Lowest Point

Dear diary, I think I might be at the nadir of a happiness U-curve. Gasp! In other words, I’m at the age in which dissatisfaction peaks. So no matter my external condition, I can’t feel appreciation or contentment. Some refer to this time as a “midlife crisis”. And although I might deny it and attempt to apply all the mental discipline I can muster, there seems to be no stopping the onslaught of disgruntlement. All I can do at this point is hold-on and wait until the happiness U-curve starts heading up.

I’m not pleased by my powerlessness of course. But I can perceive no root cause for my general discontentment except the human condition itself – and I can’t fix that. A sports-car won’t fix it, a new relationship won’t fix it, a change in lifestyle won’t fix it, it’s all been done and ultimately fails to satisfy. But time passes and the situation eventually fixes itself by following the curve.

So dear diary, all the complaining I’ve been doing lately is invalid. It’s just the murmurings of a midlife crisis. I suppose that makes me feel better in some sense. I guess I’m going to be a Grumpy Gus for a bit. But eventually I’ll emerge like a butterfly, beautiful, a delight for all to behold. Well, I’ll see you on the other side.

I suppose what this diagnosis offers, is hope. Existence won’t be a continuous slide into an ever-increasing state of dissatisfaction. A time will come when I’ll know tranquility and contentment. But until then, I’ll have to muddle through, expecting unpleasantness. I guess this is one of those instances where you just gotta accept some negativity as normal.

Advice for Me

Advice for my younger self?

Don’t bother with any form of self-improvement. You can’t make anything “better”.

Do detach from everything. Pretend you’re at a museum: don’t touch, leave everything where you find it.

Your thoughts are absolute poison. They’re a toxic stew that will contaminate anything they consider.

Relatedly, logic is useless. Without a solid foundation, logical conclusions just float in the middle of nowhere. Don’t waste your time, there’s no anchor to attach them to.

Memory is also useless – just ignore memories. They’ll be used more for tormenting you than anything.

Life IS out to get you, you’re not paranoid. Keep your head down and maintain a humble attitude. Life will relentlessly try to break you. The more you resist, the tougher this bullying will be. A calm/polite attitude tends to make things easier than a frustrated/rude attitude, but there’s no guarantee.

You will NOT enjoy this experience, don’t even try to settle into a comfy spot. Think of it like boot-camp or prison, it’s not a vacation.

You should try to remain calm at all times. It tends to lower the intensity of the experience. Plus, if you don’t react, life might drop the subject.

You aren’t here to learn, the storylines are just in-game nonsense. All the dramatic arcs just devolve into drivel. Just use “Last Thursdayism” as your historic perspective.

Survival is not a thing, don’t worry about it. Like boot-camp or prison, life tends to keep you alive. Don’t be afraid of anything, there’s no point – you can’t protect yourself, you’re at life’s mercy.

And if it’s not obvious: you can’t quit. No one’s going to setup something like this simply to provide an easy way out. Just settle in for the long-haul and find some hobbies along the way.

All Ends Are Dead

As an experiment, I adopted a few varying perspectives over the years to see if such outlooks could improve my experience. Perhaps I was simply looking at circumstances in the wrong way. Decades have gone by and I still haven’t found a solution. Repeatedly trying and failing to fix something is frustrating to say the least. It doesn’t even matter if things improved slightly because I’m still well within the bounds of dissatisfaction.

The conclusion I keep reaching: answers cannot be found and improvement is impossible. Red-herrings abound as the underlying mechanism of life is pure deception through and through. There is much philosophy and many practices in terms of achieving a more satisfying experience of existence – but it’s bunk. Nothing fixes the underlying problem of dissatisfaction. My efforts were futile. I was under a mistaken belief that my experience could get better.

Life isn’t some nurturing mother-figure full of love and devotion on high-alert lest her baby feel an ounce of discomfort. Life isn’t taking my hand in order to comfort my woes – nay, life is taking my hand and slapping me with it! Life is a mean older sister asking me why I keep hitting myself! I wasn’t wrong to begin life as a suspicious pessimist, I was wrong when I doubted myself, thinking I was being paranoid! Life is a bully, and a nasty one at that.

