Sacred Humans

I saw Fran Liebowitz speak live to a Toronto audience recently. Fran is New York author, actor, and public speaker who famously does not own a computer or smart phone. When asked her thoughts on a certain global event, she said she wouldn’t comment because she wanted everyone to feel safe and didn’t want to start a riot.

I’m not yet ready to give up my devices, although every day it’s more tempting. But I do plan to adopt Fran’s “Don’t want to start a riot” response for myself when it comes to political issues that provoke strong feelings in me but that I can’t personally change. It’s probably for the best to sidestep arguments about world events I can’t personally fix and channel my energy into something more concrete. Besides, all that anger out there just seems to feed the misguided egos of bully leaders who love doubling down on their opposition with a scornful, “Just watch me!”

Most people dedicate their lives to building, fixing, creating, improving, supporting, and all those other actions that humans are so good at. Quietly creating positive change from the inside out. We are sacred humans when we do this sacred work. Imagine a world where we all got on with doing our work and sideswiped the bully leaders.

Sacred Work

I’m told
I live in Dystopia
There’s no escape
It’s foolish to try to fight
The bad and dreadful things.

In the quiet moments I dream
That humans live together as one.
They honour the world around them.
They learn and love and care and grow.
They steward the land and its creatures.
They create beauty and harmony and ease.
They find magic solutions to vexing problems,
Even if the magic solution is to just help Nature be.

I start counting these Sacred Humans, they’re all around me,
Quietly holding the center, standing in place, tendrils tightly entwined.
I forget the bad and dreadful things. There’s too much sacred work to do.

Wired This Way

Human Design Chart Fragment

Human Design is a mixture of Western and Eastern astrology, Kabbalah, and other things, and is a beautiful tool to help you know how you’re wired. I only discovered it last year, and it’s put me on a fast track to knowing myself and what I need.

Through Human Design, I’ve found out I’m a “generator,” which means I’m meant to hold space and support others. To hold back for the right moment, rather than act impulsively or churn stuff out quickly or win arguments—those things leave me soooo frustrated.

Human Design also tells me I’m a “quadruple split definition.” Only 0.5% of the population is wired this way. I won’t get into the mechanical details of what this is, or we’d quickly get lost. There’s so much on the Internet about Human Design if you want to geek out. There’s not much out there about this particular definition however, so I joined a Facebook group where generous folks helped me figure some things out.

To simplify grossly, a quad split has four different personalities (“channels”), all steering in different directions thinking about things in their own way. Because we have four different perspectives, quads process things slowly. It takes a lot of brainpower to make a decision. I like to think this is why I eat all the time, and why my Mom often calls out to me, “Earth to Stephen!” It’s probably also why I’m a writer by profession, a discipline that lets me mull things over until I can get it just right.

Since quad thought processes are so involved, if we aren’t careful we blurt out random things that make people go “whaaaat??” It may seem like we are out in left field, but we do have to check out the entire ball park before we can make up our minds. To my horror, I find that sometimes people act on my words even though I’m still only at Step 1 in figuring it out. I’m learning to keep my mouth firmly shut until I fully know what I’m talking about.

Because we are always processing, quad splits tend to be self-contained and a bit locked down. For example, reading novels or watching movies is a lot of work for me, because I dwell on every detail, processing it multiple ways. It’s exhausting and keeps me awake at night thinking about it, so I’m very selective in what I read or watch.

I wasn’t sure at first whether to pity myself or be excited by the quad split label. But knowing I was wired this way put in motion some big changes. I no longer force myself to make quick decisions unless they’re easy and obvious. I’ve conditioned myself to slow down and sleep on things. I trust that when the answer finally comes, it’s awesome and awesomely me.

By knowing that I’m uniquely wired to be this way, I honour others more for their own unique wiring. I no longer fear otherness in myself or in other people. I try hard not to envy, judge, or compare. I don’t stress over not doing things that are meant for other people to do.

I’m on a fast track now to knowing who I am and what I need, and that’s a great feeling. With this confidence, I am opening myself up more to the magic of new things and new people. I still have frustrating days, but they are getting fewer. Thanks, Human Design!

 

Note: I’ve switched web host providers because the other one was so painfully slow.  A big callout to my friend Erica H who moved me to hers and rescued me from purgatory. I’ve been able to freshen things up a bit and look forward to posting with ease, not dread. I haven’t changed the copy of earlier blog posts, other than removing those pretentious “The Point Being” conclusions.

