Conversation before we went out for dinner on Saturday evening.
N: Are you ready?
D: Yes, I'm not changing my clothes - let's go.
N: Are you going to put your sweater on the right way?
D: What do you mean?
N: Your sweater has been on inside out all day. Maybe you should fix that before we go.
D: All day? Why didn't you tell me before?
N: I don't know. I guess it didn't matter before.
Whatever you do, try not to dwell too long on your failures. You don't need to conduct autopsies on your disasters...Move on. Whatever else happens, stay busy. Find something to do--anything, even a different sort of creative work altogther--just to take your mind off your anxiety and pressure. (I always lean on this wise advice, from the seventeenth-century English scholar Robert Burton, on how to survive melancholy: "Be not solitary, be not idle.")
Go walk the dog, go pick up every bit of trash on the street outside your home, go walk the dog again, go bake a peach cobbler, go paint some pebbles with brightly colored nail polish and put them in a pile. You might think it's procrastination, but--with the right intention--it isn't; it's motion. And any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.
So wave your arms around. Make something. Do something. Do anything.
It makes me sad when I fail. It disappoints me. Disappointment can make me feel disgusted with myself, or surly toward others. By this point in my life, though, I've learned how to navigate my own disappointment without plummeting too far into death spirals of shame, rage, or inertia. That's because I have come to understand what part of me is suffering when I fail: it's just my ego. It's that simple.
An unchecked ego is what the Buddhists call "a hungry ghost" -- forever famished, eternally howling with need and greed.
My saving grace is this: I know that I am not only an ego; I am also a soul. And I know that my soul doesn't care a whit about reward or failure. My soul is not guided by dreams of praise or fears of criticism. My soul doesn't even have language for such notions. My soul, when I tend to it, is a far more expansive and fascinating source of guidance than my ego will ever be, because my soul desires only one thing: wonder. And since creativity is my most efficient pathway to wonder, I take refuge there, and it feeds my soul, and it quiets the hungry ghost, thereby saving me from the most dangerous aspect of myself.
So whenever that brittle voice is dissatisfaction emerges within me, I can say, "Ah, my ego! There you are, old friend!" It's the same when I'm being criticized and I notice myself reacting with outrage, heartache, or defensiveness. It's just my ego, flaring up and testing its power...I try not to take [it] too seriously because I know that it's merely my ego that has been wounded--never my soul.
At such times, I can always steady my life once more by returning to my soul. I ask it, "And what is it that you want, dear one?" The answer is always the same: "More wonder, please."
I recently read a fabulous blog by a writer named Mark Manson, who said that the secret to finding your purpose in life is to answer this question in total honesty: "What's your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?"
What Manson means is that every single pursuit--no matter how wonderful and exciting and glamorous it may initially seem--comes with its own brand of shit sandwich, its own lousy side effects. As Manson writes with profound wisdom, "Everything sucks, some of the time." You just have to decide what sort of suckage you're willing to deal with. So the question is not so much "What are you passionate about?" The question is "What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?"
Ultimately the thing that helped me find some healing [was when] I learned that life was not about turning the page, or getting to the other side of something. It's about holding what is broken about the world and holding what is joyful about the world, and being able to take a step forward with both. That is living well in the moment. And that's what I've tried to make a discipline of.
--R.A. Dickey is a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and is known for his knuckleball.
Cluttered schedules not only constrict the time we have, but also manipulate our understanding of value and worth. It is crucial to remember the simple value and beauty of life as it is, not as it is used. The simple awareness cultivated by contemplative practices can bring us back in touch with this beauty, enriching our interactions with others.
Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.
From Stop Googling. Let’s Talk by Sherry Turkle, NYT 9/26/2015
"Oh, monsters are scared," said Lettie. "That's why they're monsters. And as for grown-ups..." She stopped talking, rubbed her freckled nose with a finger. Then, "I'm going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world."
How we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have. . . . When horizons are measured in decades, ...you most desire all that stuff at the top of Maslow's pyramid ─achievement, creativity, and other attributes of "self-actualization." But as your horizons contract ─when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain─ your focus shifts to the here and now, to everyday pleasures and the people closest to you. (p 97)
The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all. Medicine's focus is narrow. Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul. Yet─and this is the painful paradox─we have decided that they should be the ones who largely define how we live in our waning days. For more than half a century now, we have treated the trials of sickness, aging, and mortality as medical concerns. It's been an experiment in social engineering, putting our fates in the hands of people valued more for their technical prowess than for their understanding of human needs.
That experiment has failed. If safety and protection were all we sought in life, perhaps we could conclude differently. But because we seek a life of worth and purpose, and yet are routinely denied the conditions that might make it possible, there is no other way to see what modern society has done. (p 128)
Gawande, Atul. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New York: Metropolitan , Henry Holt, 2014. Print.
The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the self nor the other: the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.
I know! We will paint the garage so it looks like the A-Team van is parked inside! That would be so awesome! You always said you wanted a mural. I have vacation days coming up and you can't be home all the time...
From a window, the boss calls to us where we load his truck with bricks. "Turn around fellas-look." A pheasant wades through the brown grass across the street, vanishing and emerging from the tangle. A shed leans near a phone pole. Bumpers glint from the weeds. Blocks from the old foundation angle through the earth. The pheasant paces his courtyard.
We have killed the city which lived here. The hieroglyph of its streets and rails has joined the ancient lost tongues. Buds unfold on a dwarf maple. A rooster hollers.
