Grit Rushing

When you’re using sandpaper to smooth a surface, you start with lower/rougher grits and move your way up through higher and finer grits. For example, I might start with 150 grit to flatten out rough spots, but that leaves the surface a bit fuzzy feeling, so then I move up to 320 for a finer finish. If I want to get closer to an eggshell shine, I’ll follow that with 600 grit. And sometimes for the fun of it, I’ll go up to 1000 or even 2000 grit — the wood I use won’t really attain that level of sheen but I try anyway.

Okay, so what happens when you get impatient and rush through the grits? Maybe you’re sanding some wood or sharpening a knife or glossing up epoxy-resin. Well, if you switch to a higher grit too soon, the deep scratches from the courser grits won’t disappear, you’ll just get some shiny spots alongside the gashes. But you’re so anxious to see your reflection that you rush through the grits!

In life, I think I rushed through the grits. In many ways, I never got past pre-K. Just basic things like sleeping and using the toilet are actual challenges for me on a regular basis. I obviously have some deep gaps in knowledge. I suppose I skipped some early grits and wanted to get right to the final polishing. In gaming vernacular, you could call it a “speedrun”. Just get to the end!! Screw the build-up process and the prerequisites! I’m ready to graduate NOW!!

Thankfully, life isn’t an experience in which one must struggle for survival amidst a harsh and unforgiving landscape. I’ll be fine. Despite continually ignoring the basics, I’ve made it this far. That really says something about the degree to which life is willing to support and encourage my existence. It makes for an abrupt and disjointed narrative, but I don’t care. Life catches me struggling and says “Oops! You should be here by now sweetie!” and places me there anyway.

Not sure I’ll be getting high-score on this round guys….

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.

Safe Slicing

I’ve been whittling a lot lately. One observation is this: I can place the sharp-edge of my knife against my finger and nothing happens. There’s no slice, no pain, no blood, no nothing. I would need to apply sufficient force for a cut to occur. In order to generate that force, I would need to put some weight behind it or add some speed. A light, slow touch just won’t do anything significant.

Therefore, if you keep your hand’s movement soft and steady, letting the blade do the work, you can’t cut yourself. This is why a sharp knife is safer than a dull one. A dull blade requires increased pressure to cut, giving it the potential to release its momentum if the wood suddenly gives-way while you’re pushing. Whereas a sharp knife effortlessly glides through the wood at low-speed. This is why stropping the knife on a regular basis is so important, as it makes for a razor-sharp edge.

In other words, the knife can’t cut me, only I can cut myself through the misapplication of force. Rushing and straining against the grain is the pathway to pain. That sounds like a metaphor for life doesn’t it? And it’s true: how easy it is to hurt ourselves when we struggle, urgently pushing against some obstacle until we build-up a dangerous momentum. But instead of all that strife, we should let the blade do the work, easily cleaving its way through the grain.

And what that means is this: sharpen your knife and gently guide it. How? It’s the same answer that’s been given since time immemorial: MENTAL DISCIPLINE!!! When your thoughts no longer run rampant, you no longer have the urge to erratically hack and attack your way through life. You simply see the path before you and casually proceed upon it. But as sharpening a blade takes time and practice, sharpening the mind takes a great investment too — yet it’s the only way to escape the pain. So be the Buddha, sharpen the mind and end your suffering.

Strawman Setup

I’ve been watching my mind a lot lately, you might call it the practice of mindfulness. Something I’ve been noticing, is my mind’s tendency to setup straw-men to fight against. It’s constantly offering me opponents to engage with — but I’m trying not to take the bait. It turns out that I’m very belligerent and always looking to battle, therefore my mind dutifully presents material that excites me. But I don’t want to consume that type of entertainment anymore, it’s too intense, so I’m refusing to participate.

There’s literally a new matchup every ten minutes. My mind brings in people from my past, from shows I’ve been watching, or from wherever — then conjures reasons for me to argue. But thanks to mindfulness, I’m noticing the invitation and declining. While it’s captivating and thrilling to wage war, it’s time for me to move-on from low-quality forms of entertainment. I want something a bit more refined.

