A Miniature Truth: Becoming Authentically Yourself

aphidBecause of the recent publication of my article on Miniature Truths, and the fact that my trip to Belize gave me time, at last, to think, I decided to write a series of occasional articles on miniature truths. Note that such truths aren’t necessarily self-evident — we live in such a complex world, with such complicated man-made systems, that what might be self-evident to a child, or an alien visitor, will not be so to someone living in the midst of modern society.

I’ve already written about a few miniature truths that have emerged for me after a lot of thought and a lot of fortuitous experience; most of them are what I’ve learned about human nature in trying to make the world a better place:

  1. We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, then we do what’s fun (Pollard’s Law). There is no time left for what’s merely important, for ‘doing the right thing’. This law seems to govern all human behaviour, everywhere. Thanks, by the way, to those who tried to get this Law into Wikipedia, only to be told by the Wikipolice that “an idea presented on a blog does not warrant inclusion in Wikipedia”.
  1. Things are the way they are for a reason; if you have any hope to change something, first understand what that reason is. It’s rarely obvious. Reality is evolutionary, and so is change.
  1. Life’s meaning, and an understanding of what needs to be done, emerges, most often, from conversation in community with people you love. This is based on an idea by Nancy White and her colleagues. It is the key to changing anything, whether you it be the political or economic system, and whether you want to save the whales, stop global warming, reform education, spark innovation or anything else. 
  1. Community is born of necessity. This I learned from Joe Bageant’s son (via Joe) when I visited him recently. Consistent with Pollard’s Law above, experimental, Intentional Communities can only succeed when their members have no choice but to make them work. 
  1. To get people to change, first Let-Yourself-Change, to become a model that shows people personally, one-to-one, a better way to live, rather than just telling them what to do. — Gandhi, with a bit of amplification. 
  1. You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete, a working model of a better way, one that others can follow. — Bucky Fuller. You want to save the world? Do it bottom up, not top down. 
  1. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.Margaret Mead. Although many doubt that small working models of a better way to live are scalable i.e. that they could become pervasive in our society and actually replace what’s dysfunctional, there is evidence that only such models are scalable.
  1. To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day,
    to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.– ee cummings
  1. Our civilization is in its final century. This is the important lesson of John Gray’s Straw Dogs. It doesn’t matter what we try to do to reform it, every civilization ends, and ours will be no different. That’s not depressing, it’s invigorating and liberating. The world will be just fine without us. We need to do everything we can to make the world a better place for those we love and for our children and grandchildren now, to reduce suffering. But at the same time we should live a life of joy, every day, a natural life, not a life of struggle and sacrifice to save what cannot be saved.

During my pilgrimage to Belize, I came up with two more miniature truths. Here’s the first of them:

  • The key to Letting-Yourself-Change is to get rid of the gunk that you have collected throughout your life that prevents you from being authentically yourself.

When I was a child, I was wild. Not in the sense of being unmanageable — I was quite attentive back then. Wild in the sense of uncivilized, raw, open, unrepressed, natural. I am told I was constantly taking my clothes off, not to show off but because I found them confining, unnatural, and saw nothing embarrassing about nudity.

I was fearless (I did a photoshoot as a baby, hamming it up for the camera, that appeared on the front page of the local newspaper), I was imaginative (too much so for my neighbourhood friends, who couldn’t follow the games I invented), affectionate (my favourite game as soon as I could walk was ‘kissing tag’, since most of the kids my age in the neighbourhood were girls). Back then I struggled with communication (I didn’t learn to write reasonably well until my late teens, read little until then, and was nervous singing (I was a pretty good boy soprano) and talking in crowds.

And then all the trappings of civilization came rushing in — the cruel games kids play, the preference for cute, athletic, clever, funny, well-coordinated friends (I got pretty gangly-looking as I aged, my voice broke so my singing teacher lost interest in me, and I was terribly coordinated — I couldn’t swim or dance and my penmanship was illegible. I began to acquire a lot of the fears, doubts, and prejudices of the groups I desperately wanted to belong to, which were only made worse as my advances were rebuffed). I became a loner, and not even a ‘smart’ one.

