­ly” this was love, not sex. She fired me because I did­n’t understand.

My brain still hurts from trying to keep up with her twisted blaming.

Take away: what we are doing, think­ing, say­ing — that’s the meat of the mat­ter. Rather than cast about for the “group­think” to explain away your actions, fig­ure out what your “rules” are, won­der if they make sense (hint: most don’t,) and see what you’re park­ing away in the hid­den com­part­ments of your mind and life. Chal­lenge every belief, restric­tion, and block­age. Turn your atten­tion from the world and the behav­iour of oth­ers, to a deep self-explo­ration. It’s the only thing you have a chance of understanding.

5. We Learn By Saying “Yes”

Me, mas­ter­ing the 2‑wheeler

Odd how we’ve for­got­ten this one. In our ear­ly lives, we learned ONLY because we said “yes.” I’ll use learn­ing to ride a bike as an exam­ple, because we’ve all been there.

You learn to ride know­ing that you’re going to fall. A Lot. Mom or dad gives you a push, but after that, you’re on your own. Stop ped­alling, asphalt. Veer, asphalt. For­get how to brake, asphalt. Stop pay­ing atten­tion, asphalt.

And yet almost every­one who con­tin­ues to hop on ( to say “yes!”) , learns to ride.

Same with most stuff. We don’t know how to (walk, run, climb stairs, do math, kiss, write papers, bonk, etc.) and some­how, through doing, we learn. And the more we prac­tice, the more we improve. 

And yet, we also seem to for­get how this works.

To learn to com­mu­ni­cate, you have to learn a mod­el, and then prac­tice it con­tin­u­al­ly. To hug com­fort­ably, you have to learn and prac­tice. To explore your inner the­atre, you have to learn, and practice.

Noticing a pattern?

Take away: much of what I do is to pro­vide expe­ri­ences that my client has been avoid­ing. I open doors through com­ments and Body­work, and invite the per­son to walk through and look around. The ones who choose to stay stuck offer a ton of excus­es, and not a lot of experiencing.

Yet, the only way to shift our­selves from “non-bike rid­ers” to “bike rid­ers” is to get on, get a push, hold on, and ped­al. And then brake appro­pri­ate­ly. Again and again. You can always find some­one like me who is will­ing to give the push, but you’ll nev­er find some­one to do the ped­alling, bal­anc­ing, and brak­ing. That’s your job.

Sit­ting on the curb, whin­ing about how hard it is, how scary it is, gets you a sore butt and not much else. Find the things that you scare your­self over, and find a way to tack­le them, one by one. Through doing.

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