Narrative of Existence

You’re painting a picture with your thoughts, a narrative of existence. Tell me, how do you like it? Are you enjoying what you see? Hm, I sense an underlying unpleasantness in your response. Perhaps you’re unsatisfied with your work. Maybe you feel yourself unable to design a delightful experience. Maybe you’re resorting to the sensation of looming-doom to make the story seem more exciting. It’s a rookie move for sure.

Let me suggest some improvements. First, you’re perfectly capable of coming up with something pleasant AND entertaining. You don’t need “fear” or “pain” to feel alive — scare-tactics and cheap-thrills are the junk-food of storytelling. Characters don’t require fear or pain to feel motivated into action — love is enough. Wake up to a vibrant new day filled with creative potential, feel the vitality of life flowing through your body. As an artist, approach the canvas before you and select the brightest, most brilliant hues and apply them generously.

There’s no reason not to be enjoying this experience of existence. You’ve been haphazardly slapping on the gray tints and somber tones all this time. But let’s change that. Put those dour colors down. And as easy as that, they’ll dry up and you can cover them with colors that evoke merriment and contentment. As Willy Wonka sang: “If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Wanna change the world? There’s nothing to it.” If you think it’s just a song, it is. But if you think it’s more than that, it is.

Think of your imagination and your thoughts as the programming interface to life. What begins in the mind ends up in the external. It’s actually a pretty simple interface: think bad, see bad — think good, see good. That’s all there is to it. Potential content for your narrative comes from a constantly refreshing catalog of thoughts circulating through your mind — your job is to select only the items that evoke a delightful reaction. It’s just like shopping. You simply leave the unpleasant items on the shelf and wait till you see something you like, select it, and in that way you form the story you experience.

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Premise of Pretend

You are fully within your abilities to reject this world and everything in it. You’ll suffer obviously, but it’s possible. So your job, is to simply accept this scenario as valid. Accept the simulation as actually happening. Buy into the premise it presents and have fun. Don’t overdue it though, don’t over-invest and act all crazy and super-serious.

Think of it this way. You’re a child meeting up with your friend and she starts pretending to be Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. She keeps calling you Bubblebee and telling you that you have to defeat Megatron and his evil Decepticons. But you’re like, “Huh!?” And she’s like “Come on Bubblebee!”. And you’re like, “I don’t want to play this, it’s dumb.” She’s obviously disappointed at your choice and you both sit there bored for the rest of the afternoon.

You could’ve just accepted her premise and played along, eventually having fun with the game-of-pretend. But no, you had to be a wet-blanket and ruin her good-time as well as your own. Great job, sport.

Or scenario two: you DO accept her premise but take it too far. You’re like, “Holy sh*t, Optimus!!! The Decepticons are everwhere!! They’re going to destroy us!!” And she’s like, “Whoa calm down dude, it’s just a game.” But you’re like, “A GAME?!! We’re about to die!!! Take cover!! Hide!!”.

You could’ve accepted her premise a bit more lightheartedly, and got into a groove that generated some entertainment for you both. But no, you had to turn the dial up to eleven and ruin everyone’s fun again. Great job, buckaroo.

So here’s the deal: yes you’re in a simulation that’s essentially one giant game of pretend. And just like a game of pretend, you have the ability to delve into your character — or not. It’s obviously in your best interest to get into character, or else you’ll be bored-to-tears while waiting for the game to end. But don’t take it too seriously either, it’s a game after-all, don’t freak out when you’re presented with surprising scenarios.

And remember this: just like any other game of pretend, you’re free to add your own ideas into it. You don’t have to live with the scenarios you’re initially presented with. You can morph them into scenes that suit your tastes. So if you’re not enjoying yourself, there are two things you need to check: how invested you are in the game (too much or not enough) — and whether you’re focusing on the parts you personally enjoy. Plus, helping playmates have a good time is a great way to pass the time too.

