After taking a break from working as a corporate executive, I found it difficult to change pace. The sources of motivation that allowed me to work 16 hour days – the sense of pride in fortitude; the pleasure of exhaustion after giving what I felt was all I had; the sense of camaraderie created with our team; the self confidence from praise; the sense of responsibility for my team members; the sense of accountability to a larger purpose; even the sense of losing myself within a piece of work – these all seemed to be gone. And all of these feelings, beliefs and desires were still within me. For months I threw myself into personal projects, crafted new business ideas, worked on an old truck, wasted time with any number of diversions. I held firm to my original intent - to map the borders of my discontent, and root out the sources of unease. Eventually, I began to get a feel for it's shape. Tending occasionally to stubbornness, I met it head on. I meditated for hours about feelings, purpose, worth. This was a difficult exercise. At times, I felt that the entirety of my conscious awareness was urging me to move, to work, to add value, to do anything.
Actually, let me say it this way: When I meditated, at times, every fiber of my being was screaming at me: “Move! Get Up! Do Something! There are a Million Things you could be Doing! Do Anything!” My muscles twitched and writhed, my breathing became shallow, my heart raced, my mind paraded endless distractions with emotional hooks and alluring invitations. Slowly, oh... so... slowly... I came to a greater awareness of the flavor of my own being.
After months and more of meandering and backtracking, I began to accept the release of some of the more damaging beliefs I had embodied. At times I grew very sad. I found that my deconstruction of myself was leaving me without the comfort of many things – old beliefs, habits, opinions, desires. At times I felt I had forgotten what I was seeking – and so as I removed parts of who I was – I ocassionally went too far.
During this time, there were a few things that kept me engaged, motivated and moving forward. My loving and supportive wife certainly among these. My belief that existed with value, my desire to find meaning, a hope to be better, happier, more true to some indescribable feeling of wholeness. I held on to the belief that I could add something of value to the world – that I was enduring to gain an understanding of what was good – of what value was – I hoped.
Those with a scientific understanding of the placebo effect, the results of the Stanford Prison experiments, or the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies may feel that I was flirting with finding only what I wanted to find. I too was concerned - that I would bend evidence to fit belief. I found through my research that the western scientific tradition has long had an uneasy relationship with internal verification of beliefs, feelings and ideas, with the source of new hypotheses and with the nature of intuition. I understand that feeling. I still question everything through the lenses of rationality.
The exciting evolution for me, and what allowed me to add an additional set of lenses to my toolbox, was to realize that science itself provided some guidance through these territories. I found great joy within the ideas of System Dynamics (first introduced through Donella Meadows excellent book, Thinking in Systems). When I realized that the rational premise of reducing to parts really did, scientifically speaking, obscure essential qualities of the whole, it gave me permission to explore neglected territories within my brain.
I finally was able to release my inhibitions and explore the ideas that I had first found so intriguing within Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Where before I had felt that I might be betraying some of my intellectual inheritance, I found convergence. Where I had been teetering on an abyss, I was straddled a canyon. (Not necessarily a comfortable position, but better, and with additional tools to bridge the gap.)
I hope this speaks to some of the places you may have been. It's been an enlivening journey.