It took me a while to write this post. Over a month, to be exact. Yet, it is still a September 28th post, since all of it stems from my annual self-reflection exercise. It just took longer than usual for the conclusions to take shape. And shape they took…

One of the posts I wrote in the early days of this blog was The Lock and The Key. In fact, it was the first post that started the chain of “what makes me tick?” musings leading up to the one I’m writing now. Reading that seven-year-old post today feels a bit odd. Not because I cannot relate to its message any longer (I certainly can and do), but because of how confused that message seems. It’s a cry of a man who is lost in the dark and is trying to find his way to the door, not knowing where that door will lead or how he ended up in that darkness in the first place. It sounds miserable. And yet that’s exactly how I felt back then. Lost. Utterly confused by an inexplicable conflict between being obsessed with arrogantly bold aspirations and not doing enough to go after them. Searching for answers and finding phantoms of them at best. All the while leading a life that on the surface appeared solid, measured and devoid of any drama.

I did not plan to write that post, yet another one quickly followed. Than another. And as I was diving deeper and deeper and bringing back strange artifacts of my confused mind, a picture was emerging. A rather dark picture. Frustration, anger, shame, self-loathing were all making their way to this site, finally resulting in a no more! cry that replaced an active blog with an annually extended archive. None of that was healthy. Yet, bringing it all to the surface was necessary. Because that was a part of the process that led me to where I am today. And today I am in a much better place than the one I was in seven years ago. In more than one aspect.

In retrospect, I see how most, if not all of my posts over these seven years have been marking a progression. A path. First from confusion to anger, then to multiple rushed and quickly failed attempts to improve the situation, then to far more patient efforts to understand my predicament before trying to change it, and then finally to gradual and, for the most part, successful changes. They are not just posts, they are mileposts of what I’ve been calling my lonely journey. Lonely – because everyone has to take that journey alone, no matter how much support others may provide. Just like physical mileposts, each one does not amount to much on its own, yet gains a meaning in the context of a long road. And now as I look back, all these mileposts light up, tracing the contour of a road. My road. Not the straightest one. Certainly not the smartest. And yet at every turn – mine. Even the stupidest decisions and the weakest moments of that road are mine, and I would not trade them for all the smart choices and moments of strength of others.

So, a road, yes. But a road to where? Well, if your starting point is confusion then your goal must be clarity. And curiously, the direction from confusion to clarity was already set in that very first lock-and-key post. I did not see that back then, but I can see clearly now that it was anything but random. The question I was asking so desperately in that post was based on a wrong premise, but it was still a step toward the right destination. The premise that was so wrong, was the idea that unlocking whatever you feel inside yourself takes some single act of awakening. It is not. And hanging my hopes on that single mystical act was one of my biggest mistakes. When it comes to life there are no before and after states separated by a bright wall of awakening. There is only the state of growth. Or lack thereof. Seven years of soul searching led me to something I knew all along. Something we all know as kids. Only then most of us forget. Just like I did…

If there is one thing that universally defines childhood it is learning. Learning new things every day. That’s what we all do even before we become capable of realizing this. We learn. Not only about the surrounding world. But about ourselves. About what we can do. Learning to crawl. To walk. To comprehend words. To speak. To read. To ride that bike. And through all this – discovering what we are made of. Unlocking what’s inside. In those days we live in a constant state of pushing out the boundaries of our comfort zone. We do this out of necessity, but also for that thrill of adventure every child is familiar with. Sometimes it’s even hard to tell which one it is. But whatever the reason, every time we push the boundaries of the comfort zone, our life becomes richer. Maybe in just one tiny bit, but richer. All of a sudden we can do more. And yes, sometimes we end up with a scratched face or a broken arm. But while adults tending to us grumble how stupid it was to attempt that stupid thing, we quietly know that it was worth it. Totally. And so we keep pushing. Learning. Unlocking.

But then slowly yet inevitably adulthood takes over. By that time our comfort zone is vast enough to allow us spending days, weeks and months without ever running into its boundaries. It is so roomy that it doesn’t even feel limiting. And so we don’t bother touching those boundaries, let alone pushing them. There is enough space to spend our days in comfort, or at least without additional self-initiated hassle. Days that eventually add up to a life. There is just that strange nagging feeling of something being amiss. But a movie or a book or a game easily make that feeling go away. Plus, we’re busy enough with our jobs, families, everyday problems and well deserved downtime to even wonder about it. The pushing of boundaries still happens occasionally but in a very controlled way, far from the wild ride of childhood. Get a new job, move to a new neighborhood, visit a new place, learn a new video game. Evidently, this is enough for quite a few. It has not been enough for me. And interestingly enough, seven years ago is more or less when I stopped pushing my boundaries. At least, in the way I had been pushing them until that point. Prior to that I had been simply plowing forward – and not giving all the shoulda-woulda-coulda much thought. Within a year after stopping I was writing that should-I-unlock-it post, wondering what’s wrong with me.

