As 2013 drew to a close, I like almost everyone in the world sat back to reflect over the year gone by and the new one approaching. I spent a ton of time reading, thinking and loafing around in between the party sessions. What I realised that I had for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, was an even deeper sense of calm and peace. The feeling that you have something that works, a way of being in the world that feels right, a little effortless. With that realisation and the books I’ve been digging into (Daily Rituals: How Artist’s Work, Steal like an Artist, The Wisdom of Insecurity, etc.) a couple of themes begin to surface.
Process > Outcomes
For 2014, I’ve decided to abandon the popular framework of goals…the obsession with trying to achieve such and such by this time, etc. I’m going for a more process-oriented outlook than a result-oriented approach. I have a very clear vision of what I want more of in my life, but I also understand that it is a process and the jump from point A to point B will not be immediate. Somewhere along the line I might even decide that C is a better fit.
So right now at the start of the year, I’m not putting a lot of focus on if I eventually succeed or not, I’m focusing on what I have control over…doing the work. When I review myself each month, the first things I ask myself are ‘did I put in the time’, did I do the work, did I blog, did I make the art, did I do the reading, did I do the tasks that push the idea forward. Setting and sticking to a day to day routine that allows me to steadily put in work day by day in relation to the projects/goals in place for the year.
Basically it’s a focus on the process of becoming as opposed to focus on the desired result. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our life” – Annie Dillard. So I don’t judge success by achieving the goal. I succeed by being able to live the right way consistently day by day. To paraphrase a Will Smith quote, “focus on laying this brick as perfectly as you can and soon enough, you will have a wall”
(Bonus Reading: Hunter S. Thompson on Purpose and Living a meaningful life)
Self Expression and long deferred projects
I am taking a bet, embarking on an experiment. My inner intuition has been that I should focus on those things that really interest me. The common advice and tendency is to conform, defer your dreams and work to make enough money to be able to pursue your dream. Though I am a freelance graphic designer and that is one aspect of my dream, there are so many other mediums/products I’ve always wanted to explore. Now these things I’m doing first for the sheer pleasure of it. If the way I spend my days is how I spend my life, then I want my life to have more of the things that interest me and less of an obsession with making money and such. It would not be easy, but I want to see what happens if I focus on my intuition and inspiration in working and creating. How would that affect my life, my relationships, my business?
New, and unfamiliar things/experiences
At the end of last year, I had the overwhelming feeling of being in a rut of doing the same crap every day, every weekend…it was sickening. So new experiences, learning new skills, brushing off old forgotten things are the order of the day now.
Usually, as the year picks up pace, I find myself overwhelmed and clouded by the different needs and motives of people I’m in contact with or do work for. This is a sensation I refer to in my head as falling asleep, becoming progressively numb to my inclinations and inspirations. I conform to the world around me to make money off it and suppress my own opinions or ideas. I want to be more consistently present in my genius so to speak. This is a big reason why the whole self-expression thing is important. On a macro scale, I want to be more open to life, to the universe, to live without expectation and dive in each moment and each day wholeheartedly and really experience things. This is my spiritual practice for 2014…practicing being present.
As a whole, everything I’ve just spoken about is an aspect of the idea of presence. The theme for 2014 is not resolutions or goals or things to achieve. Resolutions are usually things that you feel you SHOULD do, rather than things that you WANT to do. I’m trying to grow and evolve by staying true to my higher desires (which are actually things like being healthier, more creative, better at business, learning). And I follow my path by focusing on the ‘be-ing’, the practice. It is diving into the mundane, the ordinary, the day to day. If I do that well, perhaps without noticing I would also get the ‘things’. But even if I don’t get the ‘things’, the pleasure would be in the doing…and that is even better.
I am a perfectionist. Somewhere in my teens, I picked up the idea that I needed to be perfect. I thoroughly embraced my faith at the time and was inspired to live my life on the next level, a shining example of moral conduct and personal excellence.
That’s all good and well, except I tend to take things to the extreme. I set incredibly high standards for myself and would beat myself up if I made a mistake, or failed at something. I always felt like I had to be on point, on the ball, all the time…so much damn pressure.
But perfection is a fantasy, and eventually life catches up with us…in its glorious fuckedupness. My pursuit of perfection went so far and my frustration with falling short repeatedly built up so much that I finally gave up. I stopped trying and began to learn to be. I let myself off the hook.
