Labels that Stick Me to the Past
I was sitting with clients around a table when one young woman told us about her personal life and how she balanced it with work.
During the course of her conversation she talked about nutrition and food and then said softly, “I’m a cake person.” She was confessing to a weakness for cake.
But her words hit me like a ton of bricks. What she said. I’d never heard it described that way…. I’m a cake person!
Up until that very moment I didn’t know I could be a cake person.
I thought it was always about the eating of the cake. I assumed I had to discipline myself to eat less cake. I thought it was all about bad choices in the moment. Choices that lead to my plump stomach.
But what if? What if I’m a cake person?
Then when someone points out that I’m violating my paleo diet commitment by eating cake, I can simply let them know that the choice is not mine. Why? I’m a cake person.
I mean, hello! If you’re a cake person you eat cake. It’s no longer rocket science.
And inside this enlightenment experience I saw exactly what it is that gets in the way of our unlimited freedom and creativity…what produces our inability to thrive inside the present moment.
We can’t thrive right now because we are covered with labels. We have labeled and classified ourselves. And the labels have seemed to increase our significance.
But what are they doing really? They’ve only strengthened our separation from the universe.
We slap labels of permanence and frozen characteristics onto what was formerly unlimited joyful energy. (Watch the family video of yourself running around and laughing at age three.)
We pin ourselves down this way. We chain ourselves up. We end up like those people who enjoy being chained to a big brass bed. We become twisted. We now struggle and strain against life….but we are really just struggling and straining against the way we have labeled ourselves.
We say things like, “I’m a cake person. And because of that, and only because of that, when I go to a birthday party or a funeral…I eat the cake.”
It’s a choiceless process. Seamless limitation! Organic captivity!
“I’m a progressive. I’m a conservative. I’m a Scorpio. I’m an atheist. I’m a foodie. I’m an introvert. I’m a 2 on the Enneagram!”
It goes on and on and with each label I get smaller and more paranoid. No wonder all I think about is how I can somehow get into a better future, a better now than this now.
But what’s the answer? What’s my solution?
Find someone who will steam these labels off my body. And take these chains, as Ray Charles sings, from my heart.
I came to realize that people build themselves personalities as they build houses—to protect themselves from the world. They become its prisoners. And most people are in such a hurry to hide inside their four walls that they build the house too quickly.
~ Colin Wilson
Anyone Can Find Someone
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, What do you mean find someone to steam the labels off of me?
I mean find someone!
It might be someone in a book…or someone who does classes on the internet…or a spiritual mentor or teacher…or a colleague…or a grandparent, or a friend or someone who has passed away but has left behind audio recordings that will inspire you to be free.
That’s what I did. I went from mentor to mentor, hero to hero, inspiration to inspiration. I was finally ready to have them put on full steam. People who saw past the labels to the fearless heart inside of me (and also inside of you too).
And you can even become your own mentor, steaming off labels by entering the silence within. No distractions there. Allowing meditation to occur. Wisdom surfaces. It will be found inside once you get out of the past, get out of the future, and sink into the expanding and infinite present moment.
How present am I willing to be to what’s going on? To the person I’m with? To the service I’m providing? To the skill I’m developing?
These labels drop off the minute I enter the beauty of the present moment. Because to “exist” they require a busy mind continuously spinning stories about the past and spinning worries about the future.
The decision to make the present moment your friend is the end of ego.
~ Eckhart Tolle
You Just Thought You Were Shy
I read an interview with actor Lindsay Pearce who said “I was shy and didn’t believe in myself, and I only bloomed when I was in theater during rehearsal.”
Maybe that blooming she did when she was in rehearsal was more of who she really was than the thought, “I’m shy.”
The label of “shy” has to be thought up and then maintained. It requires continuous spinning. Like making a circle of light with a flashlight in the dark, it requires that I swing the flashlight round and round so that you, thirty yards away, see a circle of light. Without spinning, there’s no circle.
The circle was an illusion. Just as “I’m shy” is an illusion.
To keep the label “I’m shy” going I have to keep spinning memories of the past when I didn’t speak up or reach out, and worries about a future of not connecting with people.
I have to actively keep that going in my mind.
“I’m shy” doesn’t exist on its own. It has no reality when I stop spinning it. When they do the autopsy they won’t find it. It’s not there. Even when I give my mind a break and drift into dreamless sleep or reverie it goes away completely. It was never real.