That’s why I was looking for that door, for that key. I wasn’t just stuck. I was stuck in my own comfort zone. Which after a while can become very, very suffocating, no matter how roomy it is. In fact, a roomy comfort zone speaks about years spent expanding it. Slowing down means stopping the expansion process — and the results can be devastating. Because expansion of the comfort zone is not a luxury — it’s a necessity. At least, for me.

Why a necessity? Because everything that makes my life truly meaningful, everything that defines me can be traced back to some moment of getting out of my comfort zone. Writing that story, stepping into that gym, learning to play that guitar, kissing that girl. Whatever it is, there was a point where I had a choice of staying comfortable or doing something that in some way felt intimidating. And I can only imagine what my life would have looked like had I chosen to stay in comfort on those occasions. It would have been one constant misery with nothing worthy to show for.

I’m writing these words on a plane. This post was sitting unfinished in my drafts folder for over a month. Something was keeping me from finishing it. That something was taking different shapes. A mile-long to-do list. A constant lack of sleep. An interesting conversation. A book. Or in case of today’s flight, a movie. I could have watched another one. In fact, I had already started. But it just didn’t feel right. And writing these words instead does.

I don’t know where stepping out of my comfort zone will take me. But I do know that staying inside one for long is not the way I want to live. Because the moments of pushing my boundaries is where the magic happens. Magic that keeps fueling life between those moments. And so now, seven years later, I know that it is indeed all about unlocking what’s inside. But not once. Not twice. Not even a dozen times. It’s a way to live. Just like it used to be. Just like it is now.

Why Bother?

Posted: June 26, 2017 in Unmaskd Tales
Tags: , , ,
Why Bother?

