Seriousness and Frivolity

“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

We adults are so awfully serious.

Where did we learn it? We certainly weren’t serious when we were toddlers or mischievous teenagers. Where did it come from? Why?

What follows is my exploration into seriousness and its causes and effects.

What does it mean to take thing seriously?

According to www.Dictionary.com:

1. of, showing, or characterized by deep thought.

2. of grave or somber disposition, character, or manner: a serious occasion; a serious man.

Doesn’t really help does it. Well, I’m sure you know what it means already.

When did we first start taking things seriously?

I don’t know. And a rather rapid Google search returns nothing so I guess no one else does either.

My guess is that we took some things seriously because of the threat of extinction, i.e. “Don’t do that, you might hurt yourself!” or “Stop messing around or I’ll leave you here and I won’t come back.”

I remember once when I was playing in my mother’s bedroom and I accidentally jumped on her knee. I looked up at her with a gleeful grin, expecting her to smile and laugh along with me, and instead met the black gaze and angry bark of a terrifying, wounded giant.

From then on I wouldn’t be surprised if I learnt to take life seriously when I’m around her.

What do we take seriously?

We take our jobs, our relationships, our futures, our pasts, our possessions and ourselves seriously. Not all at the same time of course, and sometimes we forget about our shiny new shoes and jump in a puddle.

Does it serve us?

There seems to be a multitude of quotes by great people instructing us not to take life too seriously. It would be easy to say “well Dostoyevsky said it so come on people, lighten up!”, but I think more analysis is needed. We need to take our seriousness very seriously.

Seriousness serves us by allowing us to explore a subject, feeling, object or a way of life in depthWith depth comes meaning. And so seriousness can help us develop meaning in our lives.

Seriousness doesn’t serve us when we over-indulge in it, or take the wrong things seriously.

When we over-indulge in seriousness, we forget what it means to be light and free and dancing in the chaos of life. We can become heavy and slow and dulled and boring.

When we take the wrong things seriously, we can miss out on life altogether. We can concentrate on the highs of career achievement while ignoring our inner child’s pleas for fun and adventure.

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.” – Alan Watts

There’s one thing that seems to speak for itself: those that choose not to take things so seriously all the time seem to just enjoy life more!

Action Steps

  • Speak gibberish all day.
  • Go and get shit-faced instead of reading that next self-development book
  • Twirl, twist, jump and gyrate your body around like a 4 year old in a soft-play area
  • Take the sacred things seriously and take yourself lightly
Further reading:
Refine The Mind: 9 Thinkers on Not Taking Existence too Seriously

Deep Work and Soul

What is ‘Deep Work’?

‘Deep work’ is the title of a book by Cal Newport and it’s a term he invented to describe:

the activity of focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task¹

¹ The above quote is from an Art of Manliness interview which I’ll be quoting extensively from in the rest of this post

This may sound like just normal work, but there’s more to it. Key words are “without distraction” i.e. without checking your inbox every ten minutes, and “cognitively demanding” i.e. not reorganising your photo albums, or as Newport has put it (quoting from memory of the book)

The longer it would take for a smart high school graduate with no previous experience of the activity at hand to solve/fix/complete it, the higher the level of deep work

For more examples and clearer definitions, check his blog.

What does this have to do with soul?

I believe that the deeper the work you’re doing, the more soulful it will be, and the more you’ll be in touch with your soul.

Deep work creates VALUE. Value, richness, a sense of craftsmanship, a sense of mastery. The reason why I want to talk about this is because of the abundance of the OPPOSITE of deep work in today’s world: shallow work. Newport says of shallow work…

It doesn’t require intense undistracted focus. It’s work that tends to be a little bit more logistical in nature and that doesn’t really leverage your skills at a high level, that is someone else could replicate it pretty easily. That would include things like answering emails, meetings, maybe optimizing your social media analytics setup.¹

Shallowness and emptiness

You’ve probably experienced this type of work first-hand. The type of work that gives you hit after hit of dopamine as you tick off another ‘to do’ yet when the day comes to a close you feel empty, unfulfilled and ungrounded.

A necessary evil

That’s not to say shallow work is all guff and no good. Shallow work has its place and some professions are geared towards shallow work, particularly social media experts etc.

Newport’ll put it better than I ever could:

They both have their value, but recognizing that you need to do both, just having a different term for each. Making that distinction at least in my own life was a real step forward. It got me out of this trap of hey, anything that possibly has a benefit is work. I should just be doing stuff and be busy all the time. It gave me a more nuanced understanding of work where I see it more that shallow work is a necessary evil. It’s the stuff that allows you to keep your job, while deep work is the stuff that’s going to help you get promoted. It’s the stuff that’s really going to make a difference.¹

I’m convinced. Instruct me

To engage in more deep work you must carve out the time in your life for long period of intense focus on an activity that matters to you.

