Wednesday, November 30, 2011

walls in our heads

Thanks to my friend Brian, I'm happy to share an interesting article about the allure of creating the walls in our heads, which continues on the post I shared two weeks ago.

For those of you who might not want to read the whole article, here are a couple of quotes I think are interesting:

"Walls, then, are built not for security, but for a sense of security."

"...walls can also block one’s view, but that should not be such big problem, especially when one wa
nts to hide."

"The erection of a wall signifies that someone has got something precious and that the others should know about it."

Whenever we identify ourselves as something ("I'm a New Yorker," "I'm a nice person"), we exclude other options and possibilities and limit ourselves. Do I love being a New Yorker? Yes! Is it important to me to be a nice person? Absolutely. But when I build a wall that says "I'm a New Yorker and I'm not anything else," that limits me. Same thing with being a nice person -- or any other identification you're likely to make.

Why draw lines? Instead, be flexible and explore what it would mean to not be a New Yorker, or to be a mean person. How would that change you? What would the impact be? You might be surprised by what you find...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

farming vs. mining

Many moons ago, my cousin Brian pointed me to a really interesting blog post that inspired me. The premise is that you've bought a plot of land and have two choices -- you can farm that land, or you can mine it. Which do you do?

"If you farm," says author Wil Shipley, "you’ll have to purchase seed up-front, and work on it for a season before you see any profits. And every season you’ll plow most the profits (literally) back into the land and salaries and your mortgage. You husband the soil to ensure that it’ll keep providing for you for years and years. If you’re lucky, and if you do a good job, you’ll gather a following, sales will increase, and eventually you may make a tidy living. But every season, no matter how rich you get, you’re going to be back out there, breaking your back and working with the soil. When you finally retire, if you’ve done a good job, the soil is as good as when you first got it, and your farm will live on."

"Or," he continues, "you could mine; you’ll need some initial money to lease mining equipment, and to hire some people to work the mine. Then, bam: profit. You’re making money. You tear a giant hole in the ground and eke every last bit of metal out as quickly as possible; there’s nothing to preserve, there’s no soil to keep in condition. You’ll make a big score, then the land will be spent, and you move on, leaving an unusable crater."

He then goes on to parallel this analogy with starting a software company, which I won't go into, but it really applies to how you want to live your life on a broad basis. Are you willing to invest a part of yourself in your development on a regular basis, or do you want to get in, get out, and get emptied?

Some people are naturally long-term focused, and so for them, farming may come easier. Knowing that it's in their best self-interest may make eating healthy easier to do. Believing that insight will follow a week with no television may make it easier to bear the silence. But for people who are short term focused -- or even long-term focusers who are frustrated by their current situations -- mining may feel more rewarding.

And is there a way to combine both? Can you mine part of the land and farm others? Life is not black and white, it's much more of a continuum. And if you aim to land in farming more often than in mining, I think it's a winning proposition. Because the image of that "unusable crater" is pretty haunting.

Monday, November 14, 2011

we build the wall to keep us free

I've been listening recently to this incredible musical based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Why We Build the Wall (the song above) has been stuck in my head a lot in the last week or so. The premise is great and seems totally backwards -- we're building a wall to keep ourselves free. The lyrics say:

What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none
And our work is never done
My children, my children
And the war is never won
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That's why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free

And it makes me wonder -- where in our lives do we build these walls? Walls that seem to be keeping out an enemy and providing us with freedom but that are still closing in on us and keeping us small. Walls that give us something to focus on and something to keep ourselves busy, but walls that, in the end, don't get us what we really want.

I'm thinking of a friend of mine who works six bajillion hours a week. The "enemy" in this case is failure or disappointment, and working endless hours at his job (the "wall" in this case, too) is what keeps the enemy at bay. But even if he builds that wall, failure will be patiently waiting on the other side of it, looking for the smallest crack to climb inside.

I'm also thinking of myself -- in my case sometimes the enemy is "feeling too much" and shutting down those feelings so I don't have to be overwhelmed by them is my wall. It seems like the smart thing to do -- manage emotion so it can be tamed or mastered, but in truth, the more I try to sweep my feelings under the rug, the more they become protesters at Occupy Kate's Wall Street.*

If what we want is endless work with no payoff, we can have that. There will always be more fear. There will always be more walls to build. But what does it take to knock down the wall and start giving up the war in the first place? Acceptance. Recognizing that whatever's on the other side of the wall -- poverty, fear, disappointment, too many feelings -- it's always going to be there. And we can't pretend it away. So why not start to accept it so that we can let go of the concept of it being an enemy?

Easier said than done, I realize. But worth a shot -- unless you want to move to Hadestown, that is.

*I know, sorry, I couldn't resist.