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Change Hurts: Letting Go and Being Okay by Jason Garner

A lot of times I feel like it is busier in my head than it is in my external world. I appreciate when people can translate that feeling into words... like here;

 

In 2009 after being promoted to CEO of Global Music at Live Nation, I was ecstatic. At 36 years old I’d successfully clawed my way from flea market parking attendant to the top … 15,000 concerts per year, 10,000 employees, offices around the world. I’d made it. With a smile glued to my face and the sound of trumpets playing in my heart, I took a victory lap: I flew to London to visit my new team members. After a day of handshakes and getting-to-know-each-other meetings, I took the late train to Paris to watch Madonna perform to a sold-out stadium full of singing Parisians. It was as if nothing could stop the flow of magic that seemed to envelop my life, much like the white light my mom used to pray for to keep her little boy safe before tucking me into bed.

Later that night after checking into my hotel, I called home. As the lights of the Eiffel Tower twinkled through the window, my then-wife and I had an honest talk. It was the official end of my second marriage, which – as the cliché goes – had been over for a long time. I tried my best to sleep, but there was no masking the emotions of the moment. I cried, tossing and turning while wondering where all that magic I’d felt before the phone call had gone. I thought (momentarily) about going out but it was that time of night when it’s simultaneously too late and too early to go anywhere. So I lay there pretending to rest until the sun rose; then I got up and got dressed and went out to meet the most romantic city in the world with a broken heart. I asked the young woman at the front desk where to go. She looked at me intently for what seemed like an inappropriate amount of time, before replying that I might enjoy Jim Morrison’s gravesite. Maybe in all that looking she’d seen my sadness. It made me feel a bit self-conscious, but in an odd way a cemetery and Jim Morrison sounded like a good idea. Jim would understand, I thought. I caught a cab to the cemetery and walked around for a while amongst the antique-etched tombstones until I stumbled upon Morrison’s grave. It was early, I’d missed the crowds, so I sat for a while, just Jim and me in the cold air of the Paris morning. I wondered what he would have done in my place. I found the answer a few hours later in a small piano bar nearby. I got a table and a few too many bottles of Bordeaux and spent the rest of the day and night drinking away the pain…

Change often hurts, it just does. That’s part of what happens as it upsets the neatness of our lives and the stories we’ve told of being safe because we have everything sorted out. We know there are obstacles in life, but we learn to organize our lives in such a way that we start believing we can avoid them. We turn our blinkers on before changing lanes; we put our bills on autopay; we store our anniversaries in our smartphone calendars with a reminder a week prior so we don’t forget to buy roses for our wives. We identify the pitfalls and set up a life designed to dodge them. Like a driving test with orange cones in a parking lot, we navigate around them until we think we have an understanding, the cones and us. It becomes predictable, reliable, safe, until life moves a cone and we run it over. Or we get run over by life. That’s when the drama begins. We call these unexpected events tragedies. We say they happen out of the blue. Impossible to see them coming. And yet, that’s not quite true. Like my slowly dying marriage, life’s experiences are expectedly unexpected. We know that change is inevitable, but we don’t like it because it makes us feel unsafe. So we ignore the signs and rearrange the cones and re-learn to navigate them until we can feel safe again… and again… and again.

When I first learned to meditate, I did so because I’d grown tired of running over traffic cones. I was weary of the drama. I wanted a shortcut to find peace. But that turned out to be a funny thing. I learned that the seeking of peace can, in itself, become a new set of cones, albeit spiritual ones. I sat down to meditate in the belief that if I did, life would finally fall neatly into place. I recognized the un-neatness of it all, which was why I was there on the cushion at six in the morning, but I believed I’d found a hack to avoid life’s difficulties. But life doesn’t really work that way. It’s not interested in hacks – even well-intentioned spiritual ones. When I realized this, in the midst of some new life drama that I thought wasn’t supposed to happen when you’re spiritual, it was a shock. Or maybe more accurately, a betrayal. It’s not supposed to be like this. And yet it was… and it is… for us all.

