Avoiding Angst

Wait, so life is like a “Try not to laugh challenge” but it’s a “Try not to get upset challenge?”

It seems so, yes. You can do what’s called-for in the moment, but you can’t overreact or obsess on the situation. Play your part, but don’t get lost. You can end up going backwards if you don’t maintain your focus. Do make the effort though: you’ll keep attempting to complete this challenge life-after-life if need be. And be warned: your progress (or lack there of) follows you into the next.

You should also realize that there are forces deliberately thwarting your attempt to accomplish this challenge. But every game has obstacles and opponents to overcome, right? So no big deal. In this game it’s things like anger, lethargy, confusion, craving, selfishness, and even beauty. These influences try to tie you to this world so you’ll feel invested – making you easy to upset.

Let me provide some scenarios with a couple different approaches (purely fictional, for demonstrative purposes only):

Life: “Hey Rich, your dog just died.”
Bad: “Curse this world!! Why do you taunt me so!? To give me love, only to snatch it away! Will this unyielding cruelty ever end!?”
Better: “Aw man (sniffle). Well, I appreciate the time we had together.”

Life: “Hey Rich, what do you want to do today?”
Bad: “Meh, nothing. Everything sucks, why bother.”
Better: “Hm, good question! I’m sure there’s something interesting I can find!”

Life: “Hey Rich, check this out, kinda neat right?”
Bad: “I NEED THAT NOW!!! GIMME!! I shall not rest even a moment until it is in my possession!”
Better: “Oh wow, that’s amazing. Might even be cool to have, but I’m fine either way.”

Life: “Hey Rich, I heard that guy called you a jerk.”
Bad: “WHAT!? I hope he fails at life. Should it ever be in my power to do so, I will personally smite him.”
Better: “Ha, whatever, can’t hear the haters! Although, maybe I can improve my interactions with others.”

Life: “Hey Rich, the cake’s all gone!”
Bad: “WHO ATE MY CAKE!!?? That was MY cake! I’ll remember this!”
Better: “Ah okay, well it WAS tasty!”

In a sense, strive to be mellow. It may seem like a strange objective – but really, what else can a person truly control in life? It’s attitude and focus. Maintaining awareness and constant course-correction aren’t easy tasks by-the-way. But this is the vehicle we have, and this is the mechanism by which we steer. Think about driving an actual car: stay within the lane, maintain appropriate speed, avoid obstacles, and don’t overreact. In both situations, calm behavior gets you to your destination.

Three Threads

The Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 14) clearly establishes that one’s eternal essence is bound by certain forces that influence its earthly experience. Being born into this world, the spirit is entwined and anchored by these forces. It is the earth-dweller’s task to unbind its non-physical portion from these influences in order to rejoin the spiritual-whole from which it came. Failing to do so in one lifetime will simply result in another opportunity within another lifespan – and so on.

A question that arises is: why does a supreme-being confine a fraction of itself within an embodied-being and then expect that spiritual-portion to find its way back? In a sense, it’s an “Escape Room” scenario in which the spirit must collect clues and solve puzzles in order to find its way out. Additionally, the spirit must first discern that it’s trapped to begin with. Perhaps this entrapment is simply the byproduct of an overthinking celestial entity.

Whatever the reason, the spirit must untangle itself from the threads that bind it. How? By becoming smooth and friction-free. Imagine a rough non-slip surface that catches on everything it touches – it’s stuck. Now imagine a smooth surface that slides easily through life. By not allowing itself to become wrapped-up in the narrative, the spirit can glide through life and find its way back to the origin. Essentially, the conscious mind has to lighten-up and relax.

By perceiving life lightheartedly, one travels an enlightened path. Imagine the undisciplined mind as Velcro’s tiny hooks persistently grasping at every loop the world offers. Now imagine a disciplined mind as being sleek and hookless, no longer grabbing those loops. The loops are there, but the disciplined mind doesn’t keep getting stuck, it’s free of attachment. The world still turns, but its weight no longer rests on the spirit’s shoulder.

So the goal is this: to experience existence without getting upset. And the tools to do this are awareness, attitude, focus, and interpretation. Maintain awareness of attitude and focus. Actively improve attitude and shift focus to non-distressing topics. Seek and sustain an enjoyable interpretation of life. By engaging in this practice, the spirit can overcome its entanglement and return to a place of peace.

