In Season 2, Episode 1, of History Channel’s amazing series Vikings, Rollo is shamed and plans to run away. He is packing his things for leaving when Siggy enters the room and talks to him, reminding him of what it is to be a viking. When I first watched that a couple of years ago, I took out my phone and recorded it for posterity. Siggy’s calm surety of perspective was a solid rock. Rollo’s pain was a reminder that even badass vikings lose their way1.
Yesterday I was cleaning out my phone and came upon a voicemail from my ex from March. I played it. She sounded happy, wished me well, was encouraging. I couldn’t bear to delete it. It is still on my phone. Listening to it my heart leapt toward her, pains of separation, reminding me that underneath this façade of movement and purpose is a lot of hurt still. Last night she called, asking about care for the cats (she is doing a great job and I’m grateful) and the ringtone, (still the same its always been) began playing. Like a sniper’s shot, it was a surprise (we’ve not spoken for days since the breakup) and my heart raced a million miles an hour, my muscles clenched. The world turned upside down.
Though I am looking a few days ahead (planning for PLT movements, firing ranges, etc…), I am mostly in the day-to-day. It is distraction. When I stop for a moment and take a look forward in any distance, I feel what Frodo must have felt looking out over the Dead Marshes and knowing that Mordor was still a long effort away. It was a test of will just to get to Mordor, much less what lie within that dark realm. How heavy he must have felt, even more so with The Ring pulling him down. I look forward three to six months and, in the state that I am in now, my mind is quick to assume the worst. No job prospects, no plan for life after my current orders are up, it is easy to feel myself sinking into the marsh of negativity. Frodo had Sam, and Rollo had Siggy. I’ve got…coffee2.
The true measure of a man is measured by the objects he pursues.
This is good advice and reminds me of what Siggy told Rollo who, like myself currently, was looking at the past and it was shaping his present. This current state is then cast onto the future as the template for one’s destiny. Interesting concept, destiny, as we typically think of it as written in stone and against which we have no control. Hopelessness fills the spaces between one’s joints, fills the cavity in one’s chest, and weighs one down further into the marsh. Why prolong the inevitable? Why continue to suffer for the sake of suffering? Sometimes even a strong viking needs reminding to quit looking back.4
In the book “The Obstacle is the Way”, Ryan Holiday writes:
There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try5:
To be objective
To control emotions and keep an even keel
To choose to see the good in a situation
To steady our nerves
To ignore what disturbs or limits others
To place things in perspective
To revert to the present moment
To focus on what can be controlled
This is good advice. But how to do this? I’ve given a few hundred trainings over the past couple of years, and I illustrate one method of calming and centering the mind to the here and now by using the 3×3 method of attention. Simply put, when one is in a state of crisis with tunnel vision, name three things you can see, feel, and hear. It seems very simple indeed and in a classroom setting it is too easy to do as to warrant dismissal. However I challenge everyone to remember this next time they are in traffic and getting angry (I know this all too well). We get focused on one thing, the person driving too slow in our lane. Thing is, when that person is removed from our path we get angry at the person too close to us, or the lack of turn signals, or the rate of speed, or any number of things. But we typically go from micro-attentions to micro-attention, seeing only the one thing that pisses us off, until another one takes its place. Doing the 3×3 in traffic is very hard but it counteracts the tendency to focus on a threat, something our body has a natural process to do. Ramping up is like a domino effect in that you tip one (PREDATOR! HOLY FUCK!) and our body initiates… THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO! Doing something that is counter to this (3×3, or drinking water) is a physiological/behavioral input in the automatic processes of survival that all is well and to throttle down. This works for steady our nerves.
