Try Better, Not Harder

I read a post on Seth Godin’s blog a few days ago that’s stayed with me: Try Better. Maybe it’s not always about trying harder. Maybe if something isn’t working, forcing it isn’t the answer. I think the momentum or commitment or whatever it is that had me going has run out, or at least faded. I’ve fallen off exercising and posting everyday, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t want to keep trying these things anymore.

I think “failing” at something can be a seductive trap to just throw in the towel and say, fuck it, I knew I couldn’t do it. What we don’t realize, and maybe this is a willful kind of ignorance, is that one mistake doesn’t erase all the progress we’ve made. But bullying or shaming ourselves into constantly trying harder isn’t going to bring about the desired results either.

So, let’s try better. Truth be told, I’ve felt like a lot of my posts have feel forced because I committed to writing something everyday. If something didn’t come up naturally, I’d badger myself into trying harder. “You said you were gonna write something everyday. There you go foregoing your commitments as usual.” Or the more psychologically pernicious voice would come and try to coax me into writing something by using my fear of failure against me: “Are you so scared of failing that you can’t even put a few mental ramblings down? It’s okay, just get something down. You just need to try…harder.”

Trying better means taking the time to look at what’s going on with sober eyes. Accepting that something may not be working; that this “thing” that we want, may not be what we need. A whole new approach may need to be created…and it may actually end up being harder, but if we try better, it might not feel so tough.

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Day 61: Shit’s Too Tough

I started writing…delete. I started writing something else…delete. I don’t want to anymore. Am I trying to force it? Am I trying to avoid transcribing difficult emotions into words? I’m not sure. Probably both. Maybe neither. These are words though, so this counts, right?

Days 59-60: Unraveling

I don’t know if something is going on with the planets, but I am just feeling so easily irritable. I’ve been able to catch myself a number of times, but other times, I just slip right into that monkey brain of anger, frustration, and resentment. Things that I could usually handle with P, things that I thought I could let go and just let be (his mess and certain habits around the house) are starting to fire up again and burn at my skin.

I don’t know…Well, one thing I can say that is different is that I have all but chucked my commitment to exercise. Since I got sick, and to be honest, even just before that, my physical activity has been at a minimum. Maybe this is just proof positive on how much exercise contributes to mental well being. I think my stomach ailment is gone for the most part. I will try to do some exercise tomorrow.

Meditate. ✅

Exercise. ✖

Do not go out to drink. ✅

Do not eat garbage (fast) food. ✅

Days 54-58: Out Sick

I’ve been sick for the past few days. Needless to say, I haven’t been sticking to my commitments. I actually fell into quite a funk…this letter to my friend embodies how I’ve been feeling. Ironically (or maybe more obvious than ironic), writing it all out made me feel better, and I think I’m even feeling enough energy to tackle a project.

Hola,

How go your travels? Are you feeling revived and finding your true nature?

I think I’m in a funk. To be fair, I’ve been sick since Saturday, and I suppose lying in bed for four days would dampen anyone’s mood. Would you think I was crazy if I said I think I willed it?

This happens to me pretty often – I’m really excited for an upcoming weekend. I have no plans or obligations, so I tell myself I can finally spend the weekend tackling my creative endeavors. Writing, painting, and just making stuff. Then something sets me off. It could be something as innocuous as knocking over a glass of water or as self imposed as thinking about my student loans. But this is just a hiccup, I can still do all the things I want. Until…I start feeling physically sick.

This time, it’s been a mysterious stomach ache that’s lasted four days. I’m in physical pain, so I can’t do anything besides plant myself in front of a screen and zone out. The physicality of the matter gives me a legitimate excuse to put off all the things I was so excited about just a few hours ago. That self destructive side of me sees an opening and jumps at the chance, slowly taking my mind from tired to dispirited to outright dejected. I wouldn’t be so suspicious if this wasn’t a pernicious habit of mine. One I can now discern as an incarnation of some deeper, more troubling fear.

Am I that afraid of failing that I have to put myself into a psychosomatic illness to avoid just trying? What am I even striving for that I’m afraid of falling short from? I just want to make stuff. I tell myself it’s just for fun, but I know a few layers down, there is this part of me that wants success. Craves it. Needs it to be feel validated.

Desire. Grasping.

I’ve been reading this book, The Great Work of Your Life (I highly recommend it), and I’m on Part IV: The Third Pillar: “Let Go of the Fruits.” The book is based off The Bhagavad Gita (another must read – and I think it’s free to download on your phone), and I’m now on the third and most important lesson regarding Dharma: letting go of the fruits of our actions.

