Zooming Out: Catching Up With Myself at 32

It’s time to zoom out. And so, I’ve come to write: where all my major honesty and resultant growth occurs; for without writing, I’d have no free will, no ability to edit the scripts running in my consciousness – scripts as in stories, and scripts as in programs, i.e., JavaScript.

And perhaps these metaphors feel palpable to me because I write fiction and I code, but I’ve definitely come to think of myself as a mind hacker – a title I covet because I think it’s my gift: I can change how people see things.

And that’s really one of the jobs of the artist – as Malcolm Gladwell so aptly defined it: art is using your humanity to create change in other people. 

And one thing I can confidently say for myself is that I am growing immensely in my humanity. In fact, I’ve never felt more humbled by life – and it’s all been the result of shifts in my perspective.

I’m not saying I can teach you something about life, but I can tell you about what it means to be human. And my whole life has been spent trying to make that duty [being human] easier – very often making it harder, but that’s life – that’s what it means to be human, to err.

I think human life is remarkable in the sense that it involves constant personal growth: you’re born one person, you die another. I used to think life was some series of stages, and I think this is because society views it this way: adolescence, youth, adulthood, old age. But life isn’t that simple, it’s not automatic: we age, yes – but whether we grow fully is up to us.

Jung’s Four Stages of Life Development, which follow, presents some interesting paradigms for growth, aging, and maturity, particularly in the youth and middle life stages:

Childhood: (birth to puberty)
Childhood has two substages. The archaic stage is characterized by sporadic consciousness, while the monarchic stage represents the beginning of logical and abstract thinking. The ego starts to develop.

Youth: (puberty until 35 – 40)
Maturing sexuality, growing consciousness, and a realization that the carefree days of childhood are gone forever. People strive to gain independence, find a mate, and raise a family.

Middle Life: (40-60) The realization that you will not live forever creates tension. If you desperately try to cling to youth, you will fail in the process of self-realization. Jung believed that in midlife, one confronts one’s shadow. Religiosity may increase during this period, according to Jung.

Old Age: (60 and over) Consciousness is reduced. Jung thought that death is the ultimate goal of life. By realizing this, people will not face death with fear, but with a hope for rebirth.

I feel that, in looking at these criterion, I’ve just now reached youth at 32, having spent so long operating more from the childhood, and, more recently, the middle life stages; however, regardless of where you might appraise yourself across this list, it’s doubtless something capable of provoking some valuable self-examination (Unfortunately, being human entails dealing with some absolutely shit base code).

Another great lens for self-examination are the Big Five Personality Factors (Traits):

Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. High openness can be perceived as unpredictability or lack of focus. Moreover, individuals with high openness are said to pursue self-actualization specifically by seeking out intense, euphoric experiences, such as skydiving, living abroad, gambling, et cetera. Conversely, those with low openness seek to gain fulfillment through perseverance, and are characterized as pragmatic and data-driven—sometimes even perceived to be dogmatic and closed-minded. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret and contextualize the openness factor.

Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior. High conscientiousness is often perceived as stubbornness and obsession. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity, but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability.

Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness. High extraversion is often perceived as attention-seeking, and domineering. Low extraversion causes a reserved, reflective personality, which can be perceived as aloof or self-absorbed.

Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well-tempered or not. High agreeableness is often seen as naive or submissive. Low agreeableness personalities are often competitive or challenging people, which can be seen as argumentative or untrustworthy.

Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”. A high need for stability manifests as a stable and calm personality, but can be seen as uninspiring and unconcerned. A low need for stability causes a reactive and excitable personality, often very dynamic individuals, but they can be perceived as unstable or insecure. 