Now I’ve learned that perfection is an illusion, something to be sought, but never attained (perhaps only in hindsight). A guiding star, rather than a destination. Life is messy, and flaws are distinguishing features.
Sometimes when I have an idea or I need to create, I have high expectations for how I want it to turn out…the higher they are, the less likely I would start working on it. I’ve learned to make allowance for fuck ups. I fly right into the creative storm knowing full well that I would only probably reach 80% of the awesomeness I seek…if I’m lucky. This ensures I actually do produce things, and perhaps…one out of a hundred would actually be perfect.
I’ve never felt like this. In my entire 24 years and 28 days on earth, I have never had this feeling. For the first time since I started designing, I don’t want to design. I’m actually avoiding clients, avoiding their payments too. I don’t want to be in that system, I don’t want to be enslaved. I don’t want to HAVE TO design.
I don’t mind designing, I just don’t want to have to do it. I want to play again. I want to have fun again. Its crazy, I’ve avoided so many calls, I’m actually having clients rock up at my door to see if I’m okay. Usually I can sit down and bear it and get the work done. Now though, it feels like death. The only way I can work is if the client is there with me physically and I’m under the influence. That way I don’t feel the pain.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, talking to people as well, trying to figure out what’s happening with me. Most people say ‘take a holiday’, and that option sounds great…I proceed to daydream about chilling on some secluded beach, or roaming the streets of a sleepy small village town talking to craftsmen and artisans. A month to do nothing would be great. Because that is what I would love to do…nothing. Wake up, eat, do nothing, sleep. This never-ending torrent of productivity is breaking me. Why are we so busy?
A lecturer of mine once remarked’ “the human race is far too productive”. I agree with him, we create a lot of worthless things. But I guess that’s the process to eventually making great things. Last night I read a line by Hugh Macleod, ‘Success is much more complex than failure’. To succeed, you actually need to try, you need to make calls, schedule meetings, move up and down, create something, sell something, work long hours, and so on and so forth. On one level, it feels like madness, put in all this effort, get to the top and then what? Why not just chill and enjoy life, do the minimum required to get tokens (money) and just enjoy the simple pleasures. I envy the bum on the street sometimes, that guy has no care in the world (well, except for deteriorating health and possible death from exposure to the elements). But, beyond his next meal or his next drink, he seems to have no care in the world. That’s pretty legit.
We are not wired that way though, or at least we are not programed that way. We need to succeed, we need to do more, be more., We need to be moguls, juggling 15 different projects at a time to feel successful, to feel like we are keeping up with Kanye and the Kardashian. It’s a delusion, a disease, admittedly one that is useful, one that has gifted us with so much as a race.
I don’t know, I don’t know what my point is writing all this. I am just ranting. In conclusion, I would remind myself that success is relative, and it is best to prescribe my own definition for my life. A definition that makes sure I strive as hard as I possibly can to tap into my potential, and also makes sure that I truly I’m happy from the depths of my soul.
Last night, I took a critical look at my life and my efforts and realized something very important. I had inadvertently given all my energy, creativity and time to furthering other people’s dreams. Everyday, people come up to me wanting my help in furthering their vision, a magazine, an ad agency, a club, a clothing line, and so on. I don’t mind, I have a gift; I can use it to move people’s dreams forward. It’s a problem where I begin to neglect my own dreams, my own ideas, and the things I want to create because others are more urgent or more convenient or more quickly profitable than mine. The fault is completely mine, and somewhere inside me, a part of me has rebelled and won’t let me design anymore until I create the things I’m supposed to create.
I guess I have no choice then.
I’ve been doing this thing called ‘morning pages’ from ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron. Every morning for the next 12 weeks I write three pages of pure stream of. I’m on day 3. The goal of these pages is to unearth and release the thoughts and emotions lurking in the subconscious. I do this a lot already through daily contemplation and meditation, but this is still a useful tool. As the debris of unresolved emotions and thoughts are cleared away, I gain clarity and closer contact with my creative muse.
I have a friend who I love unconditionally. I don’t know if I love any of my other friends or people the same way, but with her I know I do. Maybe it is because I know it is mutual, and we understand that regardless of what the other person does or goes through, we love and support each other all the same. We don’t talk all the time, but the idea is a comfort, to know that at least one person completely accepts you, as you really are, no judgments.
