A Kinky Mind

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely in a room with Internet. Chances are, you also have a litany of other boons: food in a refrigerator, some source of income, and so on. You probably live in a fairly well-developed, if not exceptionally well-developed, part of the world. You have access to everything from running water to the ability to order Chinese takeout.

In these highly ideal conditions, the irony is how easy it can be to search for a hole in the Perfect World. Where’s the catch, the flaw in the game? There’s gotta be a kink here somewhere if we look – and chances are, if we look hard enough, we’ll find one.

Funny enough, in my experience, that kink has been in my own brain. I can be involved with the affairs of others (the outside world) – but my first responsibility, my priority, for now, is to keep up with myself (the inner world). Whatever’s going on in the world outside could be moving along in some kind of loose order, or it could be falling apart, but largely, my perception of this is going to be affected by the state of my own consciousness.

I’m a realist: I don’t expect to be kink-free all of the time. But sometimes all it takes is to remind myself what I do have going for me, which is a hell of a lot.

Purely for Pleasure?

Up to this point, my number one impetus for almost anything I did had always been some form of gratification. Whether it was gratification in playing with people, sharing with listeners, or even the process itself, the prospect of feeling a positive, even pleasurable, emotion was what drove me.

When I was a kid, I had an interest in everything. If I wanted to open a restaurant, I would open it – in our kitchen. If I wanted to put on a play, I’d put it on in our backyard. If I wanted to deliver a church sermon, I would do so on the front porch. Produce a film? The world was my set.

I wasn’t so much concerned about the outcome of these projects as I was about the actual doing of them. But somewhere along the way, I started paying attention to how many people actually showed up. I started thinking about other things than just the excitement of doing something for no better reason than I wanted to.

There’s nothing wrong with gratification. It’s part of being human. But gratification from doing something because of an authentic desire is much different than gratification based on external validation.

Having an audience, or people to share the project with, is nice, but it can’t be the defining factor behind an authentic action. Even if a project receives a scathing review, this too can be harmful just knowing that someone cared enough to write a review in the first place. The ego is to fragile to be tested.

Someone close to me said something beautiful just a few hours ago: “It could also be how you measure that gratification.” If we can’t escape gratification, at least we can choose how we define it. If any of us were the last person on earth, we would still (once we had achieved a manageable level of stasis) derive some sense of gratification from our actions that obviously couldn’t be measured by other beings. And it seems to me that this is worth finding some way to come back to.

Quote accredited to Thom Keating.

Pushing Up

The job I have now is an interesting beast. I’ve wrestled with it now for, well, as long as I’ve been doing it – about seven years. I’ve never encountered anything so emotionally challenging, nor something that has forced me to adapt with such immediacy.

What strikes me the most about it is how I am always needing to adjust my perspective. Sometimes my emotions can get the better of me, but when I take a step back and look at how good I have it, my perspective is slanted towards the positive. The most challenging thing is not being able to see the forest for the trees.

I think this can extend to all walks of life  – not only jobs, but also activities, or moments or stretches of time when we are just “not feeling it.” It takes quite a bit of discernment to know if it’s worth it to push through, or if it’s not. If it is, pushing through is smart. If it’s not, you may have no choice – pushing through may still be required.

Good for those who have reached a point to where they don’t have to deal with the emotional roller coaster. But I’m sure that ride still exists for everyone – even those who have graduated to doing work that resonates with every fiber of their being. Come to think of it, do those people even exist?

I guess perspective is not as important as I thought. Sure, it may make the pushing through easier, or harder, but the perspective is always going to be what it is at the time. So what’s left? Whatever is left is the stuff to be dealt with. It’s the dirty stuff – it’s the stuff that can be tough to swallow. But it’s also the stuff that makes us stronger, makes us grow.

We won’t get stronger or grow, however, if we don’t push up and not through. If we spend all of our time pushing through, we just might stay on the same ride for longer than we bargained for. If we push up, we might make a bit of our own luck, and be able to switch to another, better ride.

No Room For Error

I was watching a fire twirler today on my final break. He had a long pole with green fire on one end and a fire ring, with several smaller fire pockets attached to it. I was impressed with his apparent fearlessness.

I was impressed because he was standing on a street that sloped downward. There was a guy sitting on the curb, looking up at him. One false move, and the fire twirler might have had to drop the pole, possibly harming his devoted onlooker.

But then it dawned on me: there was no chance of that happening. This fire twirler had practiced his stuff – he knew what he was doing. He wasn’t going to get burned, and he wasn’t going to drop the pole. Again, no chance.

What makes a person want to twirl fire? Why not just twirl a baton? I’m sure fire twirlers have an innate reckless streak – they like to be inches from the flame. But they must also be especially confident in their abilities to want to play with such a harmful element.

I’ve always been impressed with fire twirler types. They seem perfectly relaxed in dangerous situations – but this must be because in their minds, there is no room for error.

