Choosing a more creative livelihood

Dear Paulo, I have decided to retire from my government job in the near future. My long career has had its ups and downs, but increasingly, I feel the value of my job is diminished by mindless procedures and focus on personal ego. When I was offered a job by an old friend whose new business is taking off, I had a strong feeling it was time to go. But I also have a nagging concern about whether the new job will work out, and what to do if it doesn’t. What direction should I take then? I have good business skills, have always wanted to write (some ability runs in my family), plus I sense other untapped creativity. But I lack a concrete goal. It’s been a long haul, and I feel exhausted. Any advice would be appreciated.
— Della in Amesbury MA

Della, when it comes to trying completely new things there is no way to be sure of anything. Whenever we move out beyond our established “comfort zone,”we are taking a risk, and risks make us nervous. As it is said, fear and excitement are two sides of the same coin. But questions linger: Is the job offered by your old friend the right choice for you? Is he going to be able to pay you? On the other hand, should you take a sabbatical from ALL work before restarting at anything?

Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen if you take the job offered? For even temporary setbacks offer learning and personal growth … and all setbacks are temporary. We develop courage when we stretch ourselves, whether our latest endeavor was ‘successful’ in worldly terms or not. In fact, we always succeed in a sense when we learn something valuable about ourselves.

Although we too often focus on fearful possibilities, the unintended consequences of decisions are not always bad. By following a seemingly wild intuition in one direction, we may hit the jackpot and find that we love it — or find ourselves presented with a better opportunity in another new or related direction (involving more writing perhaps?) — landing in some new role we were meant for all along.

Feeling the way you do, you don’t need a ‘concrete goal’ to get the ball of change rolling. But you also don’t need to jump at the first good-looking thing that comes along. Perhaps the offer from your friend is cosmically ordained to get you to move out of your current position — into a relaxed phase of looking around for a better fit for your creative energy, and nothing more. You are exhausted (and who can blame you?). Don’t stress yourself out over anybody else’s deadline. Go for it if you are inspired by the work itself. Otherwise, there will be lots of good ideas and opportunities, now that you are open to them!

Woes of ‘the other woman’

Paulo, I met this great guy who’s been married 18 years. We’ve been planning on moving in together, but he’s messed up emotionally. He says he’s in love with me but also loves his wife … and said he has obligations to his kids too. Now she is keeping him a prisoner in his own home, monitoring every move he makes, and every call he gets. Please help.

– Barbara, Ontario

On an intellectual level, this is easy … you have to let go of your attachment to this guy. But letting go, of course, is easier said than emotionally done! He is seriously (and understandably) conflicted, which makes him emotionally unavailable for the kind of intimate connection you desire. He may be into you, but no matter how much you like each other, “He’s just not available!” And, if ever he is to break his marital agreement, it must be solely of his own volition, none of your doing. So, there is nothing for you to do but let go.

You have developed a strong emotional attachment and, unfortunately, like the high from a drug, you are going to have to go through a hangover period — from which you will surely emerge intact. Withdrawals are not fun. Hopefully you will come out of it learning an important lesson about the primal importance of availability.

If a person can’t figure out a way to be with you, he is an awful choice to get involved with. No matter what all the reasons are, getting hooked by an unavailable person is a terrific formula for personal pain.

I’m sorry about the pain, but you need to accept your pain in order to suffer less. Go through the letting go process and free yourself to look elsewhere (when you are ready). When someone is unavailable — for any reason, physical or emotional — there’s hardly ever anything that you can do about it. Just learn to choose more carefully in the future. It’s a profound wisdom all relationship-seekers can use — to make “Is he/she available?” the first possible-deal-killer question we ask, right off the bat.

Outside Looking In

Dear Paulo, The more I discover my spiritual self, the more I find myself out of the mainstream of life. Almost as if I’m outside looking in at everyone else. Is that supposed to happen?
— Ahnighta in Kalamazoo, Michigan

If by “mainstream” you mean the way most people think and behave, the answer would be yes — because to the extent that you have a spiritual point of view you ARE on the outside looking in! As we go beyond the normal egocentric viewpoint, we are going to see things from a broader perspective, and become more objective. This will make you different than most people — most of whom do not put a priority on expanding consciousness.

But this does not mean that you need to be — or should be — all alone, which is why all spiritual paths include the idea of community. In Buddhism, for instance, having the support of one’s spiritual community (“sangha”) is emphasized as one of three “jewels” or “refuges” — a most important spiritual supports — which also include the inspiring power of spiritual ideals (“buddha”) and your learning of the way things work on the best path for you (“dharma”).

According to legend, the Buddha’s assistant, Ananda, once surmised “Sir, sometimes I think having spiritual friends is half of the spiritual life,” and the Buddha reportedly replied, “No, Ananda … having spiritual friends is the WHOLE of the spiritual life.”

