Why Not Ask What's Up? - #86

Walt Whitman said it in four simple words: "Be curious, not judgmental."

Some years later, George Carlin had the same sentiment with a little more flare: "When you're born in this world, you're given a ticket to the freak show. And when you're born in America, you're given a front-row seat. And some of us get to sit there with notebooks."

There is never a dull moment. The world is always throwing new acts, new numbers, new explosions our way. Whether we're in the freak show or observing it, we're always moving together. It is a lesson to be learned from Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. Sometimes described as "the happiest man in the world", Ricard explains that because our minds are always moving, we should focus not on permanent change for stability, but focus on the flow. Ricard said, "Mind training is on the idea that two opposite mental factors can't happen at the same time...You cannot in the same gesture shake a hand and give a blow...There are natural antidotes to emotions that are destructive to our well-being."

Worse than trying to  shake your hand and throwing a punch is the idea that you can easily juggle thoughts about yourself and thoughts about others in the same instant. There is only one path. You can switch on and off as quick as a computer circuit, but the truth remains that there is a limitation. 

And how often do you flip that switch, sit back and enjoy? When was the last time you asked what was up and meant it? 

We're not just ourselves. While it's easy to think only our minds determine the outcomes, there is no denying that every collision we endure morphs us some more. As Dale Carnegie says in How to Win Friends and Influence People, "You deserve very little credit for being what you are." Your world of conversations, education, friends, fights, family, battle scars and late-night snacks and dance parties is only the surface of your identity. We are a different person, molded and shaped, to everyone we meet because of how our lives have been crafted by the swirling mass of influences. 

Because no one is alone, for that matter, life is a conversation. Imagine the worst kind of conversation - the selfish, talkative type, the boring dribble, the complainer, the insulting patronizing type - and flow away from it. Keep your mind open to the world that shapes you and flow to be curious, not judgmental. Be interested to be interesting. Or think of it in terms of how Carnegie imagines author Elbert Hubbard would weather a disagreement: "Come to think it over, I don't entirely agree with it myself. Not everything I wrote yesterday applies to me today. I am glad to learn what you think on the subject."

Forget the fear of being misunderstood or unaccepted. It may be meant to be. Your life is always on a collision course. Just remember to slow down enough to appreciate the roadbumps here and there, and keep on rolling. 

Until next time...
I explode into space.


Explode into Space #66 - The Treasure & Trouble of Owning Your Story

Dear Readers,

Like the hard-boiled detective dodging tricky dames and whizzing bullets or the sci-fi hero traveling to the ends of the galaxy to roll out justice, we're all searching for our story while we're creating it. We are the stories we tell ourselves and others. You can't deny that everyone loves a good story, it almost seems within our nature. As Jason Silva quotes Douglas Hofstadter in his latest video The Mirroring Mind, we are "miracles of self-reference". 

Stories keep us equal-parts sane, providing structure and context, and advancing forward to The Next Best Thing. Would we aspire to anything if we didn't first see those achieve it before us? Would Tyson have been anything without the existence of Ali? Would Louis CK exist without George Carlin? Would any astronaut ever exist without Neil Armstrong? We adopt stories and tweak them as our own, pushing the corners of possibility.

The trouble comes when real life is not the fantasy we constantly imagine. Life coach Tony Robbins put it this way in a video entitled Create a New Story: "We live in a culture in the West that teaches people that you're not enough unless you're doing something really special and unique and we define special and unique in interesting ways." We can't all be rock stars and supermodels, just by telling ourselves it can happen overnight. Dreams only work if you do. Nothing new, right? We fall into it anyway. Personally, I've always had this blueprint of independent wealth and success at a young age. Lord knows I've tried with random adventures and they failed for whatever was a number of reasons. The trouble that keeps me up at night is finding the way to push myself, my stubborn, comfortable self, up a hill, in the snow, both ways, to realizing I am my dreams. Life can feel so inauthentic until you're happy every day giving everything you can to become the person you want to be.

On the flip side you have to imagine that Life can throw a curveball. You can get hit by a meteor, slammed by a drunk driver, or diagnosed with cancer. The pain you experience, besides physical, is learning that this is now part of you, no matter what you do. I'm not a big comic guy, but if I remember correctly that's how most superheroes begin their transformation, with bitter rejection and delusion of their great responsibility. There is the beauty. You have to own your handicaps as quickly as your strengths, and write your story like no one else. Sure, it's not always cut and dry, clean and simple. Sometimes, we need to go outside ourselves to understand the story. Psychotherapist Philippa Perry delivers a gut-check with this warning: "We need to look at the repetitions in the stories we tell ourselves [and] at the process of the stories rather than merely their surface content. Then we can begin to experiment with changing the filter through which we look at the world, start to edit the story and thus regain flexibility where we have been getting stuck." 

The road to being extraordinary is paved with more than your normal stories. When someone asks what's up, is there really nothing to offer? When someone says FML, are they not just noticing the negative aspects of life? And while Emerson and Dr. Schuller and Napoleon Hill all had the idea that you are what you think about all day, I think it's more than that. You are everything you breathe in. You are the thoughts you think and the actions you take, and the story your thoughts and actions unfold. And as Joe Rogan notes, "You have to be the hero of your own story." 

What is your story? What is that fantasy in your head that's just not coming true? Can you change it or can you change yourself? There is no other way. Think about it.

Until next time...
I explode into space.