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of your work.”

This is the concept of nonattachment, perhaps the single greatest key in unlocking happiness here on earth. I’m sure you’ve heard or read that desire is the root of all suffering. “Clinging (or grasping) of any kind disturbs the mind. And this disturbed mind, then, is not really fully present to the task at hand. It is forever leaning forward into the next moment – grabbing. And, not being present for the moment, it cannot fully devote its powers to the job at hand. We find ourselves, at this point, right back to our old friend, doubt. Grasping, it turns out, is just another form of doubt.”

Good old doubt. Am I good enough? Is what I’m doing right? Is it getting the recognition it deserves? Wait…why does it deserve any recognition? Says who? I suppose it’s my need to find my sense of self worth in that work that says so. But how do I free myself from caring about the fruits of my labor? Especially when it comes to work, isn’t it the fruits of my labor that will get me that paycheck, that promotion, that livelihood? Given the way our society is set up, if we want to sustain ourselves doing what we love, we need some level of success. So is it realistic to expect that we could ever detach ourselves from the results?

This is something I’ve thought about a lot. Another form it comes in is striving to be better (with the pure intention of just wanting to do better) versus accepting where we are. I’m sure I have more to learn, but the way I’ve worked it out so far is that it’s okay to have some concern about the outcome. I mean if we didn’t care at all about the outcome, then we probably wouldn’t put in much effort. So, I think there can be some concern, maybe even a little hope, but the key is to not be disturbed if the outcome isn’t what we wanted. This is another key aspect of Buddhism: equanimity – a sense of mental neutrality regardless of whether something is good or bad.

Now, how do I actually do this? I have no fuckin’ clue. My whole life has been based on results…and comparison. Success has always been predicated on some sort of recognition that I am better at something than someone else. What grade did you get? What school did you go to? How much money are they giving you? What company are you working for?

How do I decouple myself from this form of self worth? I’ve finally come to know that I am good. I’m good enough. But how will everyone else know that if I’m not successful (and in our world, there is only one true measure of success – the dollar dollar bills).

I’m reading about Keats and how he discovered that poetry was his dharma. In the beginning, he craved fame too, but he soon realized that real fulfillment wasn’t about fame and accolades, but rather the experience of bringing forth the best that was in him. “He saw that the ‘immortality’ that is gained in the creation of great art is not immortality in anyone else’s eyes, but a transcendence of time through the outpouring of the soul’s possibility.” I think that needs to be repeated:

“He saw that the ‘immortality’ that is gained in the creation of great art is not immortality in anyone else’s eyes, but a transcendence of time through the outpouring of the soul’s possibility.”

Like, woah. Yes. A thousand times, YES! I see the truth in this. I can actually feel the truth in this. And as I’ve disclosed to you many times, I feel this sense of love and connection when it comes to the written word. So why is it that I can’t muster the discipline, nay even the simple desire, to dedicate my time to this practice? Why is it that I’d rather scroll through Netflix looking for a show that I’d settle for watching instead of picking up one of my books, or my laptop? Maybe it’s not all so complicated, maybe I’m just lazy. Or maybe this isn’t my dharma. I don’t know…any insight you might have on the matter would be appreciated as always.

I think I’ve left you with enough meat to digest here, but I want to leave this verse from the Bhagavad Gita (Note: the threegunas (qualities) are tamas (darkness), rajas (activity), and sattva (beingness). All three gunas are always present in all beings and objects surrounding us, but vary in their relative amounts):

Krishna said:
When a man sees clearly that there is
no doer besides the gunas
and knows what exists beyond them,
he can enter my state of being.

Going beyond the three gunas
that arise from the body, freed
from the sorrows of birth, old age,
and death, he attains the Immortal.

Arjuna said:
How can I recognize the man
who has gone beyond the three gunas?
What has he done to go
beyond them? How does he act?

Krishna said:
Whatever quality arises —
light, activity, delusion —
he neither dislikes its presence
nor desires it when it is not there.

He who is unattached,
who is not disturbed by the gunas,
who is firmly rooted and knows
that only the gunas are acting,

who is equally self contained
in pain or pleasure, in happiness
or sorrow, who is content
with whatever happens, who sees

dirt, rocks, and gold as equals,
who is unperturbed amid praise
or blame of himself, indifferent
to honor and to disgrace,

serene in success and failure,
impartial to friend and foe,
unattached to action — that man,
has gone beyond the three gunas.

