becoming Possum – applied eudaemonics

re-adaptation
regarding adaptation
redoing adaptation

on accepting reality for long enough to learn adaptive coping mechanisms to replace maladaptive ones

because Possum inspires and motivates me to be a human animal capable of adapting to the urban environment that has displaced us from our natural habitat

I am disappointed with myself at the moment and doing my best to not berate myself over and over because I know that would be maladaptive.

I had a couple of drinks last night while making dinner and listening to Paul Kelly. So far so great, I was feeling good and not trying to drink my pain away as I learnt how to excel at for the last 30 years in our culture.

Actually I did have a persistent headache, but I wasn’t experiencing intense emotional pain. I felt I was coping pretty well with our stressors and was safe to have a wee tipple. I was treating the booze a bit like paracetamol, a kind of experiment. And I felt like getting a buzz on. It felt healthy, and it was, compared with how I’ve abused substances in the past, so I can say truthfully that overall I’m making progress with becoming less dependent on exogenous hedonic pleasure for that false and fleeting sense of well-being it brings.

This kind of thinking helps me to curb the self-flagellation.

Thing is, I’m supposed to be on a self-initiated three-month “sobriety binge”. I want to subject myself to coping with reality without external crutches like booze and weed and Minecraft and see what comes up, what I learn, how I manage. I’ve done these sobriety binges before and they’re great, like a detox, very illuminating.

What started as a few healthy drinks to get a buzz on and curb a headache turned into Nikki and I sharing a bottle of vodka. Still not such a great big deal in itself. We didn’t drink a bottle each, which is something. I feel confident we will not relapse so far that we are doing that again, once or twice a week.

We are making progress with becoming less dependent on exogenous hedonic pleasure for that false and fleeting sense of well-being it brings.

We didn’t get so intoxicated that our perceptions fucked out completely, causing us to do anything we deeply regretted, as we have done in the past. Of course I value the Buddhist precept recommending that we not intoxicate self or others, lest we become unskilful and cause harm. I also value the Middle Way, and am less likely these days to exploit the teaching of “moderation in moderation”, to justify excessive binges that result in immediate harm and then days and days of regret and shame.

So there is progress being made – I am becoming Possum, the great urban adaptor. I am proud of myself and of Nikki and I am immensely grateful that I share this journey with such a committed alchemist as my wife. We are learning that there are ways of transmuting suffering into joy and that idea is feeling less and less abstract and esoteric and inaccessible as we draw from the courage to actually implement the ideas and test them, apply them.

By turning toward suffering with the right coping skills, we are learning a lot about the nature of mind and reality and about the way these interact to form interpretations of either happiness or misery, and in that turning toward we are finding choice, the ability to choose our interpretation, to choose happiness in the midst of suffering. Just imagining that and feeling it’s possible brings a micro-moment of actual joy, an emotion that is rare for me at this stage but becoming slowly more frequent.

So far still good and actually this little story doesn’t have the plot twist that usually follows the “so far so good” trope.

What concerned me this morning was the underlying motives to drink that I was not quite aware of last night.

The motive was to get a buzz on and curb a headache, which really is not such a big deal. I’m not a crack addict or a criminal and I don’t fly into drunken rages and trash the place. I don’t beat my kid and then fuck off for days at a time to whack the pudding in the mistaken hope that this will make me feel better and then return home full of misplaced shame. I am a kind and gentle contemplative person who was raised in a materialistic culture and doing pretty well at getting off the hedonic treadmill by learning applied eudaemonics.

Sick! Kickin at goalposts I’ve set for myself and sometimes missing. But I was raised around AFL and as the joke runs, aussie-rules football is the only game where you get a point for missing!

Still, the motive was to make reality more pleasant than it was (by adding a ‘buzz’), and to avoid the pain of a headache instead of accepting that symptom as a message screaming, SLLLLOOOOOOOOOOW DOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWN.

I’m still learning how to stop and do nothing and relax and enjoy just being alive on a beautiful planet.

The plan was to do our home-coming decompression meditation, have a couple of bevvies making dinner while Nikki did some gaming, then crash out early to practise good sleep hygiene as the first foundation of mental and emotional fitness.

That’s my trip these days – I’m that kind of “fitness freak”. That’s why I feel disappointed. I let myself down. But I can accept that, and start where I am with beginner’s mind.