Realist Fantasy

So you want to live in the “real” world huh? Okay, let’s take a quick look at the “real” world then. In the real-world, you could die at any minute of the day due to accident, natural disaster, disease, organ failure, homicide, etc. But thanks to your knowledge and cunning, you’ve managed to survive on a daily basis despite the many dangers that surround. Congratulations, you are amazingly adept at survival. Unfortunately, the moment you let your guard down, you’re dead — and because of random-chance, there’s actually no way to protect against most of the situations that’ll kill you. Hopefully you’re feeling lucky.

That world is a recipe for anxiety. I know because I tried living in it for a few decades. It sucked. I was obviously living a lie too. The world is not a big-scary place in which you must fend for yourself or-else. In terms of life-skills, I’m ignorant as well as incompetent. I couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag. I don’t have any survival skills — if pushed, I crumple. Yet here I am. Everything I believed about the “real” world is completely wrong. Not a little wrong, COMPLETELY wrong. It’s clear that I’ve been carried through life all this time — because if it were up to my own ability, I’d be long gone by now.

My advice to you is this: give up those dumb ideas about the “real” world. Save yourself the trouble of having to deal with anxiety for decades until you finally figure it out. This thing you’re experiencing is not an absolute reality, it’s more like a dream. You’ll be okay. And you know you’ll be okay because you’re here, despite your inability. A natural world demands the fittest specimens, quick reflexes, split-second death-defying decision-making, and constant vigilance — whereas this world… not so much. We’re all inexperienced novices to some extent.

Yes, it’s exciting to think you have to “struggle” and “survive” to make it through this world. But there are so many counter-examples to prove this isn’t true — it’s a silly thought. Think of life like a lazy-river in which you’re gently floating downstream. If you simply allow life to maintain your buoyancy, and you remain calm without struggling, you’ll easily drift with the current. Whereas if you fight the flow and thrash around like a madman, then yes, it will seem like you’re drowning. That’s not life’s doing, that’s your doing. If you refrain from freaking out, then things will go a lot smoother. From there, you can finally perceive actual reality and enjoy the ride.

Global Alterations

In self-improvement circles, there’s a topic that’s often skirted-around, so I want to make this point crystal-clear.

When delving into self-improvement, you’ll naturally think that only YOUR life gets better while the nastiness around you remains the same. That’s not true. As you proceed down the self-improvement path, the nature of the reality you’re experiencing transforms. When you improve, the situations and circumstances of the world improve. When YOU get better, everything gets better.

“WHAT!!?? That’s ridiculous!!” Now you realize why people don’t usually talk about this topic directly. As someone that just stepped on the self-improvement path, you can’t readily fathom such a concept — it doesn’t make sense. You simply wanted to gain a little clarity over your life or lessen your anxiety — and now all of a sudden the world as you know it is going to change as well!?? Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.

And I’m not simply talking perception-wise, I’m saying the construction of the world will be reformed. If you’re dedicated, you’ll see a dank-and-dark realm-of-misery transform into a sunshine-filled amusement-park. This might make more sense if you think of existence as a dream. When dreaming, the scenes tend to take the form of whatever mood you’re in. If you’re anxious, you’ll have worrisome dreams for example.

So when your outlook improves, your dream improves. You’ll be tuned into a whole new station of Earth-TV. It’s another plane of existence in which great things happen. If you’ve ever wondered why some people are having an awesome time despite all the nastiness you see, this is why. That nastiness doesn’t exist for them, it resides on an entirely different frequency. They could tune-in if they wanted, but that’d be dumb obviously.

That nastiness can’t be “fixed” by the way. It exists as it is for those that want to experience it. For a time, you wanted to experience it, but now you’re moving beyond that junk-food-level of existence — you’re done with using fear and frustration and pain as a source of amusement. You’re done with masochism. Now you’re on the self-improvement path. Sure it takes some discipline to get there and maintain it, but it’s worth it.

At first, the self-improvement path won’t seem worth it. From your current perspective, it’ll look like you have to climb to the top of a garbage pile. “So what! It probably smells worse at the top!” But no, that pile of garbage will transform as you climb it — it will become the hill of your dreams i.e. grassy fields filled with daisies underneath blue-skies dotted with puffy white clouds (or whatever). Note: if the world doesn’t transform before your very eyes, then you’re not applying enough discipline.

