Over scheduled and too busy to worry

over scheduledDo you have the over-scheduled virus? It is a type of modern flu that has all the symptoms you’re sadly familiar with: fatigue, poor sleep, low level physical ailments (sniffles! That half cough!), a constant sense of not quite being ‘all there’ (because you’re keeping at least one eye on the clock to make sure you get to your next appointment on time), and perhaps worst of all is the gnawing doubt that a helluva lot of what is taking up all that time is not actually important. You know, proper important. Especially compared to the things you’re too tired for at the end of the day, like conversation.

I remember conversation, it is when you talk about something other than the logistics of the next day or who will do which chores. I’m sure I’m still capable of it, if only I had the time. Of course any spare time gets soaked up quickly by the ever-present “should do” list or sleep but presumably there’s a possible future in which I’m caught up on all those things and so is someone I know and we could have a conversation. Hahaha When did that become an almost outlandish fantasy?! Even people I know who are retired from work are busy busy busy. Strange days.

Why you stay over scheduled

But you know, there’s a payoff to this behaviour too, a hidden lining that creates comfort. You wouldn’t think so but there’s plenty worse your brain could be doing and keeping you busy today and tomorrow is really quite clever because when we slow down our habit is not to stay in the now. Oh no, we send our giant brains out into the days beyond and into what might happen. Dangerous ground indeed for this is the hunting grounds for anxiety. Dwell briefly in the future and make a decision about the suitable path and all is well, one can navigate through events and respond when challenges arise. Lingering in the permutations of what might be is necessary for great work but demands huge capacity to defend and define one’s limits and scope. Otherwise the clever early-mammal part of your brain is lured into a hamster wheel of what ifs and becomes trapped in the momentum of its own spinning. Anxiety feeds on you again. There’s a nascent part of our (perhaps higher) self working hard to explain these traps and warn us of the dangers. We tend not to listen.

The ego believes passionately that we’re above such silly situations. The compromise is our over-scheduling. It appeases the puff of the ego and perilously protects the vulnerable brain from too much anxiety. It would be funny if it wasn’t so personal! So the payoffs are always there in our behaviours. You could call it the comfort of complaining. These habits can be so hard to acknowledge without someone to talk things over with and that time in which to reflect on our own patterns or those of our friends (actually I’m a lot wiser when it comes to other people than I am about myself). I’m also lucky to have some very wise friends! So although I’m over-scheduled I’m cautious about just stopping and so making a gap. Even if I could completely stop work and all my commitments and responsibilities that comes with a different risk. We all know that nature abhors a vacuum and in the past it has been another extreme – anxiety – that filled it. I’d like to do it differently this time. I’d like to find a middle way.

Have you ever tried a self-development course and come across a facile question like “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Oh you’ve GOT to be kidding?! But I tried, I tried so hard to soar with eagles and do better and be better and unleash the giant within and all that stuff. But what I’ve learned is a hard lesson to share, and it is that pretending you can’t fail is unfalteringly useless and here’s why.

Making a friend of failure

Of course you could fail. Most of us actually live from a primary identity of failure. That’s a constant in our lives. From the moment we fell over learning to walk we have implicitly understood that failure is part of the human condition. Even as a mind game to expand our comfort zone it is really really the wrong question to be asking.

Here’s a question to try on. “What is so important to you that you will do it anyway, knowing that you will fail in part?” It is likely that you will fail to meet your fullest dreams, on the other hand there are amazing discoveries promised if unknown at the outset. How might you answer that question? Take a minute now if you like to roll it around and see what you come up with.

This choice, this engagement with your own private calling, does not ignore or diminish the idea of failure and instead embraces it. It is not some light optimism that evades the shadows or distorts the reality of challenge, but instead a serious call to us to face the source of meaning and value in our lives. It is a middle path that expects courage and offers a radical hope. I’m not quite proud of my failures yet, but I am ready to expand them. Are you? Share your proud failures or your middle path in the comments.

The Gatsby Sutra

2015-04-03 3[Translation of lectures held over this last week by Zen master Gatsby.]

All life is ancient in origin, all origin is in life. The master of life remembers the origin, source.

