Category Archives: happiness

Balance 4: Mind Control, Flexible Mind

Do you attach a positive or a negative connotation to this word:

CONTROL

Think about it for a moment. I can think of both positive and negative associations, but overall, I’d say the Western society I grew up in generally favors control. Why do I think this? Let me count the ways…

hand holding puppet strings

Modern Western Approach

  • We try to control our bodies, with diets and creams and cosmetics and Spanx.
  • We try to control Nature, with our fracking, our levees, our mountaintop mining.
  • We even try to control Death, by using machines for lungs, devices for hearts, and other things that deny when someone is actually dying.

I think it’s safe to say that we like control. A lot.

Well, and what about the other side? Isn’t it good that we can prolong life, extract resources, and make ourselves look younger than we are? And also get a crapload of work done by scheduling blocks of time in a clever and efficient way?

(I think you know where I’m going with this…)

I think what we need is a little more balance.

accept change let go free yourself quote

Zen Approach

The opposite of this need to control I will dub the ‘Zen approach,’ since it borrows from some of the tenets of the Zen philosophy: detachment, acceptance, compassion.

When you practice yoga, you have moments where you feel thoughts of other things come up, and you must calmly sweep them away with your yogi mind so that you can be fully present. This is a paradox, since what are you doing if not controlling your mind? And yet what are you doing if not accepting the thought and letting it go?

In popular psychology, we are told that we can’t control what happens to us in life, only how we react to what happens to us. I think this is a good point for debate, but what I’m interested in here is how we perceive control. Do we need to direct actions around us? Or are we satisfied by directing our feelings about what happens around us? Or do we go further and say that we are only feeling and owning what life events bring up in us? Discussion can get boggy here.

Example, Experiment, Evolution

(hat tip to Therese for her E&E concept)

So let me take an example that illustrates both approaches, Modern and Zen. Let’s look at my dating life.

No, no, don’t keel over laughing yet. It has recently evolved in a very interesting way. I was in a serious relationship until 2008, and took some time to recover after that spectacularly crumbled. Then I decided to put some time and effort into dating, since at almost 30 years old, I was very interested in finding a life partner with which to enjoy life. What was my approach?

If you guessed Modern, you’re right. I was on OKCupid, obsessively checking profiles and attempting to send a given number of messages per week. I was responding to messages and attempting to meet with new guys a given number of times per week (oh you better believe I pwned the awkwardness of first dates). I even read through CraigsList listings, looking for that diamond in the rough.

Results were sketchy. One nice guy was a good fit until his ex got to be too much to manage, and the rest were awkward, uninteresting, or plainly incompatible (you drink how much beer in a day?). After a few years of on and off with this system, I decided it wasn’t worth it, ‘it’ being my time on the sites, my expectations for dates, my social time being sucked up by unfortunate escapades at spendy restaurants.

So I gave it up. I tried to adopt the Zen approach. I tried to convince myself that “Que Sera Sera;” the important thing was remaining open-minded about possibilities, and not to worry about it so much. I put work into other parts of my life instead (ahem, BOOK,* ahem). There still remained vestiges of self-doubt and recrimination: ‘not doing enough,’ ‘not trying hard enough,’ ‘too judgmental.’ But I think last summer I finally turned the corner on accepting the Que Sera Sera, and believed it.

My epiphany made me believe that whatever will happen in my love life, will happen. No sense worrying about it before that, it only racks up the head miles and wastes the present moment. I remember specifically the moment when I realized that even with a partner, my life wouldn’t be perfect, so why wait for someone to make it as good as it could be?

Revelation. And it launched me further on the path toward what I’m calling the Zen approach. Not all the way, but somewhere in between. And I feel so much happier about my decisions now. It’s actually a freedom from control.

Balancing Plans and Flexibility

What are we balancing here? Our need to control things in our lives, to a certain extent, and our need to accept events for what they are. Like all the continua in this Balance series, there are benefits to both sides of the coin.

