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Three years ago I wrote a post called: Why I Prefer Astrology To Therapy

I learnt to read charts growing up from my father.

I thought that astrology was just a fun hobby, like any other personality typing system. I didn’t take it seriously, just like I didn’t take any of the things I truly loved very seriously.

It wasn’t until I found a series of brilliant astrologers and paid them to read my chart in depth, however, that I started to give astrology the respect and attention if warranted.

I made appointments with the world’s best astrologers, and with each session, something powerful and unexpected started happening: I starting to take myself and my destiny seriously. I also realised that I could read charts just as well as the best of them. I just hadn’t let myself go there. Being shown the truth, I could no longer hide from who I really was. Astrologer after astrologer was telling me the same thing – showing me my karmic path – and if I didn’t fulfil it, I was victimising and bullying myself at the highest possible level.

In that time, I went from casual astrologer who sort-of thought astrology was meaningful but might be a distraction from more important things, to full blown astro nerd, then finally, to astro professional. I apprenticed under a famous astrologer, working in her practice 30 hours a week, never imaging I had what it took to do my own work and create my own practice and my own approach to astrology

The hardest part?

Taking responsibility for myself. Like so many sensitive, creative people, I saw the world as forever blocking me from creating and expressing. I was being blocked by looking for permission from someone else to do what I most love, expected to get validation and thinking I needed it.

A big part of the change came by surrounding myself with people who loved astrology. They loved me talking about it and reading their charts. This gave me tacit permission to value myself so I could then start seeing how I was giving them control, also.

Once I started to let myself be an astrologer, the hardest work was done.

It’s been 600 days since I decided to give up posting on SpiritNav. This, too, needed to be relinquished, to make room for the next level. I keep the site up because of the emails I still get from people telling me they’ve found something terribly helpful.

To connect with me and my current astrology work, you can visit The Destiny Astrologer.

With love, Jessica xx

IMAGE: Mikalojus Ciurlionis The Goat, 1904. Pastel

So much of our energy and life is consumed by what we think we have to do, and who we think we have to be. The ideal varies from person to person.

It’s often easiest to blame the people around us: they expect us to be a certain way, they are criticising us for not measuring up to what are actually our own ideals. We may be furious and depressed by all the expectations that we believe the people around us have, only to find that we are, in fact, the only ones demanding these things from ourselves. The burdens we place upon ourselves make us miserable and unbearable to be around.

Obligations comes from the level of thought and reason. They may appear rational, but they are not. They are reactions to unconscious fears and the compulsion to control what cannot be controlled.

When we devote ourselves to conforming to ideals, we waste all our energy on conforming to an illusion. That is exhausting.

This pressure to live a certain way – whatever it might be – traps us in ideals that separate us from the joy of simply being alive in each moment, being what we are. With our eyes forever on simply measuring up, we have no energy left to be free and thrive on the simplicity of not needing to be anything.

How easy it is to find ourselves in situations we thought we would love and instead being engulfed by the tide of obligation. We drown. There are a never ending list of things we may decide we need to be that waits below our surface. A sense that we must be different from what we are, or that things must be a certain way, steals life from everything.

When we let go of all of our ideas about who we need to be in order to be happy and successful and acceptable, we might be surprised by how easy it is to be the person who remains.

No longer having to be anyone or anything, we are finally free to actually try things and enjoy them without needing anything from them more than simply just being there.

Not needing to be anything allows us to be creative. We connect to more energy and can do more. We love what we are as it is, and this love powers us. Love is the most powerful of energies – it drives people to do incredible things that you could never pay them to do.

What thought is making you feel terrible? Perhaps it’s the thought that you should be doing anything?

 

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thomas crown bank

I think most people can relate to Thomas Crown, even if our reasons don’t at first seem obvious. We want to do things only so that we know they are possible.

The ultimate motivator? Perhaps it is simply becoming intensely curious about the person you might be able to become.

Maybe we want to know that we can get any job or seduce any woman or circumnavigate the globe or walk on Jupiter. Our vision can be small or large.

Whatever your vision, there are few things more inspiring that doing something to discover that you can do it.

It can be used for good and evil, certainly. Maybe we’re curious because we are afraid, or bored or paranoid. Maybe we’re curious because we are in a state of inspiration and profound self-love.

What do the orthodox have to say about the vice of curiosity? I’ll turn for help to Mathew Lee Anderson and his forward to G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

“That sense of longing, the joyful suspense of living in a world of concealed, discoverable delights – not many of us have the patience to feel that sort of longing anymore, or the courage to follow when it takes hold of us. We revel in the “ambiguities” and “gray areas” of life, yes, but without the cheerfulness of people who are looking forward to finding our what’s beyond them.”

Curiosity becomes a constructive force when it’s fused with love, certainly: a call to seek our truth beyond the surface of things. The purest state of curiosity is being truly, completely, open to learning the truth. I feel that this is what shifts curiosity into the domain of inspired curiosity.

We just want to know what might be possible for us beyond the apparent surface and limits of things. We want to discover truth beyond the ambiguities.

Can we be happy? Can we be better at something? Can we be the best? Can we surprise ourselves? Can anything ever surprise us again? Can we ever love again? Can we survive while knowing the truth?

This thrill becomes all the more vital when we are people who have everything. Which, in the western world, is almost all of us. We have enough, and all the extras of life are not all that necessary.

Asking the question – “maybe my life could be better?” – is what it means to have hope.

Maybe the things that we are curious about aren’t possible. Our hypothesis might be rebutted. It doesn’t actually matter. If we are really curious, we are open to disproving our theories.

Curiosity will take us to places that we never imagined, and it is never wasted. If we knew exactly where they would take us, we would never even bother. Whatever happens, we want to be surprised: either by the fact that something is possible, or by where our attempts end us taking us.

I don’t find it hard to get curious about things. The more curious I get, the more action I take.

Sometimes this curiosity is wholesome, and sometimes its nihilistic. With more experience, I think your curiosity becomes gradually more refined. You become more selective about what you want to learn.

I might today ask myself whether if I prayed more, and in the right way: could I transform myself? And so I might start trying, and then things will inevitably start happening. That’s what I find: things do start to happen. It can curl your hair.

I think it’s hard to have hope without being curious about what tomorrow might bring if you started doing something today.

Without this curiosity to discover what we can become and what our next chapter might entail, it’s hard to make anything happen at all. But when you are curious about something, it become effortless.

Curiosity is vital to creativity. It implies that something new awaits to be created.

The tricky thing about being a human being is our inner void. The void is necessary but not always pleasant: not until we become radically loving and accepting towards the process. But being creators and creations that we are, we must contain within us a significant void.

Why do people buy? Because they are curious about how much better their life could be.

But we need to be careful about where our curiosity takes us. We need to be careful about what we are inviting into the void, and how that will affect us as creators. At the same time, all creation inevitably begets more creativity, so there’s no need to be too puritanical. I daresay we are too intent on having perfect visions and idealised avenues of exploration.

What helps is a vision of what you might like to create that makes you feel good. It makes you feel free and light and joyful. Our vision – our idea of what might be possible for us – will go a long way to informing what we allow ourselves to be curious about and what avenues we pursue.

It’s important to be clear about the kind of life you are really most curious about creating.

We are being endlessly seduced, sold on a vision, converted to an aesthetic. We recruit and are recruited. We need clarity around our own values and the vision we want to embody.

The most important question is perhaps this: if I tried, what might be possible for me?

Almost all other thoughts are a distraction.

I think you need to be curious about what is possible, and that you need to recruit yourself to your own cause of making this discovery.

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serge gainsbourg unattractive face

Recording your thoughts into writing in some sort of consistent way makes you keenly aware of your perpetual mortality.

“That for which we can find words is already dead in our hearts. There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.”

Nietzsche understood. Leaving a trail of your dead self everywhere requires a lot of nerve or indifference or both. Mainly nerve: the nerve to love one’s self as ignorant, unformed and incomplete.

If you are like me and learn through writing, then today’s writings only promise to be tomorrow’s permanent reminder of the person we have left behind. The writings of yesterday form an encyclopaedic obituary to an erstwhile Self. I am of course pleased that in the natural course of ongoing evolution the person who is writing this in the morning will by twilight be dead, and that in her place will be someone who is hopefully more tempered in some way by the experiences of the day. That is life: to walk the tightrope over the abyss, never arriving, only ever becoming. Perpetual death and rebirth are crucial to our evolution, and yet I can’t promise I’m always so cooperative.

For our ignorance to die, it must first have lived. This is the great challenge of our evolution: we must live through our limits. They need to be claimed and explored properly. The difficulty is that if we deny ourselves the truth of the current moment, then we never allow ourselves to be in a position where we can let that former self go. Who we might have been was never properly lived, and so could never offer us a gateway to the next avenue of our becoming.

Literature concerns itself with this evolution: death of the old self and apotheosis through renunciation. Rene Girard is helpful on the topic with his theory that throughout the course of a “great” novel, the hero/heroine must die as their old self – stripped of their frailties and desires to become something important through greed and imitation – to be finally reborn again as themselves. All great stories manage to climax in a way that echoes Christ’s crucifixion and final apotheosis. Some of our deaths are relatively minor: others are more transformative. But a full rebirth only comes from moving through the heart of something that is central to our old self. It is a convergence of nadir and apotheosis somehow.