I’m still have trouble with the last part: I write these articles but they don’t give me as much joy as say, making a film or animation etc. It’s a question I’d like to ask Cal myself: can these more artistic disciplines be considered deep work? Are painting, drawing, photography etc. cognitively-demanding?

I’ve just posted a comment on Cal’s website and we’ll see what he (or most likely one of his blog’s followers) think.

Back to the issue at hand – how to work deeply?

Key requirements I’ve found for working deeply:

  • Plan out your day

The following image shows how Newport plans his day:

dailyplan-1-625px

This page is divided into two columns. In the left column, I dedicated two lines to each hour of the day and then divided that time into blocks labeled with specific assignments. In the right column, I add explanatory notes for these blocks where needed.²

Nothing more needs to be said. Do this.

  • Find somewhere quiet where you will be undistracted

I stay in my bedroom and work at my desk, or go to the library, or the park, and the last resort is cafes/pubs. If you’re only faced with the last resort then you can bring some earphones and play some repetitive instrumental music (I like African or Chinese music).

  • Create a ritual for entering and exiting your work period

A ritual will train your brain to recognise that you’re about to concentrate intensely and it will help you avoid the desire to distract yourself by doing something other than the task at-hand. I get a hot cup of coffee or tea, clear my desk, close any unrelated tabs/programmes, and sometimes write a journal entry with my intentions for the deep work period and write down anything I’m worrying about so I can continue to worry about it AFTER I’ve finished working.

And then watch the soulfulness shine through.

I can’t praise this way of working highly enough. It has changed my life completely. The sense of satisfaction after tapping into the deepest recesses of your creative intellect to bring forth something deep, true and valuable is greater than any trite and fleeting happiness attained through years of shallow work or watching all three Star Wars trilogies in one sitting, or having a pissed night out with the lads or scoring with a hottie.

Action step

Basically, buy Cal’s book.


¹ Art of Manliness: Podcast #168: The Value of Deep Work in the Age of Distraction

² Cal Newport: Deep Habits: The Importance of Planning Every Minute of your Day

Additional reading

Robert Greene – Mastery

The Way of the Superior Man – David Deida

Additional viewing

Lack of Living

Today I’d like to explore the lack of living that I, and probably many of you, have experienced. We may get things done, we may even have a job we love, a strong relationship with a healthy partner, good friends and family, yet we may feel a lack of vitality.

Co-dependence

This lack of living is strongly related to your level of independence from your family and society. Though we may become conscious of many ways that we are co-dependent, there seems to always be more, hidden in the unconscious. Only by growing in awareness, giving utterance to our most highest desires and seeking the feedback of others can we unlock and loosen these subconscious dependencies on other people.

I’ll let Joseph Campbell take it from here:

Campbell talks of Babbitt, specifically the last line:

I’ve never done a thing I wanted to in all my life

This may sound extreme, but it begs the question: how much of your decisions are influenced by other people? If they are at all influenced, even the slightest amount, then whatever you do, it will not be what you WANT to do.

Other people will always try and influence us. We may choose to take into consideration people’s opinions, chew on them, and then make our decision – but without the chewing, we are merely robots. Mechanical talking heads, repeating the desires of others.

Pain – our truest friend

Pain, physical or emotional, shows us the path to our liberation. But it’s so easy to reject the pain, to turn away, to distract ourselves with shiny gadgets and over-achievement and love and sex.

I can’t remember who said it, but someone once said something along the lines of:

When it comes to emotions, human beings are the most creative creatures on the planet. We’ll come up with almost anything to distract ourselves from an uncomfortable emotion

Why pain?

Pain originates from the soul. It tells us when we’re hurt and need rest. It tells us when we’re trespassing against our soul’s wishes. It tells us when we should have paid attention to what’s in front of us instead of the cute girl beside us through lampposts and traffic signs and cliff edges.

But the pain is too much

You are an infinite being in source. Your soul is formless and will remain after your body has dissolved into the earth from whence it sprouted.

Enough talking, let’s dance for a moment

 

The pain is still too much

And who’s responsibility is it to remedy that? Answer it truthfully.

If you answered yourself, you’re right.

If you answered someone else, you’re still right.

The truth, as always is somewhere in between. One thing I know is that you’ll probably have to take the first step. If you’re stuck in the same pattern, you’ll have to be the one to break out of it.

As Einstein wisely said:

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them

You may still have hope. Hope that “one day things will be different”. Forget that shit. You’ll be waiting your whole life, like the character in Babbitt:

I’ve never done a thing I wanted to in all my life

Action step

Take the step. Call someone. Talk about how you feel. Already doing that and it hasn’t worked? Try something new. Reveal something even more intimate. Go to a men’s group. Start a men’s group. Still feeling stuck? Take a different approach. Organise a social outing. Quit your job. Wake up at 5am. Fast for a day. Go to the woods and refuse to return until the answer comes to you.

Life is dynamic, it isn’t a single question-and-answer. Dance with it.

I wish you luck.