Here, I can identify that I need to work on my conscientiousness – being less careless and more dutiful / organized, productive – and I need to work on my neuroticism – increasing my emotional stability by zooming out and experiencing negative emotions with ease, rather than reeling in that sick, uneasy feeling I get – the one that led me to smoke four dabs of Yoda OG shatter before I wrote this: a virtuous, sacred act in comparison to my years of problematic drinking in a failed effort to quell the same feelings (Each to their own). That said, Cannabis is a psychedelic and I am a big proponent of the therapuetic and psycho-shamanic value of psychedelics.

Again, I’m a mind hacker. That’s the beauty of having a mind: you can change it.

A large part of my being is rooted in the futurist paradigm of consciousness as a computer. And this by no means speaks to the viability of the idea, but, rather, to the validity of it: consciousness as a computer is a valuable paradigm, one that today enables me to live with a greater degree of stoicism, mindfulness, and ultimately, inner peace.

I am beginning to understand who I am and grow into my potential as a result of having adopted a growth mindset, which, coupled with ideas from people more intelligent than I, have allowed me to change myself in really positive ways – and in doing this work, in facing life honestly, bravely, strongly, I’ve opened up to life in really beautiful, empowering, freeing ways. And I’ve discovered that I’m actually much more than I ever thought I was, and – at the same time – I’m everything I knew I was all along (Good person, writer, romantic), BUT: I’m also everything my ego feared I was (Petty, temperamental, self-destructive). And knowing that, knowing my blind spots and weaknesses, is just as essential.

Look, I must admit, I do not like large parts of who I was in my twenties. And that’s a good thing.

When I was proud of myself I was an asshole. Increased humility and self-knowledge have made me a kinder, more human person.

It’s also made life much easier for me. Things are probably better than they have ever been; I’m getting my shit together, so to speak.

Today, I woke up in a beautiful home in the mountains and wrote fiction, working on what will become my first published novel.

This writing shit is real, is happening.

I’m also in a stable, loving relationship with a beautiful, evolving woman, who is in every way committed to growing with me and doing life properly so that none of it is wasted in negative feeling; however, as we have learned together, negative feelings will make or break you: it is how you choose to deal with them; every emotional reaction to an outside event being a choice.

Will you react with grace, tolerance, fairness and equanimity, or will your lower, base animal consciousness rule you?

It is all your choice.

I am choosing to zoom out from the outside events, realizing that the inside events are far more worth my attention and energies, for it is the inner life – our spiritual needs – that must be met above all – lest we ignore them until our shadow is so overgrown that it takes over, as is the case for anyone that knows what it is to be their own worst enemy.

Two years ago,  I turned thirty and thought I knew what it was to be a man – as if I could suddenly encapsulate and know my twenties with a sudden new wisdom; it wasn’t like that. I wasn’t done clinging to youth, fucking it up for myself.

Over the course of the next two years, from 30-32, I would:

  • Meet Sarah and fell in love
  • Move to the mountains
  • Wake to news of my Dad’s death
  • Start two failed businesses
  • Get major wintertime cabin fever
  • Punch my fist through a bedroom door
  • Hit relationship bottom, nearly saying goodbye, before months later when we would become stronger than ever
  • Face a lot more of my shadow, including my twenties, honestly
  • Have that birthday where I woke up and suddenly felt old AF
  • Switch from being a dysfunctional drinker to a very functional stoner
  • Transform from insomniac to early morning happy bed head
  • Release my childhood resentments toward my parents
  • Outgrow my attachments to past girlfriends
  • Accept my mortality, seeing that much of my young life is gone
  • Commit to my dreams as a serious fucking writer (By writing fiction every damn beautiful morning)
  • Go from unsure about my future to decided

And what’s as much, if not more than these things, is that I changed, I grew, I matured.

The events are not different, I am.

Because that’s what counts: who we are, how we see things. This is what makes all the difference between heaven and hell.

Its all in your fucking head. Only, you’re swallowed up, caught in a tidal wave called zeitgeist, so that you never live life deciding every day is going to be the best day of your life – because you’re just like, “Meh”.

