Alchemical Magic w a Spell for Liberation from Worry, Self-Doubt, and Fear.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
– Shakespeare, Julius Cesar

(Act II, Scene II, Line 32)

I forgot how much I just need to be in the dark, in the late of the night, sitting up, thinking on life: doing magic.

For writing is alchemical: it is a transformative means of reprogramming the self. What I am going to do here is magic.

Because when you study magic – not tricks (stage magic), but the ancient artifice, the craft of magic – you discover that it is a direct means of influencing The Will.

In fact, The ability to influence her own Will through her art is what gives the practitioner of magic her power, for she knows that mastery of the Self’s own Will IS mastery of the All.

You could think of the magician or the witch as someone training their own Jedi mind powers, their Will. And not for the purpose of moving lightsabers or lifting rocks, but to move the mountains standing in their way. It is an inner game. The bodhisattva knows how to play it. The Stoic knew how. So too the Jivanmukta.

Magic is the game of taking control of oneself by mythical means: meaning is the currency of magic. Meaning enables the magician to move from out of control into control: out of chaos, order. Magic is the bridge between the two. It is the integrating of new knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. Through these powers, the center is found and returned to again and again on different levels.

Magic offers a means of attaining new truths. Magic is a messenger of synchronicity. It is the coyote I played hide and seek with behind the house today, and it is the new thoughts and attitudes reality has birthed within me tonight. And so, I cast spells using these magic symbols called letters to work with the energy of it all.

Long before the advent of modern language, one of the first tools of early humans was the stick. Used to draw things in the sand, it was the caveman’s magic wand, allowing him to communicate not only with others, but perhaps more importantly, with himself (The pen is my magic wand, as the guitar is John Mayer’s).

And history is so large we can imagine it all. So let’s go back in time to first magic wand: the stick. We see a young man, long ago, on the plains. He had an animal friend, a young coyote ancestor. And one day, the coyote was killed. So our friend sits alone that night, by the fire, in pain. And in his dejection, he picks up a stick and starts stretching in the dirt. A figure is soon formed out of an unconscious flow. He has drawn his coyote friend. And in this moment, he has become a symbol using animal. And the symbol does something to him, by means of the logos, the meaning behind it. And suddenly, he feels things about the coyote he did not know he felt. And those feelings change him, they become a part of his spirit. And he has discovered coyote magic. And it is only a lens, but he sees things almost as if from the perspective of the coyote now. And his world has grown bigger than the confines of his old pain. He has found meaning. Deeply personal, deeply powerful, and invaluable.

This is what the artist, the alchemist, the philosopher, and the seer do: they come to conclusions of greater value than their environment, than what they started with. It is an inner art, this artifice of birthing truths. One that allows the practitioner to fashion reality per her own lens. Perception is reality. And the wise one knows this. Their problems are problems of perception, and so, living in the matrix of self, the means of solving perceptual problems are beyond mere cognitive might. Thinking is the cause of their suffering in the first place, so a new level of thought must be reached.

In this way, magic can be thought of as the acts which enable us to transcend ourselves. They are almost shamanic in their nature, and very often are brought about via shamanic states of consciousness.

The magi / shaman / artist / practitioner is a creature imbued with the ability to will things into existence – even their own perceptions. Magic is only the means by which the necessary meaning we must integrate into ourselves is brought about and integrated, according to the purposes of our Will.

This all expressed, let’s practice some magic – now, by virtue of my tools (INTENTION, FLOW, SPELLing) I’ve already been practicing it this entire entry.

But let us go straight to the great work, the magnum opus:

I just no longer want to worry and stress about life. It’s too short. We all die. Memento-fucking-mori – remember that you will die. What now is worth stressing out over; it’s all going back to dust. We may as well be spirits. Only, the gods don’t die, so we are either braver than the gods or we are the gods. Either way is fine by me. The animal dies with grace. And humans are no different than animals, which is to say, we are no different than we were 100,000 years ago. Eat well, sleep well, work hard (hunt). Love. This is all you can do. You’ve spent years worrying, stressing out, the whole world seems to do it. Or we convince ourselves if we had X, Y, and Z, we wouldn’t stress out either. But we don’t have it because we are stressed out. Only we think we are stressed out because we don’t have it. When really, we are just addicted to worry by way of habit and have not even the strength to still ourselves. And why? Where came this lack of strength: weakness and hysteria by example. Mass neurosis. Ignorance. Shallowness. Fear. The world. You must be one who is in this world, but not of it, so much as you know you will not be “here” forever. But what a zoo. And it is. Only, let it be. People forget about death or render its omnipotent power impotent through religion. Be not one of them. Come to the gates now. Understand that in the everlasting book of time you are but a page. And no one cares if you are really happy. They may wish the best for you, but it’s your head game. If you succumb to it, to fear, and stress, and the dark magic of self-abuse and abandonment, they cannot save you. Love cannot save you. You can save you. Only you. But die to fear. Do it now. Let it go. Be as brave as the coyote, as noble as the sheep suffocating in its jaws. Both are no more or less important than you. Consciousness is relative to us all, and the coyote is in his head, the sheep in her’s, and you in yours. All experience hunger. All experience desire. All experience the feelings of having a body. Only, the sheep and coyote do not create their own hells. They live in a more natural reality. One in which life and death are just that, the way of life and death. So, they follow their instincts. And they live but for a minute of beauty – but it does not pass them. They receive and pursue the pleasure that is theirs. The raccoon does not deny himself his raccoon-ness on the basis of guilt or fear. Hell no, he just does it. And so to is your duty to be yourself. But there must be a deprogramming from all past thought patterns. Now is a day. The only one you really ever have. To waste it in worry is sad. Like some poor monkey in the zoo without his kind. He is missing them and he is depressed. Knows no other mode of thinking to free himself from this. Has no magic. Or maybe you’re a little runt of a Wolf, and your brothers beating up on you has made you fearful and passive, and you know no other way of feeling as good as your brothers do, in their dominance. And perhaps your chances of reproducing are lessened by your genetics. Well, life isn’t fair. But you are not wolf, you have a choice: let the stuff that has gotten you down for years of your life keep bringing you down for now and forever, or accept it and accept that society is always going to judge you for some things, and is always going to worship other things. The word sentence, as in a ‘prison sentence’ comes from the Latin ‘sentiere’, which means “to feel”. A sentence is merely an opinion. Live in your own truths. Don’t accept the opinions of others as your reality any longer. Know your own worth. Know your own validity. Know that despite failures and setbacks and mistakes, you are a damn good person who has done their all at the time, every time. Practice self-compassion. Love yourself like you love that lone coyote. Be secure. Let nothing ruffle your feathers. Let no sentence judge you for you, no person’s judgement summarize you. Whatever adversities you will face in life you will transform to your highest purpose and development. But there is nothing to develop into. Nothing to become. You are enough. Your existence has meaning, purpose, passion, desire. But arrive now: be here now. And stop negativity in its tracks. If you are tired in front of the mirror remind yourself you are tired and do not allow you to treason against yourself, because it is all a head game. The female alpha wolf knows who the alpha wolf is because he is the alpha wolf in his head. And there’s no need to fake anything. You are the living one. Full of gifts and kindness, but also a savage strength. And not one of anger but of peace. Simply care for yourself, do your best everyday, and plan for the future based only on what you can control. Worry not for what you can not. Be your best friend. But be more the that. Be at home in the world. Among 7.5 BILLION people alive today, do you really think your worries are that important that you are the center of the world, that your whole experience of reality need be made unpleasant because things aren’t the way you want them to be! Good god man, how you need to remember once and for all. This life is but a short gift. And the only place you’ll ever find it is in the Present. So, accept the world isn’t how you wished it was as a child, and let go of all the very unfeeling and unphilosophic opinions ever passed on to you by a world that values stupid, unimportant shit. You have a lot to be grateful for. See it. Experience it. The only way to transcend thought is in feeling. Feel good. Feel worthy. Feel grateful. Feel relaxed. Feel capable. Feel strong. Feel secure. Feel safe. Feel at ease. Even if the cause for worrying ever came your way, worrying wouldn’t help. Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want to happen. It’s a total alignment with failure. And the failure isn’t the result we cannot control but the attitude. The judgement. “Remove the judgement and you have removed the hurt (Marcus Aurelius); “Remove the thought, ‘I am hurt’ and you are no longer hurt.” Yes, Emperor, but we must also genuinely feel we are not hurt. Then we do not hurt. Denial solves nothing. So, you got hurt. So you had to do something difficult. Shall we pour our entire lives away as poor, suffering children who know no better. No, we must learn to be. To be here. Now. Still. Secure. Not there. Then. Restless. Insecure. Those are old ways you will no longer tolerate and perpetuate. The new way is a liberation of your soul in the knowledge of the impermanence of life and in the knowing that for what time you are here, you deserve to feel good. At peace. Secure. Present. Free from worry. Calm. Loved. Stable. Impenetrable. Strong. Worthy. Capable. And free. Liberated from all fear knowing you will pass the gates of death one day. And even then, you will not fear. The self-doubt is gone. Only the Self remains. Now go relax, freed from old patterns of attached fear. Go relax. Don’t think: BE. Try it. You deserve it. Go relax now – and know that you can return to the relaxed freedom of your liberated state at any time by simply remembering that you will die. So live while you are alive. Your days of merely existing are done. Live. Be. Breath. Trust. Calm. Strong. Love. Will. Safe. Secure. Worth it. So worth it.