The good news is that until the story is over, there is always the opportunity to be reborn and to vindicate ourselves by making good from what seems otherwise crippling. And no death is ever final: there are many more lifetimes awaiting us for us to achieve a sort of ultimate apotheosis, if there is room for any kind of ultimate in an infinite universe.

My great reluctance to share my writing with the world has always been consciousness of my immaturity and a lack of satisfaction in my present abilities. I am more than conscious of how much more of me needs to die in order for me to not be leaving a public trail of ignorance and silliness in my wake. How much nerve does it require to both know the limits of something and be able to love them at the same time?

To not embrace my shortcomings is a denial of the truth about who I am: ignorant and imperfect. No doubt there is some shame about my inadequacies, because somehow I am not supposed to have limits or flaws, which of course is a completely ridiculous idea – ask any of the people who have actually met me. It takes a great deal of nerve to love something that is imperfect? And yet not having that nerve results in disaster.

A big problem for all of us is our unwillingness to embrace our current self – the self we know needs to die. There is an absence of gratitude for what is, as it is, as being wholly necessary. Amor fait – a love of one’s fate. If we ignore this “fate”, diminish it, hide it, skim over it, we think it will go away. There is a devaluing of this self as a gateway to new life. Only lack that begets solutions, and yet we don’t appreciate the process. We are ungrateful for the absence that invites the presence.

While it’s perhaps logical that one should wait to have the right answer before answering, not being prepared to be wrong means one never has the opportunities to evolve into a person who has qualified perspectives. Without owning the person I am right now, do I give myself a chance to really evolve through the ignorance? Probably not. As such I am unlikely to ever impose much on anyone. So I needn’t worry.

The irony is that in all my half-formed scribblings and ramblings this past 12 months, I feel I’ve come much farther along in a lot of ways than I could have anticipated. Certainly not in terms of proving anything about myself as an artist. Why might I feel I have advanced so much?

“You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things,” suggests writer Neil Gaiman. Maybe that’s it. To finish an article or novel or relationship is to finalise a death. It makes it final in a way that allows you to properly move on. The more moving on we do, the further forwards we go. With each article I finish, I somehow release the ideas that have enchanted me so that I can at last move on from them.

But some things aren’t ready to be finished yet. Some things take a long time. I’m a thoughtful person. I like to think before I speak. I like to have something worth saying. It takes a long time to synthesis in a meaningful way, and even longer to be reborn entirely, and so it flies in the face of my nature to be sharing so much of myself prematurely. Or maybe I simply just don’t want to have to eat my own words. Or humble pie of any kind. At least not publicly.

Despite all this hesitation, “shipping” is a hot topic in the post 2010 world, thanks in a big way to Seth Godin. Shipping means getting something out there and getting it done. Like, this week. It takes a huge amount of nerve to say: I am not where I want to be yet, but I am committed to doing my best with who I am right now so that I can grow myself into the person I need to be. Publicly. That’s what art and business is: it’s public, and it’s asking people to take an interest in us in some way, to form a exchange, a conversation.  That’s a lot to ask. But things do need to be on that level, because if they aren’t, there isn’t enough at stake. Business is an offering of yourself on a large enough scale for it to be instructive. 

In my view, a good business offers something you love to people you love and who love you. If you aren’t loving it, and if other people aren’t loving it, then the equation doesn’t work, does it? You actually have to offer a lot of yourself – and a lot of love – to get anything back. To not offer is stingy and begets nothing. To not offer is not loving.

Love is critical here, because it is our currency. We focus on winning our own love rather than sharing the love that we are, because love is something we connect to as an external. Of course there is the effortless love begotten from ignorance: from seeing only the pleasantries. That kind of love doesn’t require any nerve. It’s easy to love the sunshine. That’s what most of us are buying through indulgence or when we go shopping. And we wonder why we forget about most of the things we buy within mere hours. We don’t really love, we just go through its early stages.

I’ve come to realise just how much nerve it takes to love something as a choice. Right now I’m reading James Altucher’s “Choose Yourself,” and that’s what got this whole series of ideas churning inside me. I’m 89% of the way through according to my Kindle and I never want this book to end, because in all its simplicity I’ve never read so cogent an argument for the amount of character it takes to choose to love yourself as a means to creating more love in the world.

Basically his point is that we need to choose to love, nurture and champion ourselves consistently if we want to make things happen in our lives. We are the wellspring of love, and we need to offer that love to ourselves and others. It’s almost too simple, and yet in our hurry to get things done the fundamentals are frequently displaced.

Love starts with a solid routine of sleeping, eating well, exercising: good life hygiene as they might have called it at one time. Then when everything goes south, as often it needs to, we have a firm foundation to keep us afloat. We kind of have everything we need to survive: good food, shelter and health. Giving yourself steady support is a deeply loving thing to offer yourself, just as to really love someone else is to offer them something they can truly depend on.

The next step is to actively choose to love yourself on an hourly basis. This involves the rather harrowing task of telling yourself “I love you”, which can be difficult for most people. It seems like a preposterous thing to say to one’s self, and most people don’t have the nerve for that. It always takes nerve to make up one’s own mind in any real way. Of course we believe that love is something earned. Conventional wisdom equals the view that I would need to be at least 20 times more successful before I could consider being satisfied and supportive of myself. We withhold approval from ourselves until we deserve it, and are shocked to discover that we never get to that point where we “deserve” love.

I think this definitely ruins our lives, because we wait to be deserving to experience love, and yet it is love that creates conditions for our success. Success is all about love. People who are loved succeed, and people who were notably not loved set out to succeed to earn love. The second avenue is fraught with peril, as our ability to earn love is sadly often far beyond our control. We then expect those around us to earn our love and wonder how life became so loveless.

It takes a lot of nerve to say: I love myself. I love him. I love her. I back myself up exactly as I am, and support my journey, however ugly it is or however ugly I am. Life is perfect in its mysterious way. All is well. I love because I choose a loving experience of life, irrespective of external conditions.

Are we too impoverished to choose love? Where is the courage? Have we perhaps been denied a connection to some sort of higher love that gives us a sense of our own divinely imperfect perfection?  Perhaps we haven’t felt the flickers of divine love as a template of the sensation? Maybe that’s what we need before we can trust that we are worth loving without having some sort of external sanction for doing so.

People who don’t love themselves are probably the ugliest of people. It is frankly sickening to be around someone who hates themselves for any amount of time, because the feeling is contagious. Regardless of how much we compensate for the absence of love with a veneer of some sort of respectability, lovelessness is intolerable. It’s not a condition for thriving. I can’t stand being around myself when I’m in that state of lack. It can come from nowhere, interfering with my ability to just enjoy my day as the gift it is. There is something really toxic about a person who you can just feel is hating on themselves every single day – vigilantly critiquing themselves, so often without even realising it. Their lack of peace is somehow highly pervasive. Love is contagious, and so is its void.

I’ve experienced the void of love and have tried success through flagellation, and it never works. Nothing meaningful, lasting or important was ever created through fear. And yet that’s so often exactly how we choose to live. Not loving ourselves drains the life out of everyone around us, and this unconscious hating spills outwards like a fog.

Quite often we are deeply reluctant to make up our own minds for ourselves about our real value because that would take too much nerve. It takes incredible nerve – nerves of steel – to embrace yourself enough to actually cultivate yourself. That nerve comes from leveraging the small bit of love we might already have within us to create more of the same, and make it our daily experience.

Love allows us to back ourselves up in sharing our love with the world. Love gives us more to share. The brutal truth that Altucher points out is that when you don’t love yourself, your intelligence goes down. I know this feeling all too well. Self-doubt is crippling to the writer. When I feel terrible about myself for some petty reason, it’s like I can’t think anymore. You become hyper aware of this cycle as a writer and artist in a way that you can normally gloss over in ordinary life. Fear and doubt equates to zero productivity. The artist lives and dies by love, because it is how they allow themselves to keep going.

To feel contempt for oneself is like one suddenly has nothing more to ever say. When I embrace myself, choose myself, love myself, I surprise myself by how much I suddenly have to share. I become intelligent. Nothing drains life more fiercely than the absence of love.

Most of us attempt to earn love by adhering to some apparently loveable ideal. We think we need to get love from somewhere else by being something else. We focus on doing things we think we should be doing to get what we think we should be getting from life. That doesn’t require any nerve. It requires no character or guts to give away power. Trying to escape into ideals – using ideals as an escape from our own truth – is the most stifling of mistakes. To kill yourself and replace yourself with an ideal is not a path to growth, but is instead self-denial. To love an ideal more that you love yourself brings personal evolution to a stand-still.

We probably don’t know how to back ourselves up, because who has ever actually backed us up before as we really are? Learning to love is something we often need to teach ourselves.