Surrender

It’s hard to rise above the conditioning that I will never be good enough, that this is a world of scarcity, that I live in a dystopia. But I’m getting there! Those stories are unfortunately true, in some people’s worlds, but in my own world there is love, creation, beauty, kindness, synchronicities. I try to focus on those things, to have gratitude.

I learn to be kind to myself. To be kind to others. To shut out the static and just breathe. To enjoy my body, my surroundings, my friends. To engage more with those who are flesh and blood, engage less with the ideas out there in the ether that aren’t real. The temptation to get stuck in an artificial mental state can be overwhelming. But that’s part of the world we live in, so I let it go and keep on learning.

I learn, with practice, to let my mind have fun engaging with the ether but not to take it all that seriously. In a vast cosmos where I am but a casing of water and dust on a thin rocky surface floating on magma, all those thoughts, those words, those ideas, those “isms,” those “truths” just can’t matter that much. They are but air: breathed in with urgency today, exhaled and dissipated tomorrow.

There are a few truths I live by. I choose to have love for others, not hate. I aim to do the least harm. I get more out of opening myself up than closing myself shut. I can always find joy and amazement. When I zone into the moment, it’s beautiful.

I surrender what’s not working for me outside of these truths.

Surrender

My anger flares at the latest outrage,
Siren chants: war, death, disease, destruction.
Who to blame? Do I need liposuction?
I toss my device, my unease lingers.
I stare at the wall. Silent. Dissecting.
I breath in the air breathed before by those
I’m told to hate. I breath in deep, connect.
Exhale the stale, inhale the new. Release.
I surrender fear. It keeps me silent.
I surrender rage. I can do nothing.
I surrender pride. It holds me hostage.
I surrender thoughts. Let them float away,
They won’t interfere with my growing heart.
I choose love instead. Love can’t be taken.

Inspiration: Everyone out there forging a new world.

Rewriting

I recently saw Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. I loved this movie about tackling one’s issues through the awesome power of accessing other lifetimes in parallel universes to find the badass skills and tools needed for the current situation. It got me thinking about how rewriting is the key to changing one’s attitudes.

In my view, the movie reflects a few things happening in today’s world: the ADHD everything everywhere all at once of our complicated lives, the many world(view)s ready to ensnarl us, the sheer lunacy of all the moving parts we need to dodge, the desire to find out-of-box solutions for the things that just aren’t working for us anymore.

I geeked out and used the movie as a thought exercise. What might happen if I used this timeline magic to go back and rewrite past events that didn’t work out so well for me? Events where I made mistakes, or where my good intentions played out badly? What could I bring to those events then using the badass skills and tools I have now?

When I revisited my cringeworthy stories, I tried to see the other players’ sides, imagined other interpretations I didn’t think of at the time, recast the narratives to be gentler on others, and on myself. I asked myself what I learned from the experiences, even if the learning was tough. Even if the learning was simply that I never did those stupid things ever again, and never will. The events are in the past, so the memories and the attitudes are all that’s left. I can’t change the attitudes of others, but at least I can rewrite my own attitudes if they are holding me back.

A central theme of the movie is to find love and compassion for others, even if they are misguided and dangerous. The protagonist Evelyn will not harm her crazy daughter, even though she is being pressured to do it to save all the universes. She wants to find the keys to help her daughter change. In the crazy world of everything everywhere all at once, there are always more keys to try.

Evelyn discovers that unconditional love is the only way to defuse her daughter’s craziness, and calm all the universes. My thought experiment reminded me that love is at the heart of rewriting my own stories. Compassion, understanding, surrender, forgiveness—for others, and for myself. It’s only when your heart decides it’s OK that you can change the story and make it OK.

Keywords to explore: recapitulation therapy, ho’oponopono

Mind

The human mind, the brain ego, is a curious thing. It never stops. It is capable of amazing ingenuity to push the world in new directions (Shakespeare, Einstein, Galileo, da Vinci, Mozart). Or it can languish in a dark place of circular logic, negative thoughts, and imaginary dragons—until the human it’s attached to is convinced of defeat and gives up.

Some people are blessed with a Rolls Royce mind that just gets things: processing data and weighing options without emotional attachment to come to the best conclusion, given the circumstances. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes is a metaphor for that type of superhuman. Then there’s the rest of us, muddling along, overwhelmed with all that brain static.

