Human as we are, we’re living life constantly reaching for the better things. We’re aiming for the next opportunity, next level, next step in our career, or the next phase in our lives. But why is that? Why do we want to be better? Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen reflect on this human quest of personal development, seeking and striving to become better. At the heart of this episode is the quote from Alan Watts that goes, “The reason you want to be better is the reason why you aren’t.” They dive deep into what this means and what it says about us while also sharing insights on storytelling, atomic habits, happiness, authenticity, and self-worth. Will we ever reach the thing we want? When do we know we have it? Jason and Whitney explore in today’s conversation.
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Why You Aren’t Getting Better: Examining The Reasons Behind Being “Better”
Jason, my birthday is coming up. As we talked about an episode before my birthday, I was saying how I don’t like getting gifts unless somebody knows for sure that I want them or I’m going to use them. I’m practical when it comes to gifts, even though I like surprises, and I appreciate any gifts. I’m not trying to be picky out of a lack of appreciation. It’s like a minimalism thing and sustainability. Why would I have something or keep something if I’m not going to use it? I’m trying to actively reduce the things that I have around me.
Anyways, one thing that I have been thinking about getting myself, if somebody else wants to get me something, I’ll let them do it instead, is a new webcam. I did all of this research. I came across this amazing webcam. It’s called a Razer. It came out a few months ago, this specific model. I love anything that enhances video or audio. I haven’t bought a new camera in some time. I bought the Logitech webcam many years ago. It was before 2017 because they haven’t updated this particular webcam since 2017. You have the newer one, Jason, which is the 920. Is that right?The reason you want to be better is the reason why you aren't. Click To Tweet
Yeah, I have the newest version of the Logitech. It does 1080p, and it has the Carl Zeiss lens with HD. I got the latest, greatest one. For the most part, since we’re geeking out about tech for a second, it does a pretty good job. In low light, it’s not great. You can’t see it, it’s out of frame but I brought my lamp from my bedroom into my office. I have an overhead light, but it’s behind me so I don’t get front–lit. Without a front light, this particular webcam doesn’t do great in low light situations, so henceforth, I have my warm amber light from my bedroom in here and it’s doing a fantastic job.
This is interesting for anyone who’s curious about the behind-the-scenes. The Razer is the one I’m most likely to get with or without it being a birthday gift. There is a Logitech camera that’s pretty cool called the StreamCam that I was looking at. That was my second choice. One of the things that the Razer does is it adjusts for low lighting well. That’s their big claim to fame. The one downside is that doesn’t do 4K. People thought that was strange. I feel like we don’t post in 4K at this point, but there are always tradeoffs with all this equipment stuff. I love technology, but I also try to be mindful of when I make purchases both financially and resource-wise.
I don’t also want to encourage myself to overuse technology. Now, we’re doing so many videos for this channel. Because of the state of the world these days, a lot of my speaking appearances are virtual or various projects I work on, it’s a good piece of technology to upgrade to. I will tell a story. It won’t be a dark story. It won’t be a scary story. It’s funny when I think of scary stories, I think of the scary stories we would tell as kids that were ultimately innocent. You and I, Jason, talked about that collection of books. You’re going to know exactly what I’m talking about, Jason. It was a big part of our age range childhood. I don’t even have to tell you. What’s that book called? There were at least 2, maybe 3 editions of it.
I believe you’re referring to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Guillermo del Toro made that into a movie some years ago. I never saw it. First of all, I love Guillermo del Toro if we can nerd out on directors. Hellboy and all the great work that he’s done over the years, there are so many good movies. On the one hand, I like his work as a director, but part of me didn’t want to see it. I don’t know if you feel this way, it’s not the case with all books that are adapted to movies, but sometimes I don’t want to see the movie.