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.

I’m Proud of Myself

For knowing that my story is not what happens to me but what I make of it
For teaching myself to sail when I was 14
For falling in love again and again (My heart is like the fucking energizer bunny).
For moving on
For the success I had in my twenties
For the success I am building again now
For allowing myself to rediscover and reappraise who I am
For letting go
For forgiving myself
For being lovable
For writing on here for almost 8 years
For the books I have read
For the book collection I have amassed
For teaching myself to code
For building businesses
For picking up new hobbies at thirty
For taking psychedelics
For serving in the Navy at the age of 17
For moving to Santa Barbara alone when I was twenty four
For moving to Seattle when I was twenty five
For moving to Milwaukee alone when I was twenty six
For moving to LA when I was twenty seven
For having been loved by the greatest women I have ever known
For being a good boyfriend in all of my relationships but not always
For self-awareness
For growth
For being a great dog dad
For learning to like myself (Amen.)
For learning about depth psychology
For moving back home when I had to
For letting myself fall
For not letting the world get to me
For knowing exactly who I am
For continuing to evolve
For never giving up
For building that boat when I was 16
For cutting shitty people out of my life without apology to myself
For facing all of the dark things in me I needed to face in my twenties
For confronting life head on today
For being a damn good person and not letting an ex permanently convince me otherwise
For not making heroes of tragic figures
For not being the victim of myself
For loving my fate because I know I am the master of it
For taking care of my body and health and learning about those things on my own
For knowing how to cook a perfect roast chicken
For having the self-respect to be a dick when appropriate
For not letting any doctrine rule me
For not letting my heart turn cold
For not being a nihilist
For not believing in a human god
For being a humanist
For having my own, unique, rational and intelligent beliefs
For trusting life today
For trusting myself
For evolving my style to reflect who I am
For holding onto my true childhood ideals
For the love I gave
For snorkeling so many days last summer
For wanting to buy another skateboard
For having the dreams I do and knowing I will do them
For all the time I spent alone, just sitting
For loving all the right things
For what I have learned on my own about stoicism, mythology, and psychology
For being my own best friend
For being a good friend to others
For learning to not take shit personally (Huge)
For being confident and comfortable
For being such a huge Ed Ricketts fan
For overcoming my circumstances despite everything! (u have no fukn idea bitch). lol
For taking charge of my life
For being serious about my dreams
For turning my biggest defeats into my greatest motivators
For speaking up for myself
For not pitying myself
For knowing that consciousness is a computer
For teaching myself and writing poetry
For being a friend to those who need it
For protecting myself
For being such a conscious, loving parent to my own inner child
For becoming myself
For being a strong person
For being the hero of my own story
For all I know about hip-hop, cars, watches (growing), beer, cactus (growing), etc.
For speaking my mind and never being a calculating, manipulative person
For defining my circumstances rather than letting them define me
For revisioning the past so that I am no longer afraid of living in it
For being spiritual
For being the better version of the person I wanted to be
For not being afraid to ask or to act
For knowing exactly where I am going
For having no regrets
For having so much gratitude
For getting new tattoos
For remembering my spiritual grandfathers
For being whatever the fuck I want – society’s boxes be damned
For being the biggest hippie/yuppie/edgy/nerdy paradox in the world
For still loving my exes
For not being bitter anymore lol!
For laughing
For cultivating my tastes in the things I love
For not watching TV (lol, that shit’s not for me)
For having had such great pull out game that I didn’t have kids haha
For taking the time to write this
For being honest
For staying curious in my ignorance but comfortable in my knowledge
For hacking the fuck out of my mind so that it’s so good
For being humble, sweet, and kind
and for walking onto the rugby pitch for the first time

I’m proud of myself for living my creed.

I’m proud of myself for making little Lawrence proud.

Here’s to living your secret childhood myth.

Weighing My Conscience

It is nice to be writing tonight; lately, I’ve been writing more out of compulsion and less out of habit, thus it’s felt more the product of requirement rather than inspirement, which to me is a constant.

I am always the writer.

This is who I am.

I am first and foremost Lawrence Black the writer – all else is a distant second: son, brother, lover, friend – everything else is secondary to the verb I enjoy most. This thing, it’s me. And I loathe myself for not making it my one love. I loathe myself for valuing love and success and accomplishment and satisfaction to the thing I was born to do.

I am the Peter Pan of the pen game, a lost boy, full of pixie dust; however, unlike Peter Pan, I do grow up – and I am.

Thirty. Fuck me. I am not looking to be that thirty five year old working on his “novel”. Fuck me.

So, this thing calls; the muse pulls and commands me to abide, which I happily do tonight. Only, this is not enough.

I remember reading Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and The River last year, which is essentially a quasi-autobiography in which Wolfe details his – or rather Eugene Gant’s – journey from boy to writer. Something akin to Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which Joyce, as Stephen Dedalus, finally wanders off in exile, declaring: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

For what is the soul but a smithy, a forge, in which I, in my twenties, founded the basis upon which I now write: loves and dreams and holding on and letting go.

For it is me: I live this life essentially alone; yes, I have Sarah – the woman whom I love and I am making this life with – but nothing is promised.

I find it simply mind blowing that humans, the singular species capable of altruism, can be so survivalist in their relationships; however, I suppose the question answers itself in my existence.

We had to get here somehow. So we broke a few hearts on the way to this omelette, just a few eggs; the strongest surely survive. I have.

I just can’t shake the weight of fate from my shoulders, the sense of who I am. My pesonal sense of destiny. The singular force stronger than my own will.

It’s the one thing that has kept me going: the idea that I, Lawrence dot Black, am a person who must become himself. In the too-apt, almost cliche, words of Abraham Maslow: “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.”

So I am here, “Shakespearing” – as I like to refer to it, and as I did prior to leaving Sarah in our bed to come out on the balcony and write tonight.

It drives me fucking crazy to be thirty. I’m like an atomic bomb waiting to go off. I am nothing but unborn potential, and it’s maddening. You can’t imagine being me, knowing your ego is misunderstood and but a foreshadow of what is to come. Maddening.

But this sense of destiny calms me: the certainty that this will all make sense one day, it is a fantastic balm. But it doesn’t make it any more comfortable.

It’s no less maddening to know you will one day be great than to hope; for neither is a tangible feeling, just the lust. The lust for the life you were born for. I felt it at thirty; a fire in my belly began to smolder, burning deep and hot as hunger. Only, I knew; I learned that there was no way my life could have been any different. I wouldn’t have the depth I do, nor the curiosity “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

I think art – good art – is as required as good sex. At least, in the human psyche, the alternatives are absolutely damnable – causing us to focus on the things that don’t matter, rather than that which does. And I wonder about this thing, the analogousness of the two: art and sex. For both surely exist for the sake of one another, as the painter must paint, seeking the deepest artistic purpose for which he was born, so too must he find his deepest biological purpose in his art. And he finds the cause for each in each other. In art, he finds love, and in love, art.

It’s an intense thing to know yourself. But when you know what makes you tick, so too must you wind the watch and tune each gear to its proper movement.

And tonight, I feel the proper coordinates aligning within me; I feel the pulsings of my blood in my keystrokes; I can feel my feet striking their proper path in the sands of time, bearing down on a due course to oblivion, leading me toward the desire to feel more and more alive each day before I die.

Is this not what we want, to feel more alive.

I do.

There are persons and places and things to which, when I am connected most to, I feel most alive. Sex, writing, solitude – yes, the soul needs its intercourse too. And perhaps this is what writing gives me: the ability to get fucked good and hard by my passions.

I’m sure the preceding only makes sense to artists, but it is solely for myself to whom I write. This is all one giant letter to my soul, begging Peter Pan to come out and play.

He must.

If I am to be at peace with myself, I must.

But it’s not feeling less alive, that we seek in solitude and together, it is feeling less lonely, which we truly desire.

I have always connected deeply to the following words of David Wallace:

“Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”

I relate so deeply to this.

I have always been rather lonely. These words strike my heart as a smith does a hammer to the forge. Ding, ding, ding. Hot sparks. Truth, ringing loud and clear in the soul – as it always does.

If I am ever to be known, if I am ever to be less lonely, if my lover and my family and friends are ever to know me, I must write.

Period.

Dramatics aside, this is my truth.

No one, not even my exes, will ever know me without my work.

Without my giving a body to my soul, I will forever be a lost boy.

But this is not sad. This fact is a relief. This fact is balm, for it is part of my sense of destiny.

