The Life That Is Waiting!

Posted by on Nov 22, 2015 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
-Joseph Campbell

Amen Mr. Campbell!

This beautifully resonant sentiment is at the very heart of what we are after with PGST. And, as with most great truths, there is a seeming contradiction bubbling on its surface. Because “the life we’ve planned” is often not the life we’ve chosen. Meaning, we can think we have decided on a course of action, that we are moving along a path we freely entered after conscious deliberation, but, in reality, an inner and unconscious manipulation has often driven us forward. For example, a friend of mine once took the New York bar exam. Two minutes into the test, a young lady sitting near him slammed her pencil down, stood up, and said, “F*@k my father!”, and stormed out of the room. I love that story! I like to imagine this young woman thought she chose to become a lawyer, but, at the last minute, thank God, she was made aware that some Old Belief was actually driving her behavior; an Old Belief most likely implanted, consciously or unconsciously, by dear old dad. Leaving the test room that day she had the opportunity to now discover the life that was waiting for her.

If we are obsessing upon and worshiping our goals/plans, there is something that we must be rid of. Whether that something is an Old Belief that has taken root at the base of the goal, or it is the goal itself that needs to be loosed, remains to be seen, but something must be surrendered in order for real growth to occur. This doesn’t mean we need to give up our dream of becoming “a consistently working professional actor” or “having my ____ business bring in $100,000 in pure profit over the next six months”, but it does mean we need to have the courage to detach from the fantasy bonfire that our distorted ego has created and see what Reality is offering when the smoke clears. And here is the super, ultra-groovy news – Reality and True Calling always work together and never contradict!

The tools of PGST, and my personal coaching skills, are designed to help the individual frame, articulate and surrender the wholly workable Old Beliefs that are blocking them from accepting Reality and moving toward their True Calling. Or, as Mr. Campbell said, toward the “life that is waiting”!

It Just Doesn’t Matter!

Posted by on Oct 25, 2015 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

Havel, the Czech playwright, dissident, and politician, had this to say about hopelessness:

“Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity.”

It is very easy to fall into a strategy or mind-set of avoiding hopelessness and/or profound doubt at all costs. The idea of hopelessness becomes an anathema; we look to ameliorate it, instead of accepting it’s dark and painful embrace. We are loathed to allow the “birth”, an act we participate in, but is ultimately out of our control, to occur. We attempt to manipulate it and manufacture, by artificial means, the “new certainties” that we long for. We cling to our limited ideas, ideas that helped us to arrive at the place of hopelessness to begin with; refusing to admit that we have no F’ing clue about how to achieve the Result that we desperately long for. I think Havel is speaking on the idea that one must fully admit and embrace the profound doubt before the natural creation/understanding of “new certainties” may transpire.

In 12 Step programs the 1st Step is to admit powerlessness. Once this happens the individual comes to see how a “Higher Power” begins to do for them what they were unable to do for themselves; i.e. a restoration of hope. Often the idea of a Higher Power is associated with that of God, but I think we can look at any natural occurring phenomenon as a Higher Power; meaning, we can’t control or make it happen. If, let’s say, we have a garden, we can tend to and water that garden, but we cannot will the flowers to grow. That happens as a result of a power much outside our sphere. And if we do attempt to force the growth of our imaginary garden; if we over-water the earth in which the seeds are buried, if we dig up those seeds and rip them open in an attempt to hasten their growth, we, of course, kill the chance for actual fertility.

Real life begins at the crossroads of hopelessness and powerlessness. As Havel says, the hopelessness/powerlessness we are confronted with is so monumental, so infinitely vast, what else can we do but acknowledge the true absurdity of the situation. The deck is stacked, the game is rigged, we are not gods, and we cannot will any Result to occur. All we can do is humbly show up in the face of “profound doubt”, move forward, and perhaps come to see that the ‘movement’, i.e. our ability to move towards something while accepting that no specific Result is ever guaranteed, is perhaps the only certainty that exists.

