My Definition Is This


“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”  – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Marketing got all bad ass on this, didn't they?
Marketing got all bad ass on this, didn’t they?

I’m a human label maker.  Put in the sticky adhesive tape and watch me fly as I type out and affix labels to every people, places and things.  Situations.  I can easily define you as “needy” or that event “frightening” or myself as “maladjusted”.  I have an endless spool of tape and my judgements and fears can type faster than any 50’s style secretary.  I can make judgement calls with the hawkeye speed of a hockey referee, but unlike that ref, I am almost always wrong. But that doesn’t stop me from plastering my labels in bright Ariel Narrow-Minded font.

Now of course much of this is unconscious.  I might meet someone and without knowing anything about them, make a judgement call.  “Space cadet”, “aggressive”, “too confident”, etc.  Sometimes the calls are positive, but more often than not, they sway to the negative range of the spectrum.  For my mind, it’s quick and efficient compartmentalization and I get to sit on the throne of judgement and dole out my definitions of everyone and everything in my fiefdom.  The problem with this is that my palette of judgement only comes in a limited amount of colours, while the world and it’s inhabitants draw a breathtaking unlimited tint and hue scheme that is beyond measure.  And yet I try paint away.

Bob Ross knows the deal on paints, baby.
Bob Ross knows the deal on paints, baby.

I mention all this because as I go through this inner work, I see that trying to define others and myself only puts limitations on them and myself.  As Tolle explains in the quote above, my definition of someone only limits me and me alone – it doesn’t “do” anything to them at all.  When I greet a stranger and think “nerd”, then I will only see them through that lens.  Unless they do or say something dramatic to shake the label off of them, I will see them that way – unfairly. I spent my life trying to make order of things and people by corralling them into to predetermined pens so that I may watch over them and feel that I had some sort of control over them.  My flock, my people.

There is a phenomenon in HR recruiting that goes like this – you are interviewing a candidate for a job, and there is something about them that strikes you.  Perhaps they remind you of you when you were at their level or age.  Or they are well dressed and/or good looking.  Sometimes we make a judgement call on that alone and don’t delve much into their competencies or character.  We make a call based solely on this mental shortcut.  It’s call the Halo Effect and it also happens when we attribute certain things to handsome and beautiful celebrities, for example.  Halle Berry looks like a strong, smart and sexy woman because well, she’s played those types before.  She must be like that in real life, right?

So I tend to attribute characteristics to people who I have no idea about  in any way.  Both in negative and positive ways.  I have been guilty of hiring people who reminded me of me…and was sorely disappointed later on (who wouldn’t want to hire themselves? Massive ego trip!) It’s because I put expectations on people.  On situations.  On things.  And that’s my mistake.

Me and my protege on our break.
Me and my protege on our McBreak.

One of the great challenges I have is in breaking the definitions I have placed on myself.  It started early on. Loser. Reject. Loner. Useless.  As a kid, I defined myself by these things.  Later on the list grew.  I also defined myself by what I wasn’t. Not cool. Popular. Hip. Wanted. Attractive.  I wasn’t an athlete, a lover, a happy person.  I put myself in a special corral and just pushed the walls in to tighten the space up so that in the end I could barely breath.  I used alcohol to help me keep afloat.  To quell and temporarily change those labels.  The ones that I, and I alone, taped to my spirit and mind.

What I have learned since starting my journey is that I am not to be defined by my own limiting notions of who I am supposed to be.  It took the heat off of me for a while, and I started to see that it was okay to not be X, Y or Z.  I am not meant to be an extrovert, but I have extroverted moments.  Just because I have introvert tendencies, doesn’t mean that I don’t ever speak up, or that I don’t ever socialize.  Limiting my world because of a bumper sticker on my forehead doesn’t work.  I have learned to loosen those walls a bit and let things go with the flow. Rarely are things black and white.

But what the mind understands isn’t what the heart always gets.  I am slow on the uptake, and this lesson is still trying to find traction below the neckline.  Comparing myself is one way of defining myself.  Making quick judgement calls is another.  Cultivating a defeatist attitude is yet another tool in that anti-toolbox.  Trying to break out of myself is my great challenge.  Sure I am father, husband, son, employee, chef, runner, blogger, alcoholic, etc. but those are roles I play at certain times.  Imagine if I could divorce myself of what  I think those things mean and just be?  Mind blowing.  But I am not there.  I am aware of this, just as I am aware of where the jellyfish are at the beach when I’m in the water (I hate jellyfish. Been stung way too many times.)

