Sitting in the Confusion

Photo: Lagos, Portugal

I feel confused a lot. So much so that a friend recently gave me the nickname “confused tree,” the tree part being a reference to my tallness. What am I confused about? That’s easy: pretty much everything.

I’m confused about what I really want in life, who I am, how I feel, and what I should be doing. I’m confused about the world around me and about what my place in it should be. I’m confused about why I’m even confused in the first place. There’s so much confusion that sometimes it can feel overwhelming.

Here’s a thought. Maybe the problem isn’t the confusion itself, but how I perceive it. I’ve always looked at confusion as a negative thing. I mean, nobody wants to be confused. It’s not a great feeling. And there are few things that feel better than having a clear sense of direction in life.

But what if the confusion is a good thing? What if it’s something to be embraced, celebrated even? I’m not really sure where I’m going with this thought, but it has occurred to me lately that there is a sense of joy that can come from just sitting in the confusion. When everything around us tells us to find answers, maybe there’s more pleasure to be found in the never-ending stream of questions.

“Turning Pro” to Go with the Flow

“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

– Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art” 

Last night I had an interesting conversation with one of my roommates. We traversed a variety of topics, ranging from the meditation habits of Kobe Bryant to what it truly means to go with the flow in life. At one point during our discussion, I started telling my roommate something I had never talked about with anyone before (mainly because I thought it would make me look like a crazy person). It went something like this:

Sometimes there’s this noise in my head. It always starts when I know I should be working on something – whether it’s writing, making a video, or going to the gym – but I don’t do it.

First come the thoughts, hollow rationalizations whispering inside my head. I know I should be taking action but I’m trying to deny it. As my denial continues, emotions like anxiety and guilt join those thoughts, increasing the noise from a subtle murmur to a distracting hum. It’s not long before the noise becomes overwhelming. My mind feels scattered and focusing is nearly impossible.

At this point I have two options: escape into mindless distractions (watch Netflix, get on my phone, blast some music) or do the thing I know I should be doing. I’m quite familiar with the first option. It’s the easy fix, but it’s also temporary. As soon as the distraction is over the noise comes back.

But every now and then I summon the willpower to choose option number two. I glue my ass to a chair and just write. I set up my tripod, turn on my camera, and just start talking. That’s the magic bullet. It doesn’t even matter if the work I produce is any good; within minutes the noise subsides. I’m left with an empty mind.

Last week I wrote about my growing interest in going with the flow. I sometimes envision that as a state of content laziness, an avoidance of the work and responsibilities that are supposedly causing me so much stress. Yet it’s that very avoidance that inevitably leads to the noise in my head, and thus more of the stress I want to escape.

So if avoiding action isn’t the key to going with the flow, does that mean taking more action is?

Not surprisingly, I’m turning to a book for the answers I seek. That book is Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.”

I first read “The War of Art” during my senior year of college, but only recently did I realize how valuable it is.

Pressfield begins the books by talking about resistance, the invisible force responsible for all of our creative blocks. It’s the voice in our heads that tells us all the reasons why we can’t achieve our dreams. It’s the inner saboteur that makes us rationalize and procrastinate. It the reason so many people “die with their song still inside of them,” as the saying goes.

Fortunately, Pressfield spends the rest of the book describing how to conquer this destructive foe. He gives plenty of great advice, but most of it can be summed up with two words: turn pro.

Turning pro means treating your creative work (or any work/activity that pushes you to grow as a person) like you would your job. No matter how bad you feel or what rationalizations your mind tries to create, you always show up for work. Rain or shine. Excited or miserable. You show up because it’s your job.

It means sitting down every day to write. It means going to the gym on the days you’re supposed to. It means taking action towards your goals, even when your thoughts and emotions are doing their best to make you do the opposite.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “That’s a nice concept and all, but what does it have to do with going with the flow?”

In my earlier post on going with the flow, I talked about how non-resistance and being present to the moment seemed like the best ways to do that. Ever since I discovered “The Power of Now” I’ve tried relying on those things whenever that noise in my head appeared. However, those things haven’t been very effective. The only thing that has ever been able to quiet my mind in those moments is doing the work I’m avoiding.

That tells me that things like acceptance and mindfulness only make up half of what’s necessary to truly go with the flow in life. The other half? Turning pro. It’s counterintuitive, but dedicating yourself to the work that truly matters to you is just as important as learning how to take it easy.

Of course, this could be completely subjective. But I know from personal experience that I am the most relaxed after working on my passions, even if resistance tries to convince me otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

Two Words of Wisdom

Photo: Guadalquivir River in Seville, Spain

“Just flow…”

That phrase has been stuck in my head for the past month or so. It all started on a Friday night when I began bombarding my roommate with questions about our plans for the evening. I wanted to know what we were doing, where we were going, and who were going with. I needed to have a plan. However, in the midst of my stream of questions, he turned to me and said those magic words.

While they may have been little more than an attempt to stop my inquiries,  his words of wisdom really struck a chord with me. They made me think of two of my favorite books, “The Power of Now” and the “Tao Te Ching.” Both books talk about the importance of accepting the present moment and not dwelling on the past or future. In other words, they talk about “going with the flow.”

Although this wasn’t a new concept for me, there was something about the way my roommate said, “just flow” that made the idea suddenly click in my head. In the days that followed, I started noticing how often I did the complete opposite. I was in an almost constant state of resistance, both mentally and physically. My shoulders were usually tight, my breathing shallow, and my mind full of anxiety and discontent. Rarely was I able to just relax and enjoy the moment.

So I began reminding myself of my roommate’s words. Whenever I felt tightness in my shoulders or noticed resistance in my thoughts, I’d take a deep breath and say to myself, “just flow.” From there I’d do my best to stay connected with my breath and fully relax into the present moment.

The effects were pretty small at first – I’d relax for just a moment and then find myself caught up in resistance once again – but I stuck with it. Well, I think it’s better to say that it stuck with me. The whole idea of “going with the flow” sounded more and more appealing each day. I realized that it’s something I want to truly embody, and the last month has mainly consisted of me exploring different ways of doing that. The most notable have been guided meditations, yoga, tai chi, and reading up on philosophies like Taoism.

I’m not really sure where this newfound interest in going with the flow will take me, but I think it will be somewhere good. At the very least it will encourage me to stay mindful of when I’m resisting the present moment, and that mindfulness is a tremendous source of peace in itself.