REVIEW: Not Fade Away, Peter Barton

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well LivedNot Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Laurence Shames
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In perhaps a misguided attempt to explore what it means to “live well”, a couple months ago I bought a bunch of books on dying. Or more correctly, on living knowing you are dying. While everyone is dying, most people live like it will never happen to them. Rarely do you hear from those who are actively living a life with the full, active knowledge that they are dying. The Stoics say EVERYONE should live every day like this, and wrote in detail about how to do that. Unfortunately modern man tends to not consider death until it is too late. The ones who do write about it tend to have some kind of terminal illness that brings the question to the top of mind. So the most available modern thinkers on living well while dying are the rich, smart terminally ill. Like Peter Barton. Or Paul Kalanithi.

Barton is not a philosopher. He was a very successful and smart business man. The book (thankfully) doesn’t spend too much time on biography and all the self important things done in life (although Barton did some awesome things). Barton stays focused on what the cancer was TEACHING him about living. On how to separate the body and the mind/soul. On how to focus on building the present. Barton had a partner writer live with him and help write the book over the last 9 months of his life. While I understand why he did this (he was not a writer), the chapters trade off between Barton’s first person account and Shames’ second person account. I didn’t like that structure and wish it had all been first person (even if it was ghost written).

I guess what I am looking for in these books are the nuggets that become self evident when you know your days are numbered, that you should have figured out beforehand. Here are some of my favorites.

“… as death grows imminent, the fear of it no longer serves a purpose.”

“My frame of mind was something I could still control.”

“Don’t ask permission, just beg forgiveness. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it with your foot on the accelerator. If you drive with one foot on the brake, you’re not for us.”

“No future. If that notion is surreal and terrifying, it is also vastly liberating.”

“…wealth is a great deal more enjoyable if you’ve already taught yourself that you can have a good time without it.”

“There’s a next level where the soul can go, and the body can’t. Not that dissolving a partnership is every easy. But the alternative is even worse. Let the sout be sullied by the complaints of the body, and you’ve lost not only in one of life’s arenas, but two. ”

“When I hurt, I hurt. But it’s the attitude toward the pain that makes all the difference. Pain can make you thoroughly miserable, or pain can just be pain.”

Overall, a worthwhile read, but not 5 stars due to the clunky structure and mixed narrative.

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DO This: Rid your vocabulary of Weasel Words

Weasel words.svg

Weasel Words:  “words or statements that are intentionally ambiguous or misleading”

Being the political season, the air is full of ambiguous statements that dodge the real question, or slant the facts in favor of the speaker.  Who can forget:

Bill Clinton: “I did not have sex with that woman.”  (he didn’t consider “oral” to be “sex”, or “that woman” could be another woman other than the one we all thought he was speaking about.)

Trump: “The polls say I’m winning.”  Yea, your own polls, or a few outlier polls, but the Real Clear Politics average of all leading polls says something else completely.

Hillary Clinton:  About Benghazi “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”  Sure, “some people” say that, but you told your family it was a terrorist attack.

Weasel Words also came up recently when I was going through the 40 Years of Zen program (review post coming).   Dave Asprey has written about them here.  Then this morning while talking to the Purpose Goddesses Tay and Val, weasel words came up again.  The Universe obviously wants to hear my thought on this subject, so here I go.

Becoming more aware of my own use of weasel words has been an important part of my waking up and becoming more conscious.  When I find myself using some of the worst offenders, I endeavor to observe rather than indulge the judgemental thoughts (I just had to rewrite that from “try not to be judgemental”).  The words are neither good nor bad in and of themselves.  The issue is in the context and the intention behind their use as opposed to other words that could be used.  In the political sphere, a person is usually trying to dodge a direct question purposefully with misdirection.  We have all seen that.  On a personal basis and between people, weasel words can be serving some very valid goals including:

