Lowest Point

Even if everything in your life improves, there will still be a “worst thing ever”. In other words, everything’s relative and there’s always a lowest point. For example, if the worst thing I dealt with was a constant fear of physical violence, and I eventually overcome it, I’ll then deal with anxiety from financial instability. If I overcome THAT, I’ll be worrying about the stability of my long-term romantic relationship. And if I eventually stop worrying about THAT, my worst day is having a headache that won’t go away. No matter what, there will ALWAYS be something to ruin your day.

So what? It means that you can’t achieve contentment through external means. It’s like that saying: wherever you go, there you are. If you simply change your surroundings, you’ll just judge your new environment by your old standards and place old labels on new things. Instead, you have to stop your tendency to criticize, stop applying those dumb labels. EVERYTHING should be 5 outta 5. Reset your rating-scale. You’re now having a full five-star experience! Whoa! Nice!

Everything in your reach is now the BEST. If you used to lie to yourself all the time and claim everything was the worst, why is this any different? Well, it’s not! Except that evaluating at the high-end makes you feel much better than evaluating at the low-end. If you claim that there’s always room for improvement, then you’ll never have a top-tier time — you’ll always feel slightly cheated and a little lacking. Whereas if you call something the best thing ever, you’re suddenly transported to a high-end experience that can’t be topped. Except that it IS exceeded by the very next thing! WOW!!

Wait, is this a joke!? No! The joke is that you’d relentlessly sabotage your experience on Earth by constantly criticizing everything while worrying about unpleasant ideas that you focus on in your mind. That’s a dumb joke. So through the power of mental discipline, flip the script and start thinking of your experiences and surroundings as an awesome adventure through wonderland. It’s madcap crazy! It’s exciting! Use an ounce of creativity to find your way there, paint a rose-colored hue on everything you encounter. Make this your new routine and see if you’re not suddenly living the best life ever.

Everyday Buffet

Imagine you have a plate in front of you. Upon that plate you spoon on servings of frustration, worry, disappointment, and hopelessness. It’s a small plate so you can’t fit anything else. You’ll notice that there’s no room for delight, contentment, appreciation, or enjoyment. And everyday, you head to the buffet and pile on more of what you’re used to, more of the same disgusting dishes that fill you with dissatisfaction. To you, the world becomes a nasty one-star dump with multiple health-code violations on the verge of closing down.

But it turns out that better selections exist. You don’t have to repeatedly scoop the same slop day after day. You can choose something different, something delicious in fact! Of course you won’t naturally do this – you’ll logically assume that every entree is as bad as the ones you’re already consuming. Although sometimes, you’ll get so sick from eating the gross glop that you’ll have no choice but to try something else. Yet, if you do happen to find something better, oftentimes you drift back to the old stuff over time as habits are hard to break.

WAKE UP!!! That’s the only sure-fire way of fixing this situation. You must become aware and REMAIN aware of what you’re scooping onto your plate. The way to win at a buffet is to take many small samples so as not to overwhelm yourself, then go back and get larger portions of the stuff you liked. And whenever you return to the buffet, only grab the SAME items you liked during the sampling phase. IGNORE the items that brought about feelings of revulsion, just focus on the good stuff.

Again, mindlessness and habit will steer you back to what you knew. This WILL happen. It is therefore imperative to utilize discipline in order to maintain focus on the good stuff. You must constantly steer your attention, keeping it on the correct course. You should either be sampling new items in small portions OR taking hearty scoops of stuff already proven to be good through sampling. Do this continuously and the world becomes a five-star masterpiece of unyielding delight.

Life on Manual

I know survival isn’t a do-it-yourself option, there’s just no way, it’s too basic for remaining in the game. Yes, I can grab the steering wheel and grind against the guide-tracks and create a lot of sparks and crap-up the ride-car — but overall, the underlying maintenance of the body is an automatic process best left alone. It seems like “worry” and “unnecessary intervention” are the truer causes of bodily malfeasance.

