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A big part of my practice of meditation and contemplation has to do with self-knowledge.  

I journal a lot.  Well, you know.  You're reading it after all.  For a long time now I've been examining who I am, what matters to me.

I realized something big today.  I've been missing a key component of the question "who am I?"  In its short form it's an unanswerable question, really.  You can point to aspects of yourself, sure.  But you can't really speak in totality to who you are.  It's like describing a whole house by the shape of the doorknob to the front door.

The part that I've been omitting is the words "right now", as in "Who am I right now?"   

Now that is more knowable.  And it's also subject to change.  About 5 years ago I recorded a video blog to myself (not on here, privately) about my desires in life.  I wanted to stop doing technical work altogether, and go back to school to become a licensed professional counselor, a form of therapist. 

In the same video I talk about my relationships, what's important to me, what was motivating me. 

When I watched it recently, I thought, "Who the heck even was that guy?" 

I can remember recording it.  I can remember some of those feelings.  I watch myself, and see the conviction in my eyes, hear it in my voice. 

And the vast majority of what I spoke about with such fervor is no longer true.  I'm barely that person at all anymore.  Many of the things I thought I wanted, and all of the relationships I had at the time have since changed.  Some of my goals I outright have moved on from.  Some of my relationships from back then have ended.  Other goals and relationships have evolved.  And there's all sorts of new goals and people in my life, now.

It's almost dizzying how different everything is. 

One thing that has stayed a constant is that who I am now is informed by everything that's come before.  So, there was no waste in any of it, and the fact that I pivoted on some pretty major things isn't a bad thing - it's growth. 

A really enormous part of who I am now has to do with a set of attitudes I have, around the idea of pursuit, of chasing.  It's something I've been contemplating for the better part of the last two years.

I absolutely do chase goals.  I absolutely don't chase people.

What I mean by that is this: in terms of life changes that I initiate, things like career goals, new skills, changes in my health, exercise, financial well-being, I run towards those things, full-tilt boogie.  If it is something scary, even better.  BRING IT. 

But in terms of people, I do exactly the opposite.  I'm moving forward, towards things, at a breakneck pace.  It's a wild ride, and one I'm happy to share with those who are going in the same directions, or at least compatible ones.  But for those who don't feel it, and aren't interested in sharing the trip, I'm okay with moving on.  I have friends who I was thick as thieves with, who I haven't talked to in years.  I have relationships that were vibrant, which have ended.  I think that's natural.

Don't mistake me though.  I'm not cavalier about it.  It's often bittersweet to me when these changes happen.  One of the more painful ones recently is my stepson.  We're quite estranged.  He's just moving in directions that make how he lives and how I live incompatible.  I'm sad about it sometimes, but most days I'm at peace.

I recognize that the person I am today isn't the same person I was yesterday, by a little degree.  Shift that lens out from days to months to years, and that delta gets even bigger.  And that's true for other people, too.

Two particular items from my long study of Taoism popped out at me today that are about just this relationship between chasing goals and people. 

One is a zen story, by Chuang-tze, called "The Happiness of Fish."  The super-short version of it goes like this:

A sage and his friend stood on a bridge overlooking a river, watching fish leaping from the water into the air.  The sage said, "That right there, that's the happiness of fish."  His friend chided him for it.  "How can you, who are not a fish, know the happiness of one by this river?"  He in turn gently chided his friend, "How are you, who are not me, know that I don't know it?"

As the friend scratched his head, the sage added, "Furthermore, you already said how I know it, I know it here, by the river." 

How do I know what makes me happy?  I don't know what always makes me happy.  I know what I'm after right now.  That's why it's okay to chase things and goals.  If what you want changes, you chase something else.

The other thing from my studies that jumped out at me is a particular verse from the Tao te Ching.  This one: 

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Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,

you will endure forever.

I feel like I have unlocked a whole new understanding of this verse today.  Yes, I can learn all sorts of things about other people.  But in the end, they, like myself, are always subject to change.  There's no permanence in people.  I can learn about them, spend time with them, enjoy their company.  But I can't stop their their changing, nor my own changing.  

That's why it's so important to be mindful about who, what, where, and when I am.  It's why I need to be present for my connections with others, because they are fleeting.  People grow, and change.  It's why it matters so much to be present for them now, knowing that our time together isn't permanent.  Not because people are bad.  We're all just so very fluid.  

Part of what makes love and connection so great, so beautiful is that it's fleeting.  

I never got that "embrace death with your whole heart" thing before.   But I see it now.  It's not morose or maudlin.  It's profound.

 

One of the great things about working out, is that part of how I do it helps my mind as well as my body.

Often when I swim, I listen to philosophy lectures.  Today it was an Alan Watts lecture on the wisdom of the ridiculous, a lecture about Chuang-tzu. 

A big point that Watts made has to do with the boundaries we see between ourselves. What he said was "all boundaries are held in common." What that means is that part of how I know who I am, is because I'm not you.   However at the same time, boundaries are where we meet, where we join.

The example that he gave for this was sitting outside at night, looking up at the stars, and feeling how very far away they are. Millions of miles from here, and billions of years ago, that light shone forth that we're only seeing now. 