“It took me a while to find you, sage,” said a man who emerged one bright morning from the deep forest that surrounded the house of Puram Bam. The man’s voice was void of emotion. He was simply stating the fact.
Puram Bam was observing a white marble statue that stood in the tall grass next to his house. He glanced at his visitor and turned back, without saying a word.
“And now that I have found you, it is too late,” the man said, as if agreeing that they needed no greetings or introductions.
This time Puram Bam spoke, “Why don’t you go back then?’
The man shook his head. “What’s the point? On my way here I lost whatever little I had left.”
“Maybe you didn’t have much to begin with,” said Puram Bam, his eyes studying the face of the statue.
“Oh, no,” the man replied, and his voice carried a shadow of what could have been indignation. “I had what others could only dream of.”
He went quiet. Puram Bam stood up and walked around the statue. It was a sculpture of a young woman. She was standing in a relaxed pose, looking at something, her face full of wonder and anticipation.
“You don’t care about anything I have to say,” the man observed, his voice empty again.
“Do you?” Puram Bam asked.
The man chuckled dryly. “They were right. You are not like others.”
“None of us are,” Puram Bam agreed.
“Well,” the man said, “since I have come all that way to find you, I may as well tell you what brought me here.”
“Do you know?” Puram Bam asked.
“My mind wasn’t among the things I lost,” the man replied, a shadow of anger creeping into his voice. “Of course, I know the question that sent me on this quest. I just no longer care about the answer.”
“Then you won’t mind if I go back to my house,” Puram Bam said, and started for the door.
“Wait,” the man said. “Please. I’ll tell you. I may as well. I was an artist. A painter. A famous painter. Famous and rich. The best galleries were seeking my paintings, and the Emperor himself commissioned me his portrait. I was spending my days doing what I loved and as good as I was, I was only getting better at my craft. People said that when they looked at some of my portraits they felt as if they were peeking inside the souls of those who I had painted. I had women of stunning beauty, was friends with the most prominent people of the empire, and my dog lived in a better house than this shack of yours. I had everything a man can wish for. Everything. Sometimes, when painting, I even felt more than a mere man. I felt godlike. In moments like this it felt like there was nothing I couldn’t bring to life with my brush.
“Then one day, I received a new commission from the Emperor Moktut. He decided to dedicate a room in his legendary gallery to the best artists who ever lived. Of all the living artists, I was the only one, whose portrait he wanted in that room. And so he asked me to paint a self-portrait. For there was no one else who could do it better.
“Believe it or not, this was a new enterprise for me. Unlike many other artists, I had always had little interest in painting myself and found faces of others more interesting than whatever my face had to offer. But this was the Emperor’s commission, and so I had a large mirror delivered to my studio, and started painting.
“This was the first time I looked at myself as a portraitist, and I liked what I saw. The mirror showed me the face of a man who had conquered life and who had every reason to be proud of his work and himself. As I was working on the painting, I felt like I was discovering myself. Among other things I discovered a few gray hair. I smiled at that silver sign of maturity and wisdom, and went on with painting. Then, I had to interrupt my work for several urgent commissions and it took me almost half a year to return to that self-portrait. And then it happened. I spotted more gray hair. Not much more, but enough to notice.
“I remember that moment more clearly than any other moment in my life. There it was — my grand delusion exposed in daylight. Those hairs turning from black to white, they were sand in the hourglass that I had been ignoring foolishly for years. But I now saw it in full clarity. It seemed that I had only looked away for a second — and more particles fell down, never to come back. Godlike? I was a pitiful creature, a miserable sack of flesh, too blinded by his hollow pride to see the truth. The truth that I was but a walking corpse about to start rotting in a blink of an eye. What was the point of doing anything in face of that fate?”
“I didn’t even think of finishing that self-portrait. It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did. I spent days sitting in a chair, thinking of how pointless everything I had ever done had been. Of how laughable my pride was. And of how blind I had been not to realize sooner that my life had no meaning.
“Then I overheard a story that one of my servants was telling another. About a man who told the Emperor himself to his face that the Emperor was afraid of dying. And about the Emperor’s reaction to his words. The name of that man, they whispered, was Puram Bam. I thought that someone who talked that way to the Emperor Moktut — and lived — was either insane or as wise as they said he was. And so I am here, though finding you wasn’t easy. But it’s been a long road and by now everything has lost meaning. Even the very question that brought me here”.
“You never asked that question,” said Puram Bam.
“Why bother?” the answer came.
“Why not?” Puram Bam replied.
The man smiled with disappointment.
“Is this all you have to say, sage? Is this what all your famous wisdom amounts to? You are not that different from others after all.”
“None of us are,” said Puram Bam.
“So you are not going to try and convince me that my life has meaning?” the man asked.
“It doesn’t,” Puram Bam replied.
“I should have known,” the man said. “That’s why they call you a sage. Because you tell people what they already know but are too afraid to say. Thank you. This is strange help, but still help.”
“Can you help me too?” Puram Ban asked.
The man shrugged. “I guess.”
“This statue. What do you think of it? Does it amount to more than my wisdom?”
The man walked up to the sculpture and went quiet. A minute passed. Then another.
“Yes,” the man said, finally. For the first time there was more than a shadow of emotion in his voice. “Yes, it does. It amounts to more than anyone’s wisdom. This is a work of a true master. That pose, that face, the hair… you can almost feel the wind. And her eyes… Was it you who made it?”
“No,” Puram Bam replied. “I’m not a sculptor. Words are my marble. A good friend made it and had it delivered to me. We talked one evening about my vision of a statue like this – and now it’s here, more real than anything I could’ve imagined.”
“I never thought I’d say this about anyone,” the man said slowly, “but your friend’s portrait deserves to be in that room more than mine.”
“Now,” said Puram Bam. “That’s where I need your help. Do you see that sledgehammer over there?”
“Yes,” the man replied.
“Take it and smash her.”
“Have you gone mad?” the man asked, stunned. “Or is this some sick joke?”
“I’m as sane as you are and I mean every word,” Puram Bam replied. “I’m asking you to take the sledgehammer and keep smashing this statue until it’s nothing but a pile of crushed marble.”
“Why in the world would I do that?” the man cried. “And even I were to, why would you want to destroy it?”
“Because it’s a lie,” Puram Bam said. “Perfection like this does not exist in the world. Just look at it — it’s a slap in the face of every walking sack of flash. Leaving it intact means making that lie stronger.”
“Maybe for you,” the man said, angrily. “This is not what this statue means for me. Or for anyone who understands art.”
“And what does it mean for you?” Puram Bam asked. “Don’t you see the same sculpture that I do?”
“You see a woman who makes you feel inferior. I see a thought expressed in marble, a mirror that shows the best in me. That’s what true art does.”
“So now this sculpture means too much for you to destroy it?” Puram Bam asked, touching the statue. “How is it possible? You hadn’t seen it until today.”
The man shrugged.
“Do you always spend years to to understand value of things?”
“No,” Puram Ban replied. “But I’m not the one complaining that nothing matters.”
“Who said–” the man began. Then he went silent. “Well played, sage,” he said a moment later. “Well played. You have driven me into a corner.”
“No,” Puram Bam said. “This not my achievement to claim. But what do you think I have done?”
“You made me see that some things still have value.”
“Like an object you hadn’t seen until an hour ago? Do you really think it was I who made you value it?”
“It wasn’t you,” the man said, his eyes are still on the face of the marble woman. “It was the sculptor. But you made me understand it.”
“You are doing it again,” Puram Bam said. “You are still in that corner. And you choose to face the wall.”
“What do you mean?” the man asked.
“Didn’t you say just a moment ago that we both look at the same sculpture — and see different things? So did the sculptor give it two meanings? Of may be many more? Who knows what others see when they look at it.”
“It wasn’t the sculptor,” the man said. His voice was quiet now. “It was me.”
“Yes, it was you. And I’m surprised you didn’t ask for my help.”
“I don’t need anyone’s help to see the value of art.”
“Then why do you need help to see the value of your soul? Of that thing inside you that gives meaning to everything else, including that statue. What makes you worship the creation yet damn the creator?”
The man closed his eyes. When he opened them a moments later they were full of pain.
“Because the creator is already damned,” he said, the same pain oozing from his voice. “You knew it sage. You knew why I came here better than I did myself. And now you made me face the truth in more clarity than I ever had. Only now it’s so much harder to bear. Everything they say about you is true. The only thing they don’t say is how cruel you can be in making someone facing the truth.”
“That truth,” Puram Bam asked, “what is it?”
“The truth is that I’m afraid. I’m frightened like a animal, which is what I am. I think I have always known the value of that thing inside me that made everything else matter. That’s why I felt godlike in those moments. Because it’s the domain of gods to give meaning and create something that meaning can be given to. And that’s why it is so unbearable to think that that thing inside me will be gone, with all the meaning it can give to the world and everything it can bring into it. This is what I realized at that moment in my studio. But now you made see the full value of what I’m going to lose. And I don’t know how one can live a full life once he sees the truth the way I see it now. They must…”
Then the man looked at Puram Bam.
“Wait,” he said. “How… You understand this truth as well as I do. Better than I do because you made me see it without any veil. You must have known it for a while. How do you live with it? Where do you find strength to go on every day, knowing that your life will be over soon?”
“Look at that sculpture again,” Puram Bam said. “It already gave you the answer. What made it so valuable for you?”
“Her expression?” the man said with uncertainty. “That look? I’ve already told you all this. It’s a beautiful sculpture.”
Puram Bam shook his head.
“It’s a large piece of marble.”
“It was. Until the sculptor touched it.”
“It still is. The sculptor only changed one thing about it.”
“You mean its shape.”
“Yes. But what is a shape?”
“It is …” the man stepped back from the statue. “It is its form.”
“Form is just another word. What is the essence of a shape? Any shape? The rock that this piece came from had its shape too and was much bigger. Yet this statue means more to you than any rock. So what did the sculptor do to turn a piece of rock into a beautiful sculpture? What did he define?”
“Its boundaries.”
“Yes. Its boundaries. Its…”
“…limits,” the man said.
“Yes. Now think of your soul. Does it have any boundaries? Can’t your imagination take you anywhere? Can’t you be anyone in your mind? Can’t you create something that would not have existed without you — and even make it real? You can dive as deep as no one has ever gone and travel as far as no one has ever ventured. You can even bring back the wonders you discover on your journey, just like my friend did with that statue. Can’t you do all that?”
“All of that and more,” the man said, his voice hoarse.
“Our souls have no limits,” Puram Bam said. “Except one.”
“Time,” the man said.
“Time,” Puram Bam repeated after him. “Without it you would never give your soul any meaning. No one can value complete infinity.”
The man sat down on the log that lay near the statue.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” he said after a long silence. “I don’t see any flaw in your logic. But my entire being wants to scream in protest. I know you are right. Yet I want you to be wrong. I know I was the one who drove myself into that corner, and I’m out of it now. But I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know even where to start.”
“It’s a long road,” said Puram Bam. “And no one can walk it for you. Maybe you can start by giving your life something you’ve tried to take away from it.”
A hint of a smile touched the man’s face.
“You’re talking about its meaning.”
“Of course,” Puram Bam agreed. “Although I don’t know why you’d bother to do that.”
“Why not?” the man said.