We want to control events in our lives because we want to live a good life; nothing wrong with that. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d summon horses enough for my wishes to ride. But since I can’t, I work to make those wishes come true.

your one wild and precious life quote

I free myself from assumptions and others’ expectations so that I am sure what I am working for is what I really want, because what is worse than realizing you’ve been slaving away for something that you never really wanted? And I plan. Oh Lord, do I have fun making plans! So then what to do when Life alters the plan?

That’s why I need flexibility: the ability to accept changes, relinquish that inclination to control, and continue the struggle toward those dreams.

I have been walking around with this topic in my head for weeks, ever since it was remarked that I have a thing for feeling in control… and I still don’t have a very firm grasp on it. This post could well turn into a book! So help me out:

Are there areas where you could stand to give up some control? Don’t tell me I’m the only one…

Are there any rituals or techniques that you’ve developed to be more ‘Zen’ and less ‘Modern?’

Do you think there are other helpful approaches?

Add your comments for discussion below!

 

This was the fourth post in a series of “Balance” posts discussing the subject of balance from a transdisciplinary perspective (for more on this, see the  first second and third posts). I hope these discussions help you determine where you need to be on the spectrum to find your own inner truth.

Images via DeviantArt, Inspirably, and BlissInventive

*Please note this is an affiliate link to Amazon.com. This means if you click through and purchase something from Amazon, I receive a tiny percentage. Thanks for supporting those pursuing their dreams in any way possible! :-)

WDS: In the Moment, and In Retrospect

So there’s this thing called the World Domination Summit.

For readers who are subscribers to my newsletter, you’ve heard me mention it before. For WDSers who are just coming to my blog for the first time, you know what I’m talking about. For anyone else, here’s the most succinct description I can give:

WDS is a conference for unconventional creatives and entrepreneurs to gather and be inspired, network and form connections, and share their journeys and be vulnerable.

The 3rd annual WDS took place over the July 4th weekend, and since then I’ve been grappling with my takeaways and how to explain them to you here on Taste Life Twice. (Also, many WDS participants are bloggers who write up their own fab experiences and then search out others’ posts to read, so, ya know, no pressure).

So for both audiences, WDSers and TLTers, here’s what I gained by attending this ‘conference.’ (WDSers, the framing below comes from the quote that named my blog, which you can read about here)

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In the Moment

During the days of the conference and during the meet-ups that sprung forth before and after the official activities, the most important thing I could do was be in the moment. This meant minimizing other life concerns such as chores, errands, this blog, my novel. It meant maximizing the exposure I had to people whose interests aligned with mine somehow, whether through travel hacking, foodie passion, or writing their arses off.

It meant putting myself out there as much as I could stand.

Like practicing yoga, I tried to tune out all the other voices in my head as I listened to speakers wringing out their life stories for us on stage. I shut the beak of the ‘counter-mind’ (i.e. negative script) that said it would be lame to start dancing too early, and jumped into the action at the Zoo on opening night. I pushed past the thin red line of polite attention to engage with a few people on a deep level,  and was rewarded with the glint of recognition in the other person’s eye: “Yes, you’re in my Tribe!

I also had a ton of fun.

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In Retrospect

As any introverts out there might imagine, it took a while for me to recover. Just like the various flushes of tea leaves being harvested, I wrote, and I reflected, wrote, and reflected. Except, contrary to tea flushes, which decrease in quality the later in the season, my epiphanies got better.

Finally, I am able to boil down (tea! metaphors!) my takeaways into three zingers:

FEAR

Darren Rowse’s talk highlighted ‘getting the dreams out of your head,’ and Jia Jiang’s story hammered home the need to get over the fear of rejection. On Saturday night, when I had taken all I could and needed a retreat, I made a list of dreams that I had allowed to wither on the vine for fear of rejection. Then I made a list of dreams that I had pursued, despite resistance.

The withered-dreams list was just a little longer than the pursued-dreams list.

But I noticed that the timing of these activities hopped back and forth: grade school: withered, high school: pursued, college: withered, post-grad job: pursued, etc. So who’s winning, me or The Fear?

As long as I keep adding to that Pursued Dreams list, which I took a mighty step toward in radically changing my life direction, I win.

