Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ask the Askers: One Question

Say you were a therapist and you can only ask your patient one question to help them. What would you ask?

I'll post my response and some of the best responses here over the weekend.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Love or Career?

Pretty classy with the watermark, eh?
Simple question: love or career?

IF YOU REALLY WANT to do it right, then choose neither. Choose a lifestyle that resonates with your whole being and let that guide your decisions in career and love. If it meshes well, proceed; if it clashes, pull back. In order for that to work, you need to be clear on two things: (1) what your true, correct lifestyle is, and (2) how well things are working with that lifestyle.

Your Values & Lifestyle
Your lifestyle is informed by your values, but your values need to be discovered. Cheesy as cliche as it may sound, you discover your values when you are 100% honest with yourself about your situation in life with all its confusion and uncertainty. When you stop trying to find answers, the remainder is unadulterated honesty, and with that honesty, you find some other things pop up. You find courage, determination, and your values. The funny thing is, you don't have to actually look for them. They find you like a puppy wandering back to its owner.

When you figure out what's important in life, you can get a sense of what you want your life to look like. You get a sense of what's right and correct. It's weird because it's not correct in an intellectual way. It's just right and you know it. With a little imagination, you can get a sense of the kind of currents you want to have in your life, from the broad strokes to the day-to-day minutiae. You know that it has to contain honesty and understanding and kindness, humor, focus, intellect. The exact proportions and ingredients vary from person to person, but the basic recipe is always the same.

Your Role
So by now you've got a sense of what themes you want to permeate your life. You now move onto some big questions like career and relationships. I don't like to talk outside of my own experience, so to be fully honest, I've diverged at this point a few times. One strategy is to take your talents, mix up with your lifestyle, and figure out where you fit in. There doesn't have to be one correct answer, and the answer can change.

Another approach I've taken is to forget about long-term planning and just try and assess what my role is in this moment. I ask myself: how can I act in accordance with my truest values? How can I be totally truthful with my experience? How can I make beautiful moments? (That last question is what it ultimately comes down to.)

A third approach I've taken is to identify my deepest struggles in life (self-consciousness) and resolve to help others overcome it. That's something the existential (logo)therapists like Victor Frankel and the old Rabbinical Jews would have advocated.

All three approaches have felt right to me at different times and for me, they don't conflict. They all point in the same direction. Whichever approach you take--even deciding on your own--is fine as long as you trust in it.

Your Relationships
You can choose your relationships the same way you choose your career: examine your lifestyle and see if it fits your current relationship. You have to really be honest and be smart enough to tease apart your feelings of attachment and longing (which will cloud your judgment) with the situation itself. Is this what you had in mind for yourself? Will this relationship further the lifestyle you deserve, or frustrate it?

Getting Started
I don't want to leave you with a bunch of abstract philosophy because this isn't about your ability to digest ideas at all. This is just a guide. If you want to put in the hard work and do the introspection, then stop being in a hurry to solve your dilemma and wait. It'll probably feel like nothing at first, but then you'll have the urge to go back and solve. It's at that point where you have to show restraint. Just sit there and wait, paying attention to your body. How does it feel? You'll slowly start to peel away the layers of thought until you find that there are parts of your body that feel tender. There's nothing you have to do. Just watch it and be silent.

That sets the whole process in motion.

Flowchart time!
If you do the whole process and get "pursue" for both job and relationship but absolutely can't pursue both, then I guess you'll have to make it work or pick one. But make sure you go through the process first and don't just skip. You can't know if your relationship or career harmonize with your lifestyle unless you clarify your values via the process outlined above. Good luck.

Monday, June 27, 2011

How do I learn to trust people?

How do I assess my own mistrust?

If I have a bad intuition about someone, how do I determine whether it’s sound or whether it’s just my own considerable issues with trusting others? Every time I have trusted someone it has been a mistake. Every time I haven’t, I’ve been proved right, eventually. Therefore, isn’t it rational not to trust anyone? One can always find reasons not to, if that’s what one is looking for.

NO, THAT’S NOT RATIONAL, because it assumes that the same pattern will repeat itself indefinitely, which is unfounded. It’s possible that you’ll meet someone else who you will or won’t trust, who will end up meeting your standards of trustworthiness.

I don’t know if your perception is distorted. Maybe you’re meeting mean people, or maybe you’re blowing things out of proportion to protect yourself from being rejected/forgotten/belittled. The good news is that my advice is the same in either situation—talk, and equally important, listen. When someone breaches your trust, tell them without attacking them. Explain what offended you and how you see it. Let them say their part and then wait. At first your instinct will probably be to fight and defend, but after a little bit, you’ll actually start to listen to one another and you’ll have a chance to examine what happened without being so emotionally charged.