The thing that surprised me was how big the book [of her collected poems] was, because for most of my life, I've felt I wasn't writing. Hitting my head against a wall, raging and raving to my friends because my mind is blank. Or dead. But the book was so large. It was a quite marvelous feeling - that my current sense of failure might not be so reliable.
Watching these channels [Fox News, CNN, MSNBC] all day is incredibly depressing. I live in a constant state of depression. I think of us as turd miners. I put on my helmet, I go and mine turds, hopefully I don’t get turd lung disease.
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Medical chart reviews consistently show that doctors are more likely to give women psychiatric medications than men, especially women between the ages of 35 and 64. For some women in that age group the symptoms of perimenopause can sound a lot like depression, and tears are common. Crying isn’t just about sadness. When we are scared, or frustrated, when we see injustice, when we are deeply touched by the poignancy of humanity, we cry. And some women cry more easily than others. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or out of control. At higher doses, S.S.R.I.s make it difficult to cry. They can also promote apathy and indifference. Change comes from the discomfort and awareness that something is wrong; we know what’s right only when we feel it. If medicated means complacent, it helps no one.
When we are overmedicated, our emotions become synthetic. For personal growth, for a satisfying marriage and for a more peaceful world, what we need is more empathy, compassion, receptivity, emotionality and vulnerability, not less.
We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.
(Julie Holland is a psychiatrist in New York and the author of Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy.)
--March 1, 2015, New York Times, "Medicating Women's Feelings."
The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison - beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. ... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimit, and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.
I Me Mine is the ego problem. There are two 'I's: the little 'i' when people say 'I am this'; and the big 'I' - is duality and ego. There is nothing that isn't part of the complete whole. When the little 'i' merges into the big 'I' then you are really smiling!
--"I Me Mine" was a Beatles song written and performed by Harrison, as well as the title of his 1980 autobiography.
No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater parts of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.
Alan Watts, philosopher, writer, speaker (1915-1973)
I was surprised to learn that love is now considered essential to the employment relationship. Some of us are lucky enough to have lovable jobs, but this strikes me as an extreme standard to apply with respect to most positions.
When I lived in Eastern Europe more than a decade ago, I found that people had a more moderate approach. People did not seem to feel the need to love their job or even talk much about it. You could become well acquainted with someone without finding out what he did for a living. When the subject did come up, it seemed to be beside the point. The real action of life — the singular life of the mind, soul and body — was elsewhere, wrapped up in private pursuits, away from the workplace.
That may have had something to do with the size of the economy there. It’s not easy to be thrilled about work when opportunity is scarce. Admittedly, the dynamism of Western capitalism depends upon people who work with missionary zeal, who refuse to accept that a job is merely a job. It must be something more — a vocation, an adventure, a journey to higher heights.
I often do feel this way about my work, but I’d rather not feel obliged to profess my enthusiasm. I’ll keep my chin up; on a good day I might even whistle. But please don’t ask me to smile if I’m not in the mood.
--"The Tyranny of the Forced Smile," New York Times, February 14, 2015.
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Featured in "The Bittersweet Kiss of Chocolate," by Melissa Clarke. New York Times, February 6, 2015
I have a personality defect where I sort of refuse to see myself as an underdog. It has gotten me into a lot of trouble but it is also the reason for my success. I am often reminded of it when people ask me why I'm confident… Why wouldn't I be? It's because my parents raised me with the entitlement of a tall, blond, white man. That's the way to do it: Picture yourself as Armie Hammer on the outside.
We now have cultural machines so powerful that one singer can reach everybody in the world, and make all the other singers feel inferior because they're not like him. Once that gets started, he gets backed by so much cash and so much power that he becomes a monstrous invader from outer space, crushing the life out of all the other human possibilities. My life has been devoted to opposing that tendency.
All learned occupations have a definition of professionalism, a code of conduct. It is where they spell out their ideals and duties. The codes are sometimes stated, sometimes just understood. But they all have at least three common elements.
First is the expectation of selflessness: that we who accept responsibility for others─whether we are doctors, lawyers, teachers, public authorities, soldiers, or pilots─will place the needs and concerns of those who depend on us above our own. Second is an expectation of skill: that we will aim for excellence in our knowledge and expertise. Third is an expectation of trustworthiness: that we will be responsible in our personal behavior toward our charges.
Aviators, however, add a fourth expectation, discipline: discipline in following prudent procedure and in functioning with others.
Marriage ceremonies in India are a combination of ancient Vedic philosophy, rituals and symbolism, and various cultural traditions from different parts of the country. According to Vedic philosophy, all actions of humans lead towards one goal, that of the ultimate realization of the Self or Atman (the soul). Marriage is the pledged union of a man and a woman who join together to walk the path of Dharma or spiritual quest, helping each other towards the ultimate goal of self realization and two souls merging into one and then becoming one with the universal soul or spirit.
From the wedding program for Priya and Mike's wedding 1/10/2015
I want to be a good doctor for my patients. And the question of when to follow one's judgment and when to follow protocol is central to doing the job well--or to doing anything else that is hard. You want people to make sure to get the stupid stuff right. Yet you also want to leave room for craft and judgment and the ability to respond to unexpected difficulties that arise along the way. The value of checklists for simple problems seems self-evident. But can they help avert failure when to problems combine everything from the simple to the complex?