Austin Kleon recently wrote about how blogging is a “forgiving medium“, how one can so easily and discreetly add and edit their post at will. If there’s something missed, something wrong, something you wish you had said, you can quickly make updates and corrections with almost no one being the wiser. In that regard, I think what I appreciate most about blogging is its open-ended-ness. A posted essay may conclude but it is never final. The last word is never really the last word, its actually a kind of secret invitation. The end of a blog post is never “The End” but instead it is an “until next time”. The next post may be the start of an entirely new and unrelated conversation but, the previous topics of discussion, though momentarily dormant, remain present and readily accessible should there be an “Aha!” moment that leads to an “And one more thing”.
I live close to my job, and I’ve started walking to and from work everyday. I’ve also been making it a point to read as incessantly as I once did. The daily walk is ample opportunity to insert audiobooks into my routine. I just finished, Until the End of Time, by physicist Brian Greene. It was dense, but written accessibly; interesting but, also a bit over my head. It may have not been the most riveting read but that doesn’t mean I didn’t come across passages of reverberating resonance. For instance, Greene explains that art is an endeavor that both embraces the ephemeral and escapes into the infinite. He writes that “The artist moves toward psychic health by accepting mortality…and shifting the urge for eternity onto a symbolic form carried by creative works.” He says that “coping with mortality through creating art is a pathway to sanity”. I don’t know that I’ve consciously thought about my engagement with art in terms of “mortality” and “eternity”, but I certainly relate to creativity as an endeavor aimed at “psychic health” and “sanity“, I do see it as a path that allows me to shift away from the rigid bounds of concrete certainty and to move towards the vulnerable open-ended-ness of infinite possibility.
I finished the book on my walk to work, and as I began my walk home for lunch I looked through the Brevard County Library’s audiobooks available for download, and that’s when the personal development bastards got me. Lulled in by the alliteration of a catchy title, I impulsively went against my better judgment and found myself downloading The Buddha and the Badass: The Secret Spiritual Art of Succeeding at Workby Vishen Lakhiani. I know, I know, feel free to insert face palms and heavy sighs of disappointment here. I’m not proud of it but, if there’s anything we can learn from AA, it’s the necessity of admitting to ourselves and to others “the exact nature of our wrongs”.
I have a lot of cynicism surrounding subjects like “personal growth” and “personal development”. I’m especially skeptical of the explicitly “spiritual” forays into those domains as well. If you want to grow and develop as a person, then grow and develop the things that make you the person that you are; chase your curiosity, explore what excites you, indulge in your interests, lean into whatever it is that you’re into, and move ever closer to what makes you come alive. Swamis, gurus, and Fortune 500 CEOs can provide you with sage advice and helpful strategies, but no one can tell “you” how to be the best “you” that “you” can be.
With that being said, even the most cynical of skeptics such as myself can still fall prey to the slick marketing wiles of the personal growth industry. Fuckers.
Even though I was reading the book, I wanted to not like it. I wanted to scoff at it, to laugh it off. I wanted to sit on the high horse of my literary and intellectual snobbery and roll my eyes haughtily at the book’s inevitable woo-woo-ness. And yet, it hit a nerve, a tender nerve, a nerve that I knew I was uncovered, but was unaware was so exposed.
In the opening pages of the book Lakhiani writes that “we grow through discomfort or insight, but never through apathy”. Pain has certainly been my greatest teacher. In fact, my most profound moments of insight have come from the moments of my greatest discomfort. and to do so meant finding a way to overcome and push through fear and apathy. Actually its probably misleading to make a distinction between fear and apathy. Apathy is little more than fear disguised as indifference.
Apathy is a phobia of caring. We’re afraid to care because we’re afraid to try. We’re afraid to try because we’re afraid to stretch. We’re afraid to reach. We’re afraid to reach because we’re afraid to want better, we’re afraid to want to “be” better. We’re afraid to be better because we’re afraid we won’t be. We’re afraid we can’t be. We’re afraid we’ll fall short. We’re afraid we’ll miss the mark. We’re afraid to lose. We’re afraid we’ll fail. This is an irrational fear. It is an irrational fear not because we won’t fail or fall short. It is an irrational fear because it is utterly irrational to think that we can grow without ferociously fucking it all up. To try to do so is like trying to fuck in a Haz-mat suit; it might be safe, but its not sexy, and doing so misses the point, unless you’re into that kind of thing, in which case suit up and let your freak flag fly.
Suffice to say, if we incessantly cling to safety and security we will miss out on a whole wide range of sensations and experiences that are more jubilantly ecstatic than we ever could have imagined but, it will necessarily entail being vulnerable, which will necessarily entail uncertainty, which will, perhaps, be necessarily scary as fuck.
As Vishen Lahkiani says “Vulnerability is uncomfortable, that’s why it’s hard. If you think you’re doing it right, but you don’t feel scared, you’re not doing it at all. Fear is a prerequisite”.
We will miss the mark aggressively wide. We will fall short so hard that the earth will tremble upon our impact. We can’t guarantee that we’ll ever get it right, but we can damn sure guarantee that we’ll get it really, really, wrong far more often than we’ll ever get it right. The uncertainty is where the magic happens, because that’s where vulnerability thrives.
To simply say that I have struggled over the past year or so is to say that the grand canyon is simply a crack in a rock; the description falls tremendously short of the experience. Fear and vulnerability are not lessons I have learned, past tense, but rather, lessons that I am learning. Lessons I’m learning in an all too present-tense kind of way.
This morning I journaled about feeling tired and sad. Sadness was the name I gave to the strange heaviness that I could neither shake nor put my finger on. And yet, something in me says that sorrow is an inappropriate name for it. I think it’s not so much a sadness that is hovering upon me today but rather, a frailty, a fragility, a tenderness. It’s as if some hardened and callused part of me is being scrapped away to reveal something soft and supple. Something raw. Something…vulnerable.
I am learning about fear, brokenness, honesty, openness, and vulnerability, but in the process I am also learning about hope, mercy, grace, and clemency.
The gift of grace is not the guarantee that good will finally triumph over evil. Hope is not the assurance that love will ultimately overcome hate. Mercy does not persist in the proposition that justice will get the last word. Grace is something that gives itself without guarantees. Hope is something that arrives without assurances. Mercy is something that meets us in the uncertain midst of where we are, because that’s where we need it the most, because we can be no where else. Grace is realizing that there is no “last word”. Hope is recognizing that everything is open-ended. Mercy means that there is always something that remains present for one more “Aha!” moment that leads to another “And one more thing”….
If you enjoyed this essay, consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee.
Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.