Furlough Day 10

No you read that correctly: it’s day ten of my furlough. You didn’t miss anything because I haven’t posted. Or done anything really.

For four days, I’ve had a high fever, was achy and fatigued. For the last five days, I’ve been gentle with myself, getting plenty of sleep. I’ve been out in the fresh air only a couple of times, but it felt good. I do yoga again, and have practiced my meditation and breathing.

All of this has been draining. On my body at first, but now on my mind and my spirit. I have not written for all these days, and I have felt a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts because of this.

Today is the first day that I am feeling anywhere near my old writing self. And I’ve never been so scared. But I know why I feel scared and I don’t believe the negative voices that are telling me to stop. Here’s what I’ve learned these past nine days:

I struggle with Ego, and this is normal

I am a visual thinker, and so for me, my Ego is full-on VR.

When it employs every trick to beat me down–judgment; comparing myself to every other writer, artist, and human on earth; telling me I’m not a real writer; that it’s too late; that I have no worthy stories to tell and that the things that I have written are not authentic and that they are garbage; and a hundred other things–it comes in the form of not only bodily sensations of panic, sadness, fear, and anxiety but of images of the past and past failures, and visions of the future of me still struggling. It’s like a film has covered my mind’s eye and all I see is what I fear.

I used to think that if I just got rid of these negative feelings, doubts, and fears by being a better person, I would be ready to write. Or I would just quit writing, because obviously if I have these thoughts of doubt, I wasn’t a real writer.

ON TOP of all this was me reading about writers telling me that it IS hard, that EVERY writer has doubt, that EVERY human being suffers from resistance. But for some reason, I thought I was different, and I equated my difficulty writing with failure.

What I realize now is that I believed my Ego because it was familiar, not because it’s true. It’s safer to be stuck or blocked instead of being a published writer with deadlines, goals, fans, publishers, editors, and obligations. If you’re like me (and we are all in some way the same), the Ego has been telling you these things for so long that they just feel right. What I learned is that the Ego voice doesn’t tell you anything good when you’re in-the-moment-creating/editing/envisioning/dreaming–it doesn’t say anything at all. It’s mute. Until it’s not.

Here’s what happens. First you crave to create. You love writing, you remember how writing and editing makes you feel, so you sit down, and it’s no sweat. You enter that dream, and that dream is True Creativity or God or The Zone or whatever you want to call it. Ego doesn’t exist here. We banish Ego when we create, truly create, in that child-like circle of discovery, imagination, wonder, and playfulness.

That’s why when we write, time flies, because when we’re truly creating, we’ve broken the realm of time and space and have entered timelessness. And so, like any other scared being, when Ego is threatened, it defends itself, and it does this by talking you out of writing:

That sucks. Jesus that line’s terrible. That dialogue, too. This story in general is terrible. Terrible! What time is it? I need to eat something. Oh damn, I lost my place. I need to get up and stretch. No I should sit down. I need this done by the first of the month. I’m never going to do this. This sucks. I suck. Oh my god, why did I think I would be a good writer? Neil Gaiman doesn’t struggle like this. And even if he did, he beat it. He’s got fans. I want his life. I’m going to be stuck here forever. I’m so behind. And this, this paragraph is proof. This whole day is proof. Now I lost it for good. I’m hungry. I had it and then I lost it. Even if I was a good writer, I forgot how. Pathetic.

Afterwards, instead of commending yourself on putting in the effort, the Ego cracks its knuckles and really gets to work:

You know this is dumb, right? Whenever you want to join the rest of the adults in the world, they’ll be waiting for you. Though you’re so far behind everyone, it’s any wonder what kind of human being you’d even be even if you did quit this dream and grow up. So you should just keeping writing. But writing what? You’re not very original. And really, no one reads books anymore, so if you’re going to write anything, you better make it good. No, the best. You have to be the best, because don’t waste anyone’s time. But you’re not the best, so why bother?

Also, Ego plays both sides, so if you listen to the voice and quit writing, will Ego shut up? Nope.

You quit? I can’t believe you quit! I knew you weren’t a real writer. A real writer wouldn’t quit. Every idiot knows that.

And on and on and on and on. The biggest thing to get from this entire post is this:

Your Ego is not Truth or Love or Art or God or anything else good, and it’s especially not YOU.

It’s just Ego, and Ego doesn’t want you to write. Ego doesn’t want to be ignored at all. Ego wants to be the center of the attention. All. Of. The. Frigging. Time!

But most of all, this is completely normal to hear these voices. Everyone does. Everyone. It’s not an indication of what’s wrong with you, it’s an indication of what’s right, and I will go more into that later in the post.

