What keeps me even keeled? What keeps me from going over the deep end and either killing myself or just leaving one day and never coming back, disappearing into the ether. That is a question I have asked myself many times over the years.
At one point, I was unconsciously using alcohol to do it. With proper dosage and almost constant application, alcohol can keep you even keeled. Terribly numb to anything going on in the world, but even keeled. It is a false since of contentment. Alcohol, and I suspect any drug, only mask the things that are wrong. They don’t solve them, which is why you have to keep going back to them for more and more as it becomes harder for them to cover up your issues until they drown you. Luckily for me, at some point I figured out what was going on and got out of the situation I was in and walked away unscathed.
I also have used exercise and diet to keep myself even keeled. However, much like the alcohol, it slowly took over and replaced conscious thinking and feeling. I jumped so deep into working out and eating healthy that I was counting every calorie eaten and burned on a daily basis, weighing myself every morning and tracking every ounce lost or gained. Instead of the numbness of alcohol I was using the hyper-vigilance of obsessive behavior to mask what was going on in my head.
I have learned alcohol and eating right and exercise can all be a part of a healthy lifestyle. As long as they are used in moderation.
I have an obsessive personality. That manifests in two ways, one I grow obsessed with things in bursts. This is great when it comes to learning about a subject and writing about it. That is why I’m going to start channeling this aspect of my obsessiveness in researching and writing about one subject a month on this blog or elsewhere (hopefully for money). The other aspect of this obsessiveness is that I worry about the future a lot. I start thinking about what will happen if I do this, then what will happen next, then this other thing will happen, then this person will do this, and then I’m in trouble. The first thing that I need to do hasn’t even happened yet and I’ve already gamed out how this will end with me in pain.
How do I stay even keeled? I started reading more, writing this blog, and also keeping a journal. When I say journal I mean an old school Moleskin journal in which I write in by hand every day. I’ve also started Zen Buddhist philosophy and I’m attempting to start a meditation practice to keep myself present. One of the things about Zen is how it focuses on the present and keeping yourself from allowing things that you can’t control (like the past and the future) from controlling your life. The past is over and the future is not guaranteed so you should not let them control your life because you can do nothing about either of them.
The other thing I love about Zen is its concentration on process because process is something you can control. You can’t control outcomes. All you can control is your work towards those outcomes, and if you do the work correctly you will achieve a desirable outcome. Though it may not be one you thought you would get.
The sand mandalas are the best example of this. Buddhist monks spend days or weeks using sand to create beautiful mandala paintings on the floor. The meticulously place each grain to create these intricate designs, and when they are done, they are ceremonially destroyed. It was never about creating the design, it was about doing the process correctly and concentrating on your task to create this representation of the universe. They are destroyed to show the transient nature of the material world. The beauty of the painting is incidental to the process. It is the only logical by product of the process.
The idea of a long term process is at odds with so much of how we function in today’s world where instant gratification and short term success are prized over the slow act of building something that will last longer than 15 minutes. You see this often in sports where the people in charge not only seem incapable of understanding how to build something long lasting, they seem almost hostile to the idea of attempting long term success.
One of the ways this is manifested in sports is the idea that you need to get a player with a big name to sell tickets. The idea is you need to get someone fans will want to see no matter how bad the team is. That will work for a week or maybe a half a season, but if your team is crap no one is going to keep shelling out money for a bad product. Building a consistent winner is the best way to get fans to pay money to see your team in the long term and for a long period of time. That is harder than signing some aging free agent with a big name and no game left who won’t actually improve your product on the field, but whom fans know and will want to see. If you pay attention to a lot of the GMs and coaches who work for your favorite sports network, you understand why they not only got fire, but should never be hired to run a team again. They have no conception of any type of long term process geared towards a future outcome and only concerned themselves with winning today. They are all so concerned with keeping their job, they don’t actually do their job.
That is the great thing about Zen. While it asks you not to worry about the past or the future because you cannot control either, it helps you focus in the present on the correct tasks and the correct processes for completing those tasks that helps you find the best possible outcome.
So, how do I stay even keeled? I try to always be present and trust in the process.