Mindfulness

What’s in Your Bag of Shit?

I was listening to Neil Strauss the other day on Tom Bilyeu’s youtube interview series called “Inside Quest” and something he said really stuck out to me. He said that we all carry around a “bag of shit” or in other words- some story we’ve made up about our unworthiness or how we’re unlovable.  Then we operate and interact with the outside world looking for evidence to add to our “bag of shit” and to support our dis-empowering story we have made up about ourselves.  We will even fabricate and alter certain events through our own skewed perceptive filter just to support our story and give us a sense of certainty that we are right. We then often times use this “bag of shit” we carry around with us to motivate us to achieve more, acquire more or to hunt for the perfect spouse or partner.  We really believe that if we get that prized possession or relationship- then we will finally be enough, lovable or feel good about ourselves. Some people spend their whole life seeking the very thing they believe will help them let go of and forget about their “bag of shit”.  The irony is that as long as you are holding onto the bag of shit and keep your inferiority saga in the recesses of your mind, nothing and no one will ever give you the feelings of being enough or being lovable. 

 

The only way to free yourself from this trap is to let go of your bag of shit and to become aware of the narrative that is running your life. The old story is driven by fear, lack and scarcity. If you don’t believe you are enough right now, no amount of money, fame, relationships, or anything outside of you will ever be able to give you the feelings of security, significance and love you are seeking. Those external rewards only magnify the relationship you have internally with yourself. If you love yourself, feel worthy and have a loving and compassionate relationship with yourself- then you will have healthy and loving relationships with others, money, possessions, etc. 

 

What is largely running people in our world is an error in self definition. A major error. A colossal mistake in perception and judgement. People use money, relationships, power, status, jobs, religious affiliation and much more to define themselves. They create a fictional game about how their person-hood and self worth is tied to their success or effectiveness in one or more of these areas. The issue with this approach to defining yourself is these external things are largely, if not completely outside of our control. One of my favorite authors, Robert Greene says that we only have control over 5-6% of what happens in our world and experience on this earth. ONLY 5-6%. He also affirmed that the way to best impact our world is to only focus and exert our energy in that small window (5-6%) of where we actually have control. Therefore if we maximize our focus, attention and energy to improve and affect only what we can control, then we will be able to change our circumstances and impact the world. Where most people go wrong is they spend the majority of their time, attention and energy on the 94-95% of things that are 100% outside of their control. This leaves them powerless and victims of their circumstances.  Therefore if you are going to define yourself and base your identity on your job, relationship, status or any external thing, you are due to be a slave to circumstances, others and the world. As Joe Donnelly says, 

 

“You can either be the CEO of your own life or you can be life’s employee”. 

 

I am not proposing that you say “hell with it” to creating a business, forming relationships, making money or seeking things externally. I am just warning you of the trap of being attached to those external things. And more importantly the emotional death you will experience if you tie your identity to them and sell your soul for them.  I have been in relationships where I put my girlfriend up on a pedestal and derived my sense of self from being her boyfriend. At first it was an exhilarating rush of oxytocin, but it soon became pure slavery. Obligations, ownership, and expectations within the relationship crippled my ability to do anything else in the world and to feel like I was living my true purpose. 

 

What I am proposing is balance. Like the Samurai warriors of ancient Japan, they embodied balance probably better than anyone. On one hand they were very masculine, tough, hard-driving and resilient. They were some of the toughest and most skilled warriors in the history of the world and they protected their villages by killing and eliminating the enemy. Yes this was their rigid and strong masculine side. However they did not live 100% of the time on this side of their nervous system. They also had a feminine side, which was more flowing, compassionate and flexible. They would write poetry, dance, play the flute and make love to their wives. They intuitively understood that they needed to balance their lives and their nervous systems in order to be the most fulfilled, the happiest and healthiest they could be. 

 

If they lived 100% of the time in their masculine warrior motif, they would have died much younger. The cortisol would have be firing at all times and this inevitably would have decreased their lifespan and diminished their overall level of life satisfaction. Conversely they innately knew that operating in the feminine side of their nervous system was going to give them fulfillment and rejuvenate their soul and spirit. 

 

All too often today we see individuals lack balance. They are all Type A power, strength and aggression. Sure they might achieve some pretty great success, but at what price? At the price of their enjoyment and fulfillment on this earth?  Then we see others who operate on the other side of the dialectic. They are accepting, flowing and peaceful. Yet they have no drive and contribute very little to the world. Finding the middle of the paradox is a way to strike a balance and achieve both the science of success and the art of fulfillment. 

