my happy place 2022

Finding a Balance In Life: Extreme Highs Have Consequences

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I love my morning coffee. I love it so much, I’d marry it, but… In my morning routine, I make a stellar cup of coffee.

There are a lot of steps. I add stuff to my coffee. I make sure I’m brewing top-notch coffee, even though I’m using a pod brewer. And yet, I have learned over time, that my second cup of coffee needs to be decaf. I’m going to explore my own desire to shoot for the moon, and how I’ve learned to modify my ambition as well as my behavior.

Let’s Talk About Dopamine

A recent book Dopamine Nation captivated my mind yesterday. I could not put it down once I started.

Here’s what resonated with me about addiction and getting high.

  • We all crave the high
  • Extreme highs have consequences and repercussions (more on this in a moment)
  • Our energetic/limbic system strives for balance.
  • That drive for balance is what also brings the free fall of coming down.
  • Continued use of our drug of choice causes that drug to be less effective, less euphoric, so we go for more or more extreme drugs.
  • This quest for the high has a devastating end, in most cases.

When we push our limits to extreme highs, we can expect our balancing system to kick in at some point, bringing us back to Earth. The higher we go, the harder the negative drop required to bring us back into balance. Of course, we know we can’t LIVE HIGH. (Microdosing is still TBD in my book.)

So if we can’t live high, what is the goal? Do we have to be high to be happy? Does getting high cause us to become addicted to an altered version of ourselves? By indulging in the ecstasy are we also asking for the fall, the dull ache, the “channel z” of life while our bodies recover?

Seeking a High or Seeking Serenity?

What I learned about my coffee rush was this.

  • 1 Cup in the morning is great.
  • 2nd cup in the morning brings a rush of euphoria and artificial energy
  • 3rd cup in the morning gives me wings with about a 30-minute lifespan before I crater
  • The inspiration I was feeling at cup 1 and I boosted with cup 2 becomes a rocketship of energy that is harder for me to pilot.
  • When I add additional fuel and thrust to the ascent, rather than arrive at my target (the moonshot, perhaps) I blow past my objective into something more frantic.

coffee high

Yes, I’m charged, I’m energetic, I’m “high” but I’m pushing into anxious high, and pressured ambition. Something is out of balance. The target I was seeking at the beginning has become a distraction as my mind and energy fragments into grandiose ideas, and targets of Mars and Venus, maybe even further reaches of outer space.

But I’m missing the warm energy and enthusiasm of my naturally-minimally-enhanced high. I experience an out-of-balance drive to create, to be famous, to shoot for the rock opera rather than the simple rock song. I lose my tether to my real heart, my real creative ambition, and I tap into something else. I tap into something anxious, unhappy, unfulfilled. Aspirational yes, but towards things I can’t control, things that are beyond my need to create and be creative.

Going for the Creative High

As an artist, I want to be recognized for my creative genius. I want you to love a song, love a post, love a poem. But first, and more importantly, I want to love my creative output myself. I want to step back from a recently completed song and say, “Damn, John, that was great.” It’s about how it makes me feel. Just the act of creating, the process of exploration and completion, even if it’s a mediocre song, is what I’m connected to. That’s my healthy addiction.

While I’d like to imagine (more so in my younger days) that the 2nd and 3rd cup of coffee was going to fuel brilliance, mostly it fuels frenetic drive without the heart-center that is really required for creating the kind of art I strive for. If I am out of touch with my heart I am not going to be able to create something heartfelt or honest. I’m might imagine that’s what I’m going for, what I’m doing, but in the rush of the high, I’m simply churning. I don’t want to churn out poems or songs. I want to feel deeply, and allow those feelings to become moments, scenes, acts, letters, notes, keystrokes. By being centered in my heart my creative process unfolds in a more organic, more positive, less manic way. That’s what’s more important to me today.

Finding Creative Balance

In my creative experience, I have never been a famous rock star, though I played with a few of them in Los Angeles in the ’90s. I have never been a famous poet, but I have read with many poets of note, and even given a workshop with one of my poetic heroes. In my writing, I’m nowhere near becoming well-known (Brené Brown has not invited me to be on her podcast yet.) but I am content in the flow of my creation.

I am not striving to become a famous artist, poet, writer, musician. Sure, that would be nice. But, my current goal, my life’s work, is dancing in a way that makes my soul happy. My happiness and creative output can bring light and happiness to others around me. And this is not about my art, or my product, or my striving. The happiness I share all around me comes from contentment. Sure, I’m ambitious. But more than that, I’m content exactly where I am.

I don’t worry about when I will be found. (Perhaps you found me for the first time, just today.) I don’t worry about if I can become famous enough to quit my day job. I just keep on with the process of living a creative life and turning moments into songs, poems, and art that I can give to others.

I was challenged a while back about my writing. Was I obsessed with my ex-wife? Was I living in the past? What was the point of publishing such intimate details about my life? Why did I want so much attention?

These are all good questions. I’m still working on my answer.

Accepting My Earthly Existence

Here I am. Blazing through my 59th year towards my 60’s. I am neither famous nor infamous. My music is available for free on all the music services. My poetry and writing is available for free here and on some other sites. And that’s enough.

By creating my life’s work from this Earthly perspective, without the “high,” I am accepting my current life AS IS. Here in this present moment, I am joyful, creatively charged and challenged, and drinking a lovely 2nd cup of coffee that is less rocket fuel and more warm flavored water with a bit of organic maple syrup and a splash of CBD.

What’s in your cup in the morning? What’s in your heart? What are you going to create today? Perhaps today is a day of rest. A day of appreciating exactly where I am, sitting beside my girlfriend’s dog writing a little note of appreciation to myself. (Yes, I’m sharing it with you. But that’s not really the point of my writing.)

Here I am.

59. Loved and loving. Where are you? What are you up to today? And what are your ambitions for tomorrow?


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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the little red book of mindfulness - john oakley mcelhenney

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