Laundry List #19: Everyone lies, cheats, pretends (Yes, you too, and most certainly myself)

And so, it is not astonishing that, though the patient enters therapy insisting that he wants to change, more often than not, what he really wants is to remain the same and to get the therapist to make him feel better. -- Sheldon Kopp
 

I love the text in brackets in this cutting laundry list item from Sheldon Kopp. As I start to read it I find myself nodding and thinking 'Yes, so true, I know so many people that lie and cheat and pretend', and then I keep reading and have to face the sinking reality that this also applies to me.

And this didn't just happen the first time I read it. It happens every time I read it. I don't want to admit that I lie, cheat and pretend. Aren't I better than that? That is for the less enlightened, not me. But the truth is that I do. I want to present myself in the best possible light and will sometimes pretend to be that which is not me. I make lies of omission so that the truth as it is presented makes me seem a bit more appealing than I actually am. I cut corners in my morning rituals, hoping that nobody will notice.

I certainly don't do these things in an obviously destructive way, and all in all I think I am an ethical person, somebody who is honest and open and believes that their are not shortcuts. In fact lying is necessary in many cases - it can be social grease and a developmental stage that children need to reach

What then is the purpose of acknowledge this? That we all lie, cheat and pretend?

Firstly I think it is so we are not deluded and naive that others present themselves exactly as they are all the time. That they do lie about things sometimes. That they do try and cheat the system. That they pretend to have done things they have not. Being aware that people do this from time to time actually helps as we interact with others, and can stop us from being duped and hurt.

Secondly acknowledging that I also do this helps to keep me humble, and to keep me working on understanding the reasons why I think that even a small deception is necessary. What does that reveal about what is going on inside me? What am I hiding, and who am I hiding it from?

Noticing the small lies, cheats, and pretends helps me to get closer to becoming aware and awake to how, where, and what I actually am.

Laundry List Item #37: It is most important to run out of scapegoats.

When I get myself into a pickle, noticing that I am spending my time with people I don't want to spend it with, doing things I actually don't want to do, my first reaction is to think of who to blame; who put me in this situation?

And gradually it dawns on me that I am the one that created this situation, this life. I choose to keep living where I live, to do that work I do, to spend my days how I spend them. My family or friends or government do not lock me into this. I am not bound by anything other than what I choose to be bound by.

This humbling thought is also redemption. It means that I can have a say in my own destiny. 

Running out of scapegoats is freedom, because now I take responsibility for my own life, for how I spend each moment. 

Laundry List Item 16: Everyone is, in their own way, vulnerable

I am in the middle of watching the third season of House of Cards. One thing that Frank Underwood does so well is turning to his benefit whatever situation he finds himself in. He does not get stuck in the past for more than a moment before coming up with a plan of how this situation can work for him.

One thing that he also does so well is to exploit the vulnerability of others when working out how to make that situation work for him. He has a memory, an instinct, and a well populated file on all those who he could one day use in this way.

And through the show we also get glimpses of the vulnerability of this man who shows so little vulnerability to others. 

Vulnerability has been getting a good name lately. It is a way for us to show to others what is really going on, and to enable connection at a deeper level. All of us have this vulnerability. At the very least we have bodies that fail us. And more than that, we have emotions that bubble up all the time, informing us of what a particular situation is creating inside us.

We have a choice when confronted with our own vulnerability, or that of others, to use it as a way to connect, or as a way to distance.

Laundry List Item 28: The most important things each person must do for themself

It is so important to ask for help when we need it. The ability to clearly articulate what we need takes awareness to know what it actually is, and courage to ask for it.

But the help of others can only take us to a point. There is a moment when, if we want all that life has and to encounter important truths within ourselves, only we can do the work that needs to be done.

I think understanding this and then finding the bravery to take full responsibility for myself was the moment I transitioned from being an adolescent to being an adult (though I was 37 at the time). For me it took an almighty shove to stop looking around for others to do the dirty work for me, and to stop blaming them for holding me back. 

It was then I realised that I was the only person that held me back. And I was the only person that was going to make sure I got what I needed.

And it was then that I started to do the things I knew rang true for me, even if they rang alarm bells for everybody else.