The imagery from the books I’ve read over my life is so rich in my head that I’m afraid that the movie version is going to absolutely suck compared to the theater of the mind. I didn’t see it, Whitney. I haven’t seen it because I didn’t want it to ruin the imagery that I had in my head from childhood. Now that we’re bringing it up, maybe I will see it because I love Del Toro and his work. You haven’t seen the movie, have you?
I haven’t. It also reminds me that they did the RL Stine books, which were a pretty big part of my childhood with Jack Black. I didn’t see that. It didn’t look great. For similar reasons, Jason, I was like, “I have good enough memories of that stuff as a kid.” I will tell a story that will not be scary. It leads us into the subject matter, which is a quote from Alan Watts. I’ll have Jason share it because I like hearing Jason recite quotes.
Leading up to this particular quote that we want to explore, I have this membership community that I’ve talked about before called Beyond Measure. I can’t remember exactly when I started testing it out. It’s still in beta test mode at the moment. It’s invite–only. It’s a small group of people. I’m getting ready to make it public, which I’ll also share with you, Jason. It’s been a work in progress for me. It doesn’t feel like it needs to be rushed, which is a pleasant experience.Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness. Click To Tweet
Sometimes, when we’re working on projects, we’re either drawing them out too long because they never feel quite right or ready, or we’re rushing them because we want to make money from it or we have some other reason. Maybe neither choice feels best for it. I’ve been trying to tune into what beyond measure needs and what other people need because this project has become beyond me. Initially, when I was creating this, I felt like it was such a personal project.
The beauty of beta testing that with a small group of people is I’ve started to explore facets of this concept that had not even occurred to me on my own. It’s been a work in progress with the community and one of the elements of it is that we do a group activity. Everything about Beyond Measure is optional. The members choose their own adventures. Oftentimes, we come up with ideas together about what we’re going to work on.
We had this idea around tracking our habits based on the book, Atomic Habits. In that book, James Clear has a process called the Paperclip Strategy. It’s about using a small visual cue to show progress, at least that’s how I interpret it. I can’t remember the parameters of the strategy he created. In the group in Beyond Measure, we were talking about the book. In the month of February 2021, we had a book club. We read that book together and discussed habits every week. When we were leading into March, we thought, “What can we do to build upon habits? How can we use this book to further support us?”
We were exploring this Paperclip Strategy. Through that, we were reflecting on how we can use visual cues to celebrate our wins, allow ourselves to not just track our progress but have a visual indicator of something that we’ve accomplished, which is a beautiful thing. One of the members in the group had a great idea, which was instead of something like a paperclip, she might use the crystals around her home that she owns and collect them all in one place. They then create this visual beautiful appearance.
If you’re like me and Jason, we tend to accumulate crystals and precious gemstones because they’re beautiful and they often represent something. They either are a gift or we purchased them for ourselves because we’re drawn to them. Every crystal has a meaning behind it for the most part. I have more crystals than I could count so I was like, “That’s a cool idea,” but then I thought like, “What if someone’s not like us and they don’t have crystals?” Rocks are still a cool thing. I noticed in the past year, Jason, that I enjoy collecting rocks. I also noticed that if you pay attention, you will find some of these crystals and gemstones in your backyard sometimes.
When I was growing up in Massachusetts, I had found all sorts of different rocks, stones and things, and I was so intrigued by them. When I was on my road trip in 2020, I was collecting rocks every now and then. Sometimes I was like, “That looks like a piece of quartz. Maybe that’s a rose quartz.” I was starting to identify these rocks that were out in nature because that’s where they’re coming from versus getting them in a store when they’re all perfectly polished and beautiful. It’s pretty cool to find them out in the “wild.”
You can buy a rock tumbler, I can’t remember if I mentioned this in another episode, but after my trip, I thought I’ll get a rock tumbler one day. That’s another gift idea for myself. I’ll put it on my list. When I get stumped on what gifts to ask for, a rock tumbler is cool. You can put grit in this round circular container and put rocks in. You have to put some water in as well, if you let them tumble for one week or two when they come out, they should look similar to rocks that you would buy in a store. If you’re into buying stones, rocks, and all of that, you can do it yourself, save a lot of money, and make it a lot of fun. It’s a project for another day.