Exercises to calm the mind are helpful. I’ve tried them all. Self-help books. Yoga. Meditation. Journaling. Spirituality. Philosophy. Altered states. Sleep (yay sleep!). Talk therapy (it’s fun to pay to drive people crazy, haha!). Any of these can work, with persistence and openness and patience. But you can’t really change deeply until your heart tells you it’s time.

A breakthrough for me came a few years back when a friend told me to personify that ego voice inside me, that organizer that tells me what I should/n’t do, could/n’t do, would/n’t do. Did you know that the English language specializes in these conditional tenses? When I asked a Parisian how to translate “I would do this” to French, he huffed that the French language had no such thing. English, he added, was la langue du diable.

Anyway, I was asked to personify this creature, this inner voice who always brings up conditions and limitations and defeats. I was asked to give it a name. I called it Igor. Yeah, the mad scientist’s assistant, not so original. Then they told me to shoe Igor away. Poor Igor, I thought.

The first chapter of Untethered Soul (Michael A. Singer) does a nice job of helping us understand our inner voice, what Singer calls the inner roommate. If Igor were my roommate, I wouldn’t tolerate his droning on for more than three minutes. But I can’t shoe Igor away, we are too attached.

I’ve even come to appreciate Igor. He can get annoying, but he’s the one who tells me to stop for traffic lights, pay my taxes, get my deadlines done, stay out of trouble. I need him to navigate the complicated human world, to keep me safe, to edit my words and thoughts. So I’ve accepted Igor as my inseparable roommate. I just try to make him relax when I don’t need him. I love you Igor, now go take a nap.

Body

The body

I didn’t really know my body at all until my 30s, when I hired a personal trainer. My body was something I relied on to get me from point A to point B, to house a brain, to enjoy a drink or five. I can’t speak for others, but I wonder if this attitude might be the case for lots of people even today.

The trainer (thanks Martin!) taught me that if I focus on (“isolate”) one muscle group, I could get to know it, help it flourish. I’m blessed with some robust DNA, so expanding those muscles was easy for me, once I stopped protesting about how much it hurt and how I couldn’t possibly do it.

Fast forward decades later. My body is no longer a 25-year-old machine that can take any amount of abuse. I have to watch what I put in it, and move it around to keep those muscles from seizing up. But I’ve come to honour my body and listen to it, because it’s my temple. It’s the thing that lets me function in this world.

Our bodies are incredible machines. The muscles and sinews perfectly align to propel us, perform our will. All those sensing organs work seamlessly for us to engage in the cosmos around us. The DNA at the base of it all replicates, heals, advances, cheers us on with a happy feeling when we accomplish things.

The body’s magic is that it just does this stuff without our even needing to be aware of what it’s doing. Most of us just ignore our body. Put whatever into it, deprive it of sleep, muddle along. For some unfortunate people their body rebels, but for the majority their body just goes on and on without much more protest than the occasional hurt and pain. Until one day it stops.

It’s so hard here not to give glib advice. Get to know your body! Watch what you eat! Get moving! You’re bombarded with this advice I’m sure. Problem is, for humans the mind games sabotage the body. In my view, it starts by working on the mind …

Words [2]

Melting words

It’s three years since my last blog post. There was a pandemic. Things got crazy out there. And words seemed so … difficult. Loaded. Ephemeral. Not suited to purpose. Often disguising bullshit. It didn’t seem worth the effort to try to say something that couldn’t really be expressed adequately with words.

I did write words in angsty cursive, filling many hard-cover journals bought at the art store. Mostly lists of what I should be doing but don’t quite get to. (Declutter my house! Wash my walls! Contact people! Write a blog entry!!) With the occasional attempt at philosophy. And lots of “I want to blog about that one day!”

I went through awkward phases of purposeful ignorance, hiding out, blocking out, cursing out, checking out. But along the way some magic happened. I learned, with effort, to inhale and exhale with no other focus but to the person (or animal or plant or rock) in front of me at that moment. To feel honoured that I’m in a brief moment of time on a beautiful planet. That, yes, I’m insignificant in the universal scheme of things but yet, here I am with so many levels of consciousness and awareness. And with so many other beings going through it with me. I learned gratitude for all this.

These experiences started to feel so intense that I wanted to share them. But when I tried explaining to people in person, their eyes darted away and they changed the subject. I realized that I needed to write down the words and edit them ruthlessly to figure it out. Maybe I can get words to work after all …

So here goes. Blog 2.0.

