I find that vicarious is a very interesting word, especially because it describes the behavior of a huge number of people.
Living life vicariously means living it not in person, directly, but in a participatory way: through someone else. To the life experiences of this “someone else” the vicarious participates by staying few steps behind -at safety distance- but still close enough to be able to observe his adventures.
A very widespread example are the parents who live life vicariously through their children. It’s very easy to identify them on the social networks because often as profile picture they use -instead of a picture of themselves- a picture of themselves with their children, or worse, of their children only. They don’t see themselves as separate entities anymore: they identify completely with the children. If in a conversation you ask them “how are you doing” or “is there anything new”, they rapidly switch to telling you how their children are doing, or what their children are doing. The joys, the worries, the more meaningful experiences of life are about the children, from whom all the satisfactions and the unsatisfactions are derived.
This behavior of transferring every project on the children as soon as they are born, and at the same time ceasing to try to realize any own project, is so widespread that it’s almost considered “normal”. But unfortunately this concept of parenting, as parasitizing the life of children, is the perfect recipe for unhappiness: both of the children and of the parents.
A second example of vicarious behavior which is extremely relevant are those who watch a lot of movies and tv series. Creating interesting situations in real life often requires a certain amount of work, so they prefer to feel the excitement of a treasure hunt from the comfort of a movie theater, or participate to the flirt between two attractive actors from the sofa at home, maybe without having to care too much about staying in shape.
The approach and the motivation are exactly the same of the previous case: the vicarious parents send the children ahead so then they can be spectators, in this case the actors are sent ahead and of these, even more properly, people become spectators.
It took me awhile to have clear why many people who are into personal development -both the “gurus” and the “practitioners”- don not convince me, and this despite the ideas that they discuss often are actually very valuable.
The reason is that in my view they focus too much on the methods, for example “how to stay in shape” or “how to generate passive income”, so much that they lose sight that these methods are only useful to create the means to reach a goal, but they’re not the goal themselves.
While many enthusiasts of personal development focus for ever on how to stay in shape, how to reach financial freedom, how to develop creativity, there are people that already apply in “autopilot” the methods for staying in shape, having financial freedom, developing creativity, without talking too much about it or almost without even remembering that they do, but then they also take the next step: they use the staying in shape, the financial freedom and the creativity to produce things in the job they do.
For example, browsing the Wikipedia page of many successful people, actors, athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, often there is some recurrent information that comes out: they pay a lot of attention to the diet, they exercise regularly, they do yoga or meditation, they don’t spend 40 hours in an office for a salary but instead, even if they work in particular sectors (for example the actors), often they have entrepreneurial activities “beside”, and so on.
And yet in the interviews they rarely waste too much time discussing these practices, for them they only represent necessary routines, that they do to put themselves in the conditions to do a good job -in whatever sector they work-.
This to say that even if I appreciate a lot the attitude and the ideas of many people in the sector of personal development, more and more often I tend to take as reference not them, but directly those successful people who already channel the results of their personal development work in the job. So, not the guru who is expert of staying in shape, as much as the athlete who uses his shape in the sport. Not the guru who “talks” about creativity, as much as the director who puts the creativity in his movies. And so on.
I noticed that for many adult people learning insistently new things, without a precise project, represents an escape from doing.
I realized it for the first time at the end of the university, noticing among the other students -who like me just got their degree- the tendency to insist, of wanting to study more. PHD, MBA, various specialization courses. Some were even starting all over again, to take a second university degree. It seemed to me that only few of those guys were doing that following a precise strategy, to become academic teachers. The others simply seemed to want to maintain the status of “students” as long as possible, to delay the moment of doing.
Many years have passed, but I still see this tendency of wanting to stay “students” among many adults: same age as me (35), but even adults well over 40 and 50.
A very common case that I notice today, for example, is learning a foreign language. Several friends and acquaintances come to my mind who, in this period, are learning languages like french, spanish, chinese, german. Almost none of them has a concrete project related to that: “I study french because I want to export products in France”, but has the vague motivation “it’s a good additional knowledge” and “you never know it could be useful someday”.
