Thursday, June 10, 2010

He Got Over His Self

Quoth Siddhartha: "I can't help but feel that it is not like this, my friend. What have we learned being among the Samanas, up to this day, this, oh Govinda, I could have learned more quickly and by simpler means. In every tavern of that part of a town where the whorehouses are, my friend, among carters and gamblers I could have learned it."

Quoth Govinda: "Siddhartha is putting me on. How could you have learned meditation, holding your breath, insensitivity against hunger and pain there among these wretched people?"

And Siddhartha said quietly, as if he was talking to himself: "What is meditation? What is leaving one's body? What is fasting? What is holding one's breath? It is fleeing from the self, it is a short escape of the agony of being a self, it is a short numbing of the senses against the pain and the pointlessness of life. The same escape. the same short numbing, is what the driver of an ox-cart finds in the inn, drinking a few bowls of rice-wine or fermented coconut milk. Then he won't feel his self any more, then he won't feel the pains of life any more, then he finds a short numbing of the senses. When he falls asleep over his bowl of rice-wine, he'll find the same that Siddhartha and Govinda find when they escape their bodies through long exercises, staying in the non-self. This is how it is, oh Govinda."
As we've been talking about loving and living, the notion that I've completely missed it has been building in the back of my mind. It's not that that all that we've been talking about doesn't work, it's just that there might be a better model. Think internal combustion engines replacing steam engines and hybrids replacing internal combustion engines; all of them work, and yet, as we learn we change models.

Starting Out
The past ten or so years have been a remarkable journey for me. I began it by emerging from my trying-to-be-a-musician-at-night-while-working-during-the-day phase and diving into my get-down-to-business-and-become-successful phase. I was an evangelical Christian who'd voted for Reagan and the Bushes, someone with rigid concepts of right and wrong, should and should not, good and bad. Someone who still managed to shoehorn into that framework make a lot of money, leapfrogging from corporate ladder to corporate ladder and then finally raising venture capital and starting my own company.

I was focused, I was driven, I was rapidly learning how big business and finance actually work. I'd learned to use my intellect as a weapon to win arguments and get what I wanted, in corporate meetings, on conference panels, with anyone who disagreed with me. I was tenacious, ruthless, and in particular, intolerant: intolerant of anyone didn't deliver, intolerant of anyone who showed weakness, intolerant of anyone who couldn't backup what they were saying. To say that I could be a real prick would be insulting to pricks everywhere.

I'd also become a spin master transforming situations, people, products, you name it, into pretty much anything I wanted them to be, in real time. I'd got so good at spin that I did it all the time. I probably hadn't answered a yes or no question with yes or no in years.

Along the Way
Over the past ten years, I changed, a lot. I'm quite certain that people who knew me then would not recognize me now. I beat my intellectual sword into a plowshare. I concluded my spin cycle and am now just what you see before you. Questions are no longer tools of hidden agenda, just implements of curiosity. My life as a conservative, evangelical Christian living in New Jersey seems like that of someone else, alien. I'd now describe myself as a happy existentialist who's more concerned about competence than political doctrine.

Along the way from there to here, I learned a lot about happiness and becoming happy. I learned that anything I feel is up to me. I also learned that anything anyone else feels is up to them. I learned that naive questions are the best questions. I learned that specificity can take big insurmountable challenges and break them down into easily digested non-challenges. I learned to balance my right and my left, to approach any situation epistemologically and ontologically. I learned Dutch.

I learned to be happy with others; I learned to be happy alone. I learned to be happy in a situation, and to still move on.

More recently, I learned that, just as specificity breaks down big things into small things, generalization amplifies small things into big things; generalizing is a great way to make happiness bigger and stronger.

Lately I've been wondering if I've been making the how more important than the what. We've spent so much time together on method and technique: for becoming happier, for becoming more loving, for becoming who we want to be.

A few months ago, the idea of being generally loving would have sounded stupid to me. My paradigm would have forced love into a verb that required subject and object. You can't be generally loving, you have to love something. The idea of being loving would seem foo-foo to me, ephemeral, vacuous. But now, I'm thinking, "Nope, you can just be loving independent of anyone or anything."

So, what the heck does that look like? To not exactly quote Siddhartha, I'm thinking it's a get-over-yourself kind of thing. I commented the other day regarding Iris' dad. He's a classic Dutchman, cool, quiet, and reserved, taking in more than he lets out. Except, when he's had a few beers; then he becomes warm, loud, open and downright chatty. Per Siddhartha, he gets over his self.

The beer/happiness correlation is common. You take an unhappy person, add beer and voila! The situation remains the same, and yet, the person is happy. Maybe there's a non-beer version? A way to just be happy, to just be loving.

Maybe it's just something you do: no talking, no thinking, no method or technique; just decide in the moment, "I'm going to be happy." Perhaps it's like Dorothy's ruby slippers that have been there all along: click-click-click. Maybe it's something you learn through modeling and imagery, you take times that you've felt really happy and you recreate that experience by visualizing it. Maybe it's something that you simply practice, paying attention to the direct technique of being happy rather than indirect technique of discovering why you're not happy.

I love all the tools, technique and method that we discuss here on this blog, but I sometimes wonder if they haven't become more important than the reasons they were created. Maybe all this is self-extinguishing.

Happy Friday,

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