Obstacles

Obstacles

Behold! This is a blog post that stopped my blogging in its tracks. Ironically, it’s about obstacles. I’m going to just publish and move on …

Many months ago, back when the grass was green, I had an errand up at the Eglinton West subway station. For those of you not living in Toronto, the Eglinton Street corridor across the entire city is a giant construction site, as they work on a new transit line. At this station, there was a big detour where I had to cross an intersection three times, walk down a sidestreet, and then across a parkette, all to get going back in an easterly direction.

I’m not the type to complain about necessary detours. But what I did find annoying was the portable fence the City put up along the sidestreet to discourage people from shortening their route across the parkette. As you can see in the picture, the fence blocked a path already well worn, the grass long gone. What possessed the City to put up this fence? To protect the rest of the grass? Maybe to protect the tree roots? To force people to use the paved path they were supposed to use? It’s a mystery.

The moose is an animal known for taking a straight line to its destination, and typically just climbs over (or through) obstacles in its way. I confess I like to “moose it”. So if there’s a parking lot or lawn or any sort of open space, I automatically use the shortest path to cut out the corner. I’ve even been known to climb a fence or two, if I feel sprightly that day. I guess you could say I like to “cut corners.” Luckily I’m not building buildings or bridges, or living in France where they insist you keep off the grass.

My inner moose was deeply offended by this fence. It was just a bit too tall and flimsy for me to climb over gracefully. Luckily I could just walk around the fence, unlike so many other fences in the world. It wasn’t a big deal in the scheme of things. But it struck me as an odd thing, and I took the photo so I could think about it and maybe grumble about it later to others.

To me, this fence is a good example of all those obstacles that push us into following the expected path. Not in this case, but often, it boils down to protecting private property, and that’s the system we live in, to discourage moose like me. Some obstacles are essential for our safety and peace of mind (railings, online banking signins, red lights). And sometimes they are just in the way (like this fence, or those lineup control barriers when nobody is in line). We grumble, walk the path demanded of us, and carry on.

The main point I guess is to not let obstacles get in your way. Like I let this blog post get in the way of my blogging. I had lots of fancy concepts to add here, and many more references to “what would the moose do?”, but all those additions just seemed to take away from the message.  So I’m cutting my losses here. Sometimes obstacles teach us to just move on.

Words (1)

Words in so many languages

In my previous blog post on technical writing, I talked about words being at the heart of human creation. They form the ideas that change our physical world. In this post, I want to talk more about how words create change, and how we can use the power of words to start creating change within ourselves.

Look around you. Unless you’re standing in the woods, chances are most everything you see was at one point a discussion between a few people, or an idea somebody got from talking to somebody else. The smartphone or computer you are reading this on. The car you’re driving. The newest breed of cat. Not much in our world is natural anymore. (Google “Anthropocene”). And all this because people keep asking, “What if I did this?” (“What if I get a cute baby python? Wouldn’t that be cool!”)

It’s not just the physical world of course. Our politics, our media, our laws, our knowledge, our perceptions  … EVERYTHING hinges on words. Words and the ideas they represent have supreme power in the human world, and they evolve and grow along with us.

It’s important to remember that words are just tools. They have no morality. They can be used equally for good or for bad. Your newsfeed is no doubt full of stories about bad players using words for all kinds of nefarious purposes, and whole industries are devoted to twisting words to create profit, or worse. (Google “Cambridge Analytica.”) And I’ve noticed that some leaders disavow or discredit the words they say at the same time as they use them to plant horrible ideas (“A lot of people are saying …”) Yep, people use words (and images) in twisted ways these days. It makes sense to be wary of the words you hear or read. It also makes sense to be wary of the words you use about yourself.

Watch your language!

The language you use gives you power, or robs you of it. If you are part of the 99.9% of humanity (estimated) who isn’t a hardened narcissist, chances are you use negative language to define yourself. It’s how most of us were raised, it’s in our environment, it’s drilled into us.

I catch myself using negative language about myself all the time. I am more on top of it now, but it is still a very easy trap to fall into. The “Itty Bitty Shitty Committee” (IBSC) planted in your head is ruthless if you let it be. “I’m not good enough,” “I can’t,” “If only I had done it differently,” “They are way smarter than me,” “I better not say anything,” “It’s what people are saying about me.” You may have similar edicts issued by your own IBSC.

The goal is to recognize when your ISBC is engaged, and try to stop it from wasting your time and energy. It’s an ongoing battle and takes lots of self-knowledge. The process can be helped when you’re open to getting kind feedback from others. (And, on the other hand, you need awareness to know when feedback is not kind and needs to be ignored.)