It’s in those moments of betrayal, or perhaps after many of those moments, that we gain the courage to look deeper. To glance beyond the part of us that’s trying to game the system. Weary and licking our wounds, we stop trying to manipulate life and let go, resigned to go along for the ride. In this way we might say peace finds us. It’s not without work. In fact, it probably requires all that work of doing and failing to wear ourselves out to lower the defenses, to get the desire to find peace out of our psyche so that peace can slip in, on its own, through the back door. In one of life’s ironies we learn that we don’t find peace, we learn to be at peace with where we find ourselves in life. There’s no order or neatness; no orange cones arranged to show us the way. In fact it’s often a mess, which is where peace lives. Like my miniature dachshund Napoleon burrowed in the blankets at the foot of the bed, peace likes to nestle deep inside the mess of life.

Peace likes to nestle deep inside the mess of life. 
A friend of mine is nearing retirement. He’s been talking about it for some time. His wife is already retired and they want to travel the world together. But my friend has been struggling with the idea of making that change. He started with a brave face, the way we all do when talking about that kind of far-off change. But as “one day” has morphed into “this year,” it’s scared him. “I’m panicked. I feel like my life is ending. I don’t know who I’ll be without my job,” he told me. Those are the confessions of an honest soul, the ghosts hidden within the winds of change. It’s scary. It hurts. It challenges our identity. And, nonetheless, it comes. Change always does.

Sharon Salzberg said, “The moment when we realize how much we cannot control, we can learn to let go.” Letting go takes practice. It’s a skill, like being able to throw a big orange ball through a hoop. I’m learning to view my meditation as that practice… of letting go, accepting my life, allowing whatever thoughts and emotions come up, welcoming them, and being okay with myself as life runs its course. Sitting alone, I practice embracing my humanity and understanding that okayness doesn’t always come easy, it involves all the messy emotions that make up my humanity. My desire to hack happiness has been replaced, at times begrudgingly, with an acceptance that there are no hacks, just practice and letting go.

My friend called me the other day. There was a calmness to his voice I hadn’t heard in a while. He told me he’d been meditating, reflecting on his life, looking back on all the big changes – from clinging to his mom’s hand on his first day of school to graduating high school and leaving home for college to finding his first job, marrying his wife, and having children. “You know,” he said with a sigh. “I see now that everything I value in my life began as a moment of change. It was all scary, but letting go of the fear filled my life with so much good. And that’s helping me believe that retirement’s going to be okay too.”

This week I invite you to join me in the practice of letting go and being okay. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and allow yourself the experience of being accepted as you are, without having to take any action or heroic effort. Sitting there, breathing – as the world changes all around you – you are okay. Allow that same gift for all areas of your life as you practice allowing that how things are today is good enough for now. Avoid the temptation to seek peace, and instead allow the experience of peace to be the byproduct of this acceptance. Change is inevitable. So is pain. But as we practice letting go and being okay – breathing, accepting, allowing – we find peace waiting gently, curled up at our feet, where it’s been all along.

Big hugs of love and peace,

Jason

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Further to The Ponds...

Brain Pickings is the best... click on it to read;

 Happy 80th Birthday, Mary Oliver: The Beloved Poet on How Differences Bring Couples Closer Together

by Maria Popova


“All of it, the differences and the maverick uprisings, are part of the richness of life. If you are too much like myself, what shall I learn of you, or you of me?”
 

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The Ponds

Reading Mary Oliver's poetry can make my chest heavy. Her words create such a vivid picture of a moment she has witnessed in nature and an epiphany of how that moment mirrors life's experiences. This is a stunning piece that I will bookmark and visit later. I will read her clever words again when I am feeling life is not so perfect. I will also be reminded that there is mystery to life. I will let myself be dazzled by that mystery, and the light and the beauty all around. I believe too Mary.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do

 

Claude Monet Water Lilies (1906)

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The Faulty Walnut

My daughter Lucy introduced me to The Book of Life.  Their articles share a different perspective on common topics. Lately I have been very aware of how my brain responds in various situations. I like the observations offered here;