I am Lawrence Black, the writer. But I do not write as writers do. Yes, I do have a body to my work: TBD, 12FEB, HH, ATS, all these stories have been born and live within me. But it is so lonely to alone know them. It is so lonely to alone know myself.

Thirty years old, and I and my stories so unknown; although, I know it truly, that I could not have been any quicker to bloom. As a novelist in my twenties, I would have been an arrogant, talentless snot.

Osmosis. Absorption. The reading has been, and is, as important as the writing.

I refrain from naming names, only I will: Aurelius, Hugo, Steinbeck, Emerson, Shakespeare, Dickens, these men are brothers to me. I do not care of their existence for vanities, how they looked or how great their beards or homes were, these are mere facades, which I care no more for then the bearded God of my youth. I care only for their works. All else is secondary.

But age, the time and pressure and form giving way to me, remains a weight.

Thirty. Please, please let me become.

Do not give way to vanities, to comforts. To the things that do not matter.

My stories, the shaping of unborn consciences, are of paramount importance to my own.

And it kills me not to gestate them daily; for I am fairly formed and they wait.

And I, for what?

Deadlines. Well, eventually there will be no more. But some must be set. Internally.

So, I wrote this tonight: to kindle the fire beneath my own ass. For no one else will. It is me. I must write, I must become, I must level up in this game of life, giving no weight to consciences not aligned with my own. Those who may make a stranger of me as freely as one would a friend, must be weighed duly. And I suppose it is my own conscience that I weigh tonight, for it is heavy.

Heavy with the weight of my stories, but also heavy with the weight of sapphire stone, and houses, and cars, and boats, and things for which only my ego cares. But I must have both; for I refuse to believe my path must follow another, that I am unable to have my brioche and eat it too.

So I reconcile. I write and I remind myself that I am Lawrence Black, and that in due time, all will be.

For I know. In my heart of hearts, I know. They do not, but I do.

Willow and Jaden Smith, Fuck Motivation, and a Healthy Self-Confidence

I’ve previously featured their father, Will, as one of my real life inspirations; so it’s no surprise to begin this entry tonight by writing about his two terrifically well-adjusted children, Willow and Jaden, whom I think are awesome.

In a word, they are that rare thing among people – individuals – those fine persons capable of thinking and acting for themselves, on their own behalf.

I had previously heard Jaden’s music before and thought it was good. I also greatly enjoyed reading the Willow and Jaden interview published by the New York Times, in which they talked about everything from the theory of relativity, to quantum mechanics, Prana energy, and nonduality – not particularly mainstream topics for musicians – leading Billboard to describe the interview as “totally bonkers” – an opinion that others were quick to follow.

I realize, however, that when people call something crazy, often they are describing something they do not understand – unfortunately, crazy gets taken at face value all too frequently and, as a result, people fail to question something that deserves a second look.

Thankfully, we who are seekers and thinkers have no problem giving crazy it’s fair due.

Excerpt from aforementioned NYT interview:

I’m curious about your experience of time. Do you feel like life is moving really quickly? Is your music one way to sort of turn it over and reflect on it?

WILLOW: I mean, time for me, I can make it go slow or fast, however I please, and that’s how I know it doesn’t exist.

JADEN: It’s proven that how time moves for you depends on where you are in the universe. It’s relative to beings and other places. But on the level of being here on earth, if you are aware in a moment, one second can last a year. And if you are unaware, your whole childhood, your whole life can pass by in six seconds. But it’s also such a thing that you can get lost in.

Read the entire Times piece, here.

Pretty abstract thinking for two teenagers (I think 14 and 16 at the time of the article).

Tonight, Willow caught my attention here, in a filmed interview/discussion with Chance The Rapper, as part of the Uncapped series by Vitamin Water and Fader Magazine. In the clip, I came across an interesting soundbite from Willow, containing a very Jungian sounding description of feminine and masculine dynamics (from 45 secs to 1:08):

“Having a brother is such an amazing experience, especially when you’re a girl – you’re just like yin and yang – like when you can really look at the masculine in him and the feminine, and then you can look at yourself and be like, ‘the feminine in you and the masculine’, you guys become one, and you can just like go back and forth – but that’s how it’s supposed to be with men and women.”

It’s great to hear someone in the mainstream spotlight who is still so young talk about the intersexuality of the soul, as described by Carl Jung in his writings on the anima / animus – an idea I didn’t discover until I was 27.

This prompted me to continue listening, and I enjoyed coming across the following soundbites as much as I did the first:

My mom’s favorite thing to tell me when I’m being really indecisive is, “Do you boo-boo, and nobody else can do you like you”, and that’s the best part about being unique and being on this earth. The universe is the unknown, “the uni-verse”, the “you-niverse” that’s within you, is unknown. Like how can you even know anything about the deepest parts of yourself.

And on the topic of hustle:

Hustle means to me that you have a goal, and you’re going to do whatever it takes to get to that goal. It’s not tunnel vision because you can see what’s going on around you, but, you know that like, you’re focused, you’re like I’m getting this and nothing’s going to stop me from getting what I need to get in my life. 

One of the reason’s I enjoy Willow’s perspective so much here is that it reflects my own newly evolved views on reality, success, and motivation. Namely that, motivation isn’t a thing. Let me expound upon this briefly:

Fuck Motivation.

For a long time I thought I simply lacked motivation, and that motivation was the key to me believing in myself, which would be the key to my success – if I could just get motivated enough. But I was missing a key piece of the puzzle, which, in light of, I see now why I failed to succeed.

What I ended up grasping, which led me to a new understanding of how reality operates, is just that we can do anything. Anything we are capable of doing we can do. And our personal potential is the only limit to our capabilities, our reality. It’s hard to describe now how I felt before, but I just spent so many mornings listening to motivational stuff, just believing that if I could believe in myself enough, I could succeed.

But I didn’t.

No matter how much motivational stuff I listened to, deep down I just couldn’t shake my perspective, I couldn’t fool myself into believing I could have the things I wanted.

I, of course, realize now, and I can admit to myself now, that my goals were completely impotent, because I lacked the confidence in myself to be successful (As well as true, burning desire).

In hindsight, I think the motivational videos were keeping me stuck. They were perpetuating the idea that motivation is something we need from others, and they were perpetuating the idea that motivation is about believing in yourself – as if we should need a professional to teach us how, as if we shouldn’t naturally; as if motivation were an intermittent thing we needed to dose ourselves with, like caffeine.

No. Motivation is bullshit. Confidence is bullshit.

Not as ideas in themselves, but as we have come to understand them – as we have been sold on them – they are pure crap. Bullshit.

Motivation as something we can get from outside of ourselves is bullshit.

Confidence as something based on what others think of you, also bullshit.

Fuck your motivational speech. Fuck your opinion of me.

I do not need to wake up and tell myself “I can do it.”

I know I can do it.

I know that if it’s not impossible then it’s possible – and if it is possible, then I can do it.

This isn’t motivation, this is just fact.

Do not rely on motivation to believe in yourself. You don’t need it. You should believe in yourself because you are a rational being – you don’t need any other permission to believe in yourself. You exist. Your potential is a thing. Nothing else is needed…

Well almost. You need desire.

Motivation as inspiration is not a thing. Desire is.

My efforts to find motivation in a million and one different motivational speakers did very little for me beyond make me feel like I needed to keep listening…

It was only when I started to explore my why, that I became motivated in the true sense, in that I had a significant enough reason to take action.

Does a lion need motivation to hunt? No; she hunts because her hunger is strong enough to motivate her to hunt; her desire for food is stronger than her fear or her laziness.

Humans are the only creatures who are gullible and insecure enough to think that we need a reason for our reasons. Of course, don’t tell this to the motivational business. Lord knows how big the self-improvement business is. And it is a business. It serves a need. A perceived need.

Note: I mean how fucking egotistical do these motivational people need to be to think they are the one to deliver someone from their lack of belief in themselves by telling them how important it is to believe in themselves. I mean, I’m sure you guys mean well, but give me a fucking break – come on… fuckoouttahere with that snakeoil.

Do you think Warren Buffet is looking in the mirror in the morning going, You can do this Warren. Fuck no. He would see that as silly. He’s looking in the mirror and thinking of the best way to do what he’s going to do; he already knows he can do it, he already gets how life works on an action / reaction basis. He is beyond the idea of having to believe in himself, and, like so many other wildly successful people, he is not trapped by the false belief that he could succeed, if only he believed in himself enough. A man like Warren Buffet, or anyone pursuing their desires in a pragmatic and bold enough manner, knows that success is the result of action, not belief. Of course, I’m not saying belief isn’t required, but all that is needed is a healthy belief in one’s-self – something few people posses.

A healthy belief in yourself is simply an understanding that limiting your life because of a lack of belief in yourself is irrational. Period.

