It’s only February 5, and due to my daily blogging challenge this year, I’ve already published more blog posts in 2020 than I did in all of 2019.
I realized fairly early in this challenge that it could feel very burdensome if I don’t frame it the right way. I think the wrong way to frame it would be as a self-discipline challenge. That makes it feel stressful to me. It makes the daily behaviors feel like demanding “have tos.” I wouldn’t want the next 11 months to feel like a forced march.
This morning while doing some journaling, I noted that writing is an activity that I often regard as restorative and rejuvenating. Writing can be cathartic. It helps me connect with people. It helps me process and understand ideas better. When I set my intentions properly before I start, the words flow naturally and sometimes even playfully. Writing doesn’t feel so much like thinking. It feels more like not thinking. Sometimes it feels like listening. Sometimes it feels like channeling. Sometimes it feels like dancing.
Writing is a part of my life that I feel that I’ve solved very well. While it still provides plenty of richness and depth, and I still appreciate its role in my life, this isn’t due to the experience of challenge or conflict. Writing feels like a channel that’s wide open for me to continue exploring, like a river I’ve traveled so many times that I know where all the rapids are, yet I still enjoy traversing it again and again.
Writing as a medium fits squarely within my comfort zone, yet it still has many branches that I can follow beyond my comfort zone. Oddly it has become a comfortable way to explore many discomforts.
I tend to think of many parts of life in terms of relationships. For me this way of thinking has been very transformational. What I especially love about writing is how I’ve developed a close, trusting relationship with it. It’s not just the act of writing that’s a source of positivity in my life. It’s my relationship with writing that’s grown so healthy and positive, and I can benefit from that relationship even when I’m not actively writing.
My initial intention for the daily blogging challenge was to more deeply explore my relationship with creative self-expression. This was more of an intuitive decision than a logical one, similar to how you might have an intuitive feeling about connecting with someone.
What is your relationship with money? What’s your relationship with your work? What’s your relationship with social media? What’s your relationship with sexuality? What’s your relationship with your partner (if you have one)? What’s your relationship with your character? What’s your relationship with reality?
I’ve been asking myself these questions for many years. I’ve answered some of them in the form of significant courses. And I continue to reflect upon all of these relationships and more.
Conscious Quality Control
Thinking of different aspects of life in terms of the quality of the relationships is empowering because I know that those relationships exist in my mind. That’s where I experience all of them. While I can say that there are external aspects to many of these relationships, I still process all of the details within my mind. I model each relationship mentally. I feel each relationship emotionally. Some relationships have physical aspects that I experience with my body and my senses, and those signals also get processed through my mind.
I don’t control the externals per se, but I can wield some conscious control over how I do the internal processing. If I notice that the way I represent a relationship is becoming problematic, I can delve into how I’m modeling it. This is tricky work since the initial modeling happens subconsciously. I don’t really control how my mind frames these relationships from the start, but I can consciously discover the details of those models, such as by asking questions and journaling about it. Having conscious conversations with others helps too. As I gain more clarity about how my mind is modeling a relationship, I can look for modeling problems that could introduce bugs in my thinking or give rise to paralyzing emotions, and I can challenge my mind to devise more intelligent and accurate models.
I often think of the architecture of my mind in very physical terms – a collection of neural clusters in my brain. Since the brain exists in 3D space, it has physical limitations that give rise to various artifacts. Some regions of the brain don’t share data very well with other regions. You’ve probably heard the term cognitive dissonance, when we seem to believe something even when we have plenty of evidence to the contrary. My religious upbringing was rife with that. I see this as being linked to the physical structure of the brain. The architecture of the brain doesn’t force congruent thinking. We can have one region of the brain modeling reality one way and another region modeling reality a different way (or simply storing memories that conflict with the first region’s model), and they don’t necessarily talk to each other to resolve these conflicts.
Hence I don’t really take it personally when my mind holds models that lead to problematic relationships. I tend to regard such problems as engineering or algorithmic problems. These problems don’t usually disturb my sense of self-esteem. I recognize that the architecture of my brain is giving rise to these problems, but I also have well-developed tools that I can use to resolve such problems. These tools are my collection of personal growth insights, many of which I’ve been blogging about over many years.
I notice that when many people have mental modeling problems, they tend to take it personally, as if they’re somehow defective, unworthy, or broken. I encourage you not to think like that.
My mental processing occurs within my mind, but that mental processing isn’t me per se. It’s just the software running within me. So if the software is buggy or defective, I like to interpret this as an invitation to explore and experience those bugs, to diagnose them, and to attempt to fix them if I’m so inclined. I try not to take it personally, just as I wouldn’t take it personally if one of my devices behaves in a buggy manner.
This mental model was one that I learned from programming computers and from studying some neuroscience. But I don’t have to root it to the physical to make it work. Quite often I prefer using the subjective reality perspective, and in that context I still regard thought as software, except that it’s running in some kind of simulation instead of within my physical brain. The simulation doesn’t need to have a physical aspect. It could be some kind of dream world, in which case I just consider the dream constructs to be a different type of software.
If I think of thought as software, then thoughts can sometimes be buggy. Multiple thoughts don’t have to agree with each other. Congruence is not a requirement for thought to exist.