Coming back, we decided to create an activity called March Rocks. That has a few meanings, but the main meaning is that every day, we and anyone else who’s participated in this activity with us will go out for some sort of time in nature. That could be for a walk, some sort of movement that could be to get some sunshine, some fresh air. That could be whatever it is, maybe it’s walking to your backyard. It doesn’t matter.The more you try to be authentic, the less you actually are authentic. Click To Tweet
Spending some time in nature every single day is the goal and the habit we want to build. To represent that habit and give us a visual reminder, reward, and system for it, every time we went out into nature, we’d find a rock and bring it home. That was step one of this. Another one of the members in this group came up with the idea that we could either draw or paint on the stones or rocks. Either a piece of artwork or a word and then keep that rock as another representation of a nice phrase to have or something pretty to look at in our home, or we could take that rock and put it back out into the neighborhood or nature for someone else to find.
I don’t know why I said neighborhood or nature. If you live in an area where there are not a lot of people around, maybe you just put it in the backyard or something. If you’re like me in Los Angeles, there’s a big neighborhood around. When I’m going out to collect a rock, it is out and about and my process for the month of March 2021 has been to find a rock somewhere on the sidewalk, take it home, and then draw on it. I’ll show you one of the ￼rocks. This is one of the rocks that I collected. I’ll describe it for any of the readers. It is some sort of stone. What would you call this shape, Jason?
It’s Ohio. It’s the state of Ohio.
Doesn’t then this look like Utah? Isn’t Utah shaped like this or Arizona?
Yes, depending on how you flip it.
It’s bringing up our country’s geography. I feel like there’s another state that shaped more like this. This could be a fun little game. I didn’t even think about this until now. This is so fun, just getting a rock, which seems so meaningless. Part of the activity for me has been tuning into nature. We’ll get to the Alan Watts quote, it all ties into this. One of the reasons I wanted to build this habit of going outside every day was to get away from my screens.
We’ve talked about this in some episodes that I wanted to move my body more, I wanted to spend more time in nature, get some fresh air, sunshine, and all the things I listed. I also wanted an intentional practice every single day of being off my device. That was what made this March Rocks project and activity as part of Beyond Measure something important for me. It’s started to add so many different layers to it, which has been fascinating. One of them I’m discovering is that a rock is not just a rock.
It can be something you stumble upon. It can be something you stub your toe on. It can be something that you kick accidentally while you’re walking by and you don’t even think about it. That’s how most of us relate to rocks. Some of us find magic and rocks like if you’re a rock collector. For me, going to the beach is always fun to look at the rocks along the shoreside or something. Looking at them in the neighborhood is something I had not, to my recollection, ever done before. Each time I go, every single day, I find a different rock and they’re all so different.
They’re like snowflakes. None of them are exactly the same. That’s part of the excitement of this. If you’ve ever gone to a crystal store or a gem store, so many shops sell rocks as gifts, it’s a touristy thing in some areas, they all look the same. They might have little nuances, but they tend to look similar. They differ in shape, maybe the color is a little different. When you get them out in nature, they’re vastly different because they haven’t been touched by human beings.
However, I’ve also noticed on my walks, Jason, that some of the rocks are similar. That’s what’s also been fascinating. Sometimes, I find rocks that are sticking out of the dirt. Because of the neighborhood I’m in, in Los Angeles, most of them are part of the landscaping. That’s been an interesting thing as I think, “I’m going to take a rock out of somebody’s landscaping they paid for, take it home, and then draw on it.” I feel a little conflicted about it, but I’ve overcome it because I feel like there’s a bigger purpose that I’ll get to.
