The Case Against Grit

Inspired by this article at The Atlantic, I had some further thoughts on The Case Against (and For) Grit.

The Case Against Grit

I absolutely concur with the premise of the article, that it’s a challenge to know whether the first passion in a person’s life has sustainability; I put that word in italics because it’s relevant on numerous levels.

Sustainability can be considered on the personal interest level, which is what the article’s premise discussed, but it also has to be considered on a financial level, a social impact level, and others relative to the pursuit. A young child may not realize the financial difficulties of being an artist, yet that’s a challenging thing to be conclusive about with a budding talent; they may truly be able to earn a livable income, or not care if they don’t, difficult to say with such a young human.

On the other hand, there’s so much benefit and growth when focusing on a singular pursuit, and that’s hard to find. Dismissing a young passion because of fears of practicality may miss a tremendous growth opportunity for the child, and can impose self doubt and insecurity depending on how the child interprets the guidance.

When To Reconsider?

I also know that there are times for adults where they feel stuck, overly obligated, to continue a path that no longer inspires or fuels them. This is such a personal choice, to apply grit and stick it out for the payoffs of maintaining said obligations (i.e. being a provider for a family), that each person has to make their own decision.

Regrettably, this quality of grit is often lost or diminished because of cultural expectations. I believe many men are struggling with their sense of masculinity because circumstances like these provoke feelings of emasculation, confusion, or loss of identity, when considering changing their role as provider.

Note: I’m describing a very narrow, albeit common, manifestation of circumstances. In no way am I trying to make broad statements on all providers or all situations of obligation.

How To Make Changes?

Making changes to established structures in life can be challenging, but certainly do-able. Communication is key, and conveying emotional content is very important.

Sharing how you feel as you consider, or act upon, changes helps those that might be impacted to understand you at a core, human level. Sharing openly amongst those that can easily be supportive is important as well, so that you feel supported in this potent, personal decision.

Feeling supported in also important, because it’s likely that you’ll encounter resistance and opposition from those that will be impacted. Whether you allow that resistance to dissuade you is a personal choice, but when you already have support, you can feel more relaxed and able to hear and receive the impact of your choice from others without feeling defensive, without simply feeling the need to cave into the desires of others.

The Takeaway

Simple steps, but often challenging in application. Change is absolutely possible, and care is often required while making it. It’s your personal decision whether it’s the healthiest thing for you to continue applying grit, or to change course because circumstances no longer serve you.

What are your biases towards “mental health”?

When you hear, or think of, the term “mental health” (or “mental illness”), do you jump to conclusions, or do you have a simple attitude of “all mental illness is bad”?

When I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I didn’t really know what to think at first. It was a shock, it was something I had to sit with and let sink in. I couldn’t easily see how my actions, behaviors, and choices were symptomatic of clinical depression.

It took some time, but I was struggling already, and if this got me a step closer towards not feeling so crappy about myself and about life, then I was going to investigate this as open-mindedly as I could.

How severe are mental disorders?

I had this thought, recently, that mental illnesses and disorders come in all shapes and sizes. My depression, in hindsight, was like a really bad case of pneumonia, stubborn, took me down hard at times, but in the end, was curable or manageable.

There are plenty of disorders or illnesses that are far more severe, but in the end, it’s a matter of seeing it as clearly as possible, and choosing the most effective way of managing/treating it. It’s likely not always as easy as taking a pill, that wasn’t true for me, and sometimes it’s difficult/impossible to treat all the manifestations of a disorder. Also, there are times when multiple disorders are in play, and they have to be broken down to understand what symptoms are manifest from which disorder.

But, in the end, with patience, care, and healthy support, most everyone I’ve ever known with mental disorders/illnesses has been able to treat or manage their condition(s) well, and able to live fulfilling lives.

How does this relate to spirituality?

Our perceptions and interpretations can be grossly distorted by mental illnesses and disorders. It could be as simple as affecting how we hear things, or what thoughts they bring up.

“With our minds, we make the world”, is a Buddhist adage, and if we’re contemplating distorted perceptions or thoughts, then our emotional responses will be affected, as well as our world view. You can imagine that our thoughts about ourselves would be affected as well, and this can impact our self esteem, self image; anything egoic, really.

So, from my experience, part of getting clearer in our spiritual path is to humbly and honestly consider our mental health.

The Takeway

Like I started, it’s important to have a more educated attitude towards the scope of mental disorders, to not simply lump them all as one-size-fits-all, which it terribly dehumanizing and causes nothing but harm.

Just like you would care for your biology with a regular physical exam, do the same for your mental well being. Find someone you trust, someone that has a breadth of education and experience, to be able to give you some healthy, honest feedback. You might simply get a clean bill of health, or you might become informed about something you couldn’t see objectively.

