Flying too Close to the Sun: Hubris
Are you familiar with the myth of Icarus?
The boy that wanted to fly?
He constructed wings made of wax and took to the sky, he wanted to challenge the gods.
And, you know what?
It worked. For a time.
But then he got cocky and he flew higher and higher. So high that he lost where he was. He flew past his village, over the mountains, and out to sea. Higher and higher until he flew so high that he could touch the sun. And in that moment, his wings made of wax melted. A young Icarus plummeted, screaming, into the ocean.
The story teaches us about hubris. About what happens when we think we have it all figured out. Hubris takes hold just when we have succeeded. It is the universe’s way of punishing us for taking just a little too much. Have you had this experience?
Have you gotten everything you’ve always wanted and then tried to take a little more? Have you been shocked by the results? It’s happened to me plenty of times. Just when I finally pat myself on the back and get comfortable life throws me a curve ball. Almost as a reminder, “you’re not done yet.” The constant reminder never to let up, and let my guard down. To think that I somehow “made it” or that I’m better than others. I’m reminded daily of how little I know and understand about this world. I am humbled in every moment of confusion.
Stress comes from the meaning that we attribute to things, not from the things themselves. The things themselves are inherently empty – that is, the things themselves do not hold any value or meaning. They are neither good nor bad, they just are. Do you understand this? This is so fundamentally important! But we, as humans, try to make meaning of the world around us and more often than not we turn it into stress. There is something so strange about the human animal in that it seems to thrive when it is challenged.
So hubris is a type of arrogance, it is the belief that you finally made it. It is complacency of the highest order. We are made to grow, to change, and to adapt. That is our purpose on this planet. We were not designed to sit in leisure or to consume endlessly – media, food, comfort. We are created to invent, build, and express. In moments of hubris we forget this.
Now, I’m not saying it is wrong to rest. Not at al! Rest and recuperation are incredibly important. But what I am saying is: that is not the goal in life. This is counter to what our culture tells us. Western culture weaves the story that “if we work hard enough will finally get to relax.” It drives us, ceaselessly towards an imaginary payoff. This is a lie. There is no payoff.
In fact, this belief encourages hubris. It makes it the goal. Look around, you can see it. Elders who have finally “made it” but have lost their purpose and their meaning. They got the golden ticket but couldn’t get in. It’s a shame really, that we trick people into believing it’s all about the destination. So often we miss the path. We don’t get to enjoy what it feels like to fly.
Taking Responsibility: Overcoming the Victim Mentality
It is so easy to be a victim, to be somebody who life just happens to. There you are, going about your day, and the world just slaps you down. It is so easy to blame, to find fault in the world around you. It’s easy to sit back, and talk about everything that’s wrong. Talk about how the world can be a better place, if only things were different. It’s easy to do nothing.
When I was smoking weed one of my favorite things to do was sit around with my friends and talk shit. You would talk about all of the travesties in the world; climate change, genocide, human trafficking, corporatized prisons. We talked for hours about how the world was a messed up and dangerous place. We would say how much we care about these issues and we would get so passionate in our hatred. We would blame everyone, the government, our parents, the “system.” Everyone but ourselves. Because we were perfect, of course. If only everyone thought like we did the world would be such a better place.
At the end of the day, would pat ourselves on the back, job well done. We would go to sleep confident that we were in good company. We would reaffirm our beliefs with each other, and convince ourselves that we were making a difference. That, just by thinking, we could change the world. That just by dreaming, we could craft a new future. We were lying to ourselves over and over. Because the thing is we didn’t really care about those issues. Sure, we thought that there was no reason for the pain and suffering of humanity. But, we never really did anything about it.
We used the misery of others to relate to each other.
If that’s not privilege, I don’t know what is.
We bonded over our shared ideals, that if only we had the power it would make a difference. We postponed our vision of the future indefinitely. I didn’t know it then, but I know now, in those days I was a victim. I convinced myself that there was nothing I could do. And, moreover, I felt good about it. I felt as though was enough just to sit back and complain. I thought “well, at least I’m not making it worse.” But I was, my inaction was perpetuating the very things that I spent so much energy rallying against.
