The Trouble With Hope

Hope is usually considered a good thing. But I’ve come to see it as dangerous and even narcotic. Similar to nostalgia. 

When someone is hopeful they are usually longing for something not present. This can fuel dissatisfaction with the present. Hope can be the never arriving train. Always pulling you towards a better future. This can sow discontent. 

There is a healthy role for hope. When we are desolate, it can console. When we feel lost, it can show the way. But it can also trap us. We can get lost in an idealistic future that never comes. 

We must decouple hope from desire. Wanting something creates attachment which leads to bondage. We become enslaved to a future (mostly) out of our control. We should instead wish for good things to come for ourselves and others but not desire them. It’s a subtle but important nuance. Desire is carnal, it takes us over, it’s possessive. Wishing is more like a prayer, it’s spiritual and etherial, we can let it go. 

Hope is a tricky one, we must avoid its traps.

Next Level Care: Friend Over Friendship

What does it mean to truly care about someone? I’ve been struggling with this for a while and here’s where I’ve arrived: real care means being there when no-one else is and it means giving someone the feedback they need to grow. 

The first one is easier. Being there for a friend when they hit rock bottom. We become the safety in the storm. It can be draining but it is also rewarding to know that we are truly helping someone. And when we have been there ourselves we know the deep solace it brings to have someone there with us, telling us we aren’t alone and aren’t crazy. 

But being there isn’t as easy as giving a friend or colleague the feedback they need to grow and see themselves, and the world, in a new, transformative way. That kind of care is at another level and I’ve come to think of it as “next level” caring. When we get out of our comfort zone to help someone we care about become the person they are meant to be.

We all need honest feedback to grow. It’s a critical nutrient. It’s like sunlight. But we rarely get it. And this essentially starves our emotional and spiritual selves. Which leads to an internal atrophying. Just like eating sugar when we need protein, we ingest our own beliefs and fears which alienate us from a larger reality and limit our potential. Although we can break through with learning and reflection there is nothing as effective as having someone we know and trust tell us the truth. One honest conversation can do more than a year of meditation. “You only talk about yourself, why don’t you ask me about my life?”, “Don’t you see that you are an artist? Stop fighting it”, "You are being manipulative, stop it." There is an authority that comes from a trusted external source which can uniquely disrupt our internal narrative. If you want to change your life, change your internal narrative. That may mean you also need to change your friends.

Next level caring means valuing the person, the friend, even more than the friendship. 

I want to be that kind of friend and I want to have that kind of friend. I feel blessed to have many people in my life that can be that kind of friend to me, even when I don’t “want” it. A friend that can tell me their truth about my life. Unvarnished, real feedback and insights. I want to give and receive next level care.

Thoughts On: Attachment

I’ve been really good at adding stuff to my life. Whether it be vinyl records, friends, businesses, hobbies or habits. I have assembled a pretty large gathering of objects and experiences. So much so that I often find myself overwhelmed by it all. They can weigh me down.

I’ve taken the past two Julys off from work. This time away has had interesting impacts on me. Not necessarily what I was expecting. I was thinking I would be able to come back to my work and retain the somewhat Zen state I achieved during the month off. Not really. The realities of work and life soon crash back in. But I have been able to use that month off to begin letting go. I’m getting better at quitting things.

Over this past July I quit drinking. It happened during my week alone at a cabin in northern Michigan. I was cooking dinner one night and as usual I poured myself a glass of wine while I cooked. I noticed my body became very flush from the wine. I also recalled that alcohol often made me feel flushed and tired. It appeared to be causing inflammation, something I struggle with in general. That night I corked up the bottle of wine and decided I would take a break from drinking for a while to see how it goes. That was about 6 weeks ago and I haven’t felt this good in years. It was also surprised at how easy it was to stop drinking. Maybe I was ready for it. I’ve tried in the past and only made it through a week or two with willpower. This has been relatively easy, it feels like I’m cheating somehow. Sure, maybe I’ll come back to it someday and I’m ok with that. But if I do I want to come back less attached.

Now I am looking at what else I can quit. I really struggle with attachment. I feel the gravitational pull of sugar, caffeine, sex, fear and ideas every day. They tug at my consciousness and I fall into their orbit and the attachment begins. Just as mass attracts mass I must become emotionally and spiritually lighter to reduce the gravitational pull of interesting objects and experiences. But I must also balance this with being human, present and committed to those I love. This is a tension I struggle with every day.

note: this blog is the first in a series of “Thoughts On” posts where I ramble somewhat coherently about things I am thinking about or working on in my life. 

Where Have All The Good Conversations Gone?

I’ve noticed a subtle but pronounced shift over the last few years. Great conversations are becoming harder to come by. Maybe this is just my experience but I wanted to share my thoughts and see if they resonated with others. 

I’m experiencing social interactions that consist mostly of other people monologuing. They show almost no interest or curiosity in what might be happening in other people’s lives, including mine. If I start talking they often redirect the conversation back to themselves and what they want to talk about. Usually I leave these conversations having only asked questions since anything else is steamrolled. They rarely reciprocate with questions or don't appear to notice that they are monopolizing the dialog. I feel that I am an audience watching a performance. I guess they see my value mostly as an audience, not as a partner in conversation. Maybe I should be flattered that they want to tell me all-the-stuff. 

This happens in business and personal situations. But more personally than professionally. I regularly have great conversations at work- with co-workers, clients and colleagues- and at home with my family- but socially I often find myself the audience of monologues. And I know these are good people with no understanding, I hope, of how their behavior affects others. Well, at least how it affects me. This leaves me feeling empty and frustrated. 

What should I do? Should I embrace the monologue approach and talk over people and ignore they are saying unless it fits my narrative? Or should I confront people like this and tell them what I need from a conversation? Or…?

And where does this come from? I assume insecurity but is it also rooted in our self-obsessed tech powered age? 

I know I’m not good at small talk so that may be part of the issue. And I would prefer someone monologuing about their life over discussing the weather. What I crave is meaningful, human dialog. Where everyone adds something, everyone walks away with something new and feels more connected. Great conversations usually have some or all of these elements: funny, emotional, weird, connecting and time-warping. We laugh, we feel, we explore, we connect and we step outside of time for a moment. “Have we really been talking for 2 hours?” That’s a great conversation. 

But often I feel trapped in performances. Watching someone put on a show. Maybe they had rehearsed it in advance a little. Often I’ve seen the “show" a few times already and don’t have the nerve to tell them. And I get that. I find myself doing it sometimes to, retelling stories that worked the first time around. Also, I’ve been given feedback that I have a tendency to pull dialog towards what I want to talk about- i.e. weird stuff in the eyes of others. I am trying to moderate that with being open and empathetic to what other people need. I get that people I love and care about need to feel heard. They need to feel valued. But I just wish they remembered that other people need that too.