I leave you with another voice that perhaps articulates this idea better, and with more sublime grace, than either Havel or I are capable of. The words of Mr. Bill Murray from the modern classic, Meatballs:

“And even, and even if we win, if we win, HAH! Even if we win! Even if we play so far over our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days, even if God in Heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field, even if every man, woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn’t matter, because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk ’cause they’ve got all the money! It just doesn’t matter if we win or lose. IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER! IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER! IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER. IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER! IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!”

The Straight Race

Posted by on Oct 3, 2015 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

These words are from the brilliant Stoic philosopher, Roman Emperor, and deeply influential force on PGST, Marcus Aurelius –

“Develop your own methods for observing how all things are in a continual state of change, one into another. Be ready, and welcome it when it is your turn to experience change, for there is nothing like it to heighten your sensibilities and elevate your mind. At the moment of change, a man’s soul takes flight, and being in this instant reminded that he will soon be called upon to leave the world of things and the company of men, he devotes himself wholeheartedly, to justice in whatever he does and to nature in whatever is done to him. His mind is no longer troubled by what someone may say or think about him, or do against him; and he finds perfect contentment in these two things only: to do the task at hand justly and to embrace his fate gladly. Throwing off all other considerations and schemes, his one ambition is to run the straight race marked out by the law, in pursuit of the swift-footed gods, who never leave this sure course.”

Good God – what words!! They grandly and yet so aptly apply to the life of Man at all levels, from the major movements to the minor chords. I’d like to hone in on the micro level, and relate Aurelius’ statement to the application of the “at least twenty minutes” Daily Action we use in PGST.

In PGST, each week, we break down our Super Objectives (large goals that we feel deeply called to move towards), into simple, practical, Daily Actions. Each day we are gently committed to doing a specific action for at least twenty minutes, no matter what! For example if one of our Super Objectives is “to develop a highly effective and delightful system to launch my new business by August 3rd, 2014”, then the Daily Action for Day One of our Weekly Action Plan might be to “for at least twenty minutes brainstorm a list of all possible investors”. When it comes time to take this Daily Action, the “change Aurelius so majestically riffs on”, emotionally and psychologically speaking, comes into play and becomes the obstacle that must be confronted. Of course, so often, we retreat from the emotional/psychological change (obstacle) and from the action itself. It’s time to sit down and do our brainstorming, but we don’t “feel” like it anymore – the inner change has taken place. Days before it seemed like an amazing idea; we were inspired.

“This is it!” we thought. “I have many contacts who would love the chance to get involved with a venture such as this – I can’t wait to spread the word and pitch my biz!”

Yet now we feel massive insecurity at the thought of creating our contact list.

“This just doesn’t feel right anymore, it seems pointless – I don’t think I have the stones to go through with this. Yesterday, I had a sense of flow and momentum, but now…even the thought of contemplating who might invest in my business makes my skin crawl!!”

FEELINGS CHANGE!! It is bound to happen, and, almost always, is not a sign to retreat, but to leap forward with open arms. Remember, Aurelius says, this emotional/psychological change, even a very uncomfortable one, can “heighten your sensibilities and elevate your mind”.

If we accept that emotions and most levels of thought are not in our control, then taking action through the shifting sands of emotion and thought can remind us of all that we don’t have power over, including life and death itself! It can remind us that there is no place of security from which we can launch ourselves – reality itself is insecure and ever changing. We can then focus on the only things we do have power over, and therefore the only things that can truly bring us peace and fulfillment: “to do the task at hand justly and to embrace our fate gladly”.

The Unfolding Self

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

This gorgeous quote is from the novelist Jeanette Winterson’s brilliant new memoir.

“When I was born I became the visible corner of a folded map. The map has more than one route. More than one destination. The map that is the unfolding self is not exactly leading anywhere. The arrow that says YOU ARE HERE is your first coordinate.”

A large aspect of PGST is unearthing the unconscious Old Beliefs that have blocked us out of Action and locked us into Thought. Many of the Old Beliefs seem to take a very linear, prosaic flavor – “X must happen, and if it doesn’t then Y will happen!” Some examples of what our subconscious can often plug into this deadened formula are: “I must be incredibly successful in my career, and if I’m not, my life will have no meaning, value or depth!”, or, “I must avoid rejection at all costs or I will be destroyed!” These unconscious viruses lead not to Winterson’s artful and transcendent observation of “when I was born I became the visible corner of a folded map” with “more than one destination” but, rather spur the malicious lie that we are born with a series of facile, fascistic marching orders that must be fulfilled or despair shall reign eternal.