Although to me, it feels like certain aspects of digestion and sleep are Tamagotchi-like. If I don’t find the correct combination of dietary items, then my digestion complains. And if I don’t find the right routine for sleep, I don’t feel rested. I’ve yet to find that routine by the way, I’m still searching after all these decades to find a decent night’s rest: An Epic Quest for Rest.

Whereas food procurement has always been an automatic event for me. Food is placed in an easily accessible location and I eat it — simple as that. Personal protection is another thing automatically taken care of — there’s nothing to defend myself from. Unfortunately, I was super paranoid during the first few decades of existence and thought I had to be at full-alert and ready for battle. Long story short: I spent a lot of time being unnecessarily anxious. I don’t do that anymore and life has become a lot more pleasant — and I’m still unharmed despite my lack of vigilance.

In contrast to those automatic events, “appreciation” is something that’s clearly NOT on automatic. I don’t like much. I tend to reject and down-vote and criticize and hate on everything that passes through my perception. I’m finally trying to get a handle on manual appreciation and I’m focusing specifically on aspects of life that I like — this process has improved my experience so far.

In regards to my path through life, I’m not sure what’s going on there. I don’t do much, so I’m kinda assuming that it requires manual intervention. Or am I simply applying the brake and won’t let go? I could be a complete screw-up grinding my ride-car against the guide-tracks, fighting a preset path the entire time — but I’m not sure. My current strategy is to focus on whatever I find fun and interesting throughout the day.

Knowledge procurement seems like an automatic process too. I just kinda know things — talents and abilities are obviously related to this. For example, I seem to know how to use particular tools, they feel right in my hand and they move appropriately for the assigned task. It’s selective though, I know some things and definitely don’t know other things.

Basically, “manual” for me deals with getting myself under control. There is a stream of thought turbulently swirling through my mind and this condition tends to keep me in a constant state of negativity. So I must manually rein-in these thoughts and deliberately adjust my attention to focus on whatever I enjoy. That’s it. That’s the manual control I must master in order to win this game.

Siren Call

I came in thinking that this was a harsh & brutal realm ruled by random chance in which only the strong survived and the lucky thrived. My relative weakness and lucklessness meant I was doomed to experience a brief and miserable life. I was shocked when I made it to young-adulthood. I had nothing planned since I was confident I wasn’t going to get that far.

Long-term plans are meaningless in a world in which accidents happen. I wasn’t going to waste my time working towards a goal only to have my preparations crumble beneath me. I was so certain that the world was a dangerous place filled with predators always watching for me to falter, ready to attack. Well, none of it happened!! I waited and waited with my back against the wall, ever vigilant of my surroundings, and NOTHING!! I simply got older.

I was wrong. I completely misjudged the world. It’s not what I assumed it was. BUT that leaves me with a bigger question that I’m still trying to figure out: what IS going on here?? I have a lingering suspicion that I’m being deceived by this world. Is it trying to lull me into a false sense of security, baiting me into complacency to fulfill some cruel intention? Am I an experiment that gained consciousness, made to live out an empty life in an artificial world? Or, are my suspicions simply wrong again?

I keep suspecting something nefarious — yet I was wrong the first time. So wrong in fact, that I caused myself to have a miserable experience. Perhaps this is why it’s not beneficial to focus on thoughts. Thoughts, it turns out, are a lot more unpleasant than the actual world. Had I not focused on thoughts, I would’ve had a better time. Every unpleasant experience was only made worse by the accompanying thoughts — thoughts that lingered long after the offending event.

In their meandering complexity, thoughts often masquerade as worthwhile plants in the garden of the mind. “Listen to me, and I’ll protect you from the dangers of this world”, they say. But these are seductive sirens’ calls, luring you to crash upon rocks. Masked in beguiling beauty, it can be difficult to figure-out if a sprout’s a weed that should be plucked. The simple test is this: does a thought fill you with hope and happiness or fear and despair? Only nourishing thoughts should be allowed to remain.

