Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Licensed to Live

Yesterday in Love Is... we talked about what it means to love. We looked at various attributes of loving well:
  • to trust and to be trustworthy
  • to be excited about being together
  • to grow and demonstrate affection
  • to respect
  • to see what is for what it is and to judge it positively
  • to keep no account of wrong (in case you missed judging part)
  • to set free (to abandon power and control)
I also asked you to consider thinking about loving as you would any other acquired skill or discipline. While there are probably love prodigies just as there are piano prodigies, most of us are not great lovers from the start. Loving is a skill that we can develop with study and practice.

Although yesterday's blog focused primarily on love as applied to a relationship with your primary partner, Mark K offered a really great insight suggesting that one might apply the same principles loving life generally. As I considered what Mark wrote, it occurred to me that one can't love anyone more than they love life itself and that loving life (not clinging to it, but really embracing and rejoicing in it) is a precursor to loving people.

Living Well
Putting all this together, it occurred to me that most of us were never taught how to live, nor do we teach our children how to live. I'm not talking about feeding yourself, supporting yourself, staying healthy, or operating generally as independent person; I'm not talking about opulence and indulgence; I'm talking about actively living well, loving life, embracing, rejoicing in and celebrating every moment.

Consider how Mark applied the principles of loving another to loving life:
  1. to trust and to be trustworthy - a basic belief that life is good and whatever happens in life is good
  2. to be excited about being together - that feeling you always talk about of being excited to do the next thing, not wanting to go to bed at night because it's so much fun hangin' with your life.
  3. to grow and demonstrate affection - I like to talk about some people being "passive affectionate" in relationships (of course I love you, even if I never say it!). It occurs to me now that people do that with life, too. They never come right out and say that they love their lives or act in a way that shows how precious it is to them, never embrace their lives until they are on their death beds.
  4. to respect - I totally grin f*@k my life by insisting on being over 150 lbs. overweight and a total couch potato. Need I say more?
  5. to see what is for what it is and to judge it positively - a corollary of #1, to see life as a kind and benevolent force with whom we journey.
  6. to keep no account of wrong (in case you missed judging part) - a favorite old therapist of mine used to warn me about steering clear of what he called "injustice collectors", people who go around looking for others to treat them badly and be unfair to them and others. One can do the same with life itself, never getting over the fact that life can be unfair at time as if that's reason enough to serve a global indictment on life and make it an enemy.
  7. to set free (to abandon power and control) - don't fear the bumps, just love the ride. LOVE THE RIDE.
Do You Love Life?
As I considered Mark's comments, I thought it would be great to ask people whether or not they loved life. I can imagine that the number one response would be, "What do you mean?"

Then, I would hand them a little questionnaire based on Mark's seven items and ask them to rate themselves in each category.

Take a moment and consider Mark's outline for loving life. How are you doing? On a scale of one to ten, how well do you love life? Maybe it's time to learn how to do it better, time to study, become aware and practice.

Teach and Be Taught
Now, in order to teach anyone anything, one starts with teaching himself. However, I've also found that a really good way to teach yourself is to engage in teaching someone else. It's amazing how much more aware of a subject you become when you have to answer questions asked by someone you're teaching. The questions of the naive are the absolute best.

We live in a world of certifications and licenses. From early ages we begin to receive certificates of accomplishment and achievement. We're certified as swimmers, we receive diplomas, we're licensed to drive cars. What about a license to live, a certificate that verifies that we truly know how to and are skilled at living?

So how about this?
  1. Find someone whom you're going to teach how to live. It could be a child, it could be your partner, it could be a parent, it could be anyone willing to engage you in the process.
  2. Create a certificate verifying that the bearer is accomplished in all seven categories outlined by Mark. Run down to the store and get a couple of those generic certificates where you can fill in the blanks, or Google an image that you can download, or create something in Microsoft Word.
  3. Begin teaching your student spending a lot of time on examples and practice exercises.
  4. Invite lots of questions and answer them really well.
  5. Provide and receive feedback as you go. Check in regularly, preferably daily.
  6. When you and/or your student have satisfied the requirements. Hold a little graduation ceremony, and begin the process again with each of you taking on a new student.
Wouldn't it be cool if we all became great livers?

Happy Tuesday!


  1. I just saw your blog post about a license to live and thought i'd share a project i recently started to help people love life more. the project is called, funny enough, License To Live. You can read more about at www.license2live.com.

  2. Can you love Life "in general," or is the test and the proof and the joy in the specifics? (Even when you're loving Life in a general way, I think you're focusing on certain aspects that you enjoy to build that picture.)