  • Avoidance of pain to self or others.  The ego doesn’t like to fail. So it says things like “I will try.”   Success is then the trying not the doing.  Lowering the bar.  This is basically a natural defense mechanism.  So it is when we beat around the bush with bad news to a friend.  We are “trying” to spare them pain.  But many times the pain just gets elongated, delayed, or suppressed.
  • Avoidance of responsibility.  Again, ego doesn’t like to fail or be responsible for anything that it could fail at.  So it shirks responsibility at every chance.  “I” will do something is hard, “we” will do something shares the responsibility around and gets off my shoulders alone.  So do politicians. They want to please as many voters of different stripes as possible so saying platitudes keeps them out of hot water.  We are so used to this behavior from politicians that in many ways an in your face guy like Trump is a refreshing alternative to many people.
  • Motivation from narrowing of alternatives.  The ego also doesn’t like the paradox of choice.  Too many choices means hard work will be required to decide between the alternatives.  Not only could you choose incorrectly leading to pain and failure (see above), but the work to make the decision is difficult in an of itself.  So we say we “can’t” or “Have to” or “Need to” do something. That means it is an imperative with no other alternatives.  The only way.  The narrow path can seem attractive versus the hard brain work of sifting through alternatives.

Recognition that the ego is just doing its job to protect me from pain and increase the chances of success has enabled me to be much less judgemental of my own use of these words.  When encountering my own use of a weasel word I ask myself

  1. Is this word phrasing serving me (or just my ego)?
  2. Is there an underlying issue which my ego is trying to avoid here?
  3. Is there a way to reframe the sentence which is more in line with my authentic purpose?

Often times lately I have reframed weasel words, sometimes they get through even an attentive filter like mine.  My personal reason for becoming aware of these words and working to get them out of my vocabulary is because they typically are impediments to action, destroy motivation, debilitate and discourage me from moving forward in life.  I have decided that brain energy spent on them is generally wasted and I would rather spend that energy on actually accomplishing something rather than the avoidance.

Here are my personal top 5 offenders:

Try

To “try” lowers the bar so that success doesn’t require any actual accomplishment.  Try pre-supposes failure.  “Try” also doesn’t have any time table attached to it so the scale is open ended.  I can be “trying” for a very long time, years even.  Try doesn’t have a logical end point.  The name of the major category of this post used to be “Try This:”.  I thought “try” would be a less judgemental or declarative word that wouldn’t scare people as much as “do”. People would be more willing to “try” something that to be told to “do” something.  And that is probably true on the surface.  But here at DGC we are about waking up and taking the Red Pill.  The Red Pill says “There is no Try, Only Do.”  Ok, Yoda and the Maharishi said it before me, but even with my antennae on high alert, I still create a category with the word “try” in it.

Reframe:  “I will.”  “I will do everything I can.”

Should

Saying I “should” do something is the same as saying nothing. It is stating the obvious.  These statements are usually complete wastes of time, often procrastination of the actual work.  There is also an easy way out.  Stuff you “should” do is not very important, you “should” do it, but there are not obvious harsh consequences for not doing it.  I have often found myself saying I “should” do something 10-20 times before actually doing it.  “I should take out the trash.”  Taking no responsibility for actually doing the thing I “should” do.  It is a statement of desire not action.  Replace with action words.  What would your brain do with all that wasted energy?  You could have taken out the trash in a fraction of all the time your brain was saying you “should” take out the trash.

Reframe:  Want.  Choose to.  Going to.  Get to.

Need/Have to

The near cousin of “should” but with an absolutist set of blinders on.  Much more declarative.  “Need” ratchets up “should” with the implication of dire consequences if you don’t do it.  “Have to” leaves all alternatives off the table, there are no alternatives, I “have to.”  Ratcheting up the pressure like that the ego wants to force you to get that thing done. “I need to get the new Apple Iphone.”  “I Have to get tickets to the play offs.”  The existential stress goes up accordingly. So ask yourself the question, is this story I am telling myself about “need” or “have to” really an existential question?  Are there truly dire consequences of not doing this?  Does your rational mind agree with the upleveling of this desire to the “need” category that your ego has done?  Stop and ask the question.

