Personal Revolutions: Groundwork – Five Foundations

Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness is a book that I’ve been working on for the last eight months or so. At time of writing this, it’s nearly finished and, I think it’s fair to say, it covers a lot more ground than I initially thought it would. I’ll try and keep this blog post short, but if you’d like more detailed information about the ideas behind the Personal Revolutions philosophy, then check out an interview I did with Design Decode, by clicking here. If you’re interested in checking out the Personal Revolutions chapter list, then you can find a summary here.

The purpose of this blog post is to prepare people to go through their own Personal Revolution so that when the book is released they’ll know what to expect and will be ready to get into the process of self-directed change that the book discusses. I’m sure that all sounds fine and dandy, but, before we can leap into that, what the hell is a Personal Revolution, and why does it even matter?

The short definition of a Personal Revolution is that it is a process of waking up to reality, realising that the concepts that we carried of what the world is and who we are within it were out-of-synch with the ‘truth’, and then coming to terms with the pain involved in narrowing the gap between what we thought was and what actually is so that we can move forwards and build something stronger. A Personal Revolution is the process of improving our relationships with ourselves by learning to communicate with ourselves more efficiently by shedding the illusions that we carry so that we can build something much stronger on the foundation of truth that remains. If you build on what actually is, instead of merely what you think might be, you will be better off in the long run.

Often, life will throw challenges at us that inevitably force us to go through a Personal Revolution, whether we like it or not. Despite being the natural state of the universe, change is one of the most painful things that human beings can face and, for this reason, we have a tendency to resist. Occasionally, however, we are forced into extreme change, be it because we are suddenly afflicted with a serious illness, because somebody or something close to us is suddenly taken away, because we have battled an addiction and won, because we had a brush with death or chaos or uncertainty, or any of the other forces that allow the ‘reality’ of our situation to slip through the cracks and burst the bubbles we have built for ourselves.  When we find ourselves facing these challenges, we can either resist, thus causing more tension and friction for ourselves, or we can surrender to the inevitable and push through. Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness is about the latter of these two choices and can help anybody go through this process, hopefully coming through stronger and more resilient on the other side.

Ultimately, everything that we do is a choice and each time we make a choice we either move towards wholeness or fragmentation. The Personal Revolutions ‘course’ contains 166 frames through which to view the world, each one representing a spectrum on which we stand, and suggesting that positioning ourselves on one side will tend to lead us to ‘wholeness’ or happiness, whereas the other will lead us to ‘fragmentation’ or long-term dissatisfaction. At the end of each chapter is a series of ‘self-guidance’ questions, designed to help readers internalise some of the ideas presented, but the process presented in the book rests on five foundations of the reality of human condition. This blog post has been written to familiarise you with these five foundations so that you will be ready to leap into your own Personal Revolution when the time comes.

Five Foundations of Personal Revolution

Foundation #1:  Everybody Dies (Personal Revolution #9: Death / Life)

Your Personal Revolution begins when you can accept yourself as a mortal being and acknowledge that the most valuable resource available to you is your time. Use death to motivate you to take the actions that you know you have to take to become the best and most authentic version of yourself; acknowledge that each moment presents you with a choice to move either closer to yourself or further away from yourself; acknowledge that everything has an opportunity cost and that if you don’t at least try and make the best of today then tomorrow will have even less guarantees. Each choice that we make can either move us towards wholeness or fragmentation and it’s up to each of us as individuals to use our time wisely to make the right choices.

Once we embrace our own mortality and the imminence of death we become aligned with the reality of our lives, allowing the moments that we live through to become imbued with a richer and more potent sense of purpose. When you know that it will be your last, every moment becomes precious: The rain on the windows as you sit in the coffee shop, the maunderings of the taxi driver as he rolls off his life story; whatever it is can be seen as a gift when you realise that the passing of time will eventually take it from you. No matter how bad or good it may seem, each burst of conscious experience is a gift that you can either choose to accept with gratitude or take for granted and forget about. The clock is ticking and every second counts.

Embrace the fact that everybody dies as a way to live more compassionately and to make better choices. Don’t hold grudges, don’t take people, including yourself, for granted. Everything in this ever changing world is on loan to you and it can be taken from you at any moment. Use your life to make the most of your time to make the most of what is available to you. Don’t fear death, but use it to fuel the actions that you take to bring yourself, your life, and your world into being. Every living person, every crumbling stack of stone, sand, and concrete, every cloud in the sky; all things including yourself are transitory and have a limited shelf life. Use this knowledge to live a deeper and richer life and to make the most of yourself and your time whilst you can.

For a more detailed discussion of how death can be used to make your life more meaningful, check out the post Before You Die, The World Will Change – Be Part of It (AKA How To Make Friends With Death).