I had brunch this morning with a friend who pointed out that we need to be as discerning with our thoughts as we are with our diets if we expect to function at a high level. This is a highly apt analogy. And yet where does one find the will – the nerve – to say no to what is detrimental? It comes from a simple decision, a choice, about what kind of life we want to experience. It comes from deciding that quality of our life fully our responsibility.

It starts I guess with not thinking too much about it, and just taking the leap and saying – “I love you” to yourself about a thousand times a day, like Kamal Ravikant did. This takes the kind of guts that comes from having no other option and nothing to lose. It comes from believing that what you think of yourself is more important than what anyone else thinks.

It takes a lot of nerve to love something that is imperfect. Where do we get this nerve? We simply decide that it is possible, and we do it. Love is something we have to be able to afford, and we can only afford it if we have a wellspring of love already within ourselves. In time we realise that love is not conditional or contingent, it is instead a choice that requires strength, nerve, character. It is consciously chosen, and is the highest exercise of our free will.

To love independent of contingencies is a mark of great strength. Choosing yourself ultimately means loving yourself as you are right now, so much so that you are prepared to suffer any indignity that that love might require of you. It takes a very strong person to bear out an indignity, after all.

“Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong,” returning again to Nietzsche.

In the absence of great beauty, you can, like Gainsbourg, choose yourself and offer yourself to the world. It’s a conscious choice.

That’s how strong we need to be to succeed at and delight at being ourselves.

Image of Serge Gainsbourg via Tumblr. Miles Alrdige image via.

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Have you ever loved something or someone obsessively?

Yes, I mean you.

Even the coolest of characters can find themselves becoming suddenly and irretrievably obsessed. All it takes is the right object, one that gives us a sense that perfection and happiness have incarnated into a single person, place, vision, vocation or thing.

Obsession doesn’t just apply to our romantic partners, though often they bear the brunt of our insecurities and neediness. It can discolour and taint a whole array of ways in which we interact with the world. We can just as easily direct our obsession towards our friends, children, parents, pets, our work, our appearance, our home or our bank account.

Obsession is simply a need to feel securely connected, and that need can be directed towards anything. Rather than being a sign of love, it flows from our insecurities about being able to get what we need from life in a secure, healthy way.

I used to think my talent for obsession was a gift. Being a monomaniac has allowed me to work with unrivalled fervour and passion. It has created an experience of life that has often been incredibly rich, profound and intense.

This optimism of mine about the up-side of obsession is out of touch with the reality: obsession creates a source of constant disappointment and anxiety. When our obsession does not “cooperate” with us, we are left feeling miserable.

Obsession pushes away our ability to authentically connect to ourselves and others, because our experience of our obsession becomes more important to us than the thing itself. It distorts our perceptions and leaves us indifferent to peaceful, secure, supportive attachments which seem relatively boring by comparison.

The truth about obsession is that it is highly addictive. Intense feelings release large amounts of opiates in our brains, and in such a way we can actually become addicted to our obsession.

Once addicted, we will constantly seek out things that will get us high on our excitement. In time we will start to believe that if something doesn’t obsess us, making us feel giddy on the required quantity of opiates, then it isn’t really worth doing.

Obsession blocks our true intuition, as we will start to believe that the only things that are right for us are the things that make us feel high on “life”. We mistake the opiate high of our obsessed love with genuine feelings of love. Eventually we will have no idea what we really do love, because we are forever looking around at the world in search of out our next hit of obsession. We will become completely out of touch with the things that create genuine connection and authentic love.

This is the big problem with obsession: it almost always backfires. We think we are connected to the most powerful force in the universe, and we have no idea of the downside that is quickly coming to put things back into balance. Push something too hard, and it can quickly break under the pressure. Press harder still, and we’ll find we’ve pushed away the very thing we love the most.

Ultimately, obsession flows from not feeling like we are securely attached to the things we love, because we are not securely attached enough to ourselves. We fear that the things we love could be taken from us at any moment, and so we obsess, clinging tightly to protect ourselves so that this doesn’t happen.

Obsession is not actually passionate love, but is instead love that has been made frantic by our anxiety and neediness. Our obsessions are a symptom that we are reliant on the world around us in order to feel good, and that we have no authentic connection to ourselves and our own inner goodness, peace and power.

Obsession leaves us vulnerable to disappointment, because it creates expectations which are absurdly high. Obsession idealises things as a source of pure unadulterated goodness, and leaves no room for the reality of the situation to be in any way valuable.

Some people are more prone to obsession than others. Problems with “secure attachment” are typically routed in our childhood experiences of attachment. Our ability to attach securely determines our ability to love something or someone fully. If we didn’t have a secure attachment to our loved ones as children – perhaps they were busy, ambivalent, dismissive or even abusive – then we will lack confidence in our ability to hold on to the things we love later in life.

We will believe that love is always elusive, and we will fear being separated from what we love. We will mirror this elusiveness in our relationship with ourselves, choosing to love ourselves erratically rather than securely. The obsessed person doesn’t trust that life will bring them more opportunities for joy, but will erratically respond with a limited number of opportunities. The obsessed person is desperate to be able to love themselves, and so they cling to whatever allows them this joy.

The obsessed person most likely has problems trusting in themselves, their own value, and their own ability to make secure attachments with the things they love. Not knowing how to securely attach, they over-compensate with passion, intensity or over-nurturing. These are not natural reactions, but are routed in fear of loss and disconnection.

Even the most cool, dispassionate person can find themselves becoming suddenly obsessed when they find something that they think resembles a true experience of love. We fall in love with the things that help us to love ourselves. We when love something outside of ourselves, we connect to the ability to love the part of that thing that is within us which we can only love in someone else rather than without ourselves.

We each go through life carrying with us an ideal of what love is, based on the pattern of love we experienced as children. If we meet someone that reminds us of our earlier experience of love – the kind from a father that was sometimes full of praise but other days full of scorn, or from a mother that was smothering and insatiable to the point of her being constantly disappointed – we can find ourselves obsessing over winning the love of these people who model our ideals of perfect love, because that’s what love needs to be for us in order to feel real.

Obsession with our work follows a similar pattern. When we depend on our work to feel good about ourselves, we will cling to our work as a reliable source of joy. Through our work we might have discovered a semi-reliable way to feel really great about ourselves and connected to ourselves – expressing our talents and authentic gifts – at least until things start going badly, or our project ends, or the stock market crashes and we are out of work.

Our work may allow us to feel in control and powerful in a way that no other part of our life can offer us. It might allow us to become an ideal person, and our obsession in life may take the form of living up to our own ideals.

I generally direct my obsession into “projects”. This obsession is intoxicating. It is almost as if my whole sense of peace, purpose and passion in the world emanates from my connection to each passing goal, quite unconsciously.  Without the security that my obsession brings, I feel quite lost in the world.

Depending on an external goal for a connection to oneself is fraught with peril, not least because of how little control we have over the external world. Goals work best for us when we are detached from them, not attached to them for our safety and sense of meaning.

To avoid obsession, our task is to develop a sense of internal peace and value in who we are, without the reliance on our work or our accomplishments or another person. Yes, it is crucial for our sense of balance in the world that we have meaningful work and meaningful relationships, but obsession robs us of this genuine meaning.

Obsession makes us selfish, because our focus is always first on the good feelings we can get, rather than the good feelings we can create. The obsessed person fears that they cannot create goodness from within themselves, and so therefore they need to attach to some external ideal of goodness, getting it from someone or something else.

Obsession is not an effective way to secure love. It actually pushes love away because it pushes away the truth. It is a supplement for genuine peace and self-love through intense feelings of a different kind.

In truth, we don’t need to force anything, because the things that are forced will always end up proving themselves wrong for us. Whatever we force will be a reaction to our fears rather than a way of truly connecting to what we need most. Whatever we obsess over is an indirect means of finding a reason to love ourselves, and in reality we don’t ever need to justify or earn this love.

If we trust life, we will know that the things that are real and good for us will always be there, and that love is something we can feel for ourselves without having to do a single thing.

Image: via

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I think mountain goats are amazing, but perhaps that’s just because I’m a Capricorn. This animal is somehow highly relatable to me. Goats are part creepy, part determined, part ancient, part saturnic/satanic. But more than anything, the Capricorn archetype feels most alive when climbing to the top of a mountain. Any mountain. The only thing limiting this goaty ambition is the ability to choose the right mountain to climb, and their ability to keep their balance and not topple over, crashing to their death on the way.

Here are some mountain goats to admire.

http://www.gembapantarei.com/2008/11/7_leadership_lessons_from_a_mountain_goat.html

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http://everythingisunique.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/goat-can-climb-mountain.html

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http://www.adeevee.com/2010/05/marble-mountain-newfoundland-feathers-yeti-mountain-goat-print/

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http://www.adeevee.com/2010/05/marble-mountain-newfoundland-feathers-yeti-mountain-goat-print/

(Image source)

It’s not just ruthless, obsessive Capricorns who risk falling out of balance. Our body is an energy system that needs to be balanced. It doesn’t do terribly well with obsession, monomania or unbalanced goals. Although some people survive these conditions and build an empire on the back of an obsession, we are not all built for this sort of forbearance.