By the end of high school, I’d acquired some talents that were popular, became a scholar, and regained my self-esteem in spades. But in the process, and even since then, I’ve picked up a lot of ‘stuff’ that isn’t me. I’ve become, in many respects, “everybody-else”.

My days are now terribly busy, even without family responsibilities to look after. My job and my book both have a lot of self-imposed responsibility, that I took on willingly and knowingly, because they’re consistent with my passion for supporting Natural Entrepreneurs and building caring communities working to make the world a better place. But it’s slow going and time consuming. My blog carries with it the responsibility to write useful stuff, often, and to at least try to respond to readers’ comments. Looking at a backlog of over 100 e-mails and months of unanswered comments (not to mention an obsolete blogroll and table of contents, that will take weeks of work to update) I can only groan at the workload that lies ahead of me.

In an article a month ago I wrote about how I thought I should ideally spend each day:

  • 9 hours a day for sleeping and personal hygiene
  • 2 hours a day for physical exercise — running, meditation, working out, yoga, hiking etc.
  • 3 hours a day for play — learning things you love, having non-competitive fun, just paying attention and being in the moment, and expressing love and joy in different ways
  • 3 hours a day for meaningful conversation — not small-talk, conversations with intention (this time could include meal-times)
  • 2 hours a day for reflection — thinking, reading/watching/listening to actionable information and stimulating entertainment content, and deciding, thinking ahead, considering what it all means and what needs to be done as a result
  • 2 hours a day for creation — writing, model-building, sketching, composing
  • 3 hours a day for action — first/next steps towards doing important things, productive actions that make the world a better place
  • 0 hours a day doing work that isn’t one of the above types of activities
  • 0 hours a day for administration, paperwork, ‘non-value-added’ work
  • 0 hours a day driving to and from places
  • 0 hours a day shopping
  • 0 hours a day waiting
  • 0 hours a day for chores
  • 0 hours a day for small talk
  • 0 hours a day for reading/watching/listening to mindless, unactionable stuff

In fact, I’m not getting enough time for sleep, exercise, play, meaningful conversation, reflection, creation or action. Why? Because my life is full of time spent dealing with all the commitments I’ve taken on. And because I’m spreading myself way too thin, taking on too much. I keep forgetting how to say no. My twelve suggestions for making more time for what’s important in that earlier article just aren’t working. I suspect I’m caught up in Pollard’s Law myself, procrastinating on doing things that are important (and which I mostly really want to do) but that are time- and energy-consuming, in favour of things that are easy, undemanding.

But underneath all that, I think, is this growing sense that I’m not myself. The real, authentic me would not take on commitments that would be unreasonable and tedious to discharge. The real, authentic me would not procrastinate. The real, authentic me would not find himself fretting about my work backlog, or watching TV because I’m just too tired to do anything else.

So if (as I claim above) things are the way they are for a reason, what is the reason for this? How did I become “everybody else” and stop being “nobody but myself”, as cummings put it? I think it may be because, like most people, I respond to attention and appreciation, and love — and when I get it I agree to do almost anything to keep it coming. With love such a scarce commodity in our terrible world, is there anything we won’t do for it, including becoming “everybody else”?

I think this is why I’m such a visceral believer in polyamorism, even though I haven’t been able to make the argument for it very articulately. If I felt, as a did as a young child, that I was surrounded by unqualified love, that it was everywhere and eternal, would I then stop taking on commitments I don’t want and can’t keep? Would I then stop changing myself into what I’m not, adding all this gunk that isn’t me, just to nurture a scarce and uncertain commodity that is naturally abundant?

Is the lack of love, in family, in community, everywhere, what’s behind the loneliness, the desperation, the anomie that we see everywhere in our society, which becomes pathology and violence and misery and cruelty?

I suspect the gunk we accumulate is mostly protective, the stuff of fear and uncertainty and anxiety over the potential loss of intimate connection, which we all need to survive.

It’s not yet an intention, because I’m not sure I can do it, but I’m going to start working to be fearless about the loss of attention, appreciation, and love, to believe that it can be abundant, and to start saying no to things that are not really important to me, regardless of the consequences. And to do fewer things, the things I’m really good at (imagining possibilities, and writing) better, and exclusively. Perhaps in so doing I can become, for the first time in my life, a model — of courage, of generosity, of authenticity, of getting important things done.

