Spiritual Quest

I spent a lot of time and effort convincing myself that existence is merely a dream – that there is no physical reality. Essentially, I leaned-hard into spirituality. I did so boldly, with the expectation that there would be obstacles along the way. At one point I was a bit worried and was kinda regretting it – but that hardship didn’t last long. Now, I think the gamble worked.

Since I didn’t have a “spiritual” intuition or background, I didn’t have a “faith” I could concentrate on. But, I knew my physical-world perspective wasn’t working and I knew spirituality was touted to be a better way. Therefore, I might as well try it. The commonality in spirituality seems to be the unreality of reality – so I concentrated on that.

But one problem with destroying reality, is you’re left without a solid foundation on which to stand. Uh-oh. If the world isn’t physical, what is it? If I’m not made of matter, what am I? Without an anchor, I was adrift. But on the bright side, when nothing actually exists you’re free to focus on whatever you want. So, you can simply pick your own anchors – which is what I finally did, and that made all the difference.

For one, I stopped thinking about existential stuff. Who cares about the why or what. Next, I examined the available options and picked the categories that made me feel the best. Those turned out to be: love, lightheartedness, creativity, and triumph. I like to like things, I enjoy the act of appreciating, I like to laugh, I prefer funny stuff, I like to be delighted, I like making stuff, I like using tools and crafting things, I like having creative ideas, and I like feeling like a winner.

Without reality as a gatekeeper, I’m free to focus on whatever evokes the most agreeable feelings. And what I thought was “reality”, was oftentimes me confining myself within my own constraints.

So that’s where I’m at now, attempting to navigate this different but improved world. I’m still managing my mind throughout the day, but it’s a nicer experience – there’s a palpable upgrade. It’s not hands-free autopilot, but I’m also not driving through a dilapidated neighborhood with potholes everywhere. It feels like progress has been made.

Now What

As a pursuer of happiness, focusing on the “now” is interpreted a bit differently.

Picture it, you’re feeling uncomfortable, you don’t like the situation you find yourself in. “Um, let’s see, someone said I should focus on the now – then I’d feel better. Hm, but I AM focused on the now – I don’t like it. Maybe I should find something to appreciate about the situation? Hm, it sucks, what’s to like? Okay, okay, I’ll just breathe. Gah! but my mind keeps going back to discomfort!”

You might not be able to physically alter what’s actually happening right now. It’s also hard to change how you feel about an undesirable situation. And it’s kinda lame to pick-out something you DO like when presented with a circumstance so obviously disagreeable.

Good thing there’s another option! As a pursuer of happiness, I don’t care about what’s happening in the present. Staying in the present is only important in the sense that it puts me in the driver’s seat. Being present allows me to notice that I feel uncomfortable, which means I’m focusing on something unpleasant, which means I need to alter my focus. And since I’m consciously present, I direct my focus to something specifically pleasant.

Therefore, I imagine how I’d feel while experiencing the best version of whatever I’m currently doing. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I’m simply speculating about the feelings I’d experience in a perfect scenario. And I construct this fantasy within the walls of love, lightheartedness, creativity, and triumph. There’s no revenge-fantasies for example, only everybody winning at the end. And in that instant, I feel better.

If I’m in the now, I’m aware of my focus and I can witness its effect on how I feel. Changing my focus results in an immediate transformation. It’s like watching an ad for an upcoming horror-movie and feeling the fear and paranoia creep in. Feelings are easily manipulated – it happens all the time. My wandering mind constantly tries to freak me out with the dumbest stuff – always trying to stimulate my emotions.

But if I’m in the driver’s seat, able to see what my wandering mind is up to, I can grab the wheel and steer towards a pleasant direction. Again, I simply focus on ideal feelings: feeling love, feeling lighthearted, feeling creative, and feeling like a winner. Since my mind typically wanders through the worst imaginable scenarios, I’m simply doing the opposite and purposefully strolling into a well-maintained garden.

And funny enough, that original situation that seemed so bad prior to my practice of focus-readjustment doesn’t seem so bad anymore. Eventually, by this practice, nothing seems so bad anymore.

Pursuer of Happiness

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

As a child, I was surprised when I saw this line in the Declaration of Independence. “The pursuit of happiness” is a God-given right granted to all? It seemed frivolous I suppose, yet there it was in an official founding-document of the United States of America. Not sacrifice, not achievement, not productivity – just “happiness”. Who am I to argue? If they bothered to include it, I guess chasing happiness is a worthy endeavor.

Perhaps using the United States as a model, I should begin by declaring my independence from unhappiness?

