Stimulus and Response

“I understand now that we are not what we think, feel etc. And I am beginning to understand that our reality is filtered by such things. And it’s making me better understand forgiveness … but here’s where I’m at: is there a true reality if it’s always filtered? And where does responsibility come in … when we choose to act on feeling or thoughts in a situation?” 

Responsibility is a tough one.

Keep this quote in mind:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Victor Frankl

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I’m a fan of responsibility.

I think that it helps us recognize our power in life, it helps us grow and it forces us to actively engage with our decisions.

It gets fuzzier when we dig down into why we do what we do though.

Yesterday we talked about how reality is always filtered through layer after layer of distorting experiences and beliefs, and this process certainly has an effect on the decisions we make, and so it has to be factored into responsibility. There are also times that we simply react to something, the space between the stimulus and our response is so small that we don’t really have a choice in the response.

It is hard for me to blame or assign responsibility to someone when they react in a way that is so quick that there is almost no conscious thought involved.

Now, I am really, really hard on myself when I react this way, but that’s a different story. If I am being fair to myself, I have to ask whether or not I had a choice in the reaction that came out of me.

Sometimes things happen so quickly it is hard to say that we made a decision at all.

Does this mean we don’t have responsibility for the things we do?

Since everything comes in through layers and layers of accumulated bullshit, are we just automatons wandering through life?

I don’t think so.

We have a responsibility to train our minds and expand that space between stimulus and response so that we can make our decisions with intentionality and rationality and compassion and grace and all the other things that make humans so cool.

We have a responsibility to enable ourselves to act out of our best selves as often as possible.

This is important.

This is why we should all learn to observe our own mind, to be aware of our emotions and what is going on in our body.  

We cannot take an action back once it is done, but we can prepare ourselves to do better next time.

And that is our responsibility.

Self-Promotion, Brother

I remember reading an article when I was kid that called Hulk Hogan (my hero at the time) a “shameless self-promoter”.

Hulk has since gone on to do a few things that hurt me even worse than that article, but I have never been able to shake the idea that self-promotion is a bad thing.

This is a grey area for these days.

Running a business requires a certain degree of self-promotion if you want to survive, and a blog and podcast require even more.

I find the people I come across on Twitter and Instagram who are only following people to promote themselves distasteful. I try to only follow people I know and who I am genuinely interested in what they have to post. I don’t sign up for blogs or make comments on things with the sole intent of promoting my work. It just feels disingenuous to me.

I get it though.

If you are freelancing or trying to create something and keep it alive, you have to find a way to get it in front of people.

But I wonder if there are more ethical ways of doing this than trying to hijack the work someone else has done or turning into a relentless self-promotion machine. I love seeing people hustle and work, but sometimes I start to avoid people selling things for those pyramidy-type organizations because every interaction with them has turned into a sales pitch. I like that you believe in your product, but it doesn’t have to be personal when someone doesn’t want to buy the seaweed and birdshit capsules. It makes me super-appreciative of the people I know who sell this stuff and don’t let it infect their entire lives.

So that’s what I am trying to balance: working to promote and boost the things I am doing, without imposing on other people’s patience and goodwill.

I don’t want to become a shameless self-promoter, but I want to build something that is useful to people. It already feels like I am spamming everyone with the daily post on Facebook, so it is hard for me to envision pushing it further.

I don’t even want to consider starting to engage with people with the sole intent of pushing my content.  

If you enjoy my blog or podcast, I would appreciate you signing up for the email list, or telling someone else you think might find it useful. If you don’t enjoy them (and are still reading this for some weird reason), I would appreciate knowing why. If I post too much or not enough, I would appreciate knowing that.

Thank you for reading my blog and listening to my podcast (the new one is up on Libsyn  and SoundCloud). I really enjoy hearing back from people and creating something that is useful. I am grateful for every click I see, every new subscriber and every comment or message I get, except maybe from the online advertising agency that wanted me to promote a cheating website because I had a few posts with that word in the title. I feel like they didn’t actually read either one of them.

Thank you all very much, this blogging and podcasting thing has been fun because of you.

Reality Bites

I actually think reality is awesome, but I also think the Gen X police would arrest me if I didn’t use that title.

A tough question today:

“I understand now that we are not what we think, feel etc. And I am beginning to understand that our reality is filtered by such things. And it’s making me better understand forgiveness … but here’s where I’m at: is there a true reality if it’s always filtered? And where does responsibility come in … when we choose to act on feeling or thoughts in a situation?” 

This might get divided into two days.

There are so many different perspectives on the idea of whether or not there is a true reality “out there”.

The increasingly hostile fight for ideological supremacy in our society is very much a result of this question being unanswered. Different schools of philosophy and different religious ideologies will all give you a different answer.

I am not sure if there is an objective reality out there or not. I suppose I lean toward the idea that there is because I am constantly working to clean or remove my filters so I can see things more clearly.

Culture, religion, ideology, illness, mental illness, abuse, lack of abuse, the narratives of our parents, gut bacteria and thousands (probably millions) of other things all have their say in interpreting how the information makes it through to “us”.

This is further complicated by the limitations of our senses, and the fact that things like color and taste and everything coming in through them are processed by the brain and translated into a format we can use. Everything is really just different energy fields (there is probably a more precise term for this) that our brain finds a way to interpret in a way that allows us to navigate and survive in the world. This is limited, and there are all sorts of things we cannot detect, so we hear about people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Then there are the questions of objective right and wrong and good and bad.

