Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Head is a Big Old Dummy

I was at a party when a yoga instructor told me I was resistant to yoga because I lived in my head and not in my body. This was moments after she nearly laughed aloud when she realized that not only could I not touch my toes without bending my knees, but I was a few feet from it. She went on to inform me that the division between mind and body is gendered. According to her, men tend to live more in their heads and women more in their bodies. Furthermore, because I lived in my head, I was less likely to acknowledge the validity of my feelings and follow my heart.
She struck a chord and hit a nerve with her remarks. She struck a chord because I have long thought that our giant human brains, and all of the rational powers contained within, arent nearly as impressive as weve made them out to be, at least not in the context of modern societies. I sometimes wonder if our brains are oversized vestiges from a time long ago when we needed buckets of wit to compensate for our puny bodies in order to hunt mastodons and avoid being gobbled up by saber-tooth cats. Now that modern, industrial societies help us meet most of our basic needs, our brains are free to run wild, fretting about bills, contemplating our impending death, or wondering whether or not people think we're cool or attractive.

On the other hand, she hit a nerve, not because her subtext was that men are foolish because they are out of touch with their feelings. I accept that as a well-established fact. Heres why she hit a nerve. I'm the poster child for rationality. I rationalize everything to death. Im also able to think about things from multiple perspectives and genuinely find merit in several, sometimes starkly different alternatives. Some might argue that this is strength. However, as a 34-year old contemplating some major life changes, I argue that its the worst, and more likely to lead to inertia than change.

The name of our blog is In Transition, but truthfully, Im not exactly sure what Im transitioning to, or if Im even transitioning for that matter. I will say that I want to be transitioning. Ive read lots of stories written by people who have made radical life changes and had it work out for the best. Ive also read stories by people who took leaps of faith and fell to their deaths. However, its rarer that I come across accounts by people who are seriously contemplating life changes but dont know exactly how to go about it. That is a niche I think I can fill nicely.

Let me start with the obvious question. What would I like to be transitioning to? This has always been a tricky one for me, but maybe thats just because Ive been relying too much on my head. My heart tells me I should be a homesteader, a farmer, an artisan craftsman, a mountain man, a Left-coaster, or some combination of those things. Those are all real things that I can be, arent they? If nothing else, my heart tells me that I should be taken steps to get closer to those things.

Heres what I do know. Ever since I self-actualized, Ive known in my heart that I dont want much to do with the things that many people want much to do with. Ive never wanted or appreciated formal schooling or academic institutions. Ive never wanted a standard 9-5 career. Ive never wanted to have children so I could live vicariously through them. Ive never wanted religion or faith. Ive never wanted a house in the suburbs with a manicured lawn. Ive never wanted a sports team. Ive never wanted heaps of crap I dont need. Ive never wanted my precious, few years to be dominated by tedious obligations, duties, and responsibilities.

Furthermore, Ive known in my heart that I want to explore and roam. I want to play outside. I want to learn by doing. I want to use my hands. I want to constantly have dirt under my fingernails. I want to teach others about the things Im passionate about. I want my work to be more directly connected to my subsistence. I want to grow lots of produce, forage for wild foods, and hunt some game. I want to live in or near an expansive forest. I want true freedom- not the nationalistic, propagandistic brand of freedom that is shoved down my throat by the crazies running the country at any given time- but the kind that means I can wake when Im rested, sleep when Im tired, and generally do as I please. I want to make things- arts, crafts, breads, kimchi, and maybe even construct a log cabin or two with my own semi-skilled hands.

Its been fairly easy for me to avoid some of the things I never wanted. For example, it hasnt been too difficult being a sports-hating, childless agnostic in this society. However, schooling and career were/are far trickier. Despite never really appreciating formal education, I somehow wound up with a Masters degree. And despite not wanting a standard career, Im smack-dab in the middle of one- a well-paying, bureaucratic, mind-numbing one at that. I spend the best parts of any given day and the greatest number of hours each week doing things that I dont want to be doing. So what happened? Ill tell you what happened. My damn head happened.

I am just now starting to realize how sneaky my head is. Whenever I entertain the idea of doing the things that my heart is screaming for me to do, my head starts telling me why its a bad idea. It tells me that anything I feel in my heart is stupid, juvenile, extreme, rash, impulsive, and destined the lead me to penury. It tells me I should stay cautious, leave myself with as many options as possible, stay in my comfort zones, think, think some more, continue thinking, and then re-think just to make sure Im thinking about thinking the right way.

However, I am starting to understand that my head is a big old dummy. There will always be good reasons not to do the things my heart is telling me to do. In fact, in any given situation, those reasons will probably outweigh the reasons to do those things. Furthermore, straying from socially-sanctioned, legitimate ways of living may end very poorly for me. It may lead to utter penury. People may write me off as a mangy hippie, an idealist, or a dreamer. I may have great difficulty in re-entering the workforce if things as a mountain man dont quite work out. I may be crushed by a log cabin that I build with my own semi-skilled hands. I may regret everything.

How could life as a mountain man not work out for Joseph?