This phylosophy doesn’t make any sense to me -since to study you spend resources (time and effort) why spending them on something that probably will never have practical effects on life?- but even more importantly it seems suspicious: I think that often people use the learning insistently new things, when adult, as an excuse to tell themselves that they’re making progress in life… while they’re actually stuck at the same place. Learning is an easy escape, because it’s an activity that has good reputation in the society, and it’s generally seen as important and commendable.
I think that there comes a moment in life, when we become adult, when it’s time to “reverse the flow”: to stop to focus on absorbing constantly new notions, decide what we want to do in life, and do it.
Doing it often means very different things that just having fun learning notions. It means to put in practice what we already know. It means finding the courage to leave the job we hate to start doing the other job we know is the right one. For a writer it can mean the discipline of staying every day at the computer writing for some hours, without being distracted by social networks. For an athlete it can mean the discipline of training in the gym every day, and repeat every day the choice of giving up the processed food in favor of the healthy food.
In fact maybe these are the only two things, that we should really learn when adult: courage and discipline.
It took me a long time to understand what meditation consist of, but finally I think I got it.
Actually I think that on this topic there is a lot of confusion, so many people “think” that they’re meditating, while they’re actually doing something else. After having made several unsuccessful attempts in the past myself, today I think I’ve understood enough to be able to provide my interpretation.
Meditating means being here and now, a concept that is rather famous today. The problem with the here and now is that it’s a damn difficult status to sustain. I used to see it in my attempts of meditation in the past. I used to free my mind from useless thoughts and finally I would start to absorb the reality around: the green of the plants, the buzz of the insect flying behind me, the noise of a distant car. But time few seconds and I was lost in thoughts again: what do I eat later for dinner? …tomorrow I have to write to the accountant… And so on.
Each time, when I returned to here and now realizing that I just got lost in my thoughts, I would take it as a defeat, and I would give up for the frustration. Until I realized that, instead, this is exactly the practical mechanism of meditation.
Getting lost in thoughts is inevitable for an untrained mind. And the mind is always at work projecting useless thoughts: ruminations of past events, anticipations of future events, putting labels to everything we see.
But the real game is, once we get lost in these thoughts, to awaken and return here and now. Get lost and return here and now. Get lost and return here and now. Get lost and return here and now. Many times, in a similar way to when we train our muscles at the gym. I heard the journalist Dan Harris make this comparison, and it seemed very appropriate to me.
At the gym we train the muscles, by doing several repetitions lifting weights. In meditation we train the mind, returning several times here and now after we get lost in thoughts. Today I see meditation this way, and this is how I practice it, with the same spirit I adopt when I go to the gym.
Again about the mind, some time ago I was discussing “spiritual” topics with a friend, and I asked him the following question: what do you think is the difference between consciousness and mind?
Even if in that period I was starting to be rather familiar with the two concepts, I had the tendency to confuse them, that’s why I asked his opinion. His answer was simple: he said that in his view the mind is a creation of consciousness. I reflected on these words several times later, and yes, now it seems obvious to me that this is exactly the difference.
So according to this view, consciousness is a “greater” concept and the mind a “smaller” concept. Consciousness created the mind as a tool and gave it us to use it, similarly to the physical body, but with the difference that the mind is impalpable.
Even if for many this revelation may be a banality, I think that for me it’s been very useful to see this triangular structure: cosciousness above, body and mind below as tools to be used.
It’s very useful especially in relation with the mind, since I’ve often forgot its presence in the past (and I still forget): for the fact that it’s impalpable, for the type of education I received, and for the type of society I live in.
Remembering that the mind is there made me want to study it and search for information about it, and this helped me reach interesting concepts, for example the idea that not only an individual mind exists, but also a collective mind. On a more practical level instead it made me want to train it, from here the interest in meditation.
Needless to say, after a certain amount of training, today my mind is still a mess (I suspect that it’s a mess for many people however), but I am confident that it will also get some abs sooner or later.
Notes: The book to read to understand the concept of here and now is The power of now by Eckhart Tolle. This article was originally published on July 7, 2016 in italian, this is its translation in english.