Phoning Home

An excerpt from the Talk with Mom series.

I was recently talking to my seventy-something year-old mother on FaceTime. She told me about a recent incident where her dog was barking without an obvious prompt. My mother was concerned about whether the dog was barking at a ghost. I replied, “In your seventy-plus years of existence, have you ever seen a ghost?” She said she hadn’t. I said, “So in all these years, ghosts have been biding their time, plotting and waiting to finally reveal themselves to you when you reached your seventies?”

I continued, “Not one of your nefarious imaginings has ever come true, not once in all the seventy years you’ve seen, has it?” She admitted that not one had come true. “Aha!”, I concluded, “then in fact, you’ve been needlessly scaring yourself all these years by entertaining frightful thoughts of doom?” What could she say, she was stumped. She seemed to tentatively admit the veracity of my claim, yet I knew the argument was won.


Hunting the Hunter

What we fear is a shadow creature of our own design. Conjured from conjecture, we give it power to frighten. Yet we can hunt this shadow beast and slay it through a realization of its fictional nature.

It is a phantasm, a sprite borne of our imagination that perishes without upkeep. To ignore, is to invoke decay. And to fully dismantle the fabricated foundation of faulty logic upon which it lies, we shine a light too bright to deny.

When we stop running and become still, the shadow stops — as any shadow would. Only when we flee does the fiend seemingly chase. Yet it’s merely our thoughts that make it so. Discard the thought — it dies.

We must not actively pursue, lest the shadow continue existing, moving in the opposite direction as prey. The shadow must be illuminated out of existence. Let there be light, and know that it is good.

Induced Fright

I’m using the virtual-world of Minecraft as a metaphor for the real-world again.

How would an efficient programmer design a simple yet captivating virtual world? By inducing a constant state of high anxiety within the player.

Using Minecraft as an example, my emotions are most invested when I’m in survival-mode with the normal difficulty setting that allows for aggressive enemies. I build a small cave in the side of a mountain and stay indoors most of the time and I don’t explore too far beyond my home. In this mode, my known world is tiny and my resource requirements are minimal, I care only about maintaining my existence.

But when I’m in survival-mode with the difficulty set to peaceful, my known world increase substantially and my resource requirements grow rapidly. I care about exploration and the adventure of reaching faraway places. I also care about the creation of impressive structures, tall buildings with artistically placed materials.

And when I’m in creative-mode, my known world is at its most expansive state. My resource requirements are enormous as I build large structures within small cities. I have no care for hunger or falling or any other dangers, as they don’t exist, so novelty and artistic expression are needed for maintained interest. This mode obviously requires the most work from the game-designer.

For an even simpler example, hide-and-seek is a very minimal yet exciting game. Just sit still inside a dark closet for many minutes as you’re entertained by the thrill of the hunt. Fear is an all-consuming emotion that engages us completely. So if I don’t allow myself to be at least slightly frightened, then hide-and-seek loses its excitement — I’m just waiting around — boring.

We can therefore see that fear is an easy way to captivate players while utilizing minimal effort. And the things players fear need not ever exist, the game can simply allude to their existence. But what we as players must do, is properly balance that feeling of fear. We need to pull back on our emotional investment if the fear reaches a level we don’t enjoy.

We can readily assume that life is employing this same type of fear-induced captivation technique. For instance, I was taking life way too seriously and my anxiety levels were unenjoyably high. I then started distancing myself until my emotional state reached a manageable level – and I’m enjoying myself much more nowadays.

The way in which I distanced myself was to invest in the idea that the world is a computer simulation. Nothing is physically real, only a mirage. Some people might not need to go to that extreme, but for me it’s necessary. What this belief means is that I no longer maintain any fear. Scary thoughts still appear but they’re dismissed.

My physical surroundings haven’t changed, but the way in which I interpret stimuli has altered dramatically. In Minecraft terminology, I’m still in survival-mode with enemies on, and I’m still in my little cave, but I’m happier here. I no longer imagine zombies banging on my fragile wooden door. I sit relatively comfortably just entertaining myself.

But it’s a strange transitional place I’m at. In one sense, I don’t hear zombies moaning outside my door, yet every form of media I consume assures me that they’re there, just waiting to get me. I don’t want to completely disengage from the world, so I have to take everything with a grain of salt, devising ways to interpret things from a pleasant perspective.

Think about this though: boredom is a state we must always avoid, as it’s unbearably uncomfortable. Unless I can successfully entertain myself in creative-mode, I’m actually better off in survival-mode. Creative-mode remember, requires artistic expression and novelty. But I think I’m ready to handle it, so that’s my goal, getting into a creative-mode mindset.

To illustrate the difference, let’s go back to hide-and-seek. If I’m no longer using fear as a means to induce a thrilling time, I would need to entertain myself through the creative selection of hiding spots, or by tricking the seeker in some amusing way, or by imagining some humor in the situation.

An important aspect to keep in mind is the assumption that this computer simulation is designed for entertainment purposes only, not as a means to torture inhabitants through perpetual discomfort. The discomfort we feel is due to our own misunderstanding — and once righted, we’re free to engage the world in a more enjoyable way.

