Posted: January 6th, 2014 | No Comments »
My last piece, A Letter To My 22 Year Old Self, received nice comments. However, some folks were worried about my emotional health.
In response, I’ve been pondering, am I actually depressed? And what happens when you are so radical honesty in public?
Four years ago, I started this blog writing:
Welcome to my virtual home! This is a lifelong experiment to living transparently.
Putting yourself public on the internet goes against the norm unless you’re a celebrity, own a web business, or insane. After all, what about those drunken picture from St. Patty’s bar crawl where you’re passed out on the street at 2pm? We can’t let others find out!
Sure, there will be negative consequences, but in the end, I take responsibility for my actions and not trying to please everyone. Besides, my friends know I’m a little nutty.
If I was to be totally honest (eh? eh?), my early posts sucked in terms of honesty. For example my RV stories had an element of bravado even with the negative stories like getting robbed. I was “fronting” or crafting a false “personal brand”.
I started thinking about this topic after reading James Altucher, who has a great post entitled 7 Things Happen to You When You Are Completely Honest:
People confuse “honesty” with a type of “happiness”. He can be honest because he is happy. But it’s not true. Life is a series of failures punctuated by brief successes. That’s honesty. Failure is not necessarily bad. It’s reality.
But branding tries to reverse that. With a “personal brand”, you suddenly pretend to be super successful, a “businesswoman” in Kardashian’s case – failure is non-existent, and out of your mind comes the exact mathematical formulas that if someone drinks your Cola and snorts your Ecstasy then they too will have the pretty girl, the success, the money, the accoutrements.
Honesty is about the scars. it’s about the blemishes. But it’s more than just bragging about failure, which could be a form of ego. It’s about truly helping people.
Funny. I have heard and have voiced the same opinion in different ways. Like, it’s easy to not worry about money when you’re rich. Or it’s easy to not care about your appearance when you’re beautiful. Likewise, it’s easy to be honest when you’re just full of good stories and joy.
Yet, the past year brought forth my most honest writing as I wrote about my broken dreams, doubts, and past failures like
Confessions of a Failed Internet Hustler - Part 1. Not surprisingly that last year, I published the least number of pieces, often with months of silence.
After all, who wants to read about another person’s problems? One of my friends jokingly says she vicariously lives through me with my years of random projects and travels. So I can see how folks worried about me when my writing turned from goals and dreams to struggles and sorrows.
Further in the same article, James writes:
WHAT WILL HONESTY GET YOU?
#2 PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU ARE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF
The next thing that will happen is people will ask “are you killing yourself?” Because every blog post almost seems like a suicide note.
#3 PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU ARE CRAZY
Then people will send emails to your friends, “is he as crazy as he sounds?” And that’s how I make friends now because introductions will be made and people will have to find out for themselves.
#4 PEOPLE WILL GET FRIGHTENED
So they will call you names. Oh, that guy is just trying to be a “contrarian”, for instance. Or an “idiot”. Or worse. I’ve been called everything. I had to call the Brown University Public Safety office the other day because I got emailed a death threat and the guy didn’t think I could track him. The guy was a senior and had also apparently threatened the life of a librarian there.
They need to understand why you are telling the truth. Why you are being honest about what you really think. In meetings at the office everyone is quiet. You’re not supposed to speak up. So people will dislike you, try to put you down, post comments, whatever.
After reading his post, I laughed.
No, I’m not going to kill myself.
Despite my writing, I actually feel physically, mentally, and spiritually better than ever.
Not to say I have solved my life. I still have most of the same anxieties, doubts, fears, self-judgments, resentments, emotional triggers, and so on. And yet, I am feeling better. But how can I still feel the same things yet feel different about them?
How do I figure out this dichotomy? How do I make sense of where I am now?
Thinking of this dilemma, I I remembered a story from Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart of A Buddha by Dr. Tara Brach.
Fearing she might harm herself, Marian sought counsel from an elderly Jesuit priest who had been one of her teachers in college. Crying, she collapsed in the overstuffed chair he offered. “Please, please help me,” she pleaded. He listened to her story and sat quietly with her as she wept. When she calmed down, he gently took one of her hands and began drawing a circle in the center of her palm. “This,” he said, “is where you are living. It is painful– a place of kicking and screaming and deep, deep hurt. This place cannot be avoided, let it be.”
Then he covered her whole hand with his. “But if you can,” he went on, “try also to remember this. There is a greatness, a wholeness that is the kingdom of God, and in this merciful space, your immediate life can unfold. This pain,” and he again touched the center of her palm, “is held always in God’s love. As you know both the pain and the love, your wounds will heal.” (207)
I still feel many of the same, negative emotions. However, I don’t identify so dearly with them anymore. My entire life takes place in a larger wholeness, a larger context of spaciness.
