Worthy of a Separate Peace

by Christopher Lovejoy on April 7, 2019

I explored the notion of a separate peace in this post.

In this post, I have something else in mind. Let’s begin with a question: how might I position myself to move beyond the mundane, to live and love an altogether satisfying and fulfilling life in peace?

That is, what separate peace could be so worthy? What kind of life lived in love and lust could possibly be so worthy and deserving of a separate peace? And still be fulfilling to live and love?

I propose that this is the ultimate problem, the one problem to end all problems: how best to respond in the moment rather than react to the moment? And so, what might the ultimate solution be?

Just Roll with the Punches?

Conventional wisdom would have us roll with the punches: to believe (rather than question) that nothing can be done to change “things”; to adapt to (rather than transform) a difficult situation; to withstand (rather than bypass) adversity by being flexible like a … bamboo tree.

Conventional wisdom would have us try to change what is perceived to be within our control without putting ourselves (or someone else) in jeopardy, knowing that merely changing one or two (small or smallish) “things” in our lives could turn around many other “things” in life.

Conventional wisdom would have us “keep moving, keep dodging, keep rolling,” while accepting the fact that the tenor of life could shift in an instant, without getting “caught up” with insisting that “things” remain as they are; better to accept the inevitability of ever more change.

Conventional wisdom would have us “resist the urge to wallow inside a pool of indecision” while recalling that remaining indecisive is not always the best way to go when it comes to dealing with life’s blows; make a list of pros and cons, if you must, but be ever decisive.

Conventional wisdom would have us admit, or at least acknowledge, when “things” have gotten, or are getting, rough or tough; close your eyes and feel into the admission: welcome the feeling (as best you can), allow the feeling (just as it is), and release the feeling (just for now).

Conventional wisdom would have us “trust your gut instinct,” would have us “trust your intuition” at any sort of crossroads, without ignoring how you feel, while allowing a moment to assess how you really and truly feel: am I feeling good about this or am I feeling cautious and wary?

Conventional wisdom would have us learn from the situation or interaction; if nothing else, rolling with the punches in this context means (1) finding out what went wrong, (2) learning from it, and (3) making better choices in the future to prevent it from ever happening again.

Conventional wisdom would have us “be positive,” knowing it is all too easy to fall into a funk, especially when those around you have taken the bait and have gotten hooked on complaint; better yet, avoid putting yourself in a position where you know you’ll be soaking up negativity.

Conventional wisdom tells us “life ain’t all roses and sunshine”: remind yourself “the good times will keep coming”; even in moments dark and dreary, we can remind ourselves to “stay positive.” Sometimes easier said than done, I know, but there it is for your thoughtful consideration.

Conventional wisdom would have us resist the urge to shut down when “things” go south or go wrong; rather, keep an open mind, a beginner’s mind; stay open to new and fresh possibilities and options; and remember, every ending has a new beginning; … “never ever give up.”

In the end, “roll with the punches” means accepting and forgiving that life sometimes offers up some pretty hard knocks. How we respond in the moment to lessen the blow is what really matters most, while recalling that it’s not always about seeking optimal conditions or outcomes.

Really, it boils down to a simple question: “how best to deal with this now?” Sometimes the answer is obvious. Sometimes not. If not, take heed of this wisdom in times of risk or stress: cultivate stillness.

Which is not to say that all of this practical, digestible conventional wisdom has no merit, but what about unconventional wisdom? What might such wisdom have to offer us on the way to serendipity?

Heed My Inner Guidance?

A small inner voice nudged me, whispering: “check the bins.”

In hearing this soft admonition, I took note, but I didn’t act right away; I was occupied with prepping dinner. Just prior to prepping dinner, I had put out a compost bin and a recycling bin for pickup the next day. Some time later, the same insistent nudging whisper: “check the bins.”

After a brief delay, I went outside to “check the bins.” The first thing I noticed was that the large recycling bin was nowhere to be seen. My first thought was that it had been stolen, but something ~ I know not what ~ pulled me down the length of the driveway to “check things out.”

At the end of the driveway, I peeked behind a hedge and saw the bin, knocked over, lying in the middle of the street some thirty meters from where I had put it out for pickup. The wind, I thought, and a strong wind at that. No matter. I pulled the bin upright and returned it to safety.