The idea of the self as an unfolding map “that is not exactly leading anywhere” is one that rings, to me, of a great and resonant truth. In PGST, as we create and move toward our Super Objectives (the large goals that we feel intensely, from a place of great depth, called to do), we keep in mind that the Super Objectives are not the END – the magical land where we will finally achieve worth, freedom and a sexy, super-abundant sweetness – but rather a MEANS to the next level of numinous unfolding. I often compare the Super Objectives to the chisel of a master sculptor. It is said that Michelangelo did not see a sculpture in his mind’s eye before beginning his work, but rather, the creation would reveal itself WITHIN the act of creation. The Super Objectives are just so. In the process of imperfectly moving toward them, not achieving them, another layer of the self, and therefore, untold riches of meaning and depth, unfolds.

“The arrow that says YOU ARE HERE is your first coordinate” – this, from my point of view, is not some trussed up poetic bromide, but the key to unlock the process of the unfolding self. A common trap when calculating how to move our life forward is becoming lost in the fantasy that we are missing something needed. “If only I wasn’t weighed down with this crappy job and massive debt, I could really do something with my life! But until then, I’m f*@#ed!!!” It is very easy, and extremely human, to fall into this sloth dampened and self-hating line of thought, but experience has shown me that YOU ARE HERE is, indeed, always the “first coordinate. The solution. For no matter what the perceived problem, accepting our only reference point is right here, right now, and our current, actual situation – as it is, is the only gateway to a reality-based solution. To live in the solution via direct engagement with the problem/obstacle is the only workable path toward unlocking our human birthright: an existence based in an unyielding sense of self worth and ever deepening meaning.

Quit Evasions

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.”
Epictetus

These words of the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus, like many expressions of deep wisdom, can at first glance seem obvious and trite. “Yeah, I get it, pay attention to the moment – got that covered” – but do we really? Are we caretaking the present moment/action or are we heedlessly attempting the impossible task of managing fear? Instead of immersing ourselves in the particulars, do we embark on the fool’s errand of “multi-tasking”? Do we avoid the growing pains of facing reality by perpetually engaging in a vague cloud of dreamy distraction and then playing the eternal victim by decrying, “Why does this lack of focus continually send me reeling into stagnation? It’s not my fault!!” The task of quitting these seductive evasions may not be as easy or as automatic as the ego wants us to believe, but with willingness and surrendered discipline, we can begin to truly enter the moment.

PGST is designed to be a gentle but powerful tool in the practice of responding to and fully inhabiting the moment. And by following Epictetus’ line of thinking, we can describe the moment as the current person, challenge or deed – whatever we are doing, right now. While practicing PGST, each day we gently commit to entering, for at least twenty minutes, a Daily Action, a task that is directly related to our Super Objectives (the large goals that we feel intensely called to move toward). This engagement with the Daily Action offers an opportunity to practice everything Epictetus speaks of. We immerse in, caretake, inhabit, and fully relate to the Daily Action. How do we do this? Well, first, we acknowledge what we are doing; acknowledge the responsibility of choice that we are accepting. So if my Daily Action were to “spend at least twenty minutes working on the pitch package for potential investors of my film”, I would either write that down at the top of my notes, or say to myself, “This is what I am gently committing to doing, no matter what, for at least the next twenty minutes.” Every distraction, challenge, obstacle, or any resistance I meet, either internal or external, becomes the necessary fuel for the action. It becomes part of the action itself. As the great acting teacher Sanford Meisner said, “that which hinders the task IS the task”. Instead of taking the resistance as a cue to exit the Daily Action and return to the deadly churn of futile attempts at managing fear (i.e. – being stuck in the head) we work with resistance at all levels. We come to see that the acceptance and movement into the resistance is the gateway to immersing ourselves in and fully inhabiting the moment.

