LIVING-ness

The question of what trait in people you admire most is a very revealing question. It may be hard to answer in the abstract so start (as you go through this in your own head, as I am doing now) by thinking of real people you admire (or at least think you admire). I have never quite believed in formal mentorship (at least in my own life, though apprenticeships do sound? interesting, but this is not the point) but think of someone that could be a role model for you. If you were to accelerate 10 years, and become a version of someone, who would that be, and why? (Keep reading towards the bottom of this essay to understand why this prompt makes me feel a type of way). Now, think of that person, and consider what do you admire about them? What traits do they have that you LIKE? What is their vibe?

I used to say the trait I admire most in people is intentionality. This answer has changed. This essay explores my new answer but first I will dive into intentionality.

I define intentionality as the ability to be deliberate or purposeful.

I admired (and still do admire) intentionality for many reasons. First and foremost, I admire agency. I admire people who have the ability (or in some cases have at least convinced themselves that they have the ability) to take control of their lives and influence their outcomes. I like believing in the CONDITIONAL PROBABILITY for myself because I like being able to influence the world around me. I like control. Or at least the ability to opt into control. I like taking responsibility. I do not need the credit for these things—but I like being able to play with the strings myself. I do not want to be a victim. I could say that more strongly—I extremely dislike situations where I feel powerless (more on this in a moment).

And I like the notion that those who have honed intentionality, which can be applied at many layers of abstraction from thinking to actions, are able to get what they want in life. Or at least try their best.

I also hate excuses (both from others and myself), and those who bring intentionality in their lives take unconditional responsibility for their behavior. This whole thing above—call it for the sake of the essay the INTENTIONAL WAY—is an attractive type of life to me in the capacity that it eliminates hopelessness and powerlessness from perceived reality.

Or at least I thought.

There is some nuance to this thought that actually drove me to changing my answer. The revelation or thought pattern I came to is that intentionality does NOT eliminate emotions (good or bad ones). Rather, it serves as a protective wall that helps you convince YOURSELF that you are capable of influencing outcomes and thus determining your emotions. I no longer believe in this as a strictly healthy superpower. Forget healthy, I no longer believe this is the best way to live.

You could imagine intentionality as a healthy defense mechanism to be able to turn on in particular situations. For example, in highly emotional settings where people are freaking out, being able to act deliberately can quite literally save lives. The issue is that as a default state, intentionality, and always being on, I find yields mixed results because it blocks presence. Let’s talk again about that emotional state that people are in—if you are acting with utmost intentionality, you can actually block the experience of those emotions (I know because I have done this exact thing for many years). You can run from them or not participate in them and instead look at those experiencing the emotions as weak. But, and it took me a long time to think this and an even longer time to accept it, it could be the case that you—the oh so intentional one—are the weak party.

Rather than experiencing the flow of the world, those leaning too far in the direction of intentionality may interrupt the beauty that is THE MOMENT. You do this because you are afraid of the now. You are afraid of being overwhelmed so you do not partake. You do not want to get flooded. You want control. You want safety. Again, this may be what you think! But only when you actually experience the floods—the emotions—do you see how much stronger they make you.

Now, you may say that you would / could / should live your life intentionally present. This whole phrase does not work for me. You could say that you would intentionally lean into the emotions. Again, does not work. These are cognitive statements. There is no FEELING behind them. There is no emotion lurking there. They are just words that do not lead to feelings. And feeling—feeling the moment—that is presence.

I find that when I am focusing on trying to become more intentional with my actions and thoughts, I sometimes get caught in a loop (maybe my own doing) where I am more worried about my intentionality than I am about the moment. Do you ever feel that way? That, to me, is a major failure state. Like searching for nirvana, it is naive.

“The search for Nirvana, like the search for Utopia or the end of history or the classless society, is ultimately a futile and dangerous one. It involves, if it does not necessitate, the sleep of reason. There is no escape from anxiety and struggle.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays

The other problem I find with leaning too hard into the thought of intentionality is that I sometimes move towards inaction. I fall into decision paralysis. I analyze everything, generally from a cognitive perspective, and get lost in my head. Sure, I run a lot of laps in my head. There is quite a bit of motion. But progress wise, in terms of actually MOVING towards things…I sometimes stagnate. Sure, it becomes an academic exercise but it is largely ineffective (if we define effectiveness as achieving the objectives).

At potential odds with intentionality, and related to the above, is the concept of authenticity.

I try not to allow myself to get triggered from words—they are just harmless words after all—but the word authenticity certainly evokes emotions for me. It drives me in a particular direction really simply because it is a topic I have thought a lot about. Thought a lot about does not imply that I have made a lot of progress on it, but does state that I have spent a lot of time thinking (and writing and reading and running) fixated on the prompt of what does it mean to be authentic?

Defining authenticity is not particularly straightforward.

Aside, I think we need to create a new dictionary. It would help in times like this. Organizations should have dictionaries otherwise coordination is probably really difficult and especially difficult to scale. What organizations have dictionaries of their own? Maybe partial ones but very few.

