The Pathless Path

Wayne C. Allen – a simple Zen guy – writes about living and relating elegantly

2007.05.07

The Top 5 Ways to Get Your Act Together

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The Top 5 Ways to Get Your Act Together – Life isn’t easy. We all need help figur­ing out elegant ways to live

Learning Self Responsibility


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Happiness is an inside job


  • 1. Get Over Yourself
  • 2. Get a Life
  • 3. Be Honest
  • 4. Be self respon­si­ble
  • 5. “Go out of your mind, and come to your senses.” (Fritz Perls)

1. Get over Yourself

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Back when I used to lead semi­nars and work­shops, I invari­ably start the things with danc­ing, and my favourite first song is “Get over It,” by The Eagles. The song is a none-too-subtle reminder that the “Cult of Victimization” is alive and well, espe­cially in North America. We live in an age where people want complete free­dom and no respon­si­bil­ity. (see # 4). This plays out in lots of weird behav­iour — and when things go south, the finger point­ing starts.

Getting over your­self involves deter­mined effort at no blame. Now, that’s not the same as saying “anything goes.” We need to step up to the plate and decry the present state of our planet, but a whole lot of whin­ing does noth­ing. We change the world by chang­ing ourselves. And I mean that liter­ally and prac­ti­cally.

Blaming simply puts the onus onto some­one or some­thing else (the govern­ment, the church, parents, whomever) while the blamer feels all self-righteous. Here is a hint: as soon as you blame anyone or anything for where you are and who you are, you have just become a victim. And I don’t care what we are talk­ing about here. It is nonsen­si­cal to dwell on stories of being hard-done-by. The only valid ques­tion is: “Given my life so far, what shall I do differ­ently, so as to shift the situ­a­tion?”

Dwelling on the inter­nal “I was so badly treated” scenario changes precisely noth­ing. You are not required to approve of what happened in the past. You are required to move heaven and earth to get past it. Obsessing about it changes noth­ing.

Remember: argue for your limi­ta­tions, and they are yours. Define your­self as a poor help­less victim, and you are one. Magic. If you do not like where you are right now, the only thing that will change this is you doing some­thing (anything!) differ­ently.

2. Get a Life

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I’m not so big on “every­one has a destiny to fulfill.” I hate New Age clap­trap like that. I do believe that each of us is here with a skill set and a set of attrib­utes and abil­i­ties that is as unique to us as our finger­prints.

In other words, you are it, as far as your ‘model’ goes. Talk about a limited produc­tion unit!

The world likely is not going to end if you choose to sit on your butt and do noth­ing but put in time. Thoreau was right — most people live lives of quiet desper­a­tion. I wonder about that, though. It’s as if fitting in and not making waves is a reason­able life choice.

Many are the people I know who go through the motions for decades and arrive at 60 or so, going, “Now what?”, or “What was that all about?” Others seem to be in that state in their 30s. Well, what it’s “all about” is show­ing up for your life.

Notice the pronoun — ‘your.’ You are not here to be what your mommy wants you to be. You are not here to “follow in your father’s foot­steps.” You are not here to follow the rules and not make waves, or to follow some archaic set of rules found in outdated holy books.

You are here to carve out space that is yours alone.

Think about ‘famous people’ that come to mind — and for the most part, let us leave pop stars out of this equa­tion. I’m think­ing Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, Edison, etc. What makes them special? They applied their person­al­ity and skill set to the world they lived in, and in a sense, bent the world to their will. I do not think they were ‘special’ people in the sense of unique. I think they were special because they chose to act.

Noticing a pattern here? I believe that action is the real key to living a meaning-filled life. And the only action you can take is the action you take. In other words, if you don’t do it, it won’t happen. And the world gets a little weirder and more boring as a result.

Remember: Only you can bring forth what you can bring forth, and the only time you can do it is now. The paint­ing that is your life is only real when you stop think­ing about it and actu­ally paint it.

3. Be Honest

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Not “be cruel,” but rather “be honest.” Most people think that being honest means ripping those around them a new one. “I only told him that for his own good.” Crap. That kind of honesty is meant to hurt and to punish others, thereby some­how making your­self feel better.

All true honesty is self-honestyIn Buddhist thought, youare the Universe) and there­fore all there is is you, acting. But you don’t have to join me there. What I’m nudg­ing you toward is total accep­tance that who you are is who you are, and you got that way solely by the choices you made.

I am there­fore urging you to commit to being honest about the only thing you have a chance of know­ing — your­self. In this moment, all you can know is what you are choos­ing to be aware of. This might include sensory data, your inter­pre­ta­tions (the story you are telling your­self) and your inten­tions.

And here is an inter­est­ing twist. I often tell clients that I don’t care what they tell me they intend to do. I only care about what they actu­ally do. So, if they say they intend to be honest, and then lie to me or to another, who they are is a liar. She or he is not a liar with good inten­tions, as inten­tions mean noth­ing until they are enacted.

Honesty, as I am using it, is all about letting my near­est and dear­est know what is “up” for me, in this moment. As such, honest commu­ni­ca­tion is always “I” language. I cannot know anything about “you” — anything I say is a guess based upon my expe­ri­ence, and is there­fore about me, not you. So, I must let go of ‘play­ing Kreskin’ and get down to being open, honest and reveal­ing — about me.

Remember: honesty is about self-reve­la­tion, and all I can tell you about is what I am aware of today. Gandhi (after cancelling a salt march because of threats of violence) was crit­i­cized for not follow­ing through — for lying. He replied, “I promised you truth, not consis­tency.” Honesty is all about report­ing what is going on for me, right now. Here is what I am telling myself, here is what I am judg­ing to be going on for me, and here is what I intend.

And then, be a person of integrity. Do what you say you will do.