If you change your mind, that’s okay. You now have a little insight into your distortion. Make a note of it, but don’t beat yourself up, okay? Trust is at the core of all spiritual disciplines. It takes time to work on and it’s a challenge for everyone. You’re aware, so you can (and must) nurture it. It’ll happen slowly without you realizing. 

P.S. Don't blame yourself, really. Sometimes people absorb sensitivities from their parents.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Font Change

Thanks Ivy <3
I changed the fonts around. What do you think?

About 5 years ago I developed this affinity for old books. They're kind of mysterious and have this authenticity to them that I love. I'm trying to achieve some of that feel with this new font.

Typographers who are reeling at my decision:

Consider this report about the legibility serifed and sans-serifed fonts. It concludes:   

What initially seemed a neat dichotomous question of serif versus sans serif has resulted in a body of research consisting of weak claims and counter-claims, and study after study with findings of “no difference”. Is it the case that more than one hundred years of research has been marred by repeated methodological flaws, or are serifs simply a typographical “red herring”?
It is of course possible that serifs or the lack of them have an effect on legibility, but it is very likely that they are so peripheral to the reading process that this effect is not even worth measuring (Lund, 1999 ).
Indeed, a greater difference in legibility can easily be found within members of the same type family than between a serif and a sans serif typeface. ( Tinker, 1963 , Zachrisson, 1965 ). There are also other factors such as x-height, counter size, letter spacing and stroke width which are more significant for legibility than the presence or absence of serifs. ( Poulton, 1972 ; Reynolds, 1979 )
Finally, we should accept that most reasonably designed typefaces in mainstream use will be equally legible, and that it makes much more sense to argue in favour of serif or sans serif typefaces on aesthetic grounds than on the question of legibility. ( Bernard, 2001 ; Tinker, 1963 )
So :-P.

Love, Sex, Friendship

I didn't make this, but it's bloody awesome.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Day in Court

I had to go to court today to fight some penalties that were assessed on my speeding ticket. It's unbelievable how many penalties and fees your local gubmint will try and tack onto a routine speeding ticket. Believe it or not, there's even a fee for having your ticket dismissed, meaning, you did nothing wrong but still have to pay a "processing fee." That's mafia-logic as far as I'm concerned.

So the judge goes through his list calling one person at a time. Eventually he gets to this kid, probably 19 or so, tie barely below his navel, hair ineffectively brushed, wearing a pressed suit and tennis shoes. Whereas every other case opened up with "what is your plea?" this one opened up with "I see you've brought a motion." Prepare for awesome.

The judge starts flipping through a stack of papers and has this look on his face like they were handwritten in ancient Elvish. Judge says there's only one copy of the motion which poses an insurmountable hurdle for the court. It's like they've never heard of (a) a photocopy machine and (b) common courtesy. "We can charge them a dismissal fee, but no way in fuck are we making them photocopies, Johnson!" Fuckers.

The kid tries to argue his case, but the judge just repeats his mantra.
Kid: But your honor there's...
Cooperative Judge: There's only one copy.
Kid: Yes, but in --
CJ: One copy.
Kid: But I --
CJ: One copy.
Kid: My staple --
Everyone in the courtroom, in unison: ONE COPY.
The kid regroups and launches into his explanation of why he got his ticket. Judge give fewer shits than the honey badger and demands a plea.

Suddenly I feel like I was watching the most intense round of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (<--- click that when you're done). The kid is narrating all his thoughts, rehearsing what he ate for lunch, trying to recall everything he read on the internet that morning, when finally he says: "I'm not sure I understand the charges being brought against me."

I'm thinking oh shit! Maybe something complicated happened! Maybe he was arrested underwater or maybe he was a bystander in a police chase! Or maybe his car flipped and exploded! Right? Totally! America! FUCK YEAH!

Judge shuffles through the documents, squints, and calmly says "it's for failure to stop at a stop sign." I just start laughing my ass off from the back of the courtroom. Fucking awesome.

The lesson is this: Having guts is laudable, but there's a point where you realize struggling won't do you any good because the opportunity to change the situation has passed...for now at least. Remember the serenity prayer? "Serenity Now!" "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Overcoming Social Anxiety

Surprisingly Symbolic
Hello Edahn.

I am a 23 yr old guy. I was always painfully shy. However I never faced a lot of problem with it due to my good academic records and my regular advancements in career. For some reason, two years ago I suddenly began to feel lonely and lost hope in life. My studies have been deteriorating since and right now I feel a kind of anaesthetized, detached from everything. I have no urge to fight. I even fear to talk to people I once knew. I fear as if they would know my shortcomings and weaknesses. I feel I would bore them. I can't respect the person I am.