And in so doing, perhaps I can become, as I was as a young child, raw, naked, wild. Nobody but myself.

Category: Let-Self-Change

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10 Responses to A Miniature Truth: Becoming Authentically Yourself

  1. David Parkinson says:

    I really hear what you’re saying about the gunk and the diffusion of energy and attention. I don’t feel as though it’s reaching a dangerous level in my life yet, although it occasionally feels like the needle is getting close to the red.You ask: “Is the lack of love, in family, in community, everywhere, what’s behind the loneliness, the desperation, the anomie that we see everywhere in our society, which becomes pathology and violence and misery and cruelty?”That’s certainly part of the answer. But the more I go along, the more I believe that one huge problem is the almost complete absence of modeled alternatives. It’s one thing for people to feel dead-ended, trapped, hopeless; but many folks, lord love ’em, don’t have the benefit of a good education or exposure to alternative ways of being. And even if they do — even if they’ve read a lot of anthropology, or political theory, or whatever else might inflict contingency on what wants to seem essential and fixed — then they bang up against the thought that if these a=other ways of being are any good, then surely they would be enacted somewhere. And even if they are, they are sure to be marginalized or belittle by the media.Anyway, nothing new in all that — only to say that I believe (Pollyannaish as ever) that more people than we might think are secretly ready for something different and better to come along. Only they figure that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. That’s why I think it really matters for all of us who are a little more attuned (or whatever you want to call it) to really push our own boundaries. Our extremism permits other people’s baby steps.Slightly off topic… this lovely clip of Ram Dass came in through my transom on the weekend. It’s nice to be reminded that the people out there we sometimes bitch about (“They’re all so ignorant!” “Why don’t they see what’s going on?”) are really JUST LIKE US. They needour compassionate help, and we need theirs.

  2. Krupo says:

    Life is too short to waste time fighting the Bureacracy MMO (read: “Wikipedia”) geeks who enforce arbitrary and poorly conceived rules.

  3. Chaitanya says:

    Thanks for the post Dave. Lot of food for thought in there.

  4. Mariella says:

    Maybe, we get to be ourselves, the day we forget that we are looking for ourselves…

  5. Randall Ross says:

    The bureacratic deleters (Wikipedians) have lost the battle to the ubiquitous Google cache. Remarkably, Google can crawl and cache new articles faster than they can be deleted.Longer term strategy: if Dave can get Pollard’s Law published in a “reliable” place, e.g. a peer-reviewed journal, or a mainstream newspaper (<– yes that’s what Wikipedia considers “reliable”, then it becomes authoritative in Wikipedia’s mind, and undeletable.

  6. kathleen says:

    Dave,I feel immensely honored that you took the time to email me after my comment here a few weeks ago. Thank you. Love (because I’m awed that you could sign off with that, and I want in some small way to return it),Kathleen

  7. Felipe says:

    definitely food for thought …. I have been thinking a lot on this recently … first time I see someone put in writing what I have been feeling for a while

  8. Norlyn says:

    This is the perfect food for thought to me today. I’ve spent so much of my life wanting so desperately to be loved, and just today was thinking that I’ve lost myself beneath all the costumes I’ve assumed to become “loveable” to everybody else. Knowing that I’m not the only person out there who’s fighting like this gives me the hope I needed. Thank you.

  9. Siona says:

    Oh, Dave. You don’t need to do anything to be loved. You are loved by virtue of your beingness. You’re loved by every molecule of air that swirls with every inhalation across the membranes of your lungs. You’re loved by the square and solid foundation that floats on the mantle of the earth beneath your feet. You’re loved by the water that you splash over your hands before dinner. You’re loved without expectation. Being you (BEing YOU) will not result at all in a loss of attention or affection or appreciation; quite the opposite. It’ll open you to all the love that’s been waiting to flow in, but that you’ve inadvertently constructed a barrier to. I know. It’s merely my interpretation, and perhaps it sounds absurd. But I find that nature seeps in everywhere, and that trusting the love that pervades it, that drives it, that IS it–no matter how harsh or fierce it may be–is a gift not just to you, but to the world whole.

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