There are so many rocks in this neighborhood, which is also eye-opening, Jason. More than I could even try to count or estimate. Some landscaping is full of 1,000s of rocks. They’re not going to miss this one rock, but what if I can add to it? What if I can make it even more valuable or special? This rock, I don’t know what I’m going to write on it. Maybe we’ll determine together, Jason. Perhaps you’ll come up with it.
Sometimes, I write a word on it. I have this pretty cool pen or marker. This is called a paint ￼marker. It’s called a Deco Color and I already had this. I wanted to do a little bit more research to see if I could get something eco-friendly. Being eco-friendly, one of the best things to do is to use what you have. Once I run out of this marker, I will probably examine it. If the reader has any suggestions, I would love to know, is there an eco-friendly option?We're just so conditioned for more, better, different, and greater. Click To Tweet
It turns out that there’s a whole community online of people that paint rocks. I started researching hashtags. There are so many hashtags around this, I’ve barely skimmed the surface. I started looking at the hashtags because as part of March Rocks, as part of my accountability and habit-forming process, I have been documenting every single rock I find. Every day I do a post, if you go to my Instagram, @WhitLauritsen, you can see the rocks that I’ve painted.
By the way, I want to acknowledge that we don’t necessarily know if there’s anyone visually impaired who reads this. Please remind me and Jason if we can be more inclusive for you. I’m trying to tune in to things like that. We have made our show more inclusive in terms of people that are deaf or hard of hearing. There’s a whole transcript for our show notes. Hopefully, that’s been easier to find. I don’t know that we’ve even acknowledged, Jason, that there might be people that are visually impaired or don’t have vision. When I say things like, “You can go see something,” it’s not meant to exclude you. That’s why I was trying to describe this rock.
My ignorance on visual impairment aside, I have been posting photos and writing descriptions for each of them. I suppose that’s something I’ve been working on as well. You can read people’s captions. There are features for platforms like Instagram that will read the captions out loud to you. I don’t know if I’ve done a good job of describing the rocks. Maybe that’s something I can work on. Instead, what I do in my captions is I tell the story behind each rock. I share my experience of the day. I share a little bit about what I wrote on the rock.
For me, I don’t draw a picture on it, paint it or doodle on it. I write a word or a phrase. That leads me to the Alan Watts’ quote. I’m going to hand it over to you, Jason, because A) I love hearing you read quotes and B) I would love to start off the quote conversation around what that means for you. Before you start to share it, I will acknowledge that I did not come up with this quote idea. It was one of the people on Instagram as part of the Instagram community. His name is Ted.
Ted wrote a thoughtful comment on one of my posts suggesting this phrase. I don’t recall if he was encouraging me to write it on one of the rocks that I found or just sharing it, but regardless, I wrote it on a rock. I found one of the larger size rocks and I wrote out this quote on it. It took up three sides of the rock so that was fun. Normally, I would write it on just one side. There would be like a short phrase, one word, but for that quote, design-wise, I couldn’t fit it all. I had to keep turning it. It was a fun process, especially for this quote. With no further ado, Jason, will you please share the Alan Watts’ quote and talk a little bit about how it resonates with you?
I’ve been following along with your March Rocks project since the inception. This one hit me in a particular way, differently than the other ones that you had shared. It’s because I appreciate Alan Watts’ perspective on Zen and a lot of his philosophies. The quote is, “The reason you want to be better is the reason why you aren’t.” First of all, I’d never heard this Alan Watts’ quote before. It hit me in a particular way of, “I’d never heard him say that before.”
Secondly, it’s part of an ongoing conversation that I have with myself and some of the things we’ve discussed here on the podcast regarding the way that we as humans strive for certain things. Thinking that we’re going to feel happier, more joyful, more complete, more perfect or whatever it is. The way that I interpret this was, the thing that you’re chasing in life because you’re chasing it, it’s moving further away from you. Because you think you need this thing, it’s creating more distance between you and the thing that you think you need.