I also sometimes think of thought as music. Some music sounds harmonious and pleasant, and some doesn’t. Just as we can listen to unpleasant music and consider what’s wrong with it and what needs to be changed to make it sound better, we can do the same with thought.
I often feel this drive within me to make my thinking more harmonious. Sometimes this feels like the drive of life itself. How can life organize itself into increasingly complex yet stable structures? This requires bringing harmony to competing priorities, so the competition doesn’t tear apart the overall structure.
We see this on a social level too. Individuals have different priorities, and this bubbles up to competition among families, tribes, communities, political groups, and countries. Socially and politically we have a lot of disagreements. Our collection social software can be pretty buggy and disharmonious sometimes. But we could say that this bubbles up from our individual software. If we’re internally disharmonious, how can society be otherwise?
I recognize that when I’m working on my own personal problems, trying to bring harmony to my inner relationships, I’m also working on an internal version of our larger social problems. Perhaps the reason I notice certain problems in the world is that they resonate with internal patterns, so I can look at my issues with the world as indicators of what might be issues in need of resolution within myself.
How would we recognize harmony when it’s present?
Imagine a world where politicians greeted each other with hugs and smiles instead of withholding handshakes. Imagine a world where politicians praised each other and expressed gratitude openly. Imagine politicians agreeing on purpose and priorities together. Imagine politicians sharing honestly what they intend to do and what they can’t realistically do. It’s not that difficult to imagine what a more harmonious situation would look like, although it may be difficult to imagine it becoming real.
Can we do this internally as well? What would a more harmonious you look like?
With more inner harmony, you might find yourself doing a wonderful job of balancing priorities, as if you’ve somehow resolved the inner competition by recognizing common ground and getting each part of you to align with that common ground. You wouldn’t experience the problem of feeling like you should work and distracting yourself online instead.
One way to achieve this sense of inner harmony is with clarity of purpose. If you can clarify and commit to a strong purpose for yourself, it’s easier to get otherwise disagreeable neural regions to align. A strong purpose can serve as an alignment beacon, but only if you’re really committed.
Thinking of different parts of life in terms of relationships also connects with the purpose idea. Then you can consider how each relationship in your life is serving your greater purpose. How is your relationship with money serving your purpose? How is your relationship with work serving your purpose? How is your relationship with your body serving your purpose? Asking such questions will expose further misalignments in these relationships since some aspects won’t serve your purpose very well. Then you can delve into the misaligned models and see if you can upgrade them to better align with your purpose.
It can be easier to write a harmonious song if you get clear about the purpose. If you compose one track with one purpose in mind, and you write another track with a different purpose in mind, you may inject disharmony into the song. But if all tracks are created with the intention of collectively serving a singular purpose, that can help you to create a more aligned and harmonious song.
I’m noticing the usefulness of this purpose alignment with my daily blogging challenge as well. Each day I seek to fit this into my schedule, there’s the possibility (and sometimes the reality) of running into resistance. Competing priorities can push against this commitment, sometimes delaying it till late in the day. I may not always feel motivated to create. I may be extra busy some days. Sometimes surprises will happen, and I’ll have to deal with those too. With a full year of daily blogging, it’s unavoidable that I’ll experience numerous episodes of resistance from various other regions of my brain.
Trying to push through such resistance day after day can be draining, and if I do that too much, it leads to feeling burnt out and not wanting to continue. Then I have little choice but to lean on self-discipline and force compliance with the commitment. But of course that option isn’t ideal.
There are many options for this purpose, and really it’s just a matter of reminding myself of why this challenge is a good idea. I can focus on the daily connection with the flow of creative energy. I can think about helping people grow and how many people are served by this challenge. I can think about the character growth this challenge is creating.
By connecting with a strong enough purpose for this challenge, I notice that the resistance starts shifting towards a feeling of greater harmony. What’s really interesting is that just having a decent purpose for the daily blogging is also helping other parts of my life to harmonize, not just with this challenge but with each other. It’s like the purpose serves as a core musical track, providing the rhythm that all of the other tracks sync to. And when those other tracks sync to the rhythm track, they also sync well with each other.
For example, I’ve noticed that I’m doing a better job of self-care lately than when I first started this challenge. I’m feeling more relaxed and peaceful while I work, even when I have a lot to do. I’m working with better flow and less stress. January was an extra busy month due to the Stature course launch, and I also had a Panama trip that month, so it was an unbalancing time that took me off my normal routine. February is still plenty busy, but it feels more relaxed and flowing. I think this has a lot to do with finding greater clarity among otherwise competing priorities. Instead of feeling pulled in different directions, I’m doing a better job of getting my activities and projects aligned in service to an overall purpose.
When I get extra busy, my sense of purpose can feel a bit scrambled. I get lost among the trees and have a hard time remembering which forest I’m in. And when that happens, I often find it hard to justify keeping up those vital self-care activities, and of course that just makes things worse. But when I get back in tune with a clear purpose, it’s easier to slow down, and slowing down helps me speed up. Instead of burning the candle at both ends, I do a better job of creating harmonious days and weeks that feel sustainably pleasant. My personal song begins to sound increasingly harmonious.