Released September 10, 2019, this Reflection is about the obsession our culture has with ‘forcing ourselves’ to do things. I like to think of it as ‘success culture.’ Whether or not it is going to the gym, starting a passion project, or saving money, we have this idea about life. It’s a struggle, it’s strife, it’s ‘no pain, no gain,’ it’s your ‘higher self’ against your ‘lesser self.’ It’s self-discipline and our need to control. I know - I was there for a long time. But there is a better way. I hope that you enjoy.
When I was kid, how I dreamed of getting older. I don’t think I was the only one – to dream of being ‘big.’ It’s a cultural artifact. Hell, they made a (classic) movie about the idea with Tom Hanks. No longer forced to abide by parents’ rules, kids want to get older because then we would be free to do what we always wanted.
And then adulthood strikes and it is… not exactly what we expect. And I had the greatest of expectations about adulthood – freedom, pleasure, an unending carnival of delights. Instead, there were a few fun bits mixed in with a growing existential malaise. Compared to my expectations, adulthood sucked. Responsibilities started to grow, things I didn’t want to do piled on top of each other and drained the fun out of things. I recall a conversation with my brother – neither of us were excited for what was to come when we entered ‘the real world.’
Ha! How ridiculous it all seems now, looking back on the way I used to see things. It was because I thought I had to ‘get’ somewhere. Strife was built into everything – if I wasn’t fighting against school or work, I was fighting against myself at the gym or with a green smoothie. Or I was in a fight against my then-partners about something or another.
This is a completely valid way of looking at things. I am not going to knock it – I lived the ‘self-discipline lifestyle’ for the longest time. Without it, I would not be the man I am today. And yet, my self-discipline regime now is no longer about fighting.
One of the guys I follow on Facebook, a dude named Jesse Elder, talks about this idea called radical self-acceptance. It’s basically accepting yourself – totally – just as you are. In a world where we are constantly told that we are inadequate – too fat, too skinny, too dumb, too lame, too weird – radically accepting yourself is indeed that: radical. And yet, as far as I have seen, it is your one-way ticket to flying high in the skies of reality.
You are never going to ‘get there.’ Whether it is dropping some weight or getting a job, attaining a goal is simply a different experience of reality. If you invest in a goal – seriously invest in it, by thinking it is going to change things – then you are never going to be happy. You put all of this time and effort into something and suddenly it’s here and you are… somewhat deflated? It seems counter-intuitive, but it is the truth as I have experienced it. The reason for this is that the future never arrives. You are consistently living in the present moment. But we structure our lives and delude ourselves into believing that that future is a place which we are going.
Before we have reached the goal, we are in the process. After we have reached the goal, we are post-goal. Where do we go from there? Set new goals, perhaps. But if the goal was something along the lines of ‘if I drop 30 pounds then I will be happy,’ then you’re going to have a bad time. Even worse if the goal was, ‘if I drop 30 pounds then I will be worthy enough to find a partner.’
Alan Watts said that the universe seems to follow a backwards law. If you try to stay on the surface of the water by splashing around, you sink. If you try to sink, you float. If you try to stay secure, you will experience insecurity. This is what all of this goal-setting, future-investing, neurosis-developing modern ‘winning’ culture is all about. Trying to fashion security out of reality.
The reason that you cannot be happy with yourself at this present moment is because you don’t trust. Trust yourself, trust the world, trust your neighbour. You think that if you let go you will fall to the ground. But the truth of the matter is this: you cannot get happy – you cannot soar – until you do trust.
So what if you put on a few pounds? So what if you do not fastidiously meet your daily steps goal? So what if you only wrote for five minutes instead of a half hour? So what if reality does not occur in the exact way that you wanted it to?
Control. That is what it all about, underneath it all. What is going on is your mind thinks that it can control outcomes. It wants to control outcomes. It wants to dominate the world in an effort to make things safe. Somehow or another, it all comes back to this – insecurity.
Alan Watts wrote a book about it, called The Wisdom of Insecurity. It is wise, insecurity, because insecurity is exactly what you have to buy in to in order to take flight. You have to accept that you do not control a damn thing. And not just accept it – you have to become it. How can you discipline insecurity? You cannot – it is by its nature undisciplinable. You have to just drop all of your ideas about the future and just relax into what it is you always have been.
Yoda said, ‘do or do not, there is no try.’ This is what he was referring to. When we try, we imagine ourselves in some future where we have succeeded at something. But you don’t succeed by trying. You succeed by doing. And you can only do things in the present moment. Even thinking about the future – that can only occur in the present moment.
That is what makes the whole thing kind of funny. We beat ourselves up over a future that never arrives, starting in the present moment and ending in the present moment. Our need to control is so damn powerful that we ruin the only thing we ever truly own – right now.
I can’t tell you how to unravel your fingers from the steering wheel. That is up to each one of us, and we all get there in our own ways. But what I can tell you is this – when stop saying to yourself, ‘alright you lazy piece of shit, like it or not, you’re going to do this so we can be happy later,’ when you replace it with surrender into what is happening, right here, right now, that is when you grow your wings.
And not a moment sooner.