And if you are there, I really hope you will open up to the richness of your inner life, which is nothing short of a wellspring for goodness.

My goals this year are centered around opening up to my inner life: the cohesion of soul, spirit, mind, and body; I’m not so much interested in new experiences as I am in experiencing the same things in brand new ways, because ultimately, consciousness is within us – we merely project it onto the outer world – but few people ever discern between inner truth and outer experience, the latter being illusory or what the Vedas refer to as Maya.

From Wiki:

The term Maya has been translated as ‘illusion,’ but then it does not concern normal illusion. Here ‘illusion’ does not mean that the world is not real and simply a figment of the human imagination. Maya means that the world is not as it seems; the world that one experiences is misleading as far as its true nature is concerned.

And:

The Vedas cannot show you Brahman, you are That already. They can only help to take away the veil that hides truth from our eyes. The cessation of ignorance can only come when I know that God and I are one; in other words, identify yourself with Atman, not with human limitations. The idea that we are bound is only an illusion [Maya]. Freedom is inseparable from the nature of the Atman. This is ever pure, ever perfect, ever unchangeable.

— Adi Shankara’s commentary on Fourth Vyasa Sutra, Swami Vivekananda

Liberating our emotional bodies  from the outer world is the essence of the philosophy of detachment, which is “freedom from desire and consequently from suffering” – attachment being seen as a main cause of suffering in Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Jainism. While I’m not much for isms, I’ll take spiritual paradigms built on philosophies of the mind over blind religious dogma any day of the week. I mean, who wants to learn more about how perfect Jesus was when the Hindus have Vairagya and Moksha?

Clearly I am on my journey and continuing to learn more about myself and the world, but I am deeply grateful to finally be able to understand that the gap between dreams and reality must either close or pass, for we only have so much time. This is no pressure, but is instead a truth I now understand, and one that drives me, pushes me to follow my heart, asking myself, what matters? What counts?

The answer, of course, always being: here, now.

I’m just now learning what that is; I used to think it was all just, “meh”, but then I realized it was just me.

Get Thee Up

“I wake up every morning and check if I am in a state of grace,” a 31 year-old Leonard Cohen told an interviewer in 1965.

Every morning of your life, you choose whether your soul is in a state of grace or not. Now, whether or not this is a conscious choice is up to you.

For me, the grace of my soul requires no more than that I choose to live consciously: choosing to be happy – choosing to be excited about MY life – choosing to affirm the gratitude I have for the opportunities that are mine to seize TODAY.

In the words of a young Leonard Cohen: “There are dreams of glory whispering through the wires of my spine.”

I want this everyday. 

This is called “a can’t lose attitude”. 

Put simply: your wellbeing is your choice; you can have it everyday.

Happiness isn’t the result of a good life but the cause of one.

And while we live in a world of thermometers – people who reflect their environment – YOU CAN be a thermostat – controlling your own; for we are either kings or pawns in this life (Alexander Dumas).

As the ancient proverb reminds us: “The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.”

Remember this; wrap your mind around it; marinate on it.

As I have reinterpreted it: happiness isn’t the result of a good life but the cause of one.

And whether I know all this stuff already or not – and no matter how much I have written it – I will never stop reminding myself of the core tenets that comprise the bedrock of my life and my wellbeing.

Choice.

Choice.

Choice.

If you don’t choose your beliefs about yourself – if you aren’t consciously choosing your beliefs about your relationship to today – they will exist independently of your own power.

And trust me, if you are relying on anything outside of yourself for your wellbeing, you are playing a risky game.

Last time I checked, this world was not exactly in a state of grace. And while that’s unfortunate, it is not in my power nor in my duty to control (Footnote 1/1). 

What I know is that I can choose to live in a state of grace REGARDLESS of what happens or has happened in my life; for I rely on that impenetrable thing Emerson referred to as “self-reliance”.

And while it requires a bit more courage, life is far better lived from the saddle than in the carriage.

