The “Fix” Is In

“Fixed” mindset vs. “Growth” mindset: I feel I fall somewhere in-between. It’s not an either/or. https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/

In other words, I’m not free of the black & white, grade-oriented way of thinking, where innate talent says it all, and effort and “failing” are signs that I’m a loser, someone who is lost. But then there’s the part of me – bigger part! – that gets bored easily, needs to be challenged, is totally free of being graded. Pushing myself, learning new things! I’m in that place now, seeing how “empty” my life is, spending more than I’m making for over a year now, wondering what the hell is going on. But isn’t all this happening now because I cannot live with a “fixed” mindset? I’ve opted for adventure instead of safety, growth over security, risk being more important than predictability. And seemingly without too much trouble deciding.

I have faith that things will work out; not knowing, not being able to point to something that reflects a more interesting direction, not having that “bird in hand” but winging it, trying – yes, trying! – not to judge myself, not slot all this in as a failure. That takes effort! So, I am growing whether I realize it or not.

How much have I been attached to the grading, effort-proves-you-don’t-have-what-it-takes mentality? New York was a failure, yes. But it wasn’t depending on what I do (and have done) with it. I’m a “failure” now because I don’t know what to do, alone most of the time, blah, blah, blah. This is a very tough one for me. My circumstances suggest I am failing at life. A big part of “me” is demanding PROOF that it will all work out. That “me” is feeding on the apparent lack of PROOF to keep reminding me that I’m a failure, not that I just fail, but that I’m a failure.

Is it all in how I view myself? A different set of “eyes” might see everything in a different light? I feel like I’m getting close to something important. When I was reading the attached article, one of my friends sent a note asking if I could suggest a caption to one of her amazing photos. “Normally” I would feel a little interrupted, not wanting to stop what I was doing. This time a visit from her was comforting, and I let her be the one who needed to go, not worrying about being the “busy one,” restless about “not getting” something and all that horseshit. I let Karen in, in other words. I had all the time in the world, so why not let it be? I felt I needed the attention, I needed to be noticed. And she gave me the attention I needed after a lousy night’s sleep. And she got what she needed! This is something new in me.

There is definitely a deterministic mindset I am dealing with now. It takes effort but I am doing it! I can continue to change, to grow, to become someone else again. And I’m relearning what it means to be patient, with circumstances but mainly with myself, noticing the judge in me without paying it much heed, seeing more and more what it really is and not giving it the respect I have in the past. I’ve put myself here, and the judge keeps trying to tell me I made a mistake, I’m a loser, confused, it’s that “what’s wrong with you?!” again. I only have my faith to go on because things haven’t really changed outwardly – except for my move back from New York – in over a year. And it becomes very scary at times, like there’s nothing “there,” that it’s all just darkness with no way of seeing opportunities, like I blinded myself “back there” and I can’t see anymore.

But that is not true. None of it. That’s the “fixed” mindset trying to tell me that what I “see” is PROOF that I’m a failure, a loser. When in fact I am ignoring the real ME by caving into this fossil of a mindset. The REAL ME is about challenge, taking risks, growth. Always has been. That’s why that secure post office job (my day job) seemed like a graveyard to me, and why I struggle with going back: that kind of certainty smells of death, not life. And yet, I must live in the practical world even as I seek through my efforts to find new opportunities. Cracking the code that is me is a never-ending process. I’ll be doing it with my last breath.

There remains too much of a mystery of me. And that mystery many times results with feelings of ambivalence and restraint and less with the enthusiasm to strive FOR something. That is the heartache I continually experience: by default, an ambivalent life in lieu of a life of passionate pursuit, of real desire and longing for my heart’s treasure. Apart from my writing, this obscurity, this dark side of myself, part of my shadow, remains the defining characteristic of “who I am” because there is nothing greater, larger, more soul-filled in me, that something that drives me instead of drives me crazy. I collapse into this place of not-knowing, with the sense that I’m always making it up as I go along, never really sure, never truly confident (or committed). Is this part of the “fixed” mindset, the judge telling me again I’m a failure? In lieu of something greater touching my very essence, do I remain a sitting duck for a lifetime of ambivalence?

Karen chose photography when she was a teenager, in large part to give voice to the voice she had that wasn’t being heard growing up. She is an inspiration. Do I have my own story to tell of giving voice to that which was deemed voiceless? If she is an inspiration to me, how is that inspiration being made manifest in my life? How does her life inspire mine?

And so, here I sit with so many more questions than answers (as usual), and I take heart knowing that, if all else “fails,” I am still “living the questions.”

The Summer of My Discontent? A Series of Questions Asked

Has my “job” become worry, or Worry?