    Just as in the dialogue, I think it's useful to be specific. And you are the one constant, the one specific in every experience that constitutes your life (even if it's just as the witness/perceiver).

    I think a fundamental love and acceptance of self is the sine qua non for "actively living well, loving life, embracing, rejoicing in and celebrating every moment," because then every thought/act/perception/gesture will emanate from a loving and comfortable place. And if you don't have that one specific nailed, the general project ultimately won't fly. God--or, in this case, Life--is in the details. And you are the first and most important of those details.

    This is all so foreign to the deny-yourself religious tradition that I was raised in, but nowadays it seems to me that the path of love always leads inward first before it goes back out to others.

  3. Kristoff, It's sounds like you're living in quote purgatory. 'God lives in the details' is from Einstein when he ran of the rails and lost everything that gave him general relativity.

    Specifics are great when analyzing what doesn't work. However, scientifically speaking (if you consider psychology science) generalization is the best way to make something wonderful even bigger.

    I believe that the path inward is a bit of a distraction foisted on the folks who no longer fall for religion. Whether loving oneself or loving others, we're still focused on the object of love rather than the lover.

    I'm leaning into the idea that love based on specific or the object of affection just ain't love. To say love is in the specifics is like singing karaoke and believing you're Coltrane.

    PS, I just mentioned to Iris how much I love you. I can't wait to see each other again.

  4. Oops, I just read what I wrote, Einstein went of the rails with general relativity. Nonetheless, that's when he decided that God lived in the details. He kind of lost it with quantum mechanics and all that "God does not play dice with the cosmos" stuff.

    I believe that God lives in the 'context', i.e., God is about perspective. It's the obsessive focus on detail (despite the context) or the lazy flowing with generalization (what? there's a context?) that inhibit us from being present with what is.

    Though I'm stating things strongly, I'm completely musing. I say that because I'm learning that my musings are often considered to be dogmatic. Nonetheless, I'd rather be clear, strong and wrong, than unclear, weak and right. What do you think?

    Love, Tef

  5. Tef: what do you mean by the term "the path inward"?

    Kristoff: re your comment "I think a fundamental love and acceptance of self is the sine qua non for...", I'm thinking that a certain level of knowledge of self is the prerequisite for love & acceptance of self. Your thoughts?


  6. Einstein? The bagel guys?? WTF???

    Ackcherly, I wasn't aware of the Einstein connection to that quote. To me, it's always just been the Optionization of the quote "The devil is in the details."

    I think you're being a little too literal (ironically, a little too specific) in your exegesis. Dude, I'm not talking about an **obsessive** focus on specifics. Stop obsessing about it! :-)

    I agree that generalization can be a wonderful tool for moving from a single wanted/loved/desired specific experience/image/belief (or a collection of them) to a bigger belief/hope/want that you can then use to paint your world.

    We mine specific situations in the dialogue to explore uncomfortable generalizations. In the same way, I think underneath our positive generalizations are a whole host of specific images/experiences/hopes/beliefs. I think we can use specifics to understand the deep structure of our happiness-inducing beliefs and what makes them work for us, too.

    To me, the level of one's comfort with and love for oneself is going to have a profound influence on those interpretations. It's the base coat that you use to create that general picture. The poet David Whyte has a great line: "When your eyes are tired the world is tired also." The corollary for me is "When your eyes are loving, the world is loving/loved, too."

    But I don't see how to do that without loving yourself. But, then, I have a belief that all judgment at some level is self-directed or self-reflective. I think the same thing about love.

    So, I'm in favor of athletic generalization that is rooted in the context of clear-sighted but non-obsessive self/specific-awareness.

    Love of self isn't just reduced to the self as object. It encompasses simultaneously the Lover, the Loved, and the Love. And if you layer on beliefs about the interconnectedness of everybody, you can make that circle as big as the Universe.

    BTW, I scratch my head when I hear phrases like "Being present with what is." As far as I can tell, "what is" is always constructed/selected/filtered. It has no unmediated, self-subsistent meaning. It's always a function of a wanted interpretation to serve a particular end.

    I vote that we all just agree to be clear, strong, and loving. (Whatever that means.)


    Loving you back,

  7. Sree--

    Sigh. We were two comments that passed in the night.(I feel a song coming on....) ;-)

    >>I'm thinking that a certain level of knowledge of self is the prerequisite for love & acceptance of self.