The plan was to be responsible and do self-care. Our life has been a comet of stress lately, and yesterday was no different except I felt I was keeping abreast of it, not getting blown away by its sheer force. We pulled into the driveway yesterday feeling we had got to a place in our incessant metaphysical nattering that we could stop and just be without trying to solve the problems of the collective unconscious with the power of conscious thought alone.

Because life happens while we’re busy making plans, Nikki got a call from a friend whose daughter and our friend has been admitted to the psych ward. The family is not coping well and we’re trying to position ourselves as advocates for the daughter to help them navigate the punitive public mental-health-emergency system. So Nikki spent an hour and a half on the phone, advocating on the daughter’s behalf, which is good, this is what we want to be doing, just maybe not at 5.30pm on Friday, mere moments after we had decided to stop and just be without trying to solve the problems of the collective unconscious with the power of conscious thought alone.

The phone call was not the problem. It just kind of threw us out. The problem (for want of a better word) is not even that a few drinks became 3 and then 5 and 6 until we finished the bottle.

We had a nice dinner, Nikki did some gaming while I did some study and we went to bed watching Dead Poets Society, because I thought it would be a nice easy-going drama that wouldn’t be too stimulating and would distract me just enough to drift off to sleep. I’ve been afraid of sleeplessness since a heinous mid-week bout of insomnia.

Somehow it was 1.30am before I was able to wrench myself away from what I had somehow forgotten is a profoundly inspiring (read: stimulating) film for me. This was progress for me – normally I would eat the whole proverbial bag of chips.

I even managed to sleep instead of bouncing off the walls of my mind all night, which is sometimes what happens when I drink enough to edit the unpleasant out of reality but not enough to wipe myself out.

The ‘problem’ is I employed a maladaptive coping mechanism to deal with stress I’m almost not aware of because it has become so normalised. The problem is I don’t know how to do nothing and just be for long enough to relax on a Friday evening.

It’s not a problem exactly because these skills can be learnt.

It’s not even a problem exactly that I woke up wide-eyed and pinging at 6.30am, still with the headache.

It’s just I’m disappointed because I thwarted the opportunity to get the rest I needed and now I’m back to square-one. I was wanting to bounce back from that heinous mid-week insomnia, and instead I did maligned adaptation.

Like the possum that fell into one of Nikki’s succulents on our back deck the other night, which picked itself up and scampered away when I stepped out to see WTF that noise had been. Possum inspires and motivates me to be a human animal capable of adapting to the urban environment that has displaced us from our natural habitat. Through healthy adaptation we are able to flourish – that is what eudaemonia is all about, human flourishing. It’s about getting off the pleasure train (the hedonic treadmill) so we can stop long enough to see where we are with clear and healthy eyes, without resistance, without trying to change reality to suit our desires.

I said to Nikki when I woke up that I find it vaguely distressing or depressing that in our culture we don’t know how to do nothing, how to just relax and stop and be still. We are either being productive or entertaining ourselves or distracting ourselves or running around doing errands. And then we need to use things outside ourselves to bring the nervous system back to relax mode. Things like booze, which don’t even actually do that anyway – hence the term maladaptive coping mechanism.

Nikki and I are not employed in the traditional sense and we still manage to pull 16-hour days 6 days a week because being alive and healthy is a full-time business.

And we’re needing to teach ourselves how to de-stress from that in ways that are healthy. But we are at least teaching ourselves these skills, and it is precisely these skills that I am hoping to share with others through the business I’m setting up around Kokoro 心 Heart:

  • coping skills
  • mental, emotional and nervous-system regulation
    • through meditation and the art of skilfully doing nothing in motion

Today hopefully there will be nothing but a long swim and some cross-stitching. [We ended up visiting our friend in the psych ward, but today today – the day of posting, two days later – we are going for a long swim. I went to a day-long silent-meditation retreat yesterday and have managed to get 9 hours sleep last night!]

[Meanwhile yesterday:] I at least am successfully not berating myself, and remembering:

S = R x r

H = R x a

where

S = suffering

R = Reality

r = resistance

H = happiness

a = acceptance

So that:

Suffering = Reality x resistance

Happiness = Reality x acceptance

I am accepting that this self-inflicted tiredness is where I am at, and remembering that the world as it is (with me not sleeping well in it and everything) is perfectly imperfect.

A unique and deeply personal modality is forming around me through Zen training, Cultivating Emotional Balance and Somatic Experiencing.

I am learning to have an embodied mindful awareness throughout the day and it is helping me to notice those once-hidden underlying motives to avoid reality in one way or another.

