Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sometimes you just have to THROW AWAY the box!

Many people understand what it means to "go for a walk on the beach." Not so many people grok the idea of spending six or maybe eight hours, walking on a beach.

This, however, is what I do. And fairly often.

Whereas I am generally loath to make any "claims" as regards the state of my mental health, I can with considerable confidence say that it has improved, since I started taking these long walks on the beach.

The beach IS my place of peace. Part of my mental health regime. And since I walk on the order of 50 miles (80km) some weeks, it's also part of my physical health routine.

Some might say "Yeah, well, nice work if you can get it, but who can afford to do that?"

It's certainly a valid question, and one I had to answer for myself. Which brings us to the power of intention, and creating our own reality. Whereas I have beach combed since I was a tiny child, my walks used to be considerably shorter-- well, because I had work, and things.

One of the greatest paradigm shifts I have experienced in my life came during my college years. In the course of a junior-year marketing class, we had a number of guest lecturers. One of them was the late Stanley Marcus, one-time principal of the Neiman-Marcus chain of luxury department stores, as well as the man generally credited with originally building that company's stellar reputation for quality and service.

Mr. Marcus spoke to 300-odd students about life and retailing and marketing, followed by the inevitable Q&A session. Many "relevant" questions were asked-- about balance sheets, merchandising, product mix. Finally, someone asked "Yeah, but how do you figure out WHAT it is you're supposed to be doing?"

The reply to which was: "Do what you're really good at, and what moves you."

I suppose there's a smart-aleck in every crowd. In this particular class, there was.

"Yeah, but what if the only thing you're good at is SLEEPING?"

There was the expected ripple of laughter, but Mr. Marcus never missed a beat.

"You become a mattress tester for Serta. You work in sleep and dream research."


"Thinking outside the box" is perhaps the most overused buzz phrase of our time, closely followed by "You create your own reality."

To my way of thinking, there's really nothing wrong with these two concepts, beside the fact that few people truly grok what they mean. And-- upon reflection-- thinking outside the box isn't really that useful because you're still basically trapped in "box-like" thinking. Sometimes you just have to throw away the box... and in a Matrix-like way declare "There IS no box."

"Creating your reality" is not exactly a new idea-- it has just been given some fancy new packaging by ideas such as "The Secret," "Abraham-Hicks," "What the Bleep" and others. Now, before any of you get a bug up your butt, don't get me wrong, I'm all for self-awareness and self-development. I say that often, because I mean it. But here's the thing... these "programs" and concepts are-- ultimately-- just another kind of "box." I believe their greatest value lies not in some nifty "connect A to B" methodology, but in the fact that they teach people to wake up, and be aware, and to become "active agents" in their own lives, as opposed to sleepwalking through existence blindly accepting whatever comes their way as if it were some kind of inevitability.

Personally, I am a bit annoyed by Oprah's (and a number of other "talking heads") overemphasis on money/wealth as the focal point of Creating Reality, but I also recognize that marketing spiritual esoterica to the masses may require a focus on a point of common interest-- in this case, money. 'Nuff said.

But how does this all relate to taking long walks on the beach?

For me, it started with figuring out what was important to me. And the deeper inquiry became one of examining "who am I," absent the cacophony of voices that surround us-- society, media, family, friends, lovers, even teachers and gurus I may have valued. The thing is, if you don't really know who you are, it's hard to figure out what you want.

As part of that inquiry, I ended up in childhood. What really moved me, before the world encroached on my reality and started telling me what I "could" and "could not" do? It's a good exercise. So many people I have met who are truly "in their bliss" can also track a close correlation between a childhood interest/obsession, and what they do now, and love.

Perhaps you endlessly built things, of sticks, mud, sand whatever you could get your hands on... leading to a life building beautiful custom homes. Perhaps you were a consummate observer of your family and its parties; understanding and drawing connections behaviors and outcomes... leading to a life as a brilliant therapist or coach. For me, I was never happier than when I walked on the beach, "finding things."

