Making a change? Finding your authentic self

imageIn the long low darkness of the void, while your brain chemistry adjusts to change, there is one last sacrifice to make. After setting aside your rituals, your be-all-end-all attentions and beliefs, you must now claim one final permission in order to connect with your authentic self: time.

And here’s where all the mindfulness meditation really pays off. The glory of the void is that without motivation or direction you are free to surrender to the purity of the present – as an observer rather than manager or negotiator. I believe that each breath is a life lived in and of itself. This meditative perception is experienced so much more acutely in the void because you can’t reach into the past (ritual) for comfort or into a future that has yet no map or meaning. Yes, exploring this concept – existing only as a description of time – is a decidedly separate and inhuman bliss, but one that can be savoured if you bring your system back to the surface of your skin and through mindfulness meditation learn to let go (if only temporarily) of so much of that blinding social/paradigm-dependent judgement bullshit. Sure, you’ve got other stuff to do – don’t we all! – but it’s in these carefully cultivated moments of emptiness that your authentic self suddenly finds it has space to come up for air.

I couldn’t take another step, couldn’t find a reason. And so I sat down right where I was, on a frozen cement stoop in front of a Calgary strip mall: pizza/ hot yoga/ flowers/ coffee – each shop a different desperate human reach. But I was done reaching. All my human handholds had become electrified (hence my need to make a change). And so I sat, huddled and directionless, in a despair of overwhelming physicality. This time I did not even try to fight it. The sun took pity and lay a warm and gentle hand on my back but I (no joke) sat there wishing I was cold so I’d at least have something real and tangible to push against. But I had to let that go.

The miracle of the void is that no one is watching over your shoulder. You’ve earned all your permissions and now you just have to relax into them. Let go, just watch, just be. Be time. You’ve done it a thousand times before – every orgasm, that third glass of wine, your next Netflix marathon (sweet sweet scourge of our age). Own the truth and cut out the middle man. Every submission beyond self is a glorious abandon to time. So dare to go manual. No risk because you’ve risked it all just by being brave enough to step into the void in the faint mad hope of connecting your survival to new sources of abundance (aka true change). You’ve built this space of cognitive freedom – so use it!

I let the sun heat my body and my eyes find a place to rest. But then I let that focus go too. I existed only as one breath after another, as time itself, each small pulse of life perfect in its completeness. Minutes passed, the world closed comfortably around my meditation and then, very slowly, I began to realize I had a partner in my surrender. As I brought my attention back to my senses I discovered I was literally watching ice melt. Just a little piece, jagged edges smoothing under the sun, tiny fingers drawing themselves across the stoop, quietly darkening the pavement. But every nuance of its journey became my own as I watched the crystals give up their rigid structures, born of atmospheric trauma, as the ice returned to its purest form.

Finally!! On that grey stoop, from out of the very depths of the void, I was hit with a motivation, a desire, a genuine new want!! Without conscious thought I picked up a bit of snow and molded a crude tool. I let my hand draw what it needed to – no, wanted to! A face appeared and with it tears in my own eyes (even writing this) because releasing myself into time had broken the spell. A new set of attentions had begun, in that moment, to assert themselves. What I had lost to human turbulence so many years ago was reawakened.

I am a scribe and I carry our stories in my bones. There are many languages and not all of them learned – I was born with more than most. I had lost myself by losing faith in what makes me special. My failings will always be monumental, but so what? I say screw fitting in! That ship has so sailed. Your authentic self already knows your purest path to abundance. You were designed for it! We spend so much time trying to moderate or sublimate what we coded to celebrate. Let go into time and trust the process. Take away fear and the void dissolves, melts into a pool around your ankles. Laugh, cry, and splash to the sky because this is victory, not over death, or even life, but the first guns blazing steps of a victory march onto the blank canvas of a storied life.

Did you miss…
Making a change? Welcome to the void!
Making a change? Why risk the void?
Making a change? The REAL reason to risk the void!
Making a change? The mindfulness key
Making a change? A warning from the void!
Making a change? Connecting with your universal self – Part 1
Making a change? Connecting with your universal self – Part 2
Making a change? Finding your authentic self

Making a change? Welcome to the void…

void

What if you woke up in the pure exquisite knowledge that every decision you’d ever made had been wrong? Because they led you here, where every moment is either an agony or an escape. Would you have the courage to call out to your tribe? Would they welcome you? Would they even recognize you after you’ve been gone so long?

Within the human experience, change can be defined as the process of altering our attentions. An attention is simply information (internal or external stimuli) that your brain has learned to recognize as a component of influence in your current system state. From noticing the very literal difference in wavelength between traffic lights to feeling the change in a lover’s heartbeat, our interpretations and responses to these attentions shape and colour our worlds.

