Final Frontier

I just finished re-watching all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I saw the series when it originally aired and I would’ve watched some reruns along the way as well. It’s been awhile since then, but every episode had an air of familiarity to it. Plus it’s a different experience to consume an entire series in a few months rather than over the course of several years.

No, not every episode is great and season 7 is a bit weak, but overall I love it: 5 outta 5. Jean-Luc Picard and Data are a force to be reckoned with. In the beginning, I was struck by the sheer competency of the crew. If you like to see professionals at work, THIS is the series for you. The Enterprise is the flagship of the Federation and it shows.

Another striking theme is the preeminence of AI in the form of Lieutenant Commander Data. He’s a self-aware android that could take over the ship at-will. Because of his vast database of knowledge and computational power, he offers solutions that regularly fix complex problems — it’s kinda like a “Deus ex Machina” situation where an actual machine keeps coming to the rescue.

Funny enough though, the people of that time don’t trust autopilot all that much and prefer human intuition when it comes to navigating through difficult situations. And just to note, cyborgs are pretty much demonized in this future — humans should stay human and any systematic integration with computers is detrimental and robs humans of their humanity.

Yet another prominent theme is the nature of reality. Whereas Data demonstrates that organic humans have been superseded in the physical realm, the series essentially explains that humans should transcend the physical realm anyway, reaching different planes of existence (something Data likely cannot do). So the final frontier isn’t actually space, but existence itself.

Time and distance are mere constructs devised by limited thinking. Once this is understood, the door to greater possibilities opens up. The series ends on this note. Something else to consider, is how the series was bookended by Q, an omnipotent being that exists beyond physicality. Although others of his kind questioned the value of humanity, he was entertained by humans and ultimately cared for their continued existence and growth as a species.

And as I mentioned, that growth entails a transcendence beyond limited thinking. To progress, humanity must overcome the confines of tribalism and their propensity towards violence. And humanity won’t progress by means of technology, nor by the exploration of space, but by the exploration of their own consciousness and the expansion of understanding.

Captivated

If I had to use one word to describe existence, it would be this: captivated. Whether it’s through delight or despair, fun or fear, this world has captured your attention. You’re constantly focused on it. You’re surrounded by it, infused with it — it’s everything you know. It’s the ultimate immersive experience. Cool right?

Quite exhilarating in fact. Yet perhaps too thrilling at times? This world is SO good at what it does, that sometimes you’re scared shitless. You’re shaken to the core by the horror unfolding before you. “What is this HELLHOLE!? Please make this nightmare stop!!” Because you’re so lost to the story, everything seems seriously significant.

If you find yourself uncomfortably captivated by this place, you can adjust your perspective and improve your experience. Imagine sitting in the first row of a movie theater with your neck straining to look up, your eyes overwhelmed by the brightness, your ears pounding from the sound, and the air-conditioner causing you to shiver. Now imagine moving back a few rows until everything feels just right. You can do that here too.

In this world, you can adjust your position by shifting your focus. What are you thinking about right now? For example, I used to think about spiders and I’d get anxious, my eyes would scan the room for creepy crawlies… Ahh! What’s that?!! Oh, just a speck on the wall. I’d go from relaxed to paranoid in no time. The fix for that situation is NOT securing every crack and spraying a perimeter of poison. The fix is to NOT think about spiders i.e. stop focusing on stuff you don’t like.

And you know what happened once I stopped focusing on the stuff I didn’t like? Less of it showed up. I barely see spiders anymore and even if I do, I have a friendlier relationship with them. I simply stopped telling myself the story that spiders are everywhere and they’re out to get me. While it’s true that we’re captivated by life, we do get to control our own focus. When this is realized, and actually put it into practice, life gets much better.

So the root of any problem is this: life is SO captivating that you don’t realize you can simply change the channel. Don’t like what you’re experiencing? Focus on something you DO like and stop telling yourself how bad everything is. You can tell the tale of your life any way you want to. It’s a skill you must develop through constant practice: direct your attention away from the bad and towards the good.