In short, “suspicious thoughts about the world” should go on the “things to avoid” list. And stop focusing on your thoughts in the first place!!! Geez. Just do whatever you’re doing WITHOUT the running commentary that has NOTHING to do with what you’re actually doing! Getting lost in thought is the siren’s call, avoid it. THIS is the reason you keep having a bad time, your physical life thus far has NOT been a punishing experience but your THOUGHTS about life have been a source of self-inflicted torture — stop it already. Oh and lighten-up for christ’s sake.

Faltering Fanatic

If you’re constantly reconciling with life, it means you’re taking things too seriously. In other words, if you’re just trying to get a grip each day, your perspective is WAY off. For example, I focus on my nightly lack of sleep and insufficient energy, my sub-optimal bowel-movements, any aches or pains, how I’ll obtain money and where I’ll live, whether I’ll get along with those around me, how I’ll alleviate boredom and where I’ll find meaning and purpose. That’s my days in a nutshell, and it’s a stupid way to persist.

I’m clearly lost in thought and NOT focused on right now. I’m ignoring whatever’s around me and giving my attention to thoughts I don’t even enjoy — that’s dumb. It certainly demonstrates a lack of mental discipline. Engaging with those thoughts isn’t helping anything, it’s just me concentrating on stuff I don’t like. Yet the magnetic attraction to the things I don’t prefer is SO strong. “Give me more fodder to feed my criticism-creature, the beast that bad-mouths everything!”

My task is to slay this dragon through the repeated application of mental discipline — something I’m obviously not very good at. To look at my life from the outside is to see a still-image, barely a perceptible change from frame to frame. Yet, the turbulence within my mind whips the waves with wind and sends me lurching this way and that. “Batten down the hatches me hearties! There be rough waters ahead!” I’m securing the mizzenmast while scurrying around the deck doing what I can to stay afloat amidst the raging storm.

But there is no storm, it’s merely a fantasy concocted by swirling thoughts that I entertain within the parlor of my mind. “Out, damned thought! Out, I say!” And so begins my day of waiting and watching to catch these tricksters as they trample my mental garden. Yet at times I feel overwhelmed by the regularity of the sprouting weeds. One day’s weeding simply seems to make room for more weeds! But as they persist, so do I: a knight of the Lighthearted upon my quest to Enlightenment.

In-Game Reward

As I was doing something a bit daring, a thought occurred to me: the end of this game isn’t worth NOT taking risks. In other words, there’s nothing to receive at life’s conclusion but “Game Over” — therefore, the ONLY reward to be had is in-game. So if you’re not maximizing enjoyment while on Earth, why not!? But of course, that gets us right back to where we started: a constant quandary about what constitutes a good time, including short-term vs long-term reward and the effects on others, etc.

But that last bit illustrates an important point: don’t over-think it. It seems best to flow with life, finding the fun in every moment. Whereas turbulence is a condition that should be avoided. Imagine sitting in a small boat on a river spending all day in a single spot because you’re attempting to paddle upstream — frustration builds as you’re thrashing and splashing with your oar to fight the flow. But, you could simply hoist your oar and let your boat flow downstream — yes, the familiar no longer lingers as the scenery rapidly changes, but that’s life. Fighting to maintain the familiar is a poor strategy.

Welcome the change. Imagine watching a movie where the actors never leave the scene and nothing ever differs — that’s a bad movie. Life too becomes drudgery if you never allow the scenes to flip from one to the next. Drastic change is what SHOULD happen, that’s what turns the doldrums into a thrilling adventure. If you’re not receiving a bit of thrill, you’re not really riding the roller-coaster, you’re sitting on the sidelines wondering why everything’s so dull. You’re what’s dull!! So take the risk and let life sharpen your edges as you flow through it.

