In her famous Ted Talk on being wrong Kathryn Schulz used the metaphor of the roadrunner who, chased by the coyote, runs off a cliff and keeps on running on air until the moment he realizes he is not on solid ground. Of course at this point he finds himself too far gone, too far from the edge to turn around and has no other choice but to fall. It’s when he realized he is wrong, despite being convinced he was right. Only then does the roadrunner fall.
For months now, I have deconstructed and analyzed my pursuing a PhD with the intention of working in academia; how is it going, how is it not going, the various contradictory feelings and thoughts swirling in my head, all fueled by one single question “Was I wrong?”
The story of the roadrunner has profound meaning, not only for our individual lives but also for the current political state we find ourselves in. As I think about it, I have one nagging thought: How will anyone ever grant a PhD to someone who has to google “how to spell kayotee?!” I am referring to myself. The obsessive self-referring, self-concern, self-promotion, self-protection that we all have, day and night, even in our sleep, never ceases to the detriment of our own happiness and the future of the entire human race.
That’s not an exaggeration.
I entered a PhD program in Counseling 3 years ago with the intention to teach at a university level. At the time, I stopped writing on this blog, stopped running, stopped eating well, sleeping and basically stopped having a semi-normal human existence. Out of frustration and exhaustion, Homeless Jesus was born. I was craving meaning and purpose so much I wanted to be a homeless vegan, visit Canada, grow my own food, go on a climate march (although that came later), the list is long. I actually did some of these things. I have proof.
Except for the homeless part. I now have not one, but two peaceful, beautiful, and blessed homes and I have a feeling I will never be homeless, lonely or hungry ever again.
Was I wrong? To change my life completely in pursuit of a degree in academia? Three years later, looking forward to one more year before graduation, I have come to a conclusion.
I was painfully, utterly, and irrevocably wrong. For the past three years of my life I stubbornly denied this truth but the truth has a way of always shining through.
I viciously bullied the truth about how much I failed but at least now I can humbly accept the truth and honor it by sharing it.
Yes. I just created a paragraph that contains only one sentence. I hope that doesn’t bother you.
I was wrong to think I am a good teacher and people would respect me or get something from my teachings. I am apparently not good enough. Being likable helps. NOT being a pompous a** is essential.
I was wrong. I’m not that good of a writer. I believe there is an expiry date on blaming your poor writing on English as a Second Language. Research is harder than I thought, especially if you want to get published. Scientific rigor is no joke. You can’t take your information from any Joe Schmo on some blog on the internet!
I was wrong. I underestimated the timeline, the fierceness of competition, the jealousy, the inequality, the meaningless, petty drama, even. I have yet to process all of that but I am more interested in learning something wise from it. Like, patience is a virtue, our success depends upon the success of others, rejoicing in other’s good qualities makes our mind peaceful whereas comparison is the killer of joy, the law of karma says no action is wasted, we experience results similar to the cause, and so on. Wisdom is far more valuable than education.
I was wrong about the physical, emotional, financial and relational effects such an endeavor would have on a single woman in her 30’s with no outside support and no family to turn to on days when all she wanted to do was hide under mom’s dirty laundry (it smells extra mommy-ish in there). Not to mention, there is never enough coffee. *On a side note, I found a Greek cafe in walking distance from my house that makes excellent Turkish coffee. Of course, they call it Greek coffee and I have to remember to order it that way, but let’s face it. It is definitely Turkish, through and through.
It is difficult to look at all the things I have been wrong about and not conclude that I have failed. Jay Shetty once said “failure is just a sign that we need to widen our scope.” As luck would have it, I happen to be a great teacher in some other circles. And I enjoy it more.
Maybe the goal should be revised. Maybe there is no goal, only experiences that prepare us for our ultimate life purpose. I am sometimes arrogant enough to think that I choose my purpose. I believe we all have choice but we don’t always have an accurate view of reality or of ourselves therefore our choices are ignorant and blind.
So why get so attached to our own choice, view, personality, talents, identities, opinions, goals, dreams, plans and those of others? We could be very wrong. We do not need to grasp at any man-made reality because we can rest assured we are not capable of seeing all the intricacies of luck, chance, intention, causes, conditions, consequences, opportunity, timing, and so on.
I know I’m right about this. Fantastically right.
The key to our happiness and the happiness of others is letting go and opening ourselves up to whatever comes next, embracing everything fully, no matter what.
Everything that appears, positive or negative, can be an opportunity to become a better person. Maybe becoming the best you can be is a good enough goal. Maybe better than good enough; the ultimate goal.
What do we need to be happy? What are the fundamentals of health, vitality, energy, sanity, happiness? What do we need to fulfill our human potential?