Every time I head into my annual thinking session I have an idea of what I want to think about. And every time I end up thinking about something else. But as I go over my notes, that something else always turns out to be exactly the topic that has been in some way on my mind for months. And that topic always a continuation of the chain that by now has spanned quite a few years. This year was no exception. Just like the last year, my mind wandered off to an unplanned territory, only to come back with conclusions that made the puzzle more complete.

Two years ago I said that I have figured out the intricate building blocks of the puzzle that I had been facing for years every time I would take a hard look at my life. I talked about living every moment as the ultimate goal, willpower and procrastination being two sides of the same token and self-respect as the cornerstone of happiness. Every single conclusion I reached back then is still correct. Yet, something has been missing from the picture. Something fundamental. Last year’s No Limits idea ventured into that territory, but did not go deep enough. Yes, breaking through one’s limits is extremely important. Yes, earning self-respect is a must. Yes, truly living every moment is the goal. But what is the cause of the eternal inner struggle? Why is there a fight going on inside me, to begin with? Who am I struggling against? I can declare (and rightfully so) procrastination to be rooted in fear, but where does this fear come from? Those and dozens of similar questions remained unanswered.

Until now.

I don’t know how scientific what is about to follow is. I have no formal education in psychology and, despite a decent number of good books, I have recently read on the subject, I’m far from being an expert. I don’t even have a goal of becoming one. I’m only concerned with figuring out what makes me tick and applying that knowledge to reach that elusive, yet very real, state of true living. Scientifically sound or not, my conclusions are based on my observations of my own actions, thoughts and behaviors. As long as they offer plausible explanations and don’t contradict facts, that’s all I need.

So here’s my newest theory or rather, the newest state of my multi-year “what makes me tick?” journey. This is a distilled summary of it, since there’s too much content to cram into a single post. If you have been following my blog, you know that I’ve been puzzled for years by some questions. I’ve just listed some of them, but there are more. Why, despite having strong abilities, I so often slip into the swamp of procrastination instead of putting them to use? Why do I even have to face the absurd idea of wasting time on something pointless instead of doing what I think needs to be done? Why, being a free man in a free country, am I so obsessed with a concept of liberation and awakening? Liberation from what? What are those bursts of life that I experience from time to time, that make my regular existence look like a gray shadow of what living my life can be? And so on and so forth.