One of the biggest changes I’ve ever made is committing to taking responsibility for everything. Really. Everything. I strive to take responsibility for my past, my relationships, my community, profession, political situation, spiritual beliefs, emotions, hopes and fears. I committed to making a difference.
By responsibility I don’t mean blame. Of course there are factors that are out of my control, it would be foolish for me to believe that I can handle everything. To me, responsibility means a willingness to engage and be present. It is a willingness to look at the situations that surround me an honest and effective manner. By taking responsibility I gave myself the power that I had been missing my entire life.
No longer can I complain. No longer can I feel as though I’m a boat, pushed around in a storm. By taking responsibility I have set upon a path of warriorship. Fighting everyday, not with violence, but with compassion. By taking responsibility I have decided not to run. I decided to stand, fight, and try to make a change. And I do so with the utmost humility.
It is so, so easy to sit back. It is much harder to march forward day after day.
Filling Your Own Cup: The Importance of Self-Love
When I was younger I got the advice, “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” At the time I thought this was stupid. To me, the only way I could experience love was from another person. I thought that I needed someone else in order to make me feel whole. I thought that if I found the right person, who loved me unconditionally, I could learn to love myself. They would show me how to succeed where I fail.
But that just is not the case. And now, I find myself giving my clients the same advice, you have to love yourself first. If you don’t, you’re doomed to act out and repeat harmful patterns for yourself and for the other person. If you expect somebody to fill the void in your heart you will inevitably drag them into it. Because, here’s the thing, you can’t fill that void. But you can learn to live with it. And, with time, build a relationship with it that is deeper than anything you have ever known.
That void, that loneliness, emptiness deep in your soul. That’s not going anywhere. And if it is not examined it will gobble you up. The only way to enter into a truly beneficial and loving relationship is to understand yourself, first. You must travel throughout your mind and personality and bring your own love and compassion to the places that you are afraid of. You must bring acceptance to your overwhelming emotions, fantastical desires, and deepest shame. You, and only you can do this.
The first step is to get to know yourself on a level which far exceeds anything else. You must be with yourself entirely in mind, body, and spirit. You must be willing to stay by your own side when you want to run. Stick with yourself when you feel the urge to numb out. This can take years. Years of work to really get to know who you are. And I’m not talking about who you think you are, who you wish you are; I’m talking about who you actually are. Behind all of the stories, and all of the lies that you use to structure your personality. You must examine yourself with the brutal honesty and total responsibility.
Then, once you know who you are, and what you want; you can then start to fill your own cup. You can start to pursue the things that make you happy without fear of judgment or rejection. Do you have any idea how freeing this is? To be able to accept your desires and to go after them? This is truly liberation. This is the path to happiness. It requires a level of self acceptance and self-love that many do not know they are capable of. It means being your own greatest ally and being your own best friend. Only from this place of total support and total responsibility can you live a fulfilling life.
Once your cup is full then it will naturally start to spill into others. You will find yourself radiating joy, acceptance, and freedom. Will find yourself, naturally, interacting with people and boosting them up. When you are acting from a place of total self-love then the rejection of others is no longer important. And, if you do not care about the rejection of others you can actually relate with them. It is counter-intuitive but your freedom and ecstatic detachment will be what will inspire those around you.
When you truly care for yourself you will naturally care for others because you know what the stakes are. You know just how one complement or smile can change your day. You know how a phone call can make your week. You know how to avoid creating harm for yourself and others. Living in line with your own well-being in mind is contagious. And it will inspire others to do the same. This is such a great gift. It is much better than trying, and failing, to have somebody make you feel loved.
When you feel loved by yourself it is not that you don’t need others, it is that you can relate with others from an internally secure place. That way, you give others permission to be themselves just as you are. If you don’t need to be taken care of it gives the other person more space to play.
The Aversion to Happiness: Self-Sabotage
I am reading a book right now called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, it’s about how when we are just on the cusp of getting what we want we often pull ourselves back down into where we were. Think about it, have you ever been on the verge of a great success only to find yourself struggling with problems or people that you thought had been resolved? The unconscious part of our mind fears change. It prefers to have a predictable life, even if it is a painful life.
