Shape Time

Where Should We Begin (episode 1)” audio book by Esther Perel

This is an episodic audio book (on audible) about therapy.  Many of you are strong and think of your mind as a castle that no mere therapist can navigate much less improve.  Think differently: do you have a partner with whom you focus on your goals, shortcomings, hopes, fears, failures, someone who is trained to understand the human mind as best as we can today?

Therapy – with the right partner – is a golden use of your time.  Get a “gym buddy” and show up regularly.  Accelerate your ascent up the golden curve, protect against descent.  Commit to the Church of Time with your regular focus in concert with an objective observer committed to your success.

From the book (emphasis added):

“I’m hoping that the time will just put things in place,” she tells Perel, going on to explain how just two months ago, she was uncontrollably angry at her husband, but she wasn’t anymore. So maybe, to regain feelings for him, she just needed to wait.

“But you’re not that angry because you’re numb. And that’s not necessarily where you want to stay,” Perel points out.

“How do you fix that? I’m assuming just time, right?” the woman replies.

“No,” Perel says. “Time never exists in its own. It’s what happens in it. You have to give it meaning. You have to shape it.

Golden.

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Tiny win

Take the smallest possible action and complete it

You will have big goals.  But every day you will take the smallest possible action.  And the next one, and the next.

Complete things.

In the grand expanse of all time, and in your finite segment of that, the only thing you actually experience is the moment. You can anticipate or remember a day, but you don’t experience the whole day.

Complete actions in every moment.  Break down larger actions into the smaller, and break them down again.  Tiny steps, each one its own accomplishment.

If you start working on larger actions you risk not completing them.  This will train you to not complete.  Break down the large into the winnable small.

If a larger action is broken down into 1000 tiny actions, and you complete 800 of them and then decide to abandon (or merely modify!) the end goal, you will still have 800 wins under your belt.  Each one complete and beautiful.  If you did not, your experience is the one large failure, or the never ending loss of endless wandering from one incomplete venture to the next.

The tiny wins align you and focus you in harmony with your environment.  Try to get value from each one.  To find the value, look at how each tiny win changed you. This habit also helps improve your crafting and framing of the small steps. Even tiny efforts that fail can turn into wins if they are set up as experiments from which you intended to learn.  Your whole life can be a continual series of wins.  This trains you to expect wins, to demand them, to raise your bar.

When you are good at this, ask others in your life to adopt this approach.  There are positive network effects of tribes that are focused in the moment rather than lost in fantasy.  When we are all focused on the tiny win, and we demand this of each other, we are grounded in the real and in the moment.  We are vivacious and active, seeking for that instant action, instant win.  Giving instant wins to our tribe, asking for them in return.  Seeing the same momentary fabric together, developing language to talk about it.  This can move a tribe, family, organization towards being present and positive and fluid with each other.  This moves these groups towards accountability and doing what they say they will do.

Focus on the moment.  Ensure you know what you want from it.  Ensure you get that.  Where you are failing, this is a product of your misunderstanding of reality.  Take the next moment to become more aware.

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Laughter

We go through times in our lives when we are laughing, often.

Other times we do not.

It is a sin to allow yourself to live life without laughter.

There are, of course, many types of laughter. Cataloging them is not the mission of this church, but there are many ways to learn how to laugh.

Have you ever, in a moment of joy, ever burst out with a guttural and deep, irrepressible long laugh? A deep celebration of how improbable what you are experiencing?  Upon an epiphany, have you laughed as a castaway whose boat finally reaches shore, with civilization in sight?

Have you laughed recently as you once did as a child – full of wonder?  We say – but children don’t understand the world yet, and everything is new.  That is an evasion.  The world remains infinite.  We have learned some things, but understand the same amount of the world as the day we were born, relative to its infinite depth, none at all.  But we gave up the fresh laughter of discovery.

Are you laughing like that?  Often?

If you aren’t then maybe you have potential to chart higher in the curve.

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The kindness and motivation of the dying

Perspective should bring kindness

Given that the curve results in death in every case,…

…we are all infected with a terminal illness.

We can treat the other patients with empathy.

Stop acting with unkindness.

Also, given that we have so few moments, and each moment matters – for this is the central truth of the Church of Time.

Therefore every choice we make matters.

“But nothing matters for we are all going to die and vanish into nothingness”.

To say this is to be in denial.  Meet someone who knows they have a year to live and are trying to complete their so-called “bucket list”.

You are also dying.

You don’t have very much time left at all.

Live like those who have realized this about themselves and who are bravely facing it and taking action.

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Compromise

We have to compromise.

Life gives us imperfect opportunity.  We fail to achieve the full measure of our hopes and dreams.  So we decide to accept something less than we would like, less than our values dictate.

We have to.

But this truth is also an excuse we should use.  Often we tell ourselves we were forced to compromise when it was actually our preference.  It was uncomfortable or risky to stay true to our values, our promise, our potential.

Mitigating risk is not a sin.  But also perfect insurance costs so much that you lock in the loss up front.*  So by a compromise that keeps you safe you may experience a worse loss than you were protecting against.

Along the Sacred Curve, compromise is insidious.  The compromise you make today is not insulated from future-you.  It changes the direction of your path and you chart lower, being less alive thereafter.  You miss an opportunity to live more fully, you learn less and will necessarily miss other opportunities in the future.

You get in a habit of choosing to live lower on your curve, and your life becomes more banal, possibly more tragic.  Those who live higher on the curve are less likely to recognize you, to know how to assist you or even relate with you.  You are selecting your tribe of safe people who are fine with not living up to their own promise.

Consider not compromising.  Consider using all your will and creativity to find a way to be true to who you were meant to be.