Reframe:  Ratchet down the consequences.  Change to “want” or “get to”

Can’t

For me, the worst kind of weasel words are those that cut off all options.  That put up walls to progress of any sort.  “Can’t” does that but shutting down discussion.  There is no way, I “can’t”.  No explanation, to alternatives, no deliberation.  Just a clean line in the sand.  I heard Seth Godin talking one time about writers block and deconstructing the claim “I can’t write.”.  “Really?  you forgot how to use a pen?  Your fingers are broken?”  The point is that the story “I can’t write” is not true. You can, technically.  The real underlying issue is that your ego is afraid that what you write might suck.  Or that the writing will cause the brain to heat up and hurt.  Or that there will be editing and re-writing.  “Can’t” just killed your motivation.  Cut off any forward motion.  Until you break that story, no progress will be made.  Specifically around writing that is why I love the Morning pages exercise.  Write for fifteen minutes a day without judgement, without critique.  Just fucking write.  You can do it.  Break the block.  Rewrite the story in your head. You CAN write.  Now go on and write something good.

Reframe: Can.  or if you are honest about not doing something, say “I won’t”.

Pride

In an era of participation trophies this one is a killer on our kids.  This word is WAY over used.  This one should be very parsimoniously given out.  Save it for the big things.  “I am so proud of you for getting that trophy!”  Dude, it a participation trophy.  This is the Near cousin of Try.  You are “proud” that your kid “tried”.  Talk about a low bar.  Be proud of actual achievements.  Or complement effort.  My daughter was recently in the regional championship meet for her high school swim team.  She is a middle of the pack swimmer so didn’t have any expectations of winning or medaling and I didn’t want her to be focused on those things anyway.  In the meet she achieved a personal PR in her 50 meter and 100 meter swim!  I didn’t say I was “proud” of her.  I complimented her on finishing the season with a bang.  Finishing with the best effort she had had all year, a Personal Record.  Congratulations.  A PR is an actual achievement.  A measurable accomplishment.  Take note of that.

Reframe:  Your effort was very impressive.  Save “pride” for your country.

 

My personal goal is to reduce the use of these five words by 50% next year over this year.  As with “Do This” posts, your personal mileage may vary.  Your goals may vary.  Everyone though can benefit from a little more consciousness in relation to our vocabulary and how it reflects the stories in our heads.  Be aware.  Be precise.  Be awake.

REVIEW: Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition

Jonathan Livingston SeagullJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third time reading this book. First time in 20 years. First time reading the Complete Edition (including rediscovered Part Four).  The photography included in this edition really adds to the beauty and contemplation of the story: it is worth buying the printed book for the pictures alone.

This book never gets old. It just gets more useful and I understand it better. When I first read in college, it seemed like a weird fantasy story about a bird. My young self was a bit of an outcast. I very much wanted to have the tenacity to dig deep into a passion everyone else thought was useless and prove them all wrong. So I did that (computers). This is probably why Seagull is on every college reading list and rightfully so.

Then re-reading it in my 30s after leaving the Catholic church and recently returning, the religious undertones popped out. Especially in (new) part four where the true meaning of the initial quest has been lost in the bureaucracy of the belief system built around it (sound familiar Catholics?) This is a classic Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell. Hero is passionate, gets cast out of society, becomes enlightened around his passion, comes back to teach the TRUTH, is initially scorned, then accepted, then revered, then co-opted for other purposes and the TRUTH is lost. That is also the story of the Catholic Church in many ways.

Reading it again in my 50s after settling down a bit, the later parts of the story resonated. The desire to share your life wisdom with love and kindness. The frustration with success leading to misinterpretation and co-opting of original intent. But still the desire to give back to the next generation. The hope that an open mind willing to learn still existed.

Some favorite quotes:

“Who is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose in life?  For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to life – to learn, to discover, to be free!  Give me one chance, let me show you what I have found.”  Jonathan  “The Brotherhood is Broken”  said the other birds and they turned their backs on him.

“His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see.”

He spoke of very simple things – that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form.  The only true law is that which leads to freedom, there is no other.  The only difference, the very only one, is that they have begun to understand what they really are and have begun to practice it.

A long silence.  “Well, this kind of flying has always been here to be learned by anybody who wanted to discover it; that’s got nothing to do with time.”

“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself i he’d just spend a little time practicing?  Why should that be so hard?”

“To begin with,” he said heavily, “You’ve got to understand that the seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself.”

They were honored, and worse – revered, but they were no longer heard, and the birds who practiced flying were fewer and fewer.

