7 Steps to Get out of the Your Procrastination State (and get your Creative Juices Flowing)

I think I have some reasonably good ideas pertaining to understanding and working with parts of self. In fact, I have an ongoing project that I am undertaking around this topic which fulfills me intellectually and spiritually and that I hope will help both my patients and myself. During the course of any given day, I might have insights and ideas pertaining to this project that I will jot down into one of my many composition books, or if one is not within arms reach, a random slip of paper. For some reason, in bed at night I tend have the most profound ideas, and often I can even muster the discipline to turn on the light grab my comp book and make a note.

Multiple-Personality-DisorderYet, when I am ready to sit down and write, to pull it all together, one of my parts emerges with a vengeance and dominates my personality. It is Procrastination. When under the spell of Procrastination, have a sudden urge to do anything but work. In fact in between this sentence and the last, one of my parts, Ms. Procrastination, compelled me to spend 17 minutes scrolling Facebook.  So what is it about the task of having to write that is so damn painful that I have to distract myself with something mindless, and how to I switch out of this state?

It is as if the sensation of this part is physically holding you back from what you know to be the greater good, that it is dead-set on keeping you away from what you are doing and attending to it. Most of us know that Procrastination is a member of our internal family, and it may seem a more formidable sub-personality in people trying to produce creative content. In me Procrastination is characterized by a daunting feeling of futility that sets in when I get the idea to start the project, as well as a desire for instant gratification. It’s as if she’s telling me that the hard work I am considering embarking on won’t result in anything and why not just enjoy myself?

I also think also many of us who want to be create content, start businesses, or produce art are daunted by the sheer productivity of famous people who really are doing so. A best-selling author recently said that he gets up early, and works non-stop “as hard as I can” for 16 hours. Elon Musk, arguably the most productive person on the planet, also works continually and needs less sleep than the average person – 6 hours or so. I have heard tell of some insanely productive people are blessed with the need for as little as 3-4 hours a night.

But most of us don’t live this super-productive paradigm. This admission is realistic, as is the notion that most of us will never be Elon Musk. However that doesn’t mean we can’t be productive and create content of significance or beauty in it’s own right, and maybe even that will improve the world. But to do this, however, means to overcome the negative state of mind that besets us when we embark on something that requires us to be actively involved in the difficulty of creating something, rather than engaging in the vicarious thrill of passively experiencing the inner world of Elon in this Joe Rogan interview.

So, we need a plan to gently put Procrastination aside for a period of time. And in the spirit of us all contributing to the self-and-world improvement project I will share some strategies.

1. Schedule a Block of Time

This is something that everyone who gives productivity advice tells you. You need to schedule writing time. And there is a reason for this. Because it works. The first step in convincing yourself to work is to schedule it as necessary – as if it is part of your job.

Graham Green, one of the 20th century’s most notable authors would work religiously from 8-12, then take the rest of the day off. Naturally, as I often do, I must mention Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, who rose in the middle of the night to work on his great autobiographical novel before going to his job in the morning. Herman Melville, EB White and many of the greats had a set routine for writing.

No question a routine is necessary, which for practical purposes can manifest as a set block of time. But how much time? It has been demonstrated that approximately 3 hours in a day is the maximum amount of time you can fully concentrate on anything and still remain productive. This is heartening, because it means you can relieve yourself of the notion that of devoting excessive amounts of time to your project will make you more virtuous.

So, why not have 1 hour a day that you devote to your creative endeavor. Most of us can manage this. Then, perhaps try those 3 optimal hours of production on the weekend. Think of these slots as necessary parts of your day, and schedule them on your calendar

2. Turn Off the internet

I could go into detail as to why this is a non-negotiable step in the process of avoiding procrastination, but I think we all know the reasoning behind this critical of steps. You can access all manner of data and scientific evidence of the detrimental impact of excessive interaction with your phone.

Let’s make no bones about it. The internet, and social media in particular is the biggest time suck there is. And it’s extremely addictive. Listen to these giants of tech expound on the problematic nature of social media:

So, enough said about this step. It is necessary.

