— If only we knew what we really wanted, then we’d have it ten times over…
Designing Your Life.
We all like to d-d-d-d-d-design our lives. Everybody likes this topic: new course, new hope; new theme, new trope. The new start, the blank slate, and not an ounce of shame yet dirties the dashboard as you’re yet to be nudged toward actually going after anything. We remain snugly encased from our fears of action and the difficult tensions life and women trigger, all the while buying ourselves the story of making progress. So sound the horns for designing our lives: the manliest thing one can do without leaving the safety of his room!
But what we can call into our lives is limited by our capacity to create: not everyone is a good designer, and not everyone evolves in the trade. The act of life-designing is sold everywhere online, yet requires an ever-maturing facet of something profound within ourselves. I hereby offer you seven nuanced ways I’ve found men entangled as they’ve approached designing life over the years. Each one is a part of myself I’ve wrestled, and wrestle, through too.
Men without Imagination
The Amorati Ritual is the condensed, magickal centrepiece of our first Essential theme, Designing Your Life. Most any transformational programme starts by asking participants the same orienting question: ‘what do you want?’ ‘What do you want to create for your life?’ Now beavers: go to work!
All the contents of the first life list I compiled in blue ink on the back of a sweaty, folded receipt on the beach of Ipanema came true: if not in months, then within a few years. Most of the items, as you might imagine, were rather lusty, puerile, self-obsessed. They were songs and wishes for freedom, meaning, and endless, effortless adoration from the feminine. Bunda!
The concept that thoughts create reality is the great leveller of all men. Our Amorati Ritual, then, is a wonderful exercise of democracy and virtue! All men can participate and dream. You can take away my freedom, you might take away my food, but you cannot take away my imagination or desire! Or can you?
Some of my fine brothers, I’ve come to witness up close, seem to have had the wanting function of their brains stemmed and shut down. The part of the mind responsible for imagination, fantasy, erotic delight or a different future, became eroded, stunted, numbed. Put before them a blank sheet with an infinitude of possible futures to be written upon it, and they come up confuso. Set them free in the candy store, and they’re boggled as to where to turn.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where no-one would ever find out and there were no repercussions, what would you do? Answers not-forthcoming. If you could pause time, steal anything, fondle your favourite celebrity, or place any two people in the sexual position of your choosing only for them to be startled when you pressed resume, what would you do? Muted. I don’t know. Beyond getting the girl, is there a picture of a depraved or romantic act you’d create with her? Beyond becoming the millionaire, what are your excited dreams of allocating the money?
Some of us struggle to create greater futures because it’s impossible to conceive of things we want. Were our childhood dreams so bitterly ignored that we gave up on even imagining them? Were we so painfully shut down through the years that we unlearned how to want, to save ourselves from the pain of ridicule and never-getting? Now if you’re a boiling mass of healthy egocentrism, you might not be able to understand this. But consider that one day you become intimate with a partner who is unable to dream: how are you going to respond to pleasing this person if they’ve got no idea what brings them pleasure themselves?
What is to become of the life of a person who knows not how to want?
So how can someone re-learn to desire, and fuel the flame of their imagination? First, a certain melting needs to happen: a melting of all unconscious sabotaging parts that protect you from the pains of wanting. Second, there’s an energetic connection to your visceral desire and your felt-imagination that needs to be re-worked. Re-tethering to the unique human functions of vision and desire might be delicate, patient work. But without it, man’s character lacks thrust, and self-determination lays weak.
Men who Design into Islandhood
When you sit and design your life, who is the one doing the designing? Seated, with paper and pen, which facet of your psyche prepares the shopping list? Some higher self? Some lusty self? Or some over-compensating self-loathing part who wishes to improve itself into oblivion? Is the one who designs your life the same as the one that designed it ten years ago? Is the designer then due for an upgrade, tune-up, or new download?
The initial intention of any self-empowering act — such as the act of sitting down to design the look of one’s life — is to move the agent from reactivity towards conscious creation; to let slip the socialised constraints within us, to sack the sagging weight of surrounding naysayers, and become a self-determined powerhouse of one!
