One of the things which brings joy to my life is embracing challenge. In fact, I don't just embrace challenge, I seek it out in almost everything I do. Sure, for mundane tasks I seek efficiency and ease, but in areas where I seek skill, I also seek challenge. This creates a cycle of minor frustrations and minor victories, which over time accumulate to be something meaningful. When I was in school I had the opportunity to focus strictly on skill development. I wasn't expected to actually create anything meaningful or value. Rather, I was expected to jump through hoops to learn fundamentals and generally increase my intelligence.
In the workforce, things are different. I'm finding that nobody really cares what I could do. They are interested in what I can do already. They need immediate results from their workers - they don't need somebody to sit around and ask them questions.
Instead, what I see are people just doing their jobs. They're not theorizing about it. They're not pushing the limits of their intelligence. They are executing a task in which they already have proficiency. And, this has come at quite a shock to me.
I chose to pursue a technical career because my mind demands challenge. When I am not engulfed in something which demands my complete concentration, I am either resting or I am upset. I want work that confuses me, frustrates me, and drives me crazy.
There is a reason I pay attention to Eastern philosophers and "gurus" - it's because they deliver insights which trigger deep self-introspection and reflection. I'm always shocked at the theoretical simplicity of what these thinkers bring to the floor, but the practical implementation of these concepts is often difficult in our Western society. Regardless, their wisdom is impossible to ignore, and brings a great deal of joy to my life. As an obsessed nerd, I also love to compare and contrast the thinking of Eastern and Western theorists.
I've attached a video (below) in which Sadhguru explains the difference between the expression of joy and the pursuit of happiness. Briefly, the idea that happiness is something that lies in the future, if only I can accomplish this or that, thwarts our ability to express joy in the present. Now, like Lacan, Sadhguru realizes the inevitability of our desire to expand (jouissance). Although we will always have another accomplishment to pursue, both Sadhguru and Lacan warn us against basing our entire identities on these never ending problems. Our minds require infinite desire, and we must not only recognize this fact, but actively embrace it. Only once life becomes an expression of joy do we truly begin to live. As Lacan would say, it is only after we "traverse the fantasy" that we become true subjects.
Our unsuccessful pursuit of happiness is threatening the very life of the planet.
There is a difference between seeking happiness and expressing your happiness.
Skill development is one of the primary ways that we can feel personal achievement. But, there is a big difference between simply dabbling from hobby to another and achieving a high level of mastery. Is it really worth it to focus strictly on one set of skills for an entire lifetime? This is a question that is very personal but very important for anybody who takes their development seriously.
World class performance in any skill - from science to gymnastics - requires years of focused effort which has a very direct impact on a person's state of awareness and overall lifestyle. My Olympic weightlifting coach Nick Horton made an interesting comment to a lifter in our gym who has been trying to maintain her bodybuilding practice and improve her skills in Olympic weightlifting. He made the analogy between weightlifting and learning a new language: You can't just learn a new language by spending an hour with it twice a week. You have to really spend a substantial amount of time on focused learning activities in a routine way for months or even years before you will achieve mastery. Nick's argument was that a sport like weightlifting works the same way - you won't see any meaningful results until you have executed focused practice over a long period of time.
My experience has shown me that I need to spend about 15 hours per week of focused time on a skill in order to push myself into higher levels of achievement. In my college math classes, I needed at least three hours per day to do homework - on top of the hour long class session. As an advanced modern drum set player, even retaining my ability to play at my peak requires 15-20 hours of focused practice per week.
I am again being forced to confront the inadequacies of my lifestyle. There is a continuous process of refining my routine, and my level of success seems to rise and fall as the weeks go by. Although I've been very disciplined lately, I'm not getting the results I need because I'm spreading myself too many directions. This has created a cycle of self hatred which aggravates a frantic rampage of pushing myself as far as I can go.
The tools of psychoanalysis and developmental psychology have enabled me to take a step back from this whirlwind and rationalize what is happening to me from a different angle.
The way I experience my self hatred is not by feeling failure because I've missed a goal. I remember that dynamic from my early childhood. For example, when I was in middle school, I remember not making the cut for the basket ball team. Back then, that was a huge disappointment.
Today, things are more sophisticated. The only reasons I ever feel emotions like guilt, anger, frustration, and impatience are because I feel like I am failing to move into higher levels of achievement. I understand that the lofty goals I intent to achieve require an incredible amount of discipline, focus, and effort to achieve. It is only when I'm not pushing forward to my maximum capacity that I feel anxiety.
This week, I had a friendly reader contact me - always a pleasant surprise. Like myself and many of my readers, this woman regularly faces psychological turmoil due to the shortcomings she sees in herself and in her environment. This is not only natural but healthy - see Dabrowski on Positive Disintegration. The reason we experience emotional discomfort is because of a need to make changes to our lifestyles - this is how we develop into better people. As this happens on a collective level, society becomes more integrated and peaceful because the all individuals have a higher capacity to solve the problems they face.
My advice - as usual - was to introduce Transcendental Meditation or Natural Stress Relief into her routine as to help her move into higher states of awareness. With an elevated perspective, I explained, there would be an increased capacity for her to overcome any kinds of problems she may face.