The Faulty Walnut
Our brains are brilliant instruments, able to reason, synthesise, remember and imagine at an extraordinary pitch and rate. We trust them immediately and innately – and have reasons to be deeply proud of them too. However, these brains – let’s call them walnuts in honour of their appearance – are also very subtly and dangerously flawed machines, flawed in ways that typically don’t announce themselves to us and therefore give us few clues as to how on guard we should be about our mental processes. Most of the walnut’s flaws can be attributed to the way the instrument evolved over millions of years. It emerged to deal with threats, some of which are no longer with us, and at the same time, it had no chance to develop adequate responses to a myriad of challenges generated by our own complex societies. We should feel pity for its situation and compassion for ourselves.

Attempting to live requires us to adopt a focused and ongoing scepticism towards a great many of the ideas, schemes, plans and feelings generated by the faulty walnut that stands at the top of our spinal column. Here are just some of the many things we need to watch out for: - The Walnut is influenced by the body to an extent it doesn’t recognise: The walnut is extremely bad at understanding why it is having certain thoughts and ideas. It tends always to attribute them to rational, objective conditions out in the world, rather than seeing that they might be stemming from the impact of the body upon its thought processes. It doesn’t typically notice the role that levels of sleep, sugar, hormones and other physiological factors play upon the formation of ideas. The walnut adheres to a psychological intepretation of plans and positions that are, at base, frequently merely physiological. Therefore, it can feel certain that the right answer is to divorce or leave the job rather than go back to bed or eat something to raise blood sugar levels.

 The Walnut is influenced by its past, but can’t see its own projections: The walnut believes it is judging each new situation on its own merits, but it is inevitably drawing upon patterns of action and feeling shaped in previous years. This saves time, and has real evolutionary advantages, except that many situations in the present are in fact deceptive, resembling the past only enough to trigger a familiar response, while in fact having many unique characteristics that get overlooked. At moments of ambiguity, the walnut can jump to some catastrophic conclusions. It might, for example, assume that any older man who speaks in a confident way is out to humiliate them, when actually it was just one man, their father, who did this – or it will find it hard to get close to all women because one specific woman happened to be a source of trauma between the ages of 1 and 10. It’s deeply understandable, but very regrettable. - The Walnut doesn’t like to stop and think: The walnut evolved for rapid, instinctive decision-making – and has a grievously hard time stepping back to address what we might term the big first order questions. It will always be keener to do than reflect, to act rather than analyse. Remember that philosophy is, at best 2,000 years old. We prefer to keep running a business the way it’s always been run rather than stop and ask: what would it mean to properly help our customers? We rush to book a holiday rather than pause and reflect on what we really enjoyed about past trips. We form an ambition to break into journalism because we enjoy being ‘creative’ rather than analysing the component parts of our interests. We hence miss our own vagueness, inconsistency and confusion. So bad is the walnut at thinking, it often needs another walnut nearby to help it along its way. Thinking generates anxiety and a desire to run fast in the opposite direction because of the difficult truths the walnut might unearth. But in the presence of another walnut, we can’t so easily bolt and turn back to the web. That’s why philosophy started as a conversation and psychoanalysis depends on two people unpacking one person’s thoughts and associations. Sadly, we rarely call on other walnuts to help us analyse, and usually pass the time with walnuts chatting idly about sport or the latest celebrity scandal. In short, the walnut is very good at seeing what others are up to, but finds it hugely hard to gain insights into itself. It can take it thirty years to gradually gain an insight that was obvious to a stranger within 2 minutes. The walnut seems to be a machine that’s not designed to look at itself (like our eyes can’t see the middle of our backs).