Why I Love Golf

There are few sports that I love more than golf. In fact, there are few anythings that I love more than golf. Whenever I am on the golf course, even if I am playing badly, I feel a powerful love for everything and everyone and have a big smile on my face that seems glued there.

I know why this is. Because out on the links, it’s just me and the ball, me and the game. Any personal struggles are left behind, all regrets, mistakes, not in the picture. Even the positive aspects of life are sitting back there, waiting for me when I walk off the 9th or 18th hole. For the next few hours, I am walking through a manicured landscape, swinging a stick and watching a ball propelling into the air and landing somewhere over there.

I don’t expect much from golf. I’d like to get the point where I can consistently hit bogie, par, and the occasional birdie. I don’t hope to some day reach a competitive level – it’s too late for that anyway. And this, I think, is the most compelling thing about golf for me. Pure enjoyment.

I’ve always been one to be a bit hard on myself. Noticing that I had some natural talents, I was never one to let myself get away with not aiming high. But somewhere along the way, something bad happened – I let this overwhelm me. I grew jaded, to the point of ignoring my God-given abilities. I compared myself to lofty “idols” or “heros” that only accentuated the gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. I became discouraged.

That never happened with golf. I never try to push myself too far beyond my current skill level, I can skip a few days and notice that I can still return to the course with the same unfettered joy and enthusiasm. Golf, for me, is a respite, a refuge. I don’t feel any cosmic responsibility to face it down.

That’s why I love golf.

Understanding Demotivation

Apparently there is a principle in Oriental philosophy according to which life goes in a cycle. (I’ll try to decipher where exactly this comes from so that I can properly cite it – it may be Confucianism.) I won’t pretend to totally understand this concept, but it has something to do with the Ups and Downs of Life. Emotional highs and lows, physical successes and failures, psychological break throughs and hang-ups. They’re all encompassed in the Cycle.

The German version of this, as I learned in Advanced Jazz Theory back when I was doing my undergrad at the University of Louisville, is called the Zeitgeist. My dictionary defines Zeitgeist as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs at the time.” I understood the idea more broadly as a study of the progression of an Art form, or of anything really, from human behaviors to the engineering of food, in a cyclical context.

My teacher was using the Zeitgeist concept to explain the trends in American jazz music. In jazz, he was explaining, you had traditional blues-based forms, which evolved into bepop in the 40’s and 50’s, which in turned evolved into fusion and more experimental, free-form jazz in the 60’s and 70’s, finally giving way back to a more conventional, “post bop” sound in the 80’s, and so on. The cycle in jazz, then, is “simple, complex, simple, complex.”

This cycle of alternating back and forth between two extremes can be seen as a universal principle. In my own case, I’ve experienced my own version of the Zeitgeist in my creative life. Usually the current takes me through periods of intense drive and passion, where I am super “productive”, followed by equally intense periods of demotivation and feeling completely uninspired.

I like the “Zeitgeist”, or Cycle, idea, because it’s a compassionate take on these alternating periods. Maybe it’s perfectly natural to feel uninspired, just as it is to feel gung-ho and ready to take on the world. For every point, there is an opposite point, so every mood or condition simply falls into the Cycle.

The friend who brought this idea back to my attention explained that the periods of de-motivation are just as important as the periods of motivation, because they indicate where our attentions should go during that period. Our attentions might be better suited, for example, away from the area of focus, so that the creative mind can refresh itself and prepare to receive more advanced information. The person in the frustrating period of “demotivation,” then, is actually there because he or she is not happy with the level of knowledge, aptitude, or awareness, she is currently experiencing. On some level, she wants to attain a higher level of awareness, and so her repulsion from the thing she is usually attracted to is allowing her to shift her focus to other areas, other interests, which may help her original area of focus when she comes out of the “demotivation” period and starts to return again to the “drive and passion” period.

Of course, she will return to the “drive and passion” period with renewed vigor, and stay there for a while, achieving her new level of Awareness. But again, this period will end, and she will hit another plateau, only this time it will be slightly higher, and the Cycle continues.

These scenarios may be over-generalizations, but I think they can be useful when thinking about our own creative Cycles. You, reading this, may be experiencing a “high-vibration” period of going full throttle, or you may be somewhere in the low-vibration period, where the Process has become drudgery. I believe that these low-vibration periods are the most telling, because they, aside from being naturally very difficult to deal with, reveal the kinds of Artists and people we truly are. They provide a chance to either embrace the grind and continue even though we just don’t want to, or to shift our focus for a while and explore other avenues until we feel that it’s time to come back to the first thing, about which we may find we have a fresh attitude.

What you do in these periods shapes you as an Artist and a Person, and it also speaks to your inner nature. I don’t believe there is a “wrong” or “right” way to go about it – as long as something is being done. Who’s to say whether the solution is to go deeper or to remove yourself altogether – especially when nothing is permanent?