A few days later I received another message where the reader asked if mediation required any belief. The idea that mediation requires faith or belief is common because of the general lack of knowledge about the scientific documentation now available. In short, techniques like TM and NSR (or any other form of meditation) are known to have tangible consequences on the physiology. There are literally thousands of scientific papers which document the body's response to regular practice of various forms of meditation.
Don't take this the wrong way - but I deliberately do things to make myself feel AWESOME. At the risk of sounding like a new-aged hypno-zealot, I present the things I catch myself doing almost every day. Interestingly, I never "tried" to do these things - I simply prioritized my experience of a high level of consciousness and have witnessed the results over time.
Any perspective we adopt - either deliberately or accidentally - has an immediate, tangible, and direct impact on our capacity to deal with reality. Although there are countless situations we face which are beyond our control, we remain autonomous solely because of our ability to change our perception of these circumstances. A lengthy commute turns into a tremendous opportunity to memorize a piece of music; the loss of a job or end of a relationship becomes an opportunity for reflection and a refreshing change in direction. It's not that bad things don't happen to good people; it's that good people respond to changing circumstances to the best of their abilities.
Every individual is capable of making positive changes to their lifestyle. By prioritizing a state of inner silence and authentic joy, our lives become a continuous celebration. Although many people experience success on an external level, there are many intelligent, loving people who are not aware of the importance of their perception. Because every event that happens to us must pass through the filter of our mind, we can control our responses to environmental circumstances.
Developmental psychologists such as Kazmierz Dabrowski and Erich Fromm emphasize the role of the social environment in personality development. Arno Gruen has explored the dynamics of a society turned sour - Nazi Germany - and the dynamics of individual psychology within such a social system. Indeed, intuition and personal experience alone can verify the importance of the social environment in the development of the individual.
Such theorists explain how we are largely a product of the circumstances around us. Even if our genetics determine our personality traits to a certain degree (a hot topic of debate), people will change and adapt to the needs placed on them. These demands could be financial, social, emotional, or physical. Regardless, the quality of the people a person is surrounded by will determine the way they choose to meet these needs. This is because a person has no context outside of their inner impressions, and will draw on their past experiences and impressions of how other people have successfully met these needs. In other words, our decisions are directed through our relation to the things we have learned in the past - and the lessons we learn are a direct result of the circumstances we have faced, and the people we have known.
In a recent interview, Sadhguru of the Isha Foundation responds to a series of questions regarding the way the individual must relate to the changes in our economies today. The theme Sadhguru portrays is that the individual must grow to understand the workings of their own bodies and minds. On a fundamental level, our economy is a tool which ought to be used to create happiness in people's lives. But, since our economic system is designed around the false ideology of endless consumption - rather than being oriented around distributing goods to meet the needs of humanity - our economy is facing inevitable modification. An understanding that of the inner workings of the human body is prerequisite to creating an economic system which is effective in meeting the needs of the people of our planet. Only by reflecting this intelligence onto the outside world can we hope to revolutionize our economy and avoid continued catastrophe.
Here are some Sadhguru quotes from the interview:
"There is not a more sophisticated technology than the human body. You did not have to invent anything if you understand and replicate the human body - and that's what you're doing, anyway."
Jaques Lacan argued that alienation is a necessary condition for any true, autonomous subject. To make a long story short, Lacan conceptualized that our identities are in continuous flux and are permanently unstable. This is due to the subject/object dichotomy created by consciousness (a cosmic catastrophe for Lacan). In other words, the fact that I witness the object means that I am forever separate from it.
The result that we can never fully comprehend our own selves; much less other people - and especially not "reality" as it exists outside of our conscious experience. It also means that our desires can *never* be satiated, since we can never fully grasp that which would satisfy us.
This comes off as very bleak and pessimistic. But, Lacan had a way of twisting things around. In fact, this is the goal of Lacanian psychoanalysis - to push the individual to actively embrace the status of perpetual uncertainty and engage it as a source of emancipation from societal norms. This is explained as "traversing the fantasy," since we live our lives as a series of investments into a story about how we will permanently satiate our desires and find inner peace (which of course, never plays out for Lacan).
Now, this idea raises an interesting confrontation with the notion of higher states of consciousness. To summarize briefly, Lacan's concept of subjectivity stands in absolute contradiction to any robust notion of enlightenment. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, for example, explains the highest form of enlightenment as a unification of the subject/object dichotomy, in which all desires are satiated before they are ever experienced.
Just ask Dr. Fred Travis - a college professor and TM researcher at Maharishi University of Management. Dr. Travis and a team of experts recently published a study (1) on the profound impacts TM has on college students. Within only two and a half months of learning the technique, college students were re-analyzed during finals week. The results are quite profound.
To sum up briefly:
Reduced neurophysiological response to stress
Increased capacity to stay awake.
Fundamental changes in the way the brain functions: Increased coherence within the prefrontal cortex and across the entire brain as a whole.
Increased neurological responsiveness of appropriate neural networks to external stimulus.
Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation should be a priority for students of all ages, as well as for adults who seek to improve their intellectual, psychological, and emotional capacities.
1. Travis, F., Haaga, D.H., Hagelin, J., Tanner, M., Nidich, S., Gaylord-King, C., Grosswald, S., Rainforth, M., & Schneider, R. (2009). Effects of Transcendental Meditation Practice on Brain Functioning and Stress Reactivity in College Students. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 71, 170-176.