3. Use Active Imagination

The great psychologist Carl Jung forced himself to sit alone in his office for 2 hours a day, and allow his imagination to run wild. The result of many years of this regular practice was his masterpiece, “The Red Book”. His dedication to this block of time to just be with his unconscious resulted, after several years, in a work of profound psychological depth and beauty.

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Sit there in front of your screen or notebook, and rather that becoming frustrated with lack of creativity. Just sit with your mind and let your unconscious take over. Keep the project in mind, but don’t distress if your mind wanders a bit. If you have the goal in mind, have faith that the unconscious will help you if you give it some leeway.

4. Have a Related Side Project

Say you are really stuck. Your frustration or blankness is simply too impenetrable. A good antidote to pursue a fairly rote or even mindless task that has to be done pertaining to your project so the aggravation of having to produce ideas from the blue is temporarily assuaged.

A good strategy for me to use during my scheduled time is making notes from a book that I need to read and digest for the project anyway. Some other examples of segueing into a related project if, say, you are working on something artistic, would be to sketch out related images, or practicing scales or a song you are otherwise trying to master, if working on something musical. Or your could organize your paperwork, review your notes or again, if writing or doing videography, just do a little fine tuning or editing of what you have so far.

This approach solves 2 problems: 1. You aren’t faced with a blank sheet, blank surface and a blank mind, you actually are using your scheduled time and it does not require any exceptional creativity to make notes. 2. It keeps you away from filling that gap with those oh-so-familiar distractions you rationalize as “productive”, such as pairing your socks, doing the dishes, or cleaning the dust bunnies from under your couch.

5. Sub-Schedule a Break

Depending how long you plan to work, schedule a mid-way break. If you are working longer than an hour, schedule quarterly breaks. For example, every 45 minutes, give yourself 5 minutes to unwind, do a few reps with hand weights or run up and down the stairs, play with your cat, make a short personal call…again anything but getting on the internet!! Don’t go down that Rabbit Hole! But do give yourself a chance to regroup and then return at least partially refreshed.

6. Reward

“Give yourself a reward engages our basic instincts for something pleasurable at the end of a period of difficulty.

Graham Green, who I previously mentioned, would finish his work at 12pm, then go for daiquiris before lunch and spend the afternoon lunching with friends. Now, remember Green was writing in the middle part of the 20th century, where views of alcohol consumption were quite different. Think Mad Men. So obviously, I don’t recommend alcohol as a reward, but I do recommend scheduling a fun event, a romantic interlude, taking a walk in the park, a healthy snack like a Keto fat bomb, or if you have a regular practice – a meditation session. Which brings me to…

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7. Meditation

Yes, I know I continually recommend meditation, but there’s a reason. This is a practice that will both decrease the occurrence of negative emotion bubbling to the surface (including that depressive feeling of futility) and increase your capacity for concentration. All creative souls should have a meditation practice of some sort. So get in the habit of this – start with 5 minutes, use an app like Headspace, or a wonderful personal neurofeedback device called Muse.

While you can incorporate meditation in the breaks or as a reward (if you are so inclined), it is really an ongoing support of your project. It is also a method to care for the mind and the soul that has demonstrated with robust evidence as to it’s positive benefit across all domains of life.

It is also important to be aware of your capacity for distraction and for the characteristic negative feelings toward difficult creative tasks from your Procrastination part that prevent you from working. With meditation comes the increased skill of mindfulness that we can use to notice Procrastination and gently ask her to let us be for now, that we will get to her needs for more passive entertainments when we are through.

So there you have it. 7 ways to tackle this substantial and mostly universal state called Procrastination. Surely there are countless additions to this list, but these tend to work for me so far. And remember, the state of Procrastination is one that most of us have in our cast of inner characters. Like any of our troublesome parts, she needs to be respected and worked with, not against. If we malign any of our states and try to get rid of them; to suppress them, they will furtively find a way to undermine us…like those 17 minutes of Facebook, because I “somehow” forgot to put the iPad on airplane mode!!