So giddyup and exercise your will, for that is what you are here to do.

Giddyup Etymology:

From get up or get ye/thee up.


Footnote 1: There is absolutley nothing wrong with knowing in your heart of hearts that you are a bit better than this savage world you were born into: for it’s a Trump America and the inmates are officially running the asylum.

Now

I awoke shortly after two
To hollow belly and full heart,
Safe in the warm comfort
Of the cool autumn dark

A mile high and miles away
From painful, ugly things,
When I was but a boy,
And all I had were my dreams –

But this is no ode to pain;
For I yearn not nor cry for the past;
I’m merely trying to remember
The only thing that ever lasts

Bucking The Lazy Cowboy, or How The Little Prince Usurped Peter Pan

Life would seem so easy, as if we could just say: “I want to wake up early and write everyday”, and it would happen. 

Only, there’s a fly in the ointment: we don’t always do the things we want to do; sure, we wish them to happen but things don’t happen according to wishes – things happen according to actions. That’s how life works. Call it the difference between intention and action, wish and fulfillment. 

This is why I am writing tonight: because of that difference; because there is a difference; because I am not going to wake up tomorrow and write fiction – as I wish to. 

Why? You tell me. 

Why don’t you work out? Why don’t you eat right!? You know what to do. You want to look and feel better but you eat pizza and chicken sandwiches for dinner. 

I am speaking to myself but I think it’s a fair analogy: I do what I feel rather than what I should. 

Only, I am tired of not having what I want. Tired of not feeling better. Tired of not being happier. Tired of not being Lawrence Black: builder of self, mover of mountains. 

I admit, I brood. I get into modes of self-pity. These things happen; however, I am trying to be more than my moods; I am trying to transcend them so that I may bring my dreams to life, and I need to overcome my nature in order to do that. Because me, left to my own innate nature, I am kind of a lazy cowboy; contented with the basic essentials: whiskey, women, food, fire, sleep.

Fun for a weekend, but it’s not a life to just get by / it’s not a life without progression. Because there is one kind of life I know to be amazing: and that is the life you are excited to wake up and live; the life you are thinking about when you go to bed at night because you can’t wait to wake up in the morning and live it. 

I know this feeling: I have felt it before. 


Part 2: The Little Prince Usurps Peter Pan

And this is where I fell asleep. We were watching The Little Prince on Netflix and I was tired, and the muse had run out of gas on this topic. Fortunately, however, I awoke five minutes ago – after a few hours of deep slumber – with an idea clear as day; I realized that it was no longer serving me to live without care for my responsibilities. Allow me to elaborate. 

For a long time, Peter Pan was my spirit animal. Well, in a more archetypal manner but nonetheless Peter Pan was a strong muse for this Puer. Ask my exes if this sounds familiar. 

And I love Peter Pan but I can no longer afford to let him take the wheel. I have responsibilities, and as Wretch 32 sings:

The weight of responsability’s grown on me. 

And it really has. 

I lost my Dad to cancer not many weeks ago. Now I am the man of the family. And this isn’t just some abstract idea or feeling; I am thinking about my mom’s future. Furthermore, Sarah relies on me as a provider and as a romantic lover: she believes in my dreams and she wants to live them with me. This is why we moved to the mountains: so I could write and so we could rejoice in one another’s solitude and companionship. But I can’t afford to rest on my laurels simply because I know I am destined for greatness. That is classic Peter Pan syndrome. 

Peter Pan never grows up. He refuses to. In fact, the world is introduced to Peter Pan through the work of J.M. Barrie, who titles his play: Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. 

Here is Wikipedia on Peter Pan’s personality:

Peter is an exaggerated stereotype of a boastful and careless boy. He claims greatness, even when such claims are questionable (such as congratulating himself when Wendy re-attaches his shadow). In the play and book, Peter symbolises the selfishness of childhood, and is portrayed as being forgetful and self-centred.