The point: I had no sensorial reference to heed the admonition. That is, I had nothing to see, hear, taste, touch, or smell to heed the call to “check the bins.” If seeing is believing, then believing is seeing.

The conventional wisdom of rolling with the punches is all well and good, but if you stop there, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice. In light of the anecdote shared above, it should be obvious by now that I, and perhaps you, too, have what might be called “the inner guidance.”

But let’s not stop there.

What if I could help you design an inner guidance system with which to negotiate and navigate the ups and downs of daily life, while still being able to accept and forgive those times and trials when you get knocked over like a bin in the wind? Would you be interested?

And no, I’m not gonna charge you for it. This one’s on the house, free for the taking and the making. In fact, I wanna make this so good that you’ll be inspired to expand and extend it for your own benefit.

Where to begin?

Let’s start with this permission: “I allow myself to heed my inner guidance.”

For some, this one might be a tough one to swallow, given the religious bias against leaning on yourself with the devil nearby and given the scientific bias against all things woo-woo. Here, I will assume you have little to no resistance to opening yourself up to this permission.

For you, it could be one or more of these: a clear inner knowing, a clear inner seeing, a clear inner hearing, a clear inner sensing, a clear inner tasting or smelling (yes, even tasting or smelling!). At the very least, acknowledge and accept your strongest modality. Get to know it well.

At least consider making friends with it; better yet, contemplate being truly and deeply intimate with it. After all, this is your higher, better, or wiser self we’re talking about … “no small thing, my friend.”

This dear friend might even save your life one day, if it hasn’t already.

A Simple Solution to a Juicy Problem?

With inner guidance in mind, let us return to the ultimate problem.

Sam Ovens, in his role as consultant extraordinaire and as owner of consulting.com, recently culled his considerable learning into a statement of intent for would-be consultants with these three nuggets of wisdom: “(1) find simple solutions to overlooked problems that actually need to be solved, (2) deliver them as informally as possible, starting with a scrappy version 1, and (3) iterate rapidly.”

I invite you to take a moment …

Near the beginning of this post, I wrote, and I quote:

I propose that this is the ultimate problem, the one problem to end all problems: how best to respond in the moment rather than react to the moment? And so, what might the ultimate solution be?

If the state of this world is anything to go by, then this problem is an overlooked problem in need of a solution, but can the solution be delivered as informally as possible, starting with a rough version? Only if I believe that it can. And can the first version be iterated, repeatedly upgraded, if not rapidly, then at least steadily? There’s really only one way to find out: by having the daring to begin the process.

Follow the Logic with Reason?

Here again is the problem, whose solution, at least potentially, would have broad applicability across a wide range of disciplines: how best to respond in the moment rather than react to the moment? Here, I’m not focused on giving the best response in any given situation or interaction for any given discipline; I’m focused more generally on this: how best to respond in the moment rather than react to the moment?

This is a problem that faces almost everyone in life, much if not most of the time. Here’s a less practical, albeit more poetic way of posing the same question: how best to harmonize soul and spirit?

Again, …

how best to respond in the moment
rather than … react to the moment?

Here, two implications from this simple question immediately call out for clarification: when I say “react,” I mean … “react unconsciously,” and when I say “respond,” I mean … “respond consciously.”

Some might argue that a reaction can be conscious, especially if you’re well trained, but I would suggest otherwise: well trained or not, the appearance of a well-executed reaction is really a well-executed response, albeit a very quick, mindful, skillful and/or artful response.

The ideal conduct in any situation or interaction can be expressed as follows:

stimulus > > > (react or respond?) > > > response

This formula brings up two points of focus that favor giving conscious responses more often than not (over generating unconscious reactions), for as long as the response is necessary, with as much intensity as necessary, with as much finesse and skill as possible, as follows:

a capacity to respond and the ability to respond

Two measures of capacity and ability are evident: existential and psychological.

Externally, where the existential space that is (or was) available and accessible between stimulus and response serves to measure response capacity, the existential time that is (or was) available and accessible between stimulus and response serves to measure response ability.

