Black Dog Yoga blogger Anne Clenndening recently asked me to answer the famous Proust Questionairre that is often found in the back of Vanity Fair magazine. Check out the original blog post here, though I've included my answers below. It was a fun practice in self-study (a yogic practice known as svadyaya that facilitates personal growth and clear perception). Try it for yourself!
What is your idea of happiness?
I stopped striving for perfection a while ago and am more interested in recreating balance. Since balance isn’t static or stationary, happiness is more about resiliency to given settings, creating relationships and honoring boundaries. For me, all of the connotations we have about”perfection” and “happiness” are not relevant. Everything is in a state of change, all of the time. Fleeting moments in perception may seem to line up with what we are told is ideal, but in my experience, perfection deals with others expectations.
In my experience, happiness is like meditation—it happens spontaneously when the pre-conditions are set. Sometimes it happens at festivals with tons of strangers, being with my dog, breaking bread with friends, alone in nature, in bed with my lover. My experience of blissed-out happiness comes in fleeting parcels of synchronicity and peaceful cooperation. It is always different! But the common denominators are always the same: a resilient psychology, a surrender of perfectionism and an honoring of the limits of a given scenario and its participants.
What is your greatest fear?
Taking pseudoscience as science, to me, is ignorant. That being said, I have two great fears. First, ignorance as normative. Second, diffusion of responsibility… these two things alone and together are equally terrifying. Not as a concept I learned in undergrad, but for what they produce. These two together seem to be the breeding ground for the atrocities we have all shaken a fist or finger at. I’m not afraid of dying or the sudden blast of nuclear warfare or the schizoid homeless person pandering near my car. I’m afraid that we will continue to play dumb to the fact that this is our life, day to day, and as such will continue the unproductive finger-pointing. The holocaust wasn’t a spontaneously arising event… it was a process that unfolded into one of humanity’s, “that-was-horrible-and-let’s-hope-it-doesn’t-happen-again” moments.When people choose to give up the ability (and responsibility) to live their own lives, sacrifice democracy for streamlines politics and instead follow a template of some system or authority without fully educating themselves, then this resists the objective evidence of reality as it is.
Where would you most like to live?
Right now I am really drawn toward Thailand… the food, general Buddhist worldview, beaches, temples, everything I’ve heard from friends who have traveled through it reveal that the people are kind-hearted, helpful and happy to share their cultural nuances… and there is an island full of monkeys! I’m always eclipsed by a travel bug, though. Parts of India, Hawaii, Northern Italy, Berlin and Brooklyn are all on my list of possible future homes. I’d also really love to live in an Amazonian village for a short stint to learn some of their music and participate in their esoteric rituals and ceremonies.
What is your favorite virtue?
My parents raised me on this household principle: Don’t be an asshole. Tried and tested, it seems to be working so far. I had to look up “virtue,” since it is one of those words I’ve learned through context. I found that it’s root comes from the Latin word for “man,” but the connotation is more about righteousness and moral perfection. I’m not into either of these qualities. Moral hierarchy encourages superiority, and that’s a worldview I think we can all do well to get away from.
What are your favorite qualities in a man?
Playfulness and not playing games. I appreciate that men can typically horse-play, stay connected to that silly quality we usually have as children, and won’t get too heady and over-analytic. A dividing line I’ve noticed between “man-boys” and “men,” is this: a man will play cooperatively and carefully, and boys will play competitively and carelessly… in love, business, domestic affairs.
What are your favorite qualities in a woman?
Self-esteem! An ability to think for herself beyond the media and misogyny. Also, grace, nurturing intuition, subtly. Women who are not co-dependent or righteously independent.
What do you most value in your friends?
Integrity and honesty. Acting in a way that doesn’t honor their own convictions or personal path is just uncomfortable, and these people don’t usually last too long in my life. Having both integrity and honesty assumes that they know who they are, have a realistic sense of what is happening in their world, and behave in the world and with themselves in a manner that is congruent with this knowledge.
What is your biggest weakness?
Self-doubt, and being stubborn.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Adventuring with good company. Sometimes this looks like a great heart-to-heart, creative collaborations in art and music, traveling somewhere new, checking out a new part of town or hiking trail, or indulging in a music festival.
What is your most marked characteristic?
On the surface, survey says: my hair. Beyond that, my forthright passion… since childhood I’ve had people tell me that I am strong willed and will achieve a goal, no matter how big it is, once I decide that is what I’m doing. That’s when my being stubborn works well.
What is your idea of misery?
Acting out a life that is not my own. Fulfilling requests that don’t align with my own sense of harmony, achieving “success” that doesn’t serve my own sense of belonging, not having the freedom to create, speak, share, contribute or participate in a way that is life-enhancing, enriching and helpful.
