On Failure and Falling Off the Wagon

This will be a short and personal departure from the type of writing that I normally do, but I feel pulled to do it, so I will.

I normally talk about ideas, and not so much about my own life. I think that our own lives are fleeting and temporary, but ideas can last quite a long time.

But the purpose of this blog is to meditate on my life and my ideas through writing, and in the process of writing, find out what I think.

It’s interesting to contemplate the idea that it’s possible for me to not understand myself. All people are capable of fighting a war against themselves. And these wars are mainly caused by a lack of integrity when dealing with ourselves. I promise myself that I will exercise more, that I will say no to extraneous duties at work, and that my values will be more reflected in how I spend my time.

But then Monday rolls around and my bed is too warm to get out of in time for an early work out. A student or co-worker makes an impassioned case for why I should help with a project, and my time becomes so compressed that quiet time with my wife and daughter get squeezed out of my schedule. I’ve broken a promise to myself. The conflict between what I value and my patterns of behavior causes most of my suffering.

This space, to write and send my thoughts out into the universe is how I’ve decided to reconcile myself with myself. There are many traditions from around the world that advocate for quiet thought in order to find what is commonly called “our center.” I like to think of the center of our being as the place where we understand ourselves. Picture yourself sitting on a bench. You’re angry. Perhaps someone said angry words to you. Perhaps you missed a promotion at work. You are playing the event over and over in your mind, seething. You are at war with yourself. Your anger may be directed without, but the punishment is directed inward. Your stewing in anger doesn’t hurt the person who wronged you. Replaying the events of the day only serve to increase your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, and cloud your thinking. A shadow of yourself sits next to you. You are divided by your acting against your own self interest. Your mind is acting on autopilot. Your higher thinking is turned off. You replay the inciting incident over and over again. A few deep breaths would help reunite your two selves.

But I’ve always struggled with meditation. I’m active. My mind is always racing from one thing to the next, and my body is following behind it. I realize that the point of meditation is to observe your thoughts flowing without judgement, and I realize that doing nothing is the whole point of meditation. But I find it so hard to do nothing that five minutes of meditation seems unbearable.

I could never manage to bring myself back together through meditation, despite my best efforts. But I’ve always been a writer. When I felt off center, I grabbed a notebook and a comfy chair. Instead of watching the chaos of my thoughts bounce and scatter around my mind’s eye, writing brought my scattered thoughts together. When I am writing, I experience flow. I can think of nothing else but the next word to put on the page. My fingers seem to work without needing my input. The feeling is glorious when I can reach it.

So many of us write with the end product in mind, and that is acceptable for much writing. Some of our effort should be set aside for the enjoyment of others. And if you can make a living through writing, then do it. But for me, the purpose of writing is the process of writing. It is the process of giving my thoughts permanence, and it is the process of learning to better understand myself.

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