Laundry List Item 15: No one is any stronger or any weaker than anyone else.

It is without doubt true that physically some people are stronger than others, and some people are weaker than others.

What Kopp seems to be hinting at is that on the inside we all have access to the same amount of strength and weakness, because we are all connected, are all made of the same substance, and we are all conscious beings.

This brings out the essence of Metta/Loving Kindness meditation, which reminds us that at our essence all beings want the same thing: to be well, to be happy, to be safe, to be peaceful and at ease. 

Of course there are things that get in the way of this truth, that mean we feel stronger than others, or weaker than others, or make us want things that actually do not make us happy or safe or well.

For me, I find it helpful to remember the equality of our strength of weakness in two key moments:

The first is when I feel weaker than somebody else - diminished in their presence. The truth is, I have as much strength and worth as that person, and I can embody it in that moment because of that truth.

The second is when I feel stronger and dominating somebody else - proud in their presence. The truth is they have as much strength and worth as me, and I can help them to embody that, and I can remember that the weakness I see in them is also in me.

Laundry List Item 14: You can't make anyone love you.

Sheldon Kopp's laundry list of items provides with ideas for blog posts for those days when I am not sure what to write about. The next item I am up to on his list is one that I have painfully learnt.

No matter what you do or say, it is so true and frustrating that you can't make anybody love you. Therefore there is no point in even trying.

As one of my podcast interviewees (to be release in the next few weeks!) said, the thing to focus on is self love, because you can learn to love yourself. And it is in loving yourself, in understanding what you need, and having the courage to give it to yourself, that we attract people along the way who will love us for who we are, and whom we can wholeheartedly love in return.

Laundry List Item 33: All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data

I have a decision to make. The details will be a little boring for many, and probably interesting for a few. It is about the school I send my kids too.

They currently go to a private, co-ed, primary school in a wealthy Melbourne suburb. The boys are happy there. The teachers seem nice. I don't have a problem with what they are being taught academically. My problem is with what they are being taught spiritually and the implicit cultural traits they are picking up on from the community that surrounds the school. 

My greatest desire for the boys is that they build the awareness to listen to themselves, the courage to act on what they hear, and the skills to execute well when they do act. My concern with the school they are going to is that while they will definitely develop some of the skills to execute well (for example reading, writing, maths, sport), they are not going to develop a clear understanding of who they uniquely are, nor are they going to have the courage to live out this truth. They are going to be more likely comparing them self to some external, false ideal of a person, building the same skills that everybody says they should, and think they have to do what everybody else is doing.

There are two other schools I am looking at that would seem to meet the three criteria. Based on what I have written it would seem like a no-brainer. However there are other factors running through my head, like cost, location, and disrupting the boys. 

Location can be solved through moving house, which I don't have a problem in doing, although the grandparents may object! Cost is a matter of deciding what I expect to be earning, and whether this is a good investment for the kids (as opposed to taking them overseas throughout their childhood). And I think disruption is better earlier on in school rather than later.

I have limited knowledge to make this decision. I don't know what the future will hold. I don't know what the school will be like on a day to day basis. I don't know how my boys will react to change. All I can do is evaluate and decide using the information I have available to me.

And that is what I shall do.

Laundry List Item 12: It's a random universe to which we bring meaning

I create meaning by organising an event for my birthday.

I create meaning by giving my kids space to be.

I create meaning by taking care of myself every day.

I create meaning by nurturing friendships.

I create meaning by aligning my actions with my heart.

Meaning comes from within me. Without my ability to create, my life is without meaning. It is a conscious decision I make. My life is meaningful because I choose to be deliberate in my actions. It is not my job to say how meaningful, or whether it is successful, or whether it is valuable. It is meaning that is worthy of expression because it comes from the deepest and truest place within me.

Laundry List Item 11: You have the responsibility to do your best nonetheless.

Thinking about doing my best today on a day when I don't have anything planned or have any particular desires, feels perplexing. I have no plans for the rest of this Saturday. It feels open and a bit scary. I also feel like the day could pass by quickly without me doing anything purposeful at all, let alone my best purposeful.