The fetishists aren't happy with this bureaucratic poppycock. Frankly, I'd take the harm rather than the "medicine" on this one.
The fetishists aren’t happy with this bureaucratic poppycock. Frankly, I’d take the harm rather than the “medicine” on this one.

I have been thinking about all this through the work that I am doing now.  Getting into the nitty gritty of how my addiction (which I define now as my alcoholism as it manifests through old thoughts, behaviours and actions) plays itself through my mind.  How it tries to keep me in the way I used to think rather than progressing.  How it wants to freeze me in the problem and not the solution.  How it wants to keep me isolated (something I have been doing lately) rather than sharing.  Coming to a place of self-actualization and awareness is key for me, and also realizing Creator is with me.  Taking actions that seem contrary to what my mind wants to do is also important.  I can’t think my way into healthy actions, but I can act my way into healthy thinking.

And I can act outside of my preconceived notions of who I am supposed to be or who I think I am.  I can just be.  Sounds easy, eh?  (Sorry if my Canadian showed there.) But the fact remains that I’m just a work-in-progress in this department.  Always will be.  No finish line.  By the Power of Greyskull (and spiritual fitness) I can look past the definitions I unfairly smack onto myself and others and just see consciousness.  Presence.  Love.  As I mentioned in my last post, when I am foggy with my old thinking, I look at someone and think “this is one of God’s children” and that’s it.  Not “homeless dude”, “princess” or “wannabe”.  Just a person.  The real progress will come when I can do the same for myself.

I don't want to see what they have under the letter 'F'.
I don’t want to see what they have under the letter ‘F’.

One final thought on self-definition: when I define myself one way or another, I tend to fulfil that destiny, consciously or unconsciously.  If I tell myself that I am a loner, well guess what – I am going to act that way.  And then tell myself “see? You ARE a loner”.  Breaking out of these ego-laden roles is the real freedom.  That’s where I will find myself closest to Creator.  And to others.

Until then, I will do my best to continue to soften the lines I see in the mirror.  And leave definitions for the dictionaries (and if you’re a Canuck of a certain vintage like me, as the memory of an old game show).

(And speaking of 80’s and Canada…some old hip hop too based on the theme song from that game show…I just can’t resist.)

Be well.



32 Comments Add yours

  1. “But what the mind understands isn’t what the heart always gets.”

    Oh, ain’t THAT the truth! eh?

    1. They say the longest journey is from the head to the heart. Still learning that, still trying. I get things up in my head and intellectualize the living bejesus out of them, but don’t feel it in my heart and gut until much later. I wish I learned sooner. But at least i am moving forward 🙂

      Thanks Maggie – love seeing ya here 🙂


  2. We were on the same wave length today. 😉

    Wonderful post Paul.

    1. Ha ha..just was on your blog and commented there…same wavelength indeed 🙂

      Hope you’re well, my friend 🙂

    1. My arch-enemy.

      Not a bad song considering the source.

      I can put that song on all my posts.

      Thanks Mike.

  3. mike says:

    It’s in, side
    It’s in the back
    The front
    No it’s in the back
    No it’s in the front
    No it’s in the back
    They shoved it in the back
    They put it in the back
    All the love in the back in the back
    All the love in the back
    Get in the back boy

    And they call it your subconscious
    Remember Freud
    In the front is your computer
    And I call him
    Old ego is a too much thing
    Old ego is a too much thing
    He’ll make you fool yourself
    You’ll think you’re somebody else
    They got the whole subway train
    Makes you want to jump on up there an’ fight
    And you can’t stand left to your right

    He’ll make you lie
    Make you cheat
    Jus’ so you won’t be beat
    He’ll make you get on outta sight
    You get afraid you gonna, act like a clown
    And you get mad when somebody puts you down

    Your heart’s a-pumpin’ and you pan-heart’s a-jumpin’
    Look out ego is a too much thing
    When everything seems goin’ so fine
    Old ego puts itself on a bind
    Your cert’ty turns to doubt
    Then you start flippin’ out
    Then you ease on out of your mind

    1. Me and the old boy there aren’t much different, eh?

  4. jrj1701 says:

    Wow how things seem to have a certain synchronicity. I was having it out with somebody who I had labeled and they gave answer that just didn’t fit into my definition of them, which was rather cool and then your post just reaffirms where I was going wrong. I often rant against how folks try to fit God into a box, I insist that He transcends everybodies definitions, yet here I am fitting His unique creations into boxes, never realizing that they too transcend the limits that I foolishly place on them.

