The Fundamental Question

There is a phrase that I stumbled upon that has been bugging me for a few weeks now. I love falling on these kind of obstacles, they always seem to promise lavish rewards. What is the phrase in question?

You do not get what you want, but what you are.

A priori, the sentence is quite simple. If we take another look though, we realize that the second half is much more complex. It anticipates us knowing who WE ARE!

And how many times have we asked that question? Who am I? How many times have we seen this question being answered by the greatest minds too! All with answers that never seem to fill our cup.

I’ve given up on books for the time being. I’m trying to figure it out on my own. Friends, family, experience, environment can all help us in indirect ways, but ultimately the understanding is done on our own…

I began by looking at words that define me. It was more challenging than I expected. Were mostly a process; always changing. Sometimes we are different depending on the context, our area of expertise, our conditioning too. (That’s why I think that figuring out who we are is a much simpler task when we are principle-oriented. We avoid duplicity in different areas of our lives… that can be the subject of another article altogether)

By looking at how I acted though, I eventually started seeing patterns. These patterns can be symbolized by single words.

Once I figured out the words, I went ahead and looked at synonyms, definitions and the etymology of each word. Here is what I came up with :

  • reckless — wicked, passing into obscurity, careless
  • adaptable — capable of being made to fit by alteration, receptive
  • persistent — continue steadfastly, enduring
  • contemplative — act of looking at, question, observe
  • introspective — action of searching one’s feeling, inside
  • inadequate — not equal to what is desired, clumsy, inferior
  • proud — bastard, snake
  • individualistic — free-thinker, distinct

This has been hard, especially when we deal with attributes of our persona that can show our vulnerability. We can’t go through this exercise by lying to ourselves though. As Thoreau once said :

Above all else, do not lie to yourself.

I’d like to think that the list is quite accurate. I curated the words over a period of weeks, knowing that rushing this would be pointless.

Has this exercise helped me? I don’t know for sure. I know that my wants don’t match my words. I will let this simmer for a while and perhaps watch some comedy. After all, there’s nothing that a good laugh can’t fix. And by all means try it out, you might learn something about yourself.

Seeing is Understanding

I’ve been thinking about mindfulness a bit lately. It’s been sold as a miracle pill for the past five years. Whether we like it or not, a lot of people have been racking up a lot of money by holding retreats, selling books and doing coaching on this subject.

What’s been bugging me is that according to the practice, all you have to do is watch your thoughts. To me it initially felt like I would be watching someone strangle himself and passing out before achieving his goal. Why wouldn’t I involve myself? Why wouldn’t I try to tell this individual that he’s making it harder for himself. That there are better ways to live.

Then you have people say that thoughts should be treated like clouds in the sky or like leaves in a stream of water. Here’s the deal, why are we trying to mimic aspects of nature? Why are we using metaphors and substituting the experience with an abstraction? Were human beings with feelings. That’s what I would like to accept. A pine is a pine. An ironwood tree is an ironwood tree. They will tell you that the pine is flexible. To be the pine. What’s wrong with being an ironwood tree? Were rigid, but we make the best wood floors.

There’s something beautiful that happens when you choose a path and lead it above and beyond your potential as a human being.

Finally you also have all the people who practiced mindfulness as a way to escape their existence. By being the observer they became a zombie. A boring entity that watches mind stuff. We can do better than that. Let’s be skeptical. I want to question my personal authority, break down paradigms that I grew up to live by.

Leaving it at the Door

A long time ago I read an article written by a Muay Thai coach. He gave clear instructions to all of his students. The moment you step into this room; leave your god damn ego behind.

Leaving your identity before an activity is one of the most effective stress-relievers I have ever witnessed. When I go boxing I stop being an engineer. I stop being the son of my parents. I stop being the public speaker, the artist, the adventurer or the guy who likes to voice his opinion before giving other people space to breath. I stop being clumsy and envious.

When I leave all that fine luggage at the door step a miracle happens : I am receptive. Liberated by the shackles of the self I can finally absorb the content and see things at face value. Like a child I am curious. Like a wise man I applaud my comrades advancement, trying to see how they do it. I become my environment and by becoming my environment I define it.

If the coach is upset with my progress I do not summon my want to tell him I know better or that I saw this and that. I am a blank page, I try to understand his point of view. By objectively understanding his statement I get a clearer picture.

It may not be easy, sometimes we forget or we are stressed out by some important event. It’s OK. Everyday is a new day to the wise man. Carry on.

I wouldn’t say those unnecessary applications are a waste of time.

I wouldn’t say those unnecessary applications are a waste of time. Every blunder holds a valuable lesson. How on earth would you have figured out that working for someone wasn’t your thing? You did it, it was an experience and it gave you the answers you needed to make a different choice. The real injustice is not recognizing the signs; when we make the same mistake a second time. Enjoy reading your articles.

The Hypocrisy of Hurry

When you live in a large metropolis, it does not take a long time until you meet face to face with what I would like to call headless chickens. They are in the metro, on the highways and also cover the sidewalks of most main streets I know of here.

Hurrying is a pathology that can be found in individuals showing slight cases of neurosis. It basically means : “I would rather be elsewhere right now”. Practice the art of hurrying enough times over months and years and it will become your replacement for simply “being”. I consider it similar to using fast-forward on a TV remote-control. You blur out the content for a moment to get to the good stuff. How often does fast-forwarding pay off? I can’t think of any times. Even when life is harsh or boring, it is often a necessary phase. People driving up mountains to get “the view up top” don’t feel the same satisfaction that the hikers get when they conquer the summit. And guess what? The hikers started at the bottom.

Our biggest challenge is to avoid what can be called a “self-fulling prophecy”. This is our inept ability to adapt to our environment. If we spend days in traffic or commuting in the metro it is only a matter of time before we mimic our surroundings and become chickens ourselves.

Unless we cultivate our willpower everyday by various techniques we will fall victim to societies main current. We need to get over ourselves.

For example, a well-dressed man in a new Land Rover almost ran over me as I was exiting the bus today. In a moment of self-awareness I realized that the most violent course of action was to give him the biggest smile I ever offered anyone with a gentle wave of the hand. He never saw that one coming. Baffled he drove off bewildered. He could have been the boss of a big company, but on the streets, were all individuals, creatures who feel and breath the same air. That’s how I got over myself. The urge of getting angry and showing him the finger was there, but a higher purpose swept me off my feet. Haleluya.