Frightful Fun

If fear does not promote our safety, what is it and why does it exist? Realize that the world is all things to all people. Consequently each of us has the capacity to experience everything within it. Some people truly do enjoy a bit of fright in their life — scary movies, fast rides, tense standoffs, even relationship drama. For them, fear is a way to induce a thrilling adventure.

Then there are those of us that do not prefer such things — we like life a bit more mild. For us, eating spicy food is an exciting part of our week. When gazing over at the thrill-rides we balk at the idea that anyone could enjoy those contraptions, and yet they do, smiling and laughing as they disembark. But likewise, there are those that can’t fathom how sitting still and reading for hours on end can be fun for some.

Again, the world is all things to all people. If someone doesn’t like reading then the plan for them is easy: don’t read. The simple prescription for life is this: don’t engage with what you don’t prefer i.e. focus on what you like, not on what you don’t like. What about when people attempt to include us in activities we don’t prefer? We need to concentrate on doing our own thing — which can be a challenge in itself, but that’s the goal we must set.

It is within our ability to dismantle fear too. We can abstract life to the point of believing that nothing is real. Should frightful narratives cross our path we can refuse to acknowledge them and get back to what we want to experience. Fear is fine for those that enjoy it, but for those that don’t, we’re better off ignoring it completely. Instead of inspiring us to fight or take flight, fear tends to freeze us in our tracks — and we end up doing nothing at all.

In conclusion, fear is a valid means of moving life along for some people. For other people, fear causes anxiety and inaction and needs to be rejected.

Hiding Hole

I know someone that knows someone that lived right nextdoor to a house that was destroyed by a small airplane. I’ve seen a fair number of news-reports of houses exploding from gas leaks, of authorities forcibly entering the wrong residences, of cars crashing through walls, of spontaneous electrical fires, of tornados ripping dwellings to smithereens. I also recall hearing incidents of people choking on food while alone, of slips and falls, and of family members being abused — all within the confines of their home. In short, if safety is our goal, we cannot hide within our home. Yet we dare not step foot outside of our house since calamity awaits us there too.

No matter where we go we’re exposed to danger lurking around every corner. If we believe in fear, there are no safe-havens. Our only solution to this precarious predicament is to demolish fear itself. After all, fear is what paralyzes us into remaining within that death-trap we call a house. We must come to the conclusion that life is not out to destroy us. If life was so menacing we would not have been born, humanity would have been wiped out long ago. Our existence proves that the world favors creation over destruction. It is an untruth to claim the world is wicked. Life never lied to us, we know our time is temporary.

The thrill of life comes from its fleeting nature. For entertainment, do we stare at a single static image for hours on end? No, we watch flickering pictures filled with plot twists and misfortune. We abhor boredom yet we so often claim we’d prefer a predictable path through life. We crave interesting experiences, so we need to stop telling ourselves otherwise. And should we find ourselves bored, then we know fear is to blame. There’s plenty of stuff to do, we’re simply allowing fear to prevent our participation.

What are we protecting ourselves from? Death? Nope, that’s guaranteed. An early departure? Nope, too many internal and external factors at play — can’t account for them all. Pain? Nope, it can come a hundred different ways, and sitting still for long periods of time is one of them. Embarrassment or shame? Nope, people are judgmental — criticism is eternal, it can’t be avoided only ignored. Failure? Nope, life has no documented goal. The only thing we need protect ourself from is fear.

Which is worse? Fear induced loneliness and listlessness from self-imposed imprisonment? Or the excitement of exploration and the intensity of interaction? Neither path promises safety, but which one guarantees grief and which one has the potential for a fulfilling adventure? Fear is no friend, let it go and be free of the anxious influence.

Defeating Fear

Fear is our foe, the enemy we must vanquish. An expiration is placed upon our existence, yet how shall we endure it? Shall we quiver the entirety of this ride? Nay, let us not shrink from the thrill of life. Let us go boldly through this funhouse, laughing at every shocking sight, appreciating the spectacle of flashing light before us.

Within ourself and surroundings, we must snuff out the flame of fear. But what of those things that harm? The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, let this be our mantra. Fear is no protector, but an inhibitor. Fear freezes our flow, with it we cannot thrive, only languish. Never can we allow fear to put limitations on life.

No anxiety induced precaution is worth the toxin fear inflicts. We must always live as if life is wholesome by nature. The good among us must battle to bring an end not to particulars but to the fear that drowns humanity. Whenever we sense a noxious narrative overtake our thoughts, we must crush it posthaste — always remembering that fear in no way promotes safety but does guarantee grief.

The devil in all his guises has ever taken the form of fear, attempting to separate man from the goodness of life. We must see past this wicked illusion, for everything we need has always been within our grasp — yet fear makes it appear remote. Shake loose this nightmarish vision and forever-after partake in the nourishment of life.

We exit existence either way, so let us not simply expire while cowering within a self-imposed pit. Nay, let us step lively into the sun. If our tendency is to create, then do so until the very last breath. Without fear, there are no limits but those we define. If our tendency is to fight, then fight fear, destroy it and disarm those that wield it as a weapon.

Let us not go gentle into that good night without squeezing every bit of fear from our mortal frame. Let us live without concern for what each moment may bring. Let us at all times remember the futility of fear and its fraudulent fiction. Gutless inaction is what defines one’s demise, so its very opposite is dauntless activity. Therefore let us leap through life with a smile upon our face and hopefulness within our heart.