“The egoless child is still calmly sitting inside each of us. Buried in layers over layers of lies, egos, and personas. Happy nonetheless. Waiting to be found. Let out” ― Mo Gawdat, Solve For Happy: Engineering Your Path to Uncovering the Joy Inside You
“I’m a trained extrovert,” says Mo Gawdat, former chief business officer of Google X, an entrepreneur, author of the book Solve for Happy, and officially the coolest guy on the planet.
Gawdat thinks there are a hell of a lot of us trained extroverts out there and that we are all suffering a lot because of it. He talks of how we’ve designed an uber-extrovert World where we avoid the real thinking and creativity and instead turn to our quick fixes of constant hook-ups, networking, meetings, conference calls, dinner parties, conferences, coffee breaks … and this is before we even get into social media.
It’s tough on introverts. Maybe it’s tough on everyone. I was watching twitter addict Trump and I was overcome by a deep sadness for him as a human being (no I haven’t lost my mind) I just felt how horrible it would be to be inside his manic reactive head. I fundamentally agree with the Dalai Lama when he says the true nature of all of us is compassionate and kind. It’s hurt that gets in the way and is the root cause of making people behave so badly. Underneath there could be a very hurt little child.
Once we get this idea it is incredibly difficult to hate anybody. And by not hating we can clean up our own souls and heart and allow all the good things in. Not hating is as much for our benefit as for everybody else.
Having thought carefully about this action orientated behaviour, I agree that every time I reach for that coffee break I’m indulging in some kind of addictive behaviour. And that this behaviour is fundamentally bad for me. It is seriously impacting on the quality of my thoughts, my imagination and my ability to be all I can be in the World.
It’s got to change.
I’ve read Gawdat and loved him for a while. But I found something more from him when a friend sent me a recent Guardian Newspaper The Upside Podcast: In conversation with Mo Gawdat and it’s had an extraordinary effect on me. The Guardian’s mission to provide “a dose of optimism” during these challenging times is journalism at its best and most thoughtful. Wonderful!
Gawdat speaks in his usual modest, beautiful and thoughtful manner about how really in the West we don’t have much to complain about – even with COVID-19. Life is fundamentally risky and he talks a lot about his equation for happiness = one’s perception of reality MINUS expectations. His thoughts on the “game of life” are fascinating and he has lots and lots to say about how any kind of human control on anything is largely an illusion. I want to go back to his thoughts on the link with happiness and chaos theory as I think science has so much to show us in this area.
It got me thinking hard about the paradox of this lockdown thing. On the face of it it is so terrible – yet I’ve certainly personally lived through worse. But I’ve found a most golden core, peace and silence at it’s heart that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced before. I largely view it as the ultimate opportunity for self development and to face my demons – of which there remain quite a few.
But then on Sunday it all fell apart for me. It’s always bad on a Sunday – maybe it’s a Catholic thing.
I felt I was “starving to death” from the lack of human contact and fantasised about dashing back to London, touching and hugging every human being I could find (don’t worry I was aware it was a mad dream), get coffees – loads of them – and drink them all day in busy parks.
In reality the most I was contemplating was a return to the City as the silence of the countryside was becoming way “too loud” for me.
And then I remembered Gawdat’s words and the thoughts expressed around loneliness of almost every philosopher and psychologist I’ve read or met. And the words of the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness. It’s at that point of discomfort where the real learning begins. It’s what we find most difficult that is where our real teacher lies but only if we want to listen – and for me the big elephants in the room have been and are always loneliness or a fear of missing out.
I’ve never really seen myself as being addicted to anything – apart from cake – but I can imagine it is at this pain point that the addiction kicks in. Isn’t it that deep empty loneliness, longing for some kind of love/comfort/relief that gets us all sometimes. We cannot stay with that thought a moment longer as it will rise up and swallow us hole…the whole fabric of our body and soul is telling us to get the hell out of there.
No wonder some people turn to a drug of some kind as a balm to soothe that childlike pain. If we accept that we are all addicts in some shape or form I believe that it makes us so much less judgemental towards those poor souls who cannot face the pain just now. Whatever has happened in their childhoods must have been so terrible to numb the self protective stop button.
I may not be an addict of the usual substances, but I’ve re-thought my World and think I am an addict in terms of connection. Yup that is me Sir – stopping what I’m writing because it hurts too much, reaching for the phone because I can’t stand to be in my own head for one second longer. Stopping thinking because gets hard. Trying to get touch points through social media because – well just because I feel so lost and alone.
This time I didn’t act, because I was aware it was through acting that I would be giving in to the addiction. I sat with the discomfort and it felt really horrible. I felt all of those nasty emotions we try to smother – loss, envy, anger, hate. The urge to just run away as fast as I could to somewhere I didn’t know where. We all have them, these funny feelings, and it’s denying them, the psychologists tell us, is what provides that one way street to anger, depression and the need to hurt other people.
Finding stillness at that moment was the most courageous thing I have done for quite some time. I faced down the feelings and didn’t run and boy I felt like I’d conquered the World – I felt I’d tasted the best drug on earth. It was great.
Bonus – there were no after effects – I woke the next day with a kind of lightness and stillness that is quite new for me. Then got to work with a new gusto, it’s like actions and words started to flow out of me. The more I work on myself the more I get closer to that wonderful and illusive state of flow – also known colloquially as being in the zone and is the mental state when a person is fully immersed in a feeling or energised focus.
The more I work on this stuff the better I understand management guru Stephen Covey’s idea of the circle of influence vs the circle of concern as outlined in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Like many people I’d spent years in my circle of concern boring anybody who’d listen about my worries about – well just about everything in the World. But gradually I’ve been drawing in to my much smaller circle of influence. Bit of a shock first of all about just how small that is – but it is, believe me, the door to incredible riches.
The more I focus on myself, my values, my reason to be in this World the less I care what other people think of me. Hey none of us are everybody’s cup of tea – but I have found the more I know myself the more I draw the kind of people I want into my inner circle. It creates the most amazing feeling of certainty and freedom – it’s like getting my own brand values aligned and right. The more I write for myself, the more letters I get from others saying “Hey me too, I feel like that …” The less I make manic efforts to connect, the more I feel connected to the people who really matter. The more I face down my demons the less interest I have in joining anybody else in any kind of battle with theirs.
Finally dear reader, if you wish to join me, I’m joining the slow movement as I really think this is where it’s at now. Don’t expect too much from me as I’ve been a very well trained extrovert for quite a few years. I got a bit clever by being a voracious reader so I’m going to read and read and summarise for you if you’d care to know more. And I’m going to capture those funny, simple little daily things that put a smile on my face and maybe yours. Here goes:
- chasing three naughty lambs – for the 5th time – today who had escaped from a farmers field. It’s always the same three and they always give me a very ungrateful kick as I kindly lift them back over the fence to safety. Naughty but gorgeous.
- listening to Bruce Springsteen’s The Wish on my morning run. I challenge any Mother of boys, or any boy who loved his Mother, not to weep with words like “if pa’s eyes were windows into a world so deadly and true. You couldn’t stop me from looking but you kept me from crawling through.” The whole album is divine
- The rose that is growing up the side of the house and the delicate pink flowers that are peeking through my window are the first thing I see each morning. Could almost make one believe in God.
- The new documentary Home on Apple TV. The ultimate in slow living and unveils the boundary pushing imagination of the visionaries who dare to build a home of their dreams. Lots of ethical and sustainable building and focussing on the wonderful interplay of man’s work and nature. Hours of bliss.
Have a lovely week and see you soon.