Holding Forks And The Present

There is always the thing behind the thing.

When I share pictures of modern day still life I do so because of what I am capturing by witnessing the present aesthetics and how they affect my mind.

The nicely designed book with a striking color on my table, with the right proportionality and height as it rests cleanly.
The coffee mug while sitting in the coffee shop with the unfocused background breaking streams of light through, providing hints to background activity and beauty.
The mixing of overheard conversations in public, providing a different symphony each time.

This is the thing behind the thing. Caught well in the present, my impulse is to share a scene because of the way the overall moment has descended on me while I observe.

In Ryan Holiday’s book Stillness Is The Key, he writes the following on becoming present:

We want to learn to see the world like an artist: While other people are oblivious to what surrounds them, the artist really sees. Their mind, fully engaged, notices the way a bird flies or the way a stranger holds their fork or a mother looks at her child. They have no thoughts of the morrow. All they are thinking about is how to capture and communicate this experience. (P 28)

Ryan perfectly describes what is happening in my mind. But I only get there when I have done the extremely hard task he lays out, which is to become present to the moment I am in, not thinking of the future, not dwelling on the past.

The background mechanics of me becoming infatuated with the height and right angles of a book sitting on my table helps me engage even further with the cacophony of thoughts swirling in my mind. But it doesn’t stop the mind. It allows for intense deep work to be engaged.

Like the Muse described by Steven Pressfield, the real work begins to descend on me. It enters me and then I just have to respond. I have to write out a draft of a blog post. I have to put several ideas together finally about something I was neglecting. I have to respond.

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The contrast of the dark stain on the riser table with the light color of the wood on the main table, along with the aroma of my morning coffee and crisp book cover……..yeah this is all ‘the thing behind the thing.’ I might actually get more out of the morning not ‘doing’ anything but simply sitting there and observing.

We need to observe the present. The day we have been given. The sights in front of us. The sounds we can hear. We must take things a day and a moment at a time.

Ryan goes on to say “An artist is present. And from this stillness comes brilliance.” This brilliance is beyond hard to describe. Which constitutes the work to be done. Which is why we sit still observing what is around us and relaying it back.

I want to keep getting to this place of being present and transmit what I find.

Temporarily

After my walk around the neighborhood this morning listening to a podcast, with the warm weather breathing spring and delight back into me, looking at the different houses in the neighborhood in a sort of soft light, the following fell on me stronger than ever before:

I am tired of temporary. Actually, I think I am exhausted with temporary.

I am ready to be grounded where I am today. In the present.

It’s where we all are. The right now.

Like the neighborhood I am walking in. I thought I would temporarily be here.

Do you know how you treat something if you think it is temporary, not yours, not where you want to be?

You know how you treat it.

So this walk was refreshing me because even though I have plans to move elsewhere, I felt so grounded and attached to place more than I was allowing myself to be.

Having your mind convinced you are in a temporary state, which turns out to be a decade or more, is exhausting. It’s exhausting if it’s a year. Four years. Or four weeks.

I live in a neighborhood I don’t claim because I think I am temporarily here.

But what is so wrong about the temporary nature is we miss what we have. It creeps into many other areas in our lives. It has done so for me. Like:

I keep saying in my mind I will become a musician when I am already one.

I keep saying in my mind I will become a helper when I have helped many I don’t even realize.

I keep saying in my mind I will become a writer when I write and others tell me my writing is brilliant.

Temporary is no place to live. It leads to abuse of what we have. Even if we live in a temporary state, whatever that may be, there is something inside that state that we can cherish, hold dearly, help, create, embrace, and give thanks for.

A Lot Has Changed In The Past (2)Year

Wage War has the song that defines my last two years. It’s going to be my anthem, my marker of these years.

The chorus says it all. But I’ll get there. 

First a walk up to the chorus with a verse punching me in the gut: 

Let’s get this straight
A lot has changed in the last year
Thought I had everything together
But watched it all disappear

It is remarkable what has disappeared from me. Previous to 2 years ago, I thought I was at least on the trajectory of putting it all together. I knew I didn’t have it all together. But I was on the correct path.

Silly me. 

I watched a lot of ‘stuff’ disappear. What’s remaining in the process? I’m finding the Person I always identified as the core behind everything. 

This is where every biblical metaphor of pruning, burning away, and seeing what’s left over applies to my last two years.

Thought I had everything together takes on a unique meaning for me. I didn’t arrogantly believe I had it all together. In fact swaying heavily in the other direction, I was already well on the way of holistic improvements a year, two years, really a few years in the making because of an acknowledgment of not having things together. Improvements made because of the humble identification of desperately needed change.

So when the hits started coming one after another over the past two years, all my personal improvements felt for not.

These personal improvements ironically had no challenging places to test themselves out in (or at least not in the arenas I figured I would apply my personal improvements in).

In other words, if I could establish habitual changes when times were ‘good,’ without realizing it, I was being prepared to keep it up when times became ‘bad.’ 

It’s kinda like the stakes were raised so change wouldn’t be on my terms anymore.

So here I am putting my past two years into perspective, and with everything that is burned up and gone, it is what remains which brings me to my knees.

This chorus. It stuns me:

Now I see, I was broken to be made a better me

There are so many defeats I’ve had to deal with. There are many incredibly significant moments of pruning. What’s astonishing within this reflection is how I have become a better me in the process. This is the best version of myself ever. I have never been ‘clearer.’ 

A career stall actually turned into a time period of incredible learning through massive amounts of reading and writing, all combining to solidify my why.