Eat when hungry, nap in the breaks, love always.

Respect follows on from compassion. Each has a place. All beings have meaning. Be grateful.

You cannot fail at being you. Release your fear, memories of years past, judgement. Be here now.

Yours is the heart beating meaning into each.moment.

Generosity with tummy rubs brings transcendence within reach.

Take action when action is needed. Listen carefully to the songs that seep in from behind life’s blinds.

All life is a circle that spirals over time.

Drink fresh water and be kind to others.

Change my litter tray*

[* this turned out to be a command rather than the final sutra, but Master Gatsby requested that it remain in place.]

Quincunx 102

Quincunx with you in the centreThrough the diagram of the quincunx we introduced the idea that between the realms of the physically manifested world (the world of, say, earth, air, water and fire) there is another space, an important space, and it is the realm of our deeper selves. We’ll explore how by using these diagrams, we can tap into an ancient heritage of enquiry. If you think it sounds a bit simple to suggest that a childlike drawing can be a key to intellectual and spiritual insight, please consider them as “still moments revealing a continuous, timeless, universal action generally hidden from our sensory perception”(Lawlor 1982)*.

Look again at the picture, this time we have a person in the middle with the arms and legs reaching into the four outer circles (almost like the Vitruvian Man  – which is a fascinating subject on proportions if you’re interested) and consider our participation in those physical realms. This sketch symbolises how we participate across these five realms, reserving our core for the center. Our friend, the ego, is very useful in the outer circles but often plays a game of severe interference when we try to retreat into our center. The ego is a beast of the conscious, manifest world; hustling for money, owning land, applying technology and communicating for our promotion and benefit. The ego is hurt when relationships go wrong or when we get cheated in a deal. Our hands and feet put us in the daily round of activity the world requires.

What we require, for our deeper selves, is something else as well. We need to connect to our soul, our inner light, our peaceful sea. However you like to call it, there is a place where you can expand into your full self. In this place your unconscious is also honoured, your value is unquestioned, you’re a part of all creation. Sounds better than a free holiday. You really want that space to be as accommodating and as easy to access as possible! With that in mind, let’s look at the picture again and see if any of the circles can be bigger (because bigger is always better – right?!).

If we allow the four corner circles to be bigger (more stuff!) we might have big houses and cool toys out here, but we’ve certainly squished ourselves into a very small and uncomfortable place for our spiritual aspect to survive. The ego is all for this plan. It *loves* being the center of attention and, as much as possible, being in control. Conversely, it isn’t very practical to let the middle circle swell to the edges of the square either, unless you’re committed to that path. That’s probably the shape that would be close to those special esoteric (or mystical) practitioners who are completely engrossed day to day in their spiritual life. The key then is balance.

You’re probably sick of hearing people tell you that have to balance things “work/life” (is that an unfunny joke or something?) budgets, ph levels (yes, that’s a thing now), diets, relationship chores, and of course balancing our cultural expectations of ‘lifestyle’ with the actual finite limits of the Earth. So you don’t have to balance this. This is not a task. You’re currently operating with proportions that you’ve become accustomed to. That’s your thing. If you ponder this and feel like you’d like to try a different way, stay tuned, we’ll continue to explore these ideas together and share some ideas that worked out ok for other people.

Thanks for reading, by the way, it is wonderful to be sharing this with you.

* Much as I would love to take credit for thinking any of this up, I can’t. I’m merely sharing crumbs from great thinkers who’ve gone before me and who I hope one day to understand. I will add a bibliography of references for this series (and others) but I will rarely quote directly. That one was just too perfect to pass up.

Beginning with the quincunx

quincunx

There’s another way to look at the wheel of life and we’re going to try it on this week. Meet the quincunx. It’s a big-sounding word but a very simple tool.

That sounds like hard work!

There are so many big topics for us to talk about, it was hard to find a beginning. I thought it might be honesty, as that was a theme that came up in the issues people shared at the end of last year. Our relationship with honesty is so important to our wellbeing and it connects into the base of many other issues in the world.