This upsets and confuses me. I don’t understand why we have such an aversion to happiness. I don’t know why we are afraid of feeling loved, desired, or successful. You would think that we would move towards these feelings with reckless abandon. And yet, I see self-sabotage again and again, both in my clients and myself. For many, maintaining success can feel like a Sisyphean task. Just when we get close to the top of the mountain, everything comes crashing down. It seems as though our internal self, our small self wants to keep us down at any cost necessary.
Hendricks talks about four unconscious beliefs that hold us back. These are usually established in childhood, they come from messages, either direct or indirect, from our parents that teach us about what the world is like. The four barriers are as follows: feeling fundamentally flawed, feeling disloyal, believing that more success brings more burden, and outshining somebody else. You probably have some of these beliefs, notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations as you read the next few paragraphs. If as your reading you feel a bit of charge or emotion you may have one of these installed deep within your unconscious.
The feeling of being fundamentally flawed is pervasive in Western culture. A lot of our culture depends on it. I was having a conversation with a friend about marketing, and he said “marketing is convincing somebody they have a problem and then selling them the solution.” There’s some truth to that, think about how many commercials are advertisements play on our deep insecurities. Look at how the beauty and fashion industries have damaged and brainwashed our women or how the rat race has imprisoned our workers. When we feel that deep down we are fundamentally flawed we cannot accept success when it comes. We believe that we do not deserve it or that we did not earn it. This can lead to us crumbling at the last moment, tripping on the finish line.
Another barrier is feeling as though we have abandoned the ones that we love or that we had betrayed our roots. This one comes from parents who are disapproving of the choices that we make or who do not understand them. This can lead to a deep-seated belief that we are straying from the pack. So, even if we are successful we feel as though we cannot get the approval of those who we care about the most. This belief can lead us to committing our whole lives to a career that drains us because we feel obligated to the herd mentality.
Sometimes we believe that if we are more successful we will have more responsibilities. While this is mostly true what we forget to realize is that we will be able to handle them. It is the very process of becoming successful that prepares us. And yet, many of us believe that we are not fit to lead or that others can do it better than us. This is the part of us that wants to stay small and that is afraid of taking risks were being rejected. This is the very part of us that needs us to succeed in order to feel strong. By staying small we are only imprisoning ourselves and reinforcing the belief that we are unworthy.
We sometimes get the message as children that our successes take away from the success of others. This could come from a sibling, parent, or friend; when our successes are met with jealousy or resentment we get the message that we are stealing the light from somebody else. Sometimes we are taught not to outshine those around us because it puts their own insecurities and inadequacies into focus. The sad state of affairs that this is actually true for many people, they are unable to tolerate success, even in others around them. I encourage you to build a community of people who want you to shine and are inspired every time you triumph.
So check in with yourself, are you holding any of these beliefs?
Did any of these ring true as you read through them?
And, do you find yourself messing up just as things are starting to get good?
You are not alone. This is a fundamentally human phenomena. The first step in breaking out of this prison is to notice when you are building the walls. Notice when you’re getting in your own way, sit with the feelings that come up, and move through them. Do not let your unconscious mind drag you back into the muck. You deserve all of your success and happiness.
Find your Tribe: Prevention vs. Promotion Focused
As you move down your healing path. You will encounter other people that do not know how to adapt to the changes that you’ve made. This can be very painful because some who were your closest friends are now your biggest detractors. In fact, some of your friends will want you to stay just how you were, even if that means suffering. People hate change. And, if they are small, they will hate you for changing.
What I’d like to talk about today is shifting from prevention focus to promotion focus. Have you ever had a friend that every time you tell him something; some of your plans for the future, some of your recent successes, or some of your struggles; he tells you what will go wrong? He tells you all the mistakes that you’re going to make. He tells you why you can do it, or why no one can do it. This is called prevention focused.
It’s funny though, people who are like this think that they are helping you. They think that their advice will keep you safe. They think that their advice will keep you secure. But in reality they are afraid of you. They are afraid of everything you are capable of. They are afraid that if you succeed they won’t have an excuse to be small anymore.
People who are prevention focused want to keep the status quo. In the status quo they don’t have to examine themselves. They can keep up the story line that they are doing the best they can. They can continue to remain a victim: powerless to the world around them. So, when you show them that they can take control of their own lives, by taking control of yours, they will fear you. And in their fear they will act to destroy you.
