Get uncomfortable

uncomfortableSometimes, when things aren’t working, the best thing to do is to get uncomfortable. Start again, this time outside of your existing comfort zone. Let yourself be a beginner with a fresh slate and no expectations. For example, I’m someone who “can’t draw” but I really value my ability to be creative with words, so this month I’m doing InkTober as my warmup for Nanowrimo. A month of producing a drawing every day – crazy! That makes no sense! I feel uncomfortable doing it, looking at the outcomes and of course sharing it here. Lady Liberty never looked so wonky did she? (Maybe she’s uncomfortable there on her feet all day…)

Last week was uncomfortable in a different way

I shared some of my perspective of living with depression and although that was an uncomfortable thing to do, it opened up the floodgates of conversation about this topic in every realm of my life. People far and wide share their perspectives either publicly or privately and that changed the experience for me. What are you experiencing that you wish was different for you? How are you comfortable in a way that is actually unsatisfying for you? Is it in a job where you don’t feel valued or heard, or perhaps in your relationships where somehow the conversations don’t feel as real as they once did? Perhaps it is with yourself – are you a little bit bored with yourself? Do you know exactly what’s coming next?

Change is uncomfortable

Like travel, change is uncomfortable at an immediate level and yet satisfying from a larger perspective. This is one of those contradictions of life, that comfort feels secure and gives us happiness until too much comfort is smothering or boring. *sigh*  That is a bad deal, but that is how it is. You’re the one in charge and it is your sense of happiness, freedom or fulfilment that ultimately sets the compass on this topic. It takes a little bravery though – to accept the truth of what you’re feeling and to start over.

We start over in all kinds of little ways all the time, and yet we carry so much from one place to another. The sense of new beginnings can be palpable and yet we don’t usually change our name, or throw out all of our clothes and change our favourite meal. So take comfort from the fact that it is just uncomfortable, not annihilating and give yourself permission to try something new.

Go ahead, get uncomfortable. It might be the secret to a happy you.

Travel resets the wonder button

Republic square PARISThe recent hiatus and travel provided some time to experience the broader world and consider the themes of happiness, belonging, compassion and so on from a perspective outside of my normal (narrow?) day to day. Being exposed to centuries of foreign culture for weeks at a time was thrilling and at the same time the flood of details was enormously overwhelming in person. That’s what’s nice about armchair travelling or documentaries – the focus is supplied, the details are managed, the experience is curated for you by the book editor or narrator. In person, the reality is that you’re in queues, desperate to find a loo (or to find the right change to use the loo), hungry, and/or transfixed by the fact that each street has different ornate light posts (or some other mindboggling thing that everyone else is able to walk past but you want to scream to the world “LOOK AT THIS!”).

It is of course an evolutionary survival mechanism that all animals have developed a way of filtering information to only that which is most likely of value to them. Humans have loads of biologically initiated filters. For example, we are good at depth perception and spotting movement (as for a long time we were a prey species) once we got the hang of tools we’ve worked to our strengths ever since. We create more tools that work mostly by combining our sight with our hands (every thought about the inputs and outputs of a computer?) rather than, say, through sound and other frequencies of vibration. Because we build all the things we use, we tend to reinforce our own preferences and strengths, we also send ourselves the message that we’re increasingly successful by this filtering. So to travel to somewhere completely different, where comparatively few things were familiar, was to bypass the existing filters and be opened up all over again to confusion, curiosity and wonder.

Wonder is exhausting.

Great, but exhausting. Confusing too, and when you come home you go through it all over again with things that you used to comfortable with and now you’re not that sure about. That’s also amazing (and exhausting). Before you know it the day-to-day of going to work intrudes and you find yourself back in the harness of being a wage slave, but this is the gift of travel. It is possible (necessary) to remember that we have a choice about the way we see and experience the world. It is not just fun to go somewhere else, it helps train our brain in remember that our filters aren’t truths. For us to find ways to solve the problems we’ve created in our worlds, the most useful thing to do is to think differently about it.