Examples of my shyness--I fear to talk over phone. Whenever I am among a group of people, I hesitate to express myself and get embarrassed. I can't talk to my professors. Sometimes I feel dumb when I see others are talking spontaneously and I am left behind. I feel as if people are disgusted with my personality or simply ignore me. This way I am left so alone and isolated from others. Two years from now I will be a doctor and don't know whether I would really make it. Now my self esteem has hit the bottom. Six months from now, I will have to sit for a big exam and have to complete volumes of books. I don't know what I am doing.

I went to a psychologist. She told me that I have defeating personality. One psychiatrist told me I got dysthymia. I regular take antidepressants but it's not helping me anymore. If you can suggest what to do, how to take control of the situation by myself, I would be really grateful to you. Don't ignore it.

IT SOUNDS TO ME like you've gone through 3 separate stages. First, a shy phase; second, some type of depression; and third, a period where the social anxiety has been creeping into different parts of your social life and where you've practiced self-loathing. My best guess would be that you never learned how to trust that life would work out. In the beginning, this showed up mainly in your social relationships, where you predicted things would go bad. Eventually, this spread to other parts of your life and you started predicting they would go bad too. Over time you developed a sense of hopelessness, which together with the loneliness due to not being able to connect with people, made you feel depressed. Eventually, the feeling of doom kept spreading and now you expect it everywhere, so much that you probably cause it to happen. (See self-fulfilling prophecy.) If you want to read a little more about this, I'd suggest googling "scripts" and "transactional analysis." Erick Berne wrote a lot of interesting stuff about this.

But you actually don't need to read to work through this. As smart as you are, reading will only get you so far. The real work involves courage and understanding.

Here's what you gotta do. You have to be willing to endure the confusion and weirdness of this moment, whatever it is, without succumbing to the belief that there's something inherently wrong with you or with your experience that needs to be corrected. That takes balls and patience, but I would bet that deep down, you already know how to do it and what that looks like. 

Anything else you try to do to fix your situation will only fuck you up more. Any therapy or form of mental control or whatnot will reinforce the idea that something is wrong with THIS that needs to be corrected and fixed. Do you see how this is the theme that has been running through your life, robbing you of your opportunity to feel comfortable and safe, making you feel like you're defective? It's not just you. It's almost everyone. They're just playing games, hoping that if they reach their ideal (materially, socially, sexually) they'll finally fit in and everything will finally be okay. Guess what. That moment never comes, because as you acclimate to one level, your needs increase and there's a new goal to attain, and so on. The only way people ever get out of that is by facing the moment and facing themselves with all their supposed defects and unacceptable qualities, and just wait. They don't do anything, they just wait

What the fuck is the point of waiting? By waiting, you see that there is nothing actually wrong. This is fine. The thing you thought you needed was bullshit because the only thing that ever really mattered was your ability to be kind to yourself and to be kind in general. Sounds hokey? Too fucking bad. It's the truth. 

The secret is this, my friend: there's no secret. There's no technique, no special training you need, and there's no where you're ever going to go that will make you feel safe. The only place you will ever feel safe is right here, where you already are, with all the disappointment and mediocrity you already feel. You never go anywhere; you give up trying to get anywhere, and then you find yourself where you already are. You just don't have the urge to fight it anymore. You just experience it however it is. But in that moment, you stop being an asshole to yourself. Your heart loosens up and true wisdom blossoms inside you. You know what you have to do to make things right in your life and in this world. It's not a desperate kind of thing. It comes from a place of deep silence and intimacy. That's what intuition really is. It's very very sacred, and I say that as a non-religious person.

Sit with this a little, and sit with your experience. See what it's like without analyzing it and trying to gain the upper hand on it so you can erase it. Enough of that. You've been running to long. Face it like a fucking warrior. Be brave.

When you need more guidance, read some of my posts that are tagged with "Rest" like this one or this one or this one. Actually, just read them all. ;)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Should I ditch my friend?

So I recently took a trip with a good friend. We me up with some of her friends that I have never met. We were all having a good time when things turned for the worse. An argument broke out between some friends of hers and I ended up in the middle because of something I had said that was taken the wrong way. My good friend ended up getting mad at me and yelling at me during this time. I do take into consideration that everyone (except me) was a bit under the influence but feel like things got a bit out of control and I ended up walking away from the situation. The next day I discussed with my good friend what had happened and she was unable to recall anything. The other parties involved also couldn’t recall what had happened. I was the only one that knew what had gone on. 

I am weary of staying friends with my “good” friend. I don’t know if I am making a big deal out of what happened on the trip. Should let the incident go or let my friend go?