What does this idea look like when it is turned inwards? Yesterday, I was writing my stream of thought and halfway through I realized that there are some things I don’t face because they would require admitting to myself that I made a mistake, that I possibly messed up. But how I am going to get healing and move past it if I don’t face it. It would just remain an issue causing discomfort and pain. To help me face the issues boldly, I must extend a hand of unconditional love to myself. I must say to myself that regardless of my failings, my mistakes, my fuck-ups, that I love myself and I don’t have to work to deserve my own love. I love me; I don’t have to be perfect. Perfection is not the goal. The goal is to LIVE (as messy as life is), to LOVE (as dangerous and wild as love is), to CREATE (as scary and uncertain as creation is).
I’m way better at judging myself and rejecting parts of myself that I don’t like. But if I practice and learn to love myself unconditionally, I know that all my fear will melt away and my true power will be released. I can allow myself to be myself, my full true self. I won’t have to bend to please everybody if it means compromising that which is sacred to me. I will have nothing to prove, and no one to impress, only myself to be true to. I can speak my mind and approach all my relationships from a place of love and acceptance. And the more I love myself, the more I will love others.
I was having lunch…well, more like watching her eat lunch, and in the midst of our conversation, I got reminded that I’m actually more 24 than 23, I turn a year older in about a month. I’ve been holding on the age 23 for a long time. I don’t want to grow older. When I was 16, I couldn’t wait to be 21+, but now I feel like nah…I’m growing old way too fast, can someone slow this life thing down.
I kinda dread turning 24. As a teen I always had this desire to do something remarkable by the time I was 21/22. I wanted to be some rich whiz kid or have mad degrees and be famous or whatever. I fear getting to 28/29 and feeling like I haven’t done anything with the potential I feel within me, (or that I have deluded myself to believing I have). I feel like time is running out.
When I was 16, I had all these plans and hopes for my future, things I would do, the person I would become. Now at 24, I am tempted to wonder in despair “What have I accomplished in the past 8 years?” I may not have all the accolades I expected to have by now, but I cannot deny that the past 3 years have given me such precious gifts of insight, understanding and growing maturity. I have learnt so many things I didn’t even know I was supposed to know.
I was supposed to be a millionaire by 21, or somewhat close to that. I had all the cliché dreams of cars, houses, vacation spots, world travel, fame, and so on. I quickly found out that I really don’t have such an intense motivation or drive for some of these things, they don’t excite me all that much. It’s quite the tense dilemma, wanting to do big things and at the same time not having enough burning desire for it. I’m rather lazy I admit. So I’m really just focused on doing remarkable and cool things now. I have a very different picture of my life ahead at 24 that I did at 21. I now want things like world travel, collaboration, personal growth, happiness, cool design projects, change, skill acquisition, freedom and self-knowledge. It’s all too apparent to me that the castles you build eventually become your prisons.
I’m skeptical of the lifestyles and the rich and famous, material things are cool, but in my opinion, only up to a certain point. I seek my thrills in variety. I fear getting stuck in one career path forever or in some manner of rut. I guess that’s why I like the idea of being a multidisciplinary designer; we get to interact with diverse fields and people (if we do it correctly), it can lead to an exciting and interesting life.
So me at 24, and me at 21…quite different people. Life is incredibly unpredictable. If you had asked me at 18 if I would be the person I am now, doing the things I do now, I would have said no. If 6 years ago, I couldn’t really imagine my life now, then how can I predict the next 6 years with any form of certainty? I guess you really can’t. Life is really what happens when you are busy making other plans.
So in retrospect, I’m fine with turning 24. I have something a lot of people don’t find this early in life, a clear understanding of self and ambition. With the wisdom I have picked up so far, I’m excited to tackle the coming years earnestly, living, loving, laughing and creating epic shit.
I woke up this morning to a tweet from Kay, which sent me to this link. A link about how depression may be an evolutionary trait. It’s quite fascinating, and in case you don’t have the time to read the actual link now, it essentially says that the genes that are involved in depression are also involved in infection fighting. Therefore the symptoms exhibited in depression such as low interest in activity, social avoidance, laying low, doing nothing, reduced motor and cognitive speeds actually divert the bulk of your available energy to strengthening your immune system. Fascinating read…thanks Kay.
While I kept scrolling down past the article, a thought occurred to me, “wait, I am more happier now than I’ve ever been, and I’ve been consistently happy over the past year. So why am I happier now, and how does that connect with this new theory of depression/infection warfare?”
