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.

puzzle_1

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 unmaskd.com 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 what makes us tick
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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.

Goodbye — For Now

Posted: September 6, 2012 in a lonely journey

Thank you all for your words of support after my last post — they mean a lot to me. They really do.

I have failed. Which means I have either not tried hard enough or am incapable of being who I want to be. In the first case, I’ll be back. In the second case, this is the last Unmaskd post. When it comes to my identity, Unmaskd has become my most honest expression of myself. I don’t want to betray everything it means to me. Under my other masks, I have an option of living (or rather wasting) my life as someone weak, while pretending that I am strong. I don’t have this option as Unmaskd.

I know what living truly means. It is so much more than breathing and eating, doing work and being entertained. Living your life is so much more. And once you’ve lived a single moment like this you cannot go back, without lying to yourself.

As Unmaskd I’m not going to be weak. I’ll either be strong — or won’t be at all. Running away from yourself is not a way to live. It’s a way to exist. And Unmaskd is all about living.

I hope this is not a farewell. But if it is, please do know that this has been one of the most exciting adventures of my life.

Yours,

This is going to be a strange post, even by Unmaskd’s standards. It will cause some disillusionment. It will cause some confusion. And yet it is necessary.

I have found myself in a tight spot, though majority of people would not see anything dramatic about my present circumstances. Even I can easily imagine a much worse situation than the one I’m currently in. It does not involve health, crimes, poverty or tragedy. It simply involves wasting moment by moment my life — and being unable to change anything about it. The worst part of being in this situation is knowing fully well that it is a direct result of the decisions I’ve been taking very consistently throughout my life, starting with teenage years. The hole where I’m finding myself in is a very logical outcome of these decisions, and it’s amazing that it took to so long to get where I’ve gotten.

Throughout my entire life I’ve been consistently disconnecting my self-declared values from my actions. I’ve been believing in courage, while behaving like a complete coward on many occasions. I’ve been a strong believer in doing what’s right — and consistently taking the path of least resistance. I’ve been certain that I have a free will — and yet acting like a dysfunctional robot, wasting hours and days procrastinating over simplest challenges. I’m a solid case of the most pathetic sort of liar — one who successfully lies to himself.

But what I’ve been good at is putting on masks. Yes, there have been many of them. I’ve been good at pretending someone I’m not. An expert, a brave man, someone with strong values, a success story, a self-respecting man. The list goes on and on. But no matter how well I played these roles, I’ve been a fake for the most part of my life. A fake through and through — and knowing it.

Now I’m simply reaping the rewards of my consistency. Yes, I’ve done some things I’m proud of. Yes, I have some accomplishments behind me that are worth pointing at and saying “I did this and it’s good.” But these rare examples only show how much I’m capable of. Capable to create — and yet incapable to make real. Yes, I have reasons for not doing more than I’ve done. Good, solid reasons. But they are only excuses. I know I didn’t do my best. I know that I didn’t go for it with everything I’ve got. Heck, I didn’t go for it with half of what I’ve got. I know that I’ve been a coward.

Trying and failing is tiring, but manageable. I could live with this. But it’s being a fake that I’m ultimately tired of. Fake and weak. You get used to living with regrets about your past. You can’t get used to living with regrets about your future.

Ever since I became Unmaskd I’ve had a single rule: no bullshit. I don’t lie in posts in any way, shape or form, even though sometimes it’s so tempting. And yet this picture is still deceptive. It only shows my strength. It doesn’t show my weakness. And I’m not going to let it become another fake mask. I have enough of those. From this point on Unmaskd exists only as long as I’m capable of being the best I can be. The moment I willingly take the path of least resistance Unmaskd will cease to exist. This is my promise to myself and to all of you.

I’ve been lying to myself my entire life. It’s time to get real.

Have you ever wondered if you’re a person of integrity? I’ve got good news for you: yes, you are. Always have been. Only it is likely not what you thought integrity was.

Integrity is consistency of actions and values. But despite of what you think your values are, real values are those that get manifested in actions, not the ones manifested in thoughts. If you wish to be strong, but act as a weakling, your true value is not strength, no matter how much you like to think of it. Your true value is weakness. You always stay true to your values. You may just not like them — the same way you can dislike your height, voice or color of your eyes. Yet, they are always there, defining everything you do.

But here’s the catch. Once you truly realize that your actions are the only manifestation of your values you have a choice. You can continue acting the same way you’ve always acted or start acting in accordance to the values you thought were yours. In the first case, you will continue longing for imaginary integrity based on phantom values, while slowly hating yourself and making endless Monday resolutions. In the second case, you will eventually get to the point where you’re proud of your true values — and yourself. That choice — and consistent non-stop adherence to it — is the only true test of your true values.

You always have integrity. But it can be either automatic mindless integrity by submission or conscious integrity by choice. And that choice is the foundation of every other choice you make in life.