Tag Archives: Philosophy

Redefining “having it all”

“You must give up the life you had planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”  – Joseph Campbell

Tomorrow is my 37th birthday, a few days before 2014. I find myself technically homeless sleeping on my mother’s couch. I don’t own a home, I’m not renting an apartment or even  a boat to dwell on at the moment.  I am taking a hiatus from my job and have been working on whittling down my belongings so that they can fit in the back of a pick up truck.  I am unmarried without children and currently not dating. I don’t have a pet or even any plants anymore (I gave them all away including the cactus that was living in my car for a while). My situation may sound bleak to some.  One might ask, “is this what you thought your life would look like at 37?”

I guess I never really thought too much about it. 37? Is there a “should” that life should look like? I had a long-lost friend, now a Living Chapters follower, call me a few weeks ago to ask if my “Living Chapters” project was product of a mid-life crisis. Mid-life already? Really? Well if a quest for self-improvement is the outcome of my mid-life crisis, it seems as though I am handling it pretty well. It may not be unique but creating a blog about life seems a bit better solution than purchasing an overpriced car, starting a fanatic workout routine/diet or getting a really bad oh-so-permanent tattoo. If you’re faced with crisis, of any sort I am always in favor of looking at the root of the problem rather than fixing the surface.

But honestly, no, I can’t say I really thought that I would be in this particular situation at this point in my life.  I guess I was convinced that I would own a home, be married, have 1.5 kids or have a stable substantial full-time job with health benefits. I thought I’d have at least one of these “rites of passage”. I must admit, I had NO IDEA that I would be making decisive choices to not obtain these things and still somehow feel fortunate, content and happy about it.  I was lucky to have an open-minded mother and supportive friends in my life who encouraged and helped me become confidant in my  decision-making.  So yes I have had good fortune on my side but luck has nothing to do with the task of creating your own path. Improvising your life may be rewarding but also takes a lot of work and ingenuity.

Our culture and society (although more progressive than some) has still to this day, left very little room for women to write their own stories from scratch.  From the time I was a little girl, it seems I have been trying to rewrite a pre-written fairy tale that was handed to me at birth telling me how I should look, act or live.  Who knew that improvising these past 37 years would have led me to such a fortunate (and free) place in almost mid-life.  In many ways it’s a pleasant surprise.  I had no idea that at this point, I would be nervous and excited, packing to move to a tropical island, allotting myself time to explore new talents, business ventures and personal growth.  I didn’t think I would be debt free, without regret, with a chance to reinvent my career and daily patterns.  I had no preview of how dynamic and fluid my life could become. Through my twenties and thirties, I have traveled the world, worked voraciously at creative endeavors and gained the most amazing and incredible people in my life. I have never strived toward having “it all” but have worked toward having an authentic and fulfilling existence.  In this past year especially, I have been letting the external ambitions, of what I had thought my life should be, go.  (the thoughts of “I need this job, this person, this trajectory)  These ideas have been difficult to shed but letting go of the expectations has created a new space and place for the potential that I am and will become.

The process of creating and implementing Living Chapters (writing the guidelines for my own script) along with my friends and fellow protagonist, Shannon Twenter, has taught me that letting go and trusting myself and those that I care about brings me closer to the only ambition I hold right now – a calm, more capable, caring and confidant me to take on the upcoming challenges and opportunities.

12/26/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

the art of a flexible life plan

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This month’s existential chapter began with many open ended questions to examine. Questions that most of us have thought about from time to time and questions that a few of us have obsessed over and struggled with for years.

“What is the purpose of existence? Where did we come from? Where are we going? and why?

Honestly, I have to agree with Brad Warner (author of “Hardcore Zen” suggested reading from this month’s chapter writer) He says,

“Purpose deals with goals, direction, and stuff that is going to happen in the future.” And “Wherever we came from is over and done. – I want to know what this is – this place right here, this state of mind right now. What is this?” And he ends the prologue of his book with the most important question, in my opinion,

“Who are you really? And what really is that thing that you so confidently call your life?”

Well, after practicing meditation for only a week I have not come closer to any clear answers for those questions yet, but I can say that the act of living out these chapters thus far has helped me understand a lot more about who I really am and who I am becoming each new moment.

