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Tag: journal

the Work is never done

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a problem with anger.

Once, as a grade-schooler, I was walking home from school and got roughed up by a couple of neighborhood bullies. During this episode, I landed zero meaningful physical punches but delivered a few insults that ultimately saved me and sent the other kids packing. I walked home marveling in my new found super-power: hurting people with words. I made the kind of mental note that was significant enough that i remember it today. “I can protect myself this way, with words that hurt.”

I made the kind of mental note that was significant enough that i remember it today. “I can protect myself this way, with words that hurt.”

Skimming through the innumerable explosions of my teens and twenties, you’d encounter young Benjamin dressing down a variety of characters with foul mouthed rage. Family, friends, lovers, passersby, authority figures, coworkers, bosses. Nobody was safe from me, including me. I was no longer ignorant about my childhood coping mechanism turned against me, but I felt helpless about finding lasting change.

Fortunately, in my late twenties a few good things happened. (1) My boss at the time told me in no uncertain terms, “You’ve got what it takes to lead this team, but I can’t promote you to leadership if you don’t get a handle on your anger.” Providing for my family and advancing professionally were really important to me, so this was a huge motivation. (2) My (now ex) wife found a book about “rageaholics” that helped me. Essentially, it framed my challenge as “addiction to rage,” and expained how, for folks like me, a lot of the conventional advice about dealing with anger was counterproductive. I started learning about my “point of no return” (once a rage-prone person passes this, self-control is often practically unavailable) and finding ways to avoid getting there. (3) With the help of therapists and a men’s group, i started coming to terms with what was driving my generalized anger (and depression) and managing myself better. I was making progress. I managed to do the difficult personal work that took me from having 2 or more outbursts a week to having 1 or maybe 2 a month. I felt like I had arrived. Turns out I hadn’t. I felt like a new person. Turns out I wasn’t.

Now, fast forward with me past the shit-storm that was marital separation, dislocation from my children, loss of friendships, and divorce. Fast forward past new love and new marriage. Fast forward to that new love and marriage hitting the rocks amidst the backdrop of new children, job stress and my own depression. I was slipping fast back into anger as a coping mechanism, driving myself further into shame and depression and away from love, kindness, acceptance and patience.

I was sad, angry, depressed, and having suicidal thoughts pretty regularly. In that space, I was doing more than my part to ruin the marriage and limit my other relationships. After years of looking outside myself for answers, I decided to look back in and I didn’t like a lot of what I was seeing. Turns out 1 or 2 angry outbursts a month was more than enough to make me miserable and the people around me afraid. So I got to work again.

With a focus on dealing with my depression (and the role that disappointment and anger play in it), I started back into therapy, and headed down the track of what I can now identify as mindfulness training. Observing and noting what I’m thinking and feeling. Observing and noting patterns, and doing little things to change them for the better. Not “owning” my thoughts, etc.

Over the last few years I have managed to claw my way out of that depression, rebuild my self-confidence, and further reduce my reactivity across the board (including anger). Thanks to the hard work of therapy and especially through mindfulness meditation practice, I am now able to process my thoughts and emotions in a non-reactive fashion, and I can do this in extremely difficult or stressful environments. Anger no longer has a death grip on me. I am able to receive the emotion and let it go. I am able to see what’s beneath the anger and pain and bring healing to those parts of me that I wasn’t able to sit with before. I am in so many ways, a new person.

But I’m not.

This morning I popped off in reactive anger when something went wrong at work. I was harsh and unkind to one of my absolute favorite employees (ugh!). I have apologized sincerely, but there is not much else I can do other than commit myself again to the life I wish to lead. Commit myself again to love above all things.

I will never arrive, and the Work will never be finished until I am.

So it strikes me that, as much as I have changed, and continue to change, I will always make mistakes. I will never arrive, and the Work will never be finished until I am. For now, I will forgive myself and do my best not to pull the hoodie of unworthiness over my head. I will grieve the moment and continue on the path of peace, loving myself and others the best that I can, and always better.

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Recalibration

I want more from myself. I want fewer compulsive behaviors and more mindful ones. I want wilder nights and more peaceful days. I want to be able to gain and keep momentum at will. I want my words to be received and understood just as I had intended. I want to experience deep friendships and exquisite solitude. I want power in my steps and humility in my words. I want all of this and a good night’s sleep.

What i need is to be present. Here, now. What i need it to let go of all the planning and striving and just put one foot in front of the other and delight in it.