I have a deeper trust, born out of experience, that whatever joys or sorrows arising are just fragments of a larger life to be acknowledged, accepted, appreciated and let be.
And those negative feelings that used to hang over me like a cloud for hours or days? Now, they last typically seconds, minutes, and yeah sometimes, hours. The difference is cutting off the judgments on top of judgments. And it’s not because I’m pushing the negativity away, but because I can see each experience’s proper significance and not overreact.
I’ll end with James’ last piece on what honesty brings:
#7 YOU BECOME FREE
At first we hug our boundaries in chains. We think “if we tell the girl we like her, she might not like me back”. We think, “If I say I like this candidate, my friends might hate me.” If I say X, everyone else might say Y. And so on. But more and more we start to feel where those boundaries are and we push them out. We push them further and further away from ourselves. Until finally they are so far away it’s as if they don’t exist at all. You don’t need money for that. Or a big house. Or a fancy degree or car. Every day, just push out those boundaries a little further.
We reach for that freedom. We never truly get there. We’re always striving to see how far they can go, just like a little child with her parents. But eventually, the boundaries are so far away we begin to feel the pleasures of true freedom.
And it feels good.
You’re right James. it feel good…even when it feels terrible.
* Photo is actually from my RV cross country trip at the living roof top of San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences.
* Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach is one of the best books I read this year. I came across Tara nearly five years ago in her Washington DC sangha but finally read her book this year.
* James Altucher is a very interesting fellow, I don’t agree with everything he writes, but his life is pretty fascinating.
* I should preface every statement in this piece with “most times” and “usually” but that usually sounds terrible most of the time.
Posted: December 17th, 2013 | 4 Comments »
It’s me, your future self from five years ahead.
Honestly, I’m not sure you should or could make any different decisions than I already did. But, I can at least tell you that it’s okay that you feel so lost right now and tell you what’s coming ahead in the next few years. You’re going to lose your way, but you’ll also find your way back.
I know you’re having a difficult time. You’re living in a big city with few friends. You’re really distraught over graduate school. You never read Aristotle, Augustine, or Aquinas. That’s why you’re having a tough time following your philosophy peers using words like Being and Reason. It’s not your fault. You spent your college years programming and reading the Bhagavad Gita, Dao De Jing, and Lotus Sutra.
You’re going to realize you have no future in a Ph D program. It’s going to hurt. You’re going to lose trust not only in academia and larger institutions but also in yourself, in your emotions, in your decision making.
As a result, you’re going to attempt to become the ideal, self-made man.
Over the next year:
* You’re going to start going to the gym to lift weights.
* You’re going to read Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek and be inspired to become an entrepreneur.
* You’re going to join the pickup community and try to meet beautiful women in the worst locations of night clubs and street corners.
* You’re even going to buy an RV with the idea of traveling and living cross country.
You’re going to keep doing these things for years.
It depends on perspective, it’s not all bad.
But, you’re going to fail repeatedly. Again. Again. And Again.
* You’ll make hundreds of dollar in internet marketing, but you’ll also lose thousands of dollars more.
* You’ll gain a few pounds of muscle before you quit after a few months. Then, you’ll try it again with renewed determination.
* You’ll go on a few dates with girls you met in bars and even on the street. Hell, you’ll even lose your virginity. But, that nagging feeling of inferiority and insecurity will sabotage any potential relationship. Not to mention, you’re looking for girls in all the wrong places.
* You’ll move to Florida where you make some incredible friends and join a meditation community (sangha) for the first time. But, then, you’ll get robbed and leave.
* You’ll discover your first true love in Boulder, Colorado and afterwards spend a year of heartbreak that it couldn’t be.
* You’ll finally drive your RV cross country to Portland. …where you’ll get robbed again. You’ll accept it with an open heart. But, the next day, you’ll discover your transmission is dead. And then you will break down into tears and despair. Not so much because you were in love with that transmission but because it represents jut how broken your dreams and goals were in the first place.
* You’ll lose $300 playing poker in the Bellagio in Las Vegas and hide out in your hotel room for a week programming your first, successful web application.
* This will lead you to believe you could startup a web business. You’ll cold call businesses and knock on doors asking for a hour to chat.
And after all this?
You’ll move to Boston to live with one of your best friends from college along with other best friends in the area.
Initially, you’ll be a broken man without any more goals or delusions.
You know, I just realized that I shouldn’t speak for you so much. Sorry about that, let me just say what happened for me then.