Ego will never go away

You can’t banish it anymore than you can banish the things you don’t like in this world (and those two things are similar because whatever we don’t like out there in life is a projection of what we are struggling with in our egos). It’s here to stay, so you can forget the myth that successful people have beaten it or its cohorts, Fear and Doubt and Struggle. You won’t be without it (just like the jerks in your life).

And forget as well the myth that you have to change something about yourself to make yourself a better person for Ego or so you won’t hear your Ego anymore. It doesn’t matter what you do, Ego will try and talk you out of it. This, personally, is not only refreshing but so relieving to me! Once I learned that Ego is something I must work with and not get rid of or be better for, it changed my energy and my mindset completely.

There is nothing wrong with us for hearing the Ego’s negative voices. And even if we succumb to its seductive trickery, we can always forgive ourselves and get back to doing what we love.

I can listen to my Ego, I just won’t believe it

Michael A. Singer, in his wonderful book, ‘The Untethered Soul’, describes your Ego as a crazy backseat passenger on the long road trip of your life. He suggests when the Ego is yammering on and on, just let it blather on like a bratty kid. Don’t listen to it. Don’t let it drive, definitely, and especially don’t let it mess with your Spotify road trip playlists! Just let it keep yammering away.

As I become more familiar with my Ego, this is tough for me. This whole time I thought that what it was telling me was the truth. But I know that practice makes growth (not perfect; there is no such thing as perfect, which is another trick of the Ego), and I must be patient with myself.

Just knowing that my Ego doesn’t want me to succeed is a big step

Part of the reason why I tolerated this Ego for so long was that I believed, no matter how intrusive, hateful, and vindictive it was, was being a helpful. I always heard it as more of a tone of tough love than hate. “I’m trying to tell you THE TRUTH,” it shouted, and so what happened was I heard it and internalized it.

It wasn’t some thing talking to me, it was life, the real world, screaming at me to give up my creative ideas and stories and dreams. It would help me, if only I can do what it says and be a better person.

Wrong.

Now I know that it doesn’t want me to succeed, it wants to criticize and blame and hate me. That’s all that it does, that’s all it’s existence is.

I’m starting over on myself. I am extra gentle and for now on, if I hear my good old Ego whisper to me, if I feel my chest aflutter with anxiety or see a vision of some bad thing happening to me, I will take a deep breath and lean into the family and friends and figures in my life that inspire and support me. I hear you, Ego, but I ain’t listening. I know who you are.

I’ll never always feel like writing and that’s normal too

Creativity, Chase Jarvis writes in his book, ‘Creative Calling’, can be viewed as just as important as nutrition, exercise, and sleep. I for one agree. Creativity binds us. Creativity grows us. Creativity, through artful expression, shows us our own souls to ourselves, our own vulnerabilities, fears, hopes, dreams, and imaginations. When we write something and send it out into the world, there is nothing more risky and more powerful.

Let me tell you a story. About a month ago, I began making recordings before and after writing sessions on how I was feeling, and what I discovered was very interesting. Before my writing sessions, no matter what I was working on or how much I’d prepped myself with sleep, coffee, and yoga, I was never in the mood, I never felt like writing. I described all of the things I could be doing and wanted to do instead. I described how it felt to me physically, either like dread or laziness or annoyance. Then I told myself I’d do only ten minutes and then be done. Just ten minutes.

After my writing session, it was a complete 180. I was so happy that I’d written! Sometimes I was ecstatic and bubbly. The only time I was hard on myself was when I scolded myself for not writing sooner in the day. And guess what? Every frigging single writing session I did more, no matter how much I swore to myself that I’d just do ten minutes; and even then, with those sessions where I did write for ten mere minutes and nothing more, I was always glad that I did.

Moral of the story? You’re never going to feel like it. Find me one book on writing or creating that announces the hidden truth, “You’ve got to feel like writing every time. You’ve got to do it flawlessly, doubtlessly, and effortlessly.”

Stop. It ain’t there. You will, however, find the opposite. Every single writer, no matter how successful they are, no matter how much money and fame and prestige and honor they have, alive or dead, never never never never ever ever had an easy time all the time with writing, the one thing they loved doing more than anything in the world. You want to know why? Because they struggled with their Egos every day, too, just like me and you!

The fact that they published or are living off their writing or being read in literature classes is not because it was easy for them or because they were more talented or whatever YOU believe THEY were that you yourself believe YOU’RE not, it’s because they wrote.