Different parts of our body happen to process different types of energy. These points are called chakras. The human experience is not about one dominant energy or chakra. While some of us are more at home in certain chakras than we are in others, a full experience of life requires that we bring all the chakras into balance, enjoying the full spectrum of love and lessons that life has to offer us.

If we focus too much on one area, or neglect a particular energy in our life, it will throw our whole system out of balance. This can create illnesses that slow us down to a speed where we can contemplate what is really important.

Dr Mona Lisa Schultz describes the following considerations that need to be balanced in each energy centre, and I am inspired by how she frames this need for balance.

Chakra 1: Balancing our need for individuality versus our need to fit safely into a tribe.

Chakra 2: Balancing our need for financial security with our need for love and sex.

Chakra 3: Balancing our need for self-esteem and self-respect with our need to be responsible and have respect for others.

Chakra 4: Balancing our need to be in a partnership with our need to take care of our own emotional health and resources.

Chakra 5: Balancing our need to be heard and express ourselves with our need to listen and let others express themselves.

Chakra 6: Balancing multiple perspectives, ideas and approaches to life with our own unique perspectives.

Chakra 7: Balancing our life choices and life’s necessities with our life’s purpose.

Finding balance in our chakras is not necessarily about becoming more spiritual. Too much emphasis on spirituality, and not enough on our earthly needs like a secure home, community of friends and exercise regime, can actually throw us out of balance just as much as partying, working and shopping all the time would do.

What this need for balance teaches us is that the solution to our problems is never one sided. A problem cannot be solved by extreme action: whether it be focusing obsessively on our career, our self-expression, our connection to God, or our ability to connect to the emotional needs of others. A solution pursued without balance will only create a new kind of imbalance.

“Many of us find our balance point by testing our limits and exploring the extremes on either side, then learning from the consequences,” writes Dan Millman in The Life You Were Born to Live.

Seeking to create balance within each area of our life, rather than seeking refuge in an extreme position, is ultimately how we be able to discover the best of all positions, rather than being limited by the polarizing energy of an unbalanced experience of life.

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I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like to do things by halves. When I start a project, I like to learn all the theory in that area and become something of an “expert”.

There are two major problems with this approach.

The first one is that doing things the “right” way creates a huge burden of responsibility. Suddenly you have a list of all the things you should be doing, and that list gets quickly so overwhelming that passion for your project quickly fades.

The thing you love quickly becomes just another obligation. As someone with “responsibility burn out”, I need to be careful about not turning everything in my life into yet another opportunity to feel overwhelmed.

The second problem is that many of the “right” ways to do things are often deeply flawed. The prevailing paradigms tend to have nothing to do with your own personal talents, vision and highest potential.

It’s a privilege to know the rules so that you have the confidence to break them. But there is an even better solution: develop your own vision and believe in it 100%. Easier said than done, but ultimately that’s what is necessary. Formulas for success can only take you so far, and so far isn’t nearly far enough.

Believing in yourself is a huge privilege. It allows you to value and develop your unique talents, without being distracted by what you think you should be doing instead. You won’t waste time on the things that you feel will protect you from failure, and you will be able to put all your energy into the things you really do best.

When you really believe in yourself, you won’t be so easily sidetracked by the apparent need for compromise, gimmicks and manipulation in order to get what you think you need from life.

A gimmick can be anything from getting a particular degree to convincing people that you are clever, to creating a marketing campaign that generates an inflated sense of value, scarcity and need from the people who are most easily made afraid. The trouble with gimmicks is that they don’t convince people who have a strong bullshit meter, who are confident, and who aren’t so easily made afraid.

When I started this website, I was unsure whether it was even possible to get a single reader, let alone write a single article that even made sense. I didn’t need to be so insecure, but one of my special talents is self-doubt, and so I set about learning absolutely everything I could about websites and building information businesses.

It’s our insecurity that makes us want to hide behind formulas, degrees, prestige and status symbols. In my own insecurity, I spent quite a bit of time becoming an expert so I would protect myself from naivety and failure. I tend to be a bit naive, and I didn’t want to do myself a disservice by being too much of an idealist and not enough of a “business person”.

I had to wonder: would I not be a fool to leverage all the current marketing techniques that are touted by the “experts”? If I didn’t, was I selling myself short?

In my attempts to protect myself from failure, I’ve come across all the business and websites techniques, tricks and gimmicks du jour. Along the way I actually figured out how to create a website and write a few decent articles too.

Blogs and websites these days are generally encouraged by the “experts” to send their readers/”customers” down sales funnels, create a sense of inflated value and urgency, use pop-ups and promote products and partners. This has all become the standard for best practice. And yet it seems highly counter-intuitive to me.

There’s nothing worse than reading a book where the author underestimates their readers’ intelligence, and eventually I decided that there was also nothing worse than a business that in any way underestimates their customers’ intelligence either. Exploiting the vulnerability of others by creating an inflated sense of value and false sense of urgency seemed like my idea of absolute living hell. Selling myself short had nothing to do with not taking opportunities, I realised, and everything to do with compromising quality, vision and self-belief.

But I tried to “do the right thing” to cover my bases. I signed up for what was touted as the most advanced information marketing course on the market. It was recommended by Hay House, a company I greatly respect, and I was excited to know I was doing my best to learn the ropes.

Initially I was inspired by the material and felt like I got some great ideas for new possibilities for content delivery. Quickly, the inspiration turned to despair. Why so much emphasis on the system, and so little emphasis on quality and real problem solving?

Confidence doesn’t come from doing all the right things, I now realise. Real confidence comes from:

– believing in your own unique abilities, and not needing to blindly follow anyone else’s methods, however promising

– being inspired by other ideas but building your own unique method, based on your own strengths

– playing to those strengths to your fullest, and not trying to be good at the things where you are really just mediocre, simply because you “should”

– not needing to manipulate, trick or coerce anyone into liking you or buying anything from you

– being content to appeal to only a few people, perhaps only 2% of people at most

– letting go of a safety net and following inspiration, and doing what is real, true and helpful in each moment rather than following a strict calculated plan, scheme or optimisation strategy

Having explored all the avenues with regards to what I “should” be doing to create an “information platform” and possibly turn it into a “business” of some sort, I can now relax and say that I am very eager to say “no” to opportunities in favour of following my inspiration when it  comes to creating content that simply does the most to inspire me and others to live their best lives.

Every single decision I make can relate to quality, helping and sharing: doing my best, and backing myself in doing what inspires me the most.

Image by Beth Hoeckel Collage & Design

arianna painting

Arianna Huffington is something of an expert both on the pursuit of power and the pitfalls of over-exertion. The stellar rise of The Huffington Post was initially fuelled by Huffington’s 18 hour work days, the strain of which led her to a nervous collapse in 2007.

In her new book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Wisdom and Wellbeing, Huffington invites us to challenge the current paradigm of success as being money and power.

While Huffington cannot be expected to resolve the matter entirely, she does have the power to adjust mainstream values by a few vital millimetres.

“The way we’ve defined success is no longer sustainable for human beings or for societies,” she writes. “Over time, our society’s notion of success has been reduced to money and power. In fact, at this point, success, money and power have practically become synonymous in the minds of many. This idea of success can work – or at least appear to work – in the short term. But over the long term, money and power by themselves are like a two-legged stool – you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over. And more and more people – very successful people – are toppling over.”

Burn-out is not just a trap for corporate heavy-hitters. It affects anyone whose work is never quite finished, including creative types and mothers. It comes from placing all our emphasis on goals – on the cult of more – at the expense of what is true.

The rise of the machines

Striving and struggling towards a worthy goal is what Viktor Frankl recommends for us, but at what point does the struggle become toxic? At what point do we lose our focus on the authentically worthy goal and find that we’ve been distracted by what appears more worthy?

Even if we don’t think of money as our primary motivator, we live in a world where people are mostly viewed as machines. We exist to achieve successful outcomes and to gain control over our environment. The more we can squeeze out of ourselves and others, the better. This experience is both toxic and dehumanising, and in making ourselves into machines, a great deal of our humanity is lost.

How do we stay present to the best aspects of our striving, and how do we avoid getting caught  in the thrall of more?  It is valuable for each of us to consider carefully what our own personal bottom line is. It’s vital that we express our gifts in the world, but if we exhaust ourselves in the process, we can only go so far. Here’s what authentic success might look like in 2014 and beyond.

Return continually to the present moment

If the present moment is not a reward – either in the form of joy or challenge – then no future goal can offer lasting pleasure. The inability to take pleasure in our successes and achievements is the very real fate that awaits us when we disconnect from what is, and train ourselves to be focused permanently on what could be.

To become a machine means that the only thing that matters is the outcome, and so our pleasure in life is always fixed to some future time when that outcome is achieved. When that moment comes, we are incapable of enjoying it. We have no experience of what it feels like to enjoy a present moment, because we have spent all our time living for some future moment.

If we focus on our current experience, and fill our lives with the things that give us more energy, our work becomes a pleasure in and of itself. The rewards are assured to us in each moment and success is not postponed for some future time when we finally “deserve” it.