Anthony Seagull didn’t have answers, but he knew that he would gratefully, gladly lay down his life to follow any bird who could demonstrate what he was talking about, show him just a few answers in life that worked, that brought excellence and joy into everyday living.  Until he found that bird, life would remain gray and bleak, illogical, without purpose; every seagull would remain a coincidental collection of blood and feathers pointed toward oblivion.

My suggestion: Read this every 10 years. You will learn something new each time.

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Review: The Valkyries: Paulo Coelho

The ValkyriesThe Valkyries by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have been reading quite a few [author:Paulo Coelho|566] lately. Recently reviewed The Pilgrimage and The Alchemist. The Valkyries was a recently given to me by a friend who said it helped her through a messy divorce. While I am not going through a divorce, when she mentioned something about leather clad motorcycle lesbians and a desert spiritual ritual, I started right in.

Unfortunately for me the Valkyries fell flat. Third best of the three I have read. Skewered on the pitard of too much angel, ritual, “Tradition” talk and not enough context or engaging story narrative. While at times Coelho wants us to believe the story actually happened (mentioning in the epilogue that a letter from a reader verifying the existence of a shrine in the desert is filed with Brazil’s national library as proof of something), I became completely lost and uninterested in his search for his “Angel” and some kind of “Tradition” which remains unexplained. Half allegory and half biography, The Valkyries fails at both. After reading it I don’t know what the characters were looking for, I don’t know what they found and I don’t care. The story confused me and didn’t engage me.

As with all Coelho books, there are glimpses of insight worth underlining. Unfortunately these are few, far between and deeply hidden in The Valkyries. Here are a few of my favorites:

“In order to live in the present, you have to control your second mind. And look at the horizon.”

“Don’t fight your thoughts. They are stronger than you are. If you want to rid yourself of them, accept them. Think about what they want you to think about until they grow tired.” (standard meditation stuff, but well told)

“Let’s suppose that paradise is here. And every person on earth is here in the plaza. Each of them has their own path for arriving here. That’s why people talk to their angels. Because only angels know the best path. It does no good to seek advice about it from others.”

“I’m saying that everything is a ritual. Just as a mass is a great ritual, composed of various parts, the everyday experience of any person is, also. The name of that ritual is ROUTINE. When the ritual becomes consolidated, the person becomes a slave.”

“You need yet another miracle. And you will always need yet another. You will never be satisfied, and you will never understand that the kingdom of heaven cannot be conquered by force.”

“Each would always be fascinated by the other – so long as each remained exactly what the other imagined.” Imagination is better than reality for most people.

After the confusion, I sat back and tried to figure out what my friend gleaned from the book that helped in her divorce. Going back through my notes in the book, I found these notes around the “ritual” Paulo did in the desert cave with one of the Valkyries.

“There was a pact,” valhalla said, “What was it?”
“I promised I would abandon my dreams.” “I promised that I would never grow again. I thought that I could no longer trust myself.”

I have found it to be true that our lives are in large part governed by sacred promises we made to ourselves long ago that we may not be aware of today. Those promises were made to deal with a condition back then, but may not serve us today. Awareness of those pacts and contemplation of their use going forward in our lives is a critical skill I believe everyone should learn and perform about every 5 years. I recently did just that. While this skill and recognition is valuable, it is so far buried here in the story I missed it the first time. This piece is what my friend learned from. I am afraid most people will miss it.

After being completely underwhelmed by the narrative, the Epilogue turned out to be the best part. Coelho says clearly what his story did a terrible job of doing.

“We can share our experiences – as I have tried to share mine in this book but there is no formula for growth. God has generously made His wisdom and His love available to us, and it is easy, very easy, to find them. We, at this moment in history, must develop our own powers. We must believe that the universe doesn’t end at the wall of our room. We must accept the signs, and follow our hearts and our dreams.”

My recommendation: Skip the book, read the Epilogue and you will understand everything.

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DO This: Morning Pages 

Have-Good-Handwriting-Step-14

Morning Pages is a tool promoted by Julie Cameron in her Artist Way book as a daily practice for anyone interested in creativity, not just writers.  This guy also describes the practice very well.  Basically first thing in the morning, right after waking up, before you get going with the day, while you are still in that in-between mind state, write for 15 minutes in stream of consciousness style.  Just whatever comes out.  Cameron recommends using pen and paper in a journal.  I did the hand journal for about a month and a half, then moved the practice over at 750words.com since I can do it on my smart phone in bed and get some interesting analytics (data nerd alert).  I am going back to pen and paper to slow it down again and get away from the distractions inherent in working on a screen.