A Philosophy Whose Time has Come – Plus, Book Club Anyone?

I think the MOQ is a philosophy whose time has come. I will reiterate why it’s time to take this seriously. We need a way of seeing things that tap into the eternal pattern of the universe. This may sound airy-fairy but it’s is far from that in my opinion. In fact, two very functional philosophies, Zen Buddhism and James’ pragmatism can marry up to be so useful as a way to operate in the world as in the metaphysics of Quality.

In Zamm, Phaedrus realizes that hypotheses are pretty much infinite. So how do you figure what’s right? What’s best? That was the catalyst for finding the Ghost of Reason (that said there was a Good that could be arrived at dialectically), and thrashing it good. Phaedrus knew a new metaphysics was in order. One that could discern the best facts. So, we need a new way of conceptualizing what’s best, otherwise, we’re stuck relying on reason for this job, and as we see nowadays, from the same facts you get both Yanni and Laurel.

So you see why it is being said facts don’t matter? Because information has become so complex that our old Subject/Object metaphysics (SOM) can’t handle it anymore. Remember that in The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, once language became sufficiently metaphor-rich, people became able to hold abstractions in mind, and they didn’t need the Gods anymore. Now we don’t need the Ghost of Reason as we once did.

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I want to see if anyone is interested in reading ZAMM with me. I’ve read it and listened to it a few times, but now I want to go back and read it more carefully with special emphasis on tracing the evolution of the MOQ, I think.

So my question is to you all, is should we do some kind of book club? Maybe have a dialog in the comment sections. OR even if Anyone who is interested, we could do some split screen discussions which I can post. Let’s get this show on the road!

A New Problem, and Old Friend

 

As I’ve been working on this way to use Pirsig’s work and theories to apply to actual life Like I said I’ve had to take a step back and realize mountain ahead I have to climb before I get there. But there is one tenet that has started to consolidate.

So the early iteration of this tenet might be:

Rather than taking political sides, attempt to see all points of view before making a Quality decision.

Why does this fit into Pirsig? Because the mechanism of Quality is to sit with the facts and allow the best ones to emerge. The ones that have Quality. And remember, Quality isn’t a thing, it’s an ongoing emergence. What is prescribed by Pirsig seems to me, so far, to be in a state of consciousness that allows this emergence. This is the state Peace of mind and of caring about what you doing.

I’d like to elaborate on this though.

As we find ourselves in the middle of a culture war, that just keeps escalating, what is going to pull us out of this is probably something like transcending to the Teal level that Ken Wilber is describing in his theory. This means, learning how to step outside yourself and your opinions, and survey the landscape of human experience.

I think there are several thinkers out there trying to bridge the gap. But The one that has worked the best for me is Jon Haidt. In his social intuitionist model, he states that intuition comes first and reasoning comes after a judgment is made, in order to justify your opinion or actions to others.

Haidt calls the emotional responses of the limbic system of the brain the elephant and rationality the rider. This is basically a paradigm shift of how we view the way we are, but it’s an important one, which is why one of the preeminent neuroscientists Damasio called his most famous book “Descartes Error” So it’s actually, I am therefore I reason.

So, in my last video, I mentioned that Jonathan Haidt recommended reading Dale Carnegie, and he’s right

Here’s what he says on page 57 of the righteous mind:

If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants. You’ve got to use links 3 and 4 of the social intuitionist model to elicit new intuitions, not new rationales

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To go on:

Dale Carnegie was one of the greatest elephant-whisperers of all time. In his classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Carnegie repeatedly urged readers to avoid direct confrontations. Instead, he advised people to “begin in a friendly way,” to “smile,” to “be a good listener,” and “never say ‘you’re wrong’”. The persuader’s goal should be to convey respect, warmth, and an openness to dialog before stating one’s own case. Carnegie was urging readers to use link 4, the social persuasion link, to prepare the ground before attempting to use link 3, the reasoned persuasion link.

Then he goes on to say

From my description of Carnegie so far, you might think his techniques are superficial and manipulative, appropriate only for sales people. But Carnegie was, in fact, a brilliant moral psychologist who grasped one of the deepest truths about conflict. He used a quotation from Henry Ford to express it: “If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own.”