Peter has a nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude, and is fearlessly cocky when it comes to putting himself in danger. Barrie writes that when Peter thought he was going to die on Marooners’ Rock, he felt scared, yet he felt only one shudder. With this blithe attitude, he says, “To die will be an awfully big adventure”. In the play, the unseen and unnamed narrator ponders what might have been if Peter had stayed with Wendy, so that his cry might have become, “To live would be an awfully big adventure!”, “but he can never quite get the hang of it”.

I am painfully aware of the relevance here for my life; however, I didn’t realize how much of a shadow archetype Peter Pan has been for me, meaning how unhealthy this “spirit” has been in my life. 

Contrast Peter Pan’s laissez-faire, self-serving existence in Neverland with that of The Little Prince, who lives on the tiny asteroid planet B-612, which he maintains and cares for (Weeding the volcanos and trimming the ever growing trees), before eventually falling in love with a rose, with whom he has to deal with her vanity. Although she apologizes for her vanity and they reconcile, the petit Prince nonetheless vows to go explore the universe. 

Whereas Peter Pan never wants to leave Neverland except to recruit children from the Darling household. In fact, even when Wendy falls for him and wants a kiss, Peter simply sees her as a surrogate mom. And when, in the end of the story, Peter has a chance to be with Wendy, he declines – opting instead to stay with his Lost Boys in Neverland. In short, Peter Pan is a self-absorbed boy who refuses to grow up. 

Meanwhile, our Little Prince leaves his love (The rose) and his planet, B-612, to go learn about the universe. He is just a boy but he is intrepid and brave. And despite being a boy he sees the foolishness of the adults on each of the asteroids he visits. From Wikipedia:

The prince has since visited six other asteroids, each of which was inhabited by a single, irrational, narrow-minded adult, each meant to critique an element of society. They include: a king with no subjects; a vain man, who believes himself the most admirable person on his otherwise uninhabited planet; a drunkard who drinks to forget the shame of being a drunkard; a businessman who is blind to the beauty of the stars and instead endlessly counts them in order to “own” them all (critiquing materialism); a lamplighter who wastes his life blindly follows orders and extinguishing and relighting a lamp once a minute; and an elderly geographer. Like the others, the geographer is closed-minded, providing a caricurature of specialization in the modern world.

Our Little Prince is learning about the world. And unlike Peter Pan, he forms real, meaningful relationships with the people he encounters: loving the rose, taming the fox, and teaching the narrator about life. 

While Peter Pan teaches us to remain adolescents and hold onto our childhood, The Little Prince teaches us about growing up and letting go. And this is what life requires: maturity. 

The truth is, it is not serving me or my dreams any longer to be Peter Pan. There was a time when the Peter Pan spirit kept me going, when it made me daring and brave, enabling me to walk away from my own Wendys so that I might follow that inner voice telling me that I wasn’t home yet. But now I am, and this lazy cowboy is ready to become a little prince. No more living in Neverland. I’ve got a universe to explore. 

So what’s the meaning of all this inner alchemy? What is the outcome of these paradigm shifts?

Well, I’ve got responsibilities to tend to. Work, writing, health, love. 

And I can no longer afford to ignore them, I can no longer remain a boy. 

And so it is, I will invoke the bravery of The Little Prince, and I will face life with faith in myself and trust in my journey, much like Peter Pan gave me faith in myself as a boy; only, I need different heroes as a man: heroes capable of inspiring me to take action rather than simply dream. 

Note: here are a couple good follow ups for anyone interested in the Puer (the eternal boy) and The Little Prince:

Two Psychoanalytical Readings of The Little Prince:

https://icu.repo.nii.ac.jp/index.php?action=repository_action_common_download&item_id=4032&item_no=1&attribute_id=22&file_no=1&page_id=13&block_id=17

The Problem of The Puer Aeternus, Marie Loius Von Franz:

https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/micmac108/puer-aeternus