I have a very clear recollection of the day that I passed the test that told me that I was ready to be a father. I was on the bottom floor of my in-laws’ house on a lake in Virginia. A strange sound came from outside that I didn’t recognize. A few seconds later my wife screamed my name. It was the kind of scream that I knew something was wrong. I jumped up and sprinted out the door. When I reached my wife on the deck outside, I quickly found out the source of the sound and why she screamed. Our dog, Kelme, was pinned down by another dog that was attacking him. The two dogs were about ten feet below the deck on the rocks that sloped down toward the lake. Without a moment’s hesitation, I jumped over the deck’s railing and dropped the ten feet landing next to the two dogs. Luckily my sudden appearance and loud shouts were enough to scare the dog off without my having to fight him. I picked up Kelme and raced him to the vet with my wife. His wounds were very minor and he made a full and energetic recovery. It was after that incident that I knew for sure that I could be a father.
Not everyone gets that type of real life test that tells them something important about themselves. Generally people have to take a leap of faith that they can handle the situation. The phrase there is not unimportant, “leap”. I can’t say for certain whether I would have gotten the same type of self-assurance from that situation had I run down the stairs to Kelme’s aid. The jump was important because it separated me completely from safety and put me directly into harm’s way: both from the rocks and the dog. The willingness to take the risk of the leap was key. Lives don’t need to be at stake. Broken limbs and dog attacks don’t need to be risked.
The keys to any endeavor of creation: child, book, movie, relationship, song, poem, etc. are the leap and the foregoing of self. Neither is particularly easy to do. Leaping requires a detachment from the stability of the known world for something much more uncertain. Putting something else before ourselves is also an exercise in chance. With both, fear is a major opposing force. While fear is an emotion that is intended to protect us from pain, it is often the force that keeps us from living fully. A full life is one that requires creation and therefore risk. There are no diplomas, courses or tests that can prepare you to live fully. It is something that needs to be done on the fly everyday with consistent action. The act of leaping may never become completely comfortable but it may just become completely worth it.
I had blood all over me. I didn’t know where I was. It was the coldest that I’d ever been in my life. I couldn’t see a thing. All that I could do was scream. Luckily help was nearby and I was able to calm down. It had been a difficult trial but I was alive and in the hospital. Just when things seemed as if they would be OK, a complete stranger came along and chopped off a quarter of my penis. All of that trauma happened in the first twenty four hours of my life. Despite that very rough beginning, I’ve done quite well for myself.
This story is at least partially true for almost all of us. We were all thrust into this world naked, afraid and unable to speak, read or write. It is not something that we give much thought to because it happens to everyone. However birth (or creation) is a messy and traumatic business by all accounts. Not just the human producing ones but also the birth of companies, relationships, art or anything else. There is always that starting point of conception that is magical and exhilarating. Eventually that moment is replaced by some form of hard labor in order to get the creation out into the world. Just because it’s painful, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it. The narrative of the present day is about safety and comfort. Our world has had most of its sharp edges taken off. While I’m all for vaccinating against the next Bubonic Plague, there are some struggles that are important for people to go through. Not all pain is trauma.
As you conceive the next dream of where you’re going or what you’re doing, do a little pre-trauma planning. Like a person that is preparing for a marathon, it is important to understand your “quit points”. Quitting is not shameful if it is done for the right reasons. A broken leg is a justifiable quit inducing occurrence. Cramps are a nuisance to be fought through. The difference between trauma and possibility is perspective and the next few steps that are taken. Expectation that everything will be easy is a sure fire way to turn every problem into trauma. Traumatizing yourself with things that should be expected is recipe for disaster. Imagine freaking out because your newborn child couldn’t walk. It’s a process not a fully completed miracle. Take the possibility and run with it.
The life of the single celled organism, the amoeba, must be tough. In order to survive, it needs to change its shape in order to “absorb” its food. It is the ultimate “go-getter” in the microscopic universe. It’s survival is completely predicated on how much and how often it “puts itself out there”. A lazy amoeba would be a dead amoeba.
Living in the world of higher order organisms, we are not as dependent on stretching ourselves in order to survive. In fact over the past century we’ve been rewarded for being small amoebas. Stretching or standing out was discouraged. Get good grades, get into a good college, do your job and follow the rules. Being a small amoeba is not as smart as it used to be. The systems that rewarded the small amoeba are breaking down all over the place and we’re being asked to stretch again.
The opportunities to stretch are all around. The problem is the same as the amoeba “Am I stretching in a direction that will help me survive?” The trial an error method is probably a big part of the amoeba’s life and may be required of you. This is uncomfortable. The old system was predictable, repeatable and safe. Even becoming a big amoeba only required adherence to the system that almost told you where to stretch.