    I'm wondering about that now. Do I have to know someone in order to love and accept someone, self included? I guess it's a prerequisite for doing it in a particular kind of self-aware way.

    I'm thinking of the way Tef talked about entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur doesn't have to know/understand how s/he's going to accomplish something in order to believe that s/he can do it. It's a fundamental attitudinal commitment and optimism that precedes cognition.

    Paradoxically, that very belief in one's ability to do something can be the enabling factor to make it true. (I suppose after a certain amount of time/evidence, you develop a strong belief in the belief itself.)

    Maybe the belief that you can love anyone (self included)without knowing them greases those rails and makes it possible to love someone and, in the process, come to know them in a particularly loving way.

    I'm reading a book right now called "Yoga and the Quest for the True Self." (Note: I have issues with the title. I'd call it "Yoga and the Quest for a Possibly Wanted Way of Looking at Oneself.")

    The author (who lives at Kripalu in the Berkshires and is a psychotherapist by training) talks about the disorganization and fragmentation of the self that many seekers run into in the yogic realm when the quest for insight outruns their abiding sense of equanimity. That there's a fundamental center that's critical to serve as home base for the explorations. To me, that home base is a fundamental option for and comfort with oneself. "I'm okay" becomes a fundamental choice and principle that you don't give up for the quest. It's one of your basic survival provisions for the journey.

    To me, it's a bedrock of belief, not knowledge--empowerment of a set of beliefs about yourself.

    St. Augustine said "Nemo credit nisi volens." No one believes without wanting to.

    It seems when we're talking about love the distinctions between knowledge, belief, and choice start collapsing.

    Or maybe it's just late and I'm a fuzzy-headed English major. As David Whyte also said, "When your brain is fuzzy, truth is fuzzy also."

    G'night friend.

  8. Sree, Krrrissss, this is so great!

    Ahhh, when all you have is a hammer...

    Perhaps I'm obsessively focused on not focusing on details. I think they call it "soft focus", where you're seeing patterns and collections, the kind of thing you do when you see the image hidden in the picture. The details really get in the way.

    I agree about specifics helping with figuring out what isn't working. I just see them getting in the way when you want to make things work or do something new. I see it a lot when teaching people music. The specifics hang them up.

    I'm sure you can apply the dialogue to what's working (whatever that means) and learn from it. I've just never seen it work well, or not as well as other tools. I guess there are times where a wide angle lens is better than a magnifying glass.

    I'm coming to the conclusion that to not focus on the object doesn't necessarily require us to focus on the subject, i.e., if it's not you making me unhappy, then I should focus inwardly on me. I'm starting to think about love and happiness more like drugs and alcohol.

    There's a line somewhere in Sidhartha where he talks to his friend about all the abuse their giving themselves in order to experience bliss. Basically he says, "Why are we going through all this crap to attain a few moments of something that drunks do every night?"

    Now, there are different kinds of drunk, but the ones I'm thinking about are the happy ones. Iris' dad is a real Dutch guy, quiet, reserved, composed, etc. except when he drinks. Then he becomes this loud, happy, open and engaging dynamo. None of it has to do with figuring out anything: he just changes state.

    Perhaps there's a corollary to being drunk regarding being loving or being happy? We don't love ourselves, we don't love others, we don't love stuff, we just get all loved up and let it flow. Maybe fuzzy ain't all that bad.

    Hmmm.... I don't know. Maybe I'm running off the rails (strongly, clearly and lovingly).


  9. Kristoof: if this is the kind of stuff you produce when you're fuzzy-headed, I can't wait to hear more from you when you're coherent.

    I agree that knowledge is not a prerequisite for the decision to love & accept. I think I was thinking about my personal experience, where my current understanding of self (as opposed to earlier versions) has enabled me to experience greater love and acceptance of self (and others), but I realize that doesn't make it a prerequisite.

    Loving you all back and forth,

  10. Hey eerSree, Kristoff, How 'bout writing a couple of articles for our little blog?

    Chris, I love where you're going with the collapsing of ideas, beliefs, wants, etc. They seem to converge on simply being. It's almost like all the other stuff (beliefs, knowledge, belief, questions, answers) are somehow clothing that we wrap around being, as if we're somehow embarrassed to just be or we feel like we should not just be. There should be more? Anyway, I love and am inspired by your thoughts and perspectives; I want to hear more.

    Sree, you're a constant for me. I've learned so much from your comments and insights. I'd be grateful for you to write about anything that inspires you or any questions that are challenging you.

    Just a thought!

    Thanks guys!

    Palandromically, nolfeTeflon


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