The very best couple I know do this all the time.  They have lofty goals.  They seem to me to always tell the truth, to others but more importantly to themselves.  And they repeatedly choose to abandon comfortable paths that they can see won’t lead to their lofty goals.  They live, often, in significant discomfort.  They bear the stress of taking risks, of not knowing how they will survive the year.  But they refuse to stay on a path that leads to a place that is not their chosen destiny.

Life is short and the darkness will certainly come  So this is less about the destination.  It is all about how we live each moment.  If you are alive you are working to be as good as you can be.  In the meantime you are seeking the sun to feel it upon the nape of your neck, to feel your muscles carry a load, to smell summer, to caress a cheek, to find a way to create greater kindness than you did yesterday, to struggle with putting a new language first into your head and then into your lips as a natural meter and flow.  To learn all that has been learned about what it is to be human and question where you could be more so.  Each moment it’s own happy emergency, a chance to do these things and more.

Or you choose to not achieve.  It’s a reasonable compromise; the degree to which you achieve you will experience discomfort and assume risks and you might lose some or all of what you have, sooner.  You have done enough.  That yearning in you died or is otherwise locked away.  Now you will offer the world no more growth, no more chances taken, and you will rest upon whatever comfort you have found, your curve diminishing towards it’s ultimate axis each day.

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*”perfect insurance…locks up the loss”: insurance works where I pay a small amount to someone over time, and agree that if I encounter something catastrophic, that I will

Getting Started

If you want to raise your curve, you want to think big.  You increase your probability of success if you can

  • Clearly articulate a lofty goal
  • Always tell the truth.

If you are having trouble articulating a goal you can replace it with this program:

  1. Pay attention to what you want
  2. Given the choice to spend time on things you want, do the thing that makes you feel the best afterwards
  3. Pay attention to the direction your life is going and the impact of your actions upon it
  4. Look inside yourself with as much curiosity as you can muster

You may eventually find a lofty goal, if so, you can begin to pursue that.

Always telling the truth will be hard if you don’t already.  So find one spot where you aren’t and go tell the truth.  Then find another.  Keep it up.

A note about the truth: if people are trying to harm you, you don’t owe them the truth.  If people are trying to dominate you, to aggregate what is yours for their benefit, this is an aggression and a harm and you don’t owe them the truth.

You do owe it to yourself to factor them out of your life.  You can’t live, poisoned.  Some people choose to remain around those with whom they have an unhealthy relationship, and use that as an excuse to maintain habits of being low.  It’s a habit to break.  And ensuring that you remove yourself from them keeps you out of the insidious place of lying constantly to protect yourself.  That’s a slippery slope and incredibly dangerous as a habit.

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Act as if you have a choice

Life – its purpose – is fulfillment over time.  We experience fulfillment as various levels of contentment, of satisfaction, of pride, of excitement.

We experience an expectation of our future fulfillment in hope, despair, ennui, hunger, fear, resolution.

We look at our previous sacred curve as achievement, as loss. Shame and triumph.

As such we may think we are charting particularly high or low.

But the curve charts on an objective scale. You are in fact fulfilling your life to its potential or you are not.

This objective scale is also relative to what you can do, now that you are here.

There are two ways one may look at this.

We imagine that more than one choice is possible. That we might make a choice that will result in us being more or less alive. We should behave as if this is true.

Although it is not. There’s no ghost at the bottom of who we are. All things are bound by the laws of nature. As such we are deterministic. There’s not much use in believing this particular truth. In fact to believe in the fantasy of free will correlates with greater health and recognizing the truth of determinism results in poorer behavior, loss, charting lower on the curve.

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Failure to develop your identity is also a trap

I have spoken of the trap of choosing your identity. But to not choose is also a trap. To have no identity, to remain formless, to lack curiosity about who you are, fulfillment may not find you.

Fulfillment is a result of choice.

Fulfillment is not merely experienced; it is achieved. It is your measure of you. It is the answer to “have I done the best I could do?”

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We make our own trap

I am a woman. I am Russian. I am a Jew. I am a farmer, I am an American. I am white.  I am young. I am an executive. I am an artist.I am confused. I am my work. I am successful. I am a disappointment to my father. I am hungry. I am in love.

The idea that “I am” – any facet of my identity – is a trap.

Each crystalized assertion combines a truth and a lie. Our image of ourself can lift us to greater potential, and it can bog us down so that we are stuck trying to be that imaginary person.

Where our identity is a real truth, or an aspirational one, maybe our image of ourself helps us achieve our fulfillment.

Where our identity of our self is a lie, perhaps the lie protects us against falling apart under the weight of truths we aren’t ready to face.

Or maybe the lie is a habit of comfort and no longer needed.

But certainly these truths and lies may fix us in place, like a bug trapped in amber, preventing us from finding a new truth, a new opportunity for fulfillment.

Consider removing aspects of your identity. Who do you become then? Are these burdens we carry that having dropped them loose us to soar higher?

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The trap of your preferences

The wisest man I know, hearing the call of this Church, and my plea for help with this journey, told me of how the world conspires to kill his son.

What is your favorite food?

Thought, then the son speaks:

Pasta

Later, asked again, less thought and same answer.

We fall into habits easily.

The trap: our habits are persistent, but may not lead us to the higher reaches of our own sacred curve.

We become provincial as soon as we learn to speak, no longer seeking the new.  I am optimistic and believe that encountering the new will lead to better options, better future habits, than it will lead to worse.  Our habits lock us in and we lose potential for a greater derivative of the curve. We will, metaphorically, have pasta yet again, in comfort.

Our preferences can hold us back.  Don’t become trapped.  Question what you have.  Remain curious.

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