Musical Fantasy

Haven’t you ever listened to music? You know, like songs on the radio? The words are sparse, rambling, and repetitive? And just look at the music-videos that accompany them, they’re utterly dreamlike and often absurd. Plus, those projects cost millions of dollars and take months to produce and subsequently rake-in millions of dollars from fans.

You’re telling me that such a circumstance is the culmination of millions of years of evolution? NOPE. This is a fantasyland, a dreamworld, a place where imagination takes shape. Why would a civilization dedicate so much time, energy, and resources to people singing abstract songs that merely entertain fans for a few weeks until the next song comes along? That’s the height of absurdity and therefore PROOF that this world is not “real”.

Name any musical performer you want, they’re not THAT good, and you can find a thousand people that think they absolutely SUCK. Talent isn’t a thing, there’s no cream rising to the top, it’s simply people wishing to be stars and fans forming around them. This is Westworld, the movie from 1973 where patrons get to live out fantasies amongst robots. But in this amusement-park, patrons are made to forget their origins.

Some of us apparently forget too much, and believe ourselves to be living as fragile creatures struggling for survival amidst a harsh and brutal hellscape DESPITE the fact that pop-stars exist. WHAT!!?? No offense, but how dumb do you gotta be to not realize that this is a fantasy world? Okay, okay, I’ll admit it — I am that dumb — it took me several decades to understand this facet of existence.

Now that I do understand, I’m trying to go from gritty nightmare-realm to lighthearted fairy-tale land. I’d say for the most part it’s working. A couple years ago I lived in a single-wide mobile-home in a trailer-park and now I live in a top-floor two-story condo in the heart of downtown overlooking a nicely manicured park. And I literally did nothing to achieve this dramatic change except wish for it. I simply packed the car and sat in the passenger seat as we traveled to our new residence.

My biggest obstacle of last year was trying to appreciate my surroundings despite my inherent pessimism and anxious tendencies. And my biggest obstacle this year is my attempt to suppress any remaining suspicions that life is out to get me. I’m still working on it, which is why I’m pointing out how contrived everything is. If circumstances are created specifically for my amusement, there’s no reason to worry. The point of this world couldn’t be clearer: have fun.

Frustration Station

Dear Rich, an idea popped into my head and now I feel frustrated because it’s not something I can readily pursue.

Dear reader, it’s good that you noticed that stormy situation forming in your thoughts. That’s step one. Step two, is to NOT pursue the idea. Pump the brakes. It’s only an idea worth pursing if it fills you with delight and inspires hopefulness for the future. If, as in this case, it makes you feel frustrated, DUMP IT.

It might even be an idea that comes true later on, but right now is not the time to think about it. You’ll know this by the way it makes you feel. Pursuing those feelings of frustration will only hinder your life, it won’t improve anything, nor will it hasten fulfillment of the goal.

You might be tempted to believe that you NEED frustration as a form of motivation. It’s not true. Frustration is the feeling of annoyance, and being pushed around by irritation is a low-quality way to navigate this world. You’ll want to do things because they seem fun and interesting, NOT because you’re upset.

Instead of wandering wherever frustration leads you, take some breaths and clear your mind. Then allow the stream of endless thoughts to flow once again. This time, ignore the frustrating ones and select something pleasant instead. You’re the doorman/bouncer at the hottest club in town, and your job is to let in the coolest thoughts around.

Ideas are just fanciful visions floating around in your head — figments of your imagination. If you ignore one, another takes its place. Even if an idea truly needs to come in, yet shows-up with an unruly attitude, deny it entry until it returns in the form of something pleasant. Don’t worry, it’ll come back — your mind is the only opportunity for these ideas to express themselves. You have the power, not them.

Cycle of Significance

Things seem significant right up until they don’t. When I was in school, homework seemed important, tests seemed momentous, and whatever the teacher said seemed paramount. When I was no longer in school, those things seemed trivial. Who cares what a gerund is? Yet at the time, it seemed somewhat significant.

Navigating the hallways of school was like a minefield. Who might I run into? A bully!? A crush!? A frenemy!!?? The vice-principal in a bad mood!!!??? I was like a scout on patrol in enemy territory. One misstep and my life would’ve been ruined in an instant. A single embarrassing situation could’ve destroyed me.

