Lately, I’ve been revisiting an idea I wrote about some time ago: that there is only one moment. Visiting this is how I’m overcoming my … writer’s block?
No—it’s not as much writer’s block as it is writer’s atrophy.
I’ve been very busy these past few months. I left myself very little time for writing, and even less motivation.
Now that I’ve finally made the time and sat back down, I find it incredibly difficult. Once upon a time, I could sit down for a few hours and a hammer out a few thousand words. Now … a few hours of writing means only a few words on the page; it means a lot of staring at a computer monitor; it means more frustration than progress.
There’s a common distinction made in the writing world: there are those who enjoy writing, and those who enjoy having written.
I fear that my atrophied hands have swindled my brain into making me the latter. I can look back at all the content on this blog, or at my book and think “Yes, I am a writer, for I have written.”
Now though, staring at my laptop makes me feel like less and less of a writer.
This is where The Only Moment comes into play.
My atrophied hands are causing me to imagine action. I can imagine myself writing. I’m there, at the keyboard, hammering out word after word, limited only by the speed of my hands. Blog post after blog post; short story after short story; chapter after chapter my hands hammer on.
I can feel the satisfaction that comes with another finished project. I can feel the deep and profound thoughts that I’ve infused into my writing. I can feel the imagery and themes leaping off the page with such creative beauty.
Meanwhile, my atrophied hands say, “See how wonderful it is?! We’ve created a masterpiece!”
That’s when I have to crack my knuckles. That’s when I have to take my hands through the painful bending motions that break the rust from their surface, to free their joints from the deposits of laziness and non-creativity.
I … my hands … we! only have this one moment. All of the writing I can see in the future, all of those completed works, all of that satisfaction—it’s all in the future.
The future doesn’t exist though. By default, neither does anything that I find there.
The future is my imagined action. It’s my projection. Therefore, I may not attribute to myself anything which I have not already done.
And with this realization, I can feel fluids moving in my joints—I can feel my fingers free up. My thoughts begin to show something reminiscent of fluidity. My words begin to look like writing.
This has become a daily struggle. I am a creature of habit, as we all are. So every night, I press the reset, falling back to the habits of atrophied hands. And every morning, I must see a bright and promising future dissolve beneath the harshness of reality and the illusion of time.
I will continue this daily meditation though until my hands have formed a new habit. I will continue every day until my action is no longer imagined, but realized.
Like anything worth having, self-liberation comes at a price and the price is getting out of your comfort zone. — Bruce Muzik
I recently listened to a man talk about a specific self-help type book—which? It’s irrelevant. He was not a fan of the book. He claimed that it provided no new and original ideas… it was all the same stuff he had been reading for years, from several different writers.
What this man did not expect though was the author to acknowledge this fact.
The author wrote that the ideas he was presenting were nothing new. But the reason he was recycling them was because he knows they don’t stick the first, or even the second time people are exposed to them.
You have to be constantly assaulted by an idea before it actually takes hold of you and you integrate it into your perception. A single exposure is not enough. A second is not enough. The idea must be consistent if you are going to accept it.
What a brilliant thought.
For several weeks, I’ve been thinking about chasing your dreams and what it takes to start down that path.
Similar to what that self-help author said about constant exposure, I think a required element is to continually try to move toward your goals.
It’s like learning to walk. You eventually find the courage and motivation to attempt to reach that goal, so you stand up. But then you meet your first obstacle—gravity—and you fall back down. It was a serious blow, one that a lot of people don’t want to get back up from.
But you aren’t dissuaded. After a recovery period, you stand back up.
Eventually, you take that first step… and it’s awkward. You fall down yet again. But you keep with it, and after several tries you begin to walk… you begin to move towards your goal.
I’ve self-published one book (The Divide). It was the sixth book I started writing. I still have the beginnings of the other 5. One is non-fiction, with a whole lot of research behind it. Two more fiction books have full scene outlines. One even has a first chapter written. But I kept falling. I kept running into obstacles with these books. It wasn’t until my sixth attempt that I finally found my rhythm and managed to walk across the room and meet my end goal. A completed book.
Now that I’m a bit better at walking, I’ve started working on another book. But I don’t refer to it as my seventh book… it’s my second book. Why? Because I know how to walk. I know I can finish this book. So what I’m really saying is that I’m writing my second book that will be published (even if that means self-publishing).
Keep standing up. Keep taking that first step. Be consistent in your efforts… and you will learn how to walk.
They don’t think about falling… they don’t care about their edges… they have no interest in making turns… and they have no taste for making pizza out of their french fries.
I’m talking about the young kids I see every day at the Rocky Mountain ski resort where I work.
These kids tuck and go, ski tips pointed straight down the hill… falling doesn’t concern them. The only aspect of gravity that they care about is their acceleration down the hill. “How fast can gravity pull me down this slick slope?”
It’s incredible to watch these kids fly, to glide past other mountain guests, with no effort and no concern.
Even more incredible is seeing how kids just a few years older perform.
They too heavily on their edges and fall. They make slow, awkward turns. And their skis seems to constantly be in the pizza conformation, the v-shape used to slow and stop a skier.
Why is there such a difference?
My theory is this: the older kids have taken more falls.
They know how falling feels (generally not good). And they know that they have taken more falls when moving faster.
This is an acquired fear.
Never mind that as these kids get older, they have developed physically. This means more strength and more control. And as they have accumulated more hours of practice, they have further developed their skills. It makes sense that they could expect fewer falls, doesn’t it?
But they can’t get past that acquired fear. They have learned to associate a conditioned stimulus—going fast—with a fearsome, unconditioned stimulus—the pain (physical and mental) of falling.