The Selfishness SHOULD

The second realization that hit was that I was having an internal battle about what role service should play in my dreams and creative career aspirations. Chris placed it in the core values of WDS, so it’s obviously important. But I’ve been on a denial-tear of refusing to volunteer for either large, lofty causes or direct-action campaigns since college.

Sure, I’ll work for Americorps for a year, but I’m not going to a soup kitchen.

Of course, I’ll donate to friends fighting for education reform, clean water provision, and cancer research, but no way you’re getting me to fundraise.

What was up with this?

There’s been a sort of shadow over my life, extending all the way back to JFK’s call for Peace Corps volunteers (which my mother did), and reinforced by years of Catholic school extolling the virtues of Jesuit missionaries. There was a weight of ‘Should-i-ness’ in all this.

It said, “Do something great with your life.” “Go big or go home.” “You are so fortunate; it’s your duty to share that fortune with others.”

“Your creative dreams aren’t enough.”

And so, not understanding the shadow, I rebelled against it. No religion. No volunteering. No fundraising. No lip service to lofty humanitarian goals.

But in my own way, I supported people with whom I had connections, whose missions I admired. Maybe, just maybe, there was a way to serve without the Shadow of Should.

Maybe, just maybe, going my own way and exploring my dreams and chasing happiness was OKAY.

That brings me to lesson #3.

RADICAL ACCEPTANCE & TRUST

To conquer fear, to beat back whatever shadow looms over your life, you need to trust yourself. You need to accept yourself. You need to finally write the words I did this morning:

I know better than any other what I should do with my life.

The Radical Journey

Realizing this (off and on, as my record of dream-pursuing shows) in the past year and a half has put me on a radical journey.

  • I’m publishing my first novel next month.
  • I’m structuring my days in order to learn and grow and achieve goals I set myself.
  • I’m meeting amazing folks.
  • I’m taking responsibility for my life.

And in pursuing these dreams, I experience moments of such intense happiness that I literally feel like I’ll explode, or float away, or cry.

Something tells me that is the path of dreams pursued… and that both Taste Life Twice and WDS have something to do with it being a sunny path, instead of a shadowed one.

Onward!

When was the last time you were able to reflect on your dreams? When you were able to have a vulnerable conversation with a near-stranger about fear? When you last considered why you are where you are?

Join the conversation, folks. (Comment below!)

 

Photo credits: Armosa Studios

Balance Positive

 

The Good and the Bad

Finding someone to rhapsodize about pottery with may not have been enough of a silver lining to balance out the car repair setback, but listen to the events that followed:

  • A long day of driving to Oklahoma
  • A speeding ticket in Arkansas
  • No wifi at the place I was staying
  • My credit card left at the pizza place where I had dinner

Those were my 2 days after the oil pan incident, summed up.

Yet none of these annoying/exhausting/expensive events broke the bank of positivity that I had stored up from my farewells from DC, or the general happiness with my present situation.

I know, hard to believe, right?? But these things also happened in those 2 days:

  • Meeting an awesome pizza entrepreneur
  • A beautiful sunrise over Edmond, OK
  • Not having to stop in Texas
  • Stopping to see a colleague at his beautiful home in Santa Fe
  • Arriving in the high desert town of Taos with no bad weather

All in all, I conclude that the good is outweighing the bad. The setbacks are not enough to tear down the joys from the small, beautiful things.

How is that possible?

Part of it involves that stored-up positivity, as when you receive the well wishes of friends to warm you in colder days. This bolsters your confidence in your own decisions.

Part of it involves awareness of many things at once, so that the speeding ticket doesn’t dominate my whole impression of Arkansas (well, maybe). You can appreciate the good weather while admitting that the ticket stinks.

And part of it involves perspective— which I’m frankly surprised I’m able to have so soon after these bad-luck events. Long stretches of driving, as I found out on the trip to Nova Scotia, enable you to reflect, process, and uncover your inner workings in some unique ways.

Since I don’t like driving, I’ll have to replace this with a different activity once I become local again. What’s your best suggestion? What gets you into that open-minded space?

Despertador image of open space

 

Images via Examiner.com and Despertador