Carnegie realized that if we do in fact see things from their angle, our own elephant may be transformed as well. That may be what people are afraid of, in fact. To be as open as he prescribes takes us out of the Righteous mind, and possibly into that State that ZAMM describes in the Gumption Chautauqua, and that I will use this book – very helpful btw – to describe:

When through caring and Peace of Mind we allow Quality to stimulate ad guide the fusion of subjectivity and objectivity into creative discoveries and illuminating creations.

And I will be using that quote again, I am sure.

So, one time long ago, before the culture war we had Good Manners. Good manners have social Quality. Let’s bring them back! This book is a very good primer.

 

Dale Carnegie, Taming the Elephant, and Self Transcendence.

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My Wartime edition of the Carnegie Classic

I never would have considered reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People if it had not been for Jonathan Haidt’s great book, The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. After all, the title indicates it might be full of superficial strategies to get people to like you so you can sell them stuff. That did not turn out to be the case. You can see in the picture above, I read this book literally, “to death”. But a caveat – this is a 1945 Wartime edition and was meant to serve an immediate purpose, as well as being frugally produced for the war effort, so not particularly durable.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, one of the most useful ideas to come from Haidt’s book is the analogy of a person’s point of view to a rider and elephant. The elephant, for simplicity, the more “primitive” cognitive mechanisms decide on something, and the rider of the elephant “reason”, a more “advanced” mechanism acts as a lawyer, advocate or PR guy to justify the elephant’s decision rather than – as you might think – coolly weigh the evidence and formulate the most logical opinion. Haidt characterizes Carnegie as a “brilliant moral psychologist” who knows how to “talk to the elephant”; to appeal to emotions, which is the only way to actually begin any kind of meaningful relationship with another person – be it business, political or personal.

Of the elephant, Carnegie says: “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.” The rider will “…attempt by a form of reasoning, either fallacious or logical to justify their…acts”. But do not dwell on the negativity inherent in these assessments. In order to understand people, it is necessary to begin with a clear-headed view of human nature. This realistic psychological profile is the beginning of a series of strategies to decrease defenses and increase genuine communication in a way that would make Carl Rogers proud.

Carnegie’s little book, in diameter only as it is a tight 287 pages, is chock full of the sort of advice that memes and affirmations attempt to convey in a simplistic and ultimately lackluster fashion. In contrast, this book is neither simplistic nor lackluster. Instead, it is a deep and vibrant investigation into human nature with a genuine heart of research conveyed with accessible language and numerous examples. In order to demonstrate the universal applicability of his theory,  Carnegie references the stories of well known businessmen and celebrities of the time, but more importantly lavishly shares the insight of the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and Freud and the early psychologist William James, as well as the timeless wisdom of the Buddha, Lao Tzu and Jesus Christ. In four sections, he succinctly summarizes ways that the greats have learned to productively deal with other people on a daily basis, in some of the most harrowing and history-altering circumstances, and in some in ways that permanently changed the morality of immense groups of followers for centuries after.

And what of the advice? Geniuses have a way of articulating things we already know but have failed to properly investigate. The book is filled with observations of ways to engender positive relations, among which are:

  • “Criticism is futile”, he says. It only puts people on the defensive and all the more determined to maintain fixedly their point of view in response to their wounded pride. Nobody responds well to criticism, no matter how correct the criticism seems to be. (This certainly played out in our momentous election)
  • People want to feel important. It is among the greatest of desires, and there is always something you can genuinely admire in someone else if you are willing to look for it. Let them know what it is! Holding someone in esteem gives them a noble ideal to live up to – and people will do their best to do so.
  • Take an interest in people. Listen carefully to what they have to say, and find something that sticks out. It might take a little patience, but eventually, anyone will say something that strikes you. From here you can begin to connect.
  • From Ben Franklin: Don’t directly contradict someone, and don’t convey a fixed opinion with the dogmatic words “always” “never” “undoubtedly”, etc. Observe that in certain cases, a person’s point of view may be correct, even if it is not completely so in this case.
  • Have the guts and the self-control to listen to people’s tirades. They are venting – once this anxiety is discharged, the person will calm down and a dialog can begin.
  • Show respect for other people’s ideas. Be open to the fact that what they have to say may add to or transform your point of view – and if it does, give them credit! As the Tao says, “The reason why rivers receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them”. Ask yourself; do you want credit or results
  • Preserve the right mental attitude of courage, frankness and good cheer…and smile…
  • Make an effort to remember people’s names

