Three years ago, this summer a good friend shared a profound metaphor with me – the bug body. As Robert Heinlein said, “specialization is for insects.” And, when we have done one thing for a very long time, our environment necessarily shapes us into a form of specialization, enabling us to navigate and survive the “vagaries and proclivities” of said environment.
And, when we leave that environment or when it dissipates – whether we change jobs, discontinue relationships, move to a new city, deal with new health realities – we are left with a specialization (a bug body), which is often no longer appropriate. Not because that specialization is “bad or good,” but because the same response to our new environment simply no longer fits.
Recently, another dear friend told me she hadn’t seen me on social media as much as in the past and she wanted to make sure I was ok. I told her I am very ok and that social-platform algorithms probably dictate how much we interact with our IRL friends more than we want to admit.
But I was transparent as possible and also told her my online habits have changed, somewhat. Partially, I’ve diversified how I spend my online time to avoid the non-stop, toxic polarization caused by ancient tribalism and decades of cable-news brainwashing, as they’ve combined with modern technology manipulation.
However, my ‘online muting’ also began when I started listening and reading more than espousing and declaring. Essentially, this is one of multiple ways I’ve spent the past three years dismantling an obsolete bug body.
I ran into another good friend at the sporting goods store Saturday and talked to him about personality assessments and workshop facilitation. As we caught up I told him about some things I had worked on and he was surprised. Three years ago, he wouldn’t have believed what I was telling him. But, it’s true and I’m doing those things because I’ve been in a new environment and it was appropriate for me to make fundamental changes.
What I realized this morning and wanted to share with you while it’s fresh on my mind, is that you are not your bug body. LOL You are not your environment! None of us are. Sure, our environment shapes us all and it will mash us into a form of and for specialization. It doesn’t matter who you are.
But your response to your environment is merely your temporary container. Like an oddly shaped vase holds water in an oddly shaped form, the people you know, the work you do and where you live can give you a unique shape – but you are the air and water within, not the temporary vase. You are ultimately malleable. You don’t have to be ‘set’ in your ways.
When we change environments, we must have the courage to disassemble our inappropriate bug body. (I like that metaphor better than breaking a vase). But, we must do it with patience and compassion…compassion for ourselves, just like we would show any loved one who needs to make adjustments to their own responses to change.
And, most importantly — when we think back and reminisce about the events that shaped our previous environmental responses (our persona) — we should not convince ourselves our old persona or bug body, dictates how we’ll perform, behave or where we’ll go in the present or in the future.
Those environmental pressures were merely a set of circumstances, which shaped our specialization to deal with that environment at that time. It was and is not who we are, and it certainly doesn’t dictate our future.
Every single person reading this post is dealing with some sort of struggle right now. If my recounting of my experiences does anything, may it remind you that you’re not isolated. You’re not alone. We are all in the same boat.
And, we can indeed be a new creation, we can modify our responses to a new environment. Responses which are more appropriate and bring compassion to us and others and more contentment in the face of continuous change.
I’ve known for quite some time, but have been hesitant to state publicly until now, that I believe most everyone’s anxiety and frustration originates from the fear that where they are and what they’re doing might very well be temporary. And, this has always been very interesting to me since all of us know that ‘all of this’ is ultimately temporary!
Yet, each of us have held on to something too long while deluding ourselves that it should be permanent. We’ve held on to our childhood too long or our children too long. We’ve held on to the farm too long or the house or the car. We’ve held on to jobs too long. We’ve held on to relationships too long. We’ve held on to beliefs and regrets too long. Even though each of those things are ultimately contextual and temporary, we so often wish and behave as if it weren’t so.
The point of all of this is that admitting these things and stating these things to ourselves and others can be liberating. Acknowledging these truths could be the first step to reducing the anxiety and fear of the transience and impermanence of life.
Perhaps just agreeing that literally everything is temporary can provide a bit of relief. And, I believe the first step is practicing and learning how to surf on top of change as we move though the chaos of life, while strengthening our tolerance for ambiguity, rather than clinging on to the underpinnings of that which we hope lasts forever — all the while, knowing deep down, no such object exists.
I choose to believe the only thing that lasts forever is Love. And, you can each define that word as you wish. But, the way I define Love causes me to believe it only makes sense that we direct the bulk of our time, attention and resources to those we love and those who love us. While spreading a form of that same Love by helping others at every opportunity.
~ Scott Kinnaird
With enough top-down energy, it feels like the creator of an idea can broadcast it, anytime and anywhere. That enough hype/promo/media/leverage ought to allow a major publisher or network or candidate to bend the culture simply by yelling.
If you follow this road, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
For 500 years, this hasn’t been true for books. And now it’s not true for anything.
Ideas spread from person to person. Horizontally. Because someone who encountered an idea cared enough to spread the word, to talk about it, to insist that friends and colleagues pay attention, if just for a moment.
If you can figure out how to embrace the true fans, they’ll go ahead and spread an idea–not because you want them to, but because they want to.
Your ability to reach a tiny group of committed fans is essential. But the work spreads because of the fans, not because you figured out how to spend money to interrupt more and more strangers.
~ Seth Godin
Agitation over happenings which we are powerless to modify, either because they have not yet occurred, or else are occurring at an inaccessible distance from us, achieves nothing beyond the inoculation of here and now with the remote or anticipated evil that is the object of our distress. Listening four or five times a day to newscasters and commentators, reading the morning papers and all the weeklies and monthlies–nowadays, this is described as ‘taking an intelligent interest in politics.’ St. John of the Cross would have called it indulgence in idle curiosity and the cultivation of disquietude for disquietude’s sake.
– Aldous Huxley, Perennial Philosophy, 103-104
I tend to be an individualist in politics, and in America, I find it hard to decide whether the right wing or the left constitutes the greater threat to liberty. Thus in one sense of the word I am apolitical: I cannot find enthusiasm for any particular ideology, party, state, or nation, and I believe furthermore, that these are obsolete types of organizations, which increasingly work against the real interests of real people.
On the other hand, I am intensely interested in specific political and economic problems: in developing an ecologically sound technology, in getting it understood that the dollar is something like an inch (not wealth, but a measure of wealth), in showing that people must be paid for work done on their behalf by machinery, and in the drastic reform of prisons and mental hospitals.
~ Alan Watts, In My Own Way; An Autobiography, 1972
Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone. As if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice. You must note the way the soap dish enables you, or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. The stairs are your mentor of things to come, the doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you, and the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last. All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
~ David Whyte
Following the Zen of Master Dogen is not the wish to become more than human, a special being, Buddha or God. No more is it the hope to have a vision of emptiness, nor to perform miracles.
It is to return to the normal condition of the human mind.
There are many seekers who analyze but never practice zazen.
They just keep the books, like bankers who count money without themselves being rich.
– Kodo Sawaki