I stumbled upon an interesting Tumblr page. I thought Tumblr was dead, but apparently, it’s not. Tumblr is still out there. This blog has some interesting perceptions regarding this particular quote. I wanted to share a little bit of it. This is an Alan Watts’ quote that was pulled out of a longer lecture. I want to read the full quote from which this is extracted to give it context if that’s cool because it’s interesting. The full phrase from Alan Watts, where this comes from is, “The reason you want to be better is the reason why you aren’t, shall I put it like that? We aren’t better because we want to be, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions, because all the do-gooders in the world, whether they’re doing good for others or doing it for themselves, are troublemakers on the basis of, ‘Kindly let me help you or you will drown,’ said the monkey putting the fish safely up into a tree.”
“Sometimes, doing good to others, and even doing good to oneself is amazingly destructive because it’s full of conceit. How do you know what’s good for other people? How do you even know what’s good for you? If you say you want to improve, then you ought to know what’s good for you, but obviously, you don’t know because if you did, then you would already be improved. We don’t know. We do not know how to interfere with the way the world is.” The paraphrasing of this in a comment below this was, “To paraphrase Zhang Shi, who is another philosopher, ‘Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.’” That’s an interesting inversion of this.
What it goes back to for me, Whitney, is one of the reasons that I destroyed my vision board. I mentioned this in previous episodes. I realized that my striving and wanting the house, the car, the money, and the external things were a constant reinforcement of the evidence that I lack it. Sometimes, when we’re striving so hard for something in our lives, we’re reinforcing a perception that we don’t have it. It then pushes it further and further.
Some people might disagree with that. Some people on the train of hustle, grind, repeat, are like, “No, you’ve got to keep striving, never-ending striving, never-ending going for what you want.” It can be psychologically detrimental to do that. That is what was the initial hit for this Alan Watts’ quote is that you keep striving for the thing you want, and the thing you want keeps running further away from you because you’re too needy for it.
I’ve noticed this in the past in relationships, when I wanted love so badly from someone and was too needy and aggressive for my need for love from that person, it repelled them from me. I wanted their love in a needy and particular way. It ended up pushing that person out of my life. Whether it’s love, success, material wealth or these things, if we’re too needy and in the perception of “I need this, I need this.” That energy has, to me, is the opposite of magnetism. It’s almost a repelling energy in life. I’m curious if you’ve noticed that in your life too, Whitney, and how this quote from Alan Watts, that passage I read resonates with you?Oftentimes, the reason we want to be better is that we think that we suck. Click To Tweet
Thank you for sharing all that because it’s so interesting to discuss quotes. They can resonate with us in different ways. I liked the way it sounded. I liked writing those words. I reflect a lot on this desire that we have to be better. That’s something I’m pondering often. Why do we want to be better? That idea of like, “The reason why you want to be better.” The start of that sentence resonated with me. That concept is, “What does that mean? The reason why you want to be better is why you aren’t.” It comes back to things like authenticity. A lot of us are looking for a strategy. How can we improve? How can we be high achievers? How can we be high performers? On and on, it’s this not-enoughness that we feel.
That wanting more all of the time, if we always want more then we’re not going to get more because we’re never satisfied with anything that we get. That’s part of it for me. When I was talking about equipment like this webcam, I try not to take anything that I receive or bring into my life purposefully for granted. I noticed the older I get or the more that I’ve tuned into more of these philosophies around being present and living life to its fullest, when you tune in to what you have, you start to want things less and less.
This does go back to what I was saying about things like minimalism. I don’t know if minimalism is necessarily about being better. It can be interpreted that way because sometimes when we do something that’s working for us, we think we’re better than other people. “My way of life is better than yours.” With something that can start to feel trendy like minimalism, it’s easy for people to get in their high horse about how little they need in life. We start to compete with each other on having more or less resources. That’s interesting to me.
