Untethered Dog

An Online Journal

It’s a Fine Line

The very same act can be interpreted by the actor either as “half-assed” or hustle.

You choose.

See clearly.

Choose kindly.

Thankful for this Life

Hillside Cemetery — You get this moment, this life. You get to live. You get to see these trees. Like that one over there — you never noticed this before, in all this time — but that tree to the south seems to have not one but three trunks, tightly interwoven, all reaching for the sky. Look at that.

It is cool. As it should be. You feel the November air in your bones. Yet you are comfortable.

Today you saw a bald eagle. Perched, he was, on a branch on the bank of the Mississippi. He sat there scanning the horizon. Surveying the running river. They are so much larger than you expect them to be. Such stature. No wonder we wanted to associate ourselves with them.

There is a maple leaf on your knee. Not sure how it got there. You flatten it out.

You are wearing your Go Canada mitts. You got them dirty brushing away the marker.

A pinwheel spins over there on the side of the hill. You remember it from the last time.

That time you wrote. You ate your dinner.

Soon, on this day, you will go get your day’s feast.

Right now you just breathe.

You tell him what’s up. You are here to say hello. You won’t be here long.

Something feels different than before. Not sure what but you trust it, whatever it is.

You had to fight a bit to get to this point. From time to time you are prone to nostalgia but, no, no — you do not want to go back. You are glad for where you have been — where you have needed to go — but you don’t want to turn this ship around. Even if you could. You can’t imagine life without the imposed need to make something from nothing. Not everybody gets that. And what happens if they don’t — if you hadn’t? You can only try to fathom what you might not have been forced to find.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Get Your Reps In

In writing, in lifting, in life, there is a tension: to do enough.

Progress is most easily achieved in small daily doses of moderate to low intensity.

You must push yourself. A little. Not too far.

You can’t stay comfortable. But you can get so uncomfortable that you don’t pick up the pen, the bar, the laundry bin, the next day.

You have to see change. Yet not be focused on results.

You must create something, achieve something. Still, focus on the act rather than the product.

It’s as easy as that. And as hard.

Wisdom in Playing the Fool

“If you would improve, submit to be considered without sense and foolish with respect to externals. Wish to be considered to know nothing: and if you shall seem to some to be a person of importance, distrust yourself. For you should know that it is not easy both to keep your will in a condition conformable to nature and (to secure) external things: but if a man is careful about the one, it is an absolute necessity that he will neglect the other.” -Epictetus, Enchiridion, Chapter 13

There is such freedom in letting go of the notion that you are an expert.

Not only do you not need to put forth the idea that you are smart about something, but you should actively guard against any trifling sense that may come to you that your are smart — even if others tell you they believe it to be so! That construct — that inflated sense of self — is so limiting. More to the point, it’s exhausting. For to maintain such a belief, to retain such stature (if you have it at all to begin with; much of this falls into the category of fantasy) you have to focus on the very wrong things — things you cannot control — others’ views of you among them. It’s a never-ending hunger you would need to feed — to attain expert status and then, if achieved (see above point about fantasy), retain it. (Meanwhile, you would have to guard against contrary views to your construct. Such a posture is tiring even to describe much less to endeavor to take up!)

So we have a futile exercise that takes more than a little time and energy. Meanwhile, you could instead be focused on things no one can deny you: your reason, your friendship with your self, your work.

It’s the ultimate trade.

No wonder Epictetus suggests not merely to shun this chest puffing but in fact to seek the opposite — to seek to seem “foolish.” Wish, he says, to seem to “know nothing” — what an antidote.

Smashing Success

“For your own part likewise, you’re sometimes an athlete, sometimes a gladiator, then a philosopher, then an orator, but nothing at all whole-heartedly; no, in the manner of an ape, you imitate everything that you see, and one thing after another is always catching your fancy, but it ceases to amuse you as soon as you grow accustomed to it.  For you’ve never embarked on anything after due consideration, nor after having subjected it to proper examination and tested it out, but always at random and in a half-hearted fashion.” -Epictetus, Discourses, 3.15, 6-7.

Ouch. The truth hurts, as they say. It is hard to be a natural dabbler. To cast about this way and that. To not have a singular passion. The good news is that you can cultivate and consolidate: you can let go of the fantasies of what you secretly wish you would do and be.

(Let us also say that there is use in not having a singular focus; houses need more than one kind of material in order to be built and then, once erected, withstand the weather.)

Commonly, children dream of becoming astronauts, firefighters, sports stars. Eventually, these dreams fall away, whether because of a confrontation with facts or a replacement of passion. This is natural.

Less talked about are those adult persons, like you, who secretly harbor enthusiasms for many endeavors, things that are not necessarily unrealistic or against type. These endeavors may, in fact, have value to you and to the world. This is why the considerations entice and linger. There is a path. And it’s not an unpleasant one.

Yet, still, when we check the clock we see we have just the 24 hours allotted today. You can’t do it all — when would you have the time?

Some things — many things, most things — must be given up if you are to fulfill your purpose. Actively allow for this letting go. Say not merely that it is OK for these alternative realities not to be pursued. Push them away. Cast them aside with good speed. Hear them hit the wall and break into many pieces.

For if you do not remove these objects from your view they will not merely benignly sit, like potted plants on a shelf. Instead they will serve to get in your way. Every time you turn around they will be there.

There is grief in letting go of promising possibilities. But greater pain awaits if you do not.

You can’t create what you do not make the space to build.

The Dance

You only need to counteract self-restriction twice:

1. In order to begin.

2. In order to continue.

Once you begin to lift or write there is usually a moment some minutes in during which you consider stopping lifting or writing. If you let this inquisition go, if you do not indulge the idea that you may be better off doing something else simply to avoid the discomfort of the moment — the burn of the exercise or the futility of the draft — you will reach the end of the session.

That is all. Those are your great hurdles for the day.

One. Two.

One. Two.

Now any number of other undesirable activities will occupy your other hours. You will get through these. Or not. You may succeed in other ways. Or grow in other areas.

But those two two-steps are the ones that count. Really count.

For they sustain you through everything else.

The Temple of Zoom

Safeguard your mind. Like Marcus Aurelius said you should. You are so easily influenced. The armies of computers come for you without regard to your purpose in this world. These powerful adversaries aim to draw you into their fantasy factory and then, once successful, once you have landed in their terrain, scatter your mind into so many bits. They aim, in other words, to weaken your most valuable resource — your beautiful mind. Against these mighty algorithms even the best of us will fail. Yet victory against them is under your control — it is completely in your power — that is, if you choose not fight the battle to begin with. Let the world tweet as it will. Post a centurion at your door. Instruct him to allow nothing in that would serve to take you away from what is real and what is true and what is in your power to do. You do not have time to waste. You cannot afford to wait. Take this step. Take it now.

Having a Ball

“I know the difficulties of gulping this down right away. You keep thinking of practical problems. Everybody has to play the game of life. You can’t just walk around saying, ‘I don’t give a damn about health or wealth or whether I’m sent to prison or not.’ Epictetus took time to explain better what he meant. He says everybody should play the game of life — that the best play it with ‘skill, form, speed, and grace.’ But, like most games, you play it with a ball. Your team devotes all its energies to getting the ball across the line. But after the game, what do you do with the ball? Nobody much cares. It’s not worth anything. The competition, the game, was the thing. The ball was ‘used’ to make the game possible, but in itself is not of any value that would justify falling on your sword for it. Once the game is over, the ball is properly a matter of indifference.” -James Bond Stockdale, Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot.

We’re all just tinkerers here.

Everything is an artifice and every situation is an opportunity.

Nothing really matters.

And everything does.

Impermanence

As in a voyage, when the ship is at anchor, if you go on shore to get water, you may amuse yourself with picking up a shell-fish or a truffle in your way, but your thoughts ought to be bent towards the ship, and perpetually attentive, lest the captain should call, and then you must leave all these things, that you may not have to be carried on board the vessel, bound like a sheep; thus likewise in life, if, instead of a truffle or shell-fish, such a thing as a wife or a child be granted you, there is no objection; but if the captain calls, run to the ship, leave all these things, and never look behind. But if you are old, never go far from the ship, lest you should be missing when called for.” – Epictetus, The Enchiridion, No. 7

You do not have an endless amount of time here. And you do have some work left to do. Stay close to it. Yet at the same time don’t create undue pressure for yourself. Steady and mellow. Let curiosity be your guide. Have fun figuring out what the result will be. You don’t have to know yet. You don’t want to know yet. No. You don’t want to know what it’s like to be there until you get there.

Drive

Writing turns the wheel. Eating makes it go. Exercise keeps you strong so you can stay on course. Sleep allows you to recover so that you may turn the wheel again.