From rough draft through every subsequent draft and critique and edit, they kept going. Does that mean they somehow beat Ego for good? Hell no! Remember what I wrote earlier–Ego is not going anywhere. In fact, Ego will be there when you die, critiquing you the whole way:

“You call that dying? Jesus, don’t die like THAT. You have a song stuck in your head NOW? THAT song? Man you suck at dying!”

It’s like Gary John Bishop once wrote: I am not my thoughts; I am what I do. The people that have made a difference in this world DID something, regardless of what they were feeling and thinking. Great things have come from people who have overcome their egos’ nagging voices to tell them to stop. Nothing, however, has come from people who had great thoughts and didn’t do anything about it.

My Ego is my greatest ally

Wait, what?

Didn’t I just tell everyone that Ego is the enemy? That Ego is hate-filled and will never want me to be successful and happy?

Believe me, when I first heard this on Chase Jarvis’s podcast, I thought Cheri Huber, a Zen student and teacher, was nuts, too. But she’s right, and it didn’t click with me until I heard her explain why this is:

Cheri Huber: We don’t see Ego as an enemy. Actually we see it as our greatest ally because it’s the thing that will make us choose to have a different choice.

Chase Jarvis: Say that again.

Cheri Huber: Because the Ego is so devoted to suffering, as the negativity, if we don’t want to live in that negative world of Ego failure, then it’s going to be right there saying, ‘Here’s your choice. Here’s your choice. Here’s your choice.’ And so in that way, it’s really assisting us to make the choices for freedom and peace and love and joy and all the things that we want.

Every positive person in history, from guru to mindset coach to teacher to world figure to entrepreneur, says this very thing. A quote by Joseph Campbell on my wall, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” is stuck right next to a quote by BrenĂ© Brown, “Today I choose courage over comfort.”

Why is it so hard to change? How come more people aren’t living the life they want? What is stopping them from doing it? Why do so many writers and other artists struggle to create when they love it so much?

Ego. Ego ego ego ego ego. But it isn’t banishment or a total war with Ego that we eventually want, it’s the understanding of why Ego speaks that will aid us.

Listen, I get it. Ego got us here. It saved us from saber-toothed lions and fellow cave people trying to kill us. But now we are the most comfortable people in our people’s history, and here we are struggling with doing the simplest things that will make us happy. Why? Because Ego sees a threat in ANYTHING new and weird and uncomfortable and dangerous. And that’s what growing is, all of those things.

So on this journey, I will learn to not listen to my Ego. I will understand that it is not helping me but harming me. And when I have learned to separate myself, and in that space I can watch it and see it for the pathetic thing that it is.

I can use it like a compass–whatever way it’s telling me to go, I can try out the opposite direction and see if it feels right in my spirit. I’m not telling you I’m going to juggle fire or jump out of a plane or talk in front of a thousand people. I’m just going to sit at my desk and write my heart out.

This crazy idea of becoming friends with my Ego was very much like a moment I had some months ago. It was morning, and I was feeling the negative Ego voices well up in me something fierce, unlike how I’d felt in such a long time. It felt familiar and old and even comfortable, and when it got to a point when I would normally fall back in despair,

I suddenly rolled over onto my side and began to whisper to the voice itself, ‘It’s Okay, it’s okay’ like a little child. Then a magical thing happened: I stayed with this voice and never let it get the best of me, I simply just listened to it. It was like I was underneath a waterfall that would normally soak me, but instead I was protected by a sheet of glass. I pressed my hand to the glass as the cold water fell. My hand grew cold and I felt its trembling force, but never once did I get wet. Soon, the voice had its say and the feeling passed.

I’ve never experienced anything like that again, but I bet you this is what it must feel like to separate yourself from your Ego, to watch it and observe it without judgment or aversion or attachment.

When I heard Cheri talking about the Ego being your ally, I was immediately reminded of something Steven Pressfield wrote in his wonderful book, ‘The War of Art’. There, he tells us one of the rules of Art and Resistance: the more you love something, the more resistance you will feel from it.

I guess I must be doing something right!

This for me is the light at the end of the page. There’s nothing wrong with me for feeling this Ego and hearing its voice; it’s telling me that there’s something right with me.

And for the first time, I really believe this.

Do and Create is a mantra of mine.

So is Create and Complete.

Here’s another:

Life is what we practice to help us do the work you love.

Be safe and healthy out there. Take care and I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

Please look for these people and read and listen to their things and follow them. They’ve helped me greatly through this tough time.

Cheri Huber

Chase Jarvis

Gary John Bishop

Steven Pressfield

Michael A. Singer

Joseph Campbell

Brene Brown

Neil Gaiman

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