But if inner fulfilment has felt rather weak of late, let us turn delicately toward the one who is designing your life. Let us be curious about the inner nature of your self-determining voice. Is there a subtle reactivity in your designer, a wound, a pledge of rebellion? Did he ever close a subtle door to his heart which he now buttresses through full autonomistic proprietorship of his life’s direction? Did the vigour of his visions lead him too emotionally astray from the other hairy humans, challenged – if ever he dare to admit it – to find intimacy once again, so plunged he’s become into some self-reinforced narrative of adventure?
“I love you, but I love me more,” the individualist speaks sub-communicatively as he leaves another burgeoning love-affair. Another month, another country. Another pleasure to be had. When down the decades did our commitment to a life vision become hard-headed and exlusionary? Do our last vestigial stands against compromise leave us self-empowered loners?
I might say that much of the world’s current loneliness is an outcome of man and woman’s incapacity to untether themselves from some stranglehold vision they’ve created for their lives, for to lose grip on that vision is to lose control of life, and risk oneself to an ocean of vulnerability, incapacity, pain. You think your ideal partner is one that fits your ideal vision (and woe-be-tied them if they betray it!). But did you stop to consider that an ideal vision might be one that expands and evolves to include the ever-transforming nature of your ideal partner?
Left to their own devices, some might design their lives for years; casting themselves away upon islands they become marooned upon, alone.
Flow-Boys & Surrender Experimentors
When a lifestyle designer turns pro, he runs into a number of extremely First World problems. Laptops laid back in some beachfront villa or hipster shack, the paradox of choice eases her hands around his neck. She caresses, she manipulates. She soothes, whispers, asphyxiates.
If I, a self-made entrepreneurial nomad, can live and travel anywhere, how the hell am I ever to choose where to invest and lay roots? If I, self-made Don-Juan-Don-Casanova, have opulent choice of the world’s fine women, if I can’t even decide where to live, how will I ever decide who to stick with as my one tight match? Oh, the allure of the monastery! The restaurant that serves but one dish! Take me back to Soviet times, oh muse, and discharge me of free will!
A few years ago I happened upon an integrating insight. The insight, simply, was to give my choice-making up to God. To become something of a Dice Man, to listen to the symbols in dreams, to trust the unfolding now and release any clutch on forward plans.
So I’ve seen him many times in some ecstatic dance ceremony: t-shirt soaked; grinning from ear to the far side of the cosmos. He’s read The Surrender Experiment, he’s quit his job, chucked it all in, has no vision ahead. He’s an untethered soul, never been freer, never been happier. A polymorphic, polyamorous man!
Surrender is the mot du jour… Surrender your ego, your aversions, your contractions, your self-designed plans. Open beyond the rigidity of your mind-built vision and love what is. Seek the teachings of everything life throws your way. The universe has your back. Men were circumambulating this path in droves even before our creaking civilisation began losing its last vestiges of influence on us.
So if you’re no longer actively designing your life, but something greater now is, you might wish to ask yourself (when existentially skewered deep in the night) some very simple questions. What are you surrendering to? How trustworthy is your perception, your intuition, the source of your discerned direction? Do you surrender to personal urges, to shadow, to what others want? How deeply into the great something beyond do you listen as you determine your next oh-so-cosmic steps?
Some clearly believe they’re buying social caché when they announce at the dinner party they’re now surrendered to the flow of life. Funnily, I’ve seen few men actually pull this off and garner respect (and with it attraction, admiration) from the beautiful women they silently seek to appease. Enjoy your time between worlds if you’re currently subscribed to the surrender experiment, my friend. That spiritual bubble, encased from the seething mass of humanity’s grave ills, is a glorious place to be! But if your wanderings are baseless, unrooted from the soil of deeper meaning, you’ll continue to come across as just another new-age teddy-boy, unable to decipher quite why you evoke that gaint yawn from the women you really want.