When I speak of “managing fear” I believe I am referring to the same phenomenon as Epictetus, when he says “stop giving yourself needless troubles.” The needless troubles/managing fear phenomenon is the opposite of working with resistance – it is a wholesale flight from reality. For example, let’s say I am a few minutes into my Daily Action of spending at least twenty minutes working on the pitch package for potential investors of my film. Doubt begins to creep in as I judge the work I’ve been doing thus far as lackluster and incoherent. My inner dialogue begins to run like this – “I can’t even articulate this film in a simple and enticing way to myself – how in God’s name am I going to do so for others? Maybe the film isn’t as good as I hoped – maybe I’m a deluded dreamer who has wasted his life!? Okay, okay relax, I’m obviously too stressed to do this right now, I’ll check Facebook for a few minutes and then come back to this with fresh eyes – Wait – Check Facebook?! You filthy coward, why can’t you focus! There I go, beating myself up again! I need a nap, I’m just…I need a nap.” This endless loop of grinding pain goes nowhere, but seems to offer the promise of clarity if we just think harder! What is actually called for is to get out of the head and into action. The fear is there, but if we can drop the flailing intellectual autopsy, embrace our feelings, and bring them as they are to the next indicated action, we will find ourselves in life and not fantasizing from the sidelines.

Resolution

Posted by on Jun 22, 2014 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

The great Greek tragedian Sophocles had this to say about the phenomenon of the resolution.

“Men should pledge themselves to nothing; for reflection makes a liar of their resolution.”

Seems Sophocles would not have been a big fan of our annual oaths of enhancement and renewal. Although the resolutions we make are filled with genuine hope and the best, most noble of intentions, I think we can agree that, in retrospect, we often find the impassioned vows sadly become broken promises. A sense of naiveté peppered with gripping shame can bubble to the surface as we contemplate the unused gym membership or the blank page. The desire, enkindled with yearning, transforms to self-hating stagnation. So if, as Sophocles says, we should not pledge ourselves to these lofty ambitions, how then do we effectively aim for and make progress toward our longed for objectives?

The first thing we do when applying PGST is articulate our Super Objectives (the large goals that we feel intensely called to move toward). An interesting quality of the Super Objectives is that they are not in our power to actually manifest; we can’t go out and simply, directly and literally do them. For example, if we articulated one Super Objective as “to have my new business make $500,000 pure profit by July 1st 2013” we can’t walk out the door and just make it happen. In the same way if we have a New Year’s resolution to “get in top physical condition” or “end my habits of procrastination” we can’t immediately do it or guarantee that it will happen. We do not possess the power to insure these pledges come to pass. So what do we have power over?

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus says, “In our power are thought, impulse, will to get and will to avoid.” Perhaps another way of saying this is that we have power over our attitude and moving towards something or moving away from something. So the problem with the resolution might lie in that fact that we try and make it happen instead of moving towards it. Instead of swearing to the heavens that a specific result be achieved, we may choose to gently and without strain move toward the objective. So on the first day of 2013 instead of waking up and attempting to acquire the result of being in top physical condition we might find it much more effective and empowering to brainstorm for twenty minutes on actions we can take to move toward being in top physical condition. The following day we can enter one of these brainstormed actions, placing our attention on the action, not the result. When we stay in action, in “the moving towards”, we will never indict ourselves as liars in the manner that Sophocles speaks of, but rather find ourselves empowered by our engagement with the actual. Fixed interest on result is a trap of looping damnation while gentle attention on action is the path to salvation.

A Circle Around The Present Moment

Posted by on Mar 3, 2013 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

I find these words of Marcus Aurelius, the great Stoic philosopher, to be incredibly empowering and inspiring –

“Stop fantasizing! Cut the strings of desire that keep you dancing like a puppet. Draw a circle around the present moment. Recognize what is happening either to you or someone else.”

To “draw a circle around the present moment” and have that be the gentle blade that enables one to “cut the strings of desire” is the idea at the heart of Practical Goal Setting Technique. When practicing PGST, we gently engage in a Daily Action for at least twenty minutes. We can do more than twenty minutes if we choose, but we are committed to spend at least twenty minutes in the chosen action. This commitment is the chalk, if you will, that we use to draw our circle around the present moment. To be present is to relate to something in the present, to “recognize what is happening.” The Daily Action gives us the opportunity to create and then magnify this relationship, to practice being present by having something to continually return to when we seemingly drift away from the present and into fantasy. “Yeah, okay”, one might say, “that sounds all shiny and Zen-like, but exactly how do you literally do it?”