The person who runs across the street into a burning house and carries a child to safety is so in the moment that he forgets his label of “coward” or even his label of “passive” and “lazy.” They disappear in the moment.
The “coward” label has to be maintained to appear to exist. It has to be furiously spun. Because it has no existence on its own. As the child who was saved will tell you.
Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Swept Into the Flow of Your Life
An artist swept into the flow of her painting looks at the clock and is startled to see that an hour has passed…an hour that felt like two minutes. Where did the time go?
There is no sense of time when you enter the now.
And when you enter the flow state of artistic creation or craftsmanship the limitation of labels drops away. That’s what flow is. The labels themselves don’t exist anymore because they are no longer being maintained by a spinning, worried mind. Or a mind always hoping life will get better.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in April of 1993 Leonard Cohen said, “I’ve always been free from hope. It’s never been one of my great solaces. I feel that more and more we’re invited to make ourselves strong and cheerful. I think that it was Samuel Johnson who said, ‘I have studied all the theologies and all the philosophies, but cheerfulness keeps breaking through.'”
Because cheerfulness is stronger than all the theologies and all the philosophies. It is simpler, too. It’s experiential! It flows up strong in the present moment. It doesn’t have to figure anything out. It certainly doesn’t start looking for a label.
The person who rescued the child from the fire didn’t even think it was “he” who was doing it. His energy couldn’t help but do it. The fire and the child drew his energy into the present moment.
We see this everywhere and then promptly forget it in the name of label maintenance. Keeping the labels stuck on. Not knowing they are fairy tales. We are thinking they are who and what we are as separately catalogued individuals.
But then every so often we see through it. And the more we open up the more we see through it. It might happen when a spiritual teacher says something unusual and unexpected. Or a song is played that overwhelms us. Maybe it happens when we catch a football with one hand. We start laughing. We quickly feel the pure energy we are made of. The timeless moment is only this sweet because “now” is who and where we really are.
Language gets weird when we flow into the timeless now. Steph Curry has an amazing night of shooting the basketball and his teammates say, “Steph was unconscious tonight.” What? But that’s sports slang for performing way beyond his norm. Being in the zone. They might also say he was “out of his mind” hitting all those difficult shots.
Why do they use that strange language? Because without consciously thinking it through, they just see that something lives beyond linear time.
There’s a place beyond linguistic measure. And it’s not way out there where Peter Pan used to go. It’s hiding right here and it’s open for business right now.
My friend the gifted songwriter Fred Knipe, (whose current album 9Ninety9 I use for simultaneous relaxation and inspiration,) talked to me recently about this place beyond linear time. He said, “My guitar mentor told me that the goal was not thinking, and ultimately even not concentrating. The music will take off like a kite suddenly lifted into flight. Of course you have to have proficiency just as the kite flyer has to have a path and be able to run. But once you get facility in your hands and have worn out the tedious exercises and scales (the path for running) something outside comes inside the work. If it feels the invitation, the opening.”
Your life doesn’t transform by consuming insights, but by testing them.
~ Jason Goldberg
What kind of future was I thinking of?
It took me a while to realize that the future is right now.
I’ll never forget learning this from a mentor who saw that my life was stuck in neutral. “You can go” he would say. “The light has changed,” he would point out. And of course he meant the light in my heart.
It had changed.
I would be talking to him about something I’d always wanted to do someday and he would say, “You could do that right now.” And I then became pretty excited to see that it was true.
Soon I started saying that to myself: You could do that right now.
If I had a fleeting yearning to learn Spanish, I would just say, “You could do that right now” and I’d immediately look up the Spanish word for something and I would write it on my whiteboard and say it out loud the next morning.
What I hadn’t realized before was that we mentally create barriers to doing that. We don’t notice that there’s more than one kind of future. One kind has the power to disappoint me by never being fulfilled. But then there’s another kind, a better kind of future.
That better future is the one I can start working on right now. I can bite into it this instant, like biting into a stalk of bright yellow corn on the cob. It’s the kind of future I can sink my teeth into immediately. The future called right now.
It’s not that lonely, stranded future “out there.” The one I only think about and heave big sighs over. That one is full of vain hope and sad longing. It’s a lost dream, lost at the moment of its first projection.
(Once I thought of writing a whole book about the beauty of the present moment. Then I thought I’d have to wait until I was spiritually enlightened to do it, like Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie or Rumi. But then I realized that I didn’t have to wait for that. I could do it right now.)
When people question the apparent past, they lose their future.
The present moment—that’s when we’re born.
~ Byron Katie