At the core of minimalism and the big draw for it is recognizing that you don’t need much to feel happy, fulfilled and joyful. You don’t need that much to survive. Sometimes, having a lot is at the cost of somebody else or yourself. Having a lot of success can be at the cost of yourself because sometimes success requires a lot of time. Time is precious. It’s a limited resource. We never get it back. Are you willing to exchange time for money? Are you willing to exchange time for that success? That’s a big question each of us has to ask ourselves. That desire to get better is often tied into those things.
When we start to strip things away, we recognize that none of the things I own and none of the things that I do bring me that much satisfaction. Do in terms of work. There are a lot of things that you can do that bring us each personal satisfaction. A lot of us are striving to tune in to our purpose. I used the word authenticity, Jason, because our authenticity has become a buzzword. It’s now used for marketing. It’s like, “I want to be better so I want to be more authentic,” but the more you try to be authentic, the less you are authentic. For me, when I hear that phrase, trying to get better prevents you from getting better because then you’re obsessed with becoming better that you never actually feel better. Does that make sense? You’re too busy getting better to even know if you got better.
What this brings up is on Charles Bukowski’s tombstone. His epitaph is the shortest epitaph I’ve ever seen. The epitaph on Charles Bukowski’s tombstone is, “Don’t try.” That’s it.
I feel like you found the phrase I’m going to put on this rock. In a way, it does look like a tombstone. This episode did turn into a little bit of a scary story, Jason. We’ve got a tombstone. I’m going to write it on there.
What it brings up for me, Whitney, uniting Bukowski and Alan Watts is going back to the reason you want to be better. How many people stop and ask themselves what that reason is? To your point, we’re so conditioned for more, better, different and greater. We’re almost psychotically obsessed, especially in Western culture in general. We’re psychotically obsessed with more, better and new. We’re constantly chasing it. Do we stop and ask ourselves, “Why do I want to be better?”
Is it because of becoming more proficient at a skill, like playing a guitar or art, as Whitney makes a beautiful rock or artwork? Is it that the more proficient I become, rather than better, let’s say more proficiency, more skill, the more enjoyment I get out of the activity? That’s a very specific motivation for being “better,” but the word proficient might be a better usage here. Oftentimes, the reason we want to be better is because we think that we suck.
“I’m not a good enough guitar player. I’m not a good enough boyfriend. I’m not a good enough accountant. I’m not a good enough writer. I‘m not a good enough podcast host. I need to be better. I need to get more equipment. I need to take voice lessons. I need to find a coach. I need to get a better haircut,” whatever it is. There are so many offshoots of this. If we’re radically honest about it, many of us are motivated, the reason we want to be better is by some self-deprecating and hateful perception that we’re not good enough.
How many people are motivated by joy? That’s a rare thing. To be motivated by joy and excitement, to be more proficient versus, “I suck at X, I need to be better.” It’s a dangerous thing to this Alan Watts’ quote and this Bukowski thing that you’re drawing. If we’re trying to be better all the time, there’s no appreciation for who we are as we are now. There’s no appreciation for what we have or the things that are surrounding us. It’s just we’re constantly chasing something. We’re constantly chasing some future unrealized version of ourselves. That’s what we’re chasing. Some idea that, “In the future, it will be better. When I’m this way, when I have this much money, when I look this way, when I have this.”
It’s mind–numbing to think about how much in our society is motivated by this when you think about it. Education is motivated by it. Taking courses is motivated by it. Exercise, weight loss, hairstyles, fashion, makeup, there are many people motivated by this paradigm of, “I need to be better at X.” It robs us of joy. It robs us of appreciating who we are now. I’m saying this from experience because I struggle every single day with loving myself. I don’t know if our audience knows that or whoever’s following us. I struggle every day with loving myself.
There are a lot of days, I don’t love myself. There are a lot of days I hate myself if we’re going to get into the nitty–gritty. Part of the reason I hate myself is because I’ve bought into the lie that I was supposed to be better by this point in my life. I was supposed to be somewhere else. I was supposed to have something else and have a different life. I haven’t fully accepted the life that I have because I thought it was supposed to be something different.