Well, speaking of Zen, in various forms of meditation one is given a mantra and told to internally repeat the mantra during the meditation process. As soon as one notices that attention has drifted from the mantra (as it always will) one is often instructed to simply, gently, and with great compassion bring focus back to the mantra. This is exactly what we aim to practice with our Daily Action. When we drift away from relating to (i.e. – doing) our Daily Action we can practice accepting our feelings and thoughts as they are, then gently return to the task at hand. So if we have entered the Daily action of “for at least twenty-minutes work on the first draft of my screenplay”, and after six or seven minutes we suddenly find ourselves wondering if we should quickly check the fantasy football weekly ranking of quarterbacks on ESPN, do a quick YouTube search for “super funny giggling babies”, or replay a fight we had with our evil fifth grade arch nemesis – As soon as we become aware that we’ve drifted, we don’t lambaste ourselves with “YOU WORTHLESS A*&)&^E – WAKE THE F*&K UP!!!” or quit the action while thinking “Focus is impossible for me, I might as well lose my self in a fantasyland of giggling babies.” Instead we gently, and with great compassion, return to the task at hand. This commitment to learning to ride the waves of distraction and imperfectly return to what we are doing, is the drawing of a circle around the present moment that Aurelius speaks of and is the key to being free from the puppet strings of desire.

Another way to speak of this is to examine the difference between calling and compulsion. When I begin working with a client, one of the first things we do is set a series of Super Objectives based on what one feels called to do. The Daily Actions are derived from these Super Objectives. For example, if one of our Super Objectives is to “have my new business be up, running and turning a profit by March 12th 2012” then a Daily Action that we discover might be “to brainstorm for at least twenty minutes on potential investors in my new business.” When we engage with this Daily Action, we can rest assured that it is something we are called to do, regardless of the amount of doubt we may face, because we know that we have taken the time to see how it relates to and is spawned by our Super Objective. Conversely, if we give into the doubt, we will soon find ourselves at the mercy of a self-destructive action – a compulsion. An example of this would be if during our period of brainstorming on potential investors we notice a fear based inner dialogue along the lines of, “Who am I to ask anyone to invest in my business? I’ll probably insult and offend my friends, they’ll see me for the fraud that I am and laugh at my crappy dreams!” When this neurotic nattering occurs, we can choose to gently, and with great compassion, return to the task at hand, or we can attempt to manage/control the fear voice, which really means giving into it, because fear is unmanageable. If we attempt to master fear by out thinking it, we become its slave, soon finding ourselves magnetically drawn towards some compulsion – “I’ll never have the guts to actually approach a potential investor, so what’s the point of this lame f*&@ing brainstorming! I should just have a cigarette, clear my head of this negativity or at the very least give myself a break from this crippling, self conscious pressure!!” In this way, our self-hating fantasies soon lead us toward becoming the puppet of our desire.

To Do The Task At Hand

Posted by on Feb 2, 2013 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

These words are from the great Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius

“Develop your own methods for observing how all things are in a continual state of change, one into another. Be ready, and welcome it when it is your turn to experience change, for there is nothing like it to heighten your sensibilities and elevate your mind. At the moment of change, a man’s soul takes flight, and being in this instant reminded that he will soon be called upon to leave the world of things and the company of men, he devotes himself wholeheartedly to justice in whatever he does and to nature in whatever is done to him. His mind is no longer troubled by what someone may say or think about him, or do against him; and he finds perfect contentment in these two things only: to do the task at hand justly and to embrace his fate gladly. Throwing off all other considerations and schemes, his one ambition is to run the straight race marked out by the law, in pursuit of the swift-footed gods, who never leave this sure course.”

