Turning 30: Meddling with Malaise
A synthesis of sorts summarizing several surreptitious speculations from the past decade.
This was originally written to myself, for myself. I thought perhaps it would be worth sharing, but that thought has been met with immense doubt—doubt that what I’ve written has any truth at all or that I don’t have the authority to claim such truths. But ultimately it does reflect my experience of life, and I can’t deny that. As such, test my words with your own experience and let us remember how the pain and joy of life will continue to shape us like stones in a stream.
I had the idea recently to write you a letter at the end of every year, or the beginning of every new year, depending on how you look at it. This is the first of those letters and the beginning of our conversation.
The year 2017 has come to a close and 2018 has begun with my 30th birthday less than a week away. I’ve just quit my job as a software developer in an attempt to force myself forward toward something more. But that something is undefined and unknown. All I know is that for the past 10 years I’ve experienced its pull like a force of nature — a visceral Gravity that simply exists whether we like it or not. But that’s not the only force that’s been at play. There is a seemingly equal but opposite force of Resistance.
Towards the end of last October I looked back at everything I had written over the past decade when I began journaling during my sophomore year of college in 2007. The battle between Gravity and Resistance is clearly evident and I want to share with you the recurring themes, and ultimately truths, I’ve discovered along the way thus far.
Truth #1: Deconstruction of your beliefs is challenging and necessary.
Leaving the church has allowed me to view things in a different way. There has been a progression of discipline and understanding of love I seem to have missed all those years before. I still don’t know what I’m doing on this earth, if there’s even some remotely specific purpose other than living life itself, but I feel a faint sense of hope, a reason to continue on for something more. And so I will.
April 18, 2012
Imagine you are on the beach, letting the waves lap up over your feet, and look out to the horizon where water meets sky. You feel safe, comfortable. You may have a sense of awe, but not yet an understanding.
Now, dare to venture further out into the Ocean. Notice how that feeling changes. As the floor drops out from under you — sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly — your sense of security and confidence gives way to the waves and you are left feeling alone in the deep blue — lost, vulnerable, and terrified.
This is the process of deconstruction.
You begin to question everything you thought you knew about this Ocean. You feel betrayed and may try to purge the entire existence of the Ocean surrounding you from your mind, yet it always remains and you struggle to reconcile these conflicting experiences. Many will turn back to “safety” on the shore, but you must keep swimming!
The experience of this doubt and pain will give way to beauty. You marvel at the coral reefs and swim with the dolphins, the sea turtles, and yes, even the sharks. You notice your fear fading away and something else crystallizing in its place — a deep knowing that is not quite logical, but undeniably true.
This is the ongoing process of reconstruction and reconciliation, though this growth is not linear. You’ll take three steps forward then two steps back, but you must keep swimming.
Truth #2: Time spent with good friends and in nature is never time wasted.
People make life worth living.
September 30, 2013
You and I both have a voice in our heads that has the ability to whisper guilt or shame to us. The problem is, you can never be quite sure which you are hearing or if what you are hearing is actually helpful and healthy. Regardless, this often means there is a lack of presence — a fracture inside you that resembles a disconnect between you and the moment.
Then there are moments when time seems to stand still and disappear. You get lost in a conversation with your roommate after dinner only to notice it’s now well after midnight. Or maybe you go for a hike along the Oregon coast and discover you’ve outlasted the sun as it sets itself down behind the Pacific. These are the moments you want to last forever, as though you had visited the Infinite and were now being brought back into the pace of time.
Never stop pursuing those moments. They will quiet the voice that shames and reflect something back at you that is a sort of eternal beauty you can’t quite explain and will never tire of.
Truth #3: The pull of Gravity is your compass.
Your muse is solely with you and no one else, like a guardian angel. It takes time and practice to learn how to listen to the muse, but once you hear her voice, you barter your joy with regret and must act lest you feel a bit of hell in your head. The path she is calling you to follow leads toward a great mystery, and I feel drawn toward it as gravity draws — it simply is. A core, non-negotiable part of life that isn’t “right” or “wrong”, it just is what it is. But at the same time, acceptance of that feels “right”. It feels good, it feels true. Is not gravity true?
January 1, 2018
The pull of Gravity can permeate any aspect of life. You may not recognize it at first, but as you attune yourself to the direction it’s leading you in, you realize it’s been there all along.
Maybe you feel it when listening to a favorite song, witnessing an injustice against a fellow human being, or perhaps even in the simple moment of admiring the beauty and wonder of a single flower. Whatever the moment, you feel a sense of sacredness in it as though there is something hiding beneath the physical layer. This sacredness can be difficult to describe, but like the Ocean that surrounds you, there is an underlying knowing of goodness found within once you’ve experienced it.
But what are we to do with this revelation? Often, the meaning exists entirely within the experience itself, that is, being present to and experiencing life itself is the meaning. But sometimes it nudges you toward something more, like an invitation to participate in the dance that is happening all around you — an invitation to create. This is your compass.
Every man’s compass is unique to himself, just as he himself is inherently unique, with Gravity as the common denominator tying everything together. It can be found in certain patterns you’ve noticed throughout your life. For example, when I listen to certain songs, visions are conjured up in my head that I feel drawn to manifest. Having documented this sensation for over 10 years, including innumerable lists containing the words “make videos”, the pattern is obvious.
If I had to decide black and white between engineering or art, I would choose art. I’m not sure why I would choose that, it just feels right. I like the idea of having the ability to make ideas, thoughts, and feelings tangible without the use of words.