Horrible Choices

Dear Rich, all I see are horrible things, therefore the world must be a horrible place — how can it be otherwise?

It really is true that you’re seeing and experiencing horrible things. You’re right about that. Where you’re wrong, is in the assumption that those images and circumstances constitute the totality of reality. You’re assuming that reality is an absolute condition comprised only of the things you’ve personally experienced thus far — when in fact it’s a lot larger than that, plus it’s relative and subject to interpretation.

Cheesecake to some, is a delicious treat. Whereas cheesecake to me, is a disgusting abomination, a so-called “cake” not fit for the dessert-table. But the world is all things to all people, and cheesecake lovers deserve delight too. So if I’m at a buffet and I grab a big ol’ slice of cheesecake for myself, sit down and complain about it’s awful taste and texture, you’d think I was an idiot. You’d say: “Why do you keep selecting something you don’t like!!! Just grab a brownie for goodness sake!!”

And there we have it. You keep seeing and experiencing horrible things because you keep choosing them. Just stop it already! As hard as it is to believe, some people really do enjoy things that disgust you — that’s their choice. There are entire factories dedicated to the production of cheesecake for example — how gross is that!? But hey, that’s none of my business. Yet if I spent my days reveling in the revulsion of that fact, you’d think I was a sicko. You’d say, “Find a more enjoyable hobby, ya nut!!”

Think of the world like it’s YouTube. You can find plenty of nasty videos on there that’ll ruin your day. But you can also find stuff that’ll delight you, make you laugh, and uplift your spirit. Either type will captivate and alleviate boredom — but it’s up to you to evaluate how the flashing-scenes make you feel and then select accordingly. If it’s not obvious yet, you’ll want to watch the scenes that make you feel good, not the ones that make you feel bad.

In this way, the world becomes what you make of it. Reality is relative, remember. “Bad stuff” is going to happen whether you watch it or not. And you’re only going to contribute negativity to the world if you spend all your time judging and condemning the stuff you don’t like. For instance, as of today there are over 200 Cheesecake Factory restaurants around the world, and I’m fine with that. I’ve even eaten at one — I selected Linda’s Fudge Cake for dessert and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Masochistic Delight

So I’m sitting there in the War Robots lobby looking at the scrolling chat, and this guy is complaining about something not working right. And believe me, EVERY complaint about War Robots is probably legit — there’s so much to complain about –in fact, I do it all the time. Yet we all still show up to play the game. WHY!!?? The game literally abuses us in every way possible. So I contributed to the conversation and said, “well yeah, I think you gotta love some level of abuse to play this game.”

And then it hit me, I’m a freakin masochist!!! It’s like one of those M. Night Shyamalan moments when your life flashes before your eyes and all the clues were there, but you just couldn’t recognize them at the time. It’s dead-obvious now that I’m analyzing it — but I always thought it was such a dumb concept: who the heck would purposefully seek out pain? Uh, um, well, me I guess. Please hurt me!! Thank you, may I have another!!?

I’m always playing games in which I suffer frustrating losses. Even this blog frustrates me. My relationships frustrate me. Food frustrates me. It turns out, EVERYTHING frustrates me! YET, I keep going back for more.

So then I started thinking about memorable circumstances throughout my life. Would things have gone more smoothly if I had only trusted life and stopped trying to fight at every turn — if I had simply gone with the flow? And my conclusion was: no, not really. BUT, what readily and reliably explains the circumstances of my life: I’m a masochist! It’s as if the scenes I experienced were professionally designed to evoke maximum frustration!

If you think about it though, games are typically designed to introduce frustration, that’s their underlying nature. An obstacle prevents your progress — and until you overcome it, you’re frustrated by it. And the MORE frustrating a challenge is, the MORE it draws you in. That’s why the concept of “playing hard to get” can work in the realm of romance. If it’s easy, who cares. But if it’s difficult to attain, that’s a challenge that’ll keep you interested! That’s something you can dedicate yourself to!

