Day Fifty Two: Nonconformity

Daily Journal:

darkrestThis morning, I’m shopping for a new tent to replace my Ozark Trail L-shaped 12 person tent that was such a disaster for camping in everything except for perfect weather. I gave it two more chances after the nightmare fall camping trip in Flemingsburg, KY two years ago. Verdict: It could not handle high winds due to its shape. I’m looking at two camping trips this year: one in Brown County, Indiana and another at Red River Gorge in Stanton, Kentucky. So far, I’m looking at two different 10-person instant tent models, one by Coleman and the other by Ozark Trail.

Deng Ming-Dao on Nonconformity:

The world is dazzling,
I alone am dull.
Others strive for achievement,
I follow a lonely path. 

Chapter 52 was very familiar, having so far had a somewhat unconventional life by the standards of most people, I’d imagine. It’s not that this kind of life is preferable, recommended to someone else, or lived for the sake of uniqueness. I was raised in a family environment where conformity was demanded. Having freedom as a core motivation of my personality it seems, I rebelled without even trying at all, doing things that would not have been considered rebellious at all in most other middle class families. Even then, that was superficial nonconformity, mostly about choice of activities, fashion, and intellectual pursuits.

A couple of years ago, I went into a deep depression after considering myself a failure in life compared to other people. It really was about listening to other voices, opinions, and advice. What I’ve really heard from just about everyone else for my entire life, or at least the message I always thought I heard was “YOU NEED TO CHANGE INTO WHAT I WANT YOU TO BE”. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to change into someone else, for someone else, and it has always failed.

The other day I had an epiphany and I wondered if anyone else had realized this. Looking online, I found a blog entry I really identified with called “Everyone Is Full of Shit”. I do not know what enlightenment is, but having this realization is as close as I’ve ever gotten.

I’ve often been thwarted by the attempt from others to “help” me, or give me advice that may have worked well for themselves but didn’t really apply to me so much. I heard a funny joke from Alan Watts the other day about thinking you know what is best for someone else:

“Kindly let me help you or you will drown,” said the monkey putting the fish safely up a tree.

I’ve given up on fighting to become a conformist, or change for other people.

So, just to break down a couple of key points in Deng Ming-Dao’s entry today:

  • Conventional people may label our behavior as erratic, antisocial, irresponsible, inexplicable, outrageous, and sometimes scandalous.
  • We do not care about social norm. We only follow Tao.
  • We all have many voices, personalities, ambitions, and tendencies within us. (Those I find similar to ego, superego, and id. We want the ability to distinguish between them, and to silence all voices save for Tao (the reason for meditation?)
  • All that matters is constant cultivation with Tao, not self perfection.
  • There are others who follow Tao but it is not always possible to meet them. It is a lonely path. (Hence, the appearance of nonconformity)
  • You need to be sensitive enough to hear the call of Tao, and strong enough to walk the solitary path.

“So, tell me, pretty baby, are you still talking ’bout yourself?
You’re such a non-conformist, just like everybody else”

-The Dictators, “I Am Right”

The Daily Stoic: Wish Not, Want Not

Today, Ryan Holiday covers a subject in Stoicism that overlaps with Buddhism: The idea that desire is suffering. He quotes Epictetus, who says (I paraphrase): If we desire and place high value on anything external, not just wealth and status, even “good” things like learning, peace, travel, and leisure, that brings us under dominion of something external, which can create an obstacle for us.

When it comes to your goals and the things you strive for, ask yourself: Am I in control of them or they in control of me?

Holiday, Ryan. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (p. 61). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The message here is that it is okay to desire things, as long as you understand they are external and you do not rely on external things to bring happiness to you. This is a message that I’ve heard over and over in Buddhism, but would probably be found in all spiritual traditions as well as this Stoic tradition in Western philosophy.

Tomorrow, I have a day off and I hope to experience it with mindfulness.



One thought on “Day Fifty Two: Nonconformity”

  1. I have always considered myself a nonconformist, although I have found myself conforming to other people more often at my previous workplaces (“adapting” is probably a more positive way of thinking about it). When I was younger, it seemed like I was always the odd one out. Too unique or different from my peers and family (growing up in South Dakota when I was a kid, other kids would freak out at my colorful and unusual makeup as a teen – I was years ahead of today’s trend of putting eyeshadow on the eyebrows and around the eye, but now this makeup technique is highly glamorized in movies and modeling).

    I think I have a higher tolerance for many different kinds of people so I get along well with most people, but not everyone appreciates my unique expressiveness at times despite my efforts to be congenial with everyone I meet. I try to focus more on the people who do like who I am and what I have to offer rather than those who don’t. As I have gotten older, I like myself just fine and don’t feel the need to conform to anyone else at all nor try to impress anyone. The right people to be around are those who appreciate each person’s individuality.

    On the topic of people dispensing advice who are not really experts on what they are advising, there is truth in that we should be discerning of people who do this but I feel everyone has something worthwhile to say, especially if their intent is to be helpful. The author of the article you mentioned could benefit from the practice of detachment! Seems like he was getting way too wound up about people giving him unsolicited advice. It’s what some people do, so rather than be mean to them just simply say “thank you for your input or your feedback” and then be on your merry way. However when someone is being rude and judgmental about their “advice” then I would say it is perfectly fine to let them know you don’t like their opinion. I agree that true experts, no matter what profession, will have spent at least 5 to 10 years practicing their craft or skill. However everyone must blaze their own trail in life. I have found that people who are ten to twenty years older than me and well accomplished in their professions have a wealth of advice that is very useful. Younger people than me (Millennials) are smart and can offer technological advice very easily but they don’t usually have enough life experience to advise on other matters which become more important after the age of 30 or 40.


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