The Causative Nature of “Interest”

Every Process eventually reaches an impasse where the values, goals, and visions get reexamined. At this point, the person or group behind the Process can decide which of these to keep, which to modify, which to throw away, and ultimately, whether to continue to engage (stick) or whether to hang it up.

Even if a company is doing well, the owner can decide to sell it if it is no longer in his interest to oversee it. By contrast, if the same company is suffering, the owner might decide to invest some more time and money and really do all that he can to pull it through. What he does depends first and foremost on his interest.

There are a lot of factors that may go into the decision of whether to stick or to get out. A financial concern will have a much different kind of effect than a personal one. But in the end, the decision will be made based on what the business venture, the relationship, the creative process, means to whomever is facing the fork in the road. Emotional investment outplays all. That’s what I mean by “interest.”

Sometimes it can be hard to see what the right move to make is. Maybe a change of direction is needed, but there is a lack of certainty as to how or where. Perhaps the Vision doesn’t need to be replaced, but massaged a bit. And maybe it was just a routine checkup, and everything can continue more or less as before. The outcome, however, will always be directly connected to the same phenomenon that got the whole thing started – a conviction, a sentiment, a feeling.

Gravity

The sort of individuals who have had the biggest effect on me have been the kind of people who were the least concerned with having an effect. Their presence was big, through no effort on their part. If they were musicians, people listened, if they were artists, people looked. If they were teachers, people learned.

In Nashville, Tennessee, I ran into a couple of musicians who I perceived to have a big effect on not just me, but other folks as well, and who did so through a medium that was bigger than their music. Maybe “medium” is the wrong word. I like to think of it as “Gravity.”

This “Gravity” seemed to be magnetic, in a way. If I was to say where it came from, I could only use metaphysical terms like “well-grounded” or “character,”  but that wouldn’t paint the whole picture. But whatever it was, I could tell these men stood for something.

The thing that struck me the most was that they attracted people. If you were lucky enough to introduce yourself or be introduced, you felt as though they were somehow calling you to be more. When they played their songs, you were listening to them, not so much the song.

“Gravity” is earned through being a certain kind of person, not necessarily from obsession with technique or virtuosity – or any kind of isolation. You can’t separate the Music, or the Art, from the Man. But the Man is still there when the song ends.

Navigating by Feel: The Essence of True Strength

We live in a very mind-centered world. Thanks to social media and texting, we have more time than ever to plan out our communications in the perfect way. Technical know-how is encouraged, as is strategy, tact, and autonomy, all requiring a great deal of mental strength.

I, for one, spend a lot of time in my Head. Whether I am a child of nature or nurture, the way I approach the world involves a lot of thinking, contemplating, “philosophizing”. It’s what I like to do, it’s part of how I operate.

But enough about me. I’m just one example of a kind of person in today’s world – a kind of person that you may know, or even be yourself. And this thought-centered way of being may be very useful, but, as with such things, can also be debilitating.

I think Emerson said it best:

What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New-Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat, and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength. If the traveller tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white man to his grave. [Self-Reliance]

The more “cultured” we become, the more we have the danger of relying on the Brain to help us navigate. As information increases at an exponential rate, cluttering our consciousness, we can go one of two ways: we can either become more analytical, more thought-oriented, or we can become more feeling-oriented.

In times of doubt, Thought Orientation is often the best policy. A problem needs to be solved, information is gathered, experiments performed, and conclusions drawn based on impartial data. But, as today’s methods of navigating the fields of business and relationships become less and less like yesterday’s, Feeling Orientation may prove to be even more effective.

The kicker is, intuition and “going with the gut” are not things that can be taught, and therefore, not fostered by society. We’re not necessarily going to see them encouraged or advertised. But that’s OK, because we were born knowing how to do them. Learning to navigate our world by “feeling it out” is one of our most primal instincts. And perhaps, needed now more than ever.

The Best Way To Grow

I saw a quote today that resonated deeply: “A strong man is strongest when alone.” – Friedrich Schiller.

This speaks to a theme, one that I touched on in yesterday’s post. In the context of the Impresario, he or she still has a duty to connect to or “seduce” him or herself when not in the presence of an audience, or any others to share the Vision.

I take this quote to mean essentially that what we do when no one is around, when no one is looking, is who we truly are, and what shapes our character. This is an uncomfortable thought for me – and that’s precisely why I’m bringing it to the table.

I’m sure I’m no different than anyone else in not wanting to feel as though my behavior or my values are up for some kind of scrutiny during my alone time. When it’s just me, I like to sleep late and eat cookies.

It’s not as though there is a hidden camera placed by the gods in our rooms – a “Santa Claus” who decides who’s naughty and nice based on the way we conduct our private lives. But if anyone is to hold me accountable for my private life, it must be, well, me.

I like this philosophy because I find it to be a window into the secrets of where exactly we can grow. There’s not a weakness in the armor, no matter how conveniently inaccessible, that won’t be revealed when we’re alone.