I believe that authenticity, though, is really just a proxy for your soul. As a starting point, it is worth describing or at least adding some richness to what I mean when I say authenticity. I write about it in greater length here but high-level; authenticity, to me, is NOT permission to be an asshole or the notion that you should share everything you think with the world around you. Rather, it is an opportunity to be YOU. Being authentic is a window into you and what makes you uniquely you. Being authentic is really speaking from your soul rather than speaking from another place. And one thing I admire is the people who speak directly from their soul.

Soul is not used in a religious sense here. I am talking about that hard to describe VIBE that comes from somewhere inside your body. Your energy. Your aura. That is what I admire in people. When they let their soul do the talking and consume themselves (and the world around them). Consume here means really…anything…when people live with their soul (as a prominent piece of themselves), all their actions, words, etc. come from a place of themselves.

Perhaps, then, it is not a huge surprise when I say that another trait I admire in people is INDEPENDENCE. Ability to think independently. This is far easier said than done. Especially, I feel, nowadays, when there are so many influences out there. You are likely unaware of where your ideas come from and who you are allowing to influence you.

I think I care about this because what I long for in life, in so many ways, is the opportunity to be mySELF. To be, or not to be, perhaps today could be written as: “to be yourself or not to be yourself” because that is the question I go to more than I once thought possible. Independence I would define as—as an authentic human, if you were not worried about what other people would think in any capacity, how would you act and make decisions? Worry here does not necessarily mean that you think people will think negatively about you—what I mean is what would you do and how would you act if you were purely independent in HOW YOU MADE DECISIONS. Note here that how you made decisions does not directly necessitate that you do not think for others (as some may read this as advice to be egocentric). Rather, it just implicates where your decision making comes from (and again, what you allow to influence you).

The problem with the above themes: independence, authenticity, and intentionality—is that they are _hard_ for me to OWN as the single trait I admire most.

Put another way—and this opens a whole new can of worms, what do I get MOST jealous about? (If you were howard roark perhaps you would say you should be jealous of nothing but I will confess that I do feel, at least some, emotions. And in those emotions I do sometimes feel jealous. This is a topic for another essay).

Thinking about this led to me my answer which I now hold with higher clarity:

  • If someone is intentional, but extremely dead inside, I’m not jealous.
  • If someone is independently thinking, but extremely dead inside, I’m not jealous.
  • If someone is extremely authentic, but extremely dead inside, I’m not jealous.

So what is the solve?

Well, my current headspace leans to the following trait: Living-ness. I define living-ness as the AMOUNT YOU ARE ALIVE. I admire people who are ALIVE to the maximum degree.

I know this is a made-up or so word (I STOLE, a bit ironic, it from a conversation I was having with a friend so do not blame me).

I know we are starting from a vague/abstract definition—but I imagine someTHING already comes to mind when I mention living-ness. What are you thinking about? What is the texture? What smell comes to mind?

For me, when I first heard the term, I immediately thought about my time OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES. I thought about my time meeting locals in different countries. Often people with no money. I define money as like paper currency in this context. Because these people were rich. Rich in terms of LIVING-NESS. The smiles they had on their faces. Their energy. Their dancing. Their VIBES. Untouchable.

I think about the vibes described here. The people in the studio. The people making magic. That is alive.

There is probably a book to be written on this topic. And it would probably start with a much richer definition than the one I am providing. Because I am deeply interested in understanding—can you manufacture this LIVING-NESS? That would be…pretty miraculous. Can you build infrastructure/culture that would actually create this? I mean we kinda sorta already do this in many ways? Our culture/society/social systems (whether serious about it or not) INFLUENCE our living-ness (one could argue they are the single biggest influences on whether or not the people in the community FEEL alive).

How do we turn people alive?

How do we unleash people’s energy?

Happiness will come. Fun will come. Sadness will come. And learning will come.

The core is alive-ness. Get people to wake up. Get people to stop going through the larp motions. Get people to break the chamber.

Everything else will come.

To do this, we may need to take some steps backwards. Throw out the phones. Throw out some social norms. We do not need to go that far back. Maybe just a few decades. Keep some of the advances of physics and machine learning and math. And medicine. And then apply them to a better set of life infrastructure.

We can help people wake up.

Because they are dying right now. They are dying far before their bodies are set to rest. They are dying early on. In high school. The feeds are killing them. Society is killing them. Forget Bryan Johnson extending the end of people’s lives—let’s save the beginning.

People are drowning. What are you going to do about it?

Bandaids won’t work. You can try. And they will look like motion. And movements. It needs to be big and bold. What is the shape of it? I don’t know. Is it music or a company or a book or research or systems? Or everything? Or nothing? Or religion?

WAKE PEOPLE UP. That’s the mandate.

Get them alive. Covid times was the final kill. The cement. The pixels won. We must take it back. Forget that. Nature will if we don’t. Because we are a crippling species. We need freedom. Freedom from the systems we have created that MANUFACTURE MEDIOCRITY.

Unleash the beasts. Save the world.

LIVING-ness is coming.


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