I definitely felt like a broken man. Every goal I set since your age having not come to fruition. I felt cursed like I couldn’t change. That I would always be that poor, skinny, and lonely kid back in high school.
But, at this lowest of moments, in the dark, terrible Boston winter, is when I was ready to find my way back.
Remember, that 21 year old version of us? The one who just came off of a ten day vipassana meditation retreat in Shelburne Falls? His eyes were so bright and clear, he knew the truth but didn’t yet know how to integrate that into his daily life. And that’s why I did all these things, trying to learn how to thrive in this world.
About a year ago, I started going to the Shambhala Center. Early on, I had a talk with Nick, my newest and closest dharma teacher. I told him, "I can’t tell anymore what is my inmost request and what are just my unintelligent, instinctual reactions or social conditioning anymore." I knew at that moment that I had lost my way.
This past spring, I started seeing a holistic therapist. I’ll tell him things I’ve never said to another human being. He keeps telling me to allow the feelings in, to listen to them, and accept them. I start listening and then feeling and eventually accepting myself.
In the past summer, I went to a full week Shambhala retreat in Vermont where I bared my soul to a crowded room about having felt a lifetime of inadequate, inferiority, of not being enough for others. There was so much confusion, pain, and sadness back then.
Now, this past weekend, I did another Shambhala meditation retreat in Shelburne Falls where I had first meditated and found my path all those years ago.
But, this time, I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel so confused or sad. I was mystified at first wondering if I was suppressing an emotion. But, no. There was only compassion and joy. I finished the retreat surprised that unlike previous retreats, I didn’t feel very sad that I was leaving. Nor did I look at my meditation peers hoping we would be best friends afterwards.
I think you’ll get here one day too. I don’t know if there are any shortcuts. I’m tempted to give you advice:
Don’t do internet marketing. Don’t buy that RV. Don’t get involved with those pickup people.
Do exercise with a barbell instead. Do get a regular programming job. Do meditate with a sangha.
But most importantly, do learn to accept and appreciate all the small moments.
But, the truth is, I don’t think you would believe me.
Besides, despite all those failures, it was all good feedback. Now, I’m never ever going to be tempted again with shortcuts. I won’t always be thinking, “maybe if I just ___ then everything will be alright.” I tried that path of pure willpower without emotion. Now, I’m never going to stray from my path because I can feel it right here, right now in my center.
I keep using the word failure. But it’s not like any of those experiences were wrong in themselves. The only failure was that I wasn’t listening to myself, to my emotions, to my experience. I wasn’t trusting myself. Otherwise, they were a lot of adventuresome, great experiences, but they came about from a need to overcompensate and be someone else.
Learn to trust yourself, trust in your center. A lot of your instincts turned out true. Mindfulness is the hottest topic now. Video games are a bigger industry than films. Web development jobs have equal or higher salaries than engineers. You were just ahead of your time.
You don’t need anyone’s permission or have to become special in order to start living a genuine, sincere life right now, right here.
Your Future Self
Posted: December 1st, 2013 | No Comments »
I completed my November month of meditation having only missed one day. Half the time it was with a group, and the other half by myself at home. Typically, by myself, I meditated for 45 minutes before going to sleep.
Have I transformed? It’s hard to say. Especially because I don’t want to make meditation into yet another project. Sitting on my cushion is the one time that I devote entirely to the present moment, to just being with myself. I want to say that I daydream and worry less. That I have more daily moments of great peace and gratitude. While I still feel that infinite emptiness within myself, most times I don’t feel the urge anymore to run away from it, fix it, or think it’s a problem. I want to say that I’ve connected with people on a deeper level. It would be nice to have that kind of great certainty. But I have no idea if any of that occurred, and, if so, because of meditating….but definitely seems correlated.
The month was easier also since I did a weekend program at the Shambhala Center and started practicing at the Cambridge Insight Center as well. I’ll be spending a day at the Kwam Um Zen Center as well. I do very much prefer group practice.
This morning, while feeling encouraged by a full month of consistent practice, I was reading Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham. The book mentions establishing a base of Shamatha practice or calm abiding meditation that’s a refuge. Meditation shouldn’t seem like a chore requiring white knuckled discipline to get through but an old friend you’re happy to see. I realized my practice, specifically when I practice alone, isn’t always like this. A lot of times my discursive thoughts get the better of me after twenty minutes or so. But what’s the difference between mediating with a group and by myself?
When I sit with others, I don’t have nearly as much difficulty with wanting to quit or getting bored. Besides the peer pressure/support, it’s the fact that I’m outside my home, away from my usual distractions. No computer to go browse the internet or a bed to go to sleep. I know when I go to the center, my only activity is to meditate.