Success can actually be measured every hour by the quality of our experience. We can learn to connect to ourselves and our truth rather than relying on fantasies. This is a very real and present definition of success. It forces us to be present to our true feelings, and to reconsider our choices if they are making us feel drained. It doesn’t matter if you work in finance or a fruit market, if your work is a reward in and of itself, then you will stay connected to yourself.

Respect your truth and the truth of others

If our work and business does not respect the humanity of others, then our contributions will be as equally dehumanising. We will create stuff people don’t need. We will distract people from the truth. We will fail to create anything of lasting value. Our creations need to be based in a love of life so that they emanate that love into the lives of others. If we create from fear, we will spread more fear through our creations.

We can lose ourselves in an arbitrary fixation on a goal that we think we need to achieve to make certain points about our identity. We can sacrifice ourselves to a goal and disrespect our truth in so doing. Losing connection with ourselves sets us up for being tuned out from the truth: illness, exhaustion, unhappiness. It leads us to create lives we cannot enjoy and accumulate successes that are never adequate.

It is possible for all of us to take even just an hour a day to do the thing we really love doing, regardless of our life circumstances. We can paint for an hour, write for an hour, garden for an hour. Time is how we show our respect, and if we give our truth the time of day, then we are exercising genuine self-respect.

The actual reality of what we love most to do will rarely fit into a career initially. But if we work away at that thing for long enough, we can become so good that financial rewards and influence may flow from it. Ultimately it’s more important to just respect your truth by giving it daily time and attention rather than calculating how that truth can bring you power, money and external success. External success must flow from the inner success of being who you really are. It will never happen the other way around. We will never find our truth in any external thing, and it is futile to find peace outside of ourselves. We can only create it and emanate it.

More is not more

Focusing on opportunities is a recipe for burn out and dissatisfaction. There are always more opportunities. Our no is more powerful than our yes.

Focus is power. It avoids creating the excess, the junk and the stuff that neither we nor others really need. Focus requires that we know who we are and what we want. More is never the solution. Quantity is no substitute for the thing we really do want. Our job is to get very clear about what it is we really want, and to draw a line around it. We must then say no to whatever we don’t want.

The challenge

Start saying no to all the things that aren’t what you really want, and start making time for the things you do want. You only have so many hours in the day to focus, and only we can choose how we will spend them.

Read the article from The Age here.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 6.39.00 PMI wasn’t ready to write this article today, but I decided to write it anyway. Life is a maze, but we won’t get anywhere if we wait for a map to show up and guide the way in advance. The best we can do is raise our awareness so that our perspective is high enough that we can see the bigger picture. The second best thing is to enter the maze and follow our instincts. We can be guided unconsciously by higher awareness. Eventually it will become natural to us. To do that we need to get our minds out of the way, and simply act.

“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory,” wrote Emerson. When have I ever been ready to do anything meaningful? I wasn’t ready to start this website six months ago. I wasn’t ready to start teaching at university on my first day on campus. I wasn’t ready to start writing my first novel seven years ago, and the smartest thing I ever did was very consciously choosing not to think about that fact too much. Of all the best things I’ve ever done, I was woefully unprepared for all of them.

There is a big difference between thinking you are ready and actually being ready.

I’ve now come to the conclusion that it’s actually dangerous to wait until you are ready to get started on anything.

Why is that?

1. By the time you are ready to do something, you are too good to be doing it

By the time you are officially ready to do something, you are over-qualified for it, and you should probably be doing something better with your time, like learning new things and dreaming new dreams.

If you aren’t learning or you aren’t creating, then you probably aren’t using your time constructively. And if you already know how to do something, then there is no learning or creativity involved. It might pay the bills, but it isn’t the best use of your time. When it comes to the really meaningful things in life, we need to consciously make room for those things that require creativity and learning, or we will find our lives deeply unsatisfying.

Being too prepared makes enjoyment and enthusiasm impossible. Already knowing how to do something means the challenge and excitement will have already faded. There is no need for vision. There is no creative tension.

2. Waiting to feel ready means you might well be waiting for the rest of your life.

Some people will never feel ready, regardless of how prepared they really are. I have known that feeling well, and now consciously choose to challenge it. Ah, the irony of wanting only the best. Not being prepared to tolerate anything less than brilliance stops us from moving through the early stages of confusion and mediocrity, because they are too terrifying. If you suffer from the affliction that is  perfectionism, you are setting yourself up for a very frustrating and disappointing life. I’m not interested in living like that anymore. Instead I consciously choose to just jump in, like a fool, sometimes where angels fear to tread.

3. It pays to be rebellious

Doing things before you are ready is actually quite rebellious. It subverts common ideas about what is and isn’t possible or appropriate. Rebellion is acting without anyone else’s approval or permission, and to create the new and the great, you need to allow yourself to be comfortable in uncomfortable places. Start with small rebellions and build from there. You’re not a real rebel unless you’re prepared to regularly rebel against yourself. It gives you the necessary practice to subvert other paradigms whenever necessary. 

4. When you are too afraid, you interfere with divine timing

We make room for the divine in our lives when we connect to our being and act from our essence. This requires acting on our inspiration as it comes to us, and not analyzing and being held back by self-doubt and inner turmoil. When we are in alignment with divine timing, we can trust that things will happen exactly as they should. When we are trapped in fear, we stop ourselves from living our life purpose, and we waste this lifetime on learning the lessons of fear, rather than the lessons of expressing our highest potential. We are stuck at the level of fear and don’t transcend to the lessons of love.

Are you ready to start it today

That thing you’d like to do. It could be absolutely everything and anything: only you know what you truly desire. Perhaps it will “come to nothing”, and will lead you straight to the actual thing that you are supposed to be doing. Life really is that magical. It has happened to me and it continues to happen.

You can start today by simply taking the first step. Tomorrow you can take the second step. It’s really just that simple. You don’t need to tell anyone in your life what you are doing. It’s really only your business. If you tell them now, they might think you are asking for their permission. Better to do it first and let others give their two cents when it’s too late.

Not only do I recommend starting way before you feel ready, but I suggest that you expect not to feel ready. It’s the only way forwards.

Image via here.

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Winston Churchill might have told us to “Never, never, never give up.” But he didn’t tell us what to never, never, never give up.

A lot of people are quitters, apparently: it’s just a shame we don’t put this quitting to better, more creative use. Over the years I’ve actually come to regret not what I’ve given up, but that I haven’t given up more often. Relationships, pretences, jobs, degrees. At least I can say I’ve tried only takes you so far.

In reality, there’s nothing like letting go to make room for something better.

What sort of things should we give up? I’m thinking now of the sculptor Phidias, who sculpted statues of the Gods for the top of the acropolis. The city of Athens didn’t want to pay his bill, because he had been so extravagant as to sculpt their backs.  No one would see them up there, they argued. “You are wrong,” he told them. “The Gods can see them.”

I can relate to Phidias. The Gods do see things. Whether or not they care actually about our statues is a different matter. I have no idea why some people feel like God is watching them, or like they or anyone else needs to be perfect. It has something to do with vision, I believe: vision gone septic, which results then is an ever-too frequent sense of paralysing overwhelm.

Just last night, in fact, I was suffering from this very overwhelm. My intentions are pure: I love spiritnav. I want to create as much for my readers as possible.  Right now I’m in development of a book and an online course which I am sure will be very good … when they’re finished. But it’s no accident I’m writing this site: I know exactly how critical higher consciousness is to living a creatively satisfying life.

Anyway so last night, feeling horribly overwhelmed, I closed my computer and decided: if it’s going to be this complicated, I give up right now. It’s not worth it. I’m making everything too difficult, and pushing too hard, so that’s enough of that. So no more courses. And no more book.

Of course within five minutes of this giving up, I’d fallen upon a much, much better idea. A simpler idea. And this new plan simply hatched spontaneously. Relieved, I couldn’t wait to get started again.

Is there something you’d like to quit? Are you in doubt about something? Why not try quitting? Even just for an hour. For the day. Pushing harder rarely does the same amount of transformative work as letting go altogether.

And in my experience, there’s nothing like making room for inspiration to find it knocking eagerly at your door.

Image via MyVibeMyLife.


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Even the most proactive person finds some tasks wholly uninspiring. Need to iron a frock for Sunday lunch but really don’t feel like it? Just take the first step, and the first step only. Commit to getting the iron and ironing board out, setting them up, without any obligation to carry through. Leave the ironing board there for a while.

Is it time to workout, but would prefer to do anything else? Simply put on your workout clothes on without any obligation of actually walking out the door.

Need to file your online tax return? Figure out the first step, and just do that today.

Need to have a difficult conversation? Get out a notepad and start brainstorming you thoughts, putting off any thoughts of actually making the dreaded call.

Need to eBay your closet? Take photos of all those shoes you want to sell on eBay, without the expectation that you go ahead and complete the full listing.

The power of taking the first step is a cliche for a reason: it makes things happen. Sometimes a task requires a few steps to support it, and it pays to line yourself up for your successes, even if they might have to wait for the afternoon to actually come together.

Is there something you could take the first step on, right now?

Image by Miles Alridge.