This is a good topic and a good reminder for me because I struggle to love myself every single day. I’m still learning how to do it. It’s because I’ve fallen under the illusion of, “I was supposed to be better. I was supposed to be more successful, richer, have more notoriety and impact more people.” The idea of being better is something I’m trying to undo in my life, Whitney, because it’s caused me a lot of pain. It’s caused me a lot of pain, thinking I was supposed to be different or better at this point in my life. It hits home and that’s probably why that Alan Watts’ quote that you posted on the rock resonated so much because it’s like, “I’ve been chasing this for a long time.” This idea of better or whatever that means. I’m still on doing this for myself big time. It’s a battle every day for me.Be raw and vulnerable when it feels right. Click To Tweet
Thank you for sharing that. That’s one of the most important elements of our show is to be raw and vulnerable when it feels right. This is authenticity to me. This is true vulnerability. The courage to share hard things like that, Jason, and it doesn’t go and recognize to me or our readers. It is helpful to reflect on the subject matter for all of us because there are many reasons why somebody wants to be better. Sometimes there are positive reasons for it, but even the interpretation of that quote, Jason, it’s like, we become so obsessed with that word better. That we want to try and then when trying doesn’t work, we think by not trying, we’re still trying.
If you’re trying to get better by doing something, that’s not that different from trying to be better by not doing something. It’s interesting when you talk about the vision board. It’s like, “This isn’t working, so I’m not going to do it anymore,” but deep down, you still want the things that were on the vision board to happen, I imagine, correct me if I’m wrong but maybe you’re trying a different strategy to them. Maybe it’s like, “I’m not going to try but I’m hoping by not trying then I’ll finally get what I want.” Another important element of this is recognizing that it’s completely stepping away.
We’ve talked before about letting go of attachments or expectations as much as possible. That’s part of being present too, because being present is, whatever is right now is. We have a society that is very focused on the future or extremely focused on the past. I know somebody who has confided in me. She struggles so much with her perceived failures and beating herself up a lot for things that she’d done. She feels like she should have known better, which is another part of this like, “I should have known better.” You didn’t. Who’s to say what you should or shouldn’t have known? It’s such a bizarre phrase.
We have that obsession with consequences and learning from the past and not making mistakes again. The past and the future are equally harmful to us. When we sit in the present moment, that’s where peace and the truth are. I’m not saying to disregard the past and to not focus on the future. There are benefits to all three parts of our lives, but the suffering generally is in the past or the future. In the present moment, there isn’t a lot of suffering because the moment is so fleeting, it’s constantly passing.
Even trying to define what the present moment is. That in itself, is a meditation, “What is the present?” Oftentimes, for me, the present is as short as a breath and some of my breaths are longer than others. You can’t even define the present moment, but what I do know is the present moment is not defined by better. Better, to me, is purely in the past or the future. It’s not even real and thus, it feels silly to even focus on it.
This requires a lot of deprogramming. In our culture, there’s a lot of conditioning around shaming people for having an old car. “Why are you driving that old rust bucket?” “When are you going to move out of that apartment and move into a bigger house?” “You’re still wearing those clothes?” If you think about the subtleties of how we shame each other and aren’t even cognizant of what we’re doing, it’s deeply encoded in us to be like, “You should have newer stuff. You should have better stuff.”
That’s what it is. It’s the link between thinking that our stuff and our status define who we are as beings. It’s nefarious and toxic. It’s wrecking our sense of who we are and our overall mental wellness. It really is because who gives a shit if someone drives a 22-year-old car? Who cares? It’s their choice. Who cares if they live in a studio apartment? Who cares about these things? We care because we think it’s who we are. That’s why we care because we think that stuff is who we are.