Say your Prayers

I just read the Bhagavad Gita again, which in essence, is a distraught man’s conversation with God. It’s about a guy having a tough time with life, and so God-incarnate talks him through it. “Hey bro, life’s not as miserable as you’re making it seem — I mean yeah, it can look a little gruesome, but so what. A cake is an unappetizing mess until it’s cooked too — but the process is still worth it. So ya know what? Have some fun, get rowdy, and break some shit brah!” In the end, the archer gets it and does what he needs to do — which in this case, is to fight in a bloody feud against members of his beloved family.

And it got me thinking about what I’ve been writing in this blog for the last six and a half years. What IS this? I suppose you could say it’s a distraught man’s conversation with God. I seem to be the primary audience here, I read and re-read posts all the time — I find them super insightful. I’m the one always asking questions and receiving helpful answers — I don’t know where those answers come from, they’re certainly not from my everyday-self or I wouldn’t ask the questions in the first place. And anyone that wanders upon this blog is simply witnessing the conversation taking place.

Perhaps this is a form of prayer, a dialog with God in the form of a diary. Prayer is often portrayed as one-sided, but I’ve certainly heard of two-sided prayer in which God responds in one way or another. And apparently, the easiest way to interface with me, is through succinctly written entries. For the most part, this is where I come to get in touch with my “higher self”, the part of me that’s beyond the scared little creature I often revert to. This is where I come to make sense of the world going on around me. Are You There God? It’s Me, Richard.

As far as I’m aware, I never had a personal relationship with God. I didn’t go for that nonsense, it didn’t resonate with me. “Um hey big-guy, so I know you’re busy maintaining the universe and all — but if ya could, my team really needs a win this Saturday. Whaddya say?” Well that’s how a relationship with God was portrayed in pop-culture anyway. But considering it now, it seems that I’ve established a relationship with God through this blog. Just a decade earlier I was writing atheistic, I’m-too-smart-for-this-world type posts in my previous blog — I guess I’ve gone 180 degrees in some ways.

I dunno man, I suppose we’re all trying to figure things out. Even with God by our side, this stuff is tough. No offense, but a game requiring this much hand-holding might be a tad too complicated. Or maybe those of us that need extended-help just suck at this game — I can see that. From an external perspective, it looks like I’m not even trying. But I interpret everything so intensely, that I barely have to do anything and I feel overwhelmed for the day. I recognize that I’m overreacting to the world’s stimuli, but it just happens to be my default. “AH! What was that! Oh, it was nothing. AH! I’m being attacked!! Oh, oops, no it’s fine.”

If a cosmic bystander simply observed my reactions to the world, he would assume Earth was a prison-planet in which inhabitants were regularly tortured for the sadistic pleasure of a malevolent creator. Whereas if the same cosmic bystander observed what I actually did all day, he’d wonder why I sat still for so long, and he’d wonder why I randomly freaked out for no apparent reason. Objectively, the physical portion of my life has never been difficult — but the mental aspect has been off the charts. And the only reason the mental part is so hard, is because of my tendency to overreact. If I’d simply stop imagining the worst, things would be easy.

And that’s where spirituality and this blog come into play. These entries are helping me to understand that life is not out to get me. For six and a half years I’ve been trying to rewire my defaults. I think I’m getting better — really. Yes, I oftentimes react as if I’m afraid, but underneath I don’t feel anxious, I quickly dismiss my scaredy-cat responses. Yes, I’m still presented with classic pessimistic reactions to many things that come my way, but I usually laugh at the silliness of such a perspective. And if someone attempts to sell me a pessimistic idea, my mind readily counters it with positivity.

So that’s the message I received this time around while re-reading the Bhagavad Gita.

Application of Attitude

I think the point of Krishna’s conversation with Arjuna is this: it’s not what you do that matters, it’s the intention underlying what you do that matters. In the story, Arjuna was upset at the idea of having to go to battle against his kinsmen — and Krishna basically talks him into it. Krishna explained that the act of fighting his family wasn’t evil as long as Arjuna had good intentions behind it. In the end, Arjuna felt fine about the situation and was able to fulfill his role as warrior and champion of virtue.

Like with Arjuna, we’re kinda just drifting through the narrative of life, expected to fulfill our particular role. And the point isn’t the specific actions we perform, but the attitude we take and the meaning we assign to each thing we do.

For example, I’m going to eat breakfast most mornings, it’s just something I do. I can eat it while feeling like a filthy little piggy stuffing my fat face — or I can eat it with the attitude that I’m starting my day off right, I can feel as though I’m consuming wholesome ingredients, the building-blocks for my body (now well-prepared for traveling through its daily journey). Either way, I’m eating breakfast, I’ve simply set the underlying intention to one I prefer.