I, therefore, in solidarity with the United States of America, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of my intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of my autonomy, solemnly publish and declare, that I am, and of right ought to be a pursuer of happiness; that I am absolved from all allegiance to unhappiness, and that all connection between me and a sad state of affairs, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a pursuer of happiness, I have full power to conclude peace, contract alliances with the delightful, establish comfort, and to do all other acts and things which a pursuer of happiness may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, I pledge my life, my fortune and my sacred honor.

But how does one actually pursue happiness? By fulfilling whims and wants? Completing life goals? Through deep spiritual practice? What is the path? How will I know if I’m heading in the right direction? Does it take experimentation through trial & error? Is it an achievable objective?

Ultimately, I think happiness is a state-of-mind cultivated through mental-discipline – it boils down to focusing on “happy stuff” while completely ignoring “unhappy stuff”. But doing something so drastic requires a compatible perspective – reality itself must be made malleable. “Anything is possible” must be the mantra. And when that finally feels true, the doors of happiness open wide.

Suffering Suffering

I no longer suffer suffering. Since I quit believing in an objective physical reality, things got a lot better. The world is a reflection of my focus. If I believe in suffering, it’ll exist – I’ll see and experience it. But the inverse is also true: if I no longer believe in suffering, it won’t exist – I don’t see or experience it. This is a direct observation of my experimentation with perspective, it’s not theoretical at this point. And this obviously implies that the world is a highly subjective experience – more like a dream than anything.

If I know that existence is dreamlike and I know my focus influences it – what am I supposed to do now? I think the toughest aspect about this condition is remaining aware of the situation and simply remembering stuff. Like a “Harrison Bergeron” handicap, awareness and memory seem limited. Awareness of a grander existence is tested every moment by little life-events that tempt you into following narrow human narratives. Whereas memory is very unreliable – even life-changing concepts are forgotten within a week.

Originally, my biggest problem with such a drastic change of perspective was the implication that I was not simply a physical creature doomed to die. I figure I must be the product of a bodiless consciousness dreaming about a physical world. I started imagining sad reasons behind it all – but that obviously made me feel forlorn and angsty. But then I noticed how directly my feelings were influenced by these thoughts. I’d be perfectly fine one minute, then a sad existential thought would freak me out. Focus mattered, a lot – in fact, that’s all there is to it.

I said, “ha, my dumb wandering mind is just up to its old tricks trying to scare me again!” Before, it was sinister physical-world stuff – now it was exploiting my new metaphysical perspective. I thought I could escape the scary physical-world stuff by adopting a metaphysical perspective but my fear simply followed. But in doing so, it revealed itself too easily. I could see that “fear” is the practice of focusing on frightening concepts. So if I don’t focus on that stuff: fear will disappear.

Now, I purposefully focus on concepts such as love, lightheartedness, creativity, and triumph – and it’s made a significant difference. Maybe that marks the end of the midlife-crises phase and I’ve entered the wisened older gentleman arc of the story? Well, we’ll see.

Feeling Focus

The game-changer is this: I noticed how readily my feelings reacted to my focus. What am I thinking about? I saw a direct and immediate emotional response to whatever it was. Focus on a scary thought, feel scared. But I don’t like feeling scared. So why not focus on something that evokes a feeling I do like? And that’s the answer. But of course, implementation takes some effort.

An important point: I don’t need to honor or investigate feelings that “randomly” spring-up within me. They’re not random, they are a reaction to my focus. The mind wanders, it thinks about EVERYTHING – so all these feelings I have aren’t meaningful in any way. If it exists, I’ve thought about it and my feelings responded robotically – there’s nothing special about them.

I used to gauge my current-condition by asking myself “how are you feeling?” Well guess what my answer was? “Bad, because I’m nervous.” Of course I felt bad, I was focused on anxiety-inducing ideas. So a better question is “what are you focused on?” If I’m feeling bad, I know without doubt that I’m focused on an unpleasant idea. So I stop and change focus.

While feelings aren’t the driver, they ARE the destination. Feelings ARE the most important aspect of experience. Feelings make experiences what they are. It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s how I feel while doing it that matters. Eating the best meal while sad isn’t fun, but a mediocre meal while full of frivolity is a great time.

But if I’m surrounded by nastiness, how can I focus on pleasant aspects if I can’t see them? Easy, I go into my imagination and focus on how I’d feel while experiencing the best version of whatever I’m currently doing. I’m simply speculating about the feelings I’d experience in a perfect scenario. And because feelings follow focus, I immediately feel better.

The Four Pillars

The Four Pillars of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is a selectable path through life. But in order to remain on that particular path, a wandering-mind must be kept in check lest it wander-off into unpleasantness – resulting in discomfort. It’s been long established that one cannot focus on happiness directly. Then on what should a seeker focus? The Four Pillars serve as an indirect path to happiness: love, lightheartedness, creativity, and triumph. These four are the ideal concepts that a seeker can concentrate on.