In the end, it’s about optimal health, so that you can live your life as fully as you desire.

Blessings!

The Basics: Thus Spake Zarathustra (Happy New Year 2013!)

I love re-watching great movies as I get older. So much to behold and learn. It reminds me of a simple truth…

There are Truths.

A teacher of mine made me aware of the fact that there are some things in life that are true, regardless of time or circumstance. Once I became willing to believe that, and became willing to learn from others, I started seeing the truth (sic) in that statement.

For much of my life, I was a skeptic; and over time while living with those lenses on, I became a cynic. In hindsight, I see that as grossly self-indulgent, insisting life conform to the way I expected it to look. Thankfully, the unsustainability of that worldview bore itself out by bringing me to my proverbial knees, presenting me with one of my first unassailable truths, that I can’t control my entire world.

I had reached my bottom.

In the past eight years, I’ve come to appreciate an endless source of beauty and peace from that acknowledgement, and I’ve been able to recover much of what I had lost in all that time. There’s a lightness of being that is freely available when one is humble towards what they have power over, and what they don’t. Recognizing, and choosing that, is often a moment-to-moment playground of opportunity.

While there are infinite sources of innovation and creativity, which we see spring around us every day (especially thanks to the Internet), there are these Truths (with a capital “T”) that make themselves available to us. We can choose to live them or not; even become champions, insisting and defending them against apathy and confusion.

If you’re seeking truth for yourself, I encourage you to talk about it openly. While there are individuals that would try to take advantage of innocence, given enough open-mindedness, willingness, and honesty, you’ll be sure to recognize what feels Right for you.

Here’s to another amazing year ahead, 2013. I hope you are able to see the abundance of opportunities available to you, and I hope you relish the experiences you choose.

A New Program: Letters of Diplomacy

I’m starting a new series of posts, for those times when communications are challenging. There have been countless times when someone just didn’t know how to work things out with someone, and a written letter was a productive tool. I’ll be writing up examples of letters that can work in those situations. If you have suggestions of challenging situations, or of letters you think would work, please let me know!

If you’re struggling at all, read this.

Note: this is a lengthy post, as it touches on a number of ideas, and all of this can apply to life in countless ways. If you have any thoughts about this post, please share them with me. I’d be very grateful. –Burt

Do you find ever find yourself tired? Frustrated? Confused or bewildered? Ever feel a little lost, unsure, under confident? Are you tired of waiting to feel cool, calm, and collected? Does it seem like life is just too busy, and you’re never going to get settled?

If you’re reading this, and eager to make progress, I’m here to tell you a simple truth.

You may not realize how close you are to the state of mind and being that you’ve been looking for.

It like looking for your lost keys, and realizing they’re already in your pocket, or feeling incredibly anxious before a test, only to realize it was far easier than you imagined.

I’m going to offer this thought to you, and, of course, you can accept it or not.

I will bet good money that you are already who/what/where you want to be, or more precisely, you’ve been in touch with that part of you, but you’ve had a hard time holding onto that feeling, that sense of who you really are.

Can you recall a moment when you felt totally connected with yourself? Maybe it was connection to feeling centered or grounded. Maybe it was your “muse”, when your creativity was flowing. Perhaps it was after some effort of preparation, for a trip, project, or test, and you felt ready; in fact, the feeling might have come after the experience, when you felt fulfilled. Maybe it was during exercise, playing a sport, creating art, or doing good work.

Take a few moments to recall what that felt like at it’s very best. Can you recognize a clarity in your mind, where there’s little else going on in your thoughts besides that sense of fulfillment, calm, clarity?

Can you recall a little more specifically, to a moment when you took a breath during that activity? That very last breath before you began… that very first breath after… the one breath when you gave it your all…

Hold on to that breath in your mind. We’re going to get back to that.

For those moments when you had clarity, within those breaths, I offer to you that these are glimpses of you in your highest self, at your very best. Bear in mind, there’s no one keeping score, or judging the quality of this; only you can know for yourself. Those moments of true honesty with yourself are precious and powerful.

Would you agree that it’d be easier going through life if you were connected to that feeling more often? How about if you felt that all the time, 24×7? While I can’t guarantee that you’ll ever achieve that feeling with every waking moment, I can say that you can have those feelings of peace, strength, clarity, power, and confidence; and that you can grow those feelings as deeply as you want. More importantly, your mind can develop and grow into being able to focus on those things that keep you connected to those feelings.

As I understand it, yogis who have attained “true enlightenment” have done exactly what we’re talking about, but deeper, and more consistently. Frankly, they don’t have much else to do, or more specifically, they choose to do nothing else except pursue that level of focus. Their focus is on developing a level of mental clarity, and what they often find is a depth of peace and serenity.