 

Life is the most hilarious and ironic teacher around. We set a goal and we invest everything into that goal, only to find out that once we actually attain the goal, that the very goal/prize itself is not what we really wanted after all. Here are some higher values that I believe are the things we are really after:

 

1. Flow– a level of presence, creativity and mindfulness of enjoying an activity/interaction just for the sake of engaging in it. 

 

2. Contribution– the secret to living is giving. PERIOD. Nothing lights up and energizes the human spirit like giving and serving a fellow man.  Depression, anxiety and all forms of mental health impairments vanish when one looks to give and contribute.

 

3. Growth– I don’t care how many friends you have, how successful you have been- if you are experiencing progress in your life- you are dying. What does the Bible say? “Where there is no vision, the people perish”

 

4. Who we become. It is not the accolades, money, possessions that truly fulfills us at the end of the day, but it is rather the person we have to become in order to solve those problems and achieve those goals. The ultimate satisfaction in life is complete 100% CONGRUENCE. Living in alignment with your values is the ultimate fulfillment. 

 

 

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Breaking the Trance of the Cultural Hypnosis

I love to watch people and observe how they live their lives and organize their experiences internally. My people watching is done in a judgmental or moralistic way, but more so with an observational and curious attitude.  I look out into the world like an anthropologist trying to understand another culture or a scientist in a lab.  It is purely from a place of learning and understanding what drives human behavior.  What I have found from my own observation (which has also been confirmed in much of what I have read) is that people have the strong tendency to avoid painful stimuli and move toward pleasure. I know this isn’t a groundbreaking finding, however it is a crucial underpinning for identifying what drives your own behavior as well as understanding what drives society as a whole.  From this basic premise of the pain-pleasure principle, one can then take the monumental step toward living a self-actualized life- a life free of emotional hostage taking, depression, anxiety, addiction, co-dependence and suffering. 

 

The advancement of technology over the past 15-20 years has created a culture of instant gratification and addiction.  People are overly reliant on external stimuli to feel good and access positive emotional states.  If they aren’t watching tv, then they are on the internet. If they aren’t on the internet, they are playing video games. If they aren’t hooked into some technological device, they are eating or drinking. If they aren’t eating or drinking, they might taking some drug or administering some medication. And when they aren’t engaged in one of these activities, it is likely they are being stimulated through some interaction with another person. Overall, our culture has us wired to be dependent on people, places and things outside of ourselves.  People who come to me often share that they don’t like to be alone and that when they are alone, they get particularly anxious. Then I ask them what they do to stop feeling anxious. Their response- they either turn on the tv, drink a beer, eat something, surf the internet or call a friend.  Our culture is becoming completely dependent on external stimuli to feel good and to elevate our emotional state. To add to this addiction, the mass marketers are feeding this cultural hypnosis through their constant barrage of advertisements that say “buy this-feel this way”.  When you really break it down, how much of our lives are really under our own control? How much of our emotional states are dependent on people, places and things outside of ourselves? 

 

I am not prescribing that you dispose of all your electronics, move off the grid and become a hermit or a monk. What I am suggesting is that if there is to have any semblance of a healthy life, one must strike a balance between between being internally emotionally regulated and externally stimulated. I would even go a step further to say that the path toward self-actualization is one of complete and total freedom from getting fulfillment or relief from external stimuli. You can choose how you want to live your life, however just be cognizant that the level of suffering you will experience in your life is dependent on the level in which you are dependent on external people, places and things to make you feel good and give you positive emotional states. 

 