Foundation #2: Nobody  can live your life but you; nobody is coming to save you (Personal Revolution #6: Responsibility /Victimhood)

We are all ultimately alone in the world and nobody can save us but ourselves. This is a gift, not something to lament, although you may not think so when you look out and about at our world and the ocean of professional victims and pedlars of moral outrage. Repeat this to yourself if you haven’t yet embraced the fact: nobody is going to save you, nobody has the answers on how to best live your life expect you, nobody can do for you what you need to do to be able to live the best possible version of your life as the best possible version of yourself. As we have already said in Foundation #1, the clock is ticking. Each second counts and nobody can use them but you; step up and take action (the only real cure for anything).

Stop waiting for somebody to come and tap you on the shoulder and give you the answers that you think you might need to be able to start chasing the things that you want to chase and aspire to. Stop waiting for somebody to give you permission to be slightly different to everybody else as you perform the tasks that scream out from the pit of your soul to be accomplished. Stop waiting for approval and start taking action; see the world for what it is and give yourself to it with untarnished vehemence of your being. There is nobody out there who can help you but yourself; if you fall into the trap of waiting for divine inspiration or afflatus to provide you with a direction to move in then you will ultimately end up as a pawn in somebody else’s plans. Make your own plans, based on the best of your knowledge at present; you can always change them if new information becomes available to you, but at least you will be moving in a direction that you have chosen to move in, instead of a direction that the world has pushed you in. Push through and push back, this is the only way.

Stop looking for people to blame or excuses for your current predicament. Take responsibility, even for the worst of the things on your plate. This doesn’t mean that you judge yourself for your failures or wrong turns, but it does mean that you look at how you have contributed to them so that you can learn from the process that led you here and develop the knowledge and qualities to climb further into yourself and your world in the future. We live in a world of interdependence, with a constant interplay between the actions that we take and the effects of the rest of the world upon us; though we cannot possibly control all of the things that happen in our lives, we can ensure that we take responsibility for them so that we can, at the very least, learn from them and move onwards from them. Take the good and the bad for what they are, own them, and learn to live with them as part of the scenery of your life. This is your life so you might as well ensure that you’re the one who lives it.

Foundation #3: Everything is in flux, including you – despite what your ego wants you to believe (Personal Revolution #12: Flux / Stasis)

The world as we experience it is deterministic and therefore in a constant state of flux. Everything changes because everything changes; since the dawn of time a chain of cause and effect has been unfolding in which our whole lives and the lives of our ancestors before us has been written. This change is constant and unending; even right now, as you read these words, you, your world, and everything in it are going through processes of change both subtle and profound and there is nothing you can do about it. From your aging body and mind, to the changes in the knowledge and understanding that you have of the world, to the crumbling buildings that surround you, and the supernova explosions in the skies above, everything is in flux. Embrace it and see yourself as being part of it.

One of the biggest mistakes that we can make is to assume that our lives aren’t lived in accordance with this natural state of change. Anytime we attach ourselves to absolute ideas about how things are or how things should be, we are voluntarily choosing to put ourselves and our lives out-of-synch with reality and to blindfold ourselves to the light of the world. To live ‘happily’ or with fulfilment is not to cling to things, but to dance with them; if you try and project an idea of absoluteness onto the world, the oceans of time will eventually snatch it from your hands, and you will be left to drown in your own confusion and disappointment. A better approach is to expect change so that you can work with it when it arrives and guide your life into being instead of having it taken from you.

Perhaps the hardest thing for human beings to do is to embrace the changing of themselves. Internally, we all have a natural tendency to attach ourselves to a certain conceptual of idea of who we are and what we are capable of in the world, and, externally, many of us have a tendency to identify ourselves with the symbols and embellishments of our titles or our possessions and the perceived depth that we feel they add to our lives. In an ultimately chaotic universe, many of us will be forced to face the pain of change whether we are ready for it or not; be it the loss of something important to us, or a challenge that asks us to test ourselves to the very limits. If we are not open to the inevitability of change, we will tend to cling to the concepts that we have become familiar with and create unnecessary friction between ourselves and reality as we try to resist. On a long enough timeline, the only lesson any of us can ever learn is acceptance; give yourself a head start by learning to accept change.

Instead of clinging to an absolute concept of who we think we are, a more realistic and fulfilling strategy is to harbour ideas about the direction we would prefer to move in when change presents itself. The best way to do this is through knowing our values so that we can continue to cultivate them even though the tools available to us have changed slightly with our circumstances. Over the course of our lifetimes, everything changes to some degree, except for the observing part of ourselves, the ‘I’ that watches the ‘me’ of our self-concept change like the weather. Remain as stable and as consistent as you possibly can, but bend with the wind when the storms blow, so that you can continue to stand and grow in the direction of your values over the duration of your lifetime.

Foundation #4: There are no events, only processes (Personal Revolution #8: Process / Event)

Our human lives are a constant conflict between the concepts that we carry in our heads and try to project onto reality and the conditions of this reality itself. As a species, we have evolved to project and build a temporary state of order upon an ultimately chaotic and changing world; we are the bridge between the earth and the sky, occasionally finding ourselves confused about which of these two plains we spend the majority of our time in.  We briefly looked at this confusion in Foundation #4 and our discussion of the absolute and the changing; but it is important to look at how this conflict continues in our understanding of how things happen and our tendency to think in terms of events, when really there are only ever processes.