Through making this unconscious conscious without freaking out, we gradually become awakened enough to accept reality and all its warts with equanimity and joy.

That’s what I believe anyway and I’m doing the experiment to see if it’s true.

During my “sobriety binge” I got tipsy and messed with my sleep – now I’m trying to respond to that with kindness so I don’t continue repeating this cycle of maladaptive coping mechanisms.

the foundational prerequisite of psychological wellbeing

My affirmation today:

I am enough; I come back to the present through my senses whenever I remember, and by doing so I gradually become more and more aware of reality, more grounded in the present, less fixated on the past or the future.

There is an internal narrative telling me that I need to be doing more of one certain thing or another – more productive, more efficient, more materially secure, etc,

but this is not all there is, not the whole story. Mental training, emotional resilience, psychological integrity … these are things I need to prioritise as the foundational prerequisites of holistic wellness.

dear Bodhi 心, we can’t pour from an empty cup

I wrote myself a love letter to practise an emotional first-aid exercise I learnt from Elizabeth Gilbert on Insight Timer.

Dear Bodhi,

I love you and I’m here for you. You’re going through a hard time right now and finding it difficult to cope. That’s okay – you’re doing a better job than you think. You’re always learning, and you try to be honest with yourself. That’s a great quality. You are aware of your feelings and are able to recognise when you have reacted because you feel triggered. This awareness is the first step to being able to regulate yourself during episodes of difficult emotions.

The training in Cultivating Emotional Balance is coming up soon and it’s really great that you’re wanting to pursue this training and be responsible for your thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours, especially reactive behaviours.

The space between stimulus and response is accessible and you can expand the interface by practising awareness through training such as CEB. You will learn a lot during the training and it feels like it will be a fulcrum period around which your life and being will be changed forever. You want to learn this training so that maybe you can deliver it as well – I think that’s a great idea and I think you can do it.

It’s okay and good even, that you’ve taken the time you need for yourself today. It is not selfish to meet your needs, especially because it makes it easier to be present for others’ needs when your cup is full.

We can’t pour from an empty cup.

By taking this time you’ve gained the space to see that you need some emotional first-aid and that’s something to be proud of. You have the psychological skills and techniques you need to help yourself when you’re in pain. I’ve attached them along with this letter, for your convenience.

You are deeply committed to understanding suffering and its true causes so you can be well and guide others on this path. What a beautiful thing to be doing! You’re a caring soul and you’ll help many because you feel deep compassion for yourself and others. Your lived experience of suffering is a rich resource and motivation from which you can learn a lot, about the true nature of reality and how to be happy.

You’re a good fella and you’re doing your best.

Keep up the good work 🙂

Love,

Bodhi 心

PS The toolbox of psychological skills and techniques I mentioned.

enough time

“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvidor Dali

My affirmation today is, again, I am enough. I am enjoying this theme and I think it’s worth reflecting on regularly. It can be expanded to include this is enough, and it makes me think now about gratitude. A quote we had on the wall for a while:

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

That which is, is enough.

I got up early enough. There is enough time to do whatever needs to be done. I do enough of what I want. The weather is warm enough (this is easy today because the weather is perfect). I have enough energy to be productive enough today. I am enough without being productive.

The last few days have been “hijacked” by life, resulting in me not being able to do what I wanted to do, which was work on kHeart projects. Life has been this way a lot lately – enough to show me that there is something for me to be seeing.

What does that mean? What am I supposed to be seeing?

I am supposed to be seeing and looking at the reality that life doesn’t always go as we planned – in fact, it never does. We know the saying, “Life is what happens while you were busy making plans.” The future is never as we imagined it would be.

In the space between the present and the future, there is a line between getting our way and getting out of the way, between getting what we want and going with the flow.

I am beginning to see that the idea of attachment and non-attachment applies to time and events as much as it applies to material possessions.

I understand non-attachment in the material realm and am generally okay with not getting or having possessions. I am learning now that I have something to learn about accepting and adapting to situations where I don’t get what I want in terms of controlling the way I spend my time.

For most of my life I have been a loner, and I don’t mean that in a self-disparaging way: my upbringing lead to me being comfortable with being alone, and I was mostly happy with that. Sometimes I was lonely, but I adapted and came to enjoy having lots of time alone. I am mostly an introvert as well, so I need time alone to recharge. The “lone wolf” is a descriptor that applies better than “loner”: I have friends that I see now and then, but mostly I’m pretty self-contained.