Action is change – how can it not be? Whenever we enter into real action we are guaranteed some form of change, but we have no idea what that change/outcome will be. How can we? Yet, I think much of the time, we approach action with the idea that if a specifically imagined result is not achieved, then the action was “bad”. My work with PGST has shown me that not only is this not the case, but that, in actuality, so called “failures” or “mistakes” are the heart, fuel, and perhaps, even the very meaning of action.

As Aurelius says, when actions “don’t work out” we are reminded that ultimately nothing works out! The material world is a rigged game – none of us are getting out alive. Each encounter with action/change offers the opportunity to “heighten your sensibilities and elevate your mind” by reminding us of the only two things we have power over in this world – “to do the task justly” and to embrace fate.

So what exactly does it mean to “to do the task justly” and “embrace fate”? In regard to the former, I would posit that Aurelius is speaking of entering into the next, right action – simply and imperfectly; giving up the impossible quest for emotional and psychological mastery and answering the call of responsibility by metaphorically playing the hand we are currently being dealt. And I would say that “embracing fate” is playing that hand as is. Instead of bemoaning that we don’t have a full house, we may need to bluff, read the other players or even fold this round. The skilled card player totally accepts the hand he is given and does not waste a moment in fantasy wishing he had a different hand – the hand he has is the only hand there is – and he focuses all his energy on the best way to use the actual cards that are staring him in the face.

It is not the deck that gives the card player his meaning – but how he plays the cards. Every movement into true action offers us the opportunity to awaken from the stupor and stagnation of a frozen fantasized perfection and welcome change with open arms. For only in and through action/change/imperfection can we have an experience of being on the path “of the swift-footed gods” – the path of reality.

Act Without Doing

Posted by on Jan 22, 2013 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

In this passage from the Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu offers us timeless and nurturing wisdom.

“Act without doing;

work without effort.

Think of the small as large

and the few as many.

Confront the difficult

while it is still easy;

accomplish the great task

by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;

thus she achieves greatness.

When she runs into a difficulty,

she stops and gives herself to it.

She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;

thus problems are no problem for her.”

So how can we begin to “act without doing?” I think for many of us the strain and the effort, the heavy-handed doing, comes from taking our attention off our relationship with the actual action and putting it into the future, i.e. fantasy. Let’s say our PGST action for the day is to “for at least 20 minutes make a list of possible investors for my new business.” We start our list and a few names spill out right away – “Frank, Kevin” – but then a cloud of shame and hopelessness can begin to form. We think, “God, I can never really ask Kevin for money, can I? What if he thinks I’m running a scam, or gets offended in some way by my proposal – What would I do then? – How would I deal with Kevin screaming at me calling me a wretched charlatan?!!” We are no longer in the action of simply making a list of potential investors. We are now imagining what we would do if Kevin freaked, and then we enter a shame spiral. Of course, in the demented playground of the mind, this can all happen very quickly, before we are hardly conscious of it. We are attempting to manage feelings of fear and shame, which is impossible: feelings cannot be managed or mastered. The frustration of attempting to stuff and control the emotions can lead us to work with forced effort – “I’m going to make this f@&*ing list happen so my fear and pain will stop!” This grinding of the will is the opposite of the “act without doing” that the passage speaks of in the first two stanzas. Lao-tzu goes on to tell us how we can begin to cease this futile grinding and enter into non-doing action.

“Think of the small as large and the few as many.” We are already embracing this concept when we create our “for at least twenty minutes” action. Instead of attempting to face the “large”, something like “get my new business up and running”, we are breaking it down into the workably “small” – “for at least twenty minutes make a list of possible investors for my new business.” This seemingly “small” action is in actuality the “large” because the reality is, there is no “large.” Every great enterprise is nothing more than “a series of small acts.” Because of underlying fear, the ego often wants to move the attention to the “large” (future/fantasy) and therein lies the trap. The solution is to gently bring the attention to the “small” (present/reality). There is a technique I practice which I call “back up, chop down.” If a task reveals itself to be to complex and confusing we can step back and chop it down into a smaller task. For example if we are setting out to “for at least twenty minutes work on the first draft of my screenplay” and we realize we don’t know how or where to begin, we can “back up, chop down” and “for at least twenty minutes work on an outline for the first draft of my screenplay” or, even, “for at least twenty minutes research how to write an outline for a screenplay.” When we practice “back up, chop down” we also get an experience of how the “few” are in reality the “many.” The single action of researching how to write an outline for a screenplay gives birth to writing an outline for a screenplay which leads to writing a first draft, then a second draft, a third, etc. The simplest initial baby step, or the “few”, is the entry point to more complex and varied actions, or the “many.”