Think of all the times that you’ve wanted to tell the real truth – you know when you be diplomatic instead of telling it how it is. Bosses acting like petulant children, when friends expect you to validate decisions or opinions you disagree with, when you’re volunteered for a task that no one can meet your eye over. Equally there are times when you’ll do any kind of contortion necessary to avoid telling even the vaguest of truths and I’m talking here about things like the real reasons I’m overweight, or not exercising enough, or in debt or lonely or frustrated (feel welcome to insert your demon here). There are other types or shades of honesty too, integrity, trustworthiness, self-respect and so on. There are also the socially acceptable elements of being untruthful that we all have to balance too. Imagine that politicians or advertisements only told the bare truth. Can you imagine a world without white lies? I can’t imagine even an hour at work without them.

But white lies that we use to paper-over the cracks in the social contract are an uncomfortable topic, as is honesty in ourselves. Nonetheless, we must talk about it, we must face it or our other efforts at introspection of self-knowledge are in vain. Why is this, because lies are the servants of our ego. Our ego is possibly the biggest barrier to us finding our centre and so finding lasting peace and perspective. We all have one, but like a pet dog, it isn’t a good idea to let them run the show. So how do we start talking about our world and our concerns without the ego getting in the way all the time? By putting it in place, giving it a job to do.

So that’s too big to start with, so let’s come at it sideways, nice and easy, via some sacred geometry and our friend here the quincunx.

In this picture (if you can’t see it, it is a square with a small circle in each corner and then a big circle in the middle)you see a simple representation of us in the world. For today, we’re just interested in the circles. Take a moment to look at it.

It is probably already familiar to you. Many cultures and religions have a take on this shape. It is used explicitly in temples, churches (here is a well-known Christian example) and architecture but for today we’re just going to look at the simple elements of the shape. It is pretty obvious that the circle in the middle is the biggest part and so probably the most important. You can draw this diagram without the sizing, and then it looks like the number 5 does on playing dice. The four little circles represent the four corners of the physical world or the four elements (etc).

Most of the time our consciousness is caught up wholly in these realms. These four anchor points (named according to the paradigm you’re currently thinking in) are what frame the space in which we really exist. The place from whence we look out and engage with the manifested world, that space in the middle is where our own divine manifests. This represents our spirit centre, our soul or the ‘fifth element’.

What’s important here in all this symbolism is the idea of the separation of your higher self (however you label that) from the physical world. Yes it exists and yes it is found in more than just the physical world. It might not seem like it at first pass, but this is a source of infinite freedom. There’s a lot more than unfolds from this idea, I hope you get a lot out of exploring it.

Tears’ fragile path to freedom

There’s a common assumption that freedom equals happiness in a simplified “we all lived happily ever after” kindof way. Just in case you’re not sure, that is a fantasy. It is of very little use to any of us.

The Faithful Beasts Weep Around the Body of the Dead Prince by Henry Justice FordOur yearning for freedom has us seeking all of the elements that might contribute to the alchemy we know as contentment (often confused with the showy cousin “happiness”) but there’s a glitch in the mix and we need to address it.

If freedom did equal happiness, being sad or upset would exclude anyone from the possibility of freedom. We often try and cover over sadness quickly, move on from it, deny it. It is too awkward to dwell on and, of course, it is painful but it is part of being human, it is part of a full life. Lately we’ve lost track of that a little bit by venerating the heroic outsider.

Our culture has confused the idea of individualism with the physical reality of us as individuals. It is a sad and recent development. (This could quickly easily be perceived as a political argument as these terms are used in political contexts but that is not the intent here. If you look up the political elements, or want to follow these other tangents, please feel welcome to do so. We’ll still be here when you come back.)

Basically for most of us, this has lead to a fundamental loss of feeling that we belong. However there is something we’ve all experienced that can lead us back into connection and that is our tears.

Life is not all glowing unicorns pooping rainbow cupcakes of joy and cash. Bad shit happens.

People you love get horribly sick, people you don’t know drive into you, your body isn’t perfect, we age, we suffer. It is a lot to bear and sometimes we cry. It can feel like we cry a river of tears.
There’s nothing to say in the moment that will take that gut wrenching away. That pain is real. It is what it is. It really does hurt. And yes probably most of what caused it is unfair in some way, and our egos want to shout that out and shut down that pain.