Despite all that, theres something else Im beginning to understand. If I dont make a change, there are things I will definitely regret. I will definitely regret spending my best years sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen or in meeting rooms acting like I care about the mundane topic de jour. I will definitely regret spending my best years in a noisy, polluted, overpriced, congested metropolis filled with fashionable urbanites who genuinely find U.S. politics interesting. I will definitely regret spending my best years as a miserable bastard, and I will definitely regret the effect that my misery could have on the people I love.

My proclivities for drama naturally lead me to think about my life and the decisions I make (or fail to make) as an epic battle between my heart and my head. For most of my life, my head has been winning. It has assault rifles and Kevlar vests. My heart has flint arrowheads and buckskin armor. Yet, it should come as no surprise that my heart is under-equipped. Im a member of a society that values knowledge over wisdom. Im a member of a society that doesnt learn from its collective mistakes. Im a member of a society that watches catastrophe after catastrophe unfold while waiting for better data or looking for a silver bullet techno fix. Im a member of a society that routinely perpetrates or quietly sanctions unspeakable atrocities against humans and the planet because rational institutions dictate that economic growth is the only noble pursuit.

Any old head can acquire knowledge, but it takes a heart to consider the relevancy of knowledge and attribute meaning and context. It takes a heart to make knowledge personal. It takes a heart to know what is moral, right, or just.

Clearly I'm no sage when it comes to following my heart. My heart journey is just beginning. And while some things in their infancy demand baby steps, Ive taken enough of those for a lifetime. All thats left for me to do is take that one giant step out of my head, reach down with knees unbent, and touch my goddamn toes.


  1. Inspiring. Do you think there is a way to achieve balance? For example could you find a job that allows you to work remotely and on your own schedule, live in the Catskills or Shenandoah in the woods and build a house, not a shack. You could hunt and make art while straddling two worlds. This would still require many challenges that collectively would be giant leaps. It would take time but ultimately perhaps be quite satisfying.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts. I have not decided to go all or nothing. I think fewer job hours with the option of working remotely would be a fine start...although on the west coast.

  2. Jung said: “I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their mind if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way.”

    An old hippy friend of mine, Hitch-hiker John, spends his time watching the robo-yuppies with a mix of horror and amazement. "They are never distracted by ideas," he says. "Brainwashed people have no issues — they don't know how to think. The sole focus of their lives is just one all-consuming question: How can I get what I want?"

    John’s mantra was always, “When in doubt, throw all caution to the wind.”

    1. Thanks for these insights. Perhaps if I start aligning my head to my heart, I won't think it's so much of a Dummy. It's a great mantra... I'm leaning how to embrace it.

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  4. I too am in transition to a life worth living, one pursuing my purpose, even if it ends up making it a shorter one. There is nothing greater than basking in the glorious melody of the song written on one's heart.  Living a safe, long life, dressed in designer clothes,  surrounded by self important quasi-intellectual, fashionable yuppies, in a city doling out a small fortune to lead a middle-class life is a formula for insanity.

    Food for thought:
    At what point does pursuing a purposeful life become a fool's errand? At what point does a safe life become the shadow of the gift of life?

    No one but each of us can answer those questions because our heart is the North Star. This inner struggle has always plagued mankind from the beginning of time. And often times, it is the head that wins extinguishing inner peace and joy slowly until we self medicate and numb ourselves by a variety of numbing agents.

    It's tough but once you find your faith in the natural laws of connection between mankind and everything in the universe and it's tendency towards equilibrium, the leap is easier.

    1. I appreciate your insights. I agree that there is great comfort in knowing that all humankind is connected through the rhythms of the universe.

  5. First - it is not clear to me the connection between Matt and Joseph, if any.
    Some history:
    In 1968, while fishing on the causeway between Miami and Miami Beach, I had an epiphany. I had just finished a BS in anthropology and had studied psychology for many years (and went on later to get a degree, become licensed and practice for 20 years).

    I was looking at the skyline of Miami (boy I bet it has changed) and realized that it couldn’t go on. “Civilization” was asking too much of us. We are too separated from nature. We are too pack in together. Our original child development situation had warped. Our connection to our brethren had been lost. We had allowed our hubris and arrogance to blind us to our situation.

    In 1972, Limits to Growth came out. So besides not being healthy for humans psychologically, sociologically or spiritually, we are creating an unsustainable, environmentally devastating and devastated world.
 Then Energy for Survival by Wilson Clark, Energy Basis for Man and Nature by Howard T. Odum and Elisabeth C. Odum, The Fires of Culture by Carol E Steinhart, Technics and Civilization by Lewis Mumford, Creating Alternative Futures: The End of Economics by Henderson, Hazel.
    Catton, William. 1980. Overshoot.. University of Illinois Press. Chicago.

    And so many more since then.

    I lived off grid for 30 years the first 10 without electricity. I got my psychology degree using kerosene lamps.
    I was mid thirty years old when I started this journey. I have been down many paths. Now at 74 (today actually) in not the best health, I am still at it.
    It is finding a balance between what you can and can't do physically, mentally and spiritually and it is compromise. Good luck.

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    2. Happy belated. John- thanks for sharing. For me there hasn't been an epiphany per say. My understanding has evolved gradually, which I think can makes it easier for me to stay stuck. How have you enjoyed your years off grid? Also, Matt and I are dear friends who met in cubicle land. Best wishes with regards to your health. All the best