If not yourself, who would you like to be?
The revised version of current me that I am co-creating all the time.
Who are your favorite writers?
Adoleus Huxley, Neal Donald Walsch, Alan Watts, Dr. Seuss, Terrance McKenna, Voltaire, Daniel Pinchbeck, Paulo Cuelho, Don Miguel Ruiz.
Who are your favorite poets?
Aesop Rock, John Donne, Allen Ginsberg, Saul Williams, Sage Francis, George Watsky, Mike Ladd, my own poetry, Rudy Francisco, Sarah Kay, Shihan the Poet, Rumi and basically anyone signed to Strange Famous Records.
Who are your favorite artists?
Bosch, Alex Grey, Amanda Sage, Chet Czar, ABSNT, Banksy, Dali, David Ho, Dale Chihuly, Walt Hall, Grafitti Muralists from all urban fauna (especially, Dabs and Mala, How and Nosm). Also, perma-culturists and anyone who is actively and successfully growing their own plant-based food sources.
Who are your favorite musicians?
I don’t like “favorites” questions because there is so much to appreciate… for the sake of this interview, here are a few off the top: Tool, Pink Floyd, DJ Shadow, Amon Tobin, Bonobo (full band), Portishead, Bjork, James Blake, Ben Harper, Sigur Ros, Ravi Shankar, Boards of Canada, Bad Religion, Kruder and Dorfmeister.
Who are your favorite heroes and heroines in fiction?
Smith from “Stranger in a Strange Land,” by Robert Heinlein, Helen Keller…from her whole life, Alice from “Alice in Wonderland.”
Who are the heroes and heroines in your life?
My parents [together and individually], my brother, my best friend Kari, anyone who has ever surrendered their ego for the sake of acting in a compassionate manner, people who dream big and then act to make it happen without sidelining basic human rights, my students who come to practice consistently in a non-addictive manner, people who protect those that cannot rightfully protect themselves, my yoga teachers…heroes and heroines are loose concepts in my book…everyday people do spectacular things everyday.
Who are your favorite heroes and heroines in history?
I don’t have a ready answer for this… history is an amalgamation of shorts and clips from other people who deem the information important… but there is a glacier worth of history that we will never be privy to in this life… and I would bet there are many heroic feats that have gone unnoticed and unreported.
What do you most dislike?
Side-effects of fear mongering, passive-aggression, “I can’t” attitudes, short-sighted goal-orientation, diffusion of responsibility, knowing better and not acting on it, addiction to plastics and Styrofoam materials/money/substances, humiliation, shame mongering, excuses and lack of personal accountability, being stuck in a conversation with an ‘over-sharer,’ cockiness, politics being mistaken for diplomacy, poor grammar, littering, exploitation of natural resources, non-enriched educational environments (Though I do love alliteration!), hoarding, exhaust fumes, snoring…I could go on and on.
What event in history do you most admire?
I don’t know very much about history. I do know that right now, there is an ongoing action through MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research) that is redefining how certain chemicals and tribal medicines are viewed to the FDA, through systematic and legal scientific research, worldwide. These events are subsequently revising the general worldview on how we choose to overcome trauma and pain via medicine and medicinal therapies. I have a lot of respect for this venture and it’s intention to reclaim rights that big business has, over the years, trapped under layers of red tape and bottom lines.
What social movement do you most admire?
Human Rights Movements always pique my fancy… not just from North American history… as a humankind phenomena. That passion to overcome the inertia of passivity, complacency, and authoritarian extremism on a mass scale, it is an interesting social phenomenon. It is interesting how these movements will revise the idea of what it means to coexist amid the ever-widening scope of diversity. It’s like evolution in real-time… and that is sexy.
What natural gift would you most like to possess?
How would you like to die?
Assured that my worldly affairs would be taken care of so that my loved ones wouldn’t have the burden of sorting out all of the tedious details, paperwork and things. I actually think about this question sometimes…on the one hand, if I’m only going to die once, why not make it epic since the pain will be relatively transient…. On the other hand, what sane person wouldn’t want to die peacefully and without commotion? It might be great to spontaneously combust on cue, surrounded by all of my loved ones, and then rain down in a glitter storm of aromatic flare and light.
What is your present state of mind?
After all of these questions, a bit silly and non-sequitur. In general, realistically optimistic.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
Which fault in others do you most easily tolerate?
Excuse making and disorganization.
Which fault in yourself do you most easily tolerate?
What is your motto?
It’s not my motto, but one of a few that I have in my default wiring on how to live in the world: Leave it better than you found it. The other major motto is: Live in love.