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It seems like we all spend a lot of time worrying about the future “what is going to happen to me? Where will I end up? What will I be doing? Will I do something meaningful in this world? All this anxiety created solely by our egos, making us believe that the answers to those questions matter more than what it is we are doing and being now and who we are right now. Our egos have also helped us believe that not knowing the answers to these questions is a bad thing. We grow up with parents feeding our egos and being told that we need to know what we want to be, what we want to do and how we are going to do it. I was never clued in that I would have to continue wrestling with these questions after I have “grown up” and ultimately until I die. I somehow thought there was some magic age where I would have figured it out.

Although I have been asked several times, I actually have never ever made a 5, 10, year, or even 1 year life plan. Those who know me, know that I have problems even planning a week ahead of time these days. It somehow seems that the older I get the less attracted I am to planning out or planning for my future. I thought about it quite a bit in my twenties but my concern about doing this has dropped off in the past five years. Some people who organize their goals and timeline differently than I, have been perplexed/frustrated with the way in which I navigate my decisions. I am aware that this request to plan is given with the best of intentions. It could only bring shape, clarity or direction to my path and may help me reach ambitious plateaus that I couldn’t even dream of reaching. However when asked to do this I often feel constricted and question if an ambitious plateau or a sense of direction is what I really want to strive for. I feel that I have done really well fluttering about buzzing from one thing to the next pollinating each new experience and place with something new.  I have enjoyed watching my life unfold in unexpected ways.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of planning. I use to be a teacher. And there is no way that I would ever stand in front of a room of 25 plus kids without a plan of how to engage my students’ attention while teaching them a new skill or idea in a short 45 minute session. But teaching also taught me this: you just never know what life (or small children) might throw at you AND you can’t assume that even your best laid plan will work with each new student, scenario, or day that comes. Teaching (along with extensive travel) has really helped me adjust my thinking and adopt the mentality of walking into the unknown with a welcoming attitude.

I realized that when I resisted the flow of the changing moods of my students or direction of the day, I would miss out on opportunities, learning, alertness, and awareness that always came with the challenge of adapting to the present situation.

I also understand that I may be a bit different from most. Many people accomplish great tasks and goals by mapping out intricate and detailed plans. This makes so much sense when you are trying to accomplish intricate, specific and detailed goals. Maybe its hard to believe but I feel very clear on what  my goals are, they just are not specific or attached to things like jobs, possessions, or particular people.  Maybe that’s is why its been so difficult to find a direct and simple path to them.  If I had to some up my goals, I would have to say that I have been working toward keeping a mindset of happiness. (Aren’t we all doing this?) What helps me keep that state of happiness seems to change from year to year but when thinking about it I came up with these life goals to help me do this.

1. I want to continue to create and nourish positive relationships with others

2. I want to continue doing work that is meaningful and/or useful for myself and others

3. I want to continue to learn, create and explore new things in ways that make me feel alive.

4. I want to continue to be adaptable to my changing surroundings and open to new opportunities that come my way

I created the Living Chapters project with these goals in mind. So if you think about it, Living Chapters itself is a bit of a 1-year life plan. It has timeline, goals, structure, and accountability built-in.

The main difference is this: I created Living Chapters because I wanted to see what would happen if I stopped worrying about future planning for a year and just focused on the living, reacting, and reflecting upon my current situation. I also wanted to see what would happen if I let go of my need to control, curate each next step. Could I become more open to new opportunities and experiences? More comfortable with not knowing what was coming (the unknown in general) and comfortable with letting go of complete control over my life? It’s an illusion that we have any form of control anyway.

So I planned Living Chapters instead of a making a life plan and decided that if I wanted to know more about who I am and what I wanted that I needed to fully explore and determine what I care about, what I believe, and what my unique talents and qualities are before making any plans. (this is what I hope Living Chapters will bring)

Instead of figuring out a direct plan for my future, what I want to do is hone the skills that will help me to arrive at it organically. I need to figure out how to stop doubting my inner guidance and innate skills and become more comfortable trusting, even if it means moving forward into unknown territories or into things that are out of my control.

With all that said and my resistance to planning, This is my first stab at giving Amy’s “life plan” challenge a go.  I may come back to this in greater detail later in the month, we’ll see where the month takes me.