“When she runs into a difficulty, she stops and gives herself to it. She doesn’t cling to her own comfort; thus problems are no problem for her.” I think this can be illustrated if we go back to the idea of the master poker player that I mentioned in last week’s Reflection. When getting what many of us would judge as a “lousy hand”, the expert poker player wastes no time in bemoaning the fates, “Damn it! Why couldn’t I draw a full house!” On the contrary, there is no judgment whatsoever. The master card shark immediately goes to their statistical knowledge of what move makes the most sense, reads the other players, takes into consideration the current pot, etc. “Problems are no problem” for the card shark because they live in solution and acceptance. They, as we can gently begin to learn, take it one card at a time, and simply, directly play the hand they are dealt.

Experience As The Gateway To Meaning

Posted by on Sep 7, 2011 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

These words are taken from Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which he wrote shortly before his death in 1961 –

“I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself. I am distressed, depressed, rapturous. I am all these things at once, and cannot add up the sum. I am incapable of determining ultimate worth or worthlessness; I have no judgment about myself and my life. There is nothing I am quite sure about. I have no definite convictions – not about anything, really. I know only that I was born and exist, and it seems to me that I have been carried along. In spite of all uncertainties, I feel a solidity underlying all existence and a continuity in my mode of being.

The world into which we are born is both brutal and cruel, and at the same time of divine beauty. Which element we think outweighs the other, whether meaninglessness or meaning is a matter of temperament. If meaninglessness were absolutely preponderant, the meaningfulness of life would vanish to an increasing degree with each step in our development. But that is – or seems to me – not the case. Probably, as in all metaphysical questions, both are true: Life is – or has – meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle.”

To me, Jung’s words are a marvelous extrapolation on the theory of experience as the gateway to meaning, as opposed to the idea of experience as the attempted portal to meaning. He seems to be saying that by accepting the ALL of his life, he was left with a “solidity underlying all existence”. He does not speak of inner certitude or a blissful heart as something he achieved which then led to an experience of meaning and deep stability. This reminds me of what we often talk about in PGST sessions in regard to making friends with neurosis, ambiguous feeling and the vacillating ego, as opposed to the impossible task of emotional and psychological mastery.

I think if the ego is left in charge of meaning, it will attempt to gauge progress by the use of a brutal scorecard – “Disappointment 7, Pleasure 4 – f&^k! I’m losing the game of meaning and fulfillment!!” And “progress” seems to be the wrong approach entirely (and yet the only one the ego is capable of) to the essence of meaning. My experience is that meaning cannot be wrenched into the world through the grinding of self-will. It comes of it’s own accord, a gift of grace when one surrenders to, and fully participates in, creativity. We are, as Jung says, “incapable of determining ultimate worth or worthlessness”, but a close examination of Jung’s life reveals, he was a man who showed up in a profound way for the adventure of his life. He answered the call. He was “carried along” by entering the creative flow and allowing meaning to manifest unbidden, as opposed to standing on the sidelines of life, telling himself he would enter the real game as soon as the intellect offered evidence of meaning. Again, when looked for, meaning is elusive and ephemeral, but when our ATTENTION IS ON OUR ACTION and we are in acceptance of our mercurial inner state, as is, then meaning often appears from a place beyond feeling and thought. It appears from a place more eternal and expansive; a place the intellect/head will never be able to secure, nail down, or master.

And because of this, when outside the realm of THE MOMENT (the only true experience), we can offer no sensory proof that meaning will always, ultimately, both rise to the surface of our lives and come to dwell in our deepest, truest self. We are instead left with “the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle.” That beautiful “anxious hope” may be the best our limited nature can muster, and yet, IN ACTION we are perhaps given glimpses of a reality that cannot be articulated with human voice, something that can be known but not expressed directly. As the poet Wallace Stevens says –

“The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance.


A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.”