At some point, I came to the conclusion that the struggle was imaginary. My mind, I reasoned, just deals with multiple options and tends to choose those that offer instant gratification. Piece of cake. Could be ended with a single decisive resolution. Several hundreds resolutions later I was still finding myself staring into the dark luring surface of the procrastination swamp way too often. As it turned out, the struggle has been very real. Snapping my fingers, no matter, how resolutely won’t end it.  But the conditions causing it can be healed — once they are understood.

We are born wired for freedom. That freedom is expressed in two aspects. One, our ability to imagine anything. Two, our ability to choose to go after anything we imagine. Our ideas may be wrong, our choices may be horrible, but we do have those two innate abilities that are cornerstones of our day-to-day existence.

And so we imagine and choose, and act. And when I think about things I like to do and things I want to accomplish, the most logical step in the world is, as Nike likes to remind us, just do it. But I don’t always follow that clean logic and when I do, it often involves a great deal of that inexplicable inner struggle. However, it wasn’t always like this. There was time, not too long ago, when I was getting some very noteworthy things done, things that made me proud and prompted me to set even more ambitious goals. And that gradual change is the key to understanding what happened.

Despite the convenience of perceiving my mind as a single entity, what I call I is, in reality, a thin layer of consciousness on top of a deep ocean of subconscious. The scientists have been debating for years what exactly subconscious is and even how to call it (unconscious is considered a more accurate term these days), but there is no denying the simple fact that the vast majority of our brain activity happens without any discernible involvement of I. Be it processing of millions of signals from my sensory organs, driving a car or instantaneous translation of written text into mental images, my brain is always busy with myriad of things that I’m not aware of. And that part of my mind by its very definition operates without direct control of my conscious. It has its own priorities and constantly uses them to make decisions. It leads a very busy life, trying to protect me from real and imaginary dangers and get me through my day unharmed, and, preferably, fed. And it is neither fully aware, nor particularity interested in the goals and ambitions of my consciousness. It probably views the conscious as a spoiled child who can afford to play with his toys, thanks to the safety provided by a busy adult.

My subconscious learns and evolves throughout my life, just like my conscious does. But unlike its conscious counterpart, which may decide to hurl myself down a steep ski trail or get into a fight for a cause it considers worthy, subconscious does not get excited by a challenge. What it cares about is protection and maintenance. And if it senses danger in the path chosen by the conscious, it is not inclined to cooperate — unless it has been conditioned to accept that kind of a path. On its own, it always chooses the path of least resistance. Yet, it can be trained, condition and directed. This is where my mistake has been all these years.

At some point, the gap between by conscious and subconscious started to grow. And instead of working with my subconscious and training it to trust the judgement of my conscious, I began to fight it. Concerned about my well-being, it began fighting back — and winning. Every time my conscious, tired of fighting,  would look away, the subconscious, left on its own, would find a way to get me busy with safe, easy and even mildly pleasurable activities. As a result, over time it has been taken over my day to day existence. Occasionally, my conscious would wake up, thinking about the goals it has wanted to achieve, scream in horror at the sight of the ticking clock and lack of progress, and try to go after its goals — only to face the growing resistance of my subconscious that over years has become accustomed to full freedom.

Then, my conscious would spent countless days in futile attempts to overcome the power of my subconscious and its growing control of my actions and thoughts. What’s worse, the conscious, frustrated by the meager results of its attempts, has been understandably harsh in its judgement, creating over time a very strong feeling of dissatisfaction with myself. And that’s where a vicious cycle got formed. The dissatisfaction was being fed into the subconscious regularly, which eventually has internalized it, turning it into an even deeper feeling of guilt and unworthiness that eventually started to permeate my entire existence. And, as a cherry on the top, my subconscious learned to dismiss the goals set by my conscious. From its point of view, those goals were bringing nothing but trouble. The conditioning took place, but it was negative. No wonder that my life has become such a mess.

This is exactly what that endless struggle of two souls has been all about. It’s been one, rather confused, soul in a constant and futile fight with itself. My consciousness against my subconscious. This path path has been a road to ever deepening misery.

But there is another path. I used to be on it, without understanding, years ago. The path of positive conditioning. The path of consistent conscious efforts that turn into robust and powerful subconscious patterns. The path that relies on and reinforces a virtuous cycle instead of a vicious one. It is fairly easy to get on that path. And — despite what years of negative experience are screaming to me now — it shouldn’t be too hard to stay on it. After all, my subconscious is eager to work together, especially now that I understand the nature of that struggle. How do I know? Well, every rhymed verse I’ve ever written has been a product of joint work of my conscious and subconscious. And had it not been on board, I would not have concluded Two Souls with these lines five years ago:

I am the one who wins the fight
The winner takes it all.
And in a swamp or in a flight
At last I will be whole.