A few years back a sage teacher told me to write “I will try” many many times on a piece of paper, wrap it around a small rock (obsidian, to cleanse psychic smog) and bury it in the woods. This ceremony sealed it for me: I consciously avoid that expression now, or at least am aware when I say it. I shoulda listened to Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Speaking of shoulda, that’s another word that gives away your power. You can’t change the past, so don’t spend your time worrying about it. Focus on the now and what you can do to make amends and move forward.

I’m now working on the theory that all the non-committal words we use to beat ourselves up and feel inadequate (I’ll try, I should, I can’t) can usually be boiled down to “I don’t want to.” The wishful words (I wish, I hope, I pray, If only) can, if we are being sincere using them, be boiled down to “I want (but I dare not dream it’s possible)”. It would be an interesting world if everyone just said “I want to” or “I don’t want to.” A bit scary and in-your-face, but less complicated with less politics and way more achievement of personal and societal goals.

I’ve had great feedback from caring people over the years, and now I’ve started annoying others by pointing out when their words rob them of power. We all deserve better than to go around wishing and hoping and praying and never doing anything about it.

A very wise woman told me once that we as humans have the power to change everything in our world if we just change our thoughts. At that time in my life I didn’t understand what she meant at all. But she did plant an idea in my head, and now I see her vision. If enough people were more careful with their words and started to use them to change their way of thinking, who knows where it could lead?

Technical Writing

I’ve been a technical writer in software companies for a long long time. This is my attempt to explain what I do and make it exciting! I’m in the job market right now, so this is a necessary blog post (for the portfolio and all).

Here is my take on what technical writers do: we simplify complicated concepts so people can understand them.

Technical writers:

  • Use simple language. Occasionally I use big words, if they are just right. But mostly I use simpler words that more people will understand. This will probably always be my writing style. I think this habit developed when I was young and started learning words that other people didn’t know. It was easier just not to use them, trust me.
  • Are allergic to jargon. Acronyms and arcane technical terms set off my antennae. If I don’t know what something means, chances are the average user won’t. (In the tech world, “users” are the people who actually use the software after it’s bought. If they need to read manuals or use help, chances are they won’t know the latest jargon.)
  • Are logical and a bit OCD. I have a different way of thinking than engineers, because I need to make lateral leaps to condense information. I’m fond of trying to find metaphors and running with them until they don’t work anymore, which is very annoying to some literalists. But, I do need logic to ask the right questions so I can explain things step by step. I like using numbered lists to do this, and making sure topics follow along rationally. I like to order information just so (that’s where the OCD part comes in).
  • Ask, “What would a person do with that?” and other “dumb” questions everybody is afraid to ask. People writing software often work in a small area of the code, so may not have time to think about the big picture or “the user experience” (how users actually use the software in real life). Sometimes there are team members who can explain everything to me (Yay! Love them!) But sometimes everyone on the team is stumped and I need to avoid explanations entirely. I’m not proud when that happens, but it’s not literature I’m writing and there are deadlines.
  • Are sometimes the canaries in the coal mine. If everyone has worked on their little piece of the project and nobody has tried to put it all together logically until the writer comes along, my job is sometimes to say “This isn’t making sense.” Occasionally I uncover a flaw nobody thought of. Sometimes I have to squawk about how I just don’t understand it at all. Luckily not often.

Fun fact! In French, technical writers are called “vulgarisateurs” or “redacteurs.” I’d like to be called a redactive vulgarizer, it kinda makes me feel badass.

Technical writers, like many others in the software industry, can suffer from burnout. It is really easy to start feeling defensive, especially if you’re the only one asking the dumb questions every day and people are too stressed to answer them. As well, we have to accept that our thousand-page magnum opuses (aka manuals) will be stale within a couple of years because technology changes so quickly. With the Internet, I guess we are no longer alone in this. Words have become a giant data storage experiment, and should all have a best-before date given the rapid change we all are going through. (They are stored “forever” though—that is a topic for another post.)

I’m up for being a cheerleader though. In the current age, I’m excited to be engaged in finding clear explanations, with a dash of vulgarization thrown in to get at the big picture. I have come to realize that words create change. If you explain something well enough for people to grasp a new idea, it means that idea can take flight. “What would I do with that?” is a question that has been asked throughout the ages, probably starting with someone wondering why someone else was rubbing two sticks together. The answers to that fundamental question have driven human innovation to astonishing levels.

Thanks for reading to the end. 🙂