    1. Your insights are always clean and spot on, JR. I loved how you expressed this idea of trying to box His unique creations, as we would never dream of doing that with Him. And yet we do that, don’t we. Guilty as charged, of course. Expectations are the real downfall for me, as I always end up disappointed, but those other folks are coming out of their own places…I have no control over that now, do I?

      Thanks for this, JR – it really brought it to a new level.


  5. Interesting post. I guess that’s why I hate telling people I have just met what I do for a living. As soon as I tell them I am a doctor, they put me into this box….. Frustrates me when the conversation changed as soon as they know. Usually to whatever is wrong with them, their family or their friends. They don’t want to talk about anything else, as if I wouldn’t be interested! Hard as it maybe, we automatically put everyone in boxes. I would imagine that’s actually the basis for hiring and firing for a lot of recruitment agencies and HR departments.
    I really enjoyed how you are trying not to put yourself in a box. It takes a certain amount of courage to step outside what is ‘expected’ of you and do something different, or to see yourself differently. It is the only way to improve ourselves. So well done and good luck in discovering new things about yourself! Venture outside the ‘definition’!!!!

    1. I can only imagine what’s it like for you to announce your profession. “oh can you look at this” kind of thing. I tend to get a reaction when I tell people I am a chef. Then they ask where is a good place to eat (I have no clue, I rarely dine out and when I do, it’s not at fine dining places), or ask me cooking questions or tell me about a crappy restaurant experience, etc. lol. But it’s nothing compared to what you probably go through.

      Yeah, breaking definitions…it’s a tough one, and we’re sort of bent on that in this society any way. We tend to be defined by our roles at home or in the workplace, as opposed to us as holistic beings. i can’t change other people’s perceptions, but I can change mine 🙂

      Thanks for being here, as usual, Tiff. Great words 🙂

  6. Paul says:

    Wow, powerful post Paul. Right on and difficult to see. So much to say on this topic. Love and Hate are actually two sides of the same coin – a coin called Faith. The opposite of Love is not Hate, it is ambivalence or apathy. Notice that there are believers and non-believers and both definitions are based on God. Interesting, eh? There are smokers and non-smokers, both based on cigarettes, and the opposite is a complete lack of emotion or feeling about smoking. I was once in the hospital for cancer. I had the necessary operations and there was a problem. For over 45 days I was fed intraveinously. I was not hungry; I was not lacking in energy or focus or intent. And yet, for 30 of those days, I craved food. I dreamt food, I fantasized food, I wanted food, I drooled when food was around. I was a non-eater, addicted to food. Food was the center of my all my thoughts, even though I did not have any and could not eat any (literally as well, as I had a tube down my throat). Then one day, it was like a switch was thrown, and food no longer meant anything to me. I wasn’t a non-eater anymore. Much like a phone pole – food had no emotional attachment or meaning or purpose in my life (actually a phne pole had more meaning than food). I literally ceased to even notice it. It gave me pause for thought that if an addict felt even more than I had felt, it must be virtually impossible to break strongly held emotional attachments or addictions. The physiolgical and psychological barriers are high and one cannot see the other side as the barriers are being climbed.

    Anyway, a great deal of our lives are structured that way, and we don’t recognize it most of the time.Ha! I like some of Eckhart Tolle’s stuff. He can be flaky by times when he starts talking about crystals and such, but you can pick and choose some real gems (pun intended) out of his work.I actually quoted him the other day in another context when he says (to paraphrase): When you watch yourself thinking, “you” is not the one thinking but rather the one watching.

    Anyway, great post Paul (and great name too, of I do say so myself.) 😀

    1. Paul – I need to collect your comments from here and other blogs and put them in an anthology. Seriously. What you say about Love and Hate being on the faith coin is spot on, and I too have heard that the opposite of love is indifference. I didn’t fully understand it, but you’ve really made it quite crystal clear. Plus sharing your experience in the hospital with the food was priceless. Thank you for enriching this place with your outlook and perspective. I am a better person for having crossed your path Paul. I really am.