After all this time, I still don’t get what’s going on here. I’m as confused as I was on day-one. “Alice in Wonderland” seems to be the closest analogy for my experience. There’s no progress only frustration, circumstances are annoyingly silly, inhabitants don’t help and are more likely to harass – it’s nonsense all the way down. Well, perhaps there’s one possible question in which “Earth” is the legitimate answer: If a celestial being once asked himself, “what’s the absolute dumbest thing I can come up with?”

Raw Material

Raw material is just that, raw. It’s rough and takes effort to fashion into an artistically constructed form. It’s not easy, you probably need some tools, some research, some trial and error – not to mention a lot of time and focus.

So, you should expect THAT while shaping yourself into your imagined ideal. Art isn’t born, it’s crafted over time, with a bunch of exertion. Step one: establish your idealized-form i.e. what do you want the end-product to be at the conclusion of this life? Hint: actually achieving this perfected vision doesn’t matter – so pick whatever. Step two: Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, work towards this goal. That’s art.

Another hint: it’s probably better to set the goal so high that you CAN’T complete it in this lifetime. The truth is this: an accomplished objective is a completed task i.e. it’s over. You WANT to keep heading towards a finish-line – it gives you a reason to run. Can’t you just sit back and appreciate all you’ve accomplished? Maybe, but if “appreciation” was that easy, you could simply appreciate your life as it is now – and just coast to the end.

Consider this: you weren’t born a perfect little angel with a perfect path all laid out. You were born rough, a raw clump resistant to beauty. Without focused effort, guess what? You STAY a clump. Isn’t that obvious? You need to extract the clump, get it out of the ground, hack at it, saw it, process it. Then when the roughest edges are worn down, come in with a finer touch. Keep refining your style, start paying attention to detail. This is a labor of love, take your time.

The point isn’t the product, it’s the process. But you must actually engage in that process – you have to intentionally do something! It’s not passive, it’s not random. Oh and don’t bother complaining about the source material, it’s ALL worthless until you do something with it – you’re the artist, your challenge is to form “nothing” into something of beauty. Do you accept that challenge? Or are you just going to stare at a motionless clump all day (that’s a dumb strategy). So pick an idealized image, and get to work.

P.S. How do you know which steps to take on your journey? Hint: it doesn’t matter. Do ANYTHING with the intent that it’s a step on the path to the idealized image of yourself. There’s no recipe to follow. Imagine being able to make a cake by putting whatever amount of whatever ingredients into the mixing bowl. A tablespoon of black-pepper, 8 cups of flour, a half-cup of orange juice, and a squirt of toothpaste, etc. — and out pops the perfect cake! For whatever reason, that’s how the journey through life works – logic doesn’t apply.

Human Taming

In a bunch of older movies, I remember seeing the concept of “breaking” a horse. A horse is cornered or just penned-in, but if the cowpoke attempts to get on, the colt or stallion bucks and throws him off. But if he keeps gettin’ on, holdin’ tight, maintainin’ his balance – the horse eventually relents and accepts the rider. In other words, the fire’s out and it becomes tame.

Of course there’s other methods in other movies too. Like feeding the horse a carrot, speaking to it gently, giving it a soft pat while slowly sliding onto its back. By one way or another, a horse has its perspective changed. “Rider bad” becomes “rider good”. And oftentimes, the cowpoke takes the taming of a particular horse as a personal challenge and dedicates himself to the endeavor.

My point is this: what if my consciousness took on the challenge of taming a wild and unruly human? Consciousness jumps on, the human bucks and resists, always trying to throw consciousness off – yet if consciousness keeps at it, perhaps the human relents and accepts the rider. Maybe the fire goes out and it becomes tame.

This doesn’t feel far from my experience, frankly. Me, the consciousness, is out for a pleasant ride through life. But unfortunately I’m on a bucking bronco that doesn’t accept my commands and repeatedly throws me into a pile of unpleasantness. I’d much rather be riding a tamed beast. So I wonder, what method of human-taming is most effective?

Beat it into submission through harsh ascetic practices — keeping it away from delightful indulgences and everything it desires, subduing it with an iron fist? From what I heard, the Buddha tried this method and rejected it. He recommended a middle path – but how does one find that balance? Should I allow this human to eat treats while slyly persuading it to behave in the way I prefer?