If you quickly get through a game, it’s over — there’s nothing left to do. Whereas if challenges continually keep you from getting to the end, you literally might play for years. Sure you’re frustrated, but you keep going and going and going. You MUST reach the end no matter what it takes!!! So that’s life in a nutshell: a series of unconquerable tasks that string you along to the end. After all these years here, I haven’t mastered ANYTHING — and apparently, I’m not supposed to.

And if I did master life’s challenges, there’d be nothing left to accomplish. It’d be: “You Win!” followed by: “Game Over”.

So the question becomes: can I participate in this game-of-life while only experiencing minimal frustration? Must I always find myself maximally frustrated? Is pain simply my preference? I honestly don’t feel like it is, but ample evidence says otherwise. I would theorize that it’s possible to give up the pain-loving lifestyle if I develop an alternate means in which to appreciate life. For example, maybe I could develop a taste for winning.

As it is, I barely care if I win. But when I lose, oh boy, I can feel that frustration brewing. That’s something real. What a thrill it is to feel dominated and defeated!! In every path of life, I’ve felt that same frustration from my inabilities. I’m nothing but a weak and worthless moron that can’t do anything right. A loser. A loser lapping up frustration like it’s the tastiest cake on Earth. Sicko.

Therefore, having recognized my masochistic tendencies AND having recognized that I do not enjoy the level of pain produced by said tendencies, I hereby declare that I will work towards developing a new way to appreciate life. I will celebrate the victories and the revelry, the camaraderie and the creativity, the gentle and the loving — I am done delighting in despair and the not-fair.

Existential Challenge

What does it take to live in the world?

The tenacity to maintain a positive attitude. I lived with a bad attitude most of my life. It sucked.

What obstacles are you faced with in your life?

Sleep is a biggie. I don’t sleep very well. In fact I actively fight it at times. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a control issue. And when I finally do fall asleep, I wake up throughout the night.

Existential boredom. I don’t know what I should do with the bulk of my time. It’s been several decades and I’ve yet to find a career path.

The occasional physical ailments: headaches, colds, minor injuries. I wrestle with that stuff like they’re major life-altering obstacles.

Pessimism. I tend to think the worst of everything. I have to actively fight against it.

What obstacles would you rather tackle instead?

Well, nothing to do with my physical body — my body should simply serve as a well-functioning vehicle for my consciousness. I’d rather my obstacles take the form of career related tasks. But like I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure what that career would be.

I suppose if I had my druthers, I’d like to be an eccentric nouveau riche. I’d spend crazy amounts of money at Walt Disney World, stay at Deluxe Resorts (concierge-level of course), decorate my house with outlandishly expensive Disney memorabilia, stay current with the latest tech gadgets, ride electric scooters around town (the fun kind), go on shopping sprees, go to restaurants, collect things, and treat everyone I know to great gifts (like Santa Claus). That excites me.

I’m just kinda waiting for the fun-funds to kick in. Luckily, after several decades of existence I started believing in magic, so the certainty of this scenario is approaching one hundred percent. And if you believe in “nominative determinism”, my name is actually Rich — it’s a destiny thing.

I can also see why it wouldn’t have made sense to have money at an earlier stage of life. Because of my pessimism, it would’ve just amplified my anxiousness. Now instead of fortresses and walling myself away, I can think of more enjoyable ways to spend money. So in a sense, I’d like my career to be shopping. For pro-shoppers such as myself, shopping is like a form of hunting, it’s finding the best, most appropriate item — which takes a lot of care and effort — for those #bornToShop, it’s energizing.

So “the hunt” is where I’d face my obstacles. I need to be me, and if me is a silly guy that loves to shop, then so be it.

Any parting words?

Yes. I think selecting your preferred obstacles is a primary component of designing your life. If you don’t, life will simply hand you some default challenges. For instance, two big challenges for me are sleep and headaches — and that’s just dumb. I’m ready to move on to a more enjoyable context in which to overcome my challenges.

It’s also important to understand that challenges are relative. Everyone experiences maximum-challenge mode. What might look like nothing to you is near impossible for another — whereas what might look impossible to you, is readily handled by someone else. A pimple on the nose could bring someone’s world crashing down. You can’t judge or compare — obstacles are relative to the individual they’re applied to.