Maybe you are one of these people. Maybe you just want to keep everybody safe. Maybe you’ve been hurt before, and don’t want others to get hurt in the same way. Maybe you took a big risk and saw it blow up in your face. Or maybe, just maybe, you just think that you’re smarter than everybody else. But here’s the thing, you aren’t.
When somebody comes to you with an idea or with the dream. They are not really looking for your feedback. Actually, they are looking for your validation. Perhaps you are the first person that they shared this idea with. They are taking a risk and putting their idea out there. It’s like a newborn child; it doesn’t need to be told what is wrong with it. It needs to be told that it is loved, that it is valid, and that it can succeed in this wild and brutal world. This is called promotion focused.
Promotion focused is when instead of critiquing an idea, you build upon it. You get excited for your friend. Instead of saying “here’s where you’re going to fail,” you say, “that’s amazing, how can I help?” You focus on making their dream a reality. And here’s the thing, once you’ve validated their dream, once you’ve heard them out, then, and only then will they be open to your feedback. In fact, they might even ask you for it. They might ask you to get involved and help them.
The shift from prevention focus to promotion focus can change not only your life but the lives of those around you, those that you care about the most. Instead of coming from a place of ego; come from a place of love. Speak from the part of you that wants everyone to succeed. Because, when others succeed so do you. By promoting those around you you will reap the rewards for the rest of your life. You will be valued, trusted, and respected.
So, try this today. Try to promote your friends dreams instead of prevent them. And, if you have a dream be sure to find allies that want you to succeed. Be sure to find people that are as passionate about you as you are about your goals. And if you find yourself surrounded by prevention focused people, it is okay to let them go. It is okay to find others that have your back. You deserve it. You deserve to have a community that loves you. They are out there, it may take some work, but I know you can do it. You can find your people, and make your dreams a reality.
Mourning our Lost Selves
Whenever you make a change parts of you die. To make room for new growth the leaves of a tree have to fall to the ground and rot, turning into compost. It is the same for us, as we let go of old patterns, old relationships, and old thoughts. There is a mourning process that happens of which we are often unaware. Think: are you in this now?
What parts of you have you left behind? Maybe it’s an old habit, or friend, or a way that you used to think about yourself. That’s a loss. And it’s a loss that we often don’t recognize because we are told to focus on what is new. We are told to look into the future and to focus on everything that we can be. Not what we were.
So think back:
Who were you just a year ago?
How much have you changed?
And what parts of you needed to die?
I invite you to spend today thinking about all the growth and changes that you’ve undergone. Each metamorphosis of your psyche. And for a moment, instead of celebrating where you are now take the time to mourn where used to be. Take this moment to tap into your past self.
Grief gets a bad rap in our culture. We think that it’s a bad thing, something to be avoided, or handled. Some of us are even told feeling that grief makes us weak. But I offer a different frame. Mourning and grief inform us of what we hold dear, of what is important. The feeling of grief lets us know how far we’ve come and the sacrifices that we’ve had to make along the way. Life isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to test us and give us repeated opportunities to grow.
It’s amazing to me to consider how life gets more complex as we age. We are constantly taking on more responsibility, and from that we can reap greater rewards. Think about it, it doesn’t have to be that way. We could, as a species, be happy with maintaining the status quo. Just being comfortable. But we are not, there is a drive in each of us that once to be better and wants to excel. Life’s natural state is growth.
We don’t get to choose exactly how we grow. It’s like having a houseplant. You can’t tell it where to put its leaves, or where to grow roots, or what shade of green to be. You can’t control exactly what it will look like. But, you can make sure that it gets enough water, sunlight, and, perhaps most importantly you can help it to prune the parts that are no longer needed.
We are the same way.
Giving What’s Needed: Communal vs. Exchange Relationships
I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about unhealthy relationship patterns. Today I figured that I’d write about two relationship patterns that are actually pretty healthy. The exchange relationship and the communal relationship. Of course, like anything, these patterns can become unhealthy if taken to an extreme. But, by and large, relating in these ways create healthy boundaries, expectations, and intimacy.