Surrender from the old paradigm you were immersed in, yes. Yet seek and probe for deeper ground. It’s in the dark still beneath where you are falling.
To Own What One Wants: “Higher” and “Lower” Order Desires
— Maybe I’m contradicting myself. Let that be so!
Question: how do you split a man’s psyche with four simple words. Simple! Ask him, ‘what do you want?!’
Yep-yep-yep-yep-yep. Sit with the blank page, and you’re liable to come up with splits. Some of the content of our desires we judge as puerile, base, genital — and note the delicate quotation marks here — “small”. Other of our desires are more lofty. Sometimes our lofty endeavours, to save the world, eradicate aids, support the feminist agenda and so on, are really just nice things we put on our lists (and tell others) in attempts to convince ourselves we’re not the low-lying, self-absorbed plankton we really are. Sometimes, our more “lower order” desires (go ravage that bunch of women, and so on) are someone else’s dream too: accomplishment of them, we believe, would buy us masculine caché in the eyes of all who’d see us and forever more.
Designing our lives involves deep honesty and inquiry. Which of your desires, then, are really yours? Which of your desires hold true, hold energy, hold weight, could stand up to scrupulation on judgment day? Can you create an inner space of loving inclusion for those “lower order” things you truly want… even if wanting these things doesn’t jive well with your idealised image of yourself? “Yes…” the tickly devil sayeth to thee. “Suppress your wants at your peril!”
If I were to sit with a younger me, I’d tell him this: don’t let judgment of your more puerile desires stop you from living them out! Everything rooted in darkness offers a portal to soul. Pious shunning of desire leads to sex-offending priests. The Alabaster Girl is a case in point: how many of us were so sublimely served by one man’s product of his small-self desire to get loved and get laid? By following curiosity and desire with the light of loving awareness, one’s vital force matures into a gift for humanity. Zan allowed his desires to not just be meddled in lightly, nor sit neglected in the corner of some dusty trunk. They were put front-and-centre: they were owned.
My spiritual proclivity is that wisdom comes from entering the trailhead of unholy lust; following desire through to its essential core. Done earnestly while open to checks and balances, you’ll likely self-correct. At the core you’ll find something of value. Fire. Medicine. Satori. There are seven-point-eight billion ways up the mountain.
But I can’t go for what I really want! That’s just selfish, no-one will be served! The piety, the programming, will kick in. Follow the trail-head of your higher and lower wants enough, and all desires become equal.
The borders of selfishness and selflessness are more permeable than we might think: only the judgment that one side is better keeps a more envigorating life separate from us. In selflessness, where your happiness is my happiness is the happiness of the crowd, whoever received and whoever served was arbitrary to the net love unfolded. To the younger, pimplier me, embarrassed at the bottomless list of his blood-boiling desire, I coax him to see the goodness, the deep life-giving goodness, that lay at the core of what he yearns for. As his perspective matures, that he will come to see.
Unplucking Through Inquiry & Bringing it Together
So let us coalesce, take our place, reflect.
Where in your ability to create, forge, and manifest a life, are you weak? Where are you strong? Rigid? Open? Fixated?
What inner exploration would you like to do in the coming months that might make you a wider, more joy-inducing designer of life… or a more grateful recipient of the life designed for you?
How clear are you about your approach and relationship to “designing life”?
If you are less than fully clear, does something hold you back from moving forward?
Where lies your work, then, if you’d like the wanting and imagination function of your brain to become more powerful?
When it comes to sculpting a life more worth living, our particulars might be different yet the principles remain the same. The source of a healthy and happy system is good information. For a design to manifest in harmony one might listen to their body, to the hearts of others around them, for changes in a complex and fast-moving world. Perhaps it becomes no longer about designing one’s life, but making a life permeable, open to complexity. Not about designing a life and forcing it through against the will of your populace, but about being psychologically robust enough to deal with a world in flux and the dents that perennially smashes into your expectations. Or perhaps you might try to design upon deeper ground than any of this chaos and motion, and hedge your bets onto that. What, then, is deeper ground?
