The Way You Do That Thing

I recently read an article that suggested that they could provide you with insights into your personality depending on how you held your handbag, and the first thought that came to mind was, “How fickle!” Then I thought about it a little more and quickly realised that the same can be done with almost any shared behaviour that can be analysed between people. There is a general tone that underlies all of these behaviours, and it’s that emotional tone that I think is more insightful than any reactive analysis of how we handle a bag, purse, or wallet.

I’ve found that my mental state is either calm and composed, excited and passionate, or weighed down and dreary. Sure, there are a number of permutations that exist across each of those bands, and that is to be expected, but there is almost always only one of them that is dominant at any given point in time. The one that is dominant is either spurred on by environment, or objective. The stronger we are at maintaining our sense of self in the face of adversity, the more likely we’ll be able to maintain our disposition out of choice rather than through instinctive response to what is happening around us.

With this somewhat simplistic view, consider it within the context of how you write or doodle. When you’re calm and composed, in other words not feeling threatened or under pressure, your signature will probably be more fluid in its movements or curves. Your fingers or wrist won’t strain when you’re signing that till slip or contract, and your pressure will be differentiated just enough to place emphasis on those elements that subconsciously define your passions and inclinations, while skimming over those that simply complete the statement of who you are. Sign the same till slip when you’re feeling pressured or under duress, and suddenly the elements that were previously just mildly emphasized are now prominent, while the detail of the rest is quickly transformed into an unrecognizable squiggle because making a statement about the complete you is not so important. All that is important when you’re in that mindset is to establish your significance. To make a bold statement about who you are and why you demand to be taken seriously.

The same is true when we doodle. Under duress the doodle is harsh and deliberate. Usually concentrated patches of graphics or hard angles, while fluid and shaded when we’re not under duress. Squares and jagged edges replace curves and flowers to express frustration or anxiety. Logical flows or sequences reflect a need for structure, or an expression of boredom, and so on.

At the risk of over simplifying it (more than I already have) this in a nutshell is how every action of ours reflects what is going on internally. Those that pay attention to these nuances in our behaviour gain an insight into our frame of mind that allows them to use it, or abuse it to their advantage. Sometimes, a sincere observer will pick up on it and find ways to either draw you out of the detrimental phase you’re in, or they’ll make you aware of it so that you can use it to your advantage. How? Consider it from this perspective. If I am aware of the response I get from others when I’m angry, and that response gets the results that I need after all other avenues are exhausted, in future I will be able to draw on anger as a tool of expression when needed, rather than sliding into an angry state because I’m out of control.

What I mean is, if anger is used as a tool of expression, rather than a last resort to demand to be taken seriously, it becomes a lot more productive and is easier to harness and control, than if it is simply a state that overtakes us in a moment of desperation. To achieve this, we must be mindful (yeah, that word again). But mindful of what, you might ask? Mindful of the dynamics of the situation we’re faced with, and more importantly, mindful of our internal state in response to that situation. A third dimension that extends from the latter is an ongoing awareness of our abilities or talents. The more aware we are of what we’re capable of, the more likely we will be to deliberately draw on those abilities or talents selectively when needed, rather than relying on instinct to bring it to the fore when needed.

So how does all this relate to how you do that thing? The way you walk, the angle of your step, the gait you adopt, the completeness of your smile, the expressiveness of your style. It all reflects who you are, and what you wish to convey to the world. The more bold you are, the more confident you are that where you’re at is worth being admired and celebrated. The more subtle you are, the less likely you are to want the attention of others unless specifically needed. We say more with our actions and non-verbal expressions than we ever say with words. Think about that the next time you remain quiet when you know someone is expecting an overt verbal response. Then smile quietly as you have that a-ha moment. It’s that moment that, if nurtured, will spur you on to grow larger than the life you lead up to that point. That’s the power of mindfulness. It forces us to be accountable where before we felt we were victims.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

There’s a few quotes that come to mind this morning that I doubt the truth of. One of these is the claim that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. This is a lie. It is a lie of the worst kind because it sets an expectation that is unrealistic.

Those experiences that ravage us most doesn’t strengthen us when we survive it, it strengthens our defences. Like Abraham Lincoln said, as adults we grow to expect that things won’t work out the way we want them to. This is not a sign of strength but rather a sign of tampered reality. Each time something hurts, a dream is eroded. What was previously enchanting will suddenly become taunting because holding on to an utopian ideal leaves us feeling naive and incompetent at times.

Strength doesn’t come from surviving betrayal, or surviving heartache or loss. If that were the case, each betrayal would drive us further from wishing for death rather than closer to it. Strength, for me, has always been an active choice based on hard earned realisations about the nature of people. The only thought that has ever kept me sane throughout the insane morbidity of life has been this:

Your actions are a reflection of who you are, not who I am

This single thought has made it possible for me to drag myself out of the doldrums on more occasions than I care to remember. Strength does not come naturally. Weakness does. Being weak, run-down, and listless requires no effort at all. So the next time someone tells me that what doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger, I’ll ask them very politely to pick a finger.