Another example, I went out running this morning. I can think of it as a burdensome chore that’s necessary for making my flabby body less flabby. Or, I can think of it as an early morning adventure, a chance to see the streets from a different angle, unpopulated and dawn-lit — fulfilling my role as a suburban dad having fun with fitness and setting the tone for the day: an early-bird ready to catch the worm.

Another example, I went to the store yesterday — clothes-shopping with my friend. I can think of it as a waste of time that’s cutting into my oh-so-important schedule and as an example of wasteful consumerism — or, I can think of it as an opportunity to experience the feeling of togetherness with my delightful pal, and as a chance to get out and engage with the world in a lighthearted way.

I know what you’re thinking: so what, what’s the big deal, it’s just an attitude. SO WHAT?? Well it just so happens to be the primary point of the Bhagavad Gita: attitude matters!! THAT’S the wisdom you’re supposed to come away with. It makes ALL the difference in life. If you boil everything we do down to the act itself, it’s just dumb stuff we’re doing here — simply passing the time until we die. It’s the attitude we adopt and the meaning we ascribe that matters.

The stage is set, your co-stars are delivering their lines, your goals and aspirations are already built into your personality — you WILL play your role out no matter what — that’s not up for debate. The only question is whether you’ll welcome your part and enjoy yourself — or will you maintain a bad-attitude and grumble through the entire production. And if you ARE interested in enjoying yourself, the way in which you achieve satisfaction is by applying entertaining and pleasantly-significant reasons to everything you’re experiencing.

Spirituality To-Do, Item 12

Putting the Bhagavad Gita into practice.

Relax and enjoy the show.

I just watched the 2-part episode of Star Trek called “The Menagerie”. In it, Captain Pike was captured by an alien race that attempted to coerce him through the use of mental illusions — they could create a convincing reality in his mind. But Captain Pike refused to cooperate with the Talosian’s illusions. He could have any life, any adventure he wanted if only he didn’t fight it. But he wouldn’t accept his confinement, he complained and wouldn’t submit. He eventually escaped and went back to his everyday life — that is until he was severely wounded in an explosion that left him mute and immobile — Spock helped return him to Talos IV where he could live out the rest of his days in imaginary bliss.

While watching, I related to the story. I’m constantly fighting with life as if I refuse to submit, sensing coercion in my circumstances. Something’s not right here, there’s an artificiality that I can’t shake. Something’s trying to force me to perform — “but I won’t be your trained monkey! I refuse to dance for you!”

And it’s true, everyone can sense the conspiracy, we just can’t quite put our finger on it. There’s a forced fictitious narrative attempting to hide the reality of our situation. Yet all this time we really are within an illusionary realm — the conspiracy is true! But many of us can’t sense anything past the surface, so we attribute the feeling to things we can actually see.

In Star Trek, the Talosians weren’t monsters, they were simply trying to create a mutually beneficial exchange, they just went about it in a heavy-handed manner. Captain Pike was fine with it in the end. Similarly, I think the world I find myself within is trying its hardest to fulfill my desires but I refuse to play along. My suspiciousness and paranoia have me assuming a nefarious plot, yet it’s simply a misunderstanding on my part. The creator was welcoming me all along.

Therefore, because I finally get it, because I’m going to stop struggling against this gift that was given so graciously, I will relax and enjoy the show.

Spirituality To-Do, Item 11

Putting the Bhagavad Gita into practice.

I mustn’t judge the world, simply appreciate the spectacle.

What’s wrong with the world? Hm, couldn’t tell ya. Just kidding, I could write a list so long that I probably wouldn’t be done by the time I’m dead and buried. But it’s easy to be negative, to pick stuff apart, relentlessly criticizing until there’s no redeeming value left. It really doesn’t take me much effort at all to find fault with everything I encounter.

It does take its toll of course. When you ceaselessly destroy, nothing remains, the world’s a horrible place filled with worthless garbage. But are my criticisms correct? Is cheesecake really that bad? Even though it has a gross graham-cracker crust and a weird soft texture of sweetened cheese (yuck!) — is it really THAT bad? There’s entire factories dedicated to its production, so some people obviously find it delightful.