Perhaps your desires need to be tempered by those of a significant other. Perhaps your dreams become afflicted by climate, drought or civil war. How might a Rohingya Muslim design their life? A Tibetan monk in times of persecution? Our grandfathers at the onset of WWII? What if your blueprint was for a land which is now uninhabitable? What if you wake up one day and want something different? What if the greatest beauty you’ll ever know lays on the other side of something you’re currently unwilling to sacrifice your ego for, and therefore nothing you would fold into your current plans? At the centre of any good design is the capacity to listen, move, adapt. It becomes dizzying, to peer out from the veranda, with such incertitude.
The Constraint of Designing for Collectives
Over the years I collected a number of mad messages from the Gods, which amounted to tell me that committed relationship would be the thing. The right woman, my beautiful girl, came along. The fieriest of forty, a tour de force all of her own. And thus I pulled the trigger which would torpedo my plans into sacrifice.
Men in relationships, I ask you: do you and your beloved design your own lives — two visions under one pact? Are you a venn diagram of desires, meeting, hopefully on enough occasions, in some happy and energising middle? Or are you inter-being, a love of the four-armed kind that flows toward and from a unified direction? Or are your visions too discrete from each other to even warrant you using the term ‘committed relationship’ altogether?
How do the disparate inner voices and feelings of you-two sway the congress of your choice-making? How do you listen, compromise, co-create, sacrifice? Are unilateral and authoritarian decisions taken, explicitly, covertly, or through ongoing transmissions of propaganda, to wrestle authority of the ship? Does the ruling power of you-two break ethical and holy matrimonial law, making a habit of seizing control of the region as an assertion of its fear-based will?
How does one design life for two? Ought one ever to do that, alone?
A core male fear in relationship is the fear of lost sovereignty: to be locked in a role of peacemaker while suffering the erosion of his wildness. Telling your loved one you need space from the perennial challenge of her closeness might not, if ever, be well-received! I believe a relationship begins when a unit of secure attachment — a pledge of co-defendency — emerges from the deep emotional dreamtime of the two of you. To be awake in relationship means you’re responsible for the well-being of the unit, which is to say you’re responsible for influencing the well-being of your beloved, which boomerangs instantly back into determining any well-being left for your own. You indeed run the waters of the relational anxiety, or love, you wind up bathing in. Sweat-inducing, ever-bubbling, stomach-curdling joint bathing.
How does one design life for two? How does the two design lives for each one? Bring in kids, cats, side-hustles and community pacts, and as you navigate these unabating and complexifying tugs and strains you witness your thrust for life receding, whimpering, off into the rear-view mirror.
As I matured further into designing my life, I realised I’d forever do it upon shifting sands, storming winds, and brutal introspection. Honouring unsavoury inner desires while sating bittersweet needs of the other. How did this prickly culinary experiment come to be a sauce of personal salvation?! When I stand up, she joins me dancing. When I awaken, her playful eyes open. Always less than a half-step away, her scent, hand-perfumed for my nostrils, my amygdala, my happiness, my entrails, seeps through. I’d designed a woman into my life and now, with her in it, there was no longer the same I. And therein lies the point.
On Christmas Eve this eroding I was driven to the mall by, very humourously to me at the time, a musician Christian, as I went to purchase a piano for my girl. He’d quit his corporate sales job after a decade, he told me, opting to stay with his family, drive go-jek, he told me, worship, make music, and pray. He’d missed a decade of his daughter growing up, he told me, and wasn’t to miss another day more. Sure, he anguished over social media as he saw the vacations his colleague’s pay-raises were affording them. But he’d play guitar and she’d sing, he told me, each night after dinner, he told me, and tears would fall freely from their eyes, he confided to me, as their beauty and tenderness overflowed, he told me. Such moments were everything.