As the cowpoke that took on this taming as a personal challenge, I suppose I just have to experiment until I find what works. I can say this though: the calmer/gentler approach seems to work best thus far. But I don’t think complete indulgence works, as it tends to spoil, providing all the reward without requiring cooperation. And lastly, I believe the human must be steered into a creative endeavor – he’s gotta make something that he’s semi-satisfied with.

Abiding Awareness

Remain awake and aware. In other words, don’t lose yourself in the story — don’t become the character. That seems kinda lame, but the alternative is a concoction of intensity and dissatisfaction. For a better experience, stay present. And in that awareness, remind yourself: I exist beyond this fiction.

From that perspective, intentionally decide what to focus on. You’re not the character, you’re not really in his world and you’re not subject to the bounds of its logic. Therefore, nothing needs to be done. The restraints you focus on, are the ones that bind you. By not focusing on a restraint, you remain free of its hold.

So instead of survival, instead of lack and limitation, instead of caution – focus on avenues of amusement. Does that sound like simple hedonism? Well, you’re having a temporary sense-driven experience – what else would you do? If you attend a buffet, select foods you prefer – experiment of course, then get more of what you like.

You’ll keep trying to lose yourself in the story, lazily letting go of awareness. Resist this or the intensity and dissatisfaction rapidly return. Awareness works only while you’re aware – otherwise it’s like falling asleep at the wheel, you crash. To steer, you have to be present and deliberately direct your focus.

Whoa Woe

If you blame your woe on something, and that “something” goes away, you’ll be left with woe and nothing to blame it on. In some sense, it’s a worse predicament to be in. So, you’ll find a new source of sorrow. But what if all potential sources of strain dry-up and you’re stuck with only woe?

You’ll have a dilemma: what’s the root-cause of my dissatisfaction? All external scapegoats have failed. As happens in the thrillers: “The call is coming from INSIDE the house!!” Everything on the outside has proven itself incapable of serving as a source of dissatisfaction or satisfaction. Now what!?

Obviously, mental-discipline is the answer – it’s literally the only option. But how does one effectively apply mental discipline? That’s the problem. Awareness, consciousness, presence, nowness – whatever you call it, it’s a necessary component. If your mind is wandering, getting lost in life, you can’t apply mental discipline.

Awareness can be used to monitor and steer “focus”. Focus on unpleasant topics, you’ll feel bad. Focus on pleasant topics, you’ll feel better. Be advised though: finding and devising pleasant topics takes effort – but it must be done. Accepting defaults hasn’t worked, you need to seek and experiment until delightful topics are found.

In a good way, you’ve found the source of dissatisfaction. You’re dissatisfied because you’ve failed to apply mental-discipline. You haven’t invested the effort in remaining awake and aware – and as a result, you’ve lacked proper focus. Without intentional focus, you’ve experienced a mishmash of mayhem.

The world you experience is derived from your focus. If you focus on negativity, you consume negativity. Whereas if you eat cake, you experience cake. From the menu of life, you must seek and select what’s preferable, delightful even. By your careful cultivation, you create a world in which you want to live.

Garbage Disposal

Do you share your poop with the world? Do you even share your poop with yourself? No, of course not. You flush it – oftentimes without giving it a second thought. In other words, your body produces waste-products that were never meant to be shared or honored or held in any regard.

My point is this: fear, anxiousness, anger, frustration, hopelessness, gloominess, regret, shame – all these negative emotions are mere waste-products of an overactive mind. The mind is producing thought after thought – and in the process, detritus develops. You certainly shouldn’t collect it, then parade it around for all to see!

FLUSH IT. Don’t honor it, don’t sweep it under a rug, don’t store it for safe-keeping – just rinse it down and never think of it again. Something happens and your mind makes a big-deal of it, then all these negative emotions fill-up your mental space ready to spill their toxicity at the slightest nudge.

Instead of waiting for an imminent disaster, dispose of this sludge responsibly. Don’t make it anyone else’s problem. Don’t even make it your own problem. Put in the effort and apply the discipline to keep your mind clean and free of debris at all times. As they say: A mind is a terrible place to store waste.