I have been doing Morning Pages for about three months now.   Concrete results from doing morning pages:

1. I produce 3x the writing as before. Basically I believe doing the 15 minutes of work right in the morning in the alpha brain wave stage sets up a creative foundation for the day. I find later when I sit down to write a blog post or something else it comes easier and more clear. Even if the topics are completely different.

2. Greater understanding of the dream world in relation to the real world. Since mp are done in that waking up phase while your dreams are still somewhat present, I have noticed that more of my dreams are making it onto the pages. That brings their content into the conscious. Without mp the dreams were forgotten. There was no mechanism to connect the two worlds. There is a lot of understanding going on in the dream world. Good to get it up to the surface.

3. I have built confidence overall. Basically it is about 15 minute job each day. I can find 15 minutes. If I can find 15 minutes for mp i can find 15 minutes for something else.

4.  More creativity in general. Even if you are not a writer, or trying to write, mp is a creative exercise.  Often times, solutions to issues reveal themselves in morning pages spontaneously.  A motorcycle maintenance solution popped in the other day.  As did a stream of good names for a new web site.  And a landscaping solution.  Creative solutions in diverse areas of my life, nothing to do with writing.

5. More clarity to the day:  Doing a brain dump first thing in the morning is kind of like a clean sweep.  You can get all the monkey mind thoughts and inner critic out on the page and start new.

Other Observations:

Long Hand VS on a device:  I did both.  Started out long hand, three pages in a note book.  It was hard to use my hands that way after such a long time on the keyboard.  It felt very slow and I had the desire to want to use some of the writing later, or do analytics on it.  So after awhile I moved the practice to 750Words.com.  Very good interface, good device support, challenges to keep you on task, merit badges, and some interesting analytics.  While I gained the ability to write on more devices, to share the work, and the analytics my nerd desired, I lost some of the soul of the exercise.  Writing long hand is slower and that is good.  You have to actually slow down your brain to your hand speed. You also don’t have a web browser or other apps there to quickly engage with in diversions that come up during the writing. When I write long hand with the phone and computer off, I begin and end the exercise without distractions 99% of the time within 20 minutes.  750words has a handy analytic of start, stop times and words written over time.  Using 750words I have completed the words in less than 20 minutes less than 40 percent of the time.    Due to the ease of indulging distractions on a device, my productivity goes way down.

What to write about.  Some people structure their writing.  Two pages on this, one on that, etc.  I have done it with and without structure. What I find is that without structure many times the stream can get stuck and I end up filling up space with mumbo jumbo words.  That is especially true on 750words where the word count at the bottom of the screen is menacing you the whole time.  If you are sitting there staring at the page, just start writing about staring at the page.  And why the exercise is so hard.  Then write your to-do list.  If you run out of inner critic stuff, or lingering to-do items, start writing about what you are going to do today,.  Meetings, people, events, etc.  If I get stalled (rarely), I just ask “Today would be so awesome if….” and start again.  Never fails.

There are many twists on how to do Morning Pages.  Here is exactly how I do it.

I get up (without an alarm so it is a natural time to awake), take a cold shower, dress, make a cup of coffee, then sit down at a desk to write morning pages.  Leave your phone in another room.  Do NOT sit in the same room as a computer or any electronic device connected to the internet.  I write morning pages at a desk because writing by hand in my lap gets uncomfortable after 10 minutes.  I write before meditating as I have found the clearing out of MP helps deepen the meditation.  I write the pages longhand (not on computer anymore see above) in a notebook that I put aside and never open again.  I try to make my only distraction picking up the coffee cup or stretching my fingers.

  • Pro tip for the to-do list addicted among us:  Put a small sticky note on the desk next to your journal.  When something comes up that you want to add to your to-do list, write it down there.  DO NOT allow your device with the to-do list app to be there, that rathole enabler will distract you.  At the end of the session, transcribe the valuable things from the post it notes to your regular to do system, or simply get them done.  This one upgrade has alleviated the major objection my monkey mind had to not having a device within hands reach – all those amazing inspirational to-do items that came up during morning pages.  There will be a lot.  But this post-it note system ensures they don’t become a rathole of wasted time.