I am seeing a narrative emerge here – a story I tell myself about myself – and I’m seeing that a guided journaling practice might help others to see where narratives are running the way they think about themselves.

I see it as a narrative because I see how I am telling you how I was or am. If it can be told, it is a narrative, and if it can be told one way it can be told another. It makes me think of the Taoist idea: if it can be named, it is not the Tao.

Meaning that if I can tell you about it, it is not the truth – if I can tell you about myself, I am not telling you about my true nature. Everything we tell about ourselves – every narrative we create to explain ourselves – is a fiction, a construct. It is not the truth, but a choice between various and myriad lies or fictions, illusions.

I’m getting obscure again, but this is ephemeral territory, the metaphysical and the esoteric. The exoteric is an example.

My son Zane has told me things about himself, like “I’m not the sort of person who … [insert character trait here] … likes to talk about his feelings … likes learning … likes slow movies.” When Zane has done this I have recognised that these are very much choices he is making about identity, not expressions of his true nature. These claims have been made over the last five years, between the ages of 9 and 14, a time of development when children begin realising they have an identity they need to understand. They are seeing that they are not just expressions of their parents, but individual entities and there seems to be an urgency to claim their own identity. When he has made these claims I have tried to say variations of “maybe that will change one day”, because I want for him to not become locked-in to one identity-choice or another. Imagine a person believing their whole life that they are not the sort of person who likes to talk about their feelings. (Like human beings can be sorted into this or that category like so many biscuits behind a barcode!) That would be a prison on the island of the illusion of independence – no man being an island and all that.

Something I don’t have to imagine is a person believing their whole life that they are happier when they are alone. I don’t have to imagine this because it is a belief I have been narrating to myself my whole life – because a bunch of people let me down early in life, and I decided I would be better of without them and they would be better off without me. Trouble is, “they” was a specific group of people back then, whereas now “they” applies to the whole amorphous group of people known as everyone other than me.

As an adult I choose to share my aloneness with a few select others who show that they care about me and are able to let me care about them, but because I was mistreated by a select few as a child – my brother, father and some kids at school – I must have told myself at some point that I am the sort of person who doesn’t need friends to be happy, that I am the sort of person who is happy to be alone.

After a slew of toxic relationships in my young adulthood (before I met Nikki) I had resigned myself to believing that I would be happier to be single my whole life than to continue from one toxic relationship to another. I had resigned myself to dying alone, using justifications such as “we are each alone at death anyway”.

I’m rambling a bit, but that’s okay because this has become an exercise in questioning the narratives that dictate my beliefs about my nature, true or otherwise.

I have been thinking, these last few days when I haven’t been able to get what I want, that I need to figure out how to get more solitude in my life(style).

That word “more” is a clue and a key. If we are saying we need more of this or that (more money, a job that is more fulfilling, more time, more time alone, more time alone doing this or that … it’s an endless list of more and more qualifications of what we want from what is) then we are not living from the awareness of enoughness.

Understanding this in relation to time is the challenge I am currently facing, which I choose to accept.

When I am frustrated that I am not getting the time I want, I see that attachment is at work and I remember that this is enough. That which is, is enough.

That is my affirmation today, should I choose to accept it.

Frustration is a red flag that attachment is operating. I can try to make that which is different, or I can choose to adapt and feel grateful and allow whatever is to be. I can choose to get out of the way and allow my resistance to that which is to dissipate. And in this way I can allow a new narrative to write itself: I am equally happy when my time is spent alone or with people; if I cannot change the external conditions/situation dictating that I must spend more time with others than I am used to or would like, then I must accept only that which I can change, which is how I feel about the situation/condition. Remember Frankl:

When we are no longer able to change a situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.

more enoughness ;)

A reader liked an old post today, “on self-esteem as a precursor for achievement …” and it showed me there is a theme running through my thoughts about enoughness, which I wrote about yesterday.

Societal expectations drive a lot of us to be always achieving, never satisfied to just exist and accept ourselves for our inherent worth. Our self-esteem is dependent upon achievement.

I think it’s essential we question the narratives telling us we need to achieve more — always more, never enough.

What is your enough? Do we need more enoughness 😉

What would your life look like if achievement was just something you did for fun? Because you didn’t need to achieve to just feel good about yourself.

enoughness

My affirmation for today is that I am enough.

That should be enough said, but we all know I like to get a bit long-winded.