No limits

It’s been another year. Ten minutes after writing this sentence I found myself looking for a smooth way to continue. When you post once a year, it’s easy to focus on eloquent salutations. But that’s not why I’m here. The reason I keep coming back, now for the fifth year in a row, is to share things I have realized. For me, a key part of life is discovery of what it actually means to live, and these posts, regardless of their frequency, are mileposts on that road. And as it happens, since the last post I’ve come quite a distance. So hello everyone, hope everything is well, and let’s cut straight to the chase. This post is going to be long enough already.

The puzzle I wrote about last year is still there. In fact, it has evolved significantly. More pieces have been identified and placed into their right spots. But on the way something unexpected has happened — the puzzle has grown in complexity. It felt like exploring a solid object and suddenly discovering that it’s made of molecules, which in turn are made of atoms, which in turn are made of particles. While realization like this means more exploration, it also leads to re-evaluation of some pieces. What looked for years like a monolithic unit suddenly becomes a fluffy imaginary concept. Take limits for example.

The title of this post sounds a line straight from that 90s techno song. It has to be a metaphor, right? Our life is full of limits. We experience them every day. They are everywhere. We are limited in many, many ways, whether we like it or not. Or are we?

First of all, what’s a limit? There are multiple definitions, but the most basic one, to quote Oxfod Dictionary, is “a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass”. When we think or talk about our life, that something is our thoughts and actions. We refer to a limit to outline their possible range, to draw a border between we consider possible and what we believe is outside our reach. I’m too tired to work on this, I think I’ve just reached my limit… I won’t able to run that fast, that would be really beyond my limit… I have to stay realistic, I know my limits… We think and say phrases like this all the time. In fact, more often than not we don’t even bother articulating the existence of a limit — we simply know it’s there. And why shouldn’t we? Aren’t we indeed limited? We can’t outrace a train, can’t move a 10-ton rock and certainly can’t breath underwater. Yes, it’s possible to push our limits, but there’s a limit on how we can push them.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Everything. As always, the devil is hiding in the fine print.

Let’s start with the obvious: this is not about physical limits. Actually, I would argue that even physical limits are only convenient mental models, but there is no way to do this convincingly without turning this post into a five-page essay, delving into psychology, physics and philosophy (and believe me, I’ve tried — this is the fifth time I’m re-writing this text). So for the purposes of this post, let’s put physical limits aside, at least for now, and take a closer look at things that exist inside our mind.

Consider a limit that we all so well familiar with: speed limit. It’s posted wherever we drive and it’s rather specific. Yet, doesn’t pass a simple test against the dictionary definition. True, any speed limit sign speaks of a specific point. But we all know that we can go faster than it and in fact, many of us do. Going beyond it can bring some benefits (getting faster to our destination) and quite a few potential problems, ranging from minor (a ticket) to major (injury or death). So we choose not to go faster than that number, or at least exceed it without speeding like a car on a NASCAR track. But should we choose to, we can go faster, much faster, actually. Moreover, police and ambulance do it routinely. Same can be said about most points we mentally mark as limits: they prompt us to slow down, to stay below a certain level. But they don’t really mark a border beyond which we physically cannot go.

Now let’s leave the physical world for a moment and dive into something more abstract. Imagine an infinite plane, like the one they use in math books and on covers of SciFi magazines. It is unlimited, isn’t it? It stretches from infinity to infinity, after all. True. But only as long as you look at two dimensions. Its thickness is as limited as something can be — it’s plain zero. When it comes to the third dimension, an infinite plane is more limited than a sheet of paper. And yet when we think of it, we think of what makes it infinite, not limited.

Same applies to our lives. Limited as we appear to be in our physical characteristics — including the number of moments we get to live — we are truly, literally limitless when it comes to the ways to apply our capabilities. We can set an infinite number of goals, find an infinite number of way to spend our moments and consider infinite range of options when making a choice. We can be limitless — if we choose to. But most of the time we don’t. We set mental lines not to be crossed, not even to be approached — and call them our limits. Yet whatever we are limiting with these boundaries, they exists only in our mind. Moreover, these internal limits rarely even approach the true extent of our physical or mental capabilities.

We are all born free. Weak, vulnerable, helpless, but free. At that point we are not aware of consequences of our actions — and of ourselves, for that matter — and as such we cannot restrict them. It’s a very strange freedom, freedom of complete ignorance, and it doesn’t mean much because true freedom implies purposeful action. But in that state we don’t limit ourselves — just ask any parent.

As we grow up, we discover things we like and dislike. We learn to desire the former and to avoid the latter. And in order to avoid everything unpleasant, we begin reducing the extent of our actions and even thoughts. We have to. Otherwise we’d be falling off balconies and sticking our hands into fireplaces all the time. And so we create mental lines not to be crossed and internalize some of them to the degree that they become fully subconscious.