Fast forward 40+ years. It finally occurred to me that it would be the shit if I could get paid for walking on the beach... enough to justify being "out there," many hours. And so, that happened. I walk on the beach and "find things," and sell them to artists, jewelers and sculptors all over the world.

Now, this is not a story "about me." It's a story about throwing away that proverbial box, and embracing the infinite possibilities out there. Just like the guy in college who was only good at sleeping, what I do in no way "looks like a JOB." In fact, one of the most common comments I get goes something like "You can't DO that!"

Yes you can.

But you have to be willing to throw away the box, and embrace whatever "reality" your imagination creates.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Because I Like To Write

Occasionally I get asked why I "waste my time" writing blogs on the web, and being part of forums, and facebook and the like.

Usually, these questions come from people who can barely tell the difference between a boat anchor and a computer. Yes, folks, there are still people who don't own computers and don't have Internet access-- and have no interest in changing that. They will never read these words, so I feel fairly safe talking about them here...

"Why don't you get off the computer and get a LIFE?" they ask.

Then they seem to back away slightly, as if someone who uses a computer has a contagious disease.

It's a mystery to them that I actually make a living (as it may be), using my computer, buying and selling things from vendors and customers I have never met-- and probably never will meet. When I explain that I actually do meet some of the people I know from "inside the box" they seem to feel horrified.

But I digress.

I write bloggy things and get into other online activities because I like to write. Moreover, I find the interactiveness of writing in this medium "differently rewarding" than I find writing in a journal with pen and ink. Which I also do.

The other day, I was watching some video clips of different "internet people" and social anthropologists, talking about the development and evolution of how we interact, as human beings.

In the "early days," the predominant speculation (or was it fear?) was that the Internet would end up homogenizing the world into a colorless, borderless "soup" where everyone is the same. That we would lose all sense of unique identity and language would slowly evolve into Sino-English mush. And that we would become "de-humanized," and just a number.

25 years later, the song seems to have changed. The social anthropologist types are now more of the belief that the Internet is helping us all return to a more "tribal" system of communication and interaction. Moreover, they are arguing that this is actually what "comes natural" to us, and it was how the world worked until the Industrial Revolution came along and automated, standardized, mass-produced and averaged how we approach things. Now we have a technological system that allows us to connect and gather in "special interest tribes," ranging from "folk dancers who speak Polish" to "collectors of blue feathers."

Or, as the case may be, "people who like to write."

I like to write, but I also like interacting with my Tribe. The Tribe of People Who Like To Write.

Actually, I like to interact with my Tribes.

From students of metaphysics, to beach combers, to enneagram enthusiasts, to stamp collectors, to nature photographers, to eBay entrepreneurs, highly sensitive people and many others.

Never before, in the course of Human History, has it been so easy to reach out and connect with others who share an interest, a belief, a hobby, a pathology(!) or a lifestyle. Perhaps what puzzles (and worries) my non-technological friends is that the "language" used to describe what "having a life" means has changed, and is continuing to change. Most significant of these is the subtle shift of getting to know people "from the inside out," as opposed to "from the outside in."

Meanwhile, I simply like to write.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting off the Train of Chaos

Some years ago, I decided to get off the train.

The "train," in this case, was the train of a chaotic life; the train of constant running around in no particular direction, but mainly in pursuit of something other people called "success." And maybe it was something I'd managed to persuade myself was "success."

Of course, this is a very simplistic way of stating what really happened.

I should also add that I didn't just "get off," all of a sudden... it was a long and rather deliberate process. And I'm onlt just now starting to clean up the final "bits."

I got to thinking about this, today, as I wandered on the beach for about three hours. It was a rather brisk late autumn day, and it suddenly occurred to me that it would have been unthinkable-- just five years ago-- that I would take three hours to do anything such as walk on a beach.

I was "warned" about getting off the chaos train. Most of the warnings took the form of assurances that I would soon "grow bored," and "regret" my decision. I actually lost some friends, over that. That, in turn, got me to contemplating how often our ostensible friends are drawn to what we DO or HAVE, rather than to who we ARE.

