External and Distant
Hey Lyle Letter #009
This question has come to me at a moment in my life where everything seems like it should be okay, but I have this underlying feeling that something’s not right. I mean, that is life, isn’t it? One day you are on cloud nine and the next you find yourself struggling to make sense of it all.
I find myself caught up in my thoughts too much. It’s especially frustrating knowing that I know most of the answers but I can’t find them and put them into action. Hence, I lose myself in trying to find all the answers and it takes me out of the present moment. It feels like my ruminations are holding me back from becoming myself.
How can I truly remain consciously in the present?
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We have this “Our 10 Rules to Live By” list hanging on our wall at home:
A few years ago, my wife Allison and I spent some time brainstorming them over a weekend. They’re in no particular order. And the idea isn’t that we always adhere to them perfectly. We’re human, so we’re bound to flounder sometimes. But we wanted a physical reminder of the things we agree are most important to us—something we could literally point to.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referenced number three “practice temperance”—one of my favorites on the list—when my stepdaughter Sara reached for one too many pieces of Halloween candy or grabbed a few too many makeup items at Dollar Tree.
“Be present” is the one I probably struggle with the most.
I’ll be on a hike and catch myself thinking about work. I’ll try to notice something. A funny-looking tree, a lizard sunning on a rock, the sound the grasses make as the wind blows through them. Anything to snap me back into the present.
It can be easy to get frustrated with yourself when your mind isn’t cooperating, QQ. Especially when you’re trying hard to search your mind for the answer to some unanswered, or perhaps unanswerable, question so you can get back to the present moment and move on with your day.
As I read between the lines of your question, it seems like you want to achieve ambitious things in your life, but you don’t feel like you’ve gotten there yet.
I was reminded of this quote as I was reading what you wrote to me. I generally don’t like sharing long quotes from famous people or books or whatever, but I really like this one. It struck me when I first read it—so hard that I had to read it again and then stare off into the distance for a while to let it sink in. Stick with it. It’s worth it.
“To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breath in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, he’s unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then *it* will be “here”. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it *is* all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.” — Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
What a cool way to describe the struggle between being present and wanting to achieve things. The tension. It’s untenable to do both at the same time. And yet, the irony is that the answers are already all around us, in the present.
You can’t force the answers. The great startup idea comes to you in the shower. The catchy melody pops in your head while you’re driving. The answers come to you when you’re not trying to find them.
If the answer is important enough to you, it will find you.
Some practical advice? Freewrite. You don’t even really need a prompt. You don’t even need to be a good writer. You just need a pen and paper, a blank Google doc, or the notes app on your phone—it doesn’t matter. Sit down and write whatever pops in your mind and don’t stop until you’ve filled the page, or you can set a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes if you prefer—it doesn’t matter. The point is to get the thoughts out of your head and onto the page.
Let your mind wander and withhold judgment. Let it do its messy magic. I can’t promise that you’ll find the exact answer you’re looking for. But you’ll find something. You’ll feel like there’s more space for the present. And your ambitions for the future won’t feel as external and distant.
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