      The Other Paul (lol)

      P.S I have read one of Tolle’s books, but don’t remember crystals. I can say that I am probably not a crystals guy 😉

  7. lucy2610 says:

    *nodding like a nodding dog* Yep, me too 🙂 Thanks Paul xx

    1. Ha ha…thanks Lucy. Glad it resonated with you. We’re never alone, eh? 🙂

  8. Good morning Paul!

    This is a post I can relate to on every level (SURPRISE!). For example, my label for you: much, much smarter than me (seriously), and therefore I was so amazed that you enjoyed anything I read (seriously). Luckily, my program teaches me that my first thought is not usually my best thought (in my case, not usually could be replaced with never), and I remind myself that my thoughts and feelings do not reality make. What a wonderful goal it would be to not make the snap judgment at all; quite frankly I have not even thought to aspire to that goal (See? Told you you were smarter than me.). You always, always, always give me new things to look and at chew on, and I love it!

    On a more literal note, here’s a sneak preview of what I presume will be the next post on my blog: for as long as I’ve been with my husband (1996, it’s too early to do math), I have labelled myself as a Non Pet Person, but I am pretty sure that as of noon today that label going’s to change. Now, the real question is: will I still be married, and will the kids still have a father next week? Time will tell…

    Thanks for this post, Paul, I am going to think of you each time I make a snap judgment today… maybe I will try to keep a tally 🙂

    1. Oh Josie…please…I ain’t smarter (see the poor syntax and wording there in that sentence fragment). I am finding more and more that the more I think I know, the opposite is true. I am getting dumber in many ways, but in good ways I guess (if that makes sense).

      But the idea of the first idea not being the best…I get that more and more these days. I gotta readjust myself often, mentally. Ugh…but that’s the work, I guess?

      I am looking forward to hearing about your furry future forecast 🙂


  9. Thanks for this post, Paul. Labels area great for organizing- like food in a pantry. But not for people as you’ve so eloquently discussed. Although, I have heard of people peeling off all of the labels in a newly married couple’s pantry while they are away on their honeymoon.. but I digress.
    As long as the labels are subject to change, I guess I’m okay with them. Today I struggle with my own labels. I mean I KNOW who I am, but some days, I don’t know what I think, believe, or care about because sobriety is still so new to me.
    In some cases, it is safer for me to throw away the baby with the bathwater because my perception was so skewed.
    Thanks again. I’m really thinking in overdrive now!

    1. Linda, I have to say that I always, always, always enjoy your comments. You have some wicked insights and bring a lot to this space. thank you for your words. I was laughing about peeling off the labels off a newlywed’s pantry…lol. So labels are for cumin, coriander and grandma’s peach preserves, eh? I’ll take that. Makes sense. I will also take the ones off my forehead. There will be some rectangular marks though. But I’ll go along with it if you do too.

      Hope you are doing well 🙂


  10. stacilys says:

    I have found that oftentimes when I judge others for one thing or another, I find myself guilty as being the same way or having the same attitude at some point or another.

    Oh my goodness, Bob Ross. I remember my grandma watching him. She loved him. That pic and your ad-on is sooooo funny. And ‘Oh My Gosh! Did we really have hair like that in the 80s (referring to the video of ‘Definition’. I actually didn’t remember it when I first started it, but vaguely remembered the name. Then I heard the music and thought, Oh yea, I remember this.

    Great introspective work there Paul. Keep it up.

    p.s. you don’t have to apologize for your Canadian coming out. It’s part of who you are right. 🙂

    1. Thanks for identifying, as usual. You make me feel like I’m not that crazy after all. I am the same with the judging thing – usually the thing we find reprehensible in another is something that we don’t like in ourselves…even if we don’t know it or see it right away.

      Bob Ross – have you heard Patton Oswalt’s bit on him and William Alexander? hilarious.

      Hope you’re doing well, my Canuck friend 🙂

  11. Laurie Works says:

    Wow. I just opened this post up through reader and saw the quote – literally read that last week. Incredible. And this is exactly what I’ve been working on, changing my stories about myself. Probably why I’m on step 7 right now. Thank you, Paul. Peace to you.