I have searched the answer to this for my own sake and for the sake of being an excellent therapist. Never in a million years would I have imagined to find the answers in a diet book (that is not really a diet book). In The 80/10/10 Diet, Dr. Douglas Graham presents the fundamental elements of health. This is the most comprehensive list to date. Rate yourself from zero to ten on each of the following areas:
____ 1. Clean, fresh air
____ 2. Pure Water
____ 3. Foods for which we are biologically designed (whole, fresh, ripe, organic raw fruits and vegetables)
____ 4. Sufficient sleep
____ 5. Rest and Relaxation
____ 6. Vigorous activity
____ 7. Emotional poise and stability
____ 8. Sunshine and natural light
____ 9. Comfortable temperature
____ 10. Peace, harmony, serenity and tranquility
____ 11. Human touch
____ 12. Thought, cognition and meditation
____ 13. Friendship and companionship
____ 14. Gregariousness (social relationships, community)
____ 15. Love and appreciation
____ 16. Play and recreation
____ 17. Pleasant environment
____ 18. Amusement and entertainment
____ 19. Sense of humor
____ 20. Security of life and it’s means
____ 21. Inspiration, motivation, purpose and commitment
____ 22. Creative, useful work
____ 23. Self-control and self-mastery
____ 24. Individual sovereignty
____ 25. Expression of reproductive instincts
____ 26. Satisfaction of the aesthetic taste
____ 27. Self-confidence
____ 28. Positive self-image and sense of self-worth
____ 29. Internal and external cleanliness
____ 30. Smiles
____ 31. Music and all other arts
____ 32. Biophilia (love of nature)
How did you rate? What’s missing in your life and what are you grateful for? What would you add to the this list?
I read a blog today on PsychCentral.com on a book titled “The Happiness Choice: The Five Decisions that Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Marilyn Tam. It states:
“There are five decisions we make every day to bring us either more happiness: what we choose to do with, and how we treat our:
- Spiritual life
It got me thinking.
I haven’t written in a while. Partly because I have felt uninspired. Not sure why, couldn’t put my finger on it. Until today. The truth is, I love what I do but I have been acutely aware of my limitations lately. You see, we (meaning therapists) like to believe that everything is up to the individual. “You can accomplish anything you put your mind to it” we say and many of us believe it. Generally I would agree.
But what happens when your body, money, relationships, community, etc are largely out of your control? When we talk about individual decisions, are we assuming that problems in each area automatically mean there is something wrong with the individual? Are we carelessly insinuating that unhappy people are inherently broken?
What is the payoff AND cost of such individualistic, narrow-minded, pathologizing point of view?
The pay off is easy to see. It allows us to avoid the heavy burden of thinking about and addressing individual issues systemically. It’s too overwhelming to think about community as everyone’s responsibility. I have met so many perfectly normal, well-adjusted young people who are severely isolated because of the state of our individualistic, extrovert-focused, technology-driven culture. And they all think they are broken.
What happens when your body aches, is malnourished, stagnant, or just simply ignored? Sometimes we do it to ourselves. And we have no one else to blame. But often, the body is simply a powerless victim of our food culture, ignorance, inadequate healthcare, accidents, sedentary work/life environments, etc.
Sometimes seemingly wise money decisions conflict with relationship decisions, or decisions about community and spirituality. What is the impact of financial issues on relationships?
Is it easier to define addiction as an individual problem and avoid the context in which it develops? Is it really surprising that we are largely addicted to prescription pain pills? Our doctors are legal drug dealers who have no consequences for their decisions. Is sex addiction really just an individual issue? Separate from the technological advances it feeds on and the current state of the marriage institution?
And don’t even get me started on the issue of spirituality!
The cost of blaming individuals for system failures is high. It makes people feel broken. And that is a horrible way to feel.
I’m not saying you are powerless and you can’t make decisions about your body, relationships, money, spirituality and community. You can and you should. In fact, given the right support and guidance you can make incredible changes and dramatically improve your life. I am a witness to this everyday. But I strongly believe that things don’t happen in vacuum. I believe that everything effects everything and we are all connected.
You are not more broken than the system is. Sometimes you can’t change the context in which your problem developed. Sometimes you can. And when you can, you should. I recently found myself coming to the conclusion that advocating for introverts is as important as trying to teach them “social skills”. Making sense of your reality in all its complexity is sometimes the most important step to change. Acceptance is easiest to achieve when you have knowledge, understanding and empathy.
Sometimes therapy can’t change your reality but it will help you come to a gentle acceptance. You have all the wisdom and the strength you need. But it helps to not be alone.
I’ve been thinking lately.
About holding on to oneself. When everything around you seems to spin, how can you possibly hold your ground? It turns out, David Schnarch was right on when he concluded that the four points of balance in a relationship come down to this: holding on to yourself. But aren’t we supposed to seek out our object of attachment, our partners to soothe and comfort us in trying times? Well maybe, just maybe, all we need is to hold on to ourselves and repeat the mantra “this too shall pass.”