Underneath that, after the rawness, there’s an opportunity for something else. Those hot tears and the salt of our body have forced themselves from our body to honour the depth and meaning of the connection with the people in the situation, that situation that you were so deeply part of that you felt that pain. If we were disengaged, we wouldn’t feel that pain. If we didn’t belong there, it would be so much harder to feel even empathy. The connection existed and so the pain that exploded within you is because of that connection.

It is such a valuable clue. We are so much more than just one-dimensional figures on spreadsheets. In the face of an onslaught of advertising working tirelessly to push us into purchasing things we don’t need to assuage fears we didn’t have, in the face of that and inside ourselves we know these truths. That love is real, that when you love you can be hurt.

Our sorrows are personal but lament connects us to the human condition, reminds us of the love and respect that we have for others and that they have for us. We belong in enmeshed relationships with responsibilities and expectations of trust and value.

It sounds unlikely, but tears make a fragile path to a powerful place. They signify our internal eternal freedom, they reflect our ability to hold true to our love and our values. It is inside of love and our own values that we find our own anchors to freedom.

Confessional quirk

Over the last two weeks we’ve looked at themes of provisional living and choice. Like all victors I get to write my own history so they’ve been about fairly positive aspects of that experience. Both focussed around ‘stuff’ as that is an external thing and it can be quantified and measured. So reassuring. Stuff has let me start exploring the topic of freedom, which is what I think we’re edging towards talking about.

Before we get there, it is worthwhile talking about a choice that didn’t go so well and some payoffs from provisional living that haven’t been so easy to give up.

I haven’t given up making voluntary contributions to my superannuation account. Even though I know it is essentially futile. I still want to believe that somewhere in a future I might get to are golden days of leisure where I am ‘retired’ but still physically functional. I *know* right?! That retirement age went up to 70 years of age already. As the Boomers’ demographic bulge really hits the retirement costs wall, that will be bumped up again, we all know it.

I haven’t given up on fantasising about which set of high-end luggage I will buy (I favour Rimowa) when I start travelling the world in this mythical parallel life where I have the same income but somehow no costs of living or debt responsibilities (and I don’t get homesick every 5 days).

I keep promising myself that *next* spring I’ll get the garden going properly and get back into growing at least tomatoes so that I’m not totally dependent on other people and fossil fuels for every single thing I eat. I believe there’s still plenty of time to get that organised and somehow it doesn’t quite make it up my list of priorities, but you can guarantee I’ll rant about toms being $10 a kilo come February.

This little list of hypocrisies is barely indicative of how many deals there are still in place. Maybe you’ve got some deals of your own – where rationally you know one thing, but behaviourally you just keep hooking in to doing the thing you’ve always done. Maybe you’ve ‘made’ a whole bunch of choices without ever really thinking about it. Why aren’t you vegetarian? Why do you have a credit card? Why do you watch tv in the evening? Why do you assume this is the only way it can be?

Last year, as these questions began piling up, I tried to find the unified theory that would answer these conundrums and deliver unto me a blazing, pure path of honesty, integrity and clarity. I hoped that wanting this very very intensely and visualising it as though it had already appeared would help to manifest this life-changing awakening. I knew in my heart that when it came, I would be incandescent in every sense, the wisdom of all the ages would illuminate my problems and my failings with pure love, and they would melt into submission in the face of ultimate reality.

Beautiful no?

Ah, beautiful indeed. While I waited for this magnificence to manifest, I kept working hard and diligently at everything. I felt the pain of my failings and of my compromises. I felt like a fraud at the deals I made to keep going. I pushed through the fatigue of commuting, the hollowness of a meaningless job and the maintained the façade of a good modern cog – I was productive.

Without making a choice, I had chosen denial. I was, with the very best of intentions, breaking myself.

Eventually, I failed at breaking myself. In the aftermath, I realised my golden answer, my unified theory, my ‘access all areas’ lanyard was simply not coming. (Let me be clear, this is (or will be) a Very Good Thing even though at the time it was hard to handle.)