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Considering setting out on a creative voyage into the unknown? Want to start expressing yourself, for real? Maybe you want to write, paint, sing, or design something?

Here is a brain dump of what I’ve learned about doing your best work without getting distracted, lost or desperate.

1. Your real, natural voice is the thing that will bring you the best results. Not looking cooler or smarter or more refined, but most completely like yourself.

2. That requires that you are a well-developed person. Develop yourself, because you can only contribute who you are. The size of your spirit will determine the power of your work.

3. Having something worth saying requires cultivation. Invest time in becoming someone who has a wider perspective.

4. Don’t regurgitate was is known or has been done.

5. You’re the boss. If things aren’t working out, change the rules of the game so that it’s easier for you to win and have fun. Maybe you were meant to write sagas, not short stories. Don’t force anything. Focus on what excites you and always look for what comes most naturally, each and every day.

6. You need to try out a lot of things to find out what doesn’t work.

7. You need to earn the confidence to be who you really are, and say what you want to say. Invest in that rather than waiting until you’re 70 to either have something to say or not care what anyone thinks anymore.

8. Be honest about your limits so you can overcome them faster.

9. You don’t need anyone’s permission.

10. There’s never ever stopping you from starting over again, completely. Sometimes just thinking about do this gives you new ideas. And sometimes you need to carry through.

11. As you develop your talents, you will need to reinvent your relationship with them continually. In doing so, you reinvent your relationship with yourself.

12. Most of your ideas about how things are, and who you are, are wrong. Test out the possibilities and prove a lot of things wrong, as quickly as possible.

13. The things you think are interesting will change a lot over time. Be prepared and go with it. Don’t break your own stride.

14. You don’t have to answer to anyone. Keep as much as you can to yourself and save your expression for your creative work, where you can share most powerfully.

15. Don’t underestimate the power of what comes most easily. Easy doesn’t make things bad – it means we can do more with less. Easy is leverage.

16. There are surprising and creative solutions to most problems. Get tired after writing 800 words? Make life easy: write all your chapters 800 words long. Don’t be restricted by ideas of how should be – seek to overcome your limited ideas every day and go with what works.

17. Adverbs aren’t evil; books don’t need to be printed; rhymes don’t have to rhyme; not all bands need a guitarist; portraits don’t need faces. Whatever forever.

18. Don’t let your plans get in the way of you doing your best work, every day. Do the work however it shows up and forget what you were supposed to be writing about, singing about, painting about. Be here today, doing whatever feels most relevant.

Image via Etsy.

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– You find new energy.

– Enthusiasm and excitement becomes the new normal.

– You feel good about yourself, and feel naturally less critical about everything.

– You forget past disappointments.

– You don’t worry about whether anyone understands you.

– You don’t worry about getting noticed.

– Things happen more easily than you imagined.

– You discover new abilities.

– You discover your unique voice.

– You don’t try to make everything perfect.

– Controlling what other people think about you becomes less important.

– You want to give away your talents so others can benefit and connect to your energy.

– You find new friends who are attracted to this new energy.

– You lose interest in people and friends who don’t support your empowerment.

– You stop thinking about what you can get and start thinking about what you can give.

– All situations look like opportunities to learn, grow and align.

– You smile, sing or dance without realising you’re even doing it.

– Life becomes easy.

– Hard work, discipline, honesty and integrity are strangely effortless.

– Insults or discouragements amuse you.

– You notice beauty and goodness in new places.

– Taking care of your health becomes a natural priority.

– You don’t mind what happens, as long as you keep learning.

– Things start to really happen!

How do you know if you’re on the right path?

You have no idea how crazy this drives me. Probably because it’s my own story.

I know a orthopaedic surgeon who loves cycling and really wanted to be an artist. His mother liked the surgeon idea better. So it goes. He’s a perfectionist, and so because he can’t spend all his time being an artist, he doesn’t paint at all. Why doesn’t he take his need to express his gifts more seriously? Perhaps he doesn’t think he deserves to express himself? He’s a great surgeon, but pretty empty, repressed and faintly miserable.

I think the same could be said of a lot of people I know, myself included in times past. It’s painful to see talented people not take their talents seriously, squandering them, believing that no one is interested, that they are setting themselves up for disappointment and mediocrity, and so they’d best fill their free hours with trifles and distractions.

We can’t fill our lives up with snack foods. We need meat (or lentils) and potatoes (or spinach, whatever). We need substance. Soul food.

I have another friend who is a very talented artist but doesn’t spend much time doing art. He works a job instead to pay for a drug addiction that compensates for his inability to express himself through his art.

Why do people do this to themselves?

It has so much to do with what we think art should be, rather than what it really is. We have some very messed up ideas about what we can and can’t do in life, and until we dissolve them we will continue to be victimised.

How to sum up the problem?

– We don’t understand the creative process

– We don’t understand ourselves: our gifts and our needs

– We think we need to be a mega-star

– We don’t think in terms of sharing what we have: we think in terms of getting rather than becoming

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I have another friend who writes marvellously and overflows with ideas. He’s decided to get a law degree. Oh dear. Why can’t he just focus sharing his writings? He’s so talented. He should be writing day and night. He does this anyway. He should be writing for every magazine and every website and amusing us all to death. But he doesn’t. Presumably he doesn’t take himself and his talents seriously enough to make the leap and find creative ways to be paid for who he is.

A website would be a good start. The internet is the promised land, and we have arrived. With sites like Etsy.com and Amazon.com there’s no excuse not to be creating your work and selling it. Even if it’s for what a fraction of what other artists might charge, or what you could be charging if you were famous, who cares?

As a person who has hoarded her art for almost a decade, I can’t over-emphasise how important it is to get your art out there, and start getting paid for it. Anything. Take whatever you can get. Sell your art. Share it.

Two people particularly hammered this home to me. Both are internet heavyweights, and both are spot on.

Leo Babauta from ZenHabits.net on “Charging”

If you don’t follow ZenHabits you’re missing out. Leo loves the zen that comes from focusing on the simple and the good. What could be more simple that just focusing on your talents and sharing them in a straightforward, sustainable way? In one of this classic posts: his “Passion Guide“, Leo recommends we start charging for what we offer as soon as we can.

“As soon as you can do it well enough to charge, do so. You can start low — the main thing is to keep getting experience, and to get clients who can recommend you to others. You want to work hard to knock their socks off. Slowly raise your rates as your skills improve.”

This is something that never occurred to me. I thought I had to wait years to charge for what I can offer. But it makes sense to start by charging low and working your way up as your skills increase. The sooner you practice selling your skills for money, the better you get at both your skills and at being rewarded for them. They both require just as much practice.

Seth Godin on “Shipping”

“Go, ship that thing that you’ve been hiding. Begin, begin, begin and then improve. Being a novice is way overrated.” Seth’s idea is that we need to ship what we do, rather than wasting so much time in the “novice” phase. He urges us to do whatever we can to just right from beginner to expert, as quickly as possible. Shipping makes this possible. Shipping means that you release your work into the world, taking the risk that it isn’t good enough or will embarrass us, so that we can have a chance of moving towards mastery.

The temptation to sit on our work without sharing it is great. I know this better than most people. I actually have to force myself to make each post, often with minimal editing, because if I don’t, they wont happen. I’ll start to question them and it will all start to seem too hard. What a waste.

You’ll feel the same fear and temptation, and think that you’re still “preparing”. And if you still are learning a lot, perhaps you really are still in the beginner phase? But once you get out of that phase, be honest about it. The kindest and most supportive thing you can do for yourself is to make plans to ship your “art” – your unique skills and creations – and get on with the business of connecting to people and adding value to their lives through what you have to offer.

The first step is to take yourself seriously as a beginner (have you done this yet?). The second is to take yourself seriously as an expert, and start shipping (are you finished being a beginner? If so, figure out what you can ship, and how soon you can make it happen.)

Hoarding your talents is very selfish, as Seth explains in The Icarus Deception. (Read this book, thank me later.)

Think about it: what talents and potential are you hoarding?

When will you be ready?

This site would never have a single article on it if I waited until it, or my writing, was ever truly good enough. I’ve learned to take pleasure in getting things done to what I consider is about 80%, because at this point my 80% isn’t too bad at all. At least not to my reckoning. I’ve worked out that trying to make things any better means that I will never, ever ship them, and that I will naturally get better with every article I press the “publish” button on.

Don’t let perfectionism cripple your productivity, joy and self-expression.

Don’t be a hoarder

Your house might be the picture of minimalism. But what if, on the inside, you looked a lot more like one of those people who have ideas and inspiration piled so high that it’s rotting? That it’s hiding several hundred cats that lurk and feed off scraps?

Don’t hoard. It will kill you.

Let’s talk about me again. The reason I started this site is because I was collecting all these ideas and hoarding them in my notebooks and diaries, processing them into obscure literary novels. My Evernote heaved under the weight of it all . When I get a chance – I’m having too much fun with this site right now – I’ll finish those novels and start selling them on Amazon.