This, I assert, is the biggest difference between the way rich people think, and the way poor people think. And before you stop me and tell me money isn’t everything, let me just remind you of another difference between rich people and poor people: for them, in their game of life, money is just a way of keeping score. Now, I’m not saying that Avicci [Worth $60 Million
] is the best DJ in the world, but he doesn’t suck (listen to the whole song, not just the long monotonous intro, and tell me from 1:09 to 2:09 you didn’t get the feels), and to get to where he is today, he [Avicci] most surely possessed a healthy belief in himself.

And I’m not saying it [a healthy belief in oneself] is something someone necessarily gets from birth (Although, I do think wealth consciousness is a thing, often passed generationally, in the same way poverty consciousness is.) I think we all, and often the most successful people, have to find it ourselves. This is what the in the wilderness part of the heroes journey is about. It is, to paraphrase the immortal words of Joseph Campbell, entering the cave we fear, to find the treasure we seek. 

The cave is of course, our own darkness. But once we emerge from it (As wonderfully written and acted in this Awesome music video), no one can take our treasure from us. Once you have a healthy, rational belief in yourself, grounded in a pragmatic and logical understanding of reality – no one can take it from you. No one can tell you you don’t deserve something or that you can’t do something, because you see; you come to understand, that is just their opinion – their reality.

As I’ve come to see this year, life is a game of potentials – but it is won by wills. The human will, this is something innate and powerful. Only a poverty-consciousness stricken person would stifle their will because of a lack of a healthy belief in themselves.

If I could write a not to my younger self, I would say, forget believing in yourself, instead, seek to understand how reality works. 

There are no limits in reality (beyond the laws of physics).

The only possible limiting factor of your success is you. Period.

I look back on all those early morning walks on the beach, listening to Les Brown tell me “I am going to make it!“, and I realize I was caught up in a false paradigm.

Now that I understand how life works, how human potential is an innate measure of capability, I see that I didn’t need motivation. I needed desire.

Desire, dreams, the things you want deep down in the bottom of your soul, these are the only thing that can ever motivate you. Everything else is just noise. Somebody selling you on the belief that you need something you don’t posses.

And your confidence, how you feel about yourself, this is your right. The idea that what people think of you should influence your opinion of yourself, this is horseshit. The only excuse reason you ever need to be confident is your own desire to be happy. Period.

You’re like, I’m getting this and nothing’s going to stop me from getting what I need to get in my life.

Reading the excerpt from Willow’s quote above, I get that she understands life like I do.

Because I’m getting this, and nothing is going to stop me from getting what I need to get in my life.

And seriously, if you didn’t click the “Awesome music video” link, watch it now:

I’ve really come to understand that no external motivation can work for me. My motivation is my desire. And desire begins in the mind.

Bonus: Here is some food for thought desire for me:

p.s. Consider anything I’ve previously written on the topic of motivation usurped.

“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Earl Nightengale quote

 

School is Out: Quit Drinking the Kool-Aid and Live Your Truth, Your Story

I wrote something once, about how at a certain point in life, you have to put aside your identity as a student of life, so that you can lead your own [1].

And this, like many of the truths the muse has whispered to me, I have forgotten time and time again. Thankfully I wrote them down [2].

Still, I nonetheless, as is my nature, have been an eternal student of life. I don’t know how many books I own, but 2,000 wouldn’t surprise me [3].

And it was in reading one of these books [4] (Pauses to dig it up) that I came across a lesson I needed to hear at this juncture of my life. The lesson was a story about how one of the author’s friends invited him to a seminar once, and what transpired.

I’ve transcribed the story below for you, starting with his friend’s “pitch” of the seminar:

“See, man, we’re all conditioned to respond to things in a particular way—from our parents, school, government. It’s the whole capitalistic programming of mind control that makes us chase after these material things. I’m talking about self-determination, about ending slavery to the almighty dollar, man.”

“That’s what the lecture’s about?” I asked, reminding him that my work schedule was pretty tight.

“That’s the problem,” he went on. “Wanting material things, wanting to be middle-class, aspiring to be bourgeois. You think that your work is who you are, right? No, man, who you are is who you are, not what you do.”

Sounded interesting enough to get me there. Even then, at what turned out to be a seminar called EST, run by a guy named Werner Erhard, nobody would explain what IT was all about. In fact, you had to get IT. And if you couldn’t get IT, you had to be trained to get IT. And you had to pay a lot of money to be trained to get IT.

Sitting on the floor, cross- legged, in a room full of nearly a hundred people, my three friends and I kept exchanging frustrated expressions as Werner Erhard and his lieutenants took turns yelling at us, just like in the military, and telling us how our lives weren’t working and how we had all this baggage that we wouldn’t take responsibility for. How could we do that? We had to get IT. But nobody could tell us what IT was! What was more, they didn’t want us to basically leave until we got IT. No eating or going to the bathroom. With my three friends, Bill included, I soon began to roll my eyes in frustration.What I wanted to say was, Look, just tell us what IT is, because maybe we could get IT if we knew what IT was.

Maybe we got IT already.

It occurred to me, that not even the seminar leaders seemed to knew what IT was. When that became apparent, after about an hour of all this berating, I stood up and finally said,“Yeah, I got IT.”

Just before the EST army could move in, I added, “Fuck IT. Fuck IT, and fuck you, and fuck that.”

The four of us became very vocal. “Yeah, fuck IT!” repeated one of the guys.“IT ain’t shit!” shouted another. Bill yelled,“I don’t want IT!” I finished up by saying,“Keep IT.”

As the only brothers in the room, we started to sense there was going to be a racial issue, but pretty soon most of the white people in the room began to give us looks like, Ah, they do have IT. All hell just about broke loose when one white guy stood up and joined us, saying,“Yeah, that’s right! Fuck IT!” This was enough for us to be escorted quickly out because we had definitely messed up the game. That little experiment proved to me that I didn’t need other doctrines to enlighten me. But Bill kept on searching.

The author goes on to tell how he heard of Bill again in 1978, when he [Bill] and 900 other people who followed a charismatic leader to Jonestown, Guyana, would drink cyanide laced kool-aid in a mass suicide. This, gave rise to the expression drinking the kool-aid, which I first heard when I was 21 and in an office where people were drinking the figurative kool-aid [5].

Not long after I worked in that office, I was invited to a seminar (Some MLM Amazonian “miracle” beverage), which would be my first and last seminar, and while I didn’t have the courage to stand up and yell “Fuck IT”, my girlfriend at the time (3.1) and I actually quietly left – before peeling out of the parking lot of the strip-mall loudly enough to let everyone inside know how we felt about their kool-aid [6].

Now it has been a long time since I thought of the expression or connected the dots between the people in the office and the people in that miserable little strip-mall seminar, but I think when you really are drinking the kool-aid, you don’t know it.

At least, the last time someone invited me to a seminar (Which coincidentally was an offshoot of EST, known as Landmark), she didn’t know it [7].

But this isn’t about seminars. That’s the obvious kind of kool-aid – but that’s not the only kool-aid. I think there are lot more people trying to get you to drink their kool-aid than you know, which is to say, there are a lot of people who benefit in you thinking they know better than you do.

I will admit: I may have dodged a few kool-aid laced doctrines in my life, as far as footnotes tell, but I have drank the kool-aid – from relationships to just about every facet of life, I drank the kool-aid. Whenever I subscribed to the belief that other people knew better than I did, I was drinking the kool-aid, which, at thirty, is a hell of a lot more often than I’d like to admit.

But it’s true. You see, unlike Chris Gardner, I didn’t extract the same lesson he did from dodging the kool-aid; where he said, That little experiment proved to me that I didn’t need other doctrines to enlighten me, I simply said, don’t buy what people are selling to you if it sounds too good to be true.

Maybe this was a difference in our years, but now, having read his anecdote about the seminar, I see the larger message – the one he extracted:

I don’t need other doctrines to enlighten me.

But, until now, I didn’t think of overtly manipulative beliefs as doctrines, I simply thought of them as some bullshit I wasn’t stupid enough to buy; however, now, I’m starting to examine all the bullshit I was stupid enough to buy – and the list is huge.

Basically anything I blindly accepted, and in particular things I accepted from those whom it was in their interest for me to accept things from, is on the list; every time I didn’t question why I was being told something, I was drinking the fucking kool-aid.

This may sound extreme, but I think we all drink the kool-aid in our lives. Society serves us up it’s kool-aid starting in our formative years, and this is particularly true for those of us who grew up under “I pledge allegiance” Bush era nationalism. I can’t even imagine how strong the kool-aid was for my father’s generation, where the Indians were the bad guys in every movie.

Today, however, the kool-aid we are served is much more palatable – approved even, by the PC police.

It is the Kardashian kool-aid, which supports a multi-billion dollar advertising machine for cosmetics; it is, in essence, anything, which unquestioned, you let rule your values and choices.

According to Wikipedia, “Drinking the Kool-Aid” is a figure of speech commonly used in North America that refers to a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination.

That’s a broad stroke.

How many unquestioned beliefs, arguments, or philosophies do we hold without critical examination?