THERE'RE A FEW THINGS that seemed to have gone awry. First, your friend yelled at you. In my book, that's not acceptable. I don't think people should ever lose their cool unless it's a life-or-death situation. Getting upset is one thing, but theatrics and lashing out create an unpredictable, unsafe environment that's neither conducive to friendship nor any other kind of healthy relationship. Even if she's upset, she needs to be claim responsibility for her actions and words and pay attention to how they affect others and cut that shit out. That's part 1.

Part 2 is that she claims she can't remember anything. At best, she has a bad memory or was really drunk. At worst, this is just another tool for her to absolve herself from responsibility. Not only does she let herself lash out, but by claiming she can't remember anything, she can do it over and over with impunity. Regardless of why she can't remember, her inability puts you in a position where you can't talk about what happened and  mend the relationship. So not only are you left disoriented, you've been deprived of your opportunity to find your way back. Double-shitty.

Some people would just walk away. It's certainly an option and I wouldn't fault you for it; although conflict might be a regular part of life, I don't think anger and hostility need to be, certainly not by choice. What's a friendship really worth if you can't relax and trust the person? On the other hand, if this is an isolated incident and you have a lot of history together, maybe you can work something out by talking. If you're contemplating walking away, you don't have much to lose. 

In the end, it comes down to this: there are some things you can change and some things you can't. Some people are set in their ways and don't care to change (or worse, can't). Their habits, addictions, fears, drives, personality, and body pull them in a certain direction. The stronger the pull, the harder it is to effect any kind of change. 

You know yourself, you know you think you're capable of working it out, or will you end up revisiting this issue over and over? Is it worth the trouble? Will you feel "right" in the relationship, or will you always feel like something is off or missing? There's no right or wrong decision. You just have to try and do what's best for you in the long-run.

Update: Asker is dropping her friend in order to cut drama out of her life. Kudos!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Overcome Anything

  1. You don't need to actually change your difficult thoughts or feelings to improve your experience. You just need to change the way you tend to them.
  2. The way you change isn't by some type of mental trickery or manipulation. It's actually through releasing the shame that surrounds your thoughts and feelings and abilities.
  3. Uprooting shame isn't this mysterious thing that takes years of practice and mental kung fu. All it takes is intelligence, and it doesn't even take that much. The intelligence is seeing and understanding that you aren't to blame for your shortcomings. You didn't choose your upbringing, your experiences, your teachers, your enemies, the weather, the political climate, the cultural landscape, technologies, social conventions, etc. You were born into these situations and they helped shape the person that you are and endowed you with gifts and difficulties.
  4. Truly appreciating that you aren't to blame takes the edge off. The thoughts and feelings don't dissolve immediately, but they're less heavy. It's like someone offering to help you carry your baggage. You're still holding it, but it's easier to move with. This is why kids are so joyous and happy and silly: they haven't developed shame.
  5. The first step is always admitting to yourself what's giving you trouble, i.e., identifying your "issue(s)." If you can do that, there's a lot of hope for you already. Enormous hope. Far too many people live in denial and thwart their chances to really improve their life in significant ways, rather than just superficially through the acquisition of property, admiration, power, and sex that temporarily corroborates their sense of self.
  6. Everyone owes it to themselves to free themselves from the fetters of shame. This is a very profound level of freedom.
This is really all there ever is and all that needs to be said. It's a universal recipe for addressing any personal obstacles.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Conquering Yourself

It's been too long, Ask Edahn, and I'm sorry for not writing sooner. I've had a lot on my mind and a lot on my plate.

Tonight's post will need to be quick, but hopefully it's a sign of more to come. (There's like 20 That'sWhatSheSaids in there, but I can't parse em all out right now.)

One of the crossroads, or maybe paradoxes, I've found myself in these past, oh, 2 years, it's the paradox of change. The more you force change, the more you become the same person--fighting, battling, judging, and being self-conscious. And it's the moments where you surrender that you feel free to try new things with a sense of self-forgiveness and bravery. It's in the moments where you stop trying to get things that you see 1) you have every tool you need and 2) there are still some things you need to do. When you push forward, you find resistance, but when you let yourself be as you are, you seem to drift almost effortlessly in the right direction.

This puts people (read: me) at an impasse. You know there's an alternative, but you know that the only way you'll taste it is through giving up your pursuit of it. Sort of.

It seems to me that so much of psychology and the self-help movement is aimed at forcing, change, conquering. As long as try to conquer ourselves, we'll just fall into the same old patterns of enemy/friend, winner/loser, good/bad that steal our sense or real peace and meaning. Rather than conquer the parts of ourselves that we don't like, I think it makes much more sense to try and conquer the part of yourself that always believes there is something that needs to be conquered to win. Conquer your false notions of success. Conquer your feeling that something is wrong with yourself. In other words, sit still and see what's already here, however ugly or boring or painful, and just wait. That's the only kind of conquering that really makes any sense to me.