I wrote my book “Finding Your Way in a Wild New World” on the premise that ancient wisdom is what we need to guide this culture that we’ve created. Our culture has a powerful engine, but no steering wheel or compass or charts, so we’re destroying things randomly. I was looking for wisdom to help us guide our modern technologies—not to destroy them or turn back the clock, but to help us steer them.
I’m fascinated by primitive, or pre-modern, cultures. When I was working on my undergraduate degree in Chinese at Harvard, I spent about 18 months in Southeast Asia, and I’ve also researched Australian aboriginal, Native American, and African cultures. What I found was that, wherever you go in the world, there are universal rituals. I boiled it down to four processes I saw again and again.
The first is wordlessness, a practice that takes you out of the left side of your brain and into the right hemisphere, which is largely nonverbal and connective rather than analytical. It could be dancing, movement, psychoactive plants, meditation. Mystics from all traditions talk about dropping into that space of oneness. Wordlessness logs you onto an “energetic Internet” and oneness means you can communicate through it, like sending e-mail—you’re no longer separate, so you can easily get a message to your brother across the jungle.
The second is imagination, using the creative power of the mind within the state of wordlessness and oneness. Many people use it to imagine material objects, trying to force what they think they want into being, and that just doesn’t work. But if you can drop into the state of wordless presence and feel this incredible love that is the medium of communication within us, then it works. As far as we know, we are the only animal that can imagine.
The third is forming—bringing what you imagined into three-dimensional reality. And then there’s rest and play, which are necessary in order to thrive. In the state of love, you don’t force yourself to grind through life.
Q You talk about life being all rest and play, nothing else. How does that work on a day-to-day basis, with all our mundane responsibilities?
It doesn’t mean it’s all just sitting in a beach chair getting smashed on margaritas—that’s a cultural idea of rest. When we do what we love, everybody’s playing, and we get a lot of what you could call “work” done. You think of ways to make “work” more appealing and more playful. If I get bored when I’m on the treadmill, I can try playing music or listening to a book on tape.
The first step is to pay attention to what’s happening in the body. Your body will resist a life or a decision that’s wrong for you. Live like you’re playing the “you’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder” game. Whenever you have the tiniest choice—what to have for breakfast, what e-mail to answer first—choose what brings the most lightness and opening in the body. When it brings tension and a sense of contraction, choose something a little less “cold.” Tiny decision by tiny decision, you will change the course of your life.
I’m letting go of some relationships that no longer bring me a sense of family. Rather than feeling love from these people, I feel judgement. Not judgement for having done anything in particular wrong. Just judgement for not living my life in the manner they feel I should – primarily the job they think I should have, the socializing (i.e. daycare) they think my toddler lacks, and the social consciousness they “can’t get involved in.” So I will no longer attempt to maintain these connections.
I feel saddened by this decision. Though, I’m not sure it’s as much of a decision as it is a release. Letting go has brought a sense of lightness and opening in my body so I hope that the subtle move away from these relationships moves me closer to an authentic life – one in which I feel more free to express myself and more accepted by the people I spend my time with.
Most of the interactions that brought me to this point really matter very little – sitting quietly while others discuss workplace politics; ignored suggestions for mindful behavior; absolute silence – or worse, being outright dismissed – when I mention the need for health care reform, gun control legislation, the social implications of income inequality; my boredom while people discuss the latest iphone app; etc., etc. But one situation that comes up again and again is this constant pressure to “socialize” my toddler (even when she was an infant).
I have no idea if my daughter will be an introvert or not. She seems like a typical two-year-old to me. But I certainly already see a societal bias against introversion. From birth, it seems my daughter is expected to immediately interact with strangers in public. I have been repeatedly told that she’s too shy and needs to be socialized more. (Fortunately, I have educated myself about this and feel confident that she is getting plenty of socialization.) I have begun to theorize this pressure to “socialize” children has more to do with validating other parents’ decisions to put their children in daycare than it has to do with my daughter’s reluctance to be held by everyone she meets. (Note: Upon rereading this, I want to clarify, I understand that for some parents daycare is not a choice. I do not in any way mean to insult or criticize parents who need to put children in daycare. I hope, as a society, we can work to improve the quality and reduce the cost of daycare and education in general.)
Interestingly enough, though, I hear socialization comments from people without children as well. I think this is because there is a cultural expectation that a mother should work, therefore almost every child should be in daycare. I am simply not fulfilling my societal obligation to be a working mom and apparently doing irreversible harm to my child in the process. I mean, what kind of a loser doesn’t have a job? (The kind that makes a conscious decision to sacrifice some of life’s luxuries because time is the most valuable and precious gift I have to give my daughter. Besides, I suck at multi-tasking and office politics.)
This is actually my third round of letting go of relationships since having a child. My inner circle is getting pretty small. Yes, it does concern me. But I think age has given me at least a little wisdom to recognize when people make me feel insignificant and it’s given me the courage to spend more time alone rather than with people who dismiss my lifestyle choices and the values I hold closest to my heart. (Or at least as alone as one can be with a toddler.) I hope that letting go makes some room in my life for more of the people and experiences that bring love, meaning, authenticity, understanding, wisdom, and even some joy to my life. I hope I’m getting warmer.