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The Scipionic Circle 71: Halting Mental Chatter, Overcoming Overwhelm, and Rethinking Failure
"Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet?"
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Your Inner Roommate (Halting Mental Chatter)
"Your inner growth is completely dependent upon the realization that the only way to find peace and contentment is to stop thinking about yourself. You’re ready to grow when you finally realize that the 'I' who is always talking inside will never be content. It always has a problem with something. Honestly, when was the last time you really had nothing bothering you? Before you had your current problem, there was a different problem. And if you’re wise, you will realize that after this one’s gone, there will be another one. The bottom line is, you’ll never be free of problems until you are free from the part within that has so many problems. When a problem is disturbing you, don’t ask, 'What should I do about it?' Ask, 'What part of me is being disturbed by this?' If you ask, 'What should I do about it?' you’ve already fallen into believing that there really is a problem outside that must be dealt with. If you want to achieve peace in the face of your problems, you must understand why you perceive a particular situation as a problem. If you’re feeling jealousy, instead of trying to see how you can protect yourself, just ask, 'What part of me is jealous?' That will cause you to look inside and see that there’s a part of you that’s having a problem with jealousy.
"Once you clearly see the disturbed part, then ask, 'Who is it that sees this? Who notices this inner disturbance?' Asking this is the solution to your every problem. The very fact that you can see the disturbance means that you are not it. The process of seeing something requires a subject-object relationship. The subject is called 'The Witness' because it is the one who sees what’s happening. The object is what you are seeing, in this case the inner disturbance. This act of maintaining objective awareness of the inner problem is always better than losing yourself in the outer situation. This is the essential difference between a spiritually minded person and a worldly person. Worldly doesn’t mean that you have money or stature. Worldly means that you think the solution to your inner problems is in the world outside. You think that if you change things outside, you’ll be okay. But nobody has ever truly become okay by changing things outside. There’s always the next problem. The only real solution is to take the seat of witness consciousness and completely change your frame of reference.
"To attain true inner freedom, you must be able to objectively watch your problems instead of being lost in them. No solution can possibly exist while you’re lost in the energy of a problem. Everyone knows you can’t deal well with a situation if you’re getting anxious, scared, or angry about it. The first problem you have to deal with is your own reaction. You will not be able to solve anything outside until you own how the situation affects you inside. Problems are generally not what they appear to be. When you get clear enough, you will realize that the real problem is that there is something inside of you that can have a problem with almost anything. The first step is to deal with that part of you. This involves a change from 'outer solution consciousness' to 'inner solution consciousness.' You have to break the habit of thinking that the solution to your problems is to rearrange things outside. The only permanent solution to your problems is to go inside and let go of the part of you that seems to have so many problems with reality. Once you do that, you’ll be clear enough to deal with what’s left. There really is a way to let go of the part of you that sees everything as a problem. It may seem impossible, but it’s not. There is a part of your being that can actually abstract from your own melodrama.
"You can watch yourself be jealous or angry. You don’t have to think about it or analyze it; you can just be aware of it. Who is it that sees all this? Who notices the changes going on inside? When you tell a friend, 'Every time I talk to Tom, it gets me so upset,' how do you know it gets you upset? You know that it gets you upset because you’re in there and you see what’s going on in there. There’s a separation between you and the anger or the jealousy. You are the one who’s in there noticing these things. Once you take that seat of consciousness, you can get rid of these personal disturbances. You start by watching. Just be aware that you are aware of what is going on in there. It’s easy.
"What you’ll notice is that you’re watching a human being’s personality with all its strengths and weaknesses. It’s as though there’s somebody in there with you. You might actually say you have a 'roommate.' If you would like to meet your roommate, just try to sit inside yourself for a while in complete solitude and silence. You have the right; it’s your inner domain. But instead of finding silence, you’re going to listen to incessant chatter: 'Why am I doing this? I have more important things to do. This is a waste of time. There’s nobody in here but me. What’s this all about?' Right on cue, there’s your roommate. You may have a clear intention to be quiet inside, but your roommate won’t cooperate. And it’s not just when you try to be quiet. It has something to say about everything you look at: 'I like it. I don’t like it. This is good. That’s bad.' It just talks and talks. You don’t generally notice because you don’t step back from it. You’re so close that you don’t realize that you’re actually hypnotized into listening to it.