When the world is in constant flux, there can be no events that we pinpoint with one hundred percent accuracy at a certain point in time or space. We may be able to perceive events, but this is only due to the limitations of our perceptive apparatus and its inability to see change on the most subtle of levels. We are able to separate fluid motion into a series of cause and effect, but this is a mere conceptualisation, and, in reality, the distinction between cause and effect is part of the continuum that has been unfolding since the dawn of the universe. All that really exists is a great flowing; in our experience we are able to convince ourselves that there is a series of steps that leads from one thing to another, but this is something that exists in our heads alone (not to belittle this fact – it offers us great survival advantage and allows us to make great progress).

What significance does this have at the practical level of how we live our lives? When we think in terms of events over processes, we tend to distance ourselves from our goals and our aspirations, and to externalise them. This puts us out-of-synch with the reality of the world, but also disempowers us by distancing us from the self-directed flow of action that will hopefully lead us to the attainment of our goals.  When we think in terms of events over processes, we forget that, due to the changing nature of the universe, and the transitory nature of our lives, we are always either in the process of attaining or not attaining our goals, whether we realise it or not. When we think in terms of events, we tend to think along the lines of ‘One day I will be (happy)’; when we align ourselves and think in terms of process we heighten our thinking along the lines of ‘I am in the process of becoming (happy)’.

Whether you realise it or not, your life is unfolding before your very eyes, and every action that you take is either moving you towards yourself or moving you away from yourself. When you make the shift towards process thinking and combine it with some of the other foundations of Personal Revolution, such as the fact that your time is precious and that the world is ever changing, then you realise that you have the power to direct your action in the direction that you’d most like to move in, and to build your life day by day instead of merely waiting for it to happen. You are in the process right now; stay aware of it so that you can move with it.

Foundation #5: Uncertainty has more to teach you than certainty because it is better aligned with reality (Personal Revolution #10: Uncertainty /Certainty)

When reality constantly changes around us, it is foolish to think that we can know anything with one hundred percent certainty, especially when it comes to knowledge about ourselves and who we are in the world. Just as we have a tendency to cling to the self-concept that we have built for ourselves over the course of our lifetimes, we also have a tendency to cling to the patterns, assumptions, expectations, and even intentions, which serve as the strands in the wider web of our personalities and intellectual understanding of the world. All of these things are essential for our functioning and interacting in the world of relationships, but problems arise when we choose to identify ourselves with these things, seeing them as something that we are, when it reality they are something that we merely have as part of our quest to make some sense of it all.

If one of the basic conditions of reality is that everything within it continues to fluctuate and change, it can be harmful and stagnating to assume that our opinions and points of view remain static. Human beings are creatures that are able to grow into themselves throughout the duration of their lifetimes but our need for comfort and control means that we attach ourselves to the security of the belief systems that we build ourselves. This may help us to some extent, especially if our views are relatively well aligned with the truth of our reality, but if we assume that our views are actual facts, instead of mere interpretations, then we can fall into the trap of becoming arrogant or complacent, convincing ourselves that we have no more to learn. This is all well and good until you find yourself in a situation where the only way out of it is to learn something new.

A more realistic approach is to start from a stance of uncertainty: Get over the fear of being ‘wrong’ and see any challenge to your currently held POV as a gift that presents you with an opportunity to strengthen it or to learn; get over the need to explain everything and acknowledge that there will be many things in your life that are inexplicable and will remain mysterious. Be proud of the fact that you are uncertain about things because this means that you are open to the world, and when you open yourself to the world it will open itself to you.

To live a ‘happy’ or fulfilling life, we need to be able to get ourselves into a state of flow and to find ourselves living in the swing of the world. This means that we have to give up the security of control and hold our views and opinions as a matter of degree, not of absolute certainty. When we hold onto conceptual ideas as being absolute they will eventually serve to place barriers between ourselves and the world as it changes around us and create more friction than is necessary or helpful for us to grow and move on. Do not live as though you know nothing, but be open to the idea of the things that you think you know being wrong, so that when reality proves this to be the case you can move around the obstacles in your way and learn from them. Sometimes the only way to transcend what stands before us is to learn from it so anything that prevents this learning is doing you a disservice. Instead of running into the obstacles and challenges in our way and bouncing back, on account of there being a conflict between what actually is and what your views and opinions tell you should be, we can use a stance of uncertainty to live as harmoniously as possible and keep moving forwards.

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There are 166 Personal Revolutions that constitute the wider revolution that you may choose to go through but they all build on the five foundations above. Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness will be out soon!

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Update: I’ve thought about this and decided that there are seven foundational Personal Revolutions. This includes the five listed above but also #52: Wholeness / Fragmentation and #134: Purpose / Meaning – check out the Seven Foundations page for more details.

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