    1. Steps 6&7 are possibly the most transformative steps…the so-called “forgotten” steps. Good work on getting there…their meaning changes the deeper you delve into them, but they are still powerful.

      Glad the quote drew you in and you had synchronicity going on…always a sign from the Universe…


  12. Great post Paul, and great timing. Being here with my mother, the great random hater, this really hits close. I learned labeling and negativity from her. I am working hard to rid myself of that particular character trait. I have come along, but not there yet. Watching her in action, her face in particular, when she decides to just ABHOR someone in a random place, is a great reminder.
    If my mother had super powers, the last receptionist we saw would have been melted into a pile of goo. No reason why, just because she was.
    Progress not perfection, but a reminder for me to keep working.

    1. Indeed my friend – spiritual progress, not perfection. We don’t have all the answers right now, except to do the next right indicated thing in front of us.

      Prayers to you guys 🙂

  13. I don’t believe in labels, however, there was once a time when I did. This led my mind and heart traveling at high speeds into a brick wall… Constantly banging my head and thinking, “Why aren’t I as skinny as those other girls? Why can’t I be as popular as those dumbasses who aren’t even smart? Why can’t I be rich? Why can’t my writing get me an internship at CBS? Why can’t I be as outgoing and dance like a slut on top of tables at clubs? Why, why, why?”
    I asked myself those questions constantly during my late teens and most of my 20s. I was so self-conscious because of abandonment, death and bullying growing up. Alcohol was a way to escape and allow myself to become the extrovert I thought I wanted to be. It didn’t, however, give me any answers to those questions… escapes, but not answers.
    It was only when I became sober that I found myself and the answers to some of those questions. I wasn’t rich because I wasn’t working hard enough. I was drinking every night instead of dedicating my life to my work and art. And even if I worked really hard and became a huge success, it’s not about the money. It’s about how I am accepted and appreciated by not only my colleagues, audience, friends and family, but most importantly, by myself.
    I didn’t get an internship because I was throwing away my college education with every party I went to instead of studying harder to perfect my craft. Looking back, I wish I was that “nerd” in college, always studying and doing the best I could have done for myself.
    If I wanted to be skinny, all I ever had to do was stop drinking and binge eating and start working out HARD and loving my body, mind and soul. I’m happy when I’m thin, cut and lean. Being happy feeds whole sense of being. When I’m running out there, watching the miles go under my feet, I’m free. Not only is running a cure for my aching thoughts, but it helps keeps the extra pounds away!
    I always enjoy reading all of your posts but this one really got me thinking. Labeling is such a negative way to live life which is why I try my hardest not to do it. I still do look at people and do the whole labeling thing. But now, at least if I catch myself early enough, I quickly shift my mind onto something else because I know how it feels to be labeled.
    I loved the quote you shared. When we define others, we really lose out on ourselves. It’s a wasted of energy and the universe and God want us to use our this energy for more positive enlightenment.

  14. mike says:

    Ego driven
    self centered
    self conscious
    negative self thinking
    seems to be the root of the problem.

    1. Of course it is. All my problems stem from that.

    2. Am I doing anything right these days Mikey? LoL

      1. mike says:

        testy testy

        seems to be the root of OUR problem.

        happy now? lol

  15. jeffstroud says:

    My meeting in print. Or meeting via blog post and responses! I love this. I am extremely grateful you write this blog. It is truthful and authentic even when you think you are not.

    When I was early in recovery, there as a guy who was the caretaker of the clubhouse we use to meet at. We had a GLBT meeting, in the suburbs that was still a rare thing. This guy would always show up to “do” stuff during our meeting, or just hang out quietly in the background. Other members use to get upset that he was there. They had all kinds of labels about this guy. I use to say, “you know what, these guy maybe a thorn in our sides, yet he would help you out, he would listen to you, faster than most of the people at this meeting right now.” I knew this guy, I had talked with him, he was listening, he was learning because he had placed labels on all of us.

    I am not sure why I just told that story? It seem to just want to be written. If I label someone or something I am putting up a defense, I am not allowing myself to hear the message. There are famous people who have been labeled and killed because people couldn’t hear, or “see” who they are!

    In recovery the person we may damage is ourselves, not the other person. Because if they live by the adage of “what a person thinks of me is none of my business.” They won’t even know you/we have placed them in some position to rent space in our heads.

    Thanks again: I am going to stop before this gets to be its on “blog”!

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