Forget getting a book deal. Forget getting a gallery to take you on. Forget getting your license or degree. Find a “work around”. We live in the age of the “work around”. Start doing the thing you want to be doing. There are ways – the only thing standing in your way is your creativity and preparedness to do things in a new way. Book deals and galleries and critical acclaim can come later. Don’t be elitist. Be generous.

Start small

Get good and shipping something. Don’t make it too complicated or big. Develop a small base of customers that love your work. Build confidence, skills and credibility. Focus on doing it small and doing it well before you try to play with the big boys.

Why you need to KEEP your uniqueness

The temptation to water yourself down is strong. It doesn’t hurt you in the beginning to be a bit dilute: it takes time to develop your style and it’s normal to lack your full, unique “voice” until you get into your stride and develop some maturity. A voice doesn’t come until you’ve done a lot of what you want to do. A lot. Maybe 10,000 hours. That’s like doing something 50 hours a week for four years. That seems about right. That’s how long a university degree takes, after all. Forget university degrees. We get degrees so that people will take us seriously, but we don’t even take ourselves seriously. Commit to your own unique program, and take it more seriously than you’ve ever taken anything. Commit … to yourself.

What makes you unique will be what gives you your competitive advantage. That’s what you need to cultivate. No one else has what you have, because no one else is who you are. People actually want uniqueness and niche products – and increasingly so. Thinking you need to be someone else to succeed is completely untrue. You just need something valuable to share.

Not being unique enough is actually the problem, because in uniqueness lies value. When I taught writing at university, it was pretty sad to discover that 90% of people haven’t developed a unique perspective on the world, or if they have are too afraid to share it with their writing teacher. They think they have to be like what they see on TV. If you don’t know who you are or what you stand for, watching TV isn’t a great idea. People are actually more original than we can ever appreciate, they think they need to be like other people, and so they haven’t cultivated their originality. They hide it. They sanitise themselves. And they don’t create art. Cultivate your own garden, as Voltaire advised. In the end, the only way to get something worth sharing is to practise being yourself.

Post Script:

If you need a little encouragement in connecting to your own raw, uncensored talent, read this.

IMAGE: via Retronaut

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 5.39.41 PM

In her recent article for GPS for the SoulDr. Carmen Harra provided her recipe for fearless living. “Selectivity” got my attention.

“You have to learn to be selective about what you want out of life and the things you decide to go after. You have to pursue things which don’t inspire fear in you and make you feel completely comfortable. Select a vision for your future and stick to that mental projection until you’ve brought it fully to life.”

It’s so simple: don’t make yourself do things that feel bad. Do things that feel good.

When it comes to work, however, self-care seems to go out the window. Our employers own us. Our ambition and work ethic owns us. With our work, we often assume we have to be unselective to succeed. In the process, we do a lot of things that make us feel bad, afraid and demotivated. Push through it, we tell ourselves. The result? We undermine our potential, and undermine our personal power.

It’s taken me years to work out what makes me perform my best work: work that is as good as it makes me feel. In a nutshell, I preform best when I have a short deadline – no more than a month, to research and develop a product. It  could be a study guide, a website, or a book. Any longer and I lose my energy.

Any project that can be completed in less than two weeks is probably too small for me, although I don’t mind the odd “one-day” sprint. And when it comes to routine tasks and potential distractions? Forget it. Give me a focused task requiring deep thinking and creativity and I will give you wonderful work.

In retrospect it’s so obvious where I excel: these sorts of defined, large-scale creative projects with a one month maximum time frame.  I thrive off achieving something “impossible”, working by myself, leveraging my full brain power. I work in binges. I am not a routine person: I’m all or nothing.

When left to work like this, I’m in heaven. I’ll happily work 12 hour days, though will insist on weekends to prevent my brain completely seizing up. My work empowers me and life is good. Anything less that this level of flow and performance feels like I’m wasting my time.

How about you?

Have you discovered your best approach to work, or have you ignored yourself and your needs? Like I’ve done for so many years, have you ignored your preferences and natural talents, trading them for how you think you should be working?

How’s that working out for you?

For a long time I’ve undermined myself by doing things because I thought I should. I thought I should spend six months on writing projects, because that’s how long it should take to write a book. I thought I should attend to half a dozen daily rituals and points of business. These should-s left me unproductive and disoriented.

I’ve realised that this isn’t a question of success. It would be nice if I could slice up my day into half hour increments, spreading my attention everywhere. But it will never do me any good. For a deep thinker and creative person, that’s hellish.

Finding the approach that fits is highly empowering and is critical to doing your best work in life.

How do you produce your best work? Could you be doing more to make what works for you the focus of your life?

Image of Phillis Wheatley, genius in bondage, via PDR.

 

the power of focus

We have limited resources, time being the most limited of all.

How do we really achieve our very best work in so little time?

 

The answer is focus. We can choose to focus only on those things that contribute the most while also bringing us the most joy, satisfaction and relatively effortless achievement. The things we aren’t so good at? We can find ways to outsource them, or avoid them altogether.

A lack of focus undermines our ability to do what we are here to do. And when we allow ourselves to be distracted or interrupted, or to procrastinate, we rob ourselves of our self-realisation. When we don’t devote ourselves to what we are uniquely good at, we squander our time and eventually, our lives.

 

Here are three principles for gaining focus, support us in our quest to live our life message.

 

1. Focus Means Finding Your “Essential Action”

 

Your “essential action” is a one sentence description of what you do best: better than most people, and better than everything else that you do. By better, I mean more effortlessly, more joyfully and more productively.

 

Distilling your work/passion down to a single action, and finding ways to make sure you perform that action most of the time, is very helpful for getting focused. And yes: the essential action behind our particular talent is distillable, even on the surface it looks like we are doing hundreds of different things.

 

The writer, for instance, is collecting, synthesising and then communicating information to others so that it resonates. The property developer is getting the best out of their dozens of consultants, contractors, vendors and purchasers. People with diverse talents do well to know that this diversity isn’t an unhappy accident if they can find ways to synthesise their abilities. It might look like things are disconnected, but an essential action can none the less be distilled from it all.

 

EXERCISE: Begin to observe yourself and what you enjoy. Can you think about the process that comes most naturally to you? Most effortlessly? That you would like to do all day? Consider: how do you work best? Are you a researcher? A collector? A communicator? 

 

Successful people are characterised by what could be called a single-minded obsession: they aren’t distracted by their lesser tasks and capabilities. Obsessed focusing and refocusing is their everyday reality.

 

Ideally we will spend most of our day devoted to those tasks which generate us the most return on our time: we can aim to spend 4/5th of our workday doing those things, and these things only.

 

This is something we can aspire to and make happen as our creativity and diligence grows. But where can we start now?

 

2. Focus Requires Building the Habit

 

Stendhal, the great French writer, had a day job for much of his career. He worked mainly in government and administrative jobs. But despite this, he would rise early everyday and write for ninety minutes, without fail.

 

You can copy Stendhal and his wonderful habit. Regardless of what else you must currently do in your day to fulfil your obligations, you can chose to spend your first ninety minutes of the day doing your most important work.

 

We can chose to be consistent and to make ourselves and our message for the world our first priority. Ninety minutes goes a long way. If Stendhal could pen his masterpieces ninety minutes at a time, then so can we.  The idea that we must give up our jobs and devoted all our time to our goals is often erroneous: having too much time to do a task creates its own set of problems. Focused, consistent attention is almost always more valuable that quantity.

 

“Remember, successful people don’t drift to the top. It takes focused action, personal discipline and lots of energy every day to make things happen. The habits you develop from this day forward will ultimately determine how your future works out. Rich or poor. Healthy or unhealthy. Fulfilled or unfulfilled. Happy or unhappy. It’s your choice, so chose wisely.”

The Power of Focus, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Les Hewitt

 

3. Focus Requires Boundaries

 

Be sure to place these boundaries around the time you spend on focused activity.

 

– Set boundaries around your time and mental concentration.

Set specific times and limits for specific tasks. Make a daily list of the most essential tasks: tasks that contribute to your essential action. Do these first.

 

– Set boundaries around your skills.

When you go outside what produces your best results, you are undermining your personal wellbeing, safety and success. When we keep focused on our skills, and stay within them, you support yourself. Work towards consistently supporting who you really are.

 

– Set boundaries around what you will and won’t do.

Don’t let yourself be distracted when if comes to your most important work. Consider taking on only jobs and projects that move you towards making your essential action your main activity in life. Gradually start refusing those things that don’t match with your essential action, and find ways to delegate tasks that don’t match either. Barter them with someone else if you can: especially if you don’t yet have the cash flow to pay consultants or assistants. In this way, you can start to expand this boundary out from your ninety minutes.

 

– Set boundaries around your attention.

I learnt early on as a writer to turn off my phone and internet connection while writing. Initially it was very uncomfortable. Wasn’t I being rude? Eventually not being endlessly contactable started to seem sane and actually quite healthy. I “trained” the people in my life not to expect an instant response all day long, and I trained myself to be comfortable with this.

 

– Set boundaries around your habits.

