“We have normality”

HHGTTG_IIDButton1Sometimes being bipolar is like someone hitting the button for the Infinite Improbability Drive. When I return to normality, I never know where I’m going to be, and I’m not shocked anymore about the bizarre places and states I end up in.

In the last 3 months I have been across Canada. I have given away everything I owned. I have settled into two new homes. I have decided, within 30 minutes of waking up one morning, to pack a bag, abandon all my possessions again, and hop a bus back east.

I have normality again.

I am renting from a landlord I wanted to launch an awareness campaign against. I have more new websites and domains than I know what to do with, after I was determined to reduce my reliance on/work with technology. I’m even working at my old job again that I left last September.

My life is rich. It really is.

I don’t own a flashy car, or a big house (I’d probably give them away some day even if I did), but my life never fails to be interesting and challenging, and fun.

The last few months I gained a lot of new blog-worthy experiences, insights into myself and my world, and cut some destructive elements out of my life. I know that none of this would have happened had I been settled into a 9 to 5 grind.

I’m riding these great waves that come in from time to time, and they really are incredible.

Stillness – Free Mind

moonreflectingWater Reflecting

I listened to a lecture by Thich Nhat Hanh some time back. He talked about being ‘water reflecting’ when we meditate. He described how when there is activity in a lake, the ripples make it hard to see the reflection of the moon. Only when there is stillness is there clarity.

I’ve learned that I don’t need to be in a meditative state to enjoy the benefits of clear thought. To me, the discipline of Stillness means setting aside an unbroken chunk of time where I put everything down- physically and mentally. I put down my work, and let go of whatever I’m processing in my conscious mind. Whatever it is that I find in there, beneath what was foremost in my consciousness, I acknowledge it and relinquish it for the time being.

Free Mind

By letting go of everything that’s going on inside and outside of me, I become free from the thoughts that bind me to the moment, and to my Self. I also become free of the thoughts and feelings that were undercurrents in my mind, pulling me this way and that without my conscious awareness of it.

Stillness is the practice of achieving a starting point for clear thinking. It doesn’t mean forgetting what was on my mind. If anything, as I relinquish the thoughts and feelings beneath the surface of my conscious processes, I become more aware of what’s really going on with me, and what I’ll need to process later.

18025392-young-business-man-at-the-desk-contemplating-with-hands-on-his-temples-and-looking-up-away-from-the-Readiness

After relinquishing the need to work on or process anything in the moment, I am ready for whatever one thing I need to attend to. I am ready to meditate. I am ready to study. I am ready to contemplate. Whatever I do after I have achieved stillness, it will be with a clear mind. I will be able to take it all in, without the mental chatter, and as a fully aware person.

Even beyond my own needs, Stillness allows me to be fully present for other people. It’s like putting down my smart phone when someone is speaking with me. There are fewer distractions in my mind keeping from really hearing them and attending to their needs. It is as easy as taking a few minutes to disengage from an activity before sitting down to talk with someone. Or letting someone get my voicemail so I have a minute before calling them back.

Pausing Helps

Sometimes I don’t realize how much is going on upstairs until I pause for a moment before making a decision. When my thoughts or feelings are at all confused on a matter at hand, I know I need to reset and get back to the starting point of a free mind before I make any decisions. If I don’t practice pausing, it’s easy to be swept along by everything that’s going on beneath the surface of my conscious thoughts. In the past, in my busy life, often times everything I saw and decided was distorted, passing through so much mental chatter, through whatever I was working on, my preconceptions, subtle feelings…

Every day I try to practice stillness. It has helped me to become more aware of myself, what’s going on inside me and around me, and it has helped me to be ready for whatever comes next in my day.

Lofty Aspirations

220px-Zhuge_Liang“Aspirations should remain lofty and far-sighted. Look to the precedents of the wise. Detach from emotions and desires; get rid of any fixations. Elevate subtle feelings to presence of mind and sympathetic sense. Be patient in tight situations as well as easy one; eliminate all pettiness.

“Seek knowledge by questioning widely; set aside aversion and reluctance. What loss is there in dignity, what worry is there of failure?

“If your will is not strong, if your thought does not oppose injustice, you will fritter away your life stuck in the commonplace, silently submitting to the bonds of emotion, forever cowering before mediocrities, never escaping the downward flow.” ~ Zhuge Liang (Kongming)

Kozo, author of a great blog I read, Everyday Gurus, posted about having lofty goals of becoming awakened and making a difference in the world. It reminded me of the above passage I read as a teenager that changed my life. It reminds me to not just have dreams of helping others, but to have BIG dreams of helping others.