“But wait!”, you may say. “How can you be interested, be genuinely interested in people? Isn’t this just positive psychology and again the dreary platitudes that sound good but you can never force yourself to really execute?” On the surface, perhaps. However, by following Carnegie’s directive to making a sincere effort to understand the emotional makeup of another person and stand in their shoes, you will necessarily find any straw man or adversary turns into another human being who has the same kind of fears and desires as you do. Once you find yourself open to listening, you will be transformed involuntarily – and that is the real genius of Dale Carnegie. By following his method you become not just a better communicator, salesman, friend and the like – you become a better person.

The book is not perfect… The title itself can be off-putting, implying the desire to get something over on someone, and to “win”. There are some cases in which the protagonists in the illustrative real-life narratives are not exactly operating from the prescribed standpoint of complete genuine appreciation, sometimes exaggerating the merits of their target with white lies. In other examples, he likely cherry picks stories involving known tyrants such as Andrew Carnegie (no relation) that illustrate his points. It is also dated. Many examples involve businessmen and celebrities who were the Elon Musks and the Brad Pitts of their day, but hearing how Ziegfeld presented each of his chorus girls with a dozen roses may cause the modern reader to wonder, “who was Ziegfeld and what is a chorus girl?”…And there are far more obscure examples.

Additionally, and this is a big one, it is not easy to follow the techniques in this book if you are stuck in your own importance, your own need for validation and instant gratification. This book is calling for is something far greater from the reader than following his techniques for making relationships more positive. This book is calling for ego transcendence and a view of the world in a way that is not unlike a spiritual transformation. In order to carry out any of the advice in this book, you must have decided upon an orientation toward the good, to genuinely want things to improve. This requires more than following 90-year-old advice; it requires a true desire for things to get better rather than an egoic need to being right. “I am not advocating a bag of tricks”, states Carnegie, “ I am talking about a new way of life.”

 

You Don’t Have to Take Sides – Quality and Political Opinion

You don’t have to take political sides…Imagine that.

One great way to evoke that subliminal self that allows you to detect Quality is to watch the news. Can you sit through half an hour of CNN or FOX and allow yourself to be totally objective? Try it. It’s really hard! Your preconceived value system is dying to kick right in. Your cognitive biases are almost impenetrable. So many people of us either TDS or MAGA!

But it’s a really good exercise…and if you can do this, you may find you start coming up with some truly original opinions based on the Quality that we now know is certainly there. What you see as valuable will emerge if you let it.

 

 

And people who do this as a basis of their writing, theoretical work, or in conversation are usually much more interesting to listen to or read then someone following a party line, no matter how brilliant they are. These original thinkers are very aware of their confirmation bias, and circumvent it by allowing the subliminal self, allowing Quality, what they see as of value, to inform the content of their material.

One thing you will find about these people is they are very difficult to pinpoint politically.

Here are some examples who you may have heard of and who you can easily find on Youtube:

Jordan Peterson: A lot of the media will smear him as far right, but he declares himself to be a classical liberal. He has a lot to offer to both the lost young men of our time AND to women who want to learn how to ask for a raise or otherwise more assertive on the job. He seems to dislike Trump, but understands why he was elected as he is looking at the world through his own theoretical framework outlined in Maps of Meaning and popularized in 12 Rules for Life.

