Cultivate Not Being a Pussy

Men don’t whittle anymore, and women don’t knit.  What a blessing those things were, and what a practice.  

A practice is a casual, long-term relationship with a usually solo activity or interest, pursued enjoyably for its own sake.  The more complicated a practice is, the more subject to limitation or interruption.  Having at least one highly portable practice is a very good thing.

Whittling, needlepoint, birdwatching, crochet, tatting, sewing by hand, reading, writing prose or poetry, photography, origami, meditation, and working mathematical theorems are all examples of portable practices.  Playing an instrument, lifting weights, marksmanship, scrap booking, gardening, canning, cooking, baking, sprouting, carpentry, metal work, bee keeping, weaving, painting, and sewing with a machine are all examples of less portable practices.     

A snake sheds its skin and emerges glossier for it.  I shed blogs and emerge glossier for it, as an example.  This is not about the blogs, and it’s not about readers — it’s about me.  What snakeskins do you shed?  It’s easy for us to obsess over the specific outcomes of our activities.  After all, we often feel we have to justify everything about ourselves — as if it’s not okay to spend time on something unless that time produces an objectively impressive result.  A lot of us don’t even feel comfortable taking a nap.  It’s just too hard to justify.

Here’s a time saver: learn what trends, within your own psyche, you have a chance of reversing, versus the ones you’re just stuck with.  Or to put it a different way, remember the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.  We always think of those “things” mentioned in this prayer as being external — our outrageous families, our enraging coworkers, whatever — but guess what?  It’s always, all, an inside game.  

So for instance, let’s say you’re a male who was raised to feel that creative self expression is effeminate, selfish, and pitiable.  You’re probably not going to *up* and cultivate a poetry practice one day, or make holiday wreathes.  In fact, you’re unlikely to cultivate any kind of practice that doesn’t allow you to signal x y z virtuous characteristics, as defined by your family of origin, to the world at large.

That’s fine!  Don’t die on that hill.  You’ve been brainwashed.  We’ve all been brainwashed, more or less, and then we see ourselves, and each other, as right-er or wrong-er relative to whatever our environment is currently choosing to emphasize, and that’s necessarily capricious.  Just cultivate a practice that doesn’t make your own psyche buck like a nervous horse.  Guess what — all practices lead to the same Nirvana.  All snakeskins leave you glossier in the shedding.  And all streams are tributaries to some river, and all rivers dump into the ocean eventually.

Why, ultimately, should you — YOU — cultivate some kind of practice?  Because all of us both consume and create — just as we inhale and exhale — and both are important.  However, our culture is currently emphasizing consumption to an illogical, unhealthy extreme.  Inhale, inhale, inhale, inhale!  We live in the Golden Age of digital entertainment, and there is not a single moment of the day in which you aren’t in a position to passively consume something.  So that’s what most of us do, most of the time.  

We see our jobs, however well or poorly those jobs fit us, as being the exhale portion of the equation.  We huff media and blow out hourly shifts.  So, not only is our consumption passive — our creation becomes passive as well.  Passive as in, pre-fab in every way.  

This is why I’m saying it doesn’t even matter what practice you cultivate — just pick one that’s not too upstream of your particular brainwashing, and one that feels compelling enough to hold your attention long-term.

Think of all the situations, in your life, in which you have to solicit someone else’s cooperation, participation, or approval, in order to feel better.  Since almost every situation in a life of predominant consumption is that situation, we eventually become addicted to the drama of trying to control one another in order to feel better.  Like, it literally doesn’t occur to us that we could do things which do not require anyone’s cooperation, participation, or approval.  

This is why a practice, any practice, feels like relief, and represents a surprising degree of personal empowerment, as well.  Just think of all the couples, or friends, or family members, constantly engaged in maneuvering themselves just a skootch higher in one another’s priorities.  Push/pull, compromise that feels like lose/lose, everything is filed away for future leverage purposes.  This is status quo.  We live in the emotional dark ages.  The raw power of having a pleasant, low maintenance solo pursuit is a fucking game changer.  If you want to supercharge your personal and even spiritual leverage in relationships — THEN HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE to that person’s attention.  

We all know it’s bad to need someone’s attention all the time, and we’ve all been encouraged to cultivate good relationships with ourselves; but as brainwashed consumers, predominantly, we haven’t been given much guidance as to how that actually looks.  It looks like a date — with yourself.  You wouldn’t ask someone out on a date that consisted of sitting in a room and staring at each other, would you?  You would suggest some activity.  That activity would probably consist of consuming something together, and so this is what you resort to on a date with yourself.  That’s fine, but isn’t it more interesting to get to know someone through the lens of a shared creation?  It’s more interesting to get to know yourself that way, too.

Here’s another thing: having a practice allows you to thrive in times of economic instability, forced inactivity, or (for instance) the erosion of your constitutional rights as you’ve known them.  As someone who’s been in the military and wildland fire fighting ops, let me tell you — downtime happens.  Do you want your emotional wellbeing enslaved to circumstances beyond your control?  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say boredom is a personal failing.  If you need some authority to give you permission to focus, then you’re a victim of your own impoverished conception of self.  

As a fuel tender on many wildland fire ops, I’ve acted as an unofficial chaplain, essentially.  Everyone needs fuel, and everyone wants to download about their experience.  Guess what they say?  “I’m bored.”  “I just wish x y z.”  “We’ve been sitting at drop zone 9 for a week straight.”  They thrive in activity, but wither in stillness.  The human experience is one of boredom, punctuated by spats of intense action, usually in the form of suffering.  That was true for cave men and it’s true for us.  While digital media has become the world’s biggest bandaid, we’re never fully satisfied with it.  We may not be able to articulate why, but our creative instincts persist, as inconvenient as we’ve allowed them to become.  It would benefit us immensely to whittle, or crochet, or read, in times of inactivity.  Not because anything needs to be whittled, crocheted, or read, but because focus organizes our resources, causing life to flow through us in ways that feel good.  

Everyone likes to say they don’t trust the media, right now, usually right before they regurgitate some idea they heard in the media.  Well guess what — everything you consume is, in some sense, “the media”, and it all boils down to this: you’re either huffing someone else’s farts or you’re huffing your own.  But it’s all farts.  It’s all “reality as interpreted through the lens of _____”.  Gas expelled through the ass of…?  

My parents refused to raise children who required constant entertainment.  If we complained that we were bored — and everywhere we ever lived was some kind of isolated, wind-scoured post-apocalypse, so it was pretty boring — my father suggested that we meditate.  We didn’t want to meditate, so then he suggested we do a little “karma yoga” and clean the bathroom.  My father didn’t care if the bathroom got cleaned.  He cared that we became emotionally self-sufficient.  As a result of this, my brother and I have something to offer the world, in times of surplus and in times of drought, because we figured out how to offer it to ourselves first.  We don’t experience times of surplus and drought the way others do.  We have practices that we enjoy very much.  This represents a form of inner stabilization and self-soothing that benefits us, our family, our friends, and even our world to some extent.  

So become conscious of your own patterns of consumption versus creation.  Don’t spend your life running from the paper tiger named “boredom”.  Run towards it, for a change.  Media-fast for a little while, and let your fragile creative momentum put down at least a few tiny roots, before you return to the onslaught of consumption.  If you “have to” have the TV on, or music in the background, decide to stop being a pussy who constantly huffs other people’s farts.  See what happens.  Whatever happens is infinitely more interesting than that.  Develop a practice, and then practice it.                                       

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