An empathy I possessed intellectually a decade ago as a believer has now manifested itself personally through intense breaking and healing. Frankly put, as I reflect back on the idealistic 22 year old Jesus follower, having consumed massive volumes of early 2000’s Christian blogosphere material, and beginning their graduate studies with the aim of ‘getting into’ a field based on helping people, I see a person only scratching the surface of servant-hood. 

The ‘better me‘ standing now embraces hardship completely different. I had somehow avoided major pains in my life and figured I could serve others out of a timid, shy, intellectual point of view.

But I was finally broken so that I can look into someone’s eyes and see their pain better. 

I was assuredly empathetic before. But pain? Obstacles? Losing it all? Terror?

I’ve come into contact with pain I’d wish on no one. And yet here I am on the other side of it. I have learned the art and practice of taking the obstacle as a learning tool, as a data point. 

Am I still here? Is it morning? Is it a new day? 

Then be grateful.

Is Jesus still standing with me? He sure is.

Then be faithful.

And now I….

‘Had to learn to let it go and let it be.’ 

This is the clear marking of ‘forward.’ There are things I simply must let go. Even the process of breaking must be let go at some point. 

There are burdens too heavy to carry on my own. They were never meant to be my burdens. 

Now I can start fresh over again changing things I am actually tasked to change. Not things I have no control over. Only the pieces I have been given to put together.

The serenity prayer is on my heart like never before.

Pete & Pete: Daylight Savings Time Experts

There’s an episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete titled Time Tunnel. It is one of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite childhood shows. In the episode, brothers Big Pete and Little Pete explain how every daylight savings night they take seriously the opportunity to travel back in time to relive the hour that just went by.

As a ten year old kid I was dumbfounded not at the idea we actually travel through time twice a year, but that I had never utilized fall back for this purpose: go back in time for an hour and make amends with how poorly you might have spent that hour. Or how great you spent it. Or just do it again. We are actually gifted a re-do annually.

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From Welcome Back Artie

If I am really good at one thing, like, I can put a flag on something and claim this is my territory and I just kill at it, it would be reflection. It’s not just because I studied history as an undergraduate, but because I study my past all the time. I am always reflecting. Even as a ten year old kid I recall writing journals with a sort of sacredness to the practice of reflecting on the day or big moment that just occurred.

I almost would charge myself with using too much of my present time’s energy towards reflection on my past. There is a balance of course. The practice of looking back at one’s mistakes, one’s victories, or just anything random from the past is an excellent discipline helping re-orient one’s self as to who they are and how’d they get here to the present.

We easily lose sight of how we got to the present. When we do we allow false narratives to hijack the truth of how we arrived in our present situation. By reflecting on the past in order to help course correct our present, we do a good service for ourselves by mentally confirming what actually happened versus what might have happened.

False narratives fill the void quickly and become terrible baggage, positive or negative false narratives the same, because it’s simply not how we got to the present. What we hope for, what I at least hope for with this exercise of intentional reflection, is to find the pivot points which were key and realize what I should or should not do the next time around.

But now I propose we shift this discipline of reflection forward to the future itself and time travel backwards to our present. What happens when we have the vision of our future self telling our present self how we got to our future condition? Couldn’t we use this information to engineer ourselves towards our future self?

What happens is a life-hack so powerful it is frightening when you embrace this exercise fully. The key is taking the same emotional ride when reflecting on a past event in the present, and transferring this same exercise to your future self reflecting on your present self.

Author Tim Ferriss stumbled upon this accidentally when he wrote a piece of fiction. It was a short story “about going skiing, retiring to the ski lodge to sip hot chocolate and wine, and ending up seated across the table from a wise old stranger….this stranger turns out to be my future self. It was a fun story to write, but – and this sounds a bit weird – I also got a lot of actionable, specific advice by going through the exercise. When I put my pen down, I was somewhat puzzled and thought, “I don’t know what I just did there, but it seems like a funky magic trick.”” (Tools of Titans, 443). His future self essentially encourages his present to get to his future self. It was a life-hack of epic proportions.

We are blessed with the incredible opportunity of having another day today. What we do with today will determine our future. Well duh! But I don’t believe we live presently aware enough most of the time to know we are defining our future moment by moment, choice by choice. We get to carve out maybe an inch or two of progress right now in this very moment, progressing towards a future self we desire.

The total mind blowing aspect to this visualization is to take the same clarity we get from looking at our past right now, and transfer this clarity to the future self looking at our current self. We end up feeling we have a better grip at how to handle bad or good things that happened in our past and what we can do to move forward.

By applying this same rush of optimism having seen the future for a moment, even if it is in Pete & Pete’s case only for a mere hour, we unlock the gravity of the powerful tool we posses. Our actions right now determine our future.

You get the opportunity to correct your future self. You get the opportunity to live out the good version of your future self. Right this moment, you can make the first positive incremental move towards who you need to become.

We all get the opportunity to go back in time. Pete & Pete were onto something every autumn.

Moving Towards A Present Future

And the changing of pasts for futures occurred
The tighter you held onto the present,
Your grip calloused and confused with
Distorting memories filling up your hands.

Forward motion begins to root itself today,
As opposed to the allure of busy reflection,
Utilizing points of interest along a map
Screaming where to go, not where you’ve been.

As it becomes harder to hold on for hope
The clearest passage of time reveals a destination.
Home beckoned the future which is already here,
A Home you neglected, but a Home waiting for you.

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