I’d dare say most of our beliefs, arguments, and philosophies are held without critical examination.

School teaches us to learn, but rarely to think. Philosophy, after all, isn’t about finding the right answers, but about asking the right questions.

Because the right answers, the truth, it has to be your truth.

hesse

For your truth is not my truth. My truth is like the truth known to all men who have awakened to their individuality; my truth is as unique as I am; however, unlike Herman Hesse, I still question stars and books, for, while I hear them, I have not quite begun to follow the teachings my blood whispers to me.

But I feel it is time. It is time for me to realize that no kool-aid, no external belief, argument, or philosophy is going to be a substitute for living my life, particularly when the beliefs, arguments, and philosophies I hold already remain so unquestioned, unchallenged by my truth.

It is time for me to live by my truths, to remember that, at a certain point in life, you have to put aside your identity as a student of life, so that you can lead your own.

Here are 10 of my truths, to serve as reminders:

  1. I am entirely capable of fulfilling my specific desires, which I have for a reason
  2. I do not need anyone to complete me
  3. I know who I am, and I am not lost
  4. I have permission to be fully confident and sure of myself
  5. I deserve the things I want
  6. I do not need any more “answers” other than those necessary to solve the problems I set out to work on
  7. My intuition knows best
  8. I know better than anyone else does for me
  9. I am fully capable of leading myself
  10. It is better to learn and reason from experience and first principles than through analogy

Edit: The day I published this, my father emailed me a link to a brilliant Wait But Why long form article on Elon Musk, titled: The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

In the piece, the author ironically starts out using the “drinking the kool-aid” analogy to describe his allegiance to the Elon Musk cognitive model, which he breaks down, before addressing the problem of dogma and providing a solution for us to trust our own software rather than the programs society runs on.

“Eventually, you must hit a tipping point and trusting your own software becomes your way of life—and as Jobs says, you’ll never be the same again.”

If what I wrote resonated with you at all, I highly implore you to read the Wait But Why piece: The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce.

It is the absolute perfect pairing for this, and it definitely feels like synchronicity is at play, given the path I am on.

Edit 11/14/15: Just published an entry titled, Hacking an Open Source Cognitive Model for Goal Prioritization and Attainment, which addresses the aforementioned Wait Buy Why piece.

Footnotes

1: Notes and Lessons from Napoleon Hill’s 1928 Masterpiece: Outwitting The Devilbrilliant stuff.

2. Start a journal, start a free blog on wordpress.com, just write. Your future self will thank you. So will your children.

3. Keep in mind, my book collection, with the exception of a few keepsakes [3.1], has only really began this year… The Black Family Library is happening.

3.1 If you’re reading this, yes, I still have those books we got in Seattle. Also, it’s great never thinking of you; with the exception of a few of our things I held onto, you are now a mere footnote in my life.

4. The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner. Fantastic book. Also, if you want to read another amazing autobiography, check out The Measure of a Man, Sidney Poitier. I’ve read both at 30, and I think the timing could not have been better. Also, if you have any autobiographies or biographies worth noting, please comment – I’d love to read them.

5. At aged 21, during the height of the refi boom in the 2000’s, I steered clear of drinking the kool-aid, so to speak, and last I heard, the two men I worked for went to prison for mortgage fraud.

6. 3.1 (I think I’ll make that her new moniker), she may be a footnote but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love her. Man, we laughed so hard after we peeled out of that lot. Sigh.

7. Boy meets girl at gym in LA, boy asks for girls number. Girl invites boy out, he arrives – she is with another boy. Boy leaves. Two months later girl calls boy to apologize because she was “totally brainwashed” and just wanted him to go to the seminar, which she was “pressured to invite people to”. Boy forgets girl’s last name. Footnoted.

The Rules (Live By Your Own)

I have writen these to center myself by striking bedrock on the foundations of my life at thirty. It is absolutely insane that we are not all taught to define and live by our own rules.

Have inner peace. This comes from listening to and following your heart. This is the essence of loving yourself.

Trust yourself. Trusting yourself means cultivating and following your intuition. It means never having to doubt yourself. It also means not ignoring your feelings and instincts. And if you don’t trust yourself, you are out of touch with your inner voice and need to reconnect to it. Pray, meditate, write, spend time alone, make art.

Don’t worry. Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want. Don’t fall prey to fear, which is imagined, unlike danger, which is real. Remember: Confidence is merely the absence of insecurity.

Be at peace with your past. Otherwise, it will control your future. The past is over and done. Once is enough. Accept that the past could not have been any different. What was no longer has to be. You are wiser for mistakes. Your character deeper for what you have suffered. Go forth a better person. It’s a new chapter, stop re-reading the old one.

Forgive. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Let go of the pain you have held onto for so long. You deserve to be free sweet child.

Love your fate. For what could be more suited for you than that which is fated for you – Marcus Aurelius

Believe in yourself. Be like the raccoon. Do not deny your nature nor your natural desires and wishes. So long as they bring no harm to others there is no reason you do not deserve a thing.

Gain pleasure through fulfillment. For there is no fulfillment in mere pleasure. Furthermore, you must sacrfice one at the expense of the other. Just remember: pleasure is over when the activity stops. Fulfillment is a good thing which lasts and benefits you evermore.

Be kind to people. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Everyone has their own hopes and dreams and fears. Be kind to them, please.

Do the right thing. The easy thing and the right thing are seldom the same. As the French proverb states: there is no softer pillow than a clean conscience.

Be good to your body. If you are young, you may not see the effects of your lifestyle for years. Work out. Drink water. Don’t ignore the mental and physical perils of chemicals and intoxicants.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the great thief of joy. It serves zero beneficial purpose aside from motivating you, which requires consciously choosing to compare those who inspire you only to your future self.

Be grateful. Seriously, if you knew how much you had to be grateful for, you would never be unhappy again.

Do good by serving others. We all have something to give the world that it desperately needs. Think of all others have done for you.

Be your own best friend and treat yourself as such, after all, whose side you are on? Treat yourself as you would the person you love most in the world. As encouraging, supportive, compasionate, and forgiving.

Master your inner reality. For if you do not master your thoughts they will make a slave of you.

Be aware of your thoughts and your self-talk; direct and manage both. The goal is for your inner existence to be as positive and healthy as the outer existence you desire.

Be true to your soul. Ask yourself one question prior to all you do: Is it good for my soul? If not, don’t do it.

Define your own values. Not society’s, yours. Otherwise you cannot possibly be true to yourself. To begin defining your own values you need only think for yourself.

Pro tip: There is who you are (the Soul) and there is who you pretend to be (The ego). Where do your values lie?

Make art. There is no greater care you can bestow upon your soul than giving it the freedom to create something solely for it’s own joy. And if you do not make art, enjoy art and your soul will thank you nonetheless.

Do your best everyday. Do not underestimate what your best is either.

As Shakespeare writes in Hamlet:

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. 

For the sky is not the limit, your beliefs are. Be prolific: marked by an abundance of productivity.

But also be realistic. In the immortal words of Hamlet again:

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.

Be honest with yourself. Figure out why you have done what you have done, and why you are doing what you now do. Uncover the bullshit excuses and stories you tell yourself as to why you cannot do as you wish and create what you want.

Take full responsibility for your happiness. If your happiness lie anywhere or in anything or anyone beyond the boundaries of your own thoughts, you are a damned fool and deserve to be miserable.

Follow a plan. For your life, for your days. You must have a plan. Follow it. Adjust it. Refine it. Make it so. Remember, goals are simply dreams with deadlines. Work backwards to do each day what is required for YOUR personal success.

Don’t take offense to what others say and do. Nothing. What others do and say is their reality – based on their values – do not let it define your’s. It’s about them, not you.

Never give up. They can take my dreams from my cold, dead hands. Otherwise, bitch please.

Make love. If you are physically young enough and in a relationship where this is not possible, I pity you. The difference between making love and f*cking is that in making love you are receiving communion from someone who cares deeply about your hopes, dreams, and fears. Wheares in the other, the heart is not in it.

Be there for your parents. They did their best. They brought you into this world. They gave up a lot for that. And while they will be there for you always, they won’t always be there. Enjoy the time you have left with them. It will be too late one day.

Have manners. Next time you order something, say: May I please have, not: can I get…. Say thank you as well.

Don’t manipulate people. Manipulation is making others feel a certain way to get what you want. Don’t be this creature (No matter how learned you may be at it). It’s incredibly self-centered and shows a lack of basic care and respect for others. You are better than this.

Don’t take love for granted.. Trust me on this one or you’ll look back one day and realize you didn’t know what you had. Tell her you love her, morning noon, and night. Enjoy quiet nights by her side. Kiss her back. Don’t neglect your own pastures for greener grass.

Change the things that need changing. Drink too much? Resolve to stop. Have an eating disorder? Find help. Do not suffer in silence. We all have our demons. Shake the devil off your back. Be a conscious parent to your own inner child.