So… change?

The ridiculously limited, but delightfully human, scope of our attentions finds its closest analogy in the electromagnetic spectrum, where what we see as visible light is proportionally infinitesimal when considered against the vast universal spectrum of wavelengths. Because our current attentions create our worlds, and since we can only model our experience on a tiny selection slice of the grand universe at any given time, we have a hell of a lot of worlds to chose from. But is it choice? Can we manually change our attentions?

Yes. But it will challenge every part of your being. And like the spectrum, when you step out of the habitual, what your brain has been trained to see, we step blind into true nothingness – the end of reward. This is the vast unfathomable, and the horror is real. We all know it; we’ve all reached out and cowered at its coldness, its meanness. But this is the only way back to your tribe. Welcome to the void…

Read the next post… Why risk the void?

Explore the full blog serial…
Making a change? Welcome to the void!
Making a change? Why risk the void?
Making a change? The REAL reason to risk the void!
Making a change? The mindfulness key
Making a change? A warning from the void!
Making a change? Connecting with your universal self – Part 1
Making a change? Connecting with your universal self – Part 2
Making a change? Finding your authentic self

Beyond freedom…

ultimate beach

Freedom, pushed to its purity, becomes the opposite of its definition. I have tested freedom, bravely or foolishly – I’m still not sure. I have followed every low limbic permission to its end expression – and nearly my own. I have walked alone, naked, on the shores of a lost lake deep in the woods of Quebec – without my glasses. And in that freedom, that genetic honesty, I chilled with the recognition of our true vulnerability. Our bodies, our little eddies of friction in the flow of the universe have not evolved to support this freedom.

We court it, muse on its promises and expansiveness. But pure freedom – the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint – isolates, shrinks our viable worlds smaller and smaller as our system rejects our constructs: social rules, orders of perception, paradigm dependent value hierarchies… Want, taken down to its base, the very literal center of our brains, is so dangerous we have evolved entire neural structures to wrap it and protect us from its lethal motivations.

On the shores of that lake, I felt for the first time the need of other bodies, other brains, other eyes to guide and protect my own. What did I reach out for from freedom? With a child’s eager fingers… I reached for love.

Love is beyond freedom. This primal connection brings multiple worlds of perception into parallel, not by force, but by desire, by want. What drives us towards freedom saves us from its endgame. If you live through freedom, if you survive it, you know that even love is a choice. A choice between men, between women, becomes quite simply a choice between worlds, between selves. There is no right or wrong.

Let’s go beyond freedom, bravely and foolishly – together.

Why a craving is our most intimate human experience

screaming faceI can barely form this sentence – I want! – my mind has no patience for language – I need! All words have been conscripted in service of a craving and my executive functions are shutting down. Just as frostbitten fingers are first to have their blood siphoned away, this cold Calgary morning has redirected all my neurotransmitters to the same goal – survival. There is a fine chemical line between want and need, but once crossed, once the neural trench has been dug too deep, any stimulus will drive our energies raging down the gorge.

Because life is wild terror. Any handhold can quickly become our only handhold. But the universe, beyond us, within us, is bliss. Abandon our bodies to the flow and we join heaven. Why the hell do you think all those bald giggling monks dress alike in orange robes? Because clothes don’t matter. Hair doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, because everything matters.

But right now, caught in this blind flurry, only I matter. A craving is our most intimate human experience because suddenly all our frictions and asymmetries align and recalibrate towards one solid, if impossible, goal: survival through satisfaction. And I’m sitting here bargaining. Even this post is an act of selfish desperation. Despite the risks to ‘living the dream’ and ‘rebranding a marriage’, I made a deal to get my want (or has it already become a need?) in exchange for writing the experience of its craving. An experiment? A literary test? Rationalizations are rarely rational.

I know the biological mechanism, the science, and it’s appallingly simple. All the chemical jargon can be summarized into one clear pragmatic truth of our perception: denial of a craving is to live a life of ‘less than’.

This is, of course, bullshit of the highest order. But big-picture logic is clearly not part of this thought process. Once you’ve had sex everything else becomes foreplay. Once you’ve pushed into peak pleasures, be it anal (debatable), base jumping, or a Little-Caesars-cheesy-sauce-pretzel-crust-pizza while royally stoned – what then?buddhism desire cartoonI’m drowning in my most basic biology – sweaty palms, heart racing. But if I am a fool, I am one of the grand old fools. Because I have tasted heaven, and it wasn’t enough. I put in the years, escaped my ego, lifted my arms and have been swept up into the swirl. I am bliss. And so are you. But is isn’t enough; nothing is ever enough. Because we cannot exist without the raw ache of this moment, it is our genetic hold on time.