Be prepared to let go of those habits and diversions which are chewing into your time. Protect your attention. Get rid of the television, for instance. Make it possible for yourself to get up early. Streamline routine tasks. Order your food online. A little initial pain creates systems that become effortless before too long.

 

– Set boundaries around fun.

 

Brilliant people go to work and have fun; average people go to work to grind away. Ask yourself: “can I stop doing things that aren’t fun?” Probably. Life’s too short.

 

If what you’re focusing on isn’t fun, you’ve got a problem. Successful people look incredibly busy, self-sacrificing and intense, but the truth is that they are really having a great time. Fun is relative, after all.  Be sure to get your kicks.

 

– Set boundaries around your intention: aim for nobility

 

In deciding what to focus on, we can monitor our intention. Don’t focus on anything where your intention isn’t noble and where your personal energy isn’t lifted up. When we work because of Shame, Guilt, Apathy, Grief or Fear, our work will disempower us. We need to find more noble intentions to guide our life work if we are to really align with our highest calling. We move out of disempowerment with intentions like Desire, Anger and Pride, but these are still not noble. The help us lift out of Shame or Fear, but don’t push us up into our best work.

 

We start to move into our power with intentions like willingness, acceptance and reason. We don’t become very powerful, however, until we find ourselves in the intention to express and embody Love, Joy, Peace, Compassion and Vision.

 

Aiming to act only from these intentions means that our focus is aligned to our Highest Calling, true nobility and deep satisfaction: a guarantee that we are living our message and aligning to our true calling.

Image via Instagram

The greatest challenge to the artist, entrepreneur or creator is arguably the assumptions we make, and that people make for us, about what constitutes a success. This brings me to Flaubert.

The French author worked for thirty years on a hopelessly unreadable monster of a novel. Nothing seemed so important to the writer as this project: a surreal retelling of the redemption of Saint Anthony. He’d worked four years on the first draft before reading it to his best friends. They advised him to burn it. “Write something more like Balzac,” they said. And so he did, somewhat, creating his own unique style in the process. He conceded to put his draft aside just long enough to write Madame Bovary, the book that made his career.

Though he continued to return to his Saint Anthony work for decades more, nothing much came of it. By nothing much, I mean it’s considered too far symbolic, obscure and repetitive to offer a satisfying reading experience. But the question remains: without this work, could Flaubert have written Madame Bovary or Sentimental Education? Seminal works in the literary canon and two of my personal favourites, I venture to suggest these works owed nearly everything to the apparently failed Saint Anthony project.

Dürer’s Melencolia I from 1514

[Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I (sourced via) – how our judgments about success and failure can leave us feeling.]

I’ve created a term for this: I call it the value of an artist’s “shadow works”. These apparently failed works and ventures – the ones that kept you awake for months or years and never go anywhere – are the very things that make our best work possible. I’ve learnt that if you stick around, all your experience will most likely conspire to be the eventual making of you.

This is the phenomenon wherein an apparently failed painting becomes the very launch pad to a portraitist’s next technical breakthrough A chef will discover that those twenty failed cakes were critical to the apparent perfection of their twenty-first. The entrepreneur knows that their startup website that looked like two years down the drain was the exact thing that made it so easy for them to jump on their breakthrough idea and nail it before the competitors. A failed relationship is often the very thing that makes our next relationship work.

Along this vein, growing up, I watched my investor father spend years and tens of thousands of dollars engaged in the process of due diligence for projects that mostly never happened. This impressed me greatly: the determination, patience and restraint required. Someone who didn’t know his business from the inside would never imagine the amount of resources spent on what appears to be a zero-yield game. Without these apparent wastes of time, I learnt, none of his biggest projects could ever happened.

I now know that the greatest yields go to those who are prepared to show up, fail, and make apparently no progress. For decades, sometimes. And in fact it’s this preparedness to “collect information” without apparent gain that sets apart the creator from the fearful side-observer.

To me it’s obvious that is Flaubert’s decades writing his St Anthony work are what made him, even if they never appeared to come to anything. It makes so much sense, and yet a lot of people who aren’t experienced in the creative process don’t really get this. And then there are highly creative people who could produce wonderful work if they moved past this misunderstanding about what constitutes success. The desire for guaranteed success is, in my view, the greatest block to success you could possibly conceive of. Consider, then: what kind of work could you create if you expected nothing directly in return: no accolades, no approval, no interest, no money. Just the expansion of your skills, experience and soul?

Sometimes it’s for me to hard to keep the necessary perspective: to see all my failed projects as being what they really are: vital. We can know that these experiments and information collecting processes are to be expected and welcomed, but we can still resent this. The cost of not being “open to everything and attached to nothing,” as Tilopa suggests in his ancient writings, is that we risk perpetual paralysis. Nothing shatters fear so completely as realising that our failures do more to help us than they do to help us: provided we have the wisdom to embrace them.

Competition. In moderation it’s healthy. And if there’s anyone we should really be competing with, it’s ourselves.

Right?

But wait. What if competing with yourself was trapping you in the past, forcing you to work to a punishing regime, perhaps even killing you? All in the name of excellence and constant improvement?

“The taunting voices say, ‘Do it again and we’ll love you … we’ll like you, follow you, chase you … if you can’t, don’t or won’t do it again, we will throw you away … ” It would make even the bravest person tremble and break. The fear of not being special and chosen, of being erased and replaced, stirs up our hunger and sends us on a wild goose chase in search of the next high note.”

So says Dr Robin Smith in her book Hungry: The Truth About Being Full, where she highlights the dark side of focusing too hard on competing with our former successes. “Like a drug addict, once we hit the high note, we seek and crave the intoxicating high of hitting it again and again. At its worst, we not only want to hit the high note of old, but our goal is to reach for one that’s even better, even higher.”

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Dr Robin uses Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston as examples. “Drugs didn’t kill them,” Dr Robin says, and Oprah agrees “1000 per cent”. Instead, “what killed them was that they were … starving to hit the high note again … Michael was killing himself up all night, and he was going to dance, and he was going to top Thriller.”

While few of us are world-class performers in training for international tours, the impact can be just as real.  “While most of us are no performers-having to do our “thing” in front of thousands, or even more terrifyingly, millions – of people, being hungry to hit the high note is something we have all experienced in some form.” She asks: “What happens to each of us, when we can no longer hit the high note? What happens to our identity? Who are we really without our latest success story? When we are dating someone average instead of a spectacular bombshell that will soon detonate and blow our lives to smithereens, who are we?”

Oprah agrees that the temptation is real. “That really changed me, reading that, because I thought to myself, do not let that be you. Do not let that be you, chasing the high note of the Oprah show. You have to create another life for yourself.” For those of us who’ve been wondering how Oprah could possibly quit her show and hope to “compete” with it, we have our answer. Oprah has shown us before that she is able to resist the lure of hitting the high note indefinitely, announcing the end of her show cum phenomenon in 2009. “I love this show. This show has been my life. And I love it enough to know when it’s time to say goodbye. Twenty-five years feels right in my bones, and it feels right in my spirit.”

For many of us, too much of a good thing is never enough, and we are quick to believe that success requires pushing through the distraction of pain and discomfort. The result can be a disconnection from reality: the reality of our health, our bodies, our relationships, our true paths.

“Drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, pornography, eating, shopping, working, and working out are ways we medicate ourselves when running from the pain and terror of not being able to hit the high note … When nothing but artificial and frozen perfection can satisfy is, we are in big trouble.”

Dr Robin discusses her own hunger for the high note:  “I am not starving anymore; I don’t feel desperate. I’m no longer chasing or trying to hit the high note. I can think and feel more clearly because each day I befriend myself anew. At last, I am hungrier for the real note than the high note.”

She reminds us that certain achievements are relevant to certain times in our life, but do not necessarily need to consume our entire lives once they are over. “Refusing to face the fact that you can no longer hit the high note is about avoiding the grief that comes when something wonderful and special ends.”

Consider whether any of these are true for you:

– Are you trying to maintain a past success in a way that isn’t creating a positive life in the present moment?

– Is your desire to be as successful as you were in the past, or more successful than ever, causing you to be tuned out from reality and where you are right now?

– Are your ideas about what it is to be successful, based on prior victories, still relevant in the present time?

– Are you trying to prove something to the world or people around you by not “moving backwards”?

Madonna-At-The-Met-Ball

 

The way out?  Developing an appreciation for what is real, Dr Robin argues, rather than what is artificially inflated. This is a sign of the maturity and a crucial to avoiding addiction to “high notes”.  She writes: “The goal as I see it is not to freeze the experience of hitting the high note, but to allow a new note to be created within the realities of each moment, each day, each year, and each decade of our lives. So we can enjoy hitting the real note, not the high note.”

I believe that a commitment to hitting the “real note” requires that we stay connected with what is real – nurturing and growing our  real talents in a loving, sustainable way, and listening for feedback in real time. Pushing what isn’t meant to be in the name of continued glory can prevent us from listening to our bodies and noticing signs that go against what we want to hear or believe, without realising that we might be pushing ourselves too far. While Houston and Jackson paid the ultimate price, living with the fear of falling short is perhaps an equally effective way to waste a life.

Image: (c) Instagram Madonna