Many of these limits are necessary, since they keep us and others safe. They are also good for channeling our efforts to achieve a better outcome (more about this in another post). But many — way too many — limits are created out of different shades of fear and guilt. We want to avoid risk, potential humiliation, physical harm, frustration, rejection. Be it public speaking, learning a new skill, changing a job, asking out someone we like, taking on a challenging task, moving to a new town, standing up to a bully or expressing ourselves honestly, so often we choose to play it safe. And we do it over and over, and over again. What makes these choices fully justified to ourselves? Our own creations. Limits.

Yet unlike laws of physics they exist only in our imagination. Gravity is real. Our limit in defying it is not. That’s why people have walked the Moon and why we can enjoy close up pictures of Pluto. A limit is a boundary beyond which we think we cannot go in a chosen action. But actions are only means to accomplishing goals. And if you look at it this way, most of our so called limits disappear immediately. Or rather, they become irrelevant. You can actually outrace a train — if you get on a plane (though some try using their legs for that). You can move a 10-ton rock — all it takes is a bulldozer (or a clever use of levers). And yes, you can breath underwater — it’s called scuba diving. This all sounds like a no brainer, but how often have you hit a “limit” just because you thought of an action and not of the desired outcome?

And just like the zero-thick infinite surface we can be limitless. We’d still have to deal with laws of physics, biology and social norms. But they should only determine our options, not prevent us from accomplishing our goals. Because the alternative to being limitless is to be limited — in a few or in many ways. This is how most of us spend our lives. Bound by mental uncrossable lines, created by our imagination or learned from others. Giving up when we think we can’t go further, without realizing that there are more ways to achieve the goal. Or worse, not even trying because there is a dark wall looming somewhere down the road. And so we make limits real by not trying to go beyond or around them. Yet, they are not a real unless we make them to. That’s how I used to live. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not only there is a way to feel limitless — there’s is a way to be limitless.

And the most important part of it is that as great as it sounds, becoming limitless is not the ultimate goal. It is only a step. A step into a state that makes everything else possible. It’s a foundation of life as it can be. As it should be. It is only the beginning.


A year has passed. At this point, I should be adopting this phrase as my standard opening for every Unmaskd post. Years after its beginning, the Unmaskd adventure continues to surprise me by taking unexpected turns and leading me to places I hadn’t expected to go when I started it. A once-a-year blog is one of them. This time I’m going to skip the long talk about traditions. It’s all here, in my posts. 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010… Now it’s time for the 2014 one.

It’s hard to squeeze everything I have learned and realized over the last year into a short post, so I’ll focus on the highlights. The biggest one is this: the problem has been solved. I mean it. All these questions I’ve been pondering about on this blog… How can I start living my life without regrets? Why do I procrastinate? How do I take control of my life? What is awakening and is it possible? The life looked like a pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces, some shining, some dark, some hazy, but all clearly meant to fit together and all hopelessly disjointed.

And accompanying that puzzle there was a feeling — not even a feeling — a strong conviction that I had for years. A conviction that there was another, better way to live. Not in terms of being more accomplished, or being “better” as defined by external moral principles, but simply a better way to experience every moment. A different state of consciousness, perception and self-awareness. A state, where every moment is meaningful and every action is purposeful. And comparing to that state, a regular day-to-day existence seemed like walking through a thick fog, pierced by very rare rays of bright light. It was not about reaching any sort of religious epiphany or finding nirvana — in fact, that alert, active state seemed like something directly opposite to it. It seemed so luring, yet unreal and thus unachievable.

Well, the pieces of puzzle are no longer disjointed. The irritating, nagging questions are gone, replaced by crisp and clear answers. And the puzzle, while incomplete, has taken shape.

Here are some pieces:

The goal is to live every moment of my life. To be in that alert state of consciousness that makes the usual state of mind seem like a fog. That state is the goal.

Accomplishments are means to that end. Increasingly challenging and fulfilling, they are necessary to achieve the goal.

Self-respect is my evaluation of my commitment to the goal, as expressed through my thoughts and actions. It can be only earned and it cannot be faked.

Willpower is a byproduct of my commitment to the goal. Contrary to the common interpretation, it’s not the ability to make myself do things. All attempts to exercise willpower just for the sake of “being in control” are pointless, painful, often unsuccessful and always frustrating.

Procrastination is an act of intentionally dumbing myself down to avoid making a choice or committing to my decision. It’s an act of giving in to fear. It’s a true act of cowardice. Willpower and procrastination are two sides of the same coin, with self-respect being the coin’s value.

There are more pieces — some already in the puzzle, some waiting to be picked up, explored and placed in the right spot. But the puzzle is solved — and it was worth every minute, day and year spent on solving it.

No Regrets

Posted: October 1, 2013 in a lonely journey, September 28
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No Regrets

When I said last September that I was going into a self-imposed hiatus I wasn’t planning on turning into a one-post-per-year site. Alas, that seems to be its present fate. If I keep going at that rate for another year or two, this site will be qualified for a honorary mention in The Guinness Book of World Records as a the least frequently updated blog that still gets some reads.