So I will come up a with a plan as I write this blog post. Step 1 is to meditate and write in my journal. Step 2 is to exercise. Step 3 is to eat something nutritious. Step 4 is to then feel what seems to be the best thing I could do with the rest of my afternoon and evening. 

Let's see how I go.

Laundry List Item 10: The world is not necessarily just. Being good often does not pay off and there's no compensation for misfortune.

I lived the first 36 years of my life thinking about all the things I regretted and missed out on. Actually, that is not true. For the first 16 or so years, I was living in the moment, on a high. I loved life, my school, my friends, the sports I played. I was excelling.

Something happened over the latter half of my teenaged years. I am not so sure that it was what happened that was the problem, but rather my ability to handle it. I was not capable of that age of tapping into my own internal thoughts and feelings, and trusting that I knew what was best for me. I thought I had to tap into God's plan for my life, and that if I didn't follow it right, then I was going to miss out.

And for the next 20 years that is what I believed, that I had made a series of poor choices and that was why I had not excelled as much as I believed I deserved to. I was depressed, living the life I thought I should live, living within what I knew I was capable of.

It took a crisis to start to understand that the world does not always follow the rules of rewarding me for following the rule book created by others, and compensating me for the shitty things I have experienced. Things happen, and I have a choice about how to respond. There is no plan to follow. There is a lived experience every moment, I get to choose my path based on what happens in each moment, and my presence and wisdom about what to do next.

I am grateful for all the things that have happened in my first 37 years of living. I am grateful for bringing me to this moment of surrender and understanding. The world does not owe me anything. I am here. I get to exist and experience two billion moments. I want to squarely look at and experience each one of them.

Laundry List Item 8: You only get to keep what you give away.

This is a laundry list item I am yet to understand. Something inside me tells me there is truth in this, but I don't quite get it yet.

If I give away an object, I don't get to keep it. It is gone. But I could be left with a feeling of generosity, of compassion, of caring. Depending upon how I give it of course.

If I give away my love, I am left with a feeling of connection and lightness.

It seems that I do not get to keep the thing that I give away, but potentially something better in its place.

You have stumped me with this one Sheldon. I may be too young and naive to grasp the depth of your insight.

Laundry List, Item 7: You can't have anything unless you let go of it.

The lyrics from U2's Dirty Day frequently sing through my thoughts at the moment:

You can hold onto something so tight, you've already lost it

This was the case for me with my marriage after the rough period started. Probably the only chance I had in enabling it to survive was to let go of it, radically and absolutely, as soon as the warning signs were there. Instead I fought, I begged, I clung, I debated. Eventually, after 3 months of grasping and 10 days of silence, I was able to come to terms with letting go.

By then it was too late for the marriage, but it was just in time for the rest of my life. I had a profound understanding that nothing lasts. That thinking that I can hold onto anything, onto something, is completely misguided. An illusion and a fallacy. 

Letting go of something does not guarantee that you will have it. However it is the only way to truly have anything. Because the things you end up having will be there because they choose to be there, and because there is an honest and integrity to them being there with you. 

I have less now, much less, than I did 12 months ago. I am in a partnership of 1. I earn less. My house has less things in it. I don't have a plan for the next 12 months. It seems in letting go of these things, I now have life. I can't remember ever being this happy.

Laundry List, Item 6: There is no way of getting all you want

The less money I earn, the less things I want. Doing Courtney Carver's A Simple Year has been a big help with this as well, enabling me to realise that many of the things I think I want to keep (forever) actually don't bring me any joy.

There is no way of getting all I want anyway. This is liberating to live. I can allow myself to want things without being attached to getting them. If they come my way, excellent. If they don't, so be it. I can be honest about what I want, and then allow life to take care of the rest.

There are things I need in order to keep living. Food. Air. A place to sleep. Something meaningful to do. Somebody to be close with. To understand how to be a good father. There are other things I consider needs as well. Over time perhaps these things will become less as I realise they are more wants than needs.

Despite all this, it hurts when I lose something I thought was good for me, something I thought I wanted to keep. Perhaps I will understand in time that I was not good for it, nor it for me.

Laundry List, Item 5: Nothing Lasts!