I cling to its narrow icy ledge, my fingernails tearing, bleeding, as it melts away. Today, there is no temperate observer, no cognitive separation from (and thereby negotiation with) ego. There is only Cymbria, weak, wanting, and determined. I love her. And of all of the stupid things I’ve done for love, today will hardly even register on the scale (more bargaining?).

And now I’ve glamourized this temporal lust beyond all chemical proportion. So much so that its absurdity is shocking, not to mention embarrassing – especially if you knew what I was craving. But still, I thrill to the submission. It will not satisfy. I will pay, as I’ve paid so many times before, along with all my other loves. But I don’t care. Because in this moment only I matter. And because orange is so not my colour… and, damn it, I have great hair!

Rebranding a Marriage: Change the game this Valentine’s Day

valentines symbols loveMarried to a man? Congratulations. They’re really quite durable and can put up with a heck of a lot. And it’s always nice to have something warm and solid to lean against whilst one ties one’s shoes. Married to a woman? Double congratulations. Through the grace of our exotic majesty you are invited to bear witness to the sublime… and that’s just before breakfast.

But no matter how auspicious its beginnings, any marriage can benefit from an in-house corporate review this Valentine’s Day. It’s been a dozen years since my man and I eloped to Niagara Falls (5 months after meeting – crazy kids) on the day of the great August 2003 blackout. Because nothing says auspicious like the entire eastern seaboard going dark to toast your wedding! Under the soft glow of candlelight, as I dressed in my handsewn stretch eyelet sheath, I held my breath for happily ever after…

…gasp… wheeze… are we there yet?…

Every freakin’ day!! But tragically, turns out the definition of “happy” is a bastard to change. Twelve years of “happily” gorging our bodies, seeding and feeding our temptations (those Reese cupcakes were criminally delish!) – with only timid, noncommittal scratchings at future responsibilities – have left us battered. Not since the vomitoriums of Rome and riotous Viking longhouses has a love nest produced two such perfectly reflective Dorian Grays. But how do you drag a couple of unapologetically stubborn, violently hedonistic individualists into the future? How do you change the menu and bring something new to the table without compromising the flavour of our extremes? How do you evolve happiness? Kicking and screaming, that’s how, while trying to keep the raping and pillaging to a manageable minimum.
rebranding a marriageIf your relationship is stalling, stagnating, or just ripe for a revamp, join me this Valentine’s Day and make a pledge to change the game. After being ‘temporarily’ laid off in Calgary’s oil and gas crunch, I’ve been living the dream as a less-than-tortured novelist. But woman cannot live or love on story alone. To keep my professional edge, I’ll be applying some basic business principles and personal branding strategies to my most important real-time partnership – my marriage.

But I have to warn you. This is not a ‘cuddle jar’, namby pamby, inspirational bit of nonsense. Because – let me state this plainly – my Viking does not do cuddle jars. He does not do 5-steps-to-take-tonight, or notes in sock drawers. This is a pragmatic renegotiation of our contractual/cultural expectations. This is going to get ugly. Come on, it’s time to get down to business!

Read the next post in this Blank Canvas Living blog serial…
Writing a vision statement

Welcome to the dream?

kitchen writing cornerIf the world gave you exactly what you’ve always wanted, a chance, would you have the balls to follow through? Last Wednesday, after seven magical years rolling paper (don’t ask) in Calgary’s oil & gas downtown mecca, I was ‘temporarily’ laid off. Stress, panic, pain… the energy in this city is darkening. One minute I was bragging to my mother cross-country about my cozy office morning spent plucking my eyebrows and youtubing The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – did I mention it’s been slow? Verbatim quote: “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this!” Sometimes irony is visceral. Fast forward three hours and I’m a tear-stained tragedy wandering downtown, albeit with perfectly shaped brows – small comfort when facing one’s last paycheck.

But even then, in the depths of my denial, a bright edged Chinook arched above the agony. Because, dear readers, I have been given a gift of unimaginable grace. I have two months before my company decides my fate, 8 weeks, 60 days to live the life I’ve always lusted for, the life of a novelist.

Twelve years ago, just married and oozing happily ever after from every pore, there were no impossibilities. I was working at Subway, which sucked, but I was writing a novel to get me out. Every page was one day closer to ‘Escaping the Lunch Rush’, and so that’s what I called it. I lived alongside my characters, a group of abducted humans slaves in an alien food court, struggling to get back to Earth. And on my knees in the back room, sweeping the floor between the ankles and inhuman chatter of my Subway bosses, I knew in every cell of my being that I was only chapters away from freedom.