Don’t piss your time away. Facebook. News. Petty people. Petty things. Your life is fading. It’s too precious to spend addicted to things that do not serve your higher self.

You are enough. No one and nothing else can complete you. This is a toxic and dangerous game to play. Don’t even entertain the idea. You’re okay.

Forget not your mortality. For you will die one day. None of us know when.


These are just the rules I have chosen to live by. You are welcome to choose your own, and you ought. Just keep in mind: if you don’t shape your reality, your reality will shape you.

Completely Uncommon Advice on Happiness from Robina Courtin

Robina Courtin Quote

30-year Tibetan Buddhist Nun (and total bad ass) Robina Courtin delivered a talk at Google in 2008 that’s chock-full of immensely refreshing, yet completely uncommon advice on happiness, neurosis, and “being your own therapist”.

Powerful, powerful stuff.

Uncommon Advice on Happiness from Rebina Courtin’s 2008 Talk at Google: Be Your Own Therapist

Overview from Youtube:

We spend our lives being seduced by the outside world, believing without question that happiness and suffering come from “out there.” In reality, Buddhist teachings explain that they come from the way we perceive and interpret things, not the things themselves.

This deeply held misconception is at the root of our dissatisfaction, self-doubt, anger, depression, anxiety, and the rest. But our minds can change. By becoming deeply familiar with the workings of our own cognitive processes through introspection and learning to deconstruct them – truly, being our own therapists – we can loosen the grip of these neuroses and grow our marvelous potential for contentment, clarity, and courage, which are at the core of our being.


Note: Typically when I watch a talk, or read a book, I am thrilled if I can walk away with one really good idea to put into my toolkit; however, at 29 years old, the following quote is perhaps the best single piece of advice I’ve heard on happiness in the last five years. It’s the psychology of happiness in a single sentence.

“Happiness is – it’s really simple, it’s what you get when you give up the neurosis.” Robina Courtin

The rest of the entry contains a WEALTH of additional wisdom from the same talk, expanding on this idea.

Giving up Neurosis to Find Happiness

“The extent of which we are caught up in any given moment in low self-esteem, depression, anger, jealousy, you name it… The extent to which we’re caught up in those is the extent of which we suffer.

The extent of which we are not caught up in those and therefore the extent which we’re involved in kind of, you know, connecting with others, empathy, being harmonious, forgiving…T he extent of which they’re prevalent in our minds at any given moment is the extent to which we are happy.

It’s an incredibly simple little recipe in Buddhist terms. We (most people) think it [happiness] is what you get when you get what you want. He [The Buddah] says it’s what you get when you give up the neurosis – so the technique is learning to know your mind, being your own therapist.”

Don’t Think About Calming Your Mind, Think About Steadying it’s Focus

“A calm mind can be a busy mind. And if you think about it, what causes the problems isn’t a busy mind, it’s when the–the busy mind is caught up in fear about yourself and worry of what people think about you, am I good enough, am I too fat, am I too thin and depression and jealous and anxiety and all the rest. That’s the stuff that causes the misery. If you’re full of thoughts about being useful to others all day and being content with yourself, well, please go for it, you know. You don’t have a problem, believe me.”

On Using the Full Brilliant Power of Your Mind to Your Advantage

“Don’t try to hold yourself back. Love the fact that you’ve got a brilliant mind, that you’re a real thinker – this is the technique, this is the tool that you can use to be your own therapist, to use this cognitive process to deconstruct your own stuff. Okay, alongside that intelligence, you need some, you know integrity, you need humility, you need the wish to look at yourself, you need the will to want to, the ability–and the wish to want to go beyond blame and hurt that alongside this intelligence, that’s a marvelous packaging I tell you. That’s the stuff that we need. Intelligence on its own is a disaster. You can still be in an infantile at the age of 90 even if you’re a genius, you know?”

On Anger, Jealousy, Fear, and Attachment

“Lack of emotional intelligence is what we have when we have anger, and jealousy and fear, and attachment because these are totally self-centered, unhappy, miserable states of mind.”

Facing Self-Knowledge With Courage and Self-Compassion Rather Than Low Self-Esteem and Self-Loathing

“It’s a question of knowing yourself well – taking responsibility, but on the basis of the fact that you can change – not, “Oh, I’m so guilty, I’m so bad”. Not that at all, which is a knee-jerk reaction we tend to have when we point out problems in ourselves. That’s not the attitude here. It’s a courageous attitude. It’s just, “Okay, I am jealous, I get depressed, I am this, I am that, what a drag, it’s breaking my heart.” You’ve got to have compassion for yourself really, which is a brand new idea for us. We love to hate ourselves.”

The Importance of Identifying with Your Positive Potential

“The more strongly you can kind of identify with your positive potential, the more you have the courage, don’t you, to see the things that are holding you back. But the crucial one for me is we take one thing from this room: I can change. It sounds so simple, it’s almost embarrassing but you check the major level at which we suffer when things are going bad, we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is why we despair.”

Mindfulness as Kind of Cognitive Behavioral Tool

“We can mold our minds, our thoughts and feelings into any shape we like, you know and this is the thing here. The level of which I’m discussing here, the level of practice based upon these really marvelous techniques where you can learn to focus your mind, you then use the skill of–of this–really a process of cognitive therapy and I’m really not kidding. Buddha is a master of cognitive therapies. You learn more and more clearly, literally to hear the millions of voices inside there that now are racing like I said out of control all day everyday.”

The Neurotic “I” – Neuroticism as a Product of our Sense of Self and Self-Centeredness

“The basis of the neurotic voices, the fearful ones, the angry ones, the jealous, the depression is a neurotic sense of self of”I.” You think about it, even if Monica and I are sitting, having a very friendly conversation, I’m listening to her and she is listening to me and I crack [her jokes]–you know I laugh at her jokes and she laughs at mine. You think about this carefully when it’s very easygoing, there’s no real vivid sense of “I” this, “I am listening to Monica” – you’re kind of connected to her. There’s a sense of interdependence, isn’t there? There’s a sense of “we.” Now you watch what happens when you start to argue, that “we” is cut in half right there. The unhappy “I” is kind of quiet like a sleeping lion, and there’s a sense of connected to otherness. But then when that’s cut, you kind of revert back into yourself and the “I” rises loudly and you’re panicking and your heart’s beating and the blood’s racing and ‘she did this’ and ‘I said that’, ‘it’s not fair’, ‘poor me’ this – that’s the voice – the “I”, the neurotic “I,” behind all the unhappy states of mind – that’s their character.”

The Neurotic Voices are Not at The Core of Your Being, They Can be Changed

“So even to think ‘wow, that’s interesting, maybe it’s possible, maybe what Buddha says is possible, that they’re not at the core of my being [the neurotic voices], that I can learn to look into these and deconstruct them and hear the voices and unpack them and slowly, cognitively change myself.’ This is the process I’m talking about here. “

A Question About Materialism and Happiness: The Distinction Between The Thing and Your Interpretation of It

Note: This might be the magnum opus of the lessons here. An attendee asks an assumptive question about the best way to live in order to be happy and the reply is just not at all what you would assume.

Question: “So since it’s pretty pointless to pursue a job and the girlfriend and the dollars and the car, would the most practical thing for us to be, is to just take care of a little bit of shelter and food and spend all the rest of the time in contemplation?”

Answer: “How revolting. I couldn’t stand a life like that. No, you’ve gone ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong with millions of dollars and jobs and girlfriends and gorgeous things, no, no you’re chucking the baby out of the bath water. You went too far, you became kind of nihilistic. No, that’s not the point. You can have your cake and eat it too sweetheart, and I’m really serious here. The Buddha makes this enormous distinction between the thing itself and your interpretation of it, and what he is describing here–the problem is our interpretation of the girlfriend, of the money – if you put all your eggs in those baskets, believing primordially that having them equals happiness, he says that’s when you will be disappointed, because you just got the wrong recipe. So he doesn’t say give them up, he says change your way of interpreting them.

Happiness is dependent upon you changing, getting rid of your neurotic attachment, getting rid of all your craving for people to love you, getting –I mean I am talking of the neurotic side here–rid of the craving for people to approve of you, to think you’re fantastic, for the dollars in the bank – the neurotic dependence on that stuff is what I am talking about, not the stuff itself. …So that’s not the answer, we’re in this world of abundance and money and things and color and shapes and music and sounds, it’s kind of a sophisticated view. The first level is maybe you back away for a while, while you go into retreat mode, you know. But eventually with skill, you’re going to have your cake and eat it too. It’s giving up the neurotic attitude towards the things, not the things themselves. That’s a major, major point. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Watch the full Talk Below

Note: I really enjoyed Robina Courtin’s demeanor – she seems like a definite non-people pleaser, which I mean as a compliment; although I did cringe at a few of the things she said, but watching this was a reminder that spirituality does not have to strip you of your confidence nor your personality and that decreasing your suffering can empower you to live the highest manifestation of both.

