“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”- Epictetus
Why write? Why draw? Why yoga? I’m in the process of reinvention (again). I must not be the only one thinking about this though because both the January issue of Psychology Today and the March issue of Outside magazine are about change and reinvention. Change in the self, change in the global workplace and change in how we define ourselves is in the wind. This sort of thing used to be devastating for those in past generations who really bought into the idea of a single lasting career for the husband, or a single husband for a wife. And, for some, this was a reality. For others, who built their personal identity around this external thing called “career” or “husband”, it was crushing.
I can’t romanticize that past too much, however, because as I get older and see how the 70’s and 80’s are romanticized now I can attest it was not ‘safer’ then to, for example, hitchhike around the country or for children to run free in the streets around the town. It wasn’t smaller then. It wasn’t simpler. People weren’t happier. There weren’t more fields of green (well, maybe there were more fields of green).
Back then, humanity was just as complex as it is today. There was war and domestic violence and there were bombings and kidnappings just as there was job loss, homelessness, hunger and divorce. When I was a child I was very idealistic, however, and didn’t see all that. Now, as I have seen light shed upon more of the world and my view has broadened, my perceptions have changed as have the global conversations among those in my generation. It is easy to look back and say things were simpler ‘then’. For all our tech advances today, it is a shame things aren’t ‘better’, ‘safer’ or ‘simpler’ now. The real loss may be for my personal ignorant bliss rather than for what the world really was at that time period.
So then, what do we base our idea of ourselves on if it isn’t the things we believed would be permanent in our lives? Is it our hobbies, our actions, our thoughts, our aspirations that define us? Well, aren’t they ever changing also? Even if we stay the same path, don’t our skills evolve? If our character is unchanging, our body ages and we then are forced to adapt.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl
In ‘Change Artists’ (Psychology Today, Jan. 2018), Ellin says, “Volitional change isn’t easy. If it were, there wouldn’t be an $11 billion self-help industry.” Hopefully, we are all seeking something: a better life, a better self, a consistent career path, to read more, to get out more, to feel good. But HOW do we do these things without change, without periodic reinvention? You cannot. To live is to be ever changing.
Ellin offers a seemingly benign and base level list for reinvention:
As you read through the article you begin to see the depth behind each item in the list. Throughout the ages philosophers have played with life questions in search of meaning. Meaning, however, is relative and if we try to glean meaning from our own existence and thoughts it is like trying to read a map through a pinhole. There is something startlingly singular about creating change, however. It is solitary and lonely although it appears easy to sweep people up in the enthusiasm of ideas.
In the last few decades the word ‘authenticity’ has been thrown around so much so that yogis themselves began rebelling against the commercialization of it. It was lost that the idea of authenticity as a philosophy stems from Kierkegaard’s work on existentialism in the 1800’s. There, of course, are a number of existentialist writers and philosophers which, combined, reveal a more whole view of the human condition and potential answers to age old questions. Questions that help us with our own journey of ‘who is my authentic self’ and ‘what is my own truth of which I should speak’. Never-the-less, this aloneness and solitary meditation, this act of changing is the epitome of existentialism.
“‘Each change a person makes testifies that she is accountable for the life ahead,' says (Ross) Ellenhorn. ‘Accepting personal accountability for making life meaningful exposes our existential aloneness. It touches the core of our existence. But it also provides us with a strong sense of mastery, and the sense of being a master of your own life, that you can handle whatever it throws at you, is the best shot at security we ever get.” (Psychology Today, January 2018)
Ross Ellenhorn, quoted above, is a sociologist and psychotherapist based out of Boston and New York City who has spent the last three decades helping patients with psychiatric symptoms develop the mental strength for living without hospitalization. To me, this is an honorable personal mission for this vocation. Our cultural dependences on hospitalization, doctors, prescriptions, therapists, television, social occasions, alcohol, coffee, judgement, political dispositions, right and wrong are all distractions from our aloneness, our own singularity and our own existential crises. Sometimes I feel this new drug of distraction may be just the thing to keep us from being the most we could be, our highest selves. A conspiracy of our own doing. Who would you be if you made all the right decisions, the best decisions, the kindest decisions, the most thoughtful and considerate decisions all the time?
I get tired just thinking about that. It doesn’t stop me from trying, however, and many of us fall into the ‘Perfect’ trap which is why we are flawed. I propose that it is because we are seeking conscientiousness that we beat ourselves up and require ‘breaks’. Some have carried it too far to the other end of the spectrum away from seeking perfection, unable to escape the chains of bad habits or trauma and exhibit debilitating behaviors. Sometimes this goes on and is taught generation to generation. Another story for another day. Change in this case is about external change and the perceptions thereof with hints to solving existential dilemmas.
My example is my url. Back in 2012 when I was seeking my second 200 hour yoga teaching certificate and first life coaching certificate, our instructor said, “Look up your name and buy your name as your domain name.”
Well, mine was already taken. It is a pretty common name globally, Michelle LeBlanc. Since I was in a life long love affair with yoga, I chose MichelleLeBlancYoga. I didn’t use it for a while. I didn’t know what to do with it for a while either. I wrote and blogged (on a different site) and worked a variety of jobs, I made art and taught art and held business workshops. Although I was a yoga instructor for many years, I can’t say this domain name is brilliant or particularly exact or relevant to my work or whole self. It is mine though. I have come to since purchase MichelleLeBlancShortStories.com, MichelleLeBlancWeb, MichelleLeBlancLifeCoaching and others since then. Something strange happened internally. The words MichelleLeBlancYoga became a mirror to me, albeit with an incomplete picture.
I thought of Tim Ferris, a man with many urls yet often they redirect back to his original FourHourWorkWeek. I wondered, does he also feel all the feelings that originated with the book publishing and work involved in this name FourHourWorkWeek despite his personal and professional growth since then? I can only imagine. Since he is a life hacker, however, I am going to determine he has come to terms with what ever it is he feels and moves on.
And that is what I have decided to do as well. After all, aren’t we all life hackers in one form or another? I mean it would really just get too costly to purchase all the domain names that represent me. Better to just get on with it and enjoy all the things that make me … well, me: MichelleRidesBikes, MichelleWrites, MichelleLovesDogs, MomMichelle and so on. ‘Yoga’ means, after all, ‘uniting’, right? The yoking of all things.
This all leads me to the wrap up. I referenced one other magazine in the opening of this blog post and that is Outside. March is ‘The Work Issue’.
Many years ago this concept of the digital nomad surfaced as yogis and dirtbags around the world sought a better life which would include barefoot world travel, global mission impossibles and the freedom to create the income and schedule they desired. Paradise! Wait, what? Turns out, this IS really a job. No - I mean it’s like work… Like you have to work at it. Just as there is no Four Hour Work Week (it’s a euphemism - although there are many super great hints at efficient task mastery), there is no nomadic utopia for all. For some, maybe, but not for all.
“For every instagram photo a digital nomad posts from the beach, there are dozens of undocumented hours spent doing exactly what everyone else is doing in corporate offices around the world,” writes Alice Gregory in Re-Think Your Commute (Outside, March 2018).
Of course, when they are done doing ‘what everyone else is doing’ they do get to go to the beach or out where ever it is they landed.
What this movement DID do culturally is change the way we think about work and the way we want to spend our 8 hours a day. Now it is not uncommon in the US to be a virtual assistant or work remotely and more people are ‘hustling their side gig’. Another thing we see are more of are pop ups [restaurants, shops, studios, classes, bike lanes, parking lot parks], not to mention van living, adventure travel, entrepreneurs for social change and here, in Austin, there sure are a lotta flippin’ food trucks! Cheers to the new world order. It’s full of awesome characters.
Sometimes change is put upon us. Sometimes we instigate change. The reinvention of our bigger and badder selves is the reinvention of the bigger and badder thoughts we think, discuss and act upon. These are the cultural shifts we create. Sometimes we are the butterfly and sometimes change is the hurricane. Sometimes change is just deciding it’s okay to change. I hear so often, ‘adapt or die’, ‘the only constant is change’, ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. But what is it really to change or create change? To reinvent. We don’t always get to choose, but we can choose how we feel about it. Your life is, after all, your adventure. Create. Learn. Grow. Change. Rest. Repeat.
Let me leave you with this passage from a book I purchased a few years ago which, in some strange way, sums up all that is and all that will ever be important in life: the pure and innocent joy of each and every moment. It is a funny and charming photo book and memoir by Alan Cumming. Do you know who he is? I'm sure you would recognize him. He's an amazingly prolific artist and actor known for X Men, Get Carter, Spy Kids, The Good Wife, Battle of the Sexes and many more.
"Eddie! She's coming! She's coming this way! She's going to pass right by us!" I was trembling, trying to un-zoom the camera that was still aimed at unattainable, Goddess Oprah, just as real, touchable, just-like-you-and-me, needing-to-pee Oprah was mere feet away!
You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams! by Alan Cumming, 2016.