The day I finished that novel was the day I knew my future, but more importantly, it was the day I knew myself. But it didn’t save me from Subway, and it sure as heck didn’t save me from myself! A dozen years later and the world has given me another chance at the impossible. But this time I’m ready. Like an Olympian, I’ve trained my entire body and brain for this one brief, fleeting moment. My current novel is 1/3 done and begging for my undivided attention. Screw statistics and f#ck the naysayers. I want to write. Finally, truly, purely, I want to write! Fairmont Palliser CalgaryBecause that’s all it takes. The want. If every breath is an entire lifetime lived in full, I want as many breaths as possible to flow through my fingers and onto the page. It is my most generous, compassionate gift to self. In this day and age, publication doesn’t matter, doesn’t pay. Two months to write my way out of working is… realistically… ludicrous. But I will still believe. It is the only way to make the story I’m writing real, and because happily ever after is so much more than a childhood fantasy. It is the only dream worth living. And don’t let anyone take it away from you – no matter what.

Join me, dear readers, in the impossible. And today, don’t settle. Don’t pussy out. Steal as many breaths as you can to invest in your own fantasy. Bring every sense on board. Rather than finding a corner in the kitchen, make writing a full body experience by setting the cues of your environment to match your own happily ever after. I sit here typing this in the luxurious breakfast area of downtown Calgary’s Fairmont Palliser Hotel, wearing the full costume of a sophisticated professional. I may have stolen a mini honey jar (and possibly a jam), and paid only 5 bucks for 2 poached eggs, but every breath I take (including smelling the delightfully literal roses!) is an entire system state experience of my most honest, congruent reality. The future doesn’t matter, because for this Monday moment, I am truly, purely, a novelist.

There’s only one problem. I married a golfer…

How to change your time perspective using a shower curtain

striped shower curtain What is your time perspective? For some of us, every breath is a lifetime lived in full. After all, at our end, it is the last observable measure of our humanity that cannot be quantized any further. But when every graduation, from micro to macro, is as equal an entirety, how do we balance the poignancy of the present with investment in the future?

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo gives a remarkable TED talk on time perspectives, where he states that “lots of conflict we have with people is really a conflict in different time perspectives,” and notes that “there’s no future tense verb in Sicilian dialect.” I am a ‘present hedonist’ – even my novel is being written in present tense! With my biology, the current trend of mindfulness and engagement with the present is intuitive simplicity itself. My attentions are unfiltered. Value and truth are dynamic, adaptive, and (oftentimes to my obvious detriment) situational. As thankful as I am for this cognitive freedom, I’m also intensely jealous of those who can lay back – future focus – and relax into the scope of an entire lifetime, permitting (if not necessitating) notions of RRSPs, Plato ideals, and justice (whatever the heck that is).

striped shower curtain bathroomFor present hedonists like myself, every emotion is amplified by its immediacy, every pain or lump is a finality, every impulse is… well, you get the idea. Every morning we land on an aircraft carrier but are never quite able to hook the cable for that slowing, soothing pull into the group story. Now that I’m getting older, my answering extremes have begun to sabotage rather than compensate. But when I fake comfort in routine, by the end of the day – one life – my subconscious is seething and I wake from dreams that are terrifying in their urgency.

On days like today, I take a hot shower in the airlock behind the vinyl curtain and try with every effort to transport my brain from one world into another. Because I am writing a novel, working a job, celebrating a marriage… basically living a life that requires a more future oriented time perspective. But maybe my shower curtain is more than a decorative feature. Maybe it holds the truth of a personal evolution I’ve been too stubborn to see.

Three years ago I found the perfect shower curtain at Walmart – I’m talking PERFECT. Its stripes matched my baskets and towels and cabinetry. I was so excited that I had to take pictures – bathroom decor nerd moment, I know. When, as all things do, it expired, I went back and bought the exact same one. My third trip to Walmart’s bathroom supply department found me panicking in the aisle. tree shower curtainMy perfect shower curtain had been discontinued!! Now what!? Nothing else was even close! Finally, after all manner of aesthetic calculations, weighing of variables, and flat out desperation, I picked one (pictured). When I put it up and took off the striped basket covers, I surprised to find that I liked the overall look even more. And you know what, dear readers, I went back to Walmart that same afternoon and bought a second one, now waiting patiently under the sink.

Apparently, somewhere deep in my brain, there is the possibility that the universe and my God may (touch wood – oops, probably should be praying) grace me with enough breaths to match the material lifetimes of two shower curtains. No guarantees, no expectations, just a quiet, hesitant trust in the future. And maybe this small new hope, this shy faith, is enough to allow me to be better committed to my novel, my man, and the well-being of my own body. Maybe this shower curtain has enough weight to shift the equation and show that I’ve tilted my time perspective, ever so slightly, into the future. And for $12.97, that’s one serious deal!