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Monday, 17 June 2013

The Insecure Flute

Does a flute worry about how it's notes will be received?

Is it sitting there, anxious, about how each one will sound to the ears of this audience member, or that audience member?

Does it chart the market?  Does it get a sense of the demographics?  Of the values and interests of the people who hear it, so it can play to them?

No.  It just plays.  It's just a rod of steel or a tube of wood, or bone.  The breath moves through it, and the sound comes.

This is a way to live.  All anxiety depends, for it's existence, on trying to get a certain result.  It's action judged by consequence, and this is how the world lives.  It's why anxiety is so common, which is to say, essentially universal.

Don't worry about how what you say will be received.  Instead, refocus on how clear a note you're striking, from that one song that unites us all.

And then you won't need to worry about how what you are saying will be received.  You won't need to worry about it connecting with others, or resonating with others.

It will resonate, because it is the deepest and best of humanity which is that song.  No human can hear it and resist.  No human can hear it, and not be made better by it.


  1. "Don't worry about how what you say will be received. Instead, refocus on how clear a note you're striking, from that one song that unites us all."


    Could you expand on this / give some examples of how this would apply in real-life situations?

  2. Well, why don't you give me a real life situation, something that you actually deal with, and let's see if I can't unpick it.

  3. Sure.

    I've got a pattern of being pretty approval-seeking when dealing with people. This definitely got me in the habit of adjusting what I say to how I predict it would be received, especially when it involves something more important than casual small talk.

    I guess the most obvious example is right after I understood the whole no-self thing, I tried bringing it up with people I know in real-life. It's not that I couldn't talk about it, but that I felt it was a very weird thing to talk about, and it always came out a lot less clearly than I understood it - probably because I was trying to both explain and de-weiridify it.

  4. Got ranting on this, and couldn't fit it into a single comment.

    Part The First:

    Well, let's take the general first, and then the specific. The general is the pattern of approval seeking.

    Approval seeking. We live in a world of buzzwords, do we not? Little pithy things that seem to sum it all up in a neat little bow. That's what the problem is, it's that you're seeking approval. That's what it feels like, so what else could it be?

    Why even bother turning over that stone, when approval seeking is exactly what the problem seems to be, and if you could only stop seeking approval, then everything would be fine.

    Except, that doesn't work. Ever. You just replace one mask with another, and the new one has a poker face, but it's really just the same.

    What's going on with you is deeper than this, and when I say this, I want you to do something.

    Stop writing on your blog, stop asking questions of others, stop answering questions for others.

    Take a couple of days off, and step back. Big picture, broad strokes. Yeah? No crazy deep stuff, just take a step back and look at the whole thing.

    Because you're not approval seeking.

    You are using approval as the benchmark of the value of what you are saying.

    This creates the appearance of approval seeking, but is in nature, quite different, and because it is different, if you keep trying to sort out your approval seeking, you'll never make any headway till the day you die, because that's not the problem.

    Big picture. Using approval as the benchmark against which the value of what you say, or who you are, or what you do, is judged.

    The absolute value. If it is rejected, you don't 'take it hard'. It hits you hard, because a rejection, inside the paradigm in which you are living, is a hammer blow.

    It has incredible force and resonance, because this is the benchmark. Within the context of your understanding of the life you are living, rejection is a hammer blow.

    It's not that you are weak. It is that in the world in which you live, no strength can stand against a rejection, because rejection is the absolute gauge you are using to decide the worth of all you do, or say, or are.

    Big picture. Step back.

  5. Part The Second:

    Approval seeking is just a little single symptom of living in such a universe. Another one is chronic, chronic anxiety.

    Because of course, in a universe like that, anxiety is a very rational response indeed. You don't know when the hammer's going to fall. You can't control it, other than to analyse and predict what's going to be received well, and hit that angle as best you can.

    But nobody - nobody, mate - is that clever. And so you get tied up in knots - it's not that you freeze in social situations because you're 'awkward' or 'anxious'.

    It's that social situations actually are the do-or-die crucible of the worth of what you do.

    "No Ciaran, I'm not like that, I don't think these things, that's ridiculous!"

    I know you don't think these things.

    You don't need to think them.

    They are instead the arena on which all your thoughts play out. And the arena of your thoughts is what gives them context and meaning.

    Take the time with this one, you do not need to live like this. You can end it tomorrow, you can end it today if you're really keen.

    The first thing is this. Step back. BACK.

    Not forward. Not trying to 'catch yourself doing it' or 'catch yourself in the act' or any of that nonsense. That way madness lies, or if not madness, definitely frustration and large amounts of annoyance.

    And the truth is, if this is what you are doing, you're did it all day today, and you'll do it all day tomorrow.

    So don't fight it. You don't want it to go away.


    Calm down. No you don't. Not until you've got a jolly good look at it.

    And not a magic 'presence look' where your 'seeing' magically makes it go. Nope, just a good old-fashioned, stepping back and taking stock, normal, everyday look.

    Now when you do this, and you see it, go somewhere quiet, grab a coffee, and ponder thusly.

    Benchmark. The problem in all this is that you have chosen a benchmark that is -

    a) Profoundly volatile.


    b) Utterly outside of your control.

    Thus anxiety.

    However. What I call the 'flavour of reality' or 'the colour of the real' or 'the one song'?

    And by that I don't mean anything spiritual, or mystical. I mean the specific flavour of experience, the character of life that is unique to you, and suffuses all experience and feeling - that highly specific thing...

    That is stable. Highly, highly stable. A lot more stable than the approval of your peers.


    If all you have to worry about is whether or not you are being authentic to that? Well - that's not quite as tortured an analysis, is it?


    And so you find yourself in a position which is

    a) Profoundly stable.


    b) Entirely within your control.

    And really - being authentic to it barely needs controlling, maybe a little at first, but just a little.

    After a while it just becomes apparent that it's not a 'new theory to work on' but a simple rule of thumb that makes every situation simple, and then every situation is simple. And because it's simple, you're free to get creative about things.

    It doesn't make you more creative, it just means your natural creativity isn't being sucked into a black hole of terror and analysis.

    And because of this - in that elegant, but somewhat annoying zen twist that should be familiar to anyone who's delved deeply into the human condition - you just become significantly more compelling. Just in general. No extra effort required, and it's a lot of fun, because you're free to play around with stuff.

    So yeah, it's really good and I have no qualms about rating it the full five stars as a life experience, and way of life.


  6. Thanks for the response.

    Yeah, I see what you mean about the distinction between approval seeking and judging the value of my actions based on approval. It's pretty much in every interaction.

    However, I don't quite understand how the "flavor of reality" can be used as a benchmark.

    I've got a fix on what you mean by the flavor/one song, but I'm not quite sure how to be authentic to it, or how to tell the difference between an action which is or isn't.

    If it's part of everything real, then isn't every action already authentic to it?

  7. Every action is an expression of it, yes.

    But there's a very big 'however'.

    In the article 'One Song' I go into detail about how the expression is defined in set terms.

    Take a big example - Hitler. Within the terms of his understanding of the world, the man was a hero, nobly struggling for the greater German Reich. But he wasn't a particularly happy man, and he didn't have an enormously positive impact on the world.

    It's an extreme example, but because of that, a very clear one. Yes - Hitler's rage, hate, wounded pride - from within the iron terms set by his 'understanding' of the world, were 100% moral.

    But then, of course, the man was a monster who killed millions and died in a hole, blaming everyone else for the immolation of Germany.

    So yes, your anxiety, frustration, judging the value of your actions by the approval of others. It is 100% an expression of the essence of the real, within the terms of your world-view.

    To get right down to the benchmark issues, it's the difference between saying "being authentic to a wave" and "being authentic to the sea."

    A wave is a very fragile proposition, no matter what it is. You as a 'confident man who is unconcerned with approval' is a wave. You as an 'anxious man who lives for it' is a wave.

    Both are expressions of the sea.

    Now you can insecure about being a wave. Being a form – being something set. You CAN be insecure – you have that option. Insecurity makes sense if there's a form involved, because it might be the wrong form, so it's possible to be insecure. Do you understand what I'm saying here – insecurity is a relevant thing, if we're talking about any specific expression of the flavour of the real.

    Any specific wave, any specific expression. Anxious you, confident you, chilled you – any of it, any specific, delineated, marked out form that any of this takes, you can be insecure about.


    Instead, a totally different approach. The unity of flavour that unites all of the forms, the unity of sea that unites all the waves - this is a real thing that you can really get a fix on.

    You didn't invent it, you didn't devise it. It's just there. Seeing the reality of the impermanence of all the forms it takes (all these contexts, all these terms, no matter how extreme or labyrinthine, the terms within the terms, all of this complexity) allows you to just let it rise, and let it fall.

    It all slides, everything that rises, falls.

    When you can see that - and not agree with it, Nick, but actually see the reality of it actually happening in real life - then the flavour is not this abstract thing.

    It's very distinct, very specific. And because of that, you can just speak directly from it. You can live directly from it.

    And so things just become massively, massively more simple. There's just much less to consider, far less variables, or iterations of probability and response you need to work out with how this will be taken or that will be taken.

    And because this flavour actually does unite all humans, it resonates very strongly with humans, and so it just, completely incidentally, renders issues of not being liked or approved of

    This is not as complex as you are making it for yourself.

    Flavour that suffuses all the stuff you experience, do and are.

    Impermanence of any form it takes.

    Recognition of the reality of this actually happening in your life, not 'getting it intellectually' or having it 'logically make sense'. It does make logical sense, but that doesn't matter, and it doesn't help.

    This is all you need.

    Stop playing with your food.