As I have said over and over, “The problem is never the problem”. And this holds true for this epidemic that is plaguing our society. People think the problem is the drastic rise of depression and anxiety (and other mental health issues) in our culture. The real problem is the blatant ignoring and pacifying of such problems through means of medication and other external stimuli (tv, iphones, food, alcohol, drugs). Depression and anxiety are incredibly valuable signals that provide us with feedback that needs to be taken into consideration. These negative emotions are telling us that we need to do one of two things. We either need to change our procedure- which is changing our current actions and behavior. Or we need to change our perception- which is to change how we’re contextualizing our experience. Rather what is the typical response to such negative emotions in our culture? Drink another beer, watch another tv show, post another picture. People use these short term strategies (aka pacifiers) to run from pain and seek some degree of relief and comfort. The irony is that until the anxiety, depression and other negative experiences get addressed directly, it will continue to show up in some way, shape or form. Most people continue to ignore the signals and keep shoving the problem under the rug for another day. They become masters at finding short term strategies to escape the pain. The problem with such a strategy is that just like any addict, they will eventually hit rock bottom. There will come a point where the pain and suffering will not be able to be subdued by the temporary fixes anymore and this will create such agony and despair that one will truly hit rock bottom and be forced to confront their inner demons. The problem with letting it get to this point is that it typically doesn’t happen for years or decades. This leaves people in what they term a “mid-life crisis” when they get in their forties or fifties.  

 

In order to avoid hitting rock bottom or waiting until your so called ‘mid-life crisis’, it is time to do two things. First, begin identifying the negative emotions in your life. Rather than brushing the anxiety and depression under the rug and pacifying the pain with temporary external fixes (like relationships, food, drugs, technology, etc), begin to sit with the pain and suffering.  As uncomfortable as it might be in that moment, it will save you 1000x the amount of pain and suffering down the road. Once you can get very comfortable sitting with the negative experience, rather than pacifying it with some short term external fix, you can then move on to the next step in the equation.

 

While the first step is about identifying the problem state and just being with it. The second step is about enacting the solution to the problem. If you only identify the problem and there is no solution, one will inevitably return to the old ineffective patterns of behavior to solve the problem and escape the pain and suffering. The solution involves breaking the cause and effect trance that we need something outside of ourselves to feel good. True self actualization and person power is available when you can access peace, joy and other positive emotions without the need for some external stimuli (people, place or thing). One way to cultivate this internally driven experience is through a daily meditative practice. Whether it be through meditation, a martial art or yoga- these meditative practices teach your brain and body that “I can feel good for no reason” and that I don’t need something outside of me to feel good and access a positive emotional state.  Yes these practices do indeed have a physiological component to them that enhances their positive effect. By installing a daily meditative practice, one can begin to break the cause and effect linkage that in order to feel good and regulate one’s emotions- they need to do something outside of themselves.  

 

Personally, spending 45 minutes to an hour every day in meditation has allowed me to feel good for no reason. I don’t need an excuse to feel good. I can feel good just by being here in the present moment with my thoughts and experience.  Meditation also is very effective at cultivating a sense of gratitude. Because by sitting with your thoughts and observing your breathing- you are unconsciously teaching yourself, “I am grateful for this moment… I’m okay just being right here and now”. Now when I go out into the world I am not frantically seeking external stimuli to regulate my emotions.  Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty of the outside world, meditation creates a “happy place” where you can go to seek refuge and peace.  Meditation and other meditative practices unhooks you from the cause-effect hypnosis that runs our culture. It breaks the erroneous belief that you need some person, place or thing outside of yourself to feel good. Our culture is predicated on the do–>have—>be model. When in reality the more effective model for living an emotionally healthy life is be–>do–>have.

 

The culture through the media, politics and mass marketers has conditioned us to be slaves to external stimuli. Just look at your everyday emotional experience in this world. Look at each emotion you experience- contentment, sorrow, anxiety, peace, anger, etc. In each of these momentary experiences- what is causing these to fire off within you? My guess is that some external event, person or thing is behind the emotion. If this is the case, then you are inherently not in the driver seat of your life. Through a consistent dedication to deep meditative practices, one can begin to gain greater control over their emotional life and begin to unhook themselves from the scary reality that they are at the mercy of the feedback that they are receiving from their external environment. The vast amount of personal problems in our world come down to one’s inability to regulate their emotions.  Addiction is the perfect example. People who are addicted (whether it be drugs, alcohol, food, co-dependent relationships, etc) have inability to get themselves to experience positive or comforting emotions by themselves. They instead turn to an artificial substance to provide them with the emotional state of pleasure, comfort and feeling okay. Therefore the addiction is nothing more than symptom. If they stop drinking, they will find some other substance or activity to change their emotional state. The solution to this problem of one’s inability to cope and emotionally regulate lies in mastering one’s own internal communication and their ability to feel good amidst the absence of pleasant external stimuli. All the way back in the 17th century, Blaise Pascal made an incredibly relevant observation when he said:

 

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone”