This, likely the final part in the series, has taken me some time to come up with, yet I’ve suspected it all along. This part will take a turn from the rest of the series by posing what may seem like an unlikely solution.
All along I’ve been trying to figure out how we can make rules for our lives (such as maintaining a certain diet) that will stick. Now, I consider that that the way to accomplish this is to not try.
Free yourself from obligation. That is how you get a
foundation to stick. Allow yourself to bypass it every now and again. Govern
yourself with as few laws as possible.
It is counterintuitive, you see. The highest expression of yourself requires freedom. If you try to limit yourself with countless laws, you will, in time, come to hate those laws. You will see that they are oversimplistic and arbitrary. You will see that they were established unconsciously, and that they do not resonate with your purpose for existence. Ultimately, they do not support the way of being you thought you were trying to attain in the first place.
Discipline and Caring
Now, what about discipline equals freedom? When you talk about discipline or any other abstract concept, you must ground it somehow. These things have meaning relative only to other things. So when you say you seek discipline, answer the question, Discipline to do what? When you seek to have success, tell me—Success at what? For what? And Why? Without addressing these questions, such concepts are meaningless.
If you don’t care what time of day you wake up, then you don’t need to discipline your sleep habits. If you don’t care what you put in your body, you don’t need to discipline your dietary habits. If you don’t care about anything, you don’t need to discipline anything. Discipline first requires care. Without care, there can be no discipline.
Even if you have become disciplined at following the orders of others, there is still an element of care at place. For one reason or another, you have attained such discipline because you care about following these orders. Maybe it’s to keep yourself out of trouble, whether that trouble be death, material loss, rejection, imprisonment, or anything else real or imagined. The point is, discipline is always a sign of an underlying caring—that is, an underlying purpose.
Change the Rules
I could write a bunch of new material here, but I have a feeling that the speech I wrote for my high school graduation a year and a half ago will suffice. I wrote about breaking rules. Strangely enough, I was not chosen to deliver a speech on graduation day. I can’t imagine why.
Fellow graduates- once we embark on whatever ventures we may following high school we shall, as we know, become much more responsible for how we live our lives. In truth we already are 100% responsible, but this fact becomes much more concrete once the oversight of parents and the routine of school make an exit. This is so regardless of whether you have chosen to follow or break most of the rules of adult authority figures, because your actions will no longer be influenced by them-- at least, they ought not to be. What will happen now is that you will, for the most part, make your own rules to live by- and I'm sure many of you have already made progress through this process. But, again, everyone has done so indeed, because if you choose to follow the path and rules someone else has set for you, then your rules are to follow someone else's rules. There is no escaping your indefinite responsibility for yourself. If you go through life blindly or fearfully, it is because you choose to do so.
I understand that feelings of powerlessness often do not feel chosen. What you need to understand is that you are a powerful person- and you are always. If you don't feel powerful it's because you've been using your power against yourself, primarily by keeping your thinking in this place of falsehood. But why would we choose to give up our power? It's because we're scared. We are afraid to experience the life that awaits us beyond the day-in day-out routine. Now, routine can be fine so long as it does not become resigned stagnation, which can delude us profoundly. When you choose the path of low fulfillment- even if the money on it is good- you might as well be retired already. You cheat not only yourself, but everyone else as well, by keeping yourself at a low level of consciousness.
Yet regardless of your level of consciousness, you probably have no idea of what you are capable. The best thing you can do is keep your mind open to endless possibilities. Think that which you have never thought before and seek out that which is unknown to you. Teaching students what to think and how to think is, of course, the primary aim of education. Similarly, it is my belief that one of the goals of education should be to teach those coming of age not merely how to follow the rules of others, but also to create and follow their own rules. Both of these goals, if achieved, ultimately serve students' ability to live consciously. If students leave high school fairly certain of their identities and ready to enter the world by their own means, then educators have succeeded.
If you have been playing by someone else's rules for years and all you want to do is break them, I ask that you leave that game. And above all else- if you don't like the rules you've been playing by, change them. It is totally within your power to do so. Don't ever give your power away. Don't ever do something just because someone told you to or because other people are doing it. Don't ever neglect to do something just because someone told you not to or because other people aren't doing it. And, most of all, do not ever neglect to do something just because you are concerned about the judgments of others. It is most likely, I've found, that people will not think as badly of you as you believe they will. And if your actions are judged poorly, chances are that you can handle that judgment. In fact, it doesn't have to phase you at all- but that is a topic for another time. When your sole or your main aim is to please you will be miserable. If this aim is at the root of your mode of living it will not be long before your need to please others is replaced by contempt. This is a lesson I've had to learn the hard way multiple times in high school, and it has ended up as one of the last lessons also. I would like to assure you that I will not be living from a belief in the importance of being liked anymore. If I continued to do so I would not be speaking on this topic right now.
What I have learned from the school of the hard knocks is that living by your own consciously-created rules means the same as being your most authentic self. In turn, that means living in your highest good, and that means serving the highest good of others. While it may sound rebellious, living by the rules you choose does not at all mean “I don't care.” In fact, it means that you do care- not only about yourself, but once again, others as well. The best way to serve others is to first serve yourself, and one of the best ways to do that is to take on work and other activities that you love. Besides, rules- to paraphrase author Johnny Truant- are just someone's opinion of how things should be done. The rules you set are a reflection of how you perceive the world. For me that has, in the past, meant that the world is a scary and a hostile place. However, every day, with leaps and bounds, I wake up more and more to the reality of how I believe the world really is-- simply put, filled with love. If you want, you can do exactly the same-- but on your own terms, of course.
Let’s face it. All these rules are an attempt to create the best version of ourselves—right? But if we merely choose the rules we think we should choose, based on measures we don’t necessarily feel good about, how on Earth will adhering to those rules create this “best” self? What does “best” mean to you, anyway? What is it, exactly, that you’re trying to achieve? Who is it, really, that you’re trying to be?
Have you thought independently about this? Or have you been unconsciously carrying a rigid set of answers around your whole life, rarely wondering whether they actually make sense to you?
Change the Relationship
I write this article because I have come to a critical point in my relationship to running. Translation: I must change that relationship.
In earlier parts of the series, I gave that relationship a good deal of adulation. I talked about how my running consistently has been a foundation in my life—one that seems hard to break.
Yet, indeed, I have found a breaking point. As I require substantially more hours of running of myself each month, it has become readily apparent that I’m going about this the wrong way. It’s not those hours in themselves that’s the problem. It’s the fact that I have placed my own worthiness in them.
Psychological burn out, in athletic pursuits, isn’t the result of “too much.” If that was the case, people at the level of athlete ultramarathoners shouldn’t exist. “Too much” is a pretty arbitrary idea anyway.
Whenever I feel burned out as a runner, it’s because I’m running for the wrong reasons. I’ve injected alien, unsupportive purposes into my running. In senior year of high school, I grasped desperately for what I perceived to be the last shreds of my self-worth—yet I only ran slower and slower. In college I tried to please (or, it seemed, avoid pissing off) a coach—yet I failed utterly. Now, again, I have misplaced my self-worth. The only difference from high school is that, back then, I based my worth on speed—how few minutes I could complete a certain distance in. Now, it’s based on distance—how many hours I can last.
That difference, of course, matters little. The problem behind both is the same.
I have come to believe that must run in order to be worthy as a human being. Not just worthy, but adequate. Not just adequate, but valid. Not just valid, but real. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that my existence requires that I run.
I have fallen into the trap common to all fears: I have believed that if I do not run, I will die.
All fear is a fear of death. It is a belief that if you defy a certain rule, everything as you know it will come to an end.
And that is exactly what happens. Your fears, indeed, come to pass. Your life, as you have known it, dies.
But you- the real you- does not die. You, as the creator, never die. You cannot.
Even if you believe that physical death is the end of existence, there is no amount of rule-breaking you can do that will destroy you prematurely. You may commit the so-called deadliest of sins, yet your physical form shall remain.
Just prior to writing this article, I sat down and wrote out the inevitable. I revealed to myself the truth I have been denying for years.
“I have found myself on the edge, peering into the void. I am met with the abyss.
I do not need to run.”
For a moment, I wrote no more. The wind blew. Time stood still. There was silence.
Change The Experience
How silly it is to think we are what we do. That if we do not do it, we will die. Surely we will be valid beings no more, if we cease to do a particular thing.
The story I’ve told myself about running is that it’s pretty much the only thing I can do right, so I might as well spend a lot of time doing it—and doing it well. Not only that, but it gives me a leg up over other people. Most people can’t say that they’ve run 62 miles in the span of 13 hours, or that they’ve hauled ass across a series of hills for 2 hours while it’s 5 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, and sometimes when they blink it takes a moment to open their eyes again because the tears on their eyelashes are frozen (yes, that is graciously how I spent part of yesterday).
So, there seems to be a bit of a “suffering is wisdom” mentality going on here. Though I take it a step further, and say that suffering is adequacy.
As with most things, the story isn’t totally one-sided. For one thing, I don’t perceive a whole lot of suffering in running. If I did, I probably wouldn’t have lasted for 7 years. On that same token, I don’t run solely for reasons of self-worth. There are times when I genuinely feel joyful about running, and I have enjoyed the heck out of it. I have more memories that I am grateful for than I can count.
The problem here is that the self-worth story overtakes that joy every now and then. I’ll genuinely have fun for a while. But then I start trying to replicate exactly what I did before in the form of a strict schedule, or a particular race, or whatever it is. I say that In order to be worthy, I must do that again. That is when the thanklessness arrives.
The problem with that mentality is a belief that the joy was the result of my actions. I forget that joy is not only independent of any particular action—it tends to create what we consider our “highest” acts. What I end up with, then, is a routine or mission that is hollow. I think the joy will come from the achievement of that mission, along with all of my worthiness.