I asked him his life’s goal and, laughing, he told me it was to be a family man, and be with my family. “What’s your goal?” he responded, to which I told him something callously Western. We both laughed in uproar. Though I was clear that his laughter was a rather more at me than it was with me. Doing the stats, I think the majority of human-kind are born into collectivist cultures where designing an individual life has no rhyme, place, meaning, or even possibility. Self-leadership is thus tethered by the innumerable aspects of a knitted humanity. And who’s to say we won’t be there again?
Does the wiggle-room in designing my life now narrow the more I’m aware of how my choices impact all beings around me? How would a benevolent King design his life when his life itself is an oath of service to all those who depend upon him? How do I navigate my inner needs for solitude, novelty or adventure, when my commitments are — beyond some occasional yet highly visceral outbreaks — still highest choosings for my life? Did we just come full circle? Is designing one’s life some fluffy metamorphistic adolescence between two loaf-ends of determinism? I didn’t design my life as a child as I was submitted to my circumstances; as a man I design it no longer since I’ve made my vows, and vows have been made unto me. I may still pause, in the morning, on the veranda. But a relationship to duty has blossomed, unbeknownst, right through me. What is it all for?
Perhaps a man’s life-design ought to be limited to the colour of shelves he orders from Ikea, or whether he hits Corfu or Skiathos this summer, or if he can escape with the rolling tobacco to the bench next to the shed, in the garden, beside the pond. And who is to say where his fulfilment most lies?
Many of us maturing individualists live with the sizzling unspoken threat that we can up sticks at any moment and leave it all. Any day, any trigger, and I book a plane ride the hell out of here. I once met a grandfather who left three generations of family, fled to Bali, and built here a home. Eight p.m. he left them, on Millennium-eve, just as the drinks and snacks were being laid on the table, never to be seen again. One bag of hand-luggage, an entire life’s possessions, the get-out-of-jail-free card tailored within the lining of his sleeve now redeemed. Escapism. The last vestige of the man who, when young, was promised the earth. So how could we ever settle for just a fragment of it?
Seeking Refuge in an Ever-Changing World
All this Siddharta-like meandering has led me thus here, to a calm, unchanging space by the river where I rest in something unfathomably simple, and simply unfathomable. I long for one form of tether, something to keep me attached in this swept-up snowglobe world with my swept-up snowglobe girl, a snowglobe of thoughts I can never always trust, and the fragmented, whirling dust that envelops us all. And even of that longed-for tether I can sometimes let go.
I did my stoic-inspired negative visualisations, on world war, economic death, and our pan-national regression to the new Dark Age. I sat, inside my tidy room and outside on the porch, and conjured the feeling that all shall be scorched, and all shall be burned. My pot of gold, now worthless. My computer, smooth devices, mirthless. Stuck in Indo, Micro, Poly-nesia without food or electric meter, propane gas or air conditioner. Not a drop of modern pleasure or convenience about the place. To sit in negative visualisation is to take your worst fears for the world seriously, and tap into whatever flicker of spirit you might find amidst the rubble of dystopia and despair. This is anti-designing your life.
You can take it all away from me, I discovered, but you can never take away my gift. You can even bluster through my imagination and desire, but you can never take away my gift.
You also have a gift. There is one thing you can do that invokes transcendence, touches others, and sparks small pockets of communal ecstasy. A human’s gift is pre-modern, pre-religion, pre-paper, pre-pape. Our gift is as old as our DNA itself.
If there’s anything I can tether myself to in this snowglobe world, I discovered, it is my gift. Day by day, aching, fighting, to carve out my gift. If there’s ever any refuge, anything to design, anything to design for, anything that will design me, it is my gift. There is nothing greater I can design, than offering this gift. My gifty gift; my gift to give.
Happy New Year.
* * *
If you’d like my support to have you tap into your imagination and desires, to unlock the inner conflicts that stop you owning what you want, and otherwise find more depth in your gifts and relationships, I have some availability for private coaching. Simply send me an email telling me a little about your current circumstance and where you’d like to be, and we’ll take it from there.