For example, referencing the anecdote shared above, the existential space that was available after I received the stimulus, “check the bins,” allowed me to access even more existential space (that is, taking a peek around the hedge) to execute an effective response. Likewise, the existential time that was available to me after I received the stimulus, “check the bins,” allowed me to access even more time so that I could finish prepping my dinner. In retrospect, however, it was not wise for me to wait any longer than I did, given the obstruction on the road.

Internally, where the psychological space between stimulus and response that can be held in mind to give a response can serve to measure capacity to respond, the psychological time between stimulus and response taken to respond can serve to measure ability to respond.

Using the same example, although I had as much psychological space and time as I needed to respond to the stimulus, “check the bins,” my mind was nevertheless occupied with prepping dinner. In retrospect, however, I could have dropped dinner and responded immediately. That is, it didn’t matter that the stimulus, “check the bins,” had no sensorial reference. Had an incident on the road occurred, I would still be able to hold myself accountable as both my capacity to respond and my ability to respond were sufficient to execute an immediate response.

In gauging the available/accessible existential space and time in any given situation or interaction, a free agent can theoretically gauge the psychological space and time required to execute an effective, timely response, even if it turns out that the response is less than ideal.

Follow the Way of Grace?

My personality type is such that I typically feel myself into and through situations and interactions rather than think myself into and through them, and because I am more prone to being intuitive than rational, I am also more inclined to “follow the way of grace with finesse.”

A strictly logical answer to “follow the way of grace?” is in contrast to a strictly intuitive answer. Obviously, such an answer would require an intuitive approach, but how might this intuitive approach be constructed so as to show up in experience with any sort of consistency?

Here again for ease of reference is the question:

how best to respond in the moment
rather than … react to the moment?

A space in time mediates stimulus and response:

stimulus > > > (react or respond?) > > > response

Inside this conscious space, the simple question ~ react or respond? ~ can be installed as a standing order in consciousness with a simple algorithm that favors giving the answer “respond,” as follows:

* standing order = “react or respond?”

if {an event is perceived as a stimulus}

then {activate standing order and respond}

else {maintain a baseline of equanimity}

An elaboration of this algorithm would be complex to say the least. Such an elaboration would likely favor the following: responding effectively and efficiently more often than not, for as long as this response is possible, desirable, and/or necessary, with as much or as little intensity as possible, desirable and/or necessary, and with as much awareness, finesse, and/or skill as possible, desirable, and/or necessary.

In light of these variables, following the way of grace is no small feat.

In the absence of installing and faithfully following such an elaborate algorithm, is there any hope of following the way of grace? Is there an essential guideline that can be followed that would, if not secure, then at least favor following the way of grace more often than not?

A slight tweak to the basic algorithm just might do the trick:

* standing order = “react or respond?”

if {an event is perceived as a stimulus}

then {activate standing order and respond effectively and efficiently wherever and whenever possible, desirable, and/or necessary}

else {maintain a baseline of equanimity}

The essential guideline is plain to see: respond effectively and efficiently wherever and whenever possible, desirable, and/or necessary. With this guideline, a skilled programmer could elaborate on the algorithm, making it easier for the program to be assimilated and incorporated.

A master programmer would also include the variable of emotional intensity.

Now you might be wondering, in light of all of this talk about algorithms and programs: is there not a risk of turning humans into robots? I would respectfully counter as follows: is there not a risk of turning humans into robots if an effective algorithm is not applied with consistency?

Robots react, or appear to respond, effectively and efficiently according to their respective algorithms within their capacities and abilities to react or appear to respond. This is the extent of their prowess.

Up to a certain point, the same is true of organic humans.

Organic humans, however, also have two fundamental choices: (1) remember to respond effectively and efficiently in any given situation or interaction: yes? … or no?; and (2) remember to do so wherever and whenever possible, desirable, and/or necessary: yes? … or no?

Please understand, I am not saying that robots cannot be programmed to be more and more human, nor am I saying that humans cannot be programmed to be less and less human. All I am saying is that humans need not become robots as robots become more and more human.

I trust you understand the difference.

On Being Worthy and Deserving

In light of the above, what can we now say about being worthy and deserving?

In light of the above, I am worthy and deserving of a separate peace so as to live an altogether fulfilling life in love and lust to the extent to which I can respond effectively and efficiently wherever, whenever possible, desirable, and/or necessary … I would also add as follows: with as much or as little emotional intensity as possible, desirable, and/or necessary. Clearly, this is a lot to keep in mind at once.