By being “beside myself” am I somehow acting “responsibly” given my uncertain circumstances? Or am I “beside myself” as in “not myself” but someone else? Do I have to be stressed in order to feel alive, to send a message to myself that says, “I know what you’re doing, and I don’t like it. Therefore, I am going to make sure you are unhappy, even miserable”? Who’s running the show here? Is this not neurotic behavior?

What’s to keep me from enjoying myself regardless of circumstances? Or am I so tied to “results,” “security” and the illusion of certainty that until I get “back on track” the only option is no option at all, but to feel lousy?

If I believe in myself, trust myself, can I not also enjoy myself, regardless of whether or not I’ve got another steady “day job,” a girlfriend, a social life, a robust and creative life? (And if not, does that mean I don’t trust myself, believe in myself?) And is that not a list of wants/needs/desires that are both general to most everyone and specific to my life? Yes, I have bits and pieces of all of them now, but not in any satisfying mix. Can I live with that? Or do I need to maintain a “fever” until there’s enough, until there’s more? Can I be satisfied with what is? Or is that settling, lowering some kind of personal standards just in order to relieve the pressure? Or are the feelings I have these days a warning? Even more to the point, am I going crazy?

The answer to all these questions resides in me, and comes from a place of stillness, which involves paying attention to circumstances, not letting my fears dictate my choices, but instead love myself as I remain curious, even if the world has become less interesting. Trusting myself, I continue to live, somehow grow, not in spite of myself but because of it.

The Summer of My Discontent? I take the stuff of my life, as I experience it, and make something from it. I become a poet. My life lived with no firm destination, free of abstractions, lived concretely for its own sake.

“Negative Capability … is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” John Keats, 12/22/1918

The man who fell to earth

I have stopped. Why? That I may begin again? Start “over”? I’m not sure. It’s as if I have led myself out into an open field, alone, and with no instructions, “suspending disbelief” as I continue on, from day to night to day. Is this the culmination of something, or an endless detour? An escaping of what is or a serious reckoning? Can I blame someone, some author of some book somewhere?

Now, everything begins to take on a kind of surreal otherness, people moving in and out of my life as if suddenly revealed phantoms, characters who contain human qualities, me the “observer,” to quote one of the character’s description of me; a character who flashed on the scene with unbridled enthusiasm only to, it appears, disappear, perhaps due to my less than-charming-responses to her obvious overtures. It’s like I’ve lost the skills of how to relate to people beyond a kind of chumminess, my desire for “the other” having evaporated through this life of bumps and bruises, this life marked more and more by uncertainty, willfully so or not.

Am I fit only to love generally, and not too terribly specifically? Am I not capable of loving deeply one person now? And has it always been so? I’m a nice guy. Except when I’m not. For all my time alone, I really wonder how evolved I’ve become. Has it really made any difference, to seek a kind of stillness that, unfortunately, finds me even more alone than ever? Is it not better to throw myself into the busy throng, to let my head run free with scattered thoughts, to embrace the monkey mind after all, embracing the confusion that seems embedded in an overextended life? To jump in, physically as well as emotionally, throwing caution to the wind? Then I remember: I have left a trail of tears on such occasions, regrets crowding out the apparent wisdom learned from such escapades.

Is “pure being” enough? As if I were the only person left on this planet?

Movies and Life

I’m walking down an endless series of stairs inside a cavern, a mountain, an old castle, everything looking like it’s been carved out of a cave with stairs surrounded by cave-like walls and ceilings that change shape with each step, uneven, with lighting coming from somewhere below so I can see where I’m going. There are young people, kids, coming up. As I go down, I see/hear what look like saunas, locker room/shower areas.

Is this the last level? Why am I going down?

To get to “the bottom of things.” That’s everything. That’s what I’m doing. Of course, getting to the bottom is about right now. There will be other “bottoms” to “get to,” I’m sure. Some, perhaps of a different, more delightful nature.

In the meantime, it’s weeding out, pruning time. Junk status for lots of email, more “un-following” on Facebook, anyone who isn’t a part of my life – gone. I don’t want to have all that distraction. It’s needless, that’s why it’s called a distraction. Gives the impression of belonging. Not real. Items posted may be pointing to something interesting or worthwhile, but it’s become way too much. A time-sucker. Not worth it.

As I lay in bed this morning, I suddenly become fearful. The “bottom.” Is it “falling out”? Money worries, empty-life worries. Confusion. Anxiety about living.

