Wednesday, February 25, 2015


“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”  Lao Tzu

Over the course of the past couple of weeks, in various things that I've been reading, I've come across the concept of empathy. I decided to research the topic further and found myself WAY out of my depth. I had assumed there was quite a bit of research on it but not as much as I found. Initially this made me feel overwhelmed but then a question popped to mind. Why is this? I think it might be because we have this idea in our culture of empathy as some kind of magic power. Maybe the volumes and reams of writings on it are an attempt to show that it is not magic at all. The common thread in many of the things I read though is that empathy, in the simplest sense, just means identifying someone else's feelings or emotions and relating them back to your own.

As BrenĂ© Brown so eloquently stated, there is difference between sympathy and empathy. In her words “empathy drives connection and sympathy drives disconnection.” In other words sympathy is being an outside observer. Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sian Bielock talks about the concept in terms of embodied cognition in that emotions contain outwardly visible cues and part of empathy is reading and identifying with someone else’s “body language.” In her research she talks about how being able to identify with someone’s feelings actually makes our brain behave similarly to having those feelings ourselves. Think of being embarrassed for someone or being sad for someone that you don’t even know. This is not a detached “feeling sorry” (i.e. sympathy). In these cases you are putting yourself in the shoes of the other person and actually feeling sad or embarrassed on a chemical level. This goes for positive emotions too.  

When I think about what all of this has in common with my concept of the “fluid normal” it is about being present. When I talk about being present I'm not talking about it as some sort of mystical meditative present. I'm thinking it was more of it in terms of the Lao Tzu quote above. Living in the past or the future means you are not being observant of the present. Remember from a past post I talked about how Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that the brain has a finite amount of processing power. Spending brainpower thinking about the past and future takes away from the attention you can spend on the present.  Spending more brainpower on the present can mean seeing something in another person but more importantly in might mean seeing something in yourself that you can reflect on and relate to others. If your emotional reaction to things is muted, then so will be your ability to be empathetic to the feeling in someone else. 

As a digression, I think smartphones are an empathy killer... but there is probably an app for that.

So then empathy is not magic at all. Quite the contrary. I think we see it as some sort of witchcraft because we are so disconnected with the present that our ability to see ourselves in others is compromised. Remember, we are all sides of the same coin or reflections of each other. There is a great Alan Watts quote, “the relationship of self to other is the complete realization that loving yourself is impossible without loving everything defined as other than yourself.” To me love in this context is not an “I Love You” kind of love but rather a love of the moment. BrenĂ© Brown talks about it as experiencing the moment non-judgmentally. Think of love then as a non-judgmental acceptance of the moment. This certainly doesn’t mean that you have to LIKE every moment, but the moment is the moment and you can only influence the future by how you deal with the now.  

In all of this the key in my mind is being in the moment with yourself. This deepens your connection with others.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Due to the long weekend and rug rats with no school I was unable to properly proofread and edit my next post.  As a place holder I offer you a shot of my laptop screen previewing my upcoming short film "bacon".

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Finding Peace in Fluidity

"The web of life is a beautiful and meaningless dance. The web of life is a process with a moving goal. The web of life is a perfectly finished work of art right where I am sitting now." -Robert Anton Wilson

As you've likely figured out if you have been following is this series of essays is that they are really about nothing. Absurdism. A universe without meaning or purpose. Or a universe with infinite meaning and purpose. Yin-Yang. The idea of nothing implies everything and vice versa. Ow. I already need an aspirin and a coffee. 

One of the most disconcerting yet empowering things about acknowledging the fluid normal is just that. It is fluid, ever changing, and we can never know with 100% certainty what will come next. Anyone that has gotten 'that phone call that has changed everything' knows the feeling. Our ideas of what the future holds are based on what we have experienced in the past. It also means that the future holds infinite possibilities. As the adage goes, all that truly exists is the present.  

Hold on a second. Is this turning into some new age, neo-Buddhist, hippie, "you gotta go with the flow man", rant? Nah. Well, not exactly. Let me explain where this comes from for me.

Over the years I have spoken with many people that are either dealing with similar brain surgery or Multiple Sclerosis. In either case the two most common feelings that come up are anger and fear. Every feeling is valid and an important part of wrapping our mind around it but that's the thing. Wrapping your mind around something, even as a turn of phrase, implies mastery. There is no mastery of the fluid normal.    

One of my favorite Alan Watts quotes is "To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float." To me this faith he refers to so not a faith in something external but a faith in yourself. However long you've been here you have been dealing with reality just fine. I think that is the definition of being in the present. Not worrying about the past or the future and having faith or a better word "trust" that you will deal with whatever when it comes, good or bad.    

Man. This is getting all Zen and stuff now. Well, kinda. I'm by no means any kind of authority in anything really. I play the bass gud and write some nice tunes and stuff. That is my favorite thing about some of these concepts. Many philosophies and religions are looking for answers from some external force. Here we are more thinking about the answers, or lack there of, being in you all along.

One of the most noggin blowing texts I've read is a little book called Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. In the book Eugen, German professor of philosophy, is teaching in Japan and attempts to "study" Zen but goes on quite a different journey than he expected. You see, we have this idea that study of something should give us mastery over it. That is assuming that this illusive something is external and can be mastered.      

Two quotes have really stuck with me over the years from this book. 
 "Be like a child holding a finger.  It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist.  And when it lets go there is not the slightest jerk.  Do you know why?  Because the child does not think 'I will let go of the finger and grasp another thing'.  Completely unselfconsciously, without purpose it turns from one to the other..."

"The right art is purposeless and aimless.  The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal the less you will succeed.  What stands in the way is you too much willful will.  You think that what you do not do yourself will not happen"

Willful will. So these feelings of fear and anxiety come from the concept of too much willful will. I find the last two lines of the second quote particularly interesting. The concept of 'willful will' and the concept of essentially trying to micromanage everything. Like I've said before the only thing you can really control is your conscious self. The anxiety and fear comes when events don't play out in your head as you predicted them too. Trust yourself to the water or the fluidity of reality as it were and have faith you'll know what to do with the future when you get there.

Or maybe not.     

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


In honor of the winter weather we've been having I put together a slideshow of winter photos from my Instagram.  The photo resolutions aren't great because they are from Instagram but hope you enjoy.