FREQUENCY:

Do every day for 30 days.  Contemplate the effect on your life.  Continue if positive.  Overall, Morning Pages has earned a place in my morning routine due to the clear benefits I have noticed in my life.  It is the second best ROI on 20 minutes I have during the day (#1 being meditation).

SCIENCE:

Normally on Try This exercises, I reference any science I can find behind the exercise.  I can’t find any scientific studies on MP.  But there are hundreds of positive reviews and testimonials on-line.  While I have a proclivity for evidence based solutions, when the evidence is my own experience, I honor that.

Review: The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much ink has been spilt over Coelho and The Alchemist. Here is some more (e-ink).

Having heard Coelho recently with Krista Tippett ON Being, I was motivated to re-read The Alchemist. The first time I read it was shortly after everyone else read it. Just after Bill Clinton was photographed with the book. That is the first and last time I ever took a cue from Bill Clinton. I wonder if he gave it to Hillary? She should probably read it now. And Bill should re-read it. But I digress.

After a 23 year hiatus, the re-read fell a bit short. My first read was in my late 20’s in Italy as a single guy working for Microsoft. I was searching for something and hungry for guideposts. The Alchemist spoke to me on many levels. At that time, it did help me move in the right direction. Re-reading it today at 52 with three children, an ex wife and multiple careers behind me the context was a bit off. When I read the story around the same time as “the boy” it was motivating and engaging. Today it seems a bit naive and idealistic.

Yet I still rate it 5 stars. Not every book has to connect with me the same way every time. This is truly one of the top ten books anyone under 30 must read. In a weird way I might also put it on the list for those over 50 who are looking for an “act three” in life to also read. For at the core it is a story about moving on, about taking a risk, about having faith, about re-discovering what you know but lost. Despite setbacks it is never too late to regain faith. Go ahead, you won’t be disappointed.

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Review: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

The PilgrimageThe Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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A couple weeks ago I had a long car trip so I caught up on pod casts. One of the backlog was the Paulo Coelho interview with Krista Tippett for On Being. I read The Alchemist years ago and rehearing the story and Coelho’ deep spirituality I decided to read some of his other books. I had also been considering walking the Camino de Santiago and wanted to read more about The Way.

Unfortunately, I was thoroughly disappointed in The Pilgrimage. Ok, it was his first book, written very late in life. But there is nothing special about the book. No great insights, no great narrative, lots of weird magical plot lines without much context. It is unclear how much of the story is supposed to be allegory (as he perfected in The Alchemist) and how much is memoir. I found the story unengaging and plodding. I only finished it to write this review, not because the story was enjoyable or interesting. If you are you read The Alchemist and are looking for more of the same, go forward in his works, not back to The Pilgrimage. Give the Pilgrimage a pass.

There are a few tidbits of appealing philosophy tucked into the book, but they are surrounded by ramblings and magical sword searching so as to be almost unrecognizable. For example,

” Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside you.”

“We kill our dreams because we are afraid to fight the good fight.”

“The first symptom in the process of killing our dreams is the lack of time. The second symptom of the death of our dreams lies in our certainties. …the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace.”

“All of us seek eros, and then when eros wants to turn itself into philos, we think that love is worthless. We don’t see that it is philos that leads us to the highest form of love, agape.”

I also found the exercises Petrus gives Paulo during the trip to be useful. I have tried them all. While not as spiritually transformative as daily meditation, they are interesting diversions. Try them.

DO This: Your Character Strengths Revealed!

Review: Tribe, by Sebastian Junger

Tribe: On Homecoming and BelongingTribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I heard about this book from a couple pod casts and an NPR interview. Then Sebastian was in my town on a book tour. I had read his other books and was interested in one core idea that seemed quite revolutionary. Could PTSD be primarily not about trauma but about loss of purpose and poor social reintegration ?

That rang true to me. Junger explains this Thesis very well and documents historical and research to support the thesis. Basically there are well known ways to get through trauma but they lean on basically a communal society’s where everyone feels some sense of common duty and shared responsibility and every person has a way to contribute. In modern America with all our independence and two party systems and stratified work place and closed hate neighborhoods and private schools and single apartments and single occupancy vehicles, how is someone supposed to feel a part of anything?