Navel-Gazing

I don’t like the term, but perhaps that’ll encourage me to avoid engaging in it: self-indulgent introspection. I don’t typically seek attention from others, yet I’m constantly focused on myself. Maybe that’s why I don’t seek it, I already receive too much scrutiny from my own consciousness. “How am I feeling, what am I thinking, what’s my reaction to this or that…”

Enough already! My character is bland and unexciting, he doesn’t warrant all the attention I give him. He simply serves as a vessel of consciousness (no offense). If he had entertainment value, he’d have demonstrated it by now – instead, he literally just sits there. Think of him as a bolted-down chair in a movie-theater.

Sometimes your theater-seat has food remnants on it, maybe the arm-rests are a bit sticky – but who cares, that’s not why you go to a movie-theater. Why would you analyze the squeak in the folding seat? Why would you attempt to discern which beverage was spilled by your feet. Why would you make guesses as to which food the crumbs came from?

The point of the theater experience is to watch a movie, you’re not there to examine the theater itself. Yeah maybe the seats suck, yeah the people in front are chatting, yeah it’s a little too cold – but the less you focus on the immediate setting, the more you can invest yourself in the movie.

Here’s what we know:
#1, you’ve been overly-focused on yourself for several decades.
#2, you’ve had a pretty unpleasant experience.
#3, you’ve witnessed how the feeling of dissatisfaction is relative, and doesn’t dissipate when external conditions improve.

Are these points related? Maybe not, but what if they are? I think there’s enough probable-cause to warrant a direct and immediate ban on all navel-gazing activities.

To that end, I declare these statements to be true for the time-being:
#1, I will stop staring at the bugs accumulating on my windshield and focus only on what’s beyond my vehicle.
#2, I don’t care how my vehicle performs, whether it can be optimized, nor how it compares with others on the road. I’ll simply ride around until it goes kaput.
#3, I’ll keep it washed and vacuumed but that’s it.
#4, My car isn’t entered into ANY races, there’s no rush to go anywhere or do anything in particular. This baby is set to “cruise” and I’m just loungin’.
#5, I will NOT return this vehicle in the condition it was received. As a matter of fact, it’ll be dinged-up and run into the ground.

Well, we’ll see how that goes….

Disciplined Belief

In order to deal with life, we often rely on a set of beliefs to provide a sense of comfort. In other words, if we can explain why things happen, we don’t necessarily feel like helpless leaves adrift on an ocean. For example: if you’re good, you’re rewarded – if you’re bad, you’re punished.

For many years, I believed in the concept of random-chance. Unfortunately, believing in that concept resulted in a lot of anxiety. I could be crushed by a small meteor hurtling from space at anytime – why not, life is random. After many years of fear, I dumped that belief and adopted a more deterministic belief-system i.e. things happen for a reason and randomness doesn’t exist.

Essentially, I used “mental discipline” as the foundation of “why things happen”. Did something bad happen today? “Well, I musta let my mind wander into dank areas and got what I asked for. If I want good things, I must cultivate my mental-garden and prune my mind of all negativity.” That worked well for awhile and allowed me to tidy up my mind a bit.

And I must concede: on an absolute-scale, my life improved after I began focusing on mental discipline. BUT, “dissatisfaction” is a relative beast. Instead of being satisfied with okay-conditions, I found myself chasing intricate details and higher levels of precision. For example, are my very-painful headaches gone? Well yeah, but sometimes I have minor aches and it’s TOTALLY ANNOYING!!! “Nothing should go wrong, ever! Everything should be perfect at all times!!”

Because I kept feeling irritated, I started losing faith in my belief of “mental discipline” as the ultimate foundation of existence. No matter how hard I tried, it seemed like situations designed for maximum-annoyance kept entering my experience. And the more “aware” I became through mental discipline, the more obvious these unpleasant intrusions became. I felt specifically targeted, like this wasn’t a friendly place – and if life was purposefully making things difficult, why should I bother trying if I’m only gonna get dumped-on.

That’s where I’m at right now, trying to piece some new beliefs together and pivot. So far, I’m thinking that I’ve been navel-gazing too much. My character is at the forefront of my thoughts, and he shouldn’t be. It’s like a car that gets you from point-A to point-B – who cares if the engine makes a funny noise or the window’s cracked. You just run the thing till it conks-out.

As far as mental discipline goes, I’m not quite sure how it fits in. I was putting in too much effort and dedication while receiving diminishing-returns. Any more, and I’d basically be a monk. Can’t a happy-medium be found, a balance between discipline and delight? I don’t know yet – the quest continues….