I think Kozo makes a fantastic point in his post, that society is okay with people aspiring for material greatness- a greatness that will die with them- but, often times, looks at visionaries of social justice like they’re crazy or they’ll never achieve their goals. We acknowledge the greatness of world-changing historical figures and their ideas, but many turn away from anyone trying to make a difference today.

kozo

I think it’s time to hold up people like Kozo today with great figures of the past like Kongming. I have found his words and his deeds as important and thought provoking as the philosophy books on my shelf. The world today needs more people dedicated to peace who have Kozo’s courage to stand up for a better way.

I wanted to re-blog Kozo’s original post here, but I think you’ll find it much more rewarding to explore Kozo’s blog on your own. Here are some posts that have really inspired me in the past:

Compassion Can Make You More Attractive

Flash Forgiveness

Men: The Problem and the Solution

Pausing – Living a Deliberate Life

“The art  of living consists in knowing which impulses to obey, and which must be made to obey.” ~ Sydney Harris

pausebuttonThe number one tool in my kit for dealing with life, and for dealing with being bipolar, is Pausing. It is a discipline which, time and again, has rescued me from making horrible decisions, and turned me into someone who deliberately acts, instead of merely reacts, to the world around him.

Pausing is about letting the first impulse pass- that natural, or conditioned, response to various types of stimuli- and engaging my heart and mind fully in deciding which direction I will go. It enables me to choose the higher ground, and invest my time and effort where my life will see the greatest returns. This ‘thinking twice’, in my opinion, is the difference between a human being and a human doing.

Our Subconscious

I’ve learned that our brains are made up of different areas that evolved at different times, each with different levels of activity and consciousness. What we have upstairs is a reptile brain, wrapped in a mammal brain, wrapped in a primate brain, and topped off with a human brain. Whatever we are faced with in life, it is the lower, less-evolved, areas of the brain that get the information first.

This primitive part of our brain is concerned with our immediate survival and safety, and with immediate gratification from fulfilling our needs. It assesses information coming in from our senses and very quickly decides ‘is this something I can eat, do I have to fight or flee, or is this a mating opportunity?’ Based on recognized stimuli and patterns, the less-evolved parts of our brain deliver the impulse to ‘act now!’ to our consciousness in order to help us survive here and now.

What Makes Us Human

evolutionThis doesn’t mean that we automatically act like animals no matter what we face. Just because new stimuli pass through the primitive parts of our psyche first, it doesn’t mean that part of ourselves has final say in what we do.We have evolved the ability to halt the primitive brain’s impulse to act, and employ our capacity to reason out the best course for satisfying our needs in the long run. Indeed, without this ability to halt that first impulse, and carefully deliberate before acting, human civilization couldn’t exist.

Although we have the capacity, as humans, to halt the subconscious’ impulse to act, often times people don’t. People may be preoccupied, distracted, or even lazy- any number of things can keep us from the conscious effort it takes to think twice before acting. That doesn’t mean these people don’t employ their ability to reason in their decision making processes. It just means that they employ their ability to reason after-the-fact, in the form of rationalizing.

How Pausing Helps Me

As someone who is bipolar, my moods can make the impulses from my unconscious frighteningly intense, and almost overwhelming. By conditioning myself to wait even just a few seconds before deciding or acting on anything, it keeps me from acting in ways I’ll then have to rationalize away later on. It also means I can address what my heart wants (that unconscious impulse) while engaging my reasoning mind in the best, most productive, way to follow it.

professionalAs a business person, the discipline of pausing helps me to carefully consider and tailor everything I say and do to maximize results. It gives me a brief moment to step out of myself and respond to the bigger picture. It even helps me to maintain my own professionalism in the face of others who have no sense of it themselves.

Everyday, Pausing helps me to live the life I want to live- a deliberate, productive, and healthy life. I keeps me on top of what’s going on around me, instead of always reacting to a world that’s ever trying to crowd in on me, and push me this way or that.

You Tell Me

Critical thinking prevents gossip and judging others.

One of the things that has really improved my professional life is my learned ability to think critically. It has elevated me to higher positions with organizations and has put me in demand with a number of companies and entrepreneurs. People will ask me to consult on their ideas and plans because I can find the assumptions and leaps where they are missing real data.