In any case, don’t worry if you feel different than most people, or less interested in the values generally promoted by social networking and the media. If you are becoming more aware (i.e. “spiritual”), you will naturally notice — as you ARE noticing — that your priorities are becoming more about the ‘inner game.’ Good for you!

friendship confusion

Dear Paulo, I’m troubled over a friendship matter. It’s confusing, as this friend seems to be loving one moment then turns into an iceberg the next, and always fails to reply to my mail. But whenever we meet up during gatherings (twice yearly) he’ll shower me with tenderness. The thing I wish to find out is whether he has any interest to develop a stronger bond of friendship. There is a big age gap between us; besides this, both of us are from different walks of life (career wise) and different countries in Asia.

I wrote him back tonight seeking for a clear answer whether he truly accepts me as his friend. I haven’t received any response yet. I care a lot for his well-being and wonder if he feels the same too.

-– Tan, Selangor, Malaysia

Dear Tan, what is a ‘friend’? Perhaps your mind is overwhelmed by the memories of the ‘tenderness’ you felt in his presence. His attention stimulated your feelings and you would like to think that means he cares, but maybe not. Charm is one thing; emotional connection is much more of an effort. (Is there any possibility that he never received your messages?)

Who knows? If he did get your emails, he could be a narcissist, who turns on the charm when he feels like it, but lacks real feelings. There are plenty like that in the world, who believe they are the center of the universe and everyone else is an object for their use (when they are in the mood).

Communication is the lifeblood of friendship, and actions (or non-action, in this case) speak much louder than words. You have evidently given him plenty of invitations to communicate. His refusal to respond when you reach out to him, demonstrates lack of interest. We don’t know his reasons, but it sure seems that he is not available to be your friend.

You have done enough to invite him. Unless you need to learn from more suffering, do not pursue him further — out of love for yourself, which is where all adult loving begins. Good friends come to those who have self-respect.

Reading Other People

Dear Paulo, I would very much like to improve my ability to read other people. To quickly find/understand their motivations, desires, and weaknesses. The solution may or may not be spiritual, but I’m willing to try anything..”
-– Sam, 27, in Seattle

Sam, the ability to read others is a sublime and powerful skill. It is innate in humans and other mammals. Babies begin interpreting facial expressions and sounds almost from birth — but, yes, this skill can also be further developed and cultivated.

Whole books are written on how to read people’s body language. The piece I would suggest that you focus on is to develop empathy — the power of being able to understand and consider another’s feelings even when they seem foreign to you. (This is different than sympathy, which is simply to resonate with another’s feelings or feel sorry for someone.) How to develop empathy? Well, there is one simple way – use your intuition to guess what people are thinking or feeling … and then ask them!

I have found that most people will answer just about any question, including what is going on for them internally, if they are asked in the right way (sometimes indirectly), and always in a non-threatening tone. People love to talk about themselves (if you let them), especially if they sense you are open and you ask in an open way. So, practie the art of social interviewing … it’s highly educational! Learn to tune in and listen, and you will be practicing good social skills at the same time you are developing a stronger intuitive sense for reading people.

Konfused in Kihei

Dear Paulo, I’m having a relationship dilemma. I’m a confident woman who knows how she feels and what she wants most of the time, I’m also very flexible (despite what looks like pushiness) and want to be able to negotiate/make decisions etc. with a man – in the process of dating adventures and whatnot – I often mollify this part of my nature – to be more “feminine” and let the man lead…I can’t find the balance, do I just need a strong man, so I can fully be myself?

–Konfused in Kihei

Konfused, it sounds like you are confused about who you are supposed to be, confusing personality with identity (aka soul). I would take a look at what your “core beliefs” might be – operating assumptions about people that were formed when you were very young, which may have subconsciously stuck to this day, making you feel and act in certain ways.

We get so attached to having a consistent personality, but the personality is just an act (the “persona” was a mask that actors wore in ancient Greece). The really good actors know how to adapt and play different roles, depending upon the scene and other actors on stage. If you are having conflicts with dates, you are probably clinging to the act that you know best. Perhaps this is the one that makes you feel safe … or in control. Whatever the case, a stronger man to contend with is not going to solve the problem of contending, make you feel better, or make it easier to be fully yourself. That’s an inside job, which has more to do with releasing core beliefs and the shame that often comes from them.

Meanwhile, in your social interactions, be more open. Express yourself in different ways. Improvise a little bit. Try some different roles. Take some risks. Embarrass yourself once in a while (you can’t embarrass your true self :-). You’ll be surprised at the results. You will learn so much more about what other people like, feel more free, have more fun, and definitely prove that you are not your personality!