July 22, 2011
Following your compass is much less about choosing what’s “right” than it is about simply choosing to participant in the dance of Gravity. The reward for doing so is great, but it will not be easy.
Truth #4: Resistance will do whatever it can to stop you.
I can’t tell if I have an underlying issue of laziness and apathy or if I really just haven’t found something I love doing yet. I’m still afraid that no matter what I do, I will always be discontent. What am I searching for? Is it even possible to find?
March 14, 2012
Steven Pressfield writes about Resistance in The War of Art and I find it to be an apt name for the opposing force of Gravity. I also find there to be as much mystery wrapped up in Resistance as there is in Gravity and its power is not to be underestimated. Resistance will bring the fight to you every day and it will continue to destroy you until you commit to bring the fight to it. But why? Why should you commit to fight? Asking the question of Why is important, but know that Resistance will use it as a backdoor to sneak in and ambush you.
If you walk the path of Why long enough, you will eventually reach—and often return to—the Dread of Existence. This is the moment you find yourself lost in the Ocean and that moment can last days, months, or even years. Your thoughts will come as sharks drawn by the scent of the life blood spilling out of you. You feel as though you are already dead, yet here you are, still alive. This paradox must be embraced if you wish to emerge from your hell.
Truth #5: Resistance can be beaten.
The promise of despair is inevitable only when you believe it is.
August 3, 2017
Many different answers can be found along the way down the path of Why: curiosity, love, delayed gratification. These answers are neither right nor wrong and may very well be good and true. However, as long as they can be further distilled, they will not pass the test of Resistance and you must continue down the path.
Everyone will arrive in their on way, but ultimately the simple answer to Why is that committing to fight Resistance is better than not. Once you not only understand but know this, you unlock the secret to beating Resistance.
This does not mean you are done fighting Resistance, as it is never done fighting you. Commitment to the fight is not a one time decision — it’s inherent to consciousness itself and every decision you make. It’s a muscle you must strengthen over time through the grind of consistent conscious action. Write when you don’t want to write. Work out when you don’t want to work out. Why? Because doing so is better than not writing, than not working out, than returning to your hell.
Life truly is a gift, even though it may sometimes feel like a curse. Making something of it and growing from the journey is not intended to serve the ego. Rather, we pursue it because it is good.
August 2, 2017
On the nature of themes, I have also started a tradition of setting a theme for the upcoming year. A single word that encapsulates something I want to pursue and integrate that acts as a simple reminder for when my mind inevitably wanders off.
There are many great things about living in the US, but one permeating aspect that gnaws at me is this overwhelming pursuit of productivity. Just browse Medium for a couple of minutes and you can have 10+ tabs open of articles with juicy info on life hacks, designing your day, and getting things done. These are inspiring, dopamine-releasing, helpful articles, but their ideals can also take a toll on some of us.
The pursuit of productivity for its own sake is infinitely vain, never-ending, and despises rest. Productivity is not a direction. But when balanced by boundaries and intent, it becomes a useful measurement and subservient to something greater: focus.
Focus, which was my theme for 2017, is similar to the path of Why in that it hands you a shovel and asks you to dig through the dirt to find what you’re looking for. To some, focus may seem to just be about how you spend your time, but it can go much deeper than that. During this digging you may uncover unexpected things about yourself and other people (including family) that must be worked through with both grieving and kindness.
As you start to take control of your time and mental energy, Resistance will offer your most cherished forms of escape as a solution. Choose to stay engaged and fight for the reward.
Americans see time passing without decisions being made or actions performed as having been “wasted.” Asians do not see time as racing away unutilized in a linear future, but coming around again in a circle, where the same opportunities, risks and dangers will re-present themselves when people are so many days, weeks or months wiser. As proof of the veracity of the cyclical nature of time, how often do we (in the West) say, “If I had known then what I know now, I would never have done what I did?”
Entering the new year, I thought my theme for 2018 would be: flow. The concept is good, building momentum through continual action, but it didn’t quite have the stickiness I was looking for. As I considered the antithesis of this, what we’ll call being in a rut, I realized the only difference between the two is a matter of intent, or focus—then I found the word I was looking for.
A rut has walls that keep you on its path, perpetuating its effects. You are almost always unaware of a rut forming, but eventually you find yourself in one, wondering how you got there and more importantly how to get out. Through your default actions — or inaction rather — Resistance has quietly led you down its path. When you wake up to this, the cruelty of Resistance will rage in an attempt to keep you trapped feeling helpless and hopeless. There may even be a sadistic intrigue to give in. But when you’ve finally had enough and commit yourself to fight, no matter how long it’s been or how old you are, you begin to groove.
Grooves are made by the same process as ruts, habitually and methodically, but like your favorite record, there is a song to be found as you walk your groove. It’s an invitation to dance that still requires a choice, but as your groove deepens, so does the dance.
I choose to groove.
A number of people have had a significant influence on my thinking who I would like to credit and extend my gratitude towards:
- Mark Manson for gritty anecdotes from his own journey
- Scott Hansen for pure inspiration
- Steven Pressfield for writing The War of Art and naming Resistance
- Richard Rohr for his daily meditations and mystic perspectives
- Science Mike and Michael Gungor for hosting The Liturgists Podcast
- Dan Allender for The Seattle School and Healing the Wounded Heart
- Aaron Diacon for kindling a friendship of encouragement and compassion
- Daniel Rusco for embracing my vulnerability with tears and a mind worthy of any conversation
Keep your friends close and let yourself be happy.