The pillars, connected by the bond of mental-discipline, create a pen in which to contain the wandering mind. Picture four columns supporting a roof of happiness. Between each column, mental-discipline forms energy-barriers that keep the mind inside.

For “love”, consider concepts such as appreciation, adoration, enjoyment, and patience. For example: “I appreciate and adore many things in this world. I feel loved and supported by this world.”

For “lightheartedness”, consider concepts such as laughter, delight, frivolity, joy. For example: “I laugh and have fun, delighting in my experiences.”

For “creativity”, consider concepts such as creating, crafting, doing, beautifying. It’s about feeling creative. For example: “I create things that bring joy to myself and others.”

For “triumph”, consider concepts such as satisfaction, success, contentment, competence, confidence. For example: “I’m confident and competent, I feel like a winner – I don’t need anything in order to feel complete.”

These pillars also serve to moderate each other. If a pillar’s too short or too tall, the roof slides off. Obsessive love is moderated by lighthearted detachment. Frivolousness is moderated by love. Love steers creativity away from negativity. Obsession for winning is moderated by lightheartedness. The interaction of the pillars answers these questions: What should I love and to what degree? What should I create? To what degree do I pursue triumph? To what degree do I add fun and a lack of seriousness?

The Four Pillars answer the question: if I want to pursue happiness as a path, and I have to discipline my mind (pointing it in a particular direction), what should I focus on? Through conscious-awareness, shape a perspective infused with the feelings of love, lightheartedness, creativity, and triumph. An unsupervised mind is the enemy – it’s a ferocious chainsaw of ideas – it requires proper handling and attention at all times, boundaries must be set and maintained.

In addition to this, it’s important for the pen to keep expanding so the mind never feels locked in a tiny box. Grow it by becoming more inclusive, adding variety to the kindling of creativity.

An effective practice for implementing the Four Pillars is as follows:
Imagine how you’d feel while experiencing the best version of whatever you’re currently doing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you’re simply speculating about the feelings you’d experience in a perfect scenario.

For example, showering in the morning becomes: In the perfect version of showering, I’d feel ritualistically cleansed of all my woes and sins – I’d feel refreshed. I’d be energized, feeling giddy anticipation for the glorious day that I’m about to have. I’d be feeling like the designer of my destiny, crafting a beautiful world, ready to live a day made just for me. I’d feel creative – inspired!

Through the practice of imagining the feelings associated with the ideal version of every experience, the mind is taught to wander within the confines of the Four Pillars. Unhappiness is the condition brought about by unrestrained wandering. Whereas happiness is the condition brought about by a mind contained within the Four Pillars (love, lightheartedness, creativity, and triumph). Essentially the Four Pillars provide a safe-space in which the mind can play.

In other words: the mind is an unleashed dog romping wherever it pleases – oftentimes through mud and briars. By using mental-discipline, the mind can be leashed. Unfortunately, the mind still attempts to wander wherever, pulling against the leash. The four pillars are more like a dog-park in which the mind can wander only so far and the space is free of hazards.

In other, other words: in a kindergarten, a student’s nature might demand self-expression through paint. On the outside of the school, he might engage in graffiti. But within the confines of the kindergarten, he is only allowed to paint on paper at the easel. There’s always a suitable means of expressing one’s nature, and the Four Pillars helps to keep that expression enjoyable.

Target Acquired

So what’s the target I see of myself? First off, experience has taught me that actual physical attainment is meaningless. It’s only the feelings that matter. For example, if the best meal in the world sat before me, I couldn’t enjoy it while feeling dejected. Whereas a mediocre burger eaten while feeling delighted is a great experience. Therefore, my target can’t include actual physical depictions.

I see my target-self as loving, loved, lighthearted, laughing, creative, creating, triumphant, winning. What he does while feeling those things really doesn’t matter. So no matter where I am, my target remains in view. But even though I can perceive the target, I can’t easily attain it. That’s where all the focus and discipline come into play.

For example, what I implemented recently was to simply imagine how I’d feel while experiencing the best version of whatever I’m currently doing. Again, it doesn’t matter what I physically do, only the feelings matter. I’m overwriting the feelings of a poor experience with the feelings of a great experience. I apply this anytime I’m feeling uncomfortable or dissatisfied. This technique has shown itself to be highly effective – the result is immediate.

The most demanding part of the path is maintaining focus. My mind constantly wanders into unpleasant territory – finding something wrong with everything. Therefore, I have to monitor my thoughts ceaselessly lest I step in poop – which gets all over the place, is difficult to clean, and whose smell lingers long past the incident. I’ve witnessed how readily my emotional-state conforms to my focus. Think bad thoughts: feel bad. Think good thoughts: feel good. It’s simple but it takes more effort than just letting my mind wander – so that’s the challenge to overcome. Don’t be lazy, apply mental-discipline.