1 year from now: Assessment/Reflection

Next fall in September 2014, a few months after Living Chapters project is completed I will assess and reflect upon the experiences that this yearlong experiment has given me before making any more life decisions. Looking at how or if the process has affected my path, I will document those reflections through some chosen creative process. At this point I will decide whether it be public or private but the key is the act of reflection and sharing it with at least those I care about.

5 years from now: Consistency within Change

When I was 12 or 13 I wrote somewhere in a journal that “the only consistent thing in my life was change” I could not have been more right and through some self-fulfilling prophecy it still rings true at age 36. I don’t think this is a bad thing though and I don’t think I lack all consistency in my life today but by the time I reach 41 I would like to introduce elements of consistency into my life. I would like to be consistent with my actions, and my way of being. Can I stay consistently involved with my community? Can I consistently stay active and healthy? Can I consistently be working my creative mind? In five years I will develop a structure for implementing consistency.

10 years from now: Exit Ambition – Move to Meaning

In ten years from now, I would love to be free of egocentric ambition and move to more meaningful personal pursuits, while becoming a bit less serious. (is this possible?) I have been working on this goal for a couple of years now but feel it will take at least a good 10 more years to even make a dent in this process. It takes a while to de-program all that ambition/ego drive that lives within us!

I am not sure how Zen all this planning has been but it sure sounds ambitious doesn’t it?  For now, back to meditation.

9/11/13

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.

chapter four

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Theme: Existential/Spirituality

The Goal

In September, Beth and I will welcome and indulge in reflection on existential questions. In light of these questions, we will seek to both obtain wisdom and experiment with practices that may lead to a more fulfilling existence. I will also complete all assignments with Beth this month.

Background/Agreements

My old Existentialism: Basic Writings book from college cites a core existential agreement that “what is unique to humans is that their being is ‘in question’ or ‘at issue’ for them. Humans are not content with simply satisfying their basic desires, for they care about what kinds of beings they are, and they therefore reflect on the worth of things they desire.”[i]

The core existential concepts examined within this human condition are:[ii]

  1. “Existence precedes essence”: we exist in the world first and then determine how we want to be in the world. We are our own creations.
  2. We are free: we can make choices at every moment that have significant consequences.
  3. Life is absurd: There is no meaning to be found in the world beyond what meaning we give it.
  4. Anxiety is part of life and is inherently part of the human condition.
  5. Facticity:  we are who we are and cannot change our pasts; yet we still can make choices and create our future
  6. Authenticity: in creating oneself, we must take into account our facticity, our freedoms, and assume responsibility for conducting ourselves and our lives in a way that is constructive and true to who we are. The inauthentic self can be described as a conforming (with the masses or with the alternative rebels).
  7. Despair: can be the byproduct of living a life that is mundane. As Wikipedia puts it, “So long as a person’s identity depends on qualities that can crumble, he is considered to be in perpetual despair.”

Sounds dizzying, right? In our everyday lives, these concepts translate into more practical, reoccurring, modern dilemmas that result from nagging questions like:

 How do we lead an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling existence?

 What is the gap between what is/where we are and where we want to go/what we want to be like? How do we bridge that gap?

 Does happiness really exist? How can we create it or feel it?

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Our Approach

We will let these questions serve as a guide this month and will draw wisdom from secular thinkers who share the existential view of the human condition and from those that claim to have the answers to these questions. We will take both a cognitive/intellectual and physical approach this month. Through the physical approach we will employ techniques proven to assist in strengthening the connection between mind, body and “happiness”/that which is bigger than us (you know, “spiritual feelings”).

General rules for September:

  1. Eliminate expectations. We are not trying to achieve nirvana or enlightenment.
  2. Try to consume all things moderately: media, food, alcohol, coffee, etc.
  3. Identify a single location where you will privately record your reflections and written assignments this month.

 Method

This chapter theme is very intimate. It commands solitude, reflection, experiential learning, and presence. Thus, we will avoid publishing the whole month’s plan at the outset. We will post a weekly topic on each Saturday with new assignments (*excluding the first week’s theme, which will be disclosed on September 3rd). Beth can report out when she’s inspired to, but we want to avoid the notion her readers are waiting for her to have and share transcendental experiences.


[i] Existentialism: Basic Writings, Second Edition. Edited by Charles Guignon and Derk Pereboom.

[ii] Kudos to Wikipedia for identifying these themes

Just finding this blog today? Read more about the Living Chapters project here.