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Waking up isn’t something that happens once

Sorry for the long delay between posts. I’ve been very focused on myself (I’m so selfish!) and have been diligently practicing being present, meditating and making mindful life decisions. Waking up is harder than I thought.

Waking up isn’t a singular event.

In my guided meditation practice (Tara Brach), something that comes up often is the idea that when you brain drifts into thoughts, all you need to do is “come back” and that act is in fact, “waking up.” What’s incredible about that is that it means that the act of waking up isn’t a singular, massive, black and white event.

Waking up isn’t binary.

Waking up is a constant battle. It’s a war that is waged in micro-moments, minute by minute. Day by day.

I journaled recently that “being present is a verb” and that it requires energy and focus. It’s not a natural act. For some it may be easier, but not for me. My natural tendency is to zone out, live in virtual reality, tune the world out and retreat into my own thoughts.

I think I see where I got off track. I had been looking to attain a sort of “god-like” presence, some moment in time when I can proclaim that I am “living in the moment!” And in that fantasy I would leave my present, unhappy existence and enter my dream world. A dream world where I get to sing and dance and skip off into the future a happy, fulfilled human being.

But it’s not like that at all.

Waking up is more like slogging through the Fire Swamp in the Princess Bride. It’s a step by step realization that I am either present or not. Awake or asleep. In control or on auto-pilot.

Waking up and being present is a battle, waged every second of every day – in every big and little moment of our lives.

The Road Ahead - Focus on Doing rather than Being

Don’t try to be better. Just do better for a fulfilling, joyful life

I’ve struggled with the idea of becoming something better my entire life. It’s led to so much pain – bad business investments, bad personal choices, misunderstanding the importance of status, job titles and the value of money. Life is sweet when you  focus on “doing better” instead of trying to “be better”

Focus on the doing rather than the being

As I was reading different posts on this subreddit, something struck me odd and it led to this post. Don’t get me wrong, the notion of “deciding to be better” isn’t wrong, it’s actually quite positive. However, I think the sentiment is a tad misguided. In my recent experiences, I’m realizing that deciding to be better would be better framed as deciding to do better. Because being present, and finding joy is in the doing and not the being.

A bit of background as I try to work my way to making my point.

A few weeks ago a friend posted on Facebook that he was buying a Tesla. And then another one posted the same thing. And another posted about their new job, a very high level appointment at a high flying tech start up. Yet another posted incredible photos of a 3 week vacation they took around the world. And in all cases, instead of being happy for them, I felt a deep resentment and shame that it wasn’t me that was getting those things and having that sort of success.

It took me a few weeks to process those feelings. I hated myself for being angry, and envious. I hated myself even more for feeling shamed. Seriously, why was I feeling shame exactly?

Then a few days ago something changed inside me. I was thinking about my own journey, and how far I’ve come in the past few years. I quit a high paying consulting gig, stopped destructive and bad personal behavior and started meditating and journaling almost every day. I did this because I realized that those things were not leading me anywhere I wanted to go.

My inner voice started to whisper in my head, telling me that the anger and shame were misplaced. The voice was telling me that I was lying to myself about those feelings of anger and shame.
And also, what the hell do I care if a friend does well and buys a nice car, or gets a huge promotion. I mean really, good for them, right? Right!

And yet I was still struggling and having these feelings of shame and envy. I realized that my ego was telling me that I deserve more success. That I deserve more money and more status. That if my friends can get it, so should I!

What’s incredible is that I’ve spent the past 2.5 years redesigning my priorities and my life to escape exactly those traps!

I figured a few years ago that success, money and status is exactly the wrong road for me to travel. It’s a road that leads to loneliness and to my massive ego ruining my life. It’s me giving in to the matrix, taking the wrong pill. Walking the wrong road. And other quotes like that.

Goddamn ego man. It really is the obstacle.

The point is that deciding to be better is the wrong sentiment and can potentially lead to the wrong destination. But doing better, now that’s the right track. That’s having focus. Being in flow. Creating, producing and being productive.  It’s subtle (sort of) and powerful.

And it’s all around if you look closely.

  • Actors talk about doing the work is what leads to great performances.
  • Writers talk about doing the work every day, without fail is the only way to produce anything worthwhile.
  • Nick Saban (Head Football Coach, University of Alabama) created an entire process focused on “doing” that leads the Tide to being the best. It’s not being the best that makes you the best, it’s the doing part that matters!

I have found that focusing on my work and my own process is where I can relax and find joy. It’s where I am truly present. I never realized it before because I’ve been chasing “being” – status, titles, money, power. None of which is what I want.

And now, I really need time to figure what it is I want to DO. I can feel my ego fighting me even as I write this – egging me on, telling me to pick things that lead to money, status and power. And that little voice, gaining in strength every day is just whispering quietly, no. Don’t listen. Just go do stuff, experiment and figure out what it is you do. And then one day, you’ll BE happy.