We care because it’s constantly reinforced by society, media, culture, parents, friends, “You still have that thing?” It’s like, “I do. That has nothing to do with you,” but it does because here’s a part of why people do that is through association. If they’re possibly seen with you like, “I don’t want to be seen driving around with you in that car or seen with you because you’re not a fashionable person.” There are a million examples of this. If we’re getting down to the nitty–gritty, maybe certain people, if they were to be honest with themselves, it’s because they’re afraid of the association of being with a person who looks or has.
As human beings, we truly need to separate our sense of being from materialism and status. We have to. For us to be healthy as a species moving forward and to ultimately heal on an individual level, we have to break the sense that what we do and what we have defines who we are, we have to break it. I truly believe that. I’m in the process of breaking it because I realize it’s not healthy for me to do that psychologically anymore. That where I live, what I have, what I do, is who I am. Intellectually, I know that, but I’m finally starting to have more of an embodied experience of it.
It’s part of the learning to love myself that I was mentioning, Whitney, is that the house that I’m in, the zip code I’m in, the type of car I drive, the type of clothes I wear, who I associate with, that somehow those are things I need to be focused on. I don’t want to be focused on those things being an intrinsic part of my self-worth anymore. They’ve been that way for so long. The process of undoing that has been painful for me because I’ve been driven by those things for such a long time.
My point in saying this is if you’re driven by this lack, this materialism and these things defining you for such a long time, the question becomes if there’s a void there, if I’m no longer driven by those things, then what am I driven by? That’s the juicy question. If you strip all those things away and you begin that process of unraveling, then it’s like, “I don’t care about being driven by stuff and status. What am I driven by then? Is it joy? That’s a very esoteric thing. What does that even mean? What makes me joyful?” This is where I’m at right now. It’s a confusing, scary and bizarre place to be, but ultimately, as human beings, we have to start asking these deeper questions.
To constantly be chasing our tail and on the hamster wheel of stuff and status, to your point, Whitney, there’s no end to it. No amount of stuff and no amount of status is ever going to satisfy you if that’s what you’re driven by. It’s tempting because culture, media and society are the carrots that get dangled. It’s the nice house, the Lambo, the fancy dress, the great makeup, the cool friends. At the end of the day, when you start to realize that stuff doesn’t satisfy your soul, then the real question and the real quest begins. It’s like, “Now the quest begins.”
That’s a good note to end on for this episode, Jason. There’s lots of food for thought here. I realized that you usually end each episode. I want to be more intentional about the closing statements for our regular readers, who make it to the end of our episodes. You may be very used to hearing Jason wrap things up. It’s been your unofficial role, Jason. In this episode, I will take the reins for you because I appreciate everything you’ve expressed. I know it’s not easy. It’s a lot to process out loud. I want to truly acknowledge and thank you for that.
Giving me and hopefully our readers a lot to ponder and things that we can relate to. Even if you can’t relate to this, there’s something to reflect on about how it shows up in your life or other people’s lives. Thank you for wanting to discuss this quote and bringing new meaning to it. To make it easy for you, everything that we do is under Wellevatr. If you’re on Instagram, it’s @Wellevatr. We have not made it to the threshold on YouTube to have our own username. If you’d like to support us in that endeavor, you can subscribe to our channel and then soon, our YouTube channel should be YouTube.com/wellevatr.
Otherwise, it’s very easy to find us. The show is called This Might Get Uncomfortable. If this resonates with you or made you uncomfortable in a good or challenging way, we’d love to hear from you and we’d love for you to share this with anyone who it might resonate as well. That helps build up the show and helps us impact other people, which is the whole reason that we do this. Our aim is to reach people that need these messages, that connect with us, that are like–minded and are seeking out this type of information. We are so grateful that you found us and that you are part of our community. We thank you again for reading and wish you all the very best with pondering everything we discussed.
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- Alan Watts
- How to Start a Podcast – Wellevatr blog
- Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
- Atomic Habits
- Deco Color
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- Wellevatr – YouTube channel
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