The exchange relationship is usually how we start when we meet a new person. We give them things, or ask for things expecting a return. We can exchange time, resources, empathy, and emotional experiences. This is how business transactions work and how we deal with acquaintances and networking allies. Being in an exchange relationship doesn’t mean keeping a strict tab or ledger but it does mean feeling as though both parties are engaging at an equal level. The idea is that the relationship is mutually beneficial and no one feels cheated or taken advantage of.
The exchange relationship often gets a bad rap. It’s sometimes viewed as shallow or hollow. Here I present the contrary: I think that the exchange relationship is critical for developing trust and intimacy. Before we dive into a more committed and vulnerable place we need to see if we are compatible with the other person. A great way to do this is to see if the two of you can provide for each other’s needs. Trust is built overtime and through mutually beneficial experience.
Furthermore, many relationships can benefit from having roles and boundaries such as a teacher-student relationship. A teacher can actually help much more if she is able to hold her boundaries with her students. An important lesson is that one person cannot be everything for you. They can’t meet all of your needs. So it is of paramount importance to build a wide array of exchange relationships to ensure that your needs are met without overtaxing your partners or becoming enmeshed or codependent with them.
The communal relationship typically forms after a bond has been built with another person after a successful exchange relationship. The communal relationship is founded on love and compassion. Essentially, it is an agreed upon relationship in which each member takes care of the other to the capacity of their ability. That means that we give what we can not expecting anything in return. The implied understanding is that if we need help from the other person they too will give what they can.
The communal relationship is most evident in healthy family structures. The parents understand that they have more capacity than their children and thus provide them with much more nourishment and care. Nothing is expected in return. The well being of each member directly translates to the well being of the community. This is important to remember. By giving of yourself to someone who loves and appreciate you you strengthen the bond between you too. In this way, the act of giving and of receiving are the same thing.
Dysfunction can occur if you misjudge the type of relationship that is required. Many people, especially those new in relationships, jump too quickly to the communal style. When they are wrapped up in the fantasy of new love they assume that they will be spending the rest of their lives together. They then give way too much of themselves, again, this can quickly lead to codependency. Conversely, people who have difficulty trusting others can keep loved ones in the exchange relationship which ultimately blocks out intimacy. At some point, the roles need to break down.
How can you apply these two types of relationships to your life?
Do you tend to prefer one over the other?
Forging your Life: Massive Action
Many people in my generation horribly underestimate the work required to make things happen. We are often too focused on trying to work smarter that we forget how to work harder. Success does not come easy, it takes hard work, discipline, and a lot of sacrifice. Last week we talked about passion, the willingness to burn for the things that are important to us, today we will talk about the fire itself.
Massive Action is required.
Massive action is required to forge your dreams into reality. I use the word forge on purpose: in order to make steel iron needs to be forged. This entails creating a fire that burns super hot, with the use of coal, and then repeatedly hammering on the iron ingot until it compresses and hardens into steel. This process creates a substance that is much stronger by applying heat and force. We are much the same way.
Our super hot furnace is the circumstances of our lives. The need for massive action arises from an uncomfortable or intolerable situation. This could be a horrendous working environment, a lack of funds, a painful relationship, or a psychological insight that cracks open our self perception. As our furnace heats up we are entirely burned and consumed by it. Our psyche starts to unravel as we become more and more aware of the need to change. Old parts of ourselves burn off, screaming, as they are consumed by the conflagration of our lives.
This process is extremely painful and distressing. But there is no way around it. It can look like a long spell of grief, an emotional breakdown, a sinkhole of depression or even a relapse. In the furnace our attention is turned towards ourselves and our shortcomings over and over. Every time we think that we have over come it our necks are snapped back around and our eyes remain glued to our wounds. We are called, again and again, to focus, pay attention, we are given so many opportunities to learn and grow.
Once we have found our flaws and burned off our ego’s pain we are pulled from the furnace and onto the anvil. Then we start hammering. This is the massive action. Each strike shapes and molds us. It hardens us, sharpens us, turns our molten core into solid steel. This takes both discipline and precision. We must continue to hammer even though we are tired, we must hammer even if we don’t know how it’ll turn out, we must hammer until we are afraid that we will break. Each time the hammer strikes we are being forged into something much stronger, we are being honed into a tool, a weapon, a work of art.