Going a bit further down the rabbit hole, I came to realize that change-- "real" change-- of our paradigms often means more than what immediately meets the eye. Taking the left fork in the road, rather than the right (which we have always taken in the past) doesn't just mean that we get to see new scenery... it also means that a whole series of things that normally transpire as a result of our going right... no longer happen.

Everything in life is interconnected. I got off the chaos train (slowly, gradually, almost completely off, now), and EVERYthing in my life changed... not just my stress level. My life, my friends, my work, my lifestyle, my living quarters... even my primary relationship. I no longer "go" to work, I walk on the beach and play around with my hobbies. I can DO that, because my life costs less to live. And I feel supported in that, because the people in my life are connected to ME, not to my "doings" and "havings." And I am no longer connected to a sense of needing to "prove myself" to others.

All in all, it is change for the better. In fact... there's very little of the "old me" that I actually miss. And only one more puzzle piece to put in place, before I completely wave goodbye to the train.

REAL change is not easy... and it often takes a long time, and involves the discovery that "one thing leads to another," and the original intent to do ONE thing ("reduce stress," for example) differently may well lead to a wholesale personal reinvention.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Microcosms of Utopic Kindness

I confess, I'm a regular Facebook user.

I feel a little loath to call myself an "addict;" it's more like "social drinking," I suppose... it's nice to "have one now and then," but my life would go on without it, and I wouldn't need rehab to get over my "habit."

I don't quite have the obsession with Facebook apps many people do. I'm not checking my Farmville every five minutes. In fact, with very few exceptions, most of the apps I've agreed to allow to bug me get a visit from me about once a month. If they are lucky.

But I digress.

When I was a little kid, one of the thoughts most often running through my head was "Why can't everyone just GET ALONG?" Why did people fight and torment each other... often over "stuff?" Why was it all about "pushing others out of the way" to get things? Why did little boys and girls (my peers) turn into screaming hellions having a fit, if they "couldn't have the blue ball," or couldn't be part of some particular game? Why couldn't everyone just cooperate?

I was probably a weird kid. I was neither the "champion of the underdog" (with the exception of ONE eight-year old girl, and she knows who she is...) nor "the bully." I was the one who asked "WHY?" WHY don't we decide that we simply see things differently, rather than fight about it till someone "wins?" WHY don't we cooperate, rather than compete? WHY don't we all just try to get along?

So, what does this all have to do with Facebook? Well, Facebook is a vast wasteland of more or less mindless applications... most of which consume time, while offering little redeeming value, aside from an opportunity to zone out from our daily stress. That said, Facebook apps are also a sort of "virtual microcosm" of the greater world... in some sense reflecting Who We Are, as a species. And... the vast majority of said apps follow the general rule of "let's blow some stuff up, kill some people or steal something!"

It has been 40+ years, and the shit going down in the adult "sandbox" remains the exact same shit I railed against when I was six.

Now there are those who are going to call me humorless, and say "yeah, but it's just a GAME!" or "Well, better I kill someone in a game, than in real life." In response to which I say "I wholeheartedly agree!"

At least on the surface. On a deeper level, that's just a crock. A way to gloss over the statement "life is too hard for me to give a rat's hind quarters about anyone but me." Newsflash: Last time I checked, mindfulness did not cost money. Or time. It's a choice.

But let's return Facebook, for moment. And to the fact that there are these little microcosms of utopic kindness in that giant wasteland. Fairyland, where nothing bad ever happens. You grow things, you don't destroy them. And everybody helps everybody else tend their gardens. No stealing, no blowing up, no killing or maiming. Just a sort of utopic community of friendship and cooperation. Farm Town, another community of cooperation and growing something.

Maybe these comments are merely a reflection of my nature... but frankly? At the end of a stressful day of being "torn apart" by life (which I thankfully am no longer exposed to), I'd rather GROW or BUILD something, than blow up or destroy something.