Yet today, that stuff seems insignificant. So will the things I find important today lose their significance as well? Uh, duh! Should I simply not care about anything? What’s it like to no longer care? Is it a form of negativity or nihilism? Or is it simply an acceptance of the reality I find myself within? Is it freedom?

When I believed in the significance of school, I was a prisoner of that belief — captivated by the idea that grades and grammar mattered. I could see nothing beyond the confines of that institution. When I left, I felt free. Similarly, if I drop the pretense of importance I attribute to the things within my current life, should I feel even freer?

Whenever something comes up, it feels VERY significant within that moment. Yet when it passes, it losses all importance — especially when a new circumstance replaces it. It’s just a dramatic cycle of significance — a merry-go-round of theatrics, with me reacting to whatever stimuli happens to be within view as I whirl by.

Just imagine it, you hear a crash. You hurry downstairs to see dripping drops of red everywhere! It looks like a crime-scene! Upon further investigation, it appears that a ceramic dish of raspberry sorbet smashed on the floor and a child is caught in the midst of a misadventure. Suddenly, the remnants of a frozen dessert treat is the most important thing in your life.

Then just as suddenly, the significance is gone, replaced by something new. What a way to live: up and down and all around. Reacting to all the flashing lights and sounds that appear before me. And that’s fine, why not ride the merry-go-round and experience some excitement. BUT I must remember to appreciate it for what it is, a brief and fleeting scene meant to stir me up. When it’s over, let it go.

Next adventure, please! But even better than that, is when I save my excitement for what I truly treasure. Is a broken dish worth the drama? Not in my opinion, so I simply wipe-up the mess and move on. The way in which I react to these fleeting scenes is more my choice than I had expected. Complete passivity is a recipe for disaster — this ride requires active appreciation, a positive perspective, and proper focus.

Just In Time

Hurry! You’re running out of time!! Just kidding, time isn’t a thing here. It seems like it is, but it’s only a construct that aids in storytelling. Just like in dreams or movies, time is fluid — years can pass in seconds or seconds can slow to an eternity. No big deal.

For example, deadlines are dramatic story elements. You’re in a dreamworld, nothing’s actually due here. Oh sure, you can pretend you’ve got an important appointment that you simply MUST make. “Oh no! I’m late!! What am I gonna do now!?” Add some pressure with a dash of histrionics and the mundane becomes exciting!

That’s a silly way to experience existence though: like a white rabbit running through Wonderland. For a higher-quality experience, you’ll want to ignore that kinda nonsense. So relax. Get comfy and sit still for a bit. Something less intense yet equally captivating will eventually come to you. Just watch your thoughts and sort through the incoming ideas.

“Oh I like that one!” So do that one. When you no longer believe in timetables, there’s no strain or frustration — you can’t be late. The day expands or contracts depending on the needs of the narrative. Today transforms while tomorrow waits. Cast the shackle of time from your wrist and embrace the timelessness of now.

Big Brain Time

What do you do when you know you’re in a dream and you also realize that dreams don’t adhere to logic? It’s Big Brain Time! That’s right, it’s time to apply amusingly absurd solutions to all your dream-world problems. In a dream, logic is for losers, it won’t work — B does not necessarily follow A.

For example, do you want to completely change your life? What you DON’T do, is start a gradual process of incremental improvement. That’s dumb — it’s too logical. What you DO, is make a collage of pretty pictures that visually describes the life you want to live. Eventually, your life will morph into whatever you imagined. Sound stupid? Good, it should — THAT’S how you know it’s right.

You may think I’m being facetious, but I assure you I’m not. As a former logical-thinker who utterly failed at life due to the over-application of logic, I’m simply speaking from experience. Logic IS for losers. If you want a great life, you gotta go big-brain. You have to come up with crazy ways to go from A to Z. Or better yet, A to Alpha-Centauri. In a dream, you can go wherever you want.

Do you have a goal you want to achieve? Then do it! There’s no “right time” to wait for, there’s nothing you need to know, no preparation necessary, no luck involved, no stars to align, no talent needed — you’re in dream, you simply wish it into existence. Focus on the goal and it manifests around you. If you believe you need a logical path to get there — you’re wrong. Get there the big-brain way!