Then I saw a it. A link to an article with the title Eat, Smoke, Meditate: Why your Brain Cares how You Cope. I read it, and while I read it, my mind spiraled into all sorts of ideas and thoughts, and I felt like sharing them would be helpful to someone out there.
From 2007 up until 2009, I frequently battled depression. And I can confidently attribute that to my experience at varsity during that period. I was engaged in study and doing as I was expected by society at large and all. But I was also beginning to ask myself a lot of questions about life and myself and what I really wanted to do with my life. It’s quite a long story and I have a post for that coming up some time. Long story condensed to one line. I was studying, it wasn’t making sense, not because it was hard per se (even though admittedly my mindset and thinking skills were not suitable for the kind of work at hand), but because it made no long term sense to my life and there were a host of underlying unconscious thought and emotional patterns within me that were self-sabotaging in nature.
The second half of 2009 saw me in some of my worst bouts of depression, which had me in bed often and not able to do any work (an extreme case of deep procrastination). At the end of 2009, things broke apart for me, and I began what some people call the Fool’s Journey. I spent about a month mostly by myself in SA, not going home for Christmas and took that time to think about life. It was during this time I bumped into one of the fundamental and useful techniques for dealing with life. Meditation.
It happened by accident. I was feeling particularly distraught and agitated, which is a state that is reinforced and exacerbated by the mind running amok from one problem to another. On impulse, I switched off the light and sat down on the floor in the dark, and began to observe my thoughts, sift through them and sort them out. I experienced and immersed myself among all the thoughts that worried me, and I resolved almost all of them. I gained insight; I knew what options to take and how to handle things. And when I was done, I felt calm, quiet at peace. A state that had eluded me no matter who I talked to or how much I prayed or went to church. And I know that last sentence would be controversial to some, but that’s how it was for me.
And I realized the answers I seek are within me. There is a part of me, that has a direct link to all that is, and the cosmos beyond, there is a part of me with a direct link to God, and if I go there, I’ll find what I seek.
And since then, as I’ve lived, made choices, made decisions, worked and played. It has been in the context and against a backdrop of meditation in various forms. The kind I mentioned above is something I felt instinctively to do. The main point here is not the ‘meditation’ per se, but the state it fosters or supposed to foster if you do it right, a focus on the present and an increased awareness, of self and of the environment. The more you are focused on the now and being in the now, the more energy you have to create your experience in the now. The more aware of yourself and the many emotional and thought patterns that run below the surface, the better you can deal with, resolve and choose more empowering thoughts and emotions. The more in tune with your self you are, the easier it is make inspired life choices, do what you really want and in the process be happier and at peace.
And at the end this is what we seek, a sense of being able to cope and handle whatever life throws at us.
I learnt about this time last year that I choose depression a lot. Sometimes I truly get depressed for no reason (I had my last episode last week for 2 days) but then it had become really engrained in my psyche and sense of identity. I made it a part of me; I loved the idea of the angst-ridden artist. I thought it was cool (such adolescent tendencies shakes head). But once I realized it, I started consciously choosing happiness. I would not have come to this realization if I didn’t have a certain level of self-awareness. Now, when I have a negative emotion or a strong disturbing emotion, I allow it to be, I experience it, I resolve it, I move on. I am able to experience the nowness of the feeling and then move on from it, I don’t keep rehearsing or playing it over and over again in my mind. If I can’t control the outcome of a thing, I put it away from my mind; all I focus on is what can I do. If I make a mistake, I let it go quickly, I focus on what I can learn and what I can do right now. If someone is mad at me, I feel the twinge of guilt, or sadness, or pain for a little while, then I let it go. I understand now that what determines my inner state is what I focus on.
I’m not perfect at this, but I’ve learnt a lot.
Jesus said things like, “Don’t worry about tomorrow and it’s troubles because today has enough of its own”. That’s a call to the now.
What I’ve just described may seem strange to some people, but it comes much easier to understand and practice once you realize that the tangible world we are immersed in, does not really exist (quantum physics and all that) and all the emotional reaction we have to things comes from what we overlay the blank canvas of life with. We interpret events, we give meaning to things and happenings, we are wrapped up in our egos and selves and see things as perpetual threats to us. This experience of being trapped n immersed in this unreal reality sends our minds into all kinds of spirals and loops causing stress, agitation and depression. By waking up to it and being aware of it, you can rise to a level above it, a place of constant peace, unconditional love and creative power.