 The walnut is bad at self-control and gets passionate about, and scared of the wrong things: The walnut constantly gets excited about things which aren’t good for it: sugar, salt and sex with strangers for a start. Advertising knows how to exploit this cognitive frailty to perfection. Our confusions can generally be traced back to targets that would once have been crucial and fitting for us to focus on. Our desires used to be reliable in simpler environments, but in the complicated conditions of modernity, they cause chaos. The same holds true for our fears: in the past, fears were simply bound to things that could kill us. Fears were a good idea to get us out of genuine dangers. But nowadays, many things excite our fear systems without there being any real threat. We have panic attacks before speaking in public for no good reason – while at the same time, the real, more subtle threats of modernity (global warming or another subprime mortgage financial crisis) evade our detection radars entirely. - The walnut is egocentric, not polycentric: The walnut is primed to look at things from its own point of view. It often simply can’t believe that there are other ways of considering an issue. Other people can therefore seem perverse, or horrible to it – sparking outrage or self-pity. It’s only in the last second, from an evolutionary point of view, that the walnut has started to try to imagine what it might be like to be someone else (a symptom of this is that it’s learnt to take pleasure in novels). But this is still a fragile empathetic capacity, which tends to collapse, especially when the walnut is tired, and someone is trying to persuade it of a strange-sounding idea.

The walnut is intellectually squeamish: The walnut doesn’t like uncomfortable information. It doesn’t want to hear about problems. It looks out for information that confirms its biases and choices. It hates being the devil’s advocate. It favours short-term comfort over long-term growth and evolution. If confronted with a disquieting fact, it will tend to repress or skirt it. The walnut places self-protection way above truth. - The walnut isn’t an independent thinker: The walnut grew up dependent for its survival on the mood of the group or clan. It is therefore highly primed to fit in with common sense and prevailing opinion. It doesn’t generally like to use itself as a source of original data or insight. Other people’s opinions matter hugely irrespective of how foolish they might be – or indeed widespread. Because we came from small groups, one or two compliments can delight us; one criticism can sow panic. This is tricky in the age of Twitter. We get hypersensitive to what an absurdly small number of others believe.

The walnut misunderstands causality: The walnut used to think it might have been responsible for the lightning in the sky and that earthquakes were a result of its own bad thoughts and deeds. It took a while for that skewed perspective to be overcome. But the walnut still projects personal dynamics and overproduces generalities based on things that have happened to it: it stays trapped by personal rather than statistical or objective experience. CONCLUSION: Being more vigilant about the flaws in our walnuts gives us a range of important advantages: - we get better at noticing the potential of flaws in our own judgement – and therefore stand a higher chance of not making them. We can only start to avoid mistakes when we know mistakes are an active possibility. - when we deal with other people, we can ask ourselves whether they might be acting from a walnut flaw, but not know it. This will make us both bolder about disagreeing with them and also kinder and more generous in the face of their less than sensible behaviours.

 when we deal with large groups of people, we can be aware that the walnut does very weird things in packs – but that’s OK and no reason to panic if we find our ideas are meeting with resistance. At heart, compensating for the faulty equipment that nature has given us is the task of what we call: education, culture and civilisation. The flaws in the walnut are also what makes it imperative that we try to act with kindness and tolerance: we should at all times go easy on ourselves and others, for we’re trying to do some very difficult things around one another, with the use of a highly troublesome and only intermittently accurate tool.

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CODA

Life is a steady state of change. Some events and milestones seem to have a greater impact that result in reflection, inquiry and growth. In the past few months two of my three kids (who were babies yesterday!) have graduated, my partner has relocated, my sweet pup passed away and I am walking into 50. I love how this video captures that urgency for more time... 

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Visiting the zoo

Have you watched the parents filming there kids at the zoo?  Different animals exhibiting their instinctive behaviour behind thick safety glass. It struck me this morning that a lot of the thoughts in my head are just like those animals behind the glass. 

I know, I'm weird and that is random. It is also incredibly helpful. Thanks to Headspace I have a new best friend in my meditation practice. That meditation practice has made it possible for me to put up that thick safety glass they use at the zoo. I can see anxiety approach the glass and lunge at me, I know it's there pawing to take over my insides but now I have a little more space and don't need to react. Okay, sometimes I do but even the kids at the zoo jump sometimes.

The other thing I have learned is that everyone has something behind their glass and somehow that is comforting.

 

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi

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