What happens after the hammering? Either we are thrown back into the furnace to burn off more excess or we are take out into the world to be used. The more we use our tools in the world the more we’ll come to learn their limits and they will begin to wear. So, back to the furnace, more massive action.
The trick to enduring this process is to accept it. Shed your ego, bathe in the flame, welcome each blow of the hammer as a you would your lover’s kiss. The forge can be your home. Pain is a part of growth, if you feel uncomfortable doing something it means you are pushing your limits. It means you are about to grow. Instead of running from pain and fear we could choose to stalk it. To move towards it and hunt it with unrelenting ferocity.
Mutually Assured Destruction: Codependency
When considering a relationship there’s an adage in Alcoholics Anonymous that states: “Well, in your first year of sobriety, buy a plant, at the end of that year, buy a pet, and IF… at the end of that second year, they are both still alive, that would be when I would recommend starting a relationship.”
What is that about? Why should someone who struggles with addiction wait until they are sober for two years before getting into a relationship? This advice is meant to help avoid a pattern of codependency that can often arise in new relationships. However, codependency is not restricted to addicts, we can all fall into this deadly trap. Codependency is a relationship pattern that results in the emotional fusion of the partners. Both people become obsessed with each other and feel as though they cannot be separate, even for a moment. Additionally, the two partners tend to become cemented in rigid, polarizing roles.
This is problematic because, throughout our lives, we grow and change. Our capabilities for action and our needs shift. If our relationships are static they will no longer be able to meet our needs and help us to feel loved. Additionally, there are times when we need to be separate from our partner, if the thought of this is debilitating we are handicapping ourselves. Codependent relationships, at their best are unsatisfying and stifling while, at their worst, abusive. During a codependent relationship communication breaks down as the partners resign to playing almost cartoon-like roles.
This can take a variety of forms. Perhaps the most common is the Hero/Victim relationship. The Hero in the relationship tries to manage both of the member’s lives and refuses to be vulnerable themselves. The Victim on the other hand, remains subordinate to the Hero and refuses to step up and accept the responsibilities of daily life. Both partners get something from this arrangement, the Hero gets to feel powerful and in control, while the Victim feels cared for and protected. After awhile the Hero will begin to build resentment, “why doesn’t my lover care about me!” and the Victim will feel infantilized, “Don’t they know I can take care of myself!?”
A more sinister and extreme version of this pattern is the Saint/Sinner relationship. The Saint convinces the Sinner that they are unlovable or crazy and that they are lucky to have them in their lives. The Sinner feels like the Saint is the only one that will every love them and devotes themselves completely. Similar to the Hero/Victim relationship the Saint gets to feel powerful and often righteous while the Sinner feels blessed and connected. Saint/Sinner relationship can often devolve into an emotionally abusive situation. Many people in the Sinner role deeply believe that they are unlovable and will not leave their Saint, no matter what atrocities happen in relationship.
Another pattern of codependency is the Narcissist/Cheerleader. A hallmark of narcissism is the beliefs that one own needs supersede the needs of anyone else. People with this personality type tend to attract Cheerleaders, or caretakers, those who tend to sacrifice their own needs in favor of the needs of others. In this relationship the Narcissist gets to feel supported and understood while the Cheerleader feels like they are part of something greater than themselves. This extremely polarity of needs often results in either partner acting out, the Narcissist repeatedly crosses boundaries while the Cheerleader begins to feel violated.
So what do we do if we find ourselves in a codependent relationship? If your relationship is emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive the best thing to do is to get out immediately and seek help from a professional therapist or a shelter.
If it is not then you can change the pattern by first increasing your awareness of your own needs and then working to communicate them with your partner. I recommend creating a relationship contract in which you write down what you would like from a partner, what behaviors would help to get those needs met, and then what happens if it all breaks down, crisis protocol (giving each other space, pledging to connect at least once a week, a safe word to say if a fight is becoming too heated).
Addicts tend to fall into codependent relationships because they often have very low self worth as a result of their addiction or a past trauma. They will often fall into the Victim, Sinner, or Cheerleader roles. It is important to recognize that codependency is not the only relationship option, it is possible, with proper boundaries and communication, to have a relationship that enlivens both members and inspires each of them to be the best possible versions of themselves. Love is out there, you just have to go our and get it. Remember, no matter your past or your present, you are deserving of love.