Day 53 – Sometimes, You Just Have to Stop

Without fail, whenever I visit my parents, I leave swelling to the brim with emotions. Not warm and fuzzy emotions…usually negative emotions. I resent my mom. I resent that she is my mom. And then I feel guilty for feeling these things.

Family is a funny thing because we have no choice in the matter. When it comes to parents, this is enhanced by the fact that we were not consulted on even the matter of existence. In the case of parents, most of the time, they choose to have children. But, me, I never asked to be brought me. Now I don’t mean to sound or be ungrateful. I do think it is a wondrous gift that I’m here on earth, particularly as a sentient being. It just gives me a greater sense of righteousness and injustice when I’m going through a difficult time with them. As if I can absolve myself of any fault because they had me and I had no say in the matter.

Everything is exacerbated when death enters the picture. Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night and there it was. I slipped out of my dream into consciousness, and death slipped in. The thought blanketed my blanket and enveloped me. One day, I will no longer be here. One day, death will come for me. When I think about not being here anymore, it just feels so strange. And then, there’s the whole matter of how death will feel. That moment when we take our very last breath here on earth. What could that possibly feel like? Then I start feeling claustrophobic. I don’t like it. I don’t like it. It just still really rattles me. And when I look around at this world…all these tabs open on my computer…Etsy, Brain Pickings, Google…what the fuck?! I don’t get it. Why are we here? And why are we seemingly wasting so much of our time and energy while we’re here?

I need to stop.

Meditate. ✅
After I left my parents place today, I went through a drive through car wash. I highly recommend this as a sound meditation. It’s also good to do with your eyes open and watch the droplets of water move across your car. It really helped me to let go some of the entangled emotions and reset.

Exercise. ✅
35 minute Daily Burn circuit workout.

Do not go out to drink. ✅

Do not eat garbage (fast) food. ✅

Day 52 – Monkeying Around

I feel myself trying to find things to get upset about. My commitment to maintaining equanimity in my life is starting to take root, and my monkey mind is not happy about its new successor. But I’m keeping a close eye on it, so it hasn’t been able to stage any successful coups. Although I did start obsessing about carbs and sugar today. It actually got me pretty worked up mentally, and I found myself sighing all night long, but I think I’m over it. Tomorrow is a new day, and I can make better decisions then. What’s done is done.

Meditate. ✅
Did an equanimity meditation on MARC’s website while driving to work.

Exercise. ✅
I almost skipped this because I was set on doing a Daily Burn workout and my AirPlay wasn’t working. I really didn’t feel like going outside and jogging, but I made myself because I’m recommitted to exercising daily. I think a lot of my unused energy needs a way to escape, and if I don’t do it through physical activity, then it tries to get used up through my thoughts, and my monkey mind is just waiting with arms wide open.

Do not go out to drink. ✅

Do not eat garbage (fast) food. ✅

Days 48-51: Still Going

I think I’ve had a resistance to writing/posting…or maybe I’ve just been lazy. I did the drive out to Big Sur. It wasn’t that bad, but my anxious little monkey brain kept firing up. I literally recorded a note to myself: “Monkey brain, I know you think you’re trying to help me with all your worrying, but it’s okay. We’re going to be fine.” I’m getting pretty good at not getting on that train…or getting off at the next stop instead of obsessing about whether I should take a seat or get off or use the bathroom or get a drink or or or…

Overall, I had a pretty nice weekend even though I spent ten of those hours driving. Not too long ago, I’d obsess over lost time or time not utilized to its fullest capacity. Now, I’m able to just meander and not feel so pressured to “do.” I can just enjoy being. I really didn’t do much while I was at Esalen. I didn’t take advantage of any of the classes that were open to me or use the hot springs. It was also too cold to sit outside and enjoy the outdoors. The old me would have interpreted this as a wasted trip, but I had a really nice time. I had meaningful conversations with my friend. I read a little and I dabbled in some art making. I also slept quite a bit. All in all, a wonderful time. I hope I can bring that sense of ease into my everyday life.

This year is flying by, and with my commitment to trying to find my calling, I do feel anxious at times that I’m not going fast enough. I’m really just trying to take it day by day and appreciate even the smallest wins. Like the fact that although I’ve been making it more of a habit to condense a few days into one post, I’m still posting.

Meditate. ✅

Exercise. ✅
I went back to the gym today after a few days of skipping my exercise commitment. I think part of my lethargy has been from the fact that I haven’t been very active.

Do not go out to drink. ✅

Do not eat garbage (fast) food. ✅
I was tempted to get some drive thru during my long drive, but I resisted and am very proud of myself.