Follow Robina Courtin on Facebook.

Update: 11/8/2014

The following was a comment I posted on a thread in the Stoicism group I am in on facebook. I wanted to add it here as it relates to my own personal ethos on life, from an increasingly Buddhist perspective.

In my very limited (but growing) understanding of Buddhist teachings, I feel that The Buddha was a master of perspective. I feel like Buddhism compliments Stoicism very well; through Stoicism I gain understanding, through Buddhism I gain perspective. Definitely something I would love to see a dedicated thread on in the future. And regarding positive thought, I am inclined to agree with you, especially when examining the Stoic practice of negative visualization (imagining loss, ex: preparing for bad traffic in LA). The older I get the less I subscribe to new age positive thinking, instead favoring wisdom. There’s certainly a point at which mere positivity becomes an almost weakness, disconnecting you from the true reality of things. If there’s a lesson to be learned from positivity, I think it’s “don’t be neurotic”.

 

 

Humans, Listen to Your Raccoon King: Drop Out of The Cult of Self-Esteem in Favor of Your Rational Animal Confidence

This morning I came across an entry on a blog I follow that addressed the potential harm in the pursuit of self-esteem.

I’m glad I came across this because I thought about this very topic last night as I was working on mapping my values and virtues. In fact I opted not to list self-esteem as either a mental or an emotional virtue because I think the concept of self-esteem is garbage.

Let’s look into this further.

Famed psychologist Albert Ellis – like him or not – was a vocal opponent of self-esteem. I haven’t read (nor do I feel compelled to read) his book ‘The Myth of Self-Esteem‘ -one of about 80 books he published during his lifetime – but Ellis posited that the pursuit of self-esteem was self-defeating because it reduces our worth to the sum of our accomplishments.

Another book, House of Cards, written by Robin Dawes reflects a view of self-esteem similar to Ellis’.

From an LA Times review of House of Cards:

Belief: Self-esteem is the key ingredient in well-being and achievement; low self-esteem is the main cause of drug abuse, violence and teen-age pregnancy.

Fact: Literally thousands of studies have failed to support this belief, which guided the California Task Force on Self-Esteem. As Dawes observes, the task force performed an unintended public service; it demonstrated that “the Holy Grail of pop psychology”–the belief that high self-esteem is the ticket to happiness and low self-esteem is the cause of social problems–“is nothing more then a mirage.” What research does show is that children need a sense of competence and mastery at learning new skills. Self-esteem will follow.

My personal views support this. I feel self-esteem is a concept rooted in classic American egoism that has passed its pop psychology expiration date. If there is such a thing as self-esteem, then it is the product of self-sufficiency and competence, rather than the cause of. Further, I view the concept of self-esteem in a similar light to Ellis in that I feel it is too externally rooted in achievement and accomplishment, and therefore does not provide an individual with an accurate self-assessment of his or her actual potential to achieve what he or she wishes to accomplish.

As a result, an individual’s tendency to focus on self-esteem and ‘feeling good about oneself’ causes them to base their confidence in performing specific tasks on their overall perceived worth, rather than their self-efficacy in a given area.

So if not self-esteem, what then?

As previously noted – I excluded self-esteem from my own list of mental and emotional values and virtues; however, I did include self-compassion, self-confidence, rationality, as well as optimism and a positive mindset. (This was among many others listed according to my ideal of my actualized physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, professional, social, and intellectual self).

In focusing on the above concepts, I can apply this combination of self-compassion, self-confidence, rationality, and an optimistic and positive mindset, to examine a given area of my life in a manner that enables me to provide myself with a supportive and encouraging inner-voice. Without this, I would be limited to the biased and narrow-minded viewpoint that the cult of self-esteem has doomed so many of us to.

It’s troubling to me that the cult of self-esteem places self-image and self-worth on a pedestal – for the problem is not in building lasting overconfidence, but that this inflated sense of worth (a bubble if you will) inevitably bursts once an adult faces a world devoid of the teachers, parents, and suitors who for so long held their ego up in an unsustainable light.

This video illustrates this concept perfectly:

Maybe we all need a little tough love mixed with unconditional self-acceptance in order to shake off some of the vain baggage and insecurity that self-esteem has wrought so many of us with.

Fuck self-esteem. Ah, doesn’t that feel good to say. Seriously, the more you demistify the constructs of society that are designed to provide you with unsustainable and worthless pleasures, the more you can free yourself to pursue the kind of lasting fulfillment and self-worth that no one can ever deny you – least of all yourself.

I’m reminded of a zen proverb (ahem, sorry – ‘Ancient Toltec Wisdom’) from the book The Four Agreements, in which author Don Miguel Ruiz states that we should take nothing personally, in other words – someone should be able to tell us we are the best person in the world, or the worst, and either should mean nothing to us.

I’m not telling you to abandon the positive feeling of approval, but the conversation you have with yourself, is far more important than the conversation you have with others.

And as I read this morning in The Pythagorean Sentences of Demophilus, written over 2,400 years ago:

“Consider both the praise and reproach of every foolish person as ridiculous”

In short, do not derive your own worth from the appraisal of others.

Now, I task you with reading the Wikipedia entry on self-esteem and thinking for yourself as you read it – maintaining objectivity as you review the widely held notions on self-esteem, and the overwhelming societal and intellectual value of self-esteem as a whole.

It would seem to me that any rational human being with a healthy self-confidence should realize what an absurdly maladaptive practice it is to subscribe to the idea that positive self-esteem is something we should aspire to be able to posses.

It is your right – it is your duty – to feel good about who you are, to love yourself with compassion, to be rational, and to be optimistic and positive about your present and future potential.

I will leave you with the image of a raccoon. Do you think the raccoon denies himself the fulfillment of his nature, his raccoonness? Do you think the raccoon is thinking he is not worthy of being good at being a raccoon and having what he deserves and wants? Do you think the raccoon lets anyone else deny him of that? Hell no. So why the hell would you as a human do any of this? Oh that’s right, because you’re human and other humans told you that your value was dependent upon certain conditions, and that if you didn’t meet those conditions, then you weren’t good. Right now I want you to claim your value back; reclaim your innate worth that existing as a unique living being entitles you too. Don’t subscribe to the idea that someone else’s opinion of you has to become your reality. Because ultimately that’s what subscribing to the cult of self-esteem is signing you up for. If your reality doesn’t dictate the world, the world will dictate your reality – stop giving self-esteem that power over you. Internalize the rational animal confidence into your psyche, and stop following the cult of self-esteem that so many humans buy into.

Am I anti self-esteem? You betch’ur raccoon ass I am. I am rational, self-loving, confident, healthy, optimistic, and positive minded – and I would never let someone or something else decide what I am worthy of feeling, accomplishing, or possessing. That would be [thinking I need self-esteem to be worthy would be] madness for a raccoon king like me.

I'm a Raccoon King

Art credit.

 

The Big Four: How The Navy Seals Effectively Combat Fear

Someone in my Stoicism philosophy group recommended this video to me and I am LOVING what I’ve learned about how the US Navy Seals (HOOYAH GO NAVY!) have integrated four specific cognitive behavioral techniques into their training program to help trainees combat fear.

Watch from 2:47 to to 18:30 – trust me, you’ll likely enjoy it – I certainly did! (the rest of the video did bore me though, and I did not care to finish it).

The following is transcribed verbatim from the video:

The techniques that we are most interested in are what I call the Big Four:

1. Goal Setting
2. Mental Rehearsal
3. Self-Talk
4. Arousal Control

 Goal Setting

Scientists think goal-setting works by assisting the Frontal Lobes. As the brain’s supervisor, the Frontal Lobes are responsible for reasoning and planning. Concentrating on specific goals lets the brain bring structure to chaos, and keeps the Amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, in check.

Mental Rehearsal

The second technique, Mental Rehearsal, or visualization, is continually running through an activity in your mind so when you try it for real it comes more naturally.

If you practice in your mind first and rehearse and imagine how you might do in these stressful situations, the next time, in reality, you’re faced with these situations – it’s actually in effect the second time you’ve faced it, so you’ll have less of a stressful reaction.

Self Talk

The third technique, self-talk, helps focus the trainees thoughts. The average person speaks to themselves at a rate of 300 to 1,000 words a minute – if these words are positive instead of negative, can do, instead of can’t, they help override the fear signal coming from the Amygdala.

The Frontal Lobes are always on, so it’s very easy to think about something difficult, something bad like I’m going to fail, what am I doing here, I didn’t practice enough. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to replace those bad thoughts with good thoughts.

Arousal Control

The final technique, Arousal Control, is centered on breathing. Deliberate slow breathing helps combat some of the effects of panic. Long exhales in particular mimic the body’s relaxation process, and get more oxygen to the brain so it can perform better.

Breathing is a great focusing strategy, but you can only do it so much because in in response to fear your brain will get jacked up.