4. Be Self-responsible

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Self-responsibility is not popu­lar, and it’s because of the stuff I’ve just writ­ten about. To be self-responsible is to own up to the present state of your life, and to do this all the time. This owning up has the follow­ing basis: I am where I am, solely, because of how I have chosen to view and live my life.

No one is doing anything to any of us. No one makes us feel. Short of putting a gun to my head, no one can ‘make’ me do anything. No matter what I tell myself, I am the captain of my fate.

Now, of course, you’re going to want to argue with me and pull out all of your tried and true abuse stories, and let me know, in no uncer­tain terms, how hard done by you were. Or are. And my only ques­tion to you is, “How is that story work­ing for you?”

If you like feel­ing stuck and sorry for your­self, keep telling your­self the same stuff. Keep pretend­ing that the stuff in your head is true. Keep re-enacting the same sorry stories, and add embell­ish­ments as soon as the story starts to get lame.

Or, become self-responsible.

It begins with honesty. Before you get into story-telling, start with “Here is the story I am telling myself. It’s not true, it’s not false, it’s just this moment’s story.” Admitting you are making it up as you go along is the first step in self-responsible living.

In a sense, this is all about letting the rest of the world off the hook for what you are doing with your life. I am not deny­ing that terri­ble crap happens to people. I see the world. I also know that the only way past the horrors of the past is to choose to live and act in the present.

I recog­nize that this is not easy, but play­ing the “poor me” card is guar­an­teed to get you more of the same. That may not be ‘fair’ (whoever told you life was supposed to be fair was lying to you) but it is the way it is.

Self-responsibility is, like our previ­ous exam­ple, “I” language enacted. It brings our atten­tion to the only thing under our control — our selves and our actions (which are really the same thing — you are noth­ing beyond what you actu­ally do.) I claim owner­ship for who I am and what I do, and for noth­ing else. As such, my favourite word, integrity, comes to the fore.

Most people are out of integrity, as their actions are far from their self-descriptions, pronounce­ments, and commit­ments. Integrity, on the other hand, could be seen as follow­ing the AA model — here is who I am, here is my tendency, and here is my ‘5-year-pin’ for personal ‘sobri­ety’ (how many days I have actu­ally done what I said I’d do.)

Remember: we are people of integrity only as our actions match our words, and we are self-responsible only inso­far as we let every­one else off the hook for how we conduct our lives. Blaming and excuse-making are games designed to salve our guilty conscience. Far batter to step up and be and enact who you are.

5. “Go out of your mind, and come to your senses.” (Fritz Perls)

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Some of you young­sters might not know that Fritz Perls was one of the founders of the Gestalt Therapy move­ment. The German word ‘gestalt‘ is one of those “hard to trans­late” words. It means a completed pattern or config­u­ra­tion. In its ther­a­peu­tic usage, it means that the issue is brought to comple­tion.

Perls used to suggest that we spend alto­gether too much time up in our heads, think­ing, plot­ting, plan­ning, and blam­ing, and nowhere near enough time in our bodies. In a sensory world, (which is precisely where we live, even if we choose not to notice) we are surrounded by “felt data and expe­ri­ence.”

One of the best ways to come alive is to acknowl­edge our inter­nal feel­ings by actu­ally having them. Rather than walk­ing around pretend­ing that I am not feel­ing anger or happi­ness or horni­ness or sadness or grief or ecstasy, I find a safe and elegant way to acknowl­edge and express what I am feel­ing.

Honesty entails using ‘I’ language ahead of naming the feel­ing. Accurately, then, I say, “I am choos­ing to (for exam­ple) anger myself right now.” No one ‘makes me’ angry, or sad, ecsta­tic or horny. My feel­ings are an inside job.

When I am sad, I cry. When angry, shout or hit a heavy bag. When ecsta­tic, my eyes fill and I get all ‘soupy.’ Mostly, we shove this stuff down, and then go into our heads and come up with all kinds of reasons why “I shouldn’t feel that way.”

We do this because we were taught, by adults, that feel­ings are scary. Most adults have low toler­ance for ‘nega­tive’ feel­ings, and middling toler­ance for the expres­sion of the ‘good’ ones. Most of us were told we had to justify our feel­ings before express­ing them. This does noth­ing to release the feel­ing or the energy connected to it. Indeed, many of us argue that mis-directed inter­nal energy (chi, prana) is the cause of mental and phys­i­cal dis-ease.

Nonetheless, most feel ‘odd’ even talk­ing about feel­ings and inter­nal felt-states, let alone express­ing them. Not that they go anywhere, but deny­ing their exis­tence seems to create in us a feel­ing of some­how fitting in with our soci­etal norms.

We suggest doing Bodywork with a trained profes­sional, learn­ing to breathe prop­erly, and doing activ­i­ties (yoga, tai chi, aikido, etc.) consid­ered ‘inter­nal arts’ in order to free the trapped energy and let it out in useful and safe ways.

Remember: having a life is a self-responsible, moment-by-moment action. Included in this are speak­ing honestly, acting with integrity, and having your feel­ings. Each is a dance of letting go of our cling­ing to our stories, letting go of blam­ing and judg­ing, and care­fully and clearly design­ing the life we enact.

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So, how does this week’s arti­cle sit with you? What ques­tions do you have? Leave a comment or ques­tion!

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5 Comments

  1. Perfect. This is exactly what my life is about now and it’s not easy but it forms a finer char­ac­ter and more happi­ness for me.

  2. I am going to arranged a inter­net link for this inter­net site on my personal net inter­net site.Thank you!

  3. Fantastic, coher­ent, frank and doesn't tell you want you want to hear, just tells you what is.

  4. Dan Chase

    Great Top 5 post… you are a 'must add' feed on my list. Look forward to read­ing more. Stop by and check my Top 5 post…

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