Update: A thoughtful reader sent me a note about the last line of the post where I say “And then one day, you’ll BE happy.” Firstly how awesome that you read the entire post! Secondly, you are right that that line is problematic in that it is focusing on some future result. I didn’t intend it that way, I meant it in juxtaposition to the concept of being vs. doing, but I get your point loud and clear. Here’s to staying present!

Listen to Yourself - Welcome to Wherever You Are

Listen to Yourself – How a Bon Jovi Song Helped Me Remember Something Important

I’ve always been a big Bon Jovi fan but lost touch with their music the past few years. I was working out a few days ago, listening to their album “Have a Nice Day” and a song called “Welcome To Wherever You Are” came on. I was jogging and the lyrics stopped me in my tracks. I’m not a crier by nature, but at that moment I was almost in tears reflecting on my journey and how far I’ve come. Learning how to listen to yourself turns out to be one of my bigger challenges and it was incredible that the universe gave this to me at the exact moment I needed it.

I was going to point out a specific lyric that touched me, but it’s the entire sentiment, the complete thought reached me so deeply. This is your life, you made it this far…  enjoy.

Listen to Yourself

BON JOVI LYRICS 

“Welcome To Wherever You Are”

Maybe we’re different, but we’re still the same
We all got the blood of Eden, running through our veins
I know sometimes it’s hard for you to see
You come between just who you are and who you wanna be

If you feel alone, and lost and need a friend
Remember every new beginning, is some beginning’s end

[Chorus]
Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you gotta believe
That right here right now, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be
Welcome, to wherever you are

When everybody’s in, and you’re left out
And you feel your drowning, in a shadow of a doubt
Everyones a miracle in their own way
Just listen to yourself, not what other people say

When it seems you’re lost, alone and feeling down
Remember everybody’s different
Just take a look around

[Chorus]

Be who you want to, be who you are
Everyones a hero, everyones a star

When you wanna give up, and your hearts about to break
Remember that you’re perfect, God makes no mistakes

[Chorus]

Dance and sing and be happy!

Why Your Life Is Not A Journey

I came across this when a friend posted it to Facebook. It grabbed me and SLAMMED me down hard.  This video “Why Your Life Is Not A Journey” includes the editors favorite Alan Watts quotes – my new favorite being the bit about missing the point the whole way along (skip to 3:13). I’ve always felt as if I were doing something wrong or missing some essential truth.

Life is not a journey… and you were supposed to be dancing!

When Watts says “It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing, or dance” I feel ashamed of my own behavior. I feel ashamed and sorry for myself. For not laughing more. Or Dancing more (or at all). For not  crying, or feeling more things more deeply.

The quote hit me somewhere very deeply. I am sure it’s because it’s true. I’ve taken life entirely too seriously – like an epic slog rather than the joyous, beautiful thing it was meant to be.

Did you watch it? What did you think?

Your brain is lying to you and preventing you from finding the right path in life

Your brain is lying to you and preventing you from finding the right path in life

It’s nuts what BULLSHIT your brain tells you to get you to act or think something. My latest thing is worrying about money when I’m 90 – assuming I even make it that far. I ran some errands earlier to restock on allergy medicine and on the way, I listened to Seth Godin’s guest appearance on the Tim Ferris podcast. As usual, Seth nails point after point about branding, business education and life.

Your brain is lying. It always does that

One of the things Seth talks a lot about is why – knowing your purpose and understanding what it is you are contributing to the world. Wow, I have struggled with that forever! What am I here for? What’s my mission? What am I contributing to this world or am I just taking up space? Part of the answer for me is my family, being a great dad, husband, and son  but what is my greater good exactly?

One might think that my ~10 years in the non-profit world would have led to some sense of purpose. But I was either too disconnected, too asleep or too numb to notice and that time has passed. I didn’t find myself or my purpose inside a non-profit which is too bad because there is so much good work to be done.

So after the past 2 years transformation, meditation, tai-chi and reflection I’m once again thinking about this question of purpose. Now that I’ve woken the hell up a bit, what’s next?

What’s the right path in life?

Can I find fulfillment and joy in simply being present and alive and taking things as they come? I feel anxious about that because I have so many professional ambitions – most of it related to money I’m sure. And titles and power.

And yet thankfully, something inside me is telling me to slow down and that the idea of finding fulfillment and joy in being present is the right answer. My ambition has led to hell. For me, it’s been a road paved with pain and suffering – and more importantly, a road I’ve already been down multiple times. Maybe I’ll actually ignore my damn dirty lying brain, get out of my head and into my heart this time.

Maybe this time, I’ll try something different. Maybe this time, I’ll actually ignore my damn dirty lying brain, get out of my head and into my heart. Wouldn’t that be a change!

What about you – is your brain liar like mine?