You would probably like to punch the next person who suggests to you that you “think outside of the box” about something causing trouble. I know I’d love to. It is useless. If we could, we would! So instead let’s share ways of learning to shift our perspective, and one of the critical steps to that is to realise what things actions or ‘realities’ we’re taking for granted, what we’re valuing and filtering for, then we can put those assumptions aside and invite in some wonder. A recent article talked about how cities, by their man-mad nature, reinforce some of our mental models and that this creates a (another) blind spot in how we face challenges. Especially ecological challenges.

The difference between watching a documentary about a city and being lost in the metro there is an experience of being ‘reset’, of being a beginner, a foreigner. How valuable it can be to know that you know nothing. We can be the best kind of stranger to ourselves and to others by sharing perspectives and becoming more than the sum of our filters. Let’s get wonder-ful together.

Itchy feet

travellingThere’s a meme going around along the lines of “imagine living a life you don’t need a holiday from”. That’s an idea with a lot going for it and ties into our themes here of happiness, gratitude, self-knowledge and meaningful living. And yet … I get itchy feet … I get curious about the world beyond my commute and I wonder what it is like to stand in a different ocean. I want to go somewhere … else.

I’m not sure then how to understand this urge. It builds, and over time it becomes discontent if I don’t acknowledge it. So much as our focus here is on seeking connection with happiness and using self-knowledge and connection with each other to establish ourselves, sometimes we must grow too, through the unknown, through the mysterious urges of seeking and exploring people, things, ideas and places that are, to us, ‘other’.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Walt Whitman

Then we come home and we integrate, we mull things over, we massage our sore and painful feet. It is not ‘better’ one way or the other, to travel or tour-ist, or to wander half-lost and half-found. It just is and for each of us our own journey is inspired by itches of all kinds. Some we decide to scratch and some we leave as a unanswered want for now, for other reasons, for duty or obligation. We imagine and we cajole ourselves and none of us have a map. We are all looking or a horizon to trust in.

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.

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.

Blooming Jacarandas

Jacaranda season 

My passport expired last year after ten years of representing the possibility of travel rather than facilitating any actual travel. It has been retired without a single visa or stamp in it. I sit on the domestic commuter train instead, endlessly shuttling backwards and forwards between my work cubicle and sleeping compartment. I stare out the window, too worn-out to read, too numb to hear the music in my expensive headphones. I watch the backyards, queues of cars, the smooth even walls of on-ramps and bypasses slide by. I no longer notice the grounds of the prison, unless the kangaroos that live there are mugging for portraits as the train passes. But this month the Jacarandas are in bloom and every familiar sight is rewritten with lavender punctuation and a sweet soft scent. Jacaranda trees are like me – introduced long enough ago that most assume we’ve always been here. My Nan was born in Toowoomba, but her Ma came from ‘the old country’. Jacarandas (from South America) are officially a pest here now, squeezing out the native trees. An analogy still too close to the bone to bear and a wound salted by the fact that the trees continue and grow as heavily promoted tourist attractions for the locations ‘lucky’ enough to already host them.
I walk the dog and listen for the heavy, trumpet – shaped bloombells to land on the carpet they make. Purple droplets. There are rituals and myths about good luck in exams at those unis and schools with trees in the grounds. The colour is amazing this year – the drought makes the trees desperate to seed and seed needs bees and bees, well bees are where the magic happens aren’t they?
The rest of the year the trees are anonymous in the city. Green among the many greens we take for granted but for this one wonderful month these jacaranda trees invade our senses and give any cherry blossom a hard run for title of most beautiful.
I used to envy the Japanese their Hanami season – picnicking under cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms are a perfect symbol for so much of Japanese culture. Haiku poetry, zen embrace of the now, a reverence for natural beauty, a deep understanding that striving for perfection is misguided. Ah – Cherry blossoms hanging on bare boughs, scenting warm air, and driving spring’s lusts back into our blood. All so very elegant, exuberant, sensual and ephemeral.

Here are our own zen muses. Jacarandas in bloom interrupt routines and demand enjoyment. They invite you to find a blanket and some food and drink and relax, staring at the glory of the sky through an impossible colour.  I’d rather they weren’t an import but life is no longer a game of perfect, it must be dealt with in the reality of here and now not just what could or should be. A blooming Jacaranda now is worth any number of Cherry blossoms that never seen. No passport required.