With an entire menu of desserts, it would seem silly to pick on cheesecake, why spend my time focused on what I don’t prefer? Why tell the waiter all the stuff I don’t want, isn’t it easier to tell him the item I do want. He’d be happier, I’d be happier, my dining companions would be happier. Just as I don’t care whether someone doesn’t like chocolate lava cake (it’s awesome btw), why should anyone care about my cake preferences? Yet I feel compelled to tell them how horrible their choice of cake is!

Constant complaining seems like a bad idea — because it is. It serves no one. Constructive criticism is one thing, but that’s not what’s going on here, I’m downright rippin’ into everything simply for the sake of it. Instead of finding something to enjoy, I’m dedicated to degrading all I survey. But again, that’s because it comes so easy, whereas appreciation takes effort. But perhaps that’s a problem with an easy fix, maybe a change in perspective or a bit of practice would help.

Perhaps I should stop myself when the urge to criticize surfaces. Instead of compiling a litany of complaints when I receive something, I should pick out something pleasant to say, focusing on at least one beneficial attribute — and if I can’t find something specific, then the very act of receiving should be appreciated — “thank you for what I am about to receive”. Because ultimately, I’m only ruining my own experience by being so critical.

Therefore, so that I can enjoy all the things provided for my existence as well as the delightful treats sprinkled in, I mustn’t judge the world, but simply appreciate the spectacle.

Spirituality To-Do, Item 10

Putting the Bhagavad Gita into practice.

Perform as my character, fearlessly following my nature.

It’s pretty obvious that we come with a set of foundational preferences that shape our overall personality. It’s as if we browse a dossier of attributes in the spiritual-realm, selecting the stats we want for our physical-world character. My character definitely has a certain set of skills in some areas while lacking in others. That’s another reason why we can tell this is a virtual realm by the way, that people’s skills are distributed in such a clearcut manner.

The funny part is, that we the possessors of particular skills don’t always know we have them, we have to figure out what we’re good at along the way. That makes sense though, because to us, our specific skill is easy, it doesn’t seem like an ability that others would lack. Sometimes we don’t know what we can do until others point out how good we are at something. Although, I suppose the primary indicator of what we should do, is the feeling of fulfillment we feel while performing a particular activity.

Whatever my character’s nature is, I must follow it. The only caveat being: don’t adhere to fear. If I really want to paint pictures for example, then I must, regardless of whatever consequences I might imagine — there are worse consequences for not performing as my nature suggests. But don’t be fooled! Life doesn’t let you off that easy… sometimes the time to act isn’t now. And sometimes one attribute overrides another. So you gotta play it by ear, adjusting as you go. Life likes to keep it interesting, keeps you guessing (in a fun and playful way).

To be clear: for those of us filled with fear, we have to filter that out first in order to reach our essence. “Scared little creature” is not an option here. And to remove that fear, we require spirituality to bolster our perspective. We have to feel safe and supported upon our path, confident in its progression. Through spirituality, we obtain hopefulness for what’s to come and gratitude for what we’ve received.

Therefore, to fully engage with this adventure-realm known as Earth and express my appreciation for the gift I’ve been given, I must perform as my character, fearlessly following my nature.

Spirituality To-Do, Item 9

Putting the Bhagavad Gita into practice.

Know that I am carried through life by a benevolent force playing amongst his parts.

If I look out my window I see white fluffy clouds drifting through a sea of blue sky. It’s a bit cold today, but nothing I couldn’t adequately dress for. Most of my days are pretty pleasant in that regard. But on some days I ignore all the decent stuff and focus on one particular part that I find annoying. If only I ignored the annoyance and went on with my day, accepting and appreciating whatever came next.

I think a lot of complaints I have about life stem from my inadequacy as an audience member. There really aren’t many challenges I have to deal with, the difficulty I have with life is in accepting and appreciating the gift I’ve been given. That’s true in my everyday life as well — if I’m given something for free, oftentimes I’m suspicious of the giver’s intention, paranoid that there’s something wrong with it, and so I downright reject it.

And that’s true of life, I’m suspicious and paranoid and avoid participating as much as I can. Here life is, giving me the gift of existence within a wondrous high-definition realm filled with all sorts of captivating adventures, and the whole time I’m thinking life is trying to trick me, tempting me with delights up until l let down my guard — then the trap is set, life takes it all away and I fall into despair, tortured by my loss for the rest of my miserable existence. And so I think, “NO! I’ll never let my guard down, I’ll never accept anything you give me! I know you’re out to get me! Suspicious till the end!”

