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It’s been a while.

I was chatting with a new friend today, someone I met through the Camp Crucible chat, and showed them this blog.

Which I realized I had not updated since January. That’s been on my mind lately Brother and I were talking about my blog the other day and he lamented how much he missed it.

My new friend, let’s call her M, is a mindfulness fan just like I am. We had this amazing chat about how mindfulness pervades our lives, and the many ways it can be helpful.

That got me thinking and wanting to write here again even more. It’s been a while for many things for me, that I’ve begun to focus on again.

Here’s a few:

  • Since January I’ve been actively working out and food journaling to get in shape.

  • I’m headed back to Camp Crucible this month.

  • I’m open to new connections with other people. I don’t need them, I’m just open to them.

I’m fascinated by the fact that while I’m a different person than I was before, I CAN pick up things from the past and embrace them again. After several months of swimming, I’ve started walking on a treadmill and also hiking, which I’m new to.

There’s this thought I’m struggling to express properly. I’m grateful that while things change, while I change, nothing is ever truly lost. Nothing’s thrown away in the rubbish bin. It’s just put behind me, made part of my past. Those prior experiences, interests, connections, and relationships help inform the me-that-I-am-now, which is really the only me that there is.

I’m grateful for all that’s happened. And all that is happening.

I’ve been up since 5.  

I cuddled Missy, considered getting out of bed, decided against it, read Facebook, read some spanking erotica, considered again, stayed in bed again, got a text from my friend and fellow writer Zorro Daddy, traded thoughts on illustrated erotica, and finally decided to get up.

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That’s a whole lot of stuff in a small amount of time.  A thought about Andrea struck me as I realized that.  The busyness of my life is carrying me along, like the swift current of a river.

 I cannot help but be caught in that current. The river has an origin that I can’t even remember. And it’s moving along towards the sea. Eventually, its water will mingle with and become more an indistinguishable part of a much larger body of water. 

Andrea, she’s like this sparkly pink fish, that jumped around a lot, made these big splashes, really dominated a good long leg of my river.   

But now she’s sped off to the sea.  Where I too, am headed, some day.  As much as I don’t want to move away from that part of the river, it’s not really possible.  I’m being swept along.

 It’s not a bad thing.  This river is filled with lovely experiences, wonderful people.  Yet still there’s this tendency in me to struggle, to try to remain where I was, to clutch at the past like a rock. 

But as Andrea said, that’s not what you do. You just keep swimming.

She’s right too. I realized when you swim along with the river, when you don’t fight it... that’s how you stay current.  

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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.

 

There's this favorite quote I understand just a little bit better today.  

"Wisdom is knowing I am nothing and no one,

Love is knowing I am everything and everyone.

Between the two my life moves."

--Nisargadatta Maharaj

I have this daily practice of meditation and contemplation. I spend some amount of time each day thinking on some idea, some concept about being... well, actually just about being.  I think about emotions, about people, about relationships, about what it means to be alive.  

I've been doing it for about 15 years now.  It's often really hard work, but just as often really rewarding.

Lately I've been focused on perspective taking, which is distinct from empathy or even sympathy. Perspective taking is the distinct action of trying to see things from someone else's perspective, to learn their feelings, their desires, their fears.

A cartoon.  In the left panel a castaway on a tiny island sees a boat in the distance, raises his arms, and cries out, "BOAT!".  In the right panel, the guy in the very tiny boat sees an island far away with someone on it, holds up his hands and cries out, "LAND!"

A cartoon.  In the left panel a castaway on a tiny island sees a boat in the distance, raises his arms, and cries out, "BOAT!".  In the right panel, the guy in the very tiny boat sees an island far away with someone on it, holds up his hands and cries out, "LAND!"

Take this cartoon.  Both these people see in the other person something they need, and they are so very excited to get it from that other person.  It's somewhat dark humor, because in reality neither has that-needed-thing to give.

Some things about perspective-taking really clicked home for me this morning.  Over the past two years or so, I've been devoting a lot of my contemplation-and-meditation time to what I now recognize as the idea of emotional interdependence.  

What the heck is that?  It's the idea that while I, as a person, interact with others, am affected by them, and affect them too, that there's a certain, and very healthy emotional self-sufficiency I can fall back on, and in fact, must to avoid harming others or myself.

I consider myself to be a kind, compassionate person.  Someone who usually has the best interest of others front and center in my attention.  But sometimes that's not so.  I have chased others to give me something I had been lacking for.  Sometimes that's been comfort, reassurance, a quick hit of pleasure or eroticism, to help me do a technical thing I feared I couldn't do by myself, all sorts of things.

About two years ago, I went through an awkward situation with someone I was very close to where I was chasing them for something I wanted them to do in their life.  But it wasn't up to me, it was up to them to make whatever changes in their life they might.  After a very rough time, I stopped chasing them.  I made this strong resolution, "I don't chase anyone, for anything."

Well, two years of contemplation later, I realized that there's a corollary to this.  Because lately I've been getting chased some.  We haven't been doing the podcast for several months, and I get emails from folks who like it, total strangers, asking what's going on with the show, and with us, and when it will be back.  I've had some very nice friends who flirt with me sometimes, and when I'm in the mood for such, it feels really good.  But when I'm not in the mood, or its uninvited, it feels sort of slimy.

And that's not a statement on how those people are jerks.  They are most distinctly not jerks. They're people.  And me, I'm a people, too.  Because I've done just those same sorts of things to others.  I've chased people for any number of reasons, blindly putting my own desires ahead of any thought of what they had going on.

This idea, this challenge of perspective-taking, it's not new.  I've been thinking about it, and maybe not quite getting it for a looooong time.  One of my favorite songs is about it.  It's called "The Balance" by The Moody Blues.

I get that song in a way I never did before.  Right along with that awesome quote.  It's firmed my resolve about some things.

First, when I catch myself chasing, to do my best to stop.  And to own it, apologize to others when and where I have the chance to do so.

Second, when I get chased, and it's in a place and time where it's not working out for me, to say so to the chaser, directly, but with loving kindness.  Because I've been there, and I am them, and they are me.

Third, I'm not going to waste a single moment trying to get away from this pattern.  Because I think it's part of the human condition.  

The sociologist Brené Brown says that being vulnerable to people you trust is an antidote to shame.  But that trust is earned.  You have people you go to, to get that confirmation that you're worthy of love and belonging with them.  That's a sort of emotional interdependence you grow over time.  I wouldn't want to not do that.  I don't think it's even possible.  I'm so very grateful for those who I have built that trust with, that we can lean on and into one another.

That takes time, and work, and love.

I'm grateful for it.