That’s probably why I’ve been wrapped-up in woodworking lately. I love tools — and using them to shape wood is an enjoyably wholesome pastime. But boy, it takes constant effort to keep my mind clear during whittling sessions — it’s so inclined to wander where I don’t want it to go. But really, that’s a great opportunity to practice mental discipline — now whenever I’m whittling, I’m closely monitoring my mind and reining it in.

If I’m truly done with the drama, discipline is the practice I must perform to achieve the tranquility I seek. It’s such a silly way to live: perpetually attacking imagined enemies around every corner. It’s the junk-food version of existence. Now is the time for true nourishment, a life filled with cherished relationships and delightful activities — engaging with the best of what life has to offer. This is the boss-battle I must overcome: lay down my sword and stop struggling against a fictional foe.

More Whittling

Whittling
To textually describe what’s in the picture: there’s an arrowhead, cross, spinning-top, teetotum, pawn, abstract pendant, spoon & fork, letter R, tiki statue, and a shovel. Some of the items have walnut oil applied, some have an added coat of beeswax & walnut oil, and some are bare wood (the pawn, spinning-top, and R have the wax while the tiki and shovel are bare).

To make the wax/oil coating, I heated walnut oil over a candle and dropped in some beeswax shavings. When it cooled, it was like lip-balm, so I dipped my finger in and rubbed the wood (beeswax is too hard on its own). I buffed it with a cotton cloth, although I’m not sure that did anything. The walnut oil is straight from the supermarket’s oil section. The reason I’m trying walnut oil as a finish is because it has the potential to dry over time (in a good way) and act as a better coating than something that remains oily (we’ll see).

Game Goals

Existence is a game whose goal is a life well-lived — I will win this game.

Thoughts are the controls with which I influence my experience.

A better life is achieved through better thoughts. From thoughts streaming by, I’ll select only the finest to focus on while dismissing the rest.

Note: good thoughts are characterized by concepts such as appreciation and delight, comfort and contentment, confidence and competence, lighthearted amusement, and an overall enjoyment of life.

I’ll aspire to believe that ALL obstacles and limitations are SELF-CREATED through my thoughts.

I’ll endeavor to see this as a benevolent experience intended as a source of enjoyment.

To facilitate this enjoyment, I’ll strive to maintain a lighthearted disposition, a positive attitude, and trust in the goodness of life.

So that I’m not lost in the story and swept away in its turbulence, I’ll strive to maintain an awareness of this game-like perspective.

At any time I do feel lost, I’ll remove focus from my thoughts and remain focused on right now.

Practicing Practice

The tenets of a happy life have been shoved into my face for many years now. Whether it’s books or videos or conversations or inspirational thoughts from my own mind, I’ve been seeing them again and again. This 8-year-old blog is a testament to that, as it contains the same ideas said in different words over and over. But, it turns out that you actually need to put those principles into practice for them to work. Who knew!? I was under the assumption that you simply realized them, then went back to whatever you were doing. NOPE! That’s like realizing something’s poisonous and eating it anyway. You actually need to stop consuming the poisonous item!

So in that sense, I’ve proven that freewill IS an actual thing. It IS within my power to derail my experience here on Earth — and I’ve certainly done so by not applying mental discipline. By allowing my mind to run rampant, I’ve found myself constantly tossed by the turbulence such a condition creates. Obviously I’m bored and lazy and a bit of a masochist or else I wouldn’t allow such a condition to take place, right? But I’m finally so sick of the mess, that I’m willing to do the work it’ll take to keep things tidy.

A turbulent mind creates a turbulent world whereas a peaceful world begins with a peaceful mind. Mental discipline is the practice of maintaining awareness. That awareness allows you to monitor your thoughts and feelings and respond appropriately by adjusting your focus. And essentially, you want to focus on whatever evokes delight and encourages the enjoyment of life. Mental discipline also includes routines that help in the process of maintaining awareness as well as practices that encourage appreciation.