Scott Adams: the creator of the Dilbert comic strip claims to be to the Left of Bernie on social issues, yet he is primarily followed by Trump supporters, who he often has to warn when he is about to give credit to the left, which he does frequently. His lack of insistence on following a preconceived political stance, coupled with a high level of creativity (which often goes hand in hand with this state of being) yield useful and original solutions to seemingly unsolvable political and practical problems

Jonathan Haidt: In a lot of ways, his moral foundations theory illustrates how a person’s political beliefs are often contingent on their moral system – and moral systems can be very different for conservatives than for liberals. This knowledge alone opens up an avenue to entertain the possibility that there isn’t one way to see political beliefs.

Bret Weinstein, the evolutionary biologist gives a great lecture on being open-minded enough to reach across the aisle and that the real political difference is libertarian versus authoritarian – and you can test yourself, by the way, to see where you are – it’s the political compass test. Well, that is a good parallel the Quality state of mind in terms of looking at political issues, because a libertarian mindset is open enough to entertain opposing ideas, whereas the authoritarian mindset isn’t – the preconceived value mindset.

And naturally, Pirsig. You think he’s neither hip nor square, and in the book, you will find he has great reverence for an old-style American way of living, while having great reverence for the Eastern way of being, and a revolutionary philosopher – many fans who were what you could classify as hippies, nerds, and outcasts.

So this is a short reflection on implementing Quality in a couple of life domains – connection, getting along with people, and Mind, improving your intellect.

Seeking a Quality Existence Inspired by ZAMM

I am very inspired by the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance. So much so, that I feel the ideas in this book are keys to a better way of being.

I have started a YouTube Channel, A Quality Existence, where I explore how to discern a harmonious way of being in a confusing world.

 

There are all sorts of things to be learned from Zamm. It is almost a type of Bible in the sense that the wisdom inside the pages is so eternal, so broad, and so applicable to the human experience, past present and even future. For example, much of what Pirsig was noticing within these pages was a way that the world is changing rapidly due to technology, and how technology affects all manner of human relationships, with each other, with lofty ideas, with nature, with everything really. His observations and predictions are all the more apt today, as technology advances at a dizzying rate.

I suspect most of you know this book, which is why you clicked on this channel. But for those of you who don’t, its a book about a singular genius named Phaedrus who drives himself crazy searching for Quality; and how his post-treatment self, who is essentially a “new personality”, the narrator of the book, tries to recreate his search and coming to some conclusions based on fragments of memories and a trunkful of notebooks, to implement the findings in the world.

While Phaedrus’ quest of Quality is described both in a linear and in abstract fashion, probably the one attempt to articulate it that stands out the most for me is when the book discusses another singular genius’ own search, that of 19th century mathematician Henri Poincare. In his search for how mathematicians arrive at facts, he observed that this wasn’t exactly a logical method, it was more a felt sense of harmony that would allow the mathematician to make a choice of the infinite amount of mathematical combinations.

At one critical point, which actually is the point that the “crazy genius” Phaedrus falls apart from the impact of realization, he likens Quality with Tao. And the Tao operates in very much the same way as Quality – it is a sense of harmony that emerges from chaos.

The great philosopher Alan Watts, who was in a large part responsible for the understanding and adoption of Eastern thought in the West in the mid 60’s, once illustrated the way of Zen meditation thusly: A heron gazes at the water without straining to see a fish. He is looking at the water as a whole. A fish will be there, and by allowing the whole area of vision to come to his eyes, he will see the ripple in the water, wherever it is.

These are some illustrations of the attitude of Quality.

In the real world, says the “cured” narrator in Zamm, the one who is piecing together Phaedrus’ explorations into quality and applying them to life, Quality is what you care about, what gives meaning, what shines forth out of the Chaos.

Exploring Quality and applying it in the world is what I would like to attempt in my own small way, not being a singular genius by any stretch of the imagination, but by being an ardent fan, you could say. As well as someone, who after 50 years on this planet has learned a thing or two about Quality myself through trial and much error.