I have my personal moral compass, but I find that many of the things I want to define as good or bad or right or wrong are really just inconvenient to me or don’t fit with my model of how things should be. These are, of course, determined by my filters, so we are back to that.

Since I don’t have access to the information that would let me know if there is a real reality out there, or what the correct reality looks like, I do my best to remove filters, or at least be aware of them.

My ultimate aim in this is always to improve how I treat other people, and to lessen my attachment to the self that causes all of my self-centered behavior.

These things make me think I do believe in an objective Truth, and that it says how we treat other people matters. This is no doubt informed by all of the conditioning factors mentioned above, but it is reinforced by the reward I get from following this path, which is increased peace and contentment in my life.

We’ll look at responsibility tomorrow, thanks for the questions!

The Tyranny of the Self

I mentioned finding a bunch of old journals yesterday, and how overwhelmingly self-absorbed and self-obsessed it all was.

It was odd to be reminded of how much strife and struggle and conflict and misery I lived in for so long, and how all of it was the result of my own thoughts and a deep belief in the importance of my self.

I think this same emphasis on the self underpins a majority of the suffering I see in people around me and in my work.

When we are focuses on this self, we are in a state of constant agitation and fear because the mind is working overtime to ensure that everything goes our way. We slip away from investing in the moment and in others because we are obsessed with taking care of ourselves and making sure everything is the way we want it to be.

This forces us into close relationship with everything we cannot control, while simultaneously walling us off from the best parts of our nature as selfishness takes the reins. There is no way we will be at peace in this state, not with ourselves and certainly not with others.

There is a further problem here too. When we really begin to search for this thing we are protecting so obsessively, we cannot find it.

When we really look, this self that takes up so much of our mental and emotional energy isn’t there.

This really bothered me when I first start realizing it. I was very attached to my self, everything I did was for it.

Then I realized that it was a central part of the problem. The struggles and conflict and misery were all because I believed in and worked very hard to maintain the integrity of this self, and the less and less attached to it I became, the less and less misery and struggle and conflict I had.

Realizing there isn’t really anything there to fight for freed me up in a lot of ways.

Try it.

Recognize everything coming in through the five senses.

Are you what you see?

Are you what you smell?

Are you the sensory recognition of the skin?

Are you what you taste?

Are you what you hear?

Emotions make this al a little more difficult, because we feel them, right? But can you not step back from them and recognize them as emotions? Can you not observe what you are feeling?

Then, the biggest culprit: our thoughts.

Are you what you think?

I, for one, certainly think in terms of “I”. I definitely love thinking. I love my thoughts. They make me smart and give me something to do. Right?

But, I can step back and observe my thoughts as well. I can let them come and go, and not be affected or attached to them. They are not me. 

With a little bit of work, we can recognize than none of this is “us”, and things start to get a lot easier.

The line between me and everyone else fades, and conflict becomes a little bit harder to get involved in. The distinctions of good and bad get fuzzier and fuzzier, and the relentless push to get ahead and be comfortable disappears. What I want becomes less and less important.

As Pema Chodron says, you are the sky, everything else is just weather.

Have a great day.

Self-Obsession, Self-Deprecation and The Last Samurai

I am writing this in Lubbock, while Barbara is eating breakfast at a hotel in Norman, Oklahoma.

We were all supposed to go see her wrestle there, but Max has been so sick this week that we didn’t feel right about putting him in the car for 10 hours and keeping him up late at a show, so I am here. It was disappointing to miss the trip, but he and I had a fun day hanging out in the sunroom and watching Totoro 3 times.

One shift I’ve noticed in myself as I get older and less selfish is that I really value time with my family.

In the past, I was obsessed with making sure I got “my time”.  I felt I really needed the time alone, and fought to have it. I still need time alone, but not near as much as I thought.

Self-absorption has been a prime character trait for most of my life.

I don’t think I even started to get past the normal teenage self-obsessiveness until I was in my late twenties, and it was still hard. I was cleaning out old papers yesterday and found mountains of journals and writing I did when I was younger. It is all really poorly written, and really self-obsessed. 

It’s a feat in itself that I was able to write so much and still not be a better writer than I am. Maybe it is because I am just now seeing it as a craft.

Much of the advice I am finding in Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” would have helped me as a writer and a person when I was younger (it still does).

Use fewer words.

Eliminate clutter in what you say.

Be authentic.

Don’t try to please others.

I doubt younger James could have heard it though, he already knew everything.

How could he have cut words when everything he had to say was amazing?

It is funny that this self I was so obsessed with when I was younger is something I have an increasingly difficult time even believing in now. I have certainly never been able to find it. 

I watched The Last Samurai for the thousandth time this week.

I think people who hate it didn’t fully pay attention. Tom Cruise isn’t the last samurai. He doesn’t get to die with them. If he were the last samurai his life would be one of dishonor until he cut his own stomach open. Just an observation.

No bitching about spoilers in movies that are 14 years old, btw.

I am going to continue to work on cutting words and eliminating clutter from the daily posts. I am working to bring a genuine voice to every one of them. I don’t really have any topics prepared for this week yet. With luck, they will arise all on their own.

I have the third podcast recorded, but have to get to the work of rearranging and editing and all of that. I will post a guided mediation later today though. Feedback on these is all appreciated.

Check out the Moving Art series on Netflix, it will make your life better. The one with forests, predictably, is my favorite.

Have a great day.