There are other tools to use, such as a Gratitude Journal, which research6 shows helps with keep things in perspective and boost our base level of positive emotion up a smidge, as well as diet and exercise and many other things. I know much of these tools and have started to incorporate them back into my daily routine7. But what I am missing right now is my purpose, my Valhalla (going back to Rollo). Camus talks about Sisyphus being happy in the drudgery. This is not the same as working towards a goal, for to Sisyphus there is no goal other than being happy in the moment. A common axiom in the creative fields is Process Not Product. This is related to the saying in the military of slow is smooth smooth is fast8. Take care of the current task, aka monotasking9 and one gets quicker over time, the future will more than likely take care of itself. Except that we cannot fully be without a future sense. As Stephen Covey wrote:
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
So which is it? I think a good answer is both. In times like I am now, where my emotions are still raw and hurt from the breakup, it is helpful for me to focus on process, to put my nose down and push the rock up the hill. As stated before, when I start to look forward a few months, uncertainty grips me and paralysis seeps in. Still, there needs to be something to work toward, something must motivate Sisyphus other than just pain.
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
And so it is that I must find my one thing again. Knowing me, I will. It will take some time, but the gods help those who help themselves. In the religion of the Asatru is the concept of the wyrd10, which is an odd concept to grasp. Spinoza, my favorite philosopher, denies the concept of Free Will. If you want to ruffle some feathers, tell someone that free will doesn’t exist. To me there is a remarkable similarity in Spinoza’s concept of free will and liberty and the Wyrd.11 Simply put, you are at a moment that is the confluence of an infinite number of things spinning from an infinite number of directions of causality leading to this moment (hence you do not truly have free will) and your choice (influenced by all those things as well as concerns about the future, your passions, etc…) influences the web moving forward in time and other people/events/places/things12. You are fated to be in a spot, to have an end, yet still you must prepare for it, still you must endure and struggle and attempt. Even the gods are fated to die (be reborn). Yet still they must do as they must, else they are not gods. We must do as we must else we are not human.
So? What next? Where to? It is damn hard to find the patterns of the Wyrd. Watching the movie Serendipity we can see from outside how close the two get to each other many times in the film, all the while wondering if Fate will bring them together in the end. If Jonathan or Sara had any inkling of the other’s presence on several occasions, they could have acted in alignment to better bring about their (believed) Fate. But we can’t know our Fate, the ways of Wyrd are woven tangled by the Norns. It could be my Fate to marry Salma Hayek, or it could be to crash my car on a lonely highway. The best that I can do is to live with courage, accepting the process itself as work and to be worthy of the end when it arrives.
Where to? What next?
Answer: It doesn’t matter. Face it with resolve.
- This is speculation. We really don’t know the emotional makeup of a Rollo that might have existed. ↩
- I subscribe to their ‘Murdered Out’ coffee. It is fucking amazing. ↩
- I’m trying NValt again. I am a big user of Evernote… just trying to find ways to lessen my friction. My evernote is turning into a BEAST and I’m not sure I want a billion little notes that aren’t archival jamming up the works. We’ll see. ↩
- in Season 4 of Vikings, Ragnar tells his boys, who are leaving home for the first time and already feeling homesick, “do not bother looking back. You are not going that way” ↩
- Holiday, Ryan (2014-05-01). The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph (p. 18). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. ↩
- The Journal of Positive Psychology, April 2006; 1(2): 73–82 ↩
- “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for a smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and therefore causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually, airplanes and video games.” ↩
- for a good article on this, go here http://beyondthesights.us/no-really-slow-is-smooth-smooth-is-fast/ ↩
- Multitasking is whack. Don’t do it. You are doing a lot of things poorly. https://www.ted.com/talks/paolo_cardini_forget_multitasking_try_monotasking?language=en ↩
- It is a head scratcher. Start here… as good as any place to start. http://www.wyrdwords.vispa.com/heathenry/whatwyrd.html ↩
- I know this is a HUGE statement and likely some Spinoza scholars, or anyone really, just choked on their waffle. My apologies. It is my own understanding of both, and understanding that I continue to work on, buttressing it or discarding it as occasion and ability permit. ↩
- Linear time is a problem here, I’m keeping it simple. ↩