But that's us, too.   The light that comes from our world shines in a multitude of night skies elsewhere.

In a manner of speaking we are everywhere.  We are everyone. We are everything.  

If you need a little more down to earth example of that, I've got one from this morning. 

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When you're swimming laps in a pool, and you've got one of those plastic divider ropes, separating your lane from the one next to you, whose divider is that? Is it yours? Does it belong to the person in the next lane?

Yes.  

This has been rather a sloppy sort of year for my blog. I started off not numbering, got spotty about posting daily, went back to numbering, still remained spotty.  

But I'm still here, and still blogging.  

There's a saying (usually misquoted as being said by Aristotle), that "We are what we repeatedly do."

I agree.  

I think part of that repetitive process is mindfully stepping back from it and adjusting it, the same way you aim a spray of water from a hose, or shoot a water gun.  

I go through something similar in my day job as a programmer. Try a thing, see if it works, adjust, try again.  Sometimes I will get something working, see an entirely better way to do it, and rebuild it. There's even a term for it, refactoring. 

I think adopting the practice of mindful refactoring has been, and continues to be a success strategy in my life.

  • Try something.
  • See how it works.
  • Throw it out if it's not working for me.
  • Keep going with it if I am happy with the results. 

Wash, rinse, repeat. Repeat until dead. You get the idea. This strategy is everywhere  in my life. I use it at work, at home, in relationships, my health, my finances.  

It's even inherent in my spirituality or philosophy. One of my favorite Lao-tzu quotes is "A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent upon their arrival." 

I do, ultimately, have a final destination. We all do. But how I get there, what road I travel, and what I do to enjoy the trip, that's what matters.  

This morning in the shower I was thinking about a code problem at work, like you do, and happened upon a solution.  

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As soon as I had rinsed off the Himalayan Pink Salt body wash, I got out of the shower, dried my hands, and grabbed my phone. I popped open the voice memo app to quickly record my thoughts for later.  

This is something I do often.  I'll record notes about work, writing, code ideas, sounds around me I think are funny or memorable.  

Sometimes after I listen to them later I delete them. But often I hang on to them, knowing I'll savor them later. 

That happened today. After I recorded my work notes I went diving through old recordings. I found among other things: 

  • A nice voice note my ex Kacie and I recorded for our friend Miss Jessica
  • A recording of the elevator voice announcing Missy and I had arrived at the Lido Deck on the Carnival Valor  
  • A fiction idea I had recorded about six years ago

I love  this sort of digital nostalgia. The files don't take up very much room on my phone, and they give me this instant hit, this sense of my personal history and longevity, each time I stumble across them. 

On my computer I have an old video of my cats when they were about six months old.  They are eleven years old now! Sometimes it boggles my mind that so much time has passed.  

Personal history is a big deal for me. Because my dad wasn't a very good person, certain traumatic events in my past really tainted a huge portion of my childhood. My past has been previously a touchy, painful area.  Things I thought to be true were not, and never had been.  At one point in my life I felt like I had no reliable past to look back on, and that was a bitter feeling indeed. 

But as I get older, each day I'm making more and more memories which I treasure. I'm not a very materialistic person, I don't set much stock in things. My aunt says that a good life is made of moments and memories. She's right.  Every time I dig up one of these old voices and hear it again, I feel happy. 

 

Posted
AuthorMako Allen
Categories365 Gratitude

My friend Laurel is awesome.

 Why?  Well, first, she's just awesome in her own right.  She's whip-smart, does a supercomplicated technical, sciencey (sure, it's a word) thing for her job.  She's an athlete (a runner).  She's a sex-positive person who embraces all her interesting differences with gusto.  Some of those include being bisexual, kinky, polyamorous, and an ageplayer.

Then there's that thing about being a little dead girl. 

Image courtesy of http://abisszombie.deviantart.com/art/the-cute-little-dead-girl-290231321.  Thanks!

Image courtesy of http://abisszombie.deviantart.com/art/the-cute-little-dead-girl-290231321.  Thanks!

She talked all about that way back in episode 26 of the Big Little Podcast.  You should check it out.  She was awesome.  

But all of that aside, that's not why she's my gratitude today.  

Laurel is my thoughtful friend.  She's thinky, both about things-in-general, and sometimes about me-in-particular.  Every once in a while she pings me and lets me know that I'm on her mind, that she misses me, or that something I've said or done really means a lot to her. 

Well, that means a lot to me.

Sometimes I feel that the kind of navel-gazing I do here in my blog is just so much blather into the aether, and that it's self-serving.  I never want it to come off that way.  I spend a lot of time thinking, and like sharing it.  I do it not because I'm some guru know-it-all.  Rather, it's the opposite.  I want to use my own struggles to teach others while I learn from them at the same time.  We're all each other's student, and teacher.

Laurel totally lets me know that she gets that.  She teaches me stuff all the time.  She learns from me too.  Our friendship is so valuable to me.  I'm grateful for her. 

Because, like I said... she's awesome.

 

 

Posted
AuthorMako Allen
Categories365 Gratitude