Have you ever felt the pressure to have a dream, a vision or plan because otherwise your life seems out of control or not as well-put as your peers? Worse, people who close to you start getting worried and that bothers you?
I have all of those, and I had a chance to reflect on that question of planning & going with the flow last week when I did a Contact Improv movement class in the city of Da Lat.
I've been getting into using movement and somatic awareness as a way to embody the changes we seek in our life.
I would never imagine end up teaching movement stuff, let alone very much enjoy it like this.
But here I am, marveling at how life is full of surprises...
It didn't begin with a dream, a vision or a kind of top down planning but rather from pursuing what's most interesting in the moment, i.e following the path of least resistance.
Strangely enough, this lazy strategy seems to be working, which directly challenges my long held belief of "no pain, no gain". For the most part, my journey to movement & dance has been so joyous and rewarding it didn't feel like effortful work or a sacrifice of short terms pleasure for long terms benefit.
At the same time, it's not exactly like what the spiritual hippies are fond of, i.e "let's just go with the flow". That's mostly an excuse for escapists.
When to go with the flow and when to buckle up, commit and work through the resistance then?
It's not so much about unlearning or denying the "no pain, no gain" approach, but rather putting it into an useful perspective.
Such ethos indeed applies when we try to gain something.
It's the project of self-improvement, of building up a self that seems strong and can handle the bill-paying practicalities of the world.
Which is needed, sometimes, but probably not as much as we would usually think.
The "gain" here is growth in capacity. Using the gym example, when you train and rest properly, you have the capacity to lift more weight.
But choosing what to fill in with that new capacity is another question altogether.
But if what you are not trying to gain something, whether it is skill, knowledge or muscle mass, but giving away?
"Hold on", you ask "but in order to have something to give away, doesn't you have to gain it first? Otherwise we have nothing to even give!"
Not exactly. We all have something precious that we are wired to get from each other.
It's our attention and energy, which comes as a gift from whatever that created us humans. We then give our attention away often to whatever most interesting to us right now.
Don't underestimate the value of the gift of attention. It's nearly the only thing we have, and the modern world with its "no pain no gain" ethos so prevalent in the project of self-building has made many of us quite hesitant to give it away to each other.
It reminded me of the line by Mark Nepo "In our society, it seems like everyone wants to become a celebrity. What we really need is something to celebrate".
In another word, instead of looking to gain attention, which often leads to "no pain, no gain" situation, try giving away your attention to someone or something worthwhile. We do that most of the time (have you not spent time watching random cat videos?) but often not aware of.
How do you know what's worthwhile?
When you can directly experience the joy of giving in that same moment, even when it doesn't seem like there is any change from that which receives your attention.
In a strange way, if attention is a form of investment (probably the most important one), then it's you, not the other object or person, that is the measurement of the ROI.
You either feel energized by the interaction, or happily spent like after a good workout.
That renewed energy is not the goal but rather a byproduct of pouring our attention into something or someone that matters.
As such, the invitation for this week is to check in with ourselves several times during the day: where am I pouring my attention to? How is that changing who I am?
See what difference it makes.
Related to this week's reflection is this quote: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet" - Frederick Buechner
How do we begin digging to that depth of gladness and feeling that sense of hunger? It starts with that very question.
Good luck to all of us who are on the path.
Sharing is sprouting.
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Not Being book update
I just post on my FB about signing up to hear more about the book, and the responses so far have been very encouraging.
Below is a quick blurb for it. Would you be interested in hearing more and give some comments on the synopsis? If so, drop me a line!
Not Being is a book about Deep Change in our Life. Our Identity.
When everything you knew to be true about your self is no longer true.
When that atomised and narrow sense of being we seek to develop, protect and extend into better faster stronger suddenly seems so foreign.
When whatever self-promise from the “cult of self-improvement”, “personal branding”, inflated/deflated ego' etc.. now seem like a great betrayal.
It’s nothing less than a change of heart. A total makeover of all the cells.
“The revelation must be terrible.” as the poet David Whyte once wrote.
Sometimes it happens with a big “slap in your face” moment. Other times it’s gradual and barely visible, sneaking up through the fabrics of our day to day.
A key metaphor will be the desert as a transition space, an emptying where things often fall apart, where our own skin shreds and parts of us die. Something has to be let go of before the new can come in.
What’s that new sense of being?
It’s intimately connected, where the membranous boundaries between “self” and “other” become less rigid and more porous.
It’s the experience of bone-and-marrow sense of togetherness and belonging in the world, with the world.
The promise of the book is to help us make sense of that inevitable, oftentimes painful transition in the desert of our own life. To notice that in each of us and give that profound yet nearly invisible existential shift the attention it needs.
It doesn’t have to be only that way. We can be intentional and joyous to begin stepping on that path. Pain maybe necessary, but suffering is definitely optional.
In order to do that, our book will feature a collection of stories.
Stories in the world of work are especially useful, but it's not limited to that.
Why work? Because most of us modern day workers here spend at least half of our day working. We expect a lot out of it, not only in terms of money but also learning and respect and meaning and purpose and those fancy intangibles.
Yet too often it is not the place where this kind of deep change happens. Usually you will quit your job, break up with your partner and backpack to India...
Whatever that journey through the desert is, if you are interested so far, here is the ask:
Do you or anyone you know have such a story? I'm looking to collect real life stories for the book from people who have experienced that deep change in identity in their own life, especially through their work.
If you can help with pointers or connections to make the book come alive I’d much appreciate that too.
Would you be interested in hearing more about the book update? Sign up to my newsletter update here and I will send you occasional updates about it. https://bit.ly/notbeing
Feel free to message me directly for more info, or comment below.
Thanks 3000 and looking forwards to a new decade of profound, intimate and deeply satisfying change.
A nice reminder from the Dalai Lama. "If you think that you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. "
Somewhat joking, but seriously though, what the Dalai Lama is pointing to here is to question even our own worldview, that bigger is not necessarily better :-)