No matter what you’re provided, you need discipline to cultivate the appreciation necessary to enjoy it. Nothing will satisfy unless you have a well-developed sense of appreciation — and the only way to get it, is through mental discipline. Despite any misgivings you may have, you have to force yourself to trust in the benevolence of life. No matter how dank and dour you feel, you have to strive towards a lighthearted disposition. The only thing between you and the best life possible, is an appreciative attitude maintained by continual practice.

Practice makes improvement, as they say. Set hourly chimes, schedule meditation, and persistently strive to remove focus from thoughts throughout each moment of the day. Once you make mental discipline a full-time job, there’s no excuses to give, no letting the mind run wild — the buck stops here and it’s your responsibility to keep it in line. The realization of all this is only the first step — now you must actually DO it. So take the reins and ride that mind to victory! HEEYAA!

Rich Whittling

The name of this blog is Whittlin’ Rich yet I haven’t done a lot of whittling. Yes I’ve whittled wood before, but not much. So for whatever reason, I recently took up whittling as a hobby. Here’s a picture displaying my many small projects and the primary tools I’ve been using.

I use basswood since it’s the recommended wood-of-choice for carving. For knives, I use a Morakniv 120 and 122, a BeaverCraft C1M and C2 as well as the tiny C15 — and of course there’s my strop with some polishing compound rubbed into the leather. To carve effectively, you need to strop your blades at the end of each whittlin’ day, in my opinion.

Just to provide some textual detail as to what’s in the picture: there’s a bunch of faces, some full-body figurines made from 1″x 1″ x 6″ blocks (not shown: one of the figurines has another figurine on its back), a small spoon, a carved-out box, my name carved into a block, a minature dumbbell, a wooden knife, an anvil and hammer, a sword, a sword’s handle, and a pine tree. Nothing’s officially “done” since I might go back to add details over time.

It’s been an enjoyable pastime over the last 10 weeks. Lately I’ve been using it as a meditation of sorts, as a way to keep an eye on my thoughts. While whittling, my mind tends to drift down random tangents about whatever so I’m trying to remove focus from those thoughts and remain focused on right-now i.e. whittling.

Capture and Keep

Sometimes I play Call of Duty: Mobile — in the game, there’s a mode called Hardpoint. The objective of Hardpoint is to occupy a designated location in order to accumulate points until your team reaches the winning score. The obstacle comes from the enemy team trying to do the same thing, using whatever means necessary to capture and keep the spot you want — in addition, this spot changes throughout the game. If no one occupies the spot or if both teams occupy the spot, no points are received.

I bother mentioning this because I think it serves as a decent metaphor for mental discipline. Instead of Guerrilla Squad versus Special Forces, it’s Negative Nancies versus Positivity Pros — and “mental focus” represents the hardpoint you must capture and keep. In the game of mental discipline, you have to maintain focus on positive stuff, just keeping negative stuff out-of-focus isn’t enough.

“Hostiles have the hardpoint!” — in mental discipline, this warning is issued via your feelings. If you feel bad, get to the hardpoint and let-loose multiple magazines of positivity. NOW! In other words, direct your mental focus away from whatever you were thinking and put it on better thoughts. Okay, it’s working. “Hardpoint contested!” Uh-oh, more negative thoughts are trying to creep-in. Shut that stuff down. NOW! Lob some positivity into your focus. ba-BOOM!

“Hardpoint locked-down!”, good job you’re holding it together. Uh-oh, simply doing the same thing won’t work forever, the hardpoint (and mental-focus) changes right-out from underneath you. “Capture the objective!” It’s shifted again, find and capture it! Be prepared, you’re gonna need to apply the best positivity ammo you can muster, mister. Do your homework and know what works — you can’t saunter-in with noob-caliber gear, doing “whatever”.

Your overall objective in mental-discipline is a well-lived life. That’s a worthwhile goal and those are some pretty high stakes — are you willing to risk it all simply because you couldn’t be bothered to prepare and figure-out what kinds of thoughts evoke feelings of delight? Remember, you have to occupy the hardpoint to receive points, so you have to fill your focus with delightful musings. Now get out there and capture the objective!