When I first thought about it the concept that nothing lasted freaked me out. I think I knew it was true. Of course nothing lasts. Everybody dies. If I take a cursory look at my own life I can see that nothing has remained static for very long.

But I was different. Especially when it came to my relationships. I was going to hold onto them and they were only ever going to improve.

When the most fundamental relationship was ripped from underneath me, the one I thought would last forever (at least until I died), it began a slow awakening that nothing lasts. And this is okay. Good in fact.

It means that I don't have to cling on to the good things in my life for fear of losing them. Nor do I have to pretend that the painful thing that is happening now is not happening. Good things and painful things will happen to me, and they will not last. The will flow through me like a river.

The most liberating thought of all came when I read about a theory that our universe could have expanded and contracted on itself countless times already. And when it is time for this incarnation of the universe to contract on itself again, any legacy I think I may have left will be completely squashed into a dense, black, nothingness.

What does it mean? It means I am free to enjoy each moment as it is. I am free to have the reddest of hot go's. I can push the limits and see just what I am capable of. I can follow that hint of the divine wherever it leads, because it is the best I have to go on.

Laundry List, Item 4: We are already dying, and we'll be dead a long time

There is a song that my friend introduced me to a few weeks ago called 'Say' by John Mayer. The song is about saying the thing you need to say, and it being better to say too much than to say nothing at all.

The song speaks to me of honest expression, something I have struggled with most of my life. I often feel like my thoughts are dangerous, and that if I express them people will run from me. I am slowly understanding that allowing ideas and thoughts to flow through me and out of my mouth in an honest way helps to build authentic connection with others, normalising the reality of living for myself and those I talk with.

This is the moment to do the thing I think I need to do. This is of course after giving it some consideration; its not about being reckless. But once I know that something needs to be done, something needs to be said, to say it. If it is not said, then it creates a tension in my body where that feeling is held, and the relationship with the person I need to talk with stalls. I am stopping the next thing from unfolding in a timely manner.

We will be dead a long time, and we have a limited number of moments. Each moment is important. There are no ordinary moments. There is no need to save something for a later moment, because it will have its own awe when it arrives.

I commit to summoning the courage to say the things I need to say in the moment they need to be said.

Laundry List, Item 2: There are no hidden meanings

I grew up in a Pentecostal church which bordered on being a cult. There was so much going on in that place that it look me years afterwards to sort between reality and fantasy, through awareness and delusion.

An underlying presumption was that you had to work out what God's plan for you was, and that if you didn't you were destined to be unhappy. Another was the idea that you were born bad, that you were sinful and guilty, and that only Jesus could make you whole.

These two ideas in particular perplexed me, and also had a profound impact on my life. The meaning of my life was hidden behind strange practices and ideas.

I find it ironic now that I am coming back to some sense of spirituality, even embracing some of my Christian heritage, albeit from a completely different angle. I am reconnecting with my inner self, and allowing that to guide me on a daily basis. I understand that I have the agency to respond to life's circumstances as they arise, to create meaning (or live my life's plan if you will) on a moment by moment basis.

I also know that there is the capacity within me for great harm, and also for great love and joy and overcoming. I am given the responsibility and freedom to choose how I respond, and it is not dependant upon another or an external force.

This is one of the most exciting times in my life to this point. For the first time perhaps I am seeing life as it actually is, not wishing something to be there that is not, or turning away from what I know is there.

Laundry List, Item 1: This is it.

When you are able to slow yourself down, stop the incessant self-distraction, you can get moments where you appreciate just how much is happening at any one moment. Sounds, smells, sights, bodily sensations, tastes.

Big Data is common term in business today, defining the vast amounts of data that are produced and available for analysis and insight generation. Our bodies are also producing vast amounts of data from the outside world, and I think that most of the time we flinch at the idea of sitting with that data, perhaps because we are afraid of what it may reveal.

We would much rather notice a bigger, louder, generated thing (like a fireworks display) that the smaller, subtler, perhaps more uncomfortable thing (like the buzz on your back when you feel angry). 

We are here, and this is it, and I posit that being as aware as possible of all our bodies are telling us will help us to be more present and sit into the 'it' that is now.