It remains to be seen whether we’ll get there, but at this point I’m not back yet. Not in full swing anyway. But I’m still around and I’m stopping by today for my annual September 28 post and just to say hi to everyone I’ve missed in the last twelve months. Traditions have any meaning only when they are followed and I’ve come to like mine. In fact, I became so attached to it that this year most of thinking I did on that day was about the tradition itself. I was trying to understand what made me look so eagerly to this day during the year. After all, pondering about one’s life doesn’t have to be limited to a specific date. In fact, in my case it isn’t.

And so, as I was trying to figure out why my anticipation of that day had felt like an equal mix of irritation and excitement, it occurred to me it had become a mix of the past and the future. A day to look at the things that I have done and the things I’m hoping to do. The screw-ups and the hopes of doing better next time. The pride of an accomplishment and the resolve to keep on going. It has turned into a day when despite every moment of weakness I still know I have strength. The day of a simple question: did I get the most out of these twelve months of my life? And so far, every time the honest answer to that simple question has been a deafening resounding NO. Just like it was this year.

But this time there was also something else. That endless struggle, that never-ending fight with the Sloth… what exactly was it all about? It had always seemed like an unavoidable side effect of a human nature, something fully recognized and immortalized by many philosophies and religions around the world. And yet, it’s just plain dumb. Fighting myself over control means that I have conflicting life goals. But I don’t. I really really don’t. There’s no conflict between a shining noble goal and instant gratification, between an ambitious objective and the Demon of Procrastination. Because — despite the poetic beauty of the double-soul concept — there’s just one person. One soul. One mind. And that mind is I. And there’s stuff I want to accomplish, that I want to experience, that I want to do. And if I choose to do something else… well apparently that’s what matters to me.

So at the end, it all comes down to being absolutely clear about what you really want. Those few things — maybe even one thing — that truly matter to you. It could be going after that dream. Or being with your family. Or making a ton of money. Or finding your soul mate. Or riding a bike like a pro. Or all of the above. But whatever these things are, they are the only ones worth living for. Really. They don’t have to sound noble or grand. You don’t need to justify them to others, in fact, to anyone. Even to yourself. You only need to be sure they are the things you truly want. Because they are the things that make you tick. And that ticking is your life.

And once you find those things, just fill your life with them. Sure, you’ll have to spend some time doing stuff you don’t like doing. We all do. But as long as you can fill your time — even one minute of it — with things of your choice don’t fill them with junk, no matter how shiny or easy or satisfying or grand it looks. And that’s the whole secret to living your life with no regrets. Because if you think about it, filling your life by choice with things that don’t matter to you is sheer insanity.

So where does this all leave me? Doing the things that matter to me. As much as I can. As long as I can.

Counting the Moments

Posted: September 29, 2012 in September 28, what makes us tick

When people talk about traditions they typically mean rituals established by someone many generations ago. While I respect (most) traditions of this sort, to me another kind of traditions is way more important — traditions, established by me and by those I care about. Which is why I’m writing my September 28th post, even though I’m not back yet from my self-imposed hiatus. When you do something for three years in a row, it’s a tradition.

As usual on this date, I’ve spent some time thinking — maybe a bit harder than usual — about my favorite L-word. And as usual I realized something. Don’t expect a revelation. What you are about to read is as trivial as it gets when it comes to statements about life. What makes it special for me is that now I understand it deeper than I ever have. A warning: don’t read this if you’re easily depressed. I mean it. Just stop reading right here.

Do you ever get this feeling of moments being wasted as your life passes by? It passes right in front of your eyes, in all its glory and complexity — and you can’t help, but feel that these seconds are being thrown away. You can feel your body getting older with every passing moment, you can sense opportunities being ignored, risks not taken, life not lived. There are life experts around you telling you that life is too precious to be wasted, encouraging you to live it, screaming at you about planning it, establishing bold goals, going after them with everything you’ve got, taking charge, blah, blah, blah. But what do they know? They are people just like you, and their clock is ticking just as steadily. All you know is that you have a limited number of moments in this world and you’re just not using them right. And it sucks big time.

So you just think about something else. You choose not to think about that unstoppable timer. You pretend to forget. In fact, you do forget — until next time. But there always is that next time. And you know what it is? Slavery. We’re being held hostage to our fears. Fear of not using our time wisely. Fear of wasting our life. Fear of leaving this world eventually. And this is so wrong.

It’s wrong because it actually doesn’t matter how many moments we get. Well, it sort of does, but not in the way we usually think about it. These moments are not infinite anyway. Yes, I will run out of them at some point. But precisely because of this it is so dumb to waste any one of them worrying about running out of them eventually. It may happen in 40 years or in 5 hours. Who knows. And who cares? What matters is not how many moments I have left in the bank. What matters is how I spend them. Every single one of them. As it turns out, life is not about how many. It’s about how. Instead of counting the moments I should be living them.

Just like any statement about life these are just words. But once it sinks in, all of a sudden you realize that these words bring you closer to something all us want and only few truly achieve — freedom.