Recalibrating…

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Setting aside “Balance” in favor of self-awareness

I’ve decided that I’m going to blow up my freshly created 2020 goals, and tighten them up so that this year I strive for immersive/passionate focus into just a couple of things, rather than pushing a number of larger goals forward incrementally.

The main driver for this change was reading Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness‘s excellent book, “The Passion Paradox” One of the main concepts in the book is that balance and passionate pursuit do not coexist.

“Balance” is more often than not an illustion, especially for someone who is wholly absorbed in a passion. Instead of striving for balance, then, the passionate person should stribe to be self-aware. Self-awareness … is the only force strong enough to counter passion’s overwhelming inertia.

The Passion Paradox, p. 163, Stulberg & Magness

It’s with this in mind that I’ve decided to put a passionate focus into self-awareness this year. Meditation and mindfulness training will be my biggest area of personal focus this year, because I’ve come to believe that this learning and growing is foundational for every other part of my life.

In January of 2019 I started a humble practice using Sam Harris’ meditation app – Waking Up. For the first half of the year I was doing a 10min guided meditation nearly daily, and for the last half I’ve been getting in a few sessions a week. Even with this minimal investment of time and attention, I’ve seen a remarkable change occur in my daily experience. I’m able to be less reactive, more calm, and generally more engaged with the present moment. More importantly, I am able to see that these changes are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible in meditation practice.

What does this mean for me, practically? For now, it means that I’m committing to daily meditations and studying meditation beyond what’s included in Waking Up.

I’ve started Jack Kornfield’s free guided meditation course, “Mindfulness Daily” and will continue that for the full 40 sessions.

I’ve started reading “The Craving Mind“, wherein (from the jacket) “Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., a leading neuroscientist who has studied addictions for twenty years explores how bad habits are formed, why they are so tenacious, and how the practice of mindfulness can help us to conquer the most stubborn addictions and step into a new way of being.which covers using meditation practice to break addiction and bad habits.” So far it’s incredibly insightful.

Next on the shelf is D.E. Harding’s “On Having No Head.” After that is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living.”

See what i just did there?

Undoubtedly, as i move forward in this pursuit my plans will shift and change, but I’m committed to making this year one of huge growth in self-awareness.

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What am I trying to achieve?

As I was reflecting on the work I’m doing right now and my painting plans for this year, I became very certain that my primary goal is this: I want to learn to make mid-scale acrylic landscape paintings with a process and outcome that represent my sensibility.

The most important thing about framing the goal this way is that it prioritizes exploration, experimentation, and learning over outcomes. In other words, this is not strictly about making landscape paintings that Ben likes, or somebody else likes or wants in their home or whatever—this is about making paintings in service of discovering how Ben makes landscape paintings.

I want to learn to make mid-scale acrylic landscape paintings with a process and outcome that represent my sensibility.

In light of this realization, I’ve decided to spend one or two more sittings with the current painting and call it “done” because i’ve learned about everything I am going to learn from that painting. My next plan was to do a different scene with the same process, but I’ve changed my mind. My next painting will be the same scene, but with different constraints:

  • shorter painting sessions
  • limited overall time
  • limited brush sizes (not too small)
  • paint direct from photo source (as opposed to painting source)

Know what? I’m excited.

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Rethinking creative process

Over the last few months i’ve been practicing guitar at least 5 times a week, in an effort to regain the abilities I lost by neglecting to play or compose music the last ten years or so. It’s been exciting to see how fast it can come back by simply practicing consistently and challenging myself. What i’d really like to do is get back in shape enough to start writing music again—and I’m pretty close. As i was writing in my journal the other day, it occurred to me that what i was thinking about in terms of my creative process for writing music hadn’t evolved in twenty years (which is the last period of time I was writing regularly). I just expect the inspiration to strike and whatever comes out to work or not work.

I’ve learned a lot about making things and harnessing my creativity in the last twenty years, and I’m excited to apply what i’ve learned to music writing for the first time. In every other creative discipline i’ve actively pursued, my process has evolved to include a lot of research and planning and more formal iterative processes.

Right now, I’m just at the beginning. Instead of jumping in on a new song, I’m taking some time to listen to the songs that move me the most, and observe what i like best about them. I’m writing sketches and short ideas without judgement and without diving into them deeper to force them into a song. I’m laying the groundwork, and it’s fun.

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