At the end of your time, your character’s dead either way. There’s no bonus points for remaining the quietest, having less bruises, the least failures, or for longevity. The points are cashed in-game only — so spend them now. Live life NOW. The game keeps sending me this message: align with life and there is no struggle. In other words, the stress and strain I experience is all self-induced. Let go of the rope that ties you to the static shore, the dynamic journey awaits.

Things to Avoid

In my quest for mental discipline, these are some things I’m looking out for.

Belligerent and argumentative. I find that my mind is constantly setting up straw-men to battle. So whenever I sense internal conflict, I stop the engagement and move on.

Novelty means disaster. Any new information presented to me is automatically interpreted as “bad”. So whenever I sense doom accumulating, I stop the prophesy in-progress and simply listen.

Outrage. Show me some current events, and I’ll tell you why I’m offended. I typically avoid “news” and the like and try to stop any rants from forming.

Startled. A sudden noise or sight, evokes anger or fright. I’ll tend to overreact to a quick surprise – but since my reaction is so fast, I don’t have time to stop it. Therefore, whenever I sense a startled reaction I exhale all the way and hold it until I become uncomfortable. Yes, this is straight-up physical-punishment – but it works.

“Downs” always follow “ups”. I tend towards a perspective that says good can’t exist without bad — a karmic balance must be achieved. Because of that, I don’t readily accept good things without expecting to pay for them through some form of punishment. I now dismiss this sentiment when it appears in my mind.

Criticizing gifts. I can’t accept gifts without immediately looking for something wrong with them. Even if it’s something I wanted, there’s probably a defect lurking below the surface. I recognize that this is a horrible attitude and try to overwrite it with appreciation.

Limited lifespan. Nothing lasts forever, in fact it’s likely on its last legs – on the verge of collapsing in the next minute. Any mechanical device I see or interact with is doomed to die sooner rather than later. When I sense this foul forecast, I replace it with thoughts of reliability and longevity.

Criticizing others for what I’m actually doing. “You’re doing something wrong!” Oh, actually I’m doing something wrong, sorry about that. Others are never the problem, my bad attitude is ALWAYS the true source of every problem I encounter.

Getting lost in the game. I started using hourly chimes to remind myself to take a step back and realize where I am. I’ll use that awareness to release any tension I notice and to say something like “I intend to have a lighthearted disposition”.

Month 6

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time whittling wood. I love tools, and any chance to procure and use tools is a good thing. The other material I’ve been whittling is my thoughts, cutting off all the errant bits that jut-out and make my mind a craggy rough-cut mess. Using mindfulness (an awareness of what’s going on in my head right-now), I notice the dumb thoughts that disrupt an otherwise calm disposition and I remove focus from them, causing them to wither away. I no longer have use for belligerence, outrage, worry, or any type of negativity at this point.

Oh sure, I used to use them as sources of cheap and easy entertainment, a way to occupy my otherwise bored mind. But, I’ve been on a negativity-free diet since the beginning of this year (about 6-months already) and I feel a lot better. Yes, I still have the typical diet-related discomfort and cravings and such (I’ll default to argument and criticism here and there) — but I’m ever-watching, springing into action to disrupt any pessimism I sense.

This isn’t a quick-fix, it’s more of a “I need to permanently change my lifestyle” type diet — and the results aren’t readily self-sustaining, it requires constant effort to remain aware and properly focused. It’s easy to get lost in life and ride the roller-coaster up and down and all around, watching the speeding scenery race by as your heart pumps with the thrill of each bump and turn. Nope, that’s not for you! Calm it down and spend some time appreciating something a bit more serene (like wood-working).

Previous experience shows that I can’t handle the roller coaster — I tend to freak out. I can’t lazily let my mind run wild — it requires supervision or else things become unpleasant FAST. And so that’s what I’m doing: monitoring my mind. It’s a full-time job for sure. I suppose I’m currently in that transitional zone where I can see the diet’s working and I appreciate the results, but I certainly notice all the effort it takes to maintain the gains I’ve gotten. In other words: it’s a lot of work and I can feel the burn. At least the gains are good enough that there’s no going back — I’m on a one-way trip to Positivity City.