So, I’m going to try cultivating more of the peaceful abiding and enjoying the meditation rather than seeking insight. progress. or measurement.
I will continue meditating daily in December. I also feel drawn to write a lot more about meditation and dharma these days so maybe more posts in the future.
Posted: November 1st, 2013 | No Comments »
Back in July, I did a week long meditation retreat. During the journey, I laid down directions for myself including the goal of meditating every day and to prioritizing only one new habit per month.
Close friends of mine probably know that I’ve spent years chasing after all kinds of goals, experiences, skills, and habits. But I’m starting over with a clear intention of not trying to fix myself or the world. But to do these things because I feel they are right and good for me.
In addition, the idea of public accountability was always appealing to me. I think the best way to start a habit is to do it with others. But having a public way of showing your progress, I hope, is almost as good.
Looking over the past two months, I’ve been slipping more and more. So, my goal for November is a solid 30 days of meditation. I suspect I’ll miss a few days here and there, but I want to be at least 24+ days.
I’ll be logging my progression here:
Posted: October 10th, 2013 | No Comments »
2013 has been a special year. I feel as if I’ve matured into adulthood in so far as I stopped trying to reinvent myself from a place of inadequacy or dislike. After years of striving to become someone greater than I am, I finally broke down and broke through to radically accepting myself. And in accepting where I am, who I am, the facticity of my existence, I was able to truly transform for the first time. Not by adding more to my identity but by stripping down to my fundamental core.
Because my values and worldview have shifted, I don’t know how I feel about a lot of things anymore. Except that excessively ruminating over the topic feels like a waste of time. I don’t regret any of my experiences, but I certainty don’t wish to repeat them.
Many changes happened this past year:
- I finished my RV journey by November 1, 2013 last year and sold it shortly afterwards.
- I moved in with one of my best friends and have old, close friends nearby.
- I joined the Sangha Family known as the Boston Shambhala 30s & Under.
- I purchased a barbell and regularly lift at home.
- I started seeing a therapist for the first time.
- I broke down and broke through to realizing the emotional baggage I have been carrying around. I learned to trust my instincts and emotions once again and let go of my desperate hold on rationality and intelligence both as the defining worthy parts of my identity and an armor protecting and explaining away the pains of life
- I quit all of my business aspirations and dedicated my energy and time to my existing job.
- Months later, still having made the mistake of blaming my career for my unhappiness, I nearly quit my job to work at a meditation center.
- I came back to Boston with a renewed energy to live a good life.
- I finally adopted the one habit/month technique that I always thought I was too good for
- I began meditating on a daily basis.
- I figured out my instincts are often right and trust them more. Those human truths, fears, and aspirations I always thought I was alone in feeling, I see are universal now, but most people don’t feel safe enough to express them.
- Today, I am physically, mentally, and spiritually the fittest I’ve ever been. My job is at its best point largely because I almost left.
For the most part, I’m content. Often, I’ve thought about my old Daoist studies. Laozi writes, ““Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”.
Of course, I still get angry, afraid, and nervous. That never goes away despite our spiritual longing and fantasies of perfect saints. Nor am I some pushover that doesn’t recognize my own shortcomings and where I still have much room to learn and grow. But I can accept that I am where I am and that nothing can change reality overnight. Whereas in the past, I would be overcome with shame, guilt, anger, or sadness when confronted with my weaknesses and wishing I could somehow skip the intermediate endless path of learning via trial and error.
I spent years seeking the Truth in college and graduate school. Only to realize that knowing the truth and being able to live the truth are two very different things. Then I spent years trying to become successful, to reinvent myself to live like a superhuman role model. In running away from myself to this impossible project, I failed numerous times and finally was ready to accept living as an awake human being. Awake to who I am right here, right now rather than past or future stories.
As the Dao De Jing 16 says:
I do my utmost to attain emptiness;
I hold firmly to stillness.
The myriad creatures all rise together
And I watch their return.
The teaming creatures
All return to their separate roots.
Returning to one’s roots is known as stillness.
This is what is meant by returning to one’s destiny.
Returning to one’s destiny is known as the constant.
Knowledge of the constant is known as discernment.
Woe to him who wilfully innovates
While ignorant of the constant,
But should one act from knowledge of the constant
One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Impartiality to kingliness,
Kingliness to heaven,
Heaven to the way,
The way to perpetuity,
And to the end of one’s days one will meet with no danger.
I’ve returned to my roots and found a constant stillness once again. There’s still much left to do. And my next greatest challenge will be relationships, in accepting myself and others when in relation to others. And maybe, afterwards, learning how to benefit others on a larger scale beyond one on one.