Where I am struggling, is that in-between the pushing to make it so, and the failing to change, I’m in a place of confusion. Some things (stuff!) are under my control and some things (climate change) just kindof aren’t. No matter how much I reduce my carbon footprint and make my boyfriend think twice about his use of the clothes-dryer I can’t stop the polar ice-caps melting. If no one is going to listen to Al Gore without getting snarky about what car he drives, who am I to try to change the world while I own a car at all? Hmmm.

More than confusion. I just gave up. But that’s not living from my values either. The sun keeps coming up each morning and the wheel of this year is turning. I am asking, not for a golden answer now, but for a way to muddle forward. I’m asking for sustainable freedom and my deepest wish is that you and I will find it together.

No brighter future

One of the ways that I’ve been blindsided in the recent past was by the idea of ‘provisional living’. You know when someone you respect tells you something and you have that “uh-oh, I totally do that” moment? yeah, that.  Damn!

It was introduced a while ago on The Archdruid Report (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/)  and this week was very helpfully featured by the site’s author John Michael Greer in a post The Gray Light of Morning (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/the-gray-light-of-morning.html) with his trademark practical responses beautifully summarised (just to let you know, JMG’s posts hit the 2500 word mark usually and this one is no exception, so I encourage you to read it, but you’ll be expected to concentrate. Just so you know).

I’ve stolen the title for this blog post from him too – he first introduced the counter-incantation “There is no brighter future” in a post in 2010 Waiting for the Millennium http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/waiting-for-millennium.html  and it is as challenging in itself as it is effective in response to our culture’s addiction to the PROMISE OF PROGRESS (insert booming music suitable to your tastes for the overblown and flags waving in majestic animation).

The reason I raise these points (and sorry about the dodgy links I will try and fix those later) is not just to point out that the Archdruid’s blog is well worth reading, which it is (as are the comments, and he tends to respond to the first 80 or so) but to talk a little about some difficult things that most individuals in the first world are all either coming to terms with, struggling with or about to be blind-sided by and that is the “where’s my hover board?” question (for ‘Back to the Future’ fans) which starts to pop the bubble built so assiduously by decades of Star Trek and our news services being taken-over by corporate interests.

When trust in that bubble about the bright and shiny future starts to wane, or it pops, we’re left lurching around with our hurty hollowness and a lot of questions that taste bitter. Or at least I did. The last five years that I’ve been reading The Archdruid’s Report I’ve been nodding along, learning and taking notes but rarely feeling surprised. I’ve found a lot of wisdom in his words and they have helped me shine light on the path for others too. None of that prepared me for the day I stumbled over my own addiction to the promise of progress and started to join the dots. I mean really join them, not academically, not theoretically, but in my life for the food and shelter I depend on.

And then everything changed.

That’s a choice, obviously, you don’t get involuntarily infected.
You’re not going to catch radical honesty or anything from reading this stuff. But if you think about it… well you might find yourself trying to argue your way out of it, or around it, or that somehow my case is different.
Good luck with that.
Once you start recognising it, you see it everywhere. Then it is nearly impossible to watch any form of tv, or read the newsfeeds without recoiling from it. You’ll see it in how we deal with the ecological crises (‘when all the scientists agree’ or ‘someone will come up with something’) or the economy or our health or our personal finances (“when I win lotto”). Provisional living and the promise of a bright future go hand in hand. They keep us quiet, compliant, docile.

Without them there is a gap that I scrounged around to fill. In that gap I realised I had stuffed my life full of things and was somewhat self-suffocated. My creativity had been channelled into keeping the bubble intact and into threading together alternate stories of what might be, and how somehow it might all work out. I was never able to convince myself, and I certainly wasn’t able to convince anyone else. and on the other side? Hmmm, I’ll let you know when I have more of a clue.

In the short term, my challenge is to live inside of making choices, not hoping for answers. I must act in a way that lets my values breathe in every day. It isn’t glamorous but it is so practical as to be a real head-slapper. That’s my choice, to engage with the world as it is and find ways inside my life to simplify, to act, to be humane, to love, and to forgive.

There’s no big secret to attracting the life you want. The magic is in the daily choices we make and in the willingness to respect that there are things bigger and more valuable than our childish fantasies of entitlement-fulfilment.