The other problematic piece of my little running story is that it is a story of separation. I do things I perceive most other people can’t, won’t, and don’t do so that I can actually feel worthy in comparison to them. “Maybe I’m not good with words, and I don’t know much, and I haven’t contributed much, and I don’t have a lot of money (what is a lot, anyway?), but at least I can do this. At least I have something to hang my hat on.”
At the end of the day, of course, this comparison means little. No one actually cares.
It’s not that my running is totally meaningless. But if I didn’t do it, people probably wouldn’t think any less of me. And if they did, it wouldn’t matter.
It is not what I’m doing that people care about or that matters in the long run, but who I’m being. Who I’m being can be expressed through many different forms of doing. Being joyful can take the expression of a 30 mile run or a 3000 word article. But it’s not really the doing part of the equation that matters—at least, not as much. If I write a 3000 word article while being overwhelmingly angry or fearful, that article will not contribute much. If I run 30 miles while being miserable, what, in effect, have I done for myself?
Whenever you do something with the hope that it will lead you to become something, you have taken on life ass-backwards. You have placed the cart before the horse. Right action can never make you worthy. It is a conviction in your own worthiness- a oneness of being with your own worthiness- that will lead you to right action (whatever that may be for you).
When you do in order to be, you set yourself up for misery. You have poisoned the activity in question—tainted it with the death-kiss of lack. Tell me: when you start on a task because you are “not enough,” what makes you think that you will have become “enough” by the end of it? At what point does life endow you with “enough-ness”?
The answer, of course, is that it never does—unless you choose it. Life will never give you what you want until you choose to have it. You will never experience what you wish to experience until you choose to be the source of that experience. Being the source means that no action is required. Choose, first, who and what you want to be—what you want to experience. Then allow action to flow from there.
Change Who You Are
I know—you may think that if you do not be tough, or totally consistent, or self-punishing, that everything “good” about yourself will go downhill. Let it. Those ideas of what is “good” are from days past. You do not need them anymore. You can choose consciously now. You can be whatever you want.
It’s time to graduate from elementary school (which “high school” maybe just be another name for). You don’t need Mommy to tell you what to do any more. You don’t need to follow Daddy’s wishes to a T. you don’t need to fear getting sent to the principal’s office. You can live by your own will now.
You have believed that your will shall lead you astray. You believe that following your will shall cause you to act with no rhyme or reason, as though you are completely insane. Yet it is rules that produce insanity. It is arbitrary, unnecessary rules which steal your power: it is this robbing of power that causes you to act out. It is silly, unreasonable rules which distort your reality: it is this distortion of reality which is insanity itself.
When you choose to live consciously, and to lead a life of growth, you will find that the rules must change often for you—otherwise, you will stagnate. As your understanding of reality changes, so too must the rules you live by. Otherwise, you will have rules that are based on an outdated, inaccurate model of reality. Such rules are hollow, and can only hold you back from the highest expression of who you are.
This is not a declaration of quitting and emptying all things of substance from one’s life. Rather, this is a declaration of transformation—seeing life with fresh eyes, so that there may be substance in the first place. It is time to seek substance not in what I do, but rather in who I am. This is the only place where substance can be.
Let your rules be as few as are needed to get you through a day. Seriously-- how many rules do you need to do something as simple and commonplace as that? Well, you are the rule-maker in this reality, so I’ll leave it up to you. But I’ll leave you with this: if you are a conscious being, and you seek the highest and most delicious expression of yourself, restraint is the last thing you need. What holds you back from such expression, after all, is indeed restraint.
The only way to hold on to anything worthwhile in your life- that is, a foundation- is to not need it. Do not require it of yourself. Do not go to it out of fear. Most of all, do not invest your self-worth into it. This is the most surefire path to losing that thing.
You may think that your desire to be pure love, joy, and peace themselves will defy all the values you were raised on—all the ideas you’ve been given about what is right and what is sacred. I am here to tell you that you are correct. Your expectations shall come to pass. You will break every rule in the book. You will watch your life spiral out of control as you whisper words and engage in acts that you previously never could have imagined yourself doing. What once were dark, repressed, vague fantasies shall become reality—and you will be, according to those rules and all who still follow them, evil.
And there is nothing you can do about that.
Embrace the fact. You made up the rule, after all, that all who defy a rule are evil, according to that rule. Your goals and your ideas about what constitutes being loving will change from those you have held in the past. While you may see yourself as evolving and loving, others will see you as a threat to all that is true and right in this world. As long as there are people on this Earth who choose to be bound by arbitrary rules, this is inevitable. There will always be someone, and some point of view, by whose eyes you are evil. Break free from your days of unconscious living, then, by being evil, for there is no other way.
Don’t worry, brother. It’ll be awesome. ;)
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Parts 1-5 of the Series: