Revisiting the Inner Journey

Based on the data I gave in the previous post on an “Inner Journey” I’ve now been slapped in the face by mortality in a way that never had happened before.  I’ve been, in my rambunctious past, in life and death encounters where one’s reactions and application of training meant seeing tomorrow or perishing on the spot.  But those all came on me fast with no real time to contemplate odds or strategies or really anything beyond allowing training and muscle memory/patterning to take over.  But with the current medical/physical issues and the approach of decisions about continuing chemical treatments and the cost/benefits equations at play, there is perhaps too much time and too little hard data available for me and upon which to base a comfortable decision.  I do not play well in a nebulous universe.

I’ve read now an amazing array of “experts,” all contradicting one another, each claiming a miracle cure or approach, some claiming hidden or lost or prohibited knowledge, each happy to take your money to share that with you.  The web has wonderfully reinvented the snake oil salesman and given them a much flashier wagon and stage.  But I’ve also received some wonderful support and shared insights and references from friends most pointing to something that does, across the board, seem to matter a great deal — attitude.

From combat I knew the power of the brain based on bizarre cases of a person receiving little more than a flesh wound but whose brain told them, “You’ve been shot so will die.” and then they did.  But as a contrast were some who were so grievously wounded no one gave them any chance of survival but their brain said, “No way, not me!” and against all odds they survived and went on with their lives.

Attitude has power, far more than we high tech folks tend to think.  But its power exists in both positive and negative spheres of influence.  The Bible says that “…as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”  We tend to read that in some theological sense dealing with good and evil but I would suggest it goes far beyond that into the physical and psychological as well.  Very often, for good and for ill, our attitudes, our expectations, sometimes the permissions we have given ourselves due to our specific histories and interactions, define, control, and predict our futures.  We succeed at whatever only when we give ourselves permission to do so, i.e. when that success forms the core of our expectations.

Clearly more is at play including one’s real skills and ability.  But without the proper attitude, all of the skill and talent in the world will not be enough, on its own, to let you succeed.  And if you have not given yourself permission to succeed because, for whatever reason however reasonably founded, then you will almost certain fail.  I know some incredibly talented image makers who will never be successful because they have not believed in themselves or worse, have sabotaged themselves and their career with poor choices stemming from, I believe, a continuing refusal to grant themselves permission to be successful because somewhere deep inside they do not believe they deserve it.

One friend just sent me an interesting selection from the Mark Nepo “Book of Awakening.”  I had not heard his name before so of course looked him up.  He is a cancer survivor and has some great comments in that book including one of my favorites: “We need to give up what no longer works and find new ways of being that bring us close to what matters.”

The selection sent to me spoke of the concept that happiness was in the giving not receiving end of our behaviors.  That view echoes not only the approaches of counselors and “gurus” such as Wayne Dyer, Scott Peck, Stephen Covey, etc., his comments about “gaining by giving” resonate with me because in my experience, and with rare exceptions, (and this thread of thought is fairly common in a lot of Native American thinking) the “giving” returns far deeper and more meaningful pleasure than simply receiving something.  And it is true across activity lines.

From my photo business where it was clear that if I worked hard at making the manager or director that hired me look good to his people, I was rewarded with future work with minimal effort on my part.  I was shown once long ago and far away that learning to give physical pleasure brought greater pleasure in return than simply receiving it directly. I’ve seen clearly over the years that I learn more and about more things by trying to teach and share what little I do know than I ever learned just sitting in front of teachers and guides no matter how good they were.

It may seem silly, especially now, but I cannot believe how much internal pleasure I derived when I would sit in a little van I borrowed and was trying to fix up for its owner, look around and see something I had done to improve it, and think about how much, down the road, they would enjoy that new feature.  I could picture them out somewhere in it having a good time getting away and the idea that I had helped in that brought a deeper and broader based sense of pleasure than just anticipating getting to use it myself before the van was returned.

The old cliché about it being better to give than receive seemed ridiculous to a kid at Christmas counting packages under the tree… until you could see the face light up of someone you had managed to get something they really had wanted or needed.  When that light filled your spirit, it was amazing.  It turned out the joy you had helped inspire was the best gift of all.   There was a time in our history, and perhaps now almost dead culture, that knew and understood that. It was, in many ways, core to my Uncle’s ideas and teaching.  But now, in a “Me, me, me” world we seem to have lost sight of it.  Gordon Gecko’s assertion that “greed is good” is what drives us now; and perversely we are wealthier but far the poorer as humans for it.

I disagree with Nepo in the selection (or at least my interpretation of it and maybe this is incorrect being taken out of context since I have not read the entire book) that we need to suffer to understand this concept by giving from that state of suffering.  What I do agree with is the idea expressed there, and in other quotes of his, that fighting the world and trying to bend it to one’s own will is almost guaranteed to fail and result in the very opposite of pleasure; much less any real lasting happiness.

As someone who, in spite of receiving better teaching, spent a lot of energy trying to bend what I saw as BS and madness toward my own view of how things should be, and felt the pain of failure at that enterprise, it has been enlightening to watch myself internally process the newly revealed set of odds for my future and in the process peel off layer after layer of that combative attitude and simply accept what I found around me as its own problem and issue… but is not mine to solve and it is not my place to bend that reality to suit my perspective.  And with each layer removed, I’ve been able to concentrate more on those things that did matter but, more precisely, WHEN they could matter.

Trying to desperately avoid Cyrano’s dying revelation of being all things and all in vain, making my work at helping students acquire the tools that will help them attain their own goals seem to be one of the only things I’ve done with my life that really has mattered.  Helping sell one more product through the power of the visuals I could create may contribute to a bank account but in the cosmic scheme of things seems to be largely irrelevant.  It is maddening to have that “epiphany” at a point where I may need to retire and find other ways to use all the stuff pounded into me over the years to provide some meaning and purpose.

That may mean a new path or perhaps just an old one re-purposed to better fit the reality now slapping me in the face.  I don’t know yet.  My mind is still too cluttered and fractured by the surprising events of this year that, perhaps due to my own blindness, seemed to have come out of nowhere to make me question so much of myself, my value if any, my future if any, my own seemingly irrelevant desires and needs, certainly my thinking about future plans and desires and connections seems to be demanding a new — or perhaps just finally a more realistic — perspective.  During a particularly confusing set of interactions I lost some things that were precious to me… and it was deeply enraging.  Now however, I can see those “losses” as perhaps the cosmos working to set me free to get, at this next phase, really serious about my life and what I do with it.  When the boat is listing to the point of capsizing, you may have to let go of the rail to save yourself.

Sitting here at the keyboard, I look around at all of the books on my library’s shelves and the countless words in them.  I treasured them for so long but in truth they are just words on pages.  Sitting there closed on the shelves those words are of no greater value than if all of the pages in all of those books were blank paper.  Their value, if any, exists only in how they have served to teach and inspire the reader of them.  Perhaps we humans are very much like that.  Our value, if any, does not exist in what we know when the covers of our personal book is closed.  In that case whatever is written on our spirits and souls might as well be as blank as the pages in those closed books on the shelves around me.  Our value is created when, and only when, we try to give them back to others so they can find their OWN values from them.

OR… so it seems to me at the moment.  More as it develops.

Meantime I’m planning some photo treks that will take us back on the path this blog was created to walk.   The Camper van in my driveway is calling to me to load some camera gear and head out… that-a-way.  First star to the right and straight on until morning.

But maybe… just maybe… that path is more complex than I ever imagined.  Looking back over my shoulder at the path behind me, that certainly is true.


About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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1 Response to Revisiting the Inner Journey

  1. gene says:

    I knew about the surgery and suspected there was more that either you hadn’t heard back about or weren’t ready to talk about.
    In my limited experience all paths are overwhelmingly complex at the start

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