"Basically, you’re not alone in there. There are two distinct aspects of your inner being. The first is you, the awareness, the witness, the center of your willful intentions; and the other is that which you watch. The problem is, the part that you watch never shuts up. If you could get rid of that part, even for a moment, the peace and serenity would be the nicest vacation you’ve ever had. Imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have to bring this thing with you everywhere you go. Real spiritual growth is about getting out of this predicament. But first you have to realize that you’ve been locked in there with a maniac." — From The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer.
II. Overcoming Overwhelm: One Question at a Time
"Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet?
"One common symptom of the fantasy of someday achieving total mastery over time is that we set ourselves inherently impossible targets for our use of it—targets that must always be postponed into the future, since they can never be met in the present. The truth is that it’s impossible to become so efficient and organized that you could respond to a limitless number of incoming demands. It’s usually equally impossible to spend what feels like 'enough time' on your work and with your children, and on socializing, traveling, or engaging in political activism. But there’s a deceptive feeling of comfort in believing that you’re in the process of constructing such a life, which is due to come into being any day now. What would you do differently with your time, today, if you knew in your bones that salvation was never coming—that your standards had been unreachable all along, and that you’ll therefore never manage to make time for all you hoped you might? Perhaps you’re tempted to object that yours is a special case, that in your particular situation you do need to pull off the impossible, timewise, in order to avert catastrophe. For example, maybe you’re afraid you’ll be fired and lose your income if you don’t stay on top of your impossible workload. But this is a misunderstanding. If the level of performance you’re demanding of yourself is genuinely impossible, then it’s impossible, even if catastrophe looms—and facing this reality can only help. There is a sort of cruelty, Iddo Landau points out, in holding yourself to standards nobody could ever reach (and which many of us would never dream of demanding of other people). The more humane approach is to drop such efforts as completely as you can. Let your impossible standards crash to the ground. Then pick a few meaningful tasks from the rubble and get started on them today." — From Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.
III. Can Humans be Failures?
"The idea that people, not just projects, can be classified as failures has a history. In Born Losers, the historian Scott Sandage traces it back through the Great Depression to the mid-1800s, when 'failure' as a noun for people enters the dictionary. That one could not simply fail but be a failure was the upshot of social and economic changes. The U.S. understood itself to be a land of entrepreneurs, the triumph of the businessman measured by high profits and good credit. Credit came to define Americans as individuals through the invention of the credit report. 'More than a bank balance or a character reference,' Sandage writes, 'a credit report folded morals, talents, finances, past performance, and future potential into one summary judgment. . . . First-rate or third-rate, good as wheat or good for nothing, credit reports calibrated identity in the language of commodity.'
"Add to this an individualist ethos in which success or failure in the market is attributed to the person, not to social circumstance. The essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson reflected on this attitude in 1860, noting: 'There is always a reason, in the man, for his good or bad fortune, and so in making money.'
"The more one’s life is understood in terms of a single enterprise in which one succeeds or fails on one’s own merits, the more tempting it will be to identify as a loser or a winner, a failure or a success. Through the nineteenth century, Americans’ self-worth was increasingly measured by prosperity. The financial panics that crashed the U.S. economy engendered not just poverty and material hardship but spiritual collapse in those who failed. 'The land stinks with suicide,' Emerson wrote during the crash of 1837, as men who were unable to support themselves or their families took their own lives in shame.
"Any program of reform must speak not just to material need but to the ideology on which human worth is gauged by productivity, and productivity in terms of wealth. So long as self-esteem is tied to the production of market value, some will be 'failures,' at best indebted for their living—through social insurance or a universal basic income—to the economic victories of others. The possessive individualism that portrays us as acquisitive social atoms may not be responsible for loneliness but it plays a critical role in the origins of failure." — From Life is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way by Kieran Setiya.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Carl Jung on loneliness:
"Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible."
II. Viktor E. Frankl on the power of purpose:
"Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose."
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