The question is not whether the world will require you to stretch or not. The question is whether you’ll allow yourself to be stretched, pulled apart or reach of your own volition. Do you believe that you are a small amoeba with very defined limits? Or are you consistently able to reach out into the void and find what you need and stretch yourself? You are much less rigid than you think. Most of your limits are not based on DNA but rather WTT (Willingness To Try). The old rule book is slowly being torn apart. You don’t need to go with it. Reach out into the void and see what you get. Then do it again!
Keep the Nucleus Strong!
The act of being human is not always an easy one. Despite all of our advantages, we still run into plenty of obstacles and potholes. There is an odd feeling that I have inside that I am more than one person. I’ve written before about my fascination with a scene from Lord of the Rings that personifies that internal struggle. However today I’m thinking of a much more strategical breakdown to the human animal. We are all in a constant cycle of -ing.
Human Being – This is our general state. Much like an idling car, we all have our own base state. This may be influenced by outside factors but in general it is within our capacity to control. Who are you being on a regular basis? The -ing is important because it is a present progressive. Who you’ve been in the past is not important. The present is a new choice for you to be.
Human Meaning – As we are being our way through the day, things are going to happen. It is inevitable. Humans are not always objective creatures. We generally put meaning onto the things that happen. Something happened, that means; I’m going to be late, people appreciate me, I’m worthless, it’s a complete success or a million other things that we’ve made up in our own heads. Since the stories inside of our heads about the meanings behind things are completely made up by us, then wouldn’t it be intelligent to give things a meaning that helps us? As the writer of your own programming, this seems the most sensible thing to do.
Human Doing – Once we’ve put ourselves into a position for a successful day by being in a winning state. Then putting the most helpful meaning onto all external events. The only -ing left is what to do. Doing is the end step that brings the cycle back around. There is definitely enough evidence around to support the fact that the internal human game is extremely important. However we were always meant to be creatures of action. Man was meant to MANufacture, MANifest, MANage and MANeuver through this world to greater heights.
So as you are going through your day. Pay attention to the -ing that you are in. Are you being in your best interest? Is the meaning that you give to your circumstances helpful? And especially, what are you doing with what you have? It won’t always be perfect but that’s alright because you weren’t meant to be either. My hope is that you’re at least progressing!
Have a great day!
In these hot summer days of New Jersey, an air conditioned house, store or office is a sanctuary. Relief from the pounding heat and humidity seems as if it is a necessity. I often think about our “pre-AC” ancestors and how they reacted to days like this. Most likely, they had to be slightly more intelligent about breaks, shade and water. The prospect of artificial cool was long off in the future. Like so many of our modern conveniences, the advancement of technology seems to come attached to a double result: the desired effect and it’s opposite.
An air conditioner is thought of as a cooling mechanism, unless you visit the back end of the unit. There you will realize that the AC unit is producing almost as much heat as cold. So the cool factor is for a selected space and temporary. When the heat and cool reunite, the entire equation is most likely a wash. The effect for us as the recipients is not particularly a wash. The perception of cool and hot becomes skewed. While we have in theory “beaten the heat” by creating air conditioning, we’ve made ourselves less able to adapt to it when it is thrust upon us. This inverse relationship is evident in many areas. The internet has connected us all but we are losing our ability to communicate. Everyone has a phone in their pocket but people are talking less. We have more information than ever about the human body and how it works best but obesity and diabetes are rampant. It is as if we have forgotten something that could bring us back to the center. The thing that we have forgotten is that we are animals. Specifically we are mammals who were intended to find an equilibrium with our surroundings in order to survive.
The technological advances that we have created have brought us off of our center where we feel like we need to adapt. The world is supposed to adapt to us, right? Not quite, when we forget our heritage, not too subtle reminders will be visited upon us. So my message is pretty simple: Find out, without! Find out who you are without all of the gadgets that you use to cause comfort. Think, plan and execute some time in an outdoor environment that slightly tests who you are as a human animal. An overnight hike, a day without air conditioning, a period of time with no cell phone or any other exercise that allows you to come back to a natural center. (Yes! I realize that I’m asking you to unplug while writing an article over the internet. Hypocrisy? Only if I did this without doing what I prescribe.)
So find out, without! Find out whether or not you can have a face to face conversation with one of your Facebook friends. Find out if you really would shrivel up in this heat or do you just need to have a plan for hydration and find shade. The human animal has conquered this world and found now that his biggest adversary is himself. Don’t get crushed by your comfort!
See you along the path!