It’s understandable to be fearsome of pain. But does it make sense to associate pain with speed when you are capable of avoiding falls at speed?
For the past few weeks I’ve been standing outside my lift shack and thinking, “It’s a shame these kids can’t dissociate speed from pain… that they can’t inhibit their acquired fear.”
But one day I accidentally turned the lens on myself…
It turns out I have some acquired fears of my own. In fact, it’s probably a safe assumption that we all have acquired fears… fears that aren’t logical.
So what is the best course of action when we recognize these fears? Well, there has actually been some research done on this… and the conclusion isn’t the easiest to hear.
The best way to overcome these acquired fears is to experience the conditioned stimulus (going fast in the case of the young skiers) without experiencing the fearsome, unconditioned stimulus (the pain of falling).
We must present ourselves with the conditioned stimulus without experiencing the unconditioned stimulus until we dissociate the two.
For the older kids, this means skiing fast—without falling—until they realize that going fast doesn’t necessarily mean they will fall.
Simple enough, right?
Sure… apart from that one hitch: facing the fear for the first time.
This is definitely the hardest part… I know… I’ve been working on it. But just remember that every time you encounter the conditioned stimulus, it becomes easier to confront… and science says, eventually, there won’t be a confrontation, just a new, fearless, association.
What is the meaning of life?
I’ve wanted to address this question for several weeks now. I think a lot of the dissatisfaction people experience comes from not having an answer to this question… myself included.
After weeks of pondering, writing a little, then deleting a lot, I came across a fantastic answer to this question.
It was in Viktor E Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, his personal account of life in a WWII concentration camp and a brief synopsis of logotherapy, a psychotherapy doctrine pioneered by Frankl. In it, he acknowledges the difficulty one can encounter when trying to answer this question.
“I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent.”
It was how Frankl reframed the question that made the answer easier to track down.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
As I said in an earlier post, “We are — quite literally — the embodiment of life.” And, as Frankl pointed out, because we are life, any meaning it has is assigned by us. Instead of being the students trying to guess the correct answer on our midterm exam, we are actually the teacher writing the answer key.
“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”
Whatever we do with our life is the meaning of life — just from our own unique perspective.
Reframing the question to reflect that you always assign a meaning to life forces more self-reflection. For instance, ask yourself how you spent your day… well, according to you, that’s the meaning of life.
I ask myself this on lazy days… I really don’t want to answer, “The meaning of life is Cheetos and Xbox.” This self-examination is brutally honest… which can also be highly motivating.
So how about you? What’s the meaning of your life? Do you have any desire to redefine that meaning?
This last summer, I went for a bit of bike ride… well, a pretty long bike ride.
One of my favorite songs on the trip was Xavier Rudd’s “Follow the Sun.” I thought it ironic at the time, because I was generally traveling south… not east to sunrise or west to sunset… I wasn’t really following the sun at all.
Too literal? You think!
That was my education in the hard sciences coming through. “The sun rises in the east… The sun warms the planet… The sun sustains almost all life on the planet… And then the sun sets in the west…”
It didn’t occur to me until later that I was actually following the sun. I was passionate about this bike ride I was on. I was excited to be out there, exploring. This wasn’t something I always wanted to do though.
One day this passion rose… This passion warmed my heart… This passion sustained my soul… And then, this passion set, falling below my emotional horizon.
I had followed the sun through the entirety of that bike trip… through several weeks, thousands of miles, and hundreds of thousands of vertical feet.
I bring up this metaphor because I want you to consider what really nourishes you and brings light to your world. Sure, life can exist without the sun… but that is in the deepest and darkest places… and that is survival.
So consider what really makes you thrive? What is your sun?
I’m beginning to notice that Fear is a common thread in my writing. This isn’t because I feel I’m somehow above it… rather, it’s because I contend with it everyday. Addressing it directly is how I fight it and reading my own writing has revealed to me just how often Fear and I come to blows.
I’ve only just now realized my perception of fear might be a bit strange. When I think of Fear, I see a dark figure – featureless, faceless. But still it manages to communicate its standoffishness. It reminds me of Peter Pan and his shadow: separate but the same, apart but undivided. But my dark shadow isn’t friendly… and certainly not as rambunctious. It stalks my every step and darkens all that it glides across.
I hadn’t realized how anthropomorphic my perception of fear had become until writing this.
So today, I want to explore Fear from a different perspective. I want to put aside this dualistic view I’ve constructed and try to remember that Fear is a part of me. It originates from me… it presents itself within me… it is within me that I experience it. Fear is just one of my faces.
Accepting this gives me an added power over it. Instead of constantly having to battle with it, I can turn my back on it. How?
You can either live reactively or proactively.
If you’re living reactively, you’re only ever responding. You receive a stimulus… you react. Another stimulus… another reaction. You aren’t really in control – it’s the stimulus that’s in control; it’s the one that determines what you do.
This is a part of our nature. The fight-or-flight response is deeply engrained and way past the bounds of conscious control. And our fear response – pupils dilated, heart and respiratory rates increased, blood redirected toward the muscles – that is best for these situation because it puts us on the defensive. It makes us ready to react. So living reactively is really embracing fear and telling it to take the reins.
But, you can also live proactively. You can be the stimulus to which you react. This puts you in the driver’s seat, this gives you some amount of control over your situation. From this side of living, it’s hard to be fearful… it’s hard for the fight-or-flight response to take over… that is not the reaction your body has to itself. When you live proactively, you put fear aside.
I’m not saying you can have complete control. But I think you can get a handle on your fear… just enough of a grip to not let it control you. You just need to be proactive.