I hear a lot of my clients talk about codependency, identify themselves as codependent on their partner and ask “Am I supposed to be with this person? We can’t possibly be right for each other, can we?” I tell them, they are asking the wrong question all along. The question should be “Can I grow through this relationship? Can I hold on and learn to soothe myself? Can I grow with this person and become better for me, them and everyone else?”
I’ve been thinking lately.
The root to most addictions is the opposite of holding on to oneself. Addictions may look different but they are all equivalent to finding a “filler” between now and death. Addictions, may they be to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, relationships, shopping, food, they serve as fillers for loneliness, substitute for real or desired relationships, default to being alone, bored, insignificant, an antidote to our persistent, underlying sense of mortality.
I’ve been thinking lately.
The only way to be in relationships is to learn how to be alone. The only way to find meaning is by knowing loss and befriending the perpetual feeling of meaninglessness that comes with being a limited, imperfect human being.
I’ve been thinking lately.
The only way to survive is to learn to soothe oneself in a way that does not involve fillers, addictions, or mediocre relationships. In the modern age we live in, the only way to survive the privileged loneliness, nagging boredom and painful emptiness is to give to people less fortunate than us (or procreate), realize that self-reflection (including therapy) has it’s own limitations, acknowledge and accept our own mortality and insignificance and give of ourselves as much as we can to the little/big people and little/big causes we love. Otherwise, we are bound to become a socialized mess of self-centered human beings who are only concerned with soothing basic, mundane needs through “fillers”, bad relationships and addictions of all shapes and forms.
I asked my client today if they could think of one single thing they did ALONE that excited them, made their heart jump, made them feel alive and happy. They couldn’t think of one thing. That was me once. That’s still me on some level. I’ve come a long way. But I have a long ways to go. After all this time, I can honestly say I have not one, or two, or three things I do alone that raise me up. I have a whole list. I’ve traveled far but I have a long ways ahead. As I hike foreign woods, near bodies of water and get lost and found in hiking trails listening to my favorite tunes, I’m exhilarated in my lonesomeness. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is an invitation to look within. Forget about the pain and the joy in the world. Forget there is a world outside of you and befriend the world within.
Have a seat. It will be a wild ride.
Find a quite place, sit your body. Tame your body and your mind will follow.
Sit with it.
Sit with it.
Feel it fill your heart with blackness. Pumping blackness into your body, your mind, poisoning it.
Sit with it. Welcome to the human suffering.
Joy with be next.
Take a deep breath. Sit with it.
Close your eyes. Breathe. Imagine your heart turning fiery red.
Feeling alive. Rushing through your body.
Desire will follow.
Sit with it. See your Ego judge every moment you sit. Every word you speak.
Calm your mind.
Sit with it.
Everything is transient. Like the trains at a station.
Through your breath discover the truth. Everything hurts. Everything is joy. Everything is transient.
Open your eyes. Stand up. Stretch.
Go about your day.
Do it all over again.
I’m not a big fan of AA (for different reasons which I won’t list here) but I have to admit, I have learned a few things about myself, others and life in general from their bumper sticker style slogans. And I want to share some with you.
Live and let live.
This, too, shall pass.
More will be revealed.
No pain, no gain.
You will be amazed.
Let it begin with me.
Have a good day, unless of course you have made other plans.
It takes time.
When all else fails, follow directions.
Share your happiness.
Count your blessings.
Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.
The price for serenity and sanity is self-sacrifice.
You can’t give away what you don’t have.
Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.
Spirituality is the ability to get our minds off ourselves.
When your head begins to swell your mind stops growing.
Sorrow is looking back, worry is looking around.
Minds are like parachutes—-they won’t work unless they’re open.
If you turn it over and don’t let go of it, you will be upside down.
It isn’t the load that weighs us down——it’s the way we carry it.
You are not required to like it, you’re only required to DO it.
Time wasted in getting even can never be used in getting ahead.
You are exactly where you are supposed to be.
A drug is a drug is a drug.
Pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth.
The road to resentment is paved with expectation.
Success means getting your BUT out of the way.
Analysis is paralysis.
Life starts when you stop.
We have a living problem, not a drinking problem.
Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs.
A winner is a loser who keeps trying.
Don’t try to clear away the wreckage of the future.
Stand by the coffee pots. It’s a good way to meet people.
Always remember the insanity…Be thankful for the pain…But most of all be thankful for the days that remain.
The A.A. Paradoxes:
From weakness(adversity)comes strength.
—We forgive to be forgiven.
—We give it away to keep it.
—We suffer to get well.
—We surrender to win.
—We die to live.
—From darkness comes light.
—From dependence we found independence
AA is starting to sound Buddhist. Aren’t we all in the business of recycling truths?