It is enough to just be a kind and present observer in and of the world, a being that brings laughter and lightness and other authentic qualities to their experience and to that of those around them. Or to be a kind and present observer who is grouchy. We don’t need to add or subtract anything from ourselves to be worthy of joy, happiness and love.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t do. Just being is not enough.

Is that a paradox? I don’t think so.

It just means that from our place of being enough, everything else we do comes with ease, is additional, expectation free.

It means that whatever I do today it’s because I choose to add this to my already-enoughness. It also means that if something gets in the way of what I want it doesn’t matter because I am already enough without getting to the thing I wanted.

Alan Watts has a nice quote about this:

photo by Felix Mittermeier

the weather behind the curtain

I feel inspired this morning. I woke earlier than usual and, seeing the beautiful weather behind the curtain, I decided to sit myself up and be awake. That’s a nice metaphor about what we’re doing here: seeing the beautiful weather behind the curtain, where the beautiful weather is our already-enlightened nature, and the curtain is the network of conceptual obscurations that prevent us from living out of that place each moment. It’s like waking up and remembering I live here:

the bushland suburb of Bunya in Southeast Queensland (not to be confused with the Bunya Mountains, which is real out-bush)

I feel inspired to do my purpose, which is to observe and report the world anew, to investigate the nature of reality, to write my own narrative and help others to do the same. I’m drafting a post about what I even mean by changing the narrative and psychospiritual wellness — coming soon. But meanwhile, I can say this much:

without really knowing it, in our subconscious we tell ourselves stories about the way the world was, is and will be. If we are not vigilant about the content of these stories, they can be limiting and even harmful. We can get stuck in the past, and from there all we can expect is that our future will reflect that past. If you’ve had a good past, then bully for you — but most of us haven’t, and we want to see a brighter future.

Continue reading “the weather behind the curtain”

affirmations for going with the flow

Photo by Ian Turnell on Pexels.com

I allow myself to go gently back into the practice of discipline, structure, ritual. My self-expectations are realistic. I enjoy coming back to the world after an extended period of avoidance. I accept that I haven’t been coping, and I step back into responsiveness and responsibility, moving again toward thrival.

I move through my tasks and actions with awareness, relishing each moment I come back to the reality of now through my senses. I come back to my senses.

The world is benevolent, and we are put through trials by a loving energy that knows we are able to learn what we need for life to be more and more like a flow.

I relinquish attachment to what I like, and I allow aversion to move through me without causing stuckness.

I remain committed to conscious evolution.

may we become conscious of the unconscious

Ironbark Gully
getting back on the horse

Down at the Gully today, doing some writing work and thinking about getting back on the pogram … I’ll explain that word in a minute.

It’s been too long that we’ve allowed the situation with our tenant to derail us. I’ve been in damage-control mode and now it’s time to get back into live grow and build mode.

We bumped into Irish Ryan yesterday and he reminded us that we can choose how we feel about the situation. Remember Frankl (paraphrased):

man’s final freedom is the freedom to choose how he feels.

I choose to feel like I can resume my daily life and go back to cultivating contentment and wellbeing and happiness. I choose to use my time in the house as though This Person being is not a problem. (Such is the extent that I have been overwhelmed by their ongoing presence, that I hand-wrote their whole being as the problem. It’s time to take my mind and heart back from the person I have been allowing to occupy it for too long.) The advice columnist Ann Landers said,

Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.

I choose to reclaim the right to my mental and emotional space. This space is priceless, and my experience of it is a choice.

I’ve been meaning to start a document, something I can fold into a pocket somewhere, with the values and reminders I’d like to keep in the fore of my mind. This exercise helps me feel anchored to something, less dependent on retaining all my intentions in the brain. I’m getting on to this today and will share it here as some kind of practical resource when I’m able to get to that.

When I’m getting back on the horse like this, I talk about getting back on my pogram, which is a combination of program and pogrom, a program of personal re-education, of expelling that which holds me back and re-learning what makes me soar.

This idea of keeping a document on hand as a reminder has … reminded me that a key project of my pogram and the work at Kokoro 心 Heart is making the subconscious more conscious. By bringing my values and beliefs and positive “talk” to the fore of my conscious, I reclaim the ability and freedom to choose how I feel.

If 95% of our behaviour is motivated by the subconscious, then we need to become aware of the subconscious so we can be more intentional, less reactive, less likely to crumble when struck by unchartered adversity.

So that’s the theme set for the day and days to come. My battery is about to die, so I’m going to hit send on this missive.