This book will give you a brain work that will be hard to get rid of. In. A good way.

Why Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires are important

On any journey, it helps to know where you are starting from, what strengths and weaknesses you have, and what tools, stories, assumptions, modes of being and values you are consciously or unconsciously bringing along.  It also can help to understand how what you bring compares to the other travelers.  Where are you strong, where are you weak, what skills do you want to build and how do you build them?  Self Assessment Questionnaires can be a good Red Pill to help you figure these things out in a structured way.

I have taken over 1000 of these things and provide the most useful here in upgraded form.  Most of these questionnaires come from theoretical academics for research purposes and often lack any applied analysis or “What next” guidance.  My “Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires” attempt to provide four improvements over their purely research based cousins:

  1. Peer reviewed, well-studied assessment frameworks.  Stay away from pop psychology “quizzes”.  Choose questionnaires that have been thoughtfully designed, tested for correlations, run over large and varied data sets, and subject to critique and comparison to other available measurement methods (and survived).  I am not trying to find the “best” and “only” frameworks, just ones that have been proven to work well so far.
  2. Cohort analysis and objective results placement.  Provide some analysis of your individual results as compared to other people who took the assessment either through my tools and/or in the overall research samples.  This is the “where am I in relation to the other traveler” piece.  Understand this relationship may be an “ah Ha” moment or it may confirm what you already know/feel.  The pay off here is understanding, waking up a bit, become aware just a little more of yourself and your surroundings.  Pause a moment and let it sink in.
  3. Factor analysis where available.  Most assessment tests, while testing a high level item like “happiness” will have groups of questions that are testing the sub-factors that the questionnaire designer has found to make up “happiness”. For example, Jung would say happiness has five factors, health, relationships, ability to perceive beauty, wealth, and spiritual practice.  If you want to improve happiness, the biggest bang for your buck may be to focus on improving the weakest sub-factor.  My upgraded analysis will provide factor analysis where possible.
  4. How to improve recommendations and further reading.    I didn’t take hundreds of these things in a selfless devotion to furthering academic research.  I took them to gain self-awareness and take action to change things I don’t like.  So every analysis section includes extensive links to further reading on the subject as well as pointers to “interventions” which have been proven through research to result in higher assessment scores over time.  Many of my favorite “interventions” are on my blog section called “Try This”.

 

I have started using the words “assessment” and “questionnaire” purposefully instead of “test” or “evaluation”.  I have found “test” and “evaluation” to have a somewhat pejorative connotation toward a yes/no, pass/fail, you have it or you don’t have it mindset.  “Tests” can tend to put you in a box and keep you there.  Early mental health practices were big on this approach, picking out the “bad apples” and putting them in institutions.  Even today, a “diagnosis” (read “test result”) of depression tends put the patient into a treatment “box”, usually pharmacological, the vast majority palliative in nature.

It is important to remember with all assessments and measurements that you are not the sum of your parts. You are not your test results. You are not your grit scale, or Meyers Briggs type, or any other measurement.  You are not your job title.  You are not your relationship status.  Many of these assessments, the results change over time, or when applied to different circumstances.  Just like your emotions change, and the weather.  You are not your temperature reading.  These are characteristics, parts, points in time.  Your authentic self is something else. Something larger.  Something deeper.  In my experience, in the search for these larger, bigger more meaningful things, the assessments can help uncover pathways, stepping stones, issues which are enabling or preventing discover of your authentic self.  Keep in mind these are all just tools.  Your analysis, synthesis and implementation of  growth/change is the most important thing to move the journey forward.

Based on my own self awareness work and supported by more modern existential psychotherapy and positive psychology science, I find that most things measured can be changed.  The purpose of an “assessment” is to calculate a set point, a starting point.  If you want to change the measurement, do some interventions, therapy, growth work, whatever is suggested by the science to improve what you are measuring.  Then take the assessment again.  And Again.  Over time if the interventions are working you should see improvements.  If you don’t, change what you are doing, try something else.  An assessment can lead to awareness which can lead to growth OUT of the box.

I provide these Upgraded Self Assessment Questionnaires to help you wake up and get out of your Boxes.