Critical thinking, in general, starts with asking ‘how do I know?’ – How do I know the information or claims I’m presented with are true? How do I know my process for assessing the truth of claims is adequate and appropriate? How do I know there is not some better, or even simpler, explanation? How do I know that the source of my information is honest, reliable, and thorough?…

When there is no reasonable answer for ‘how do I know?’, then we have an assumption.

In business, assumptions are only meant to be place holders until actual data can replace them. When they are left in a business plan unchallenged, they can spell disaster for a product or for a company. When people invest, or, they abandon, ideas, products, and opportunities because of assumptions, it is almost always a mistake.

Here’s the strange thing- I know sooo MANY people in the world of business who are great at applying critical thinking skills to their work, but somehow forget about critical thinking in their personal lives.

Some of these people can locate and investigate assumptions that most wouldn’t see. Thinking critically about information they are presented with every day guides their decision making, keeping them from missing opportunities, or being suckered by inadequate research or overly optimistic analyses.

Yet, in their interactions with others, and their assessments of other people’s behavior, these same people seem to engage in magical thinking, mind-reading, and all manner of generalizations and jumping to conclusions.

I can’t understand it.

In my life, critical thinking has spilled over into my personal relationships and it has enriched them beyond measure. Whenever I find myself making a judgment of someone else, I am stopped in my tracks by the question ‘how do I know?’- How do I know I have all the facts about them? How do I am perceiving the things in the right light? How do I know they’re not just having a bad day? Etc, etc…

Now whenever gossip comes my way, I point out that I don’t know what the truth is. I couldn’t possibly know all the facts, or even know if and when I did have all the facts. I may even venture to say that we don’t know all the facts to the person I’m talking with. We don’t know what the future holds in store for a person’s life, where they’re coming from, or how they may grow and evolve… we don’t even know if they need to do any changing.

Truly, the only way we can know something about another person- their motives, their feelings, thoughts, or intentions- is to ask them.

Critical thinking stops me from judging and gossiping, and forces me to engage others in my life, and empower them to be the person they want to be with me, rather than the person I project onto them. When critical thinking is absent in interactions, I notice that talk about others, or the things I say to other people, are replete with assumptions…

You know what they say about assumptions, so ask yourself ‘how do I know?’ next time you find yourself making a judgment of someone else, or engaging in gossip.

Craziness is Happiness

One of the hardest parts about being bipolar is being ‘governed’ by my moods- being at their mercy, and being seemingly helpless to do anything about it. At least, that’s what it’s been like for me in the past. The rational, intelligent person that people know and like was sometimes ‘out of control’ and needed to hide, or even leave town (Ive done that all too many times).

Moods - Manic - One-man party

That was the past.

Today, I’ve learned that if I go with the flow of my moods, instead of fighting them, I can better enjoy life and even turn my moods into something useful- both my upswings and my depressed times.

I used to try to force myself to follow the same patterns of sleep and activity that every other productive member of society follows. It invariably made me miserable, and even increased the severity of some of my symptoms. When I was depressed and forcing myself to be awake and interact with others and smile, I often lost my cool, couldn’t think straight, and rage-quit all kinds of things. When I was manic, I’d try to live my normal social and work life, and end up doing embarrassing and generally uncharacteristic things I’d regret.

Yes, I’ve tried medications. For me, they were worse than the symptoms of being bipolar. Try a sustained emotionally flat condition after experiencing the intense highs and flurries of creativity and productivity that mania produces. It’s like trying to quit a drug habit that’s built into your own brain. While meds made the lows a little less intense, it didn’t make me feel any more ‘alive’ or creative, and I could no longer concentrate on anything for long periods, like reading a book.

Being on meds just robbed me of all the richness that my natural condition produces in my life.

I have come to realize I am really only ‘out of control’ when I fight the way that I am. When I try to make the force of nature, that is my mood, conform to what everyone else expects, I end up miserable and fail utterly every time. Now, I embrace the positive aspects of my moods- the intense creative activity of my manic state, and the ability to concentrate on one thing for endless hours when I’m depressed.

Sure, it takes some practice, and I’ve had some help, redirecting away from where my moods used to take me. I still have to choose, and sometimes work, to keep strange thoughts in check when I’m manic. I still have to remind myself that when I’m depressed, it is an artificial state and I don’t actually have anything to be depressed about.

I’ve taken my power back.

I choose to see my moods as something useful and wonderful. I will find ways to work with my moods, instead of let society dictate to me how I should escape them. Today, I embrace the real me. I will follow a new path- my own path- towards a healthy, happy, and successful life.