Not treating myself as a noun

It’s easy to think of identity as a fixed point. Defining yourself like you’re a basket of tangible things.

I am these desires. These things I like. My perspective. How I understand others perceive me.

A narrow definition can cut a person off from other possibilities: I am not this. That’s not something I do. It can negate the value of the present moment. 

If I see myself as a noun, everything I do either fits with that definition or doesn’t. Every action, every moment, gets judged in relationship to those set terms. X isn’t something I should be doing because I am Y.

Which is why thinking that I’m a verb feels healthier.

“In the beginning, we believe that there must be someone in order for the breathing to be possible. There must be someone in order for the walking to be possible. But in fact the walking, the breathing is enough. We don’t need a walker; we don’t need a breather. Think of the rain. We’re used to saying, “the rain is falling,” or “the wind is blowing.” But if it’s not falling, it’s not the rain. And if it’s not blowing, it’s not the wind. It is the same with breathing and walking with the Buddha. We begin to touch the reality of no-self. There is only the breathing going on; there’s only the walking going on.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh, Breathe, You Are Alive!

Or, put another way:

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

– David S. Goyer’s dialogue for Batman in Batman Begins

Some pressure I feel to define myself comes from outside. To swiftly package what they want to know. Meeting new people. Applying to jobs. Being a person on the internet.

There’s self-imposed pressure to maintain ideas of my attributes. Like a hidden character sheet that shows what I’m skilled at, and where I’m lacking. As if I should refer back to this rubric to remind myself how to be myself.

I want to work at seeing myself as a verb.

To stop trying to make myself make sense but end up feeling broken, or lesser; stop justifying the present moment with a forced connection to some fossilized identity.

I hope to see meaning in the things I choose to do because I give them my full attention and effort.

Overcoming The Funk

The funk creeps in disguised as a search for something better.

Procrastinating by reading up on a better way to organize and prioritize, or scrolling for one more interesting bite of content — Flipping back the pages on an overstuffed menu, thinking you missed what you actually want to order.

The funk waves a pennant in the stands, pretending to be a supporter shouting “You can do better!” It wears your team colors, but placed bets against your victory.

The funk wins not by convincing you to stop doing anything, but by making you believe there is a right thing to do. It gets you asking the wrong questions.

I find the way to get the upper hand is when I can ask “What can I do?” instead of “What should I do?”

Momentum is the funk’s natural enemy, not perfection or strategy.

The order of my to-do list doesn’t matter if I’m not checking anything off.

I need to remind myself: Prioritize when there’s energy and clarity. Otherwise, don’t be ashamed of reaching for low-hanging fruit.

My future self will appreciate not having to pick up the slack.

As we get older, we can replace curiosity with anticipation.

I was thinking about this while watching Button play with a cup in the tub.

It has holes in the bottom like a colander. Every time he filled the cup and lifted it, first he was curious, then delighted, as the water sprinkled out.

He wasn’t sure what would happen each time. He needed to test and observe.

Knowledge vs. Judgement

For some things, like how fire is hot and can burn us, it’s good that we don’t need to re-learn them. We have a locked in sense of cause-and-effect.

With some things, we infer too much. We treat a part as representative of the whole, or one instance of something as a confirmation that this is the way things always go.

I think about the times I’ve skimmed a news article because everything after the headline seemed like a foregone conclusion. Or how many times I’ve had a conversation where everyone nods their heads about how they’re so certain, and so defeated, about what’s going to happen next when discussing a contentious current event.

There’s a fatigue to feeling like you always know what’s going to happen (or not happen) next. That life is infinitely predictable — cynically clinging to the belief that everything follows the same, disappointing script. That no one and nothing is truly capable of change or surprising action.

Turning off knee jerk reactions isn’t about letting everything slide

If a problem can be solved, there is no use worrying about it. If it can’t be solved, worrying will do no good.

The Dalai Lama

After deliberation, you might still come away angry or disappointed, but if you come away with a more positive perspective on a person or an idea after some time to process, that’s a good thing.

If you find that your gut reaction checks out, and your negative impressions were confirmed, you can feel secure in your judgement.

If you’re not in a life-or-death, fight-or-flight moment, what do you gain by being angry as fast as possible?

Attention? Likes and subscribes?

All fiat currency prone to hyperinflation.

Being slower to anger makes space to find better outlets for a response; to take action instead of only reacting.

Reacting amplifies the moment. It clings to the pain.

Considered action has the chance to move past the pain.

The power of “What if…”

Cynical certainty isn’t confidence, but defense.

It prevents vulnerability, takes away opportunities for curiosity or learning, and leaves the hard work to other people. It lets you run along with blinders on, blundering toward a non-existent finish line powered by fury.

Something I’m trying is sticking “What if” at the beginning of these negative, judgmental thoughts when they crop up.

Instead of treating them like a mental certainty, they’re a question. A hypothesis to be tested. One option with at least one other alternative (and maybe many others).

It doesn’t always ward off the judgmental impulses, but at least I know I’m trying.

I feel like if you only work to be great, you’ll miss opportunities or miss the mark. If you try to always be good, occasionally you’ll stumble on to something greater.

Kind of like not getting so caught up thinking about the grade that you miss the lesson of the assignment.

Delete App/Remove from Home Screen/Cancel

In ridding ourselves of the courthouse and marketplace we do not rid ourselves of the principal worries of our life. Ambition, covetousness, indecisiveness, fear, and desires hardly abandon us just because we change address. They pursue us into the monasteries and schools of philosophy themselves. Neither deserts nor caves nor hair shirts nor penance can extricate us from them. That is why it is not enough to remove oneself from people, not enough to go somewhere else. We have to remove ourselves from the habits of the populace that are within us. We have to isolate our own self and return it to our possession. We carry our chains within us. We are not entirely free. We keep returning our gaze to the things we left behind.

Stephen Batchelor reading Michel de Montaigne for the Tricycle podcast

Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be transferred or transformed from one form to another.

The first law of thermodynamics

Sometimes I’ll delete Instagram from my phone for a while. Or set up blockers to keep me from looking at the web version of Twitter (since Tweetbot does a pretty good job of keeping me from falling down rabbit holes).

The other day I put Instagram back on my phone for a moment to check a message someone had sent me there, and within a few taps I inadvertently opened a video with spoilers for the new season of The Owl House.

At which point my brain kicked over to “In for a penny, in for a pound” and I fell down a rabbit hole with the app for several minutes.

The little lifehacks and quick fixes don’t work for me. There are plenty of others who feel the same:

Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, it’s very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works.)

Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.

James Clear

I haven’t found the right replacement for some of the habits that don’t actually bring me any real joy (even if they bring me dopamine). Maybe that’s because I haven’t adequately figured out what need they’re trying to fulfill.

An app or a social network isn’t designed for an individual, but for a broad sense of what humans need and desire. When I let idle moments default to distraction, I lose definition.

I’m no longer here, in this space, doing and thinking and being. Instead I’m riding a current of other people’s decisions and thoughts. Surrendering to it.

And it’s not enough to try to run and hide from it.