And then… getting to the “bottom of things” comes to me as I jot that note down from one of my new dreams, those words serving as a cue for later morning journal writing. Aha! I take a toke, listen to my mind (?) my heart (?) and I become aware that I have a choice of versions of reality to pick from, all but one already waiting to be followed. Everyone does. That’s all everyone is doing, all the time: picking their version of reality. There is no one version of reality, however. We may choose to try to believe that, try to align what we think that “version” really is with what we believe is the social version, the compatible version. And so, we stumble along, never really sure. Why? Because it’s impossible to know deep down, since it’s based on something “out there,” an abstraction. “Fitting in” means different things to different people, perhaps done to ease the tension that results from living from the outside-in, and “knowing” deep down, deep, deep down, that something’s amiss, fake. It’s an attempt to foist something less authentic onto something real. And what is that “something real”?

It’s you. It’s me.

In the quiet of my lonely room, eyes closed, mind floating, body relaxed and stretched out horizontally, untethered from top to bottom, I begin to imagine possibilities instead of feeling anxious. At this sleepy stage, it’s more about the possibilities of possibilities than anything specific. I can tell I’m onto something real because I’m nodding off, I can feel it in my body. “Dreaming. Sleeping.” My temporary mantra. I relax and enjoy the blend of thought with feeling, not sure which is which and not caring, either.

An insight into real living leaves behind the worry and doubt of “hitting bottom,” replaced by “getting to the bottom of things.” There is no Secret Code, unless that’s what I want. And then, it’s just a secret I keep from myself, if I choose to. And it’s not about “not fitting in,” because it’s about something that’s not a “not.” “Nots,” after all, have the potential to become “knots” in the end.

Everyone’s version of reality is a like a movie. That movie can be a seemingly endless series of reruns, an endless series of sequels, attempts to play someone else’s dream as you perceive it. It might be “Fun With Dick And Jane,” or it could be “The Stepford Wives.” Or a television show, like “Ozzie & Harriet.” But why something “out there” instead of what’s “in here”? Isn’t what’s “in here” the real thing? And how much do we know that’s what we are doing? Sure, you can like or appreciate certain aspects of those programs. But in the end, they’re just “programs,” aren’t they? And can you see the results of trying to live “out there” instead of from “in here”? One has the potential to become pathological, the other moving us toward personal integration and a lifetime (not the cable channel) of discovery (also not the cable channel).

We are surrounded. Like in a shooting match, and we’re outnumbered. Or so we think. “It” is waiting for us before we’re even born. It “welcomes” us with “open arms.” It’s Disneyland. It’s “Apocalypse Now.” It’s “Nothing But A Man.” It’s your favorite “reality” TV show or “source for news.” Anything but what’s right in front of us.

Being damaged is one thing. Staying damaged is another. Does it come down to “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” (you pick the best version you like) or that which is indescribable except by each and everyone of us, individually, each and every day?

“But is Brain all that important? Is it really Brain that takes us where we need to go? Or is it all too often Brain that sends us off in the wrong direction, following the echo of the wind in the treetops, which we think is real, rather than listening to the voice within us that tells us which way to turn?”

I’m tired, exhausted of being afraid of what’s inside of ME.

The only true claim on anyone’s life is their own.

Gratitude

I was reading an emailed interview of one of my friend/colleagues had done by a magazine. (He was gracious enough to send me the transcript.) It was early morning (for me) and I was still laying in bed.

The subject was his recent trip with his jazz band to Iran. The interview dealt with logistics, some politics and mostly the cultural exchanges. The feelings I got while reading his words came to me gradually. First, I was curious, knowing somewhat of his trip already but wanting to know more thanks to this thorough article. Gradually, I felt my body become more and more relaxed, and a general feeling of contentment washed over me as I reflected on his words of compassion, openness, generosity and honesty (along with some acute social criticism). I also felt warm feelings of hope, hope that something real had occurred, a definite sharing between worlds that made “sense,” emotionally as well as in other ways.

What his words did for me was to not only inspire me about what people can do to help promote understanding and peace between different cultures, but it also not surprisingly deepened our friendship. I chose to return the energy, completing a circle by letting him know in a followup email how his trip and the story he told in the interview had such a positive impact on me, the beauty of what he and his band did–and all the people from Iran he/they worked with and came in contact with–reaching me in waves of gratitude (not exact words, but to that effect) as the morning continued.

I learned that I too can respond to the excellence in others, and that praise is so easy to give when you come into contact with such wonderful and amazing stories of real people with real experiences to share. My friend knows I love him, because I have told him so. Here is one more “reason” why.

As cynical as we both can be about living in 21st century America, this experience helps to melt away some of that icy wall I maintain between me and everything and everyone else, that destructive, ill-fated illusion of duality.