Day 16,438

I’ve been here over 16,000 days already, you’d think I’d have gotten the gist of things by now. Yet basic things are still a mystery to me: sleeping, eating, daily-activity, relationships, career, income. Simply reconciling with life is a problem: I don’t get it. And whenever I do stuff, it’s as if there’s a delicate balance I’m trying to maintain — I don’t know which way to tip as every direction seems like the wrong one. And when something does seems right, more of the same just sends me toppling over.

But here’s the thing: it hasn’t been THAT bad. Relatively speaking, life has been a pretty mild experience. Yet, I tend to take all this stimuli and blow it out of proportion. WHAT!!?? I’m always overreacting, startled by every little thing. And my mind is constantly imagining worst-case scenarios. If it wasn’t for my incessant tendency to spin this world into a nightmarish hellscape of doom, my circumstances would probably seem pretty easy. So why doesn’t my mind just shut-up already!

And that brings me back to what it always comes back to: mental discipline. That’s the process of quieting the mind. I’ve been working on it for YEARS, but I’m still not at a comfortable spot. And only recently have I been dedicating so much focus to the process. I feel like a goalie constantly swatting away negative-thoughts from reaching my attention. Or an exterminator, finding infestations of pessimism EVERYWHERE. But on the plus-side, I simply have to turn away from the negativity and it’s gone.

That’s the great thing about mental discipline: there’s no actual clean-up to perform. It’s simply pointing my gaze to the cleanest part of the room and staying focused on it. It’s kinda like those movie-scenes where the overwhelmed character tucks himself into a corner and shuts his eyes as he repeats “This isn’t happening!! I’m in my happy place!!” Although those scenes typically demonstrate that the character CAN’T escape his reality, with enough dedication and focus, it turns out that it works. And not only does it work, it’s actually the optimal way to experience existence.

Whittling Life

Whittling is a subtractive process, meaning you start with a block of wood and remove some bits until you arrive at the shape you want. Whereas carpentry is additive: you keep adding boards until you arrive at the final structure. Carpentry also has a jigsaw-puzzle aspect, where pieces have to fit together just-right. I never bothered to contemplate the difference before, but the other day I noticed that I’m a particular type of woodworker.

I had split a block of wood into tiny planks with the idea that I’d assemble them into a small box — a carpentry project. But I sat there staring at the boards, deciding on how to assemble them. Carpentry is about precise cuts with saws and lots of sawdust — and that’s just not my style. I’m a knife guy — I like cutting into wood and having curls drop off. For instance, I already have a small box made from a block of wood that I simply hollowed-out with a knife and chisel.

So instead of piecing those tiny planks together, I’ve been using them as starting-points for carved pendants. It turns out that I’m into subtractive art, not additive — I wasn’t quite aware of the distinction before. And it’s true: when faced with a blank canvas, I don’t know where to begin — my mind is equally blank. But when presented with a work-in-progress, I can certainly tell you what doesn’t belong. It’s basically a form of criticism: “Nope, that doesn’t look right! Remove it!”. You just keep pecking away until there’s nothing left to criticize.

And this serves as a metaphor for life. If presented with the idea that life is a blank-canvas, I’m frozen with indecision. I don’t know how to proceed — I need something to evaluate and judge. BUT, this criticism needs to be applied with the intent of creating a work-of-art. I had been criticizing and stopping there — I wasn’t actually cutting anything out. Therefore I always see the same bits that don’t belong, every single day.

So instead of looking for what I should add into my life, I should be evaluating what I already have, then actively removing the bits that don’t belong i.e. whittling my life into a work of art. I had been trying an additive approach, which simply didn’t suit me AND I had neglected to remove the bits that didn’t fit. For example, my tendency for general-negativity is something that needs to be sliced away — and my knife in this context is mental-discipline.