For many yogis, they will take this ability for clear thinking, and they apply it in various ways: business, personal development, further enlightenment, peace missions, etc… Some will stay focused in meditation in order to simply exist in that state of being. To do this, some yogis will devote their entire lives to develop these abilities.

So, let’s play around with the thing that you’re best at in life, or the thing that comes most easily to you. I imagine you spend a good amount of your time in that activity, or if you don’t, then when you do engage in that activity, it comes “naturally”.

What would happen if you devoted your life to that? You might become world-class, an expert, or just really competent, skilled, and capable.

The same dynamic applies to other activities that you might be less naturally talented with, and the one that I’m talking about now includes “getting centered”, “feeling connected”, or any other part of your life that you want to develop.

If you have a hard time feeling centered, I’ll bet good money that you have a busy life, that there are a lot of parts to your world, and that you’re spending a lot of energy and time keeping things together, juggling all those balls in the air.

Imagine what your level of expertise would be if you took all the devotion, time, and attention that you’ve given to all those aspects of your busy life, and distilled it down to just focusing on nothing but being.

Can you imagine that?

When it comes down to it, like so much else in life, it’s a matter of budgeting and resource management.

Can you see that?

Yet, you’ve touched that feeling of being centered, probably more often than you can count. I want to bring those instances to your awareness, to get you connected to the fact that you have experienced the state of being that you long for. And, now that you’re aware of it, you can touch it more often, more deliberately. And, just like with any other activity, practice makes “perfect”… better yet, “proficiency”.

I find the word “proficiency” to be very appropriate. We can develop proficiency at attaining that highest state of being, and because of our “training” and “practice”, we are then able to perform at that level of proficiency longer, and do more with those skills.

I’ll bet you know some people in your life that have that sense of centeredness. They carry themselves with confidence, they are reliable, they are calm. It doesn’t matter what their race, gender, religion, profession… it just doesn’t matter. What I’ve found is that there are _very_ few people that have become that way for free, without effort. I’ve found that most people that have that have gotten it through fire, effort, or hard work; or perhaps they were blessed to have been shown how to have it by others.

I propose to you that through all this confusion, frustration, and struggle, you’ve been going through fire, and no one has mentioned that you are now far closer to being fully cooked than you realize. In fact, if you’ve been struggling for a long time, you’re quite possibly close to being “cooked to perfection”. You really can now simmer and allow the flavors to deepen.

…and you can do this without changing a single circumstance in your life.

I’m going to ask you to put aside any judgment for just a moment, and allow me to describe something that often gets brushed aside too quickly. There’s a mystery to meditation that can be distracting. Remember that activity that you feel most comfortable doing? I’ll bet you’ve experienced those moments during those activities, at least touched them.

So, remember that breath that you thought of earlier? The one that had your body fully engaged in your favorite, clearest, most powerful activity? Can you take that breath now? Only do this if you can recall that moment of power!

Inhale… and gently hold your breath for a few seconds… and exhale. And feel that feeling.

If you’re having a hard time feeling it in this moment, can you imagine that feeling? Can you imagine taking that one breath? Can you _feel_ and _know_ who and where you are in that moment, at the top of that breath?

Here’s the meditation… can you hold that “state of being”, without thought, just the BE-ing? Maybe “hold that breath” for a few moments?

If that’s something you can relate to, maybe you can tease that state of being out a bit longer. It doesn’t have to last long; what’s more important is your “presence” in that moment, your willingness to again experience that feeling of connection, strength, centeredness, and clarity.

So, I’ll stop with this thought: Just remember to breath. And for every breath, you now have an opportunity to RE-capture that state of being.

Imagine that? Being _there_ with _every_ breath?

One breath at a time.

(Inspired by my new friend, Kimberly. Thank you.)

When It Comes To Depression, Serotonin Isn’t The Whole Story

As NPR’s article clarifies today, the popular treatment of depression by addressing Seratonin deficiencies is an overly simplistic one, still to this day buoyed by the bright spot that a pharma treatment (Prozac) originally brought to a terribly discouraging ailment.

While there are numerous ways to address the effects of _clinical_ depression, it’s still an incredibly complex issue (along with all mental illness) with no _simple_ scientific remedy. That said, there are definitely effective therapies available; I’m living proof, and I know of numerous others.

Also, for many people dealing with addiction, such as alcoholism and narcotics, there are a very many cases where people in recovery are struggling against untreated mental illness. Without addressing the mental illness, recovery is a far more difficult process. These cases are referred to as “dual diagnosis”, and treating one and not the other is like having two broken legs, and insisting that only one needs healing.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with _untreated_ mental illness, please, please, please, get a qualified evaluation and educate yourself as best you can.

Of course, if there’s some way you think I can help, please let me know.