Crafting Beauty

Beauty cannot be created in a perfect world. When everything’s perfect, there’s nothing to add or subtract. So perhaps the world is flawed by design to allow for the transformation of ugly into beautiful. How many times do I see someone restoring an old rusty tool or mending and enhancing broken furniture or remodeling a worn-down house? Or even in programming, people refactoring or fixing broken code? The point is this: taking something ugly or broken and making it functional or beautiful is an ingrained part of the human experience.

So in that sense, I’m not born perfect. I’m not good enough as-is. I’m a mess. I’m a clump of raw material. If left unworked, I will remain mud. My work as an artist then, entails shaping myself into something I’m impressed with. And this could mean doing research, grabbing tools, applying discipline – whatever it takes to form a human I’m proud of. That’s the path.

Maybe that’s what it means to be “true to yourself”. You have an idea of who you are – but now you have to use whatever’s around to make it real. Applying paint to canvas in order to conjure the self into being. It’s easy to think the image we see of ourself shows the future. It doesn’t, it just shows the target we’re aiming at. The path is not a carefree ride on a rail. You’re only given the goal – you must apply effort and resourcefulness to get there.

I suppose that’s where I got it wrong. I could see what I wanted to be. I figured the path was pre-formed and I simply had to go along for the ride. But it’s more like a dense jungle sitting between me and my goal and I have to hack my way through the thick brush to get there – if I ever do get there. Again, I think that was another mistake: thinking the destination was more important than the path. A human as a canvas is never complete – that’s the charm and challenge.

Finding Utopia

In a utopia, attitude is everything. If you’re suspicious, you’ll look for bad behavior. If you’re a complainer, you’ll pick out what’s wrong with everything. If you’re a hypochondriac, you’ll analyze every sniffle. If you’re arrogant or judgmental, you’ll see unworthiness. In other words, utopia is not a physical location, it’s a perspective.

What would you even do in a utopia? If through technology or magic, everything was provided for, what would a resident actually spend time doing? Creative endeavors like art, music, poetry? Hobbies? Spending time with others? Chatting (obviously not about politics or gossip)? Playing games or sports? Watching and performing stage-plays? Appreciating the natural beauty of the environment?

Or would residents do everything manually? Like gardening, preparing and cooking food, pottery, blacksmithing, weaving and sewing, candle-making, dealing with one’s own flaws as well as the flaws of others? Resource management? Health and nutrition?

Oftentimes in art, an artist takes something ugly and makes it beautiful. For example, when paint starts slapping on canvas, it looks kinda messy for awhile until the image starts to form. Or even in baking, a bowl of cake batter is just slop until it’s baked and shaped into a multi-tiered beauty. And of course a potter takes a dull lump of grey clay and spins it into a magnificent vase.

My point is this: I’m not supposed to be looking for utopia. I’m supposed to take something ugly and make it beautiful. My disheveled humanness with all its flaws is to be worked and prodded until something impressive appears. What constitutes “impressive”? I guess that’s up to me, the artist. What tools do I use? Again, I suppose that’s up to the artist – although the medium tends to influence the methodology.

To summarize: take something ugly and make it beautiful – that’s the path to fulfillment.

Repetitious Rock

This is my current take on existence. It’s a dream. Solidity is simulated by repetition. The dreamlike nature makes things malleable obviously, but it’s hard to undo practiced-reactions and consistent routines. In addition to this, some things are “good” and some things are “bad” – focus on one, ignore the other.

There is no external world, it’s a projection from the inside out. A good attitude projects a bright and cheery world. A bad attitude projects a dark and dreary world. To project a better image, imagine how you’d feel while experiencing the best version of whatever you’re currently doing.

Stay within the confines of the idealized world you create. Because of the dreamlike nature of existence, the “external world” will transform accordingly – it’s just a projection after-all. Like in all dreams, the logic is haphazard – therefore reasoning is unreliable. Never assume a consequence is predictable.

Since solidity is simulated through repetition, undesirable aspects can be dismantled by removing focus from them. Likewise, pleasant aspects can be constructed through constant recall. Quite simply: if you focus on bad stuff, you’ll feel bad – if you focus on good stuff, you’ll feel good. Keep reminding yourself: the external isn’t absolute, it’s merely a projection of my attitude and focus.

Essentially: you’re currently lost in a random dream and you’re uncomfortable. Therefore, you’re trying to turn it into a “lucid dream”. You want to be aware that you’re dreaming so you can influence the dream for the better. The dream is steered by focus and repetition.