Is there a way to circumvent the complexity of this affirmation and still be on point?

Perhaps, yes. Perhaps it’s really as simple and easy as 1, 2, 3, 4 …

One, ask the question that encapsulates the ultimate problem …

how best to respond in the moment
rather than … react to the moment?

Two, recall the formula that operationalizes the ultimate problem …

stimulus > > > (react or respond?) > > > response

Three, put into effect the following algorithm, which serves to (a) maximize the capacity to respond and (b) optimize the ability to respond, without leaning too heavily (if at all) on the subconscious power to automatize behavior and conduct, except where necessary.

* standing order = “react or respond?”

if {an event is perceived as a stimulus}

then {activate standing order and respond}

else {maintain a baseline of equanimity}

Four, elaborate and/or execute this algorithm with rules of conduct …

optimize wherever, whenever possible (“ya wanna stay relevant!”)

harmonize wherever, whenever desirable (“ya wanna keep it juicy!”)

automatize wherever, whenever necessary (“ya wanna stay flexible!”)

Give or grant yourself as much space and time as you need, while being ever mindful of the space and time constraints in which you find yourself, moment to moment to moment.

Responsibility need not be construed as a burden, need not be construed as a duty. Response ability draws on a capacity for spontaneous response. Clearly, without such capacity, there is no ability, but even with said capacity, opportunity is required to express the ability.

Optimize, harmonize, automatize: grow capacity; mine opportunity; hone ability.

Optimize: grow capacity both in existential space and psychological space. Harmonize: mine opportunity to keep life interesting, while being ready, willing, and able to respond to the stimuli that inevitably arise from doing so. Automatize: hone ability in and with and through time.

Habitual reaction comes from memory, from the past, from stale knowledge, and unless you wish to be left behind in a world that continues to grow and evolve, then habitual reaction is best replaced with fresh, spontaneous response. Otherwise, nothing and no one changes.

In the section that follows, I bring closure to my thoughts on this matter.

Engage Transcendent Relations

A response is moment to moment to moment … to moment. A new and fresh and spontaneous response has little if anything to do with memory and almost everything to do with awareness that abides.

Remember: the dude abides.

In any given moment, in any given situation, in any given interaction, to the extent to which you are clear, buoyant, and/or serene, is the extent to which you can receive, reflect, and/or respond with crystal clarity.

It is out of such numinous clarity that genuine spontaneity arises.

A witness perspective can abide because the watchful mind is a mirror that catches no impression or expectation. If watching is the beginning of spontaneity, spontaneity is the fulfillment of watching.

When you have learned how to watch, when you have learned how to be utterly silent, unmoving, undisturbed, when you know how to just sit, sitting silently, doing nothing, then it’s true, as the Zen saying goes, that the spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

But the grass grows, remember!

Osho, The Book of Understanding: Creating Your Own Path to Freedom (p. 216)

Fear not, fret not. Try it and see. Granted, sadly, before now, you might not ever have had the joy of being spontaneous, to really and truly know and feel that you are spontaneous, but I can assure you, you are merely one moment away from being so. Trust me on this one.

There is simply no joy in life greater than being spontaneous.

To be spontaneous is to be in the moment, to act from and through awareness, to rise above stale and stagnant impressions and expectations, not to be reflexively responsible, but to be refreshingly response-able. I invite you here to really and truly know and feel into the difference.

The way to do is to be, and you need not learn how to be. To be sure, you already have it within yourself to be, over and over and over and over again, moment to moment to moment to moment.

No need to renounce the world, no need to escape from this world; simply stay true and wise to the moment; and be ready, willing, and able to respond with awareness to the ripe juicy fruit that is this moment. Be present, and fear not, fret not. Let the moment decide. Try it and see.

You will never know when that ripe juicy fruit of a moment will explode in a fit of flavor.

Be spontaneous and then be spontaneous again. And again. And then again.

Be present, be aware, be conscious; transcend the mundane.

Be worthy and deserving of a separate peace.

Be true, be wise, be free.


A preview of my published work can be found here.

An outline of my masterwork in progress can be found here.

A listing of my posts on this site can be found here.

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