Some clichés are clichés because people were distracted by the clever use of words rather than the truth embodied within it. The point I really wanted to make in this post was that each time I pick myself up after being knocked down, not only do I have to consciously choose to move beyond it, but lately I’ve realised that every untoward incident in my life has caused me to be that much more sensitive to the innuendos that are often a prelude to my next life’s lesson. Again, the choice to restrain myself from acting pre-emptively under such conditions does not come naturally, but demands a level of mindfulness and conviction that is often not easy to realise.

It then stands to reason that what doesn’t kill me does not make me stronger. Instead, it informs my tolerance levels relative to my capacity. That tolerance level is what makes me brittle because each time I approach it, I get that much closer to snapping. When I’m not aware of it being breached, I do snap. But when I’m mindful of it I find it easy to compose myself realising that the tolerance level is based on the accumulation of experiences up to that point, and is not specifically the current experience that threatens to tip me over. This is usually the sobering thought that keeps me composed when everyone else is ready to justify why snapping would be understandable.

What doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger. It simply makes you more brittle.

Composed Insanity

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt any sense of composure about me. I constantly feel as if I’m on the edge of finding that elusive balance, but each time I flirt with that notion I find myself immersed in yet another challenge or another initiative that is almost always self-imposed. Despite this, I’m not at odds with myself or my life even though it sounds or feels like I am at times. There appears to be a subtle but important difference that has emerged in the way I deal with adversity these days. On many previous occasions I resolved to be principled before being strategic, always assuming that the one negated the other, and as a result I found myself jobless on two occasions, and divorced on three.

But I now seem to have an awkward balance between principles and strategy. Awkward because it doesn’t feel like something I’m ready to embrace just yet, even though I know that it’s better than the absolutist approach I adopted before. There’s a tinge of insanity that always lurks just beneath the surface spawned by the absence of fatherly guidance in my life. My life has never been garnished with a healthy dose of mentors, coaches, or the wisdom of an older generation directly passed down to me. At every major intersection I found myself standing alone and trying to decipher the road signs without the help of a guide or manual, with only an innate sense of spirituality and resilience that has been my companion throughout my life, and a keen sense of observation that helped me to glean some wisdom from the actions of the elders that I was sometimes exposed to.

It’s difficult to explain, but the reality is that I’ve never had the benefit of a father, or a fatherly figure to refer to in times of growth or opportunity that threatened to launch me into a new phase of my life, even though I had a father until well into my adult years. My emergence from teenage naivety into my early adult years was driven by passion and purpose, with a burdensome sense of responsibility guiding my choices, always using the rights that others had over me as my guiding lights. Doing right by them always enjoyed a priority higher than satisfying my own needs, but in that I’ve found much fulfilment and resolve, as well as inspiration.

It still didn’t make the difficult decisions any easier, or the mistakes any less grave. I wrought destruction at times when I thought I was acting selflessly, but in fact my idealism misguided me to the point of stupidity, resulting in much regret. The regret always set me back a couple of years at a time whenever the consequences of my idealism overwhelmed my sense of purpose which always extinguished any sense of passion that may have been left in me. It’s these same feelings of anxiousness and restlessness that inspired the never-to-be-delivered letter that I once wrote to my daughters.

I pray that you never will understand some of what I’m going through, some of what I feel, or some of what I think…because to understand you would need to experience what I’ve experienced. And I wouldn’t want you to feel the pain and the anguish that I’ve felt that made me feel, see and think the way I do. Although it’s the same pain and anguish that has given me this appreciation for life, for a smile on a stranger’s face, or for the chirping of the birds. My wish is for you to learn from my experiences and the experiences of others because there’s so much more to life than the opportunity to make your own mistakes.

The only way you can cheat time is to learn from the accumulated wisdom of generations past. But if you insist on learning it all yourself, know that you’ll never learn more than anyone who has lived only a single lifetime without any wisdom to draw on. Know that your pain and your anguish will be unnecessary, and know that your life would only ever be half-lived, if even that. So instead I pray that you are able to cheat time, acquire a wisdom beyond what you may inherit, and give your children more than what you had to cheat time with. And if you do this, know that you have achieved more than any human being can be expected to achieve in a single lifetime. This is the only path to immortality that I know.

I wonder if they’ll ever appreciate the sentiments and sincerity in that should they ever come across it at an age when it may hold some relevance in their lives. But this is not a post about them, or what I yearn for them. It’s a post about the insanity that, being a constant in my life, allows me a sense of composure that robs me of rest, or ease. I find myself unable to remain still for long enough to appreciate the peace that exists at the tips of my fingers. That peace, that composure, is out of reach. The soul that guides the outstretched fingers remains distracted by the noise and the clutter of trying to live a life well lived, finding only turbulence and upheaval in a world full of people desperate to find silence. I’m not so unique in my desire to acquire what everyone else wants, but the path that each of us travel to arrive at this restless point is so vastly different that comparing notes would always be a futile exercise.