What a dumb attitude though. If life wanted to hurt me, it could do so at any time using the most brutal means possible. And unfortunately, any pleasant attempt to get me to engage only increases my paranoia. My greatest challenge apparently, is to be a better audience member. Repeat after me: “Life is not out to get me”; “Existence is enjoyable”; “Gifts are good things I should appreciate, not scrutinize”; “Shut up, stop complaining, just enjoy the show”.

Life probably does include some unpleasantness, but I think that has more to do with effective storytelling. All good stories have moments of tension, some lows to highlight the highs, early lack to increase anticipation for later gains — that sorta stuff. But overall, life regularly displays its benevolence as circumstances synchronize and good stuff happens. And so that I can graciously receive these fruits, I must know that I am carried through life by a benevolent force playing amongst his parts.

Spirituality To-Do, Item 8

Putting the Bhagavad Gita into practice.

Convince myself that I’m not a fragile creature struggling for survival within a chance-based physical reality.

When I think about all the stuff I haven’t done for myself throughout my entire existence, the idea that I’m a fragile creature struggling for survival seems absurd. The weird part is that I believed myself to be so delicate for so long. I suppose it was easier to believe when I was younger, but now that I’ve lasted several effortless decades, it puts all my anxieties in an embarrassing light. I have zero justification to worry about anything.

Things just kinda work out and I’m seemingly along for the ride. And the longer I live, the more I notice the narratives, they’re obvious and everywhere, meaning this place is NOT chance-based. People regularly do get the objects of their desires, they do achieve their goals, and they do all this while following clearly defined story arcs that captivate and energize along the way.

Some people really do have sad stories, but that’s their story. There are entire TV networks based around that kind of drama, so the market is there, and some individuals truly want that experience. That’s not for me though, oh no, I’m a romantic-comedy guy. Give me the light and funny stuff. Heck, there’s people that love gory horror movies, so of course those types of narratives play out in this fulfillment-generator of a world.

This world is like a typical movie theater packed with all the different genres of movies. Sometimes you accidentally wander into the wrong room and NOPE right outta there — that flick clearly isn’t for you. But it’s a mistake to think EVERY movie in the entire place is just like that one. No, the types of movies you enjoy are playing too, just stop staring at the ones you don’t prefer, don’t obsess on the things you don’t like.

And similar to movies, stuff just happens outta nowhere — this isn’t a limited physical reality where a known circumstance forever and always follows another — no, there are deus-ex-machina plot twists all the time. If I think I can readily predict a specific outcome, then I can be pretty sure I’m wrong. Life tells an engaging tale that never fails to surprise.

Therefore, so that I can harmonize with existence, I must convince myself that I’m not a fragile creature struggling for survival within a chance-based physical reality.

Spirituality To-Do, Item 7

Putting the Bhagavad Gita into practice.

I mustn’t cling to thoughts passing through my mind (and if I do, just let go).

This is meditation. Thoughts come, sometimes persistently, but I don’t grab them, holding them tight in my mind — no, they’re free to go as quick as they came. But when I do grasp one, stare at its contents, analyze its meaning, I let go when I realize what I’m focused on. No big deal.

I practice not grasping thoughts, it’s a challenge but I’ve gotten better over time. I practice because I’ve noticed how thoughts affect my mood, and I don’t enjoy bad moods. When I hold unpleasant thoughts in my mind, I feel bad. All types of thoughts constantly enter, and without practice I had no choice but to allow them all in — but by practicing, I’m able to set boundaries, only welcoming in the thoughts I prefer. My moods have improved.

I simply sit comfortably, eyes closed, breathing through my nose, in, out. But as I exhale, I wordlessly say “Om” in my mind. When I notice I’m no longer mentally saying it, I just go back to saying it. By this method I train myself not to grab thoughts. In a sense, I’m ignoring all thoughts as they enter my mind, and this practice allows me to ignore thoughts in my everyday life, thoughts that would otherwise disturb me.

That’s the mechanical side to meditation — but there’s something beyond the mechanical. Oftentimes while meditating I stop saying “Om” in my mind, but it’s different, I’m drifting, it’s as if I take a break from my body for a bit. I sense tranquility and my perspective widens. I feel a greater connection to something beyond myself. These sensations tend to last for a little after I return from my twelve to twenty minute trip.

Therefore, so that I feel better, so that I’m able to take a break from myself, so that I can live life as it comes – experiencing the spectacle before me, I mustn’t cling to thoughts passing through my mind (and if I do, just let go).