Using the concepts in this book as a basis, I will be exploring a variety of aspects of life, and how to operate with Quality in these domains. Some of these aspects will likely include:

Applied Quality

Working Models of Psyche

Optimal health as a basis for a Quality Existence

Spirituality and the “Noetic” Dimension

Pain and Suffering

Connection to others

Problems with Technology

Meaning and Purpose in Life

Relationship with Nature

Knowledge and Learning

So, within these ideas is the potential to encompass more or less the totality of experience, and there is a lot of material out there all the time that can inform these categories. As my own inquiry proceeds, I plan to report on this quest here. I am hoping to develop these categories, based on the concepts in this book and in my own learning and life experience. So I hope you will join me as I explore how how to have Quality Existence.

Gumption 2 – The Forthright Individual

With the tremendous and increasing sense of divisiveness we are feeling in our country and in the world, I sense there is an alternate wing of development in the human psyche and that is the notion of the individual. It is the desire burgeoning in the collective unconscious to identify less with groups and more as individuals. Therefore, I would to draw your attention to this paragraph, written in 1968, by Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all. God, I don’t want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There’s a place for them but they’ve got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We’ve had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it’s just about depleted. Everyone’s just about out of gumption. And I think it’s about time to return to the rebuilding of this American resource…individual worth. There are political reactionaries who’ve been saying something close to this for years. I’m not one of them, but to the extent they’re talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse for giving more money to the rich, they’re right. We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption. We really do. I hope that in this Chautauqua some directions have been pointed to.

What does individual worth mean? In Pirsig’s terms, it means becoming a person who makes individual, personal Quality decisions, and approach every aspect of their lives with Quality as a guide.

In the Gumption Chautauqua, which I addressed in my last blog, it is someone who learns how to let Quality guide his train, and the way to do this is to learn how to handle the “gumption traps” that get in the way of Quality. “Peace of Mind” is the antidote to gumption traps. Like the Zen, “beginner’s mind”, or Viktor Frankl’s noetic, it is the ability to step back and see the big picture, thus drawing yourself out of anxiety, out of ego, away from impatience and boredom and most importantly, out of the rigid value hierarchy that is keeping your heart set on the outcome you have pictured in your head.

Viktor Frankl proposed a similar antidote to this chaos,  in that a person who has had the good fortune to have insight has a responsibility to make the highest choice, the choice that would imbue his present circumstances not with happiness, necessarily, but with meaning. What is life asking of us at this moment? What can we do right now to make the situation, no matter how awful, better? There is always something you can do, whether it is giving your last crust of bread to your starving bunkmate or not letting the lure of irritation and projection keep you from seeing someone else’s point of view.

Professor Jordan B. Peterson, who I refer to frequently, has based key components of his philosophy on the divinity of the individual, and frequently advises, and sometimes even desperately pleads for us to recognize the critical problem of allowing group identity to substitute for the individual. Peterson, a scholar of the murderous ideologies of the 20th century, seems to agree wholeheartedly with Pirsig, via Peterson’s YouTube lectures, that changing the world for the better is impossible without becoming a “forthright individual”, one that can lay the foundation for society.

There often comes a time in our own lives when we decide that we can’t do anything to change the past, so we enter therapy. Sometimes addressing past issues is a long process, and to finally make peace with attachment deficits, tragic circumstances, and even abuse may take extensive time to reconcile and work through. However, hopefully in conjunction with doing so, we might remember that the ultimate objective of therapy is to become a stronger, more resilient, more “forthright” person. As Freud said, therapy is meant to free us to work and love, and that freedom is earned through strengthening our capacity to do both effectively and with the ability to withstand the “gumption traps” that stand between us and quality, meaningful relationships and vocations.

In chaotic times like these, we might be tempted to throw therapy out the window and go protest against whatever side we oppose instead, to actively fight an embodiment of “evil”. But think about this tidbit from Peterson – you will know probably 1000 people in your life, and each of them, the same. You are one person away from a million. Now, maybe the best strategy for “changing the world” is to let the good rub off on your neighbor. Stated differently, from Pirsig – “A person who knows how to fix motorcycles…with Quality…is less likely to run short of friends than one who doesn’t.” And of a friend or foe, who is more likely to be influential?