On it’s own, arousal control wouldn’t work – the Amygdala sends out such a powerful signal, it’s tough to suppress if we’re still feeling fearful – but combining the four techniques made a big difference to the trainee Seals pass rate, increasing it from a quarter to a third.


# end of verbatim transcription #

Author note: This blog is a personal blog, there is and will never be an agenda to anything I post other than my own personal desire to grow and express myself (and to benefit my family and my dear readers), and I state this, because when I come across something like this, I don’t just ‘blog it’ and forget about it – I make it a part of my life, of my mental programming, and I return to it, and I study it. I’m not sitting here typing this stuff up in an attempt to aggregate a search query from google, or to make  money. I state this because I hope that you, my reader, will not simply dismiss something you read here because of the abundance of free and purportedly helpful information available online. I know I sometimes make that mistake too, but it’s much easier for me to accept the value of something when I know there is no monetary or ulterior motive behind its production and publication. So, long story short – this is great stuff. The Navy Fucking Seals are using it with significant success. These concepts make complete sense and there is no reason why you too can’t transform your life with them. I know I plan on it.

Each of The Big Four techniques detailed above (1. Goal Setting, 2. Mental Rehearsal, 3. Self-Talk, 4. Arousal Control) has far reaching benefits beyond countering and calming the brain’s natural fear responses. These are major pillars of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and I think this is an excellent framework. It’s unfortunate there isn’t more info available on the Big Four.

Edit: I found a former Seal trainee’s account of the Big Four, which provides additional detail and perspective, and I am publishing a quote of below for posterity’s sake:

THE BIG FOUR; KEYS TO MENTAL TOUGHNESS

Goal Setting Through Segmenting: All of us have heard of goal setting. However, not all of us do it effectively. Segmenting is breaking a large task into smaller, more achievable goals. Not looking ahead all the time at everything you need to do to achieve the task but staying in the present and looking simply at what you have to do today or before each meal. It’s like the old adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Master Chief told us exactly how to break up the humongous task of getting through BUDs. “One meal at a time,” was our motto. Anyone can make it to the next meal. Once you make it to lunch then you focus on making it to dinner. At the start of BUDs, I focused on working from meal to meal but I also broke it down to even smaller parts during surf torture, long, cold swims, and brutal conditioning runs. “Just get to the next minute, the next sand bar, past this section of the beach,” I thought to myself. I also focused on a slightly bigger picture and set an initial goal of just making it to the end of each week. Weekends are rest and recovery time at BUDs and students are free to do whatever they please. Segmenting sounds like such a simple idea but how many of us use it effectively? I think as triathletes we can use segmenting over the course of our season, not just in an Ironman, to keep us focused, patient, and on a path to successful racing.

External and Internal Visualization: “Worrying is praying for something you don’t want. If you worry about it enough, it will happen.” Visualization is the antidote for anxiety, nervousness, and worry. In your mind, visualize yourself successfully going through each step needed to complete the task in detail through your own eyes (Internal). Then visualize seeing yourself successfully negotiating that same task as if you were watching yourself on video. Do this over and over. Go to a quiet place if you can, close your eyes, and visualize yourself internally and externally. When I was coaching, I used to tell cyclists that were afraid to descend at high speeds to focus on where you want to go instead of all the places you don’t want to end up. At BUDs I used this when we were waiting for our turn on the Obstacle Course. We had to negotiate all nineteen obstacles in under eleven minutes. Any obstacle that took you more than three attempts was an automatic failure. Failures were sent to remediation with more physical punishment as a reward. BUDs is hard enough. Avoiding extra doses of pain could mean the difference between passing and failure in another evolution in the day. Even though I knew I could negotiate each obstacle; waiting in line and not wanting to fail could cause unwanted anxiety. Visualization was my weapon against this.

Self Talk: Self talk is self affirmation. “Belief in yourself is the number one thing that will get your through BUDs. Believe in the program, training and where it will take you,” said Master Chief. Action (event), Belief (experience, prejudices, biases, stereotypes), Consequences (possible outcomes). Every task we encounter has these factors surrounding it. “Beliefs” are improved by self talk which equals a better consequence. All of us that compete have had a bad experience one time or another. A bike crash, being unable to finish a workout, bonking, gastric distress, cramps, equipment problems, or battling through an injury. These prior experiences can have a negative influence on a future consequence whether we realize it or not. Talking to yourself, believing in your training, your equipment, and trusting yourself to know what to do in the event things don’t go your way can mean the difference between success and failure. Every morning at BUDs, during the run to chow I would talk to myself as well as talk to God. I’d remind myself how hard I’ve worked to get to this point and that this day would soon pass. I would talk to myself during those cold two mile ocean swims and the dark four mile timed runs along the beach. “Just get to that buoy, just get to those rocks on the beach, you’re not cold” were things I said to myself.

Arousal Control; 4 x 4 x 4 breathing: People can react to a stressor in different ways. For instance, if an individual perceives the stressor as a challenge to his/her control of a situation, norepinephrine, the “fight ” hormone is predominantly released. And, if the stress arousal increases and a possible loss of control is felt by the individual, then epinephrine, another “flight/anxiety” hormone is released. When the stress is prolonged and seen as hopeless, the individual becomes more distressed and feels defeated. This activates the hypothalamus in the brain. What follows is a cascade of hormonal pathways resulting in the final release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex (of the kidney). The HPA Axis (Hypothalmus Pituitary Adrenal Axis) is a term describing the connection between your brain, pituitary, adrenal gland in relation to stress. During times of stress, the pituitary gland releases cortisol and the balance of cortisol in comparison to other hormones (DHEA, Testosterone, and Estrogen) is high. An increase in cortisol naturally occurs during the day and is highest in the morning and later afternoons as well as in times of stress. In a healthy person, the balance of hormones fluctuates naturally throughout the day. During normal, healthy sleep levels of cortisol are low allowing the body to repair and rebuild itself. High levels of cortisol as a result of stress or over training inhibit this process. In addition to affecting recovery, high or prolonged amounts of cortisol reduces blood flow to the muscles as well as limit the amount of glucose that the body is able to use. It affects athletic performance negatively as in the flight or defeat response.

To combat this, Master Chief Guile introduced us to 4 x 4 x 4 breathing in which you inhale for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and continue to perform this rhythmic breathing for four minutes. This pattern mimics REM sleep patterns, controls arousal, and keeps the cortisol balance in check. I found this extremely effective while waiting to do the obstacle course and before “drown proofing” or knot tying. It allowed me to keep my heart rate down, kept anxiety in check, and helped me go into a stressful situation calm, relaxed, and confident.

Before a race, time trial, or for those with the fear of open water swimming 4 x 4 x 4 breathing is an invaluable tool to combat an increased amount of cortisol. It works just as well for a speech, an interview, or presentation.

These tools are the basics of mental toughness and how aspiring Navy SEALs learning early on what it takes to be the best at what they do. Whether you are gearing up for an Ironman, an important presentation, or simply trying to get through a stressful day give these tactics a try.”

Edit 2: Also found a great presentation on the topic that provides additional details, here

also, here: The Big Four Mental Toughness.

Future Reading: one of the things that is covered in the self-talk technique, is the concept of ABC (Activator / Adversity, Belief, Consequence), by Albert Ellis, who helped originate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Here is a great document on the ABC approach to stress reduction, which I plan on writing about soon.

P.S. Anyone else like how the Seals refer to visualization as mental rehearsal…. quite a paradigm shift for those using ‘visualization’ to set goals.

On Self-Control: Do Yourself a Favor and Watch This Video

Update: 10/17/14

I’ve posted a follow-up entry to this on self-mastery that covers both self-control and self-discipline. If you’re interested in self-control and self-mastery, I highly advise you read it.

Finding this video is almost a bit uncanny because the creator literally references the very same concepts I came to know through meditation. These include the idea of our inner and our outer world, and the model of higher vs. lower consciousness. In addition to these paradigms, the video is focused on one of the core pillars of stoicism – self-control. I just can’t help but feel the forces of serendipity at work here.

And I recognize the internet has made self-help videos a dime a dozen and most of us are inundated with ‘experts’ on a daily basis – but this video is on point.

To paraphrase – I watch lot of videos – and most aren’t worth sharing. This is. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

I’ll certainly be watching more videos from this gentleman and revisiting this very often.

Edit: Wow, look at what the video’s creator has released…unreal that this is available for free. I’m tempted to set aside time everyday to watch his videos and go through his Blueprint.

‘Self-Talk is the Conversation You Have in Your Head’ & Expectations vs. Beliefs

As I get more into CBT, Self-Talk, and Stoicism, the line between philosophy and psychology is becoming more and more blurred – and I like that, because I’m coming across some amazing stuff that really can’t fit into one single bucket.

This relatively obscure video is golden – I might watch it everyday. It’s so simple in it’s message, yet so powerful.

It’s a great reminder on the power of expectations, rather than just ‘beliefs’.

To further kick your mind into expectation mode, lie down and do the following guided meditation, which focuses on creating positive expectations within your psyche.