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.

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.

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!

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!

Foothold Found

Many years ago, when I first started playing Age of Empires II, I was defeated by the game’s AI every time. It was a slaughter, they even used my own troops against me, utilizing monks to convert them — it was demoralizing to say the least. Finally, I used a brute-force approach of building and rebuilding walls to keep the enemy at bay while inching forward little by little — in addition, I was placing archer-towers inside those walls beyond their reach. It was a tough slough that lasted forever until finally, victory was mine. Essentially, I gained a foothold and was able to keep advancing.

Of course in later games I learned the rock-paper-scissors nature of the units and was able to field a much more effective army that went on to dominate the battlefield. Spoiler Alert! Knights up front, longbowmen behind, and trebuchets in the rear. Monks soon became fodder for my arrows. But anyway, the point is this: I needed to find a foothold in order to win. Prior to that, I was simply scrambling up the side of a sheer rock wall, slipping down in despair, not knowing how to progress. I needed some bit of reliability to capitalize on.

For the decades I’ve been playing, I’ve had a similar problem with “the game of life”: defeat after defeat and no footholds to be found. I’ve had nothing reliable to capitalize on, small victories seem to be happenstance and not repeatable. Well, I think I finally found something. And if true, it’s only a matter of time until I achieve victory conditions. The potential foothold is as follows:

First, I must see life as a game in which victory is achieved through a life well-lived. The answer to the riddle is not found in a simple realization, but in the actual experience of a satisfying life. So to complete the quest, the pursuit of happiness must be sought daily (in every hour!).

Second, the primary goal of everyday is to form my thoughts into delightful arrangements that evoke joy.

Third, I must conceptualize reality as a malleable non-physical experience i.e. a self-directed simulation or a lucid dream. Because of this, ANYTHING is possible and all limitations are self-imposed. Control of the experience is achieved through the proper application of mental focus.

Fourth: if at any time I’m feeling bad, it means my focus is off. To reiterate, the ONLY reason I feel bad is due to a lack of mental discipline — I should therefore properly apply it and fix my focus.

Fifth, I must realize that memory is NOT a mechanism to be relied upon. It’s a faulty storyteller at best. Not the past, but right-now is the only time that matters.

Sixth: I must consistently come into awareness of right-now and relentlessly select something appropriate to focus on. Appropriate things to focus on are thoughts and experiences that evoke appreciation and delight, comfort and contentment, confidence and competence, lighthearted amusement and an overall enjoyment of life.

Seventh: My profession is mental discipline. Day in and day out, my job is hammering glowing hot thoughts into sharpened steel on the anvil of the mind. And it is through the sudden stillness of meditation that I quench my work — from frail frenzied thought to a hardened work of art.

Eighth: It is through the harnessing of raw and untamed thought that I find freedom from the fetters of fear and negativity. Through this practice I conquer my propensity for pessimism and realize a life well-lived — achieving the goal of enlightenment.

Age of the Introvert

I’m an extreme introvert and a former long-time germaphobe. Suddenly, the world seems to be conforming to my expectations. If I’m not by myself or with my tiny 3-person family, I prefer small concentrations of people. I prefer doing anything and everything online as opposed to in-person. I prefer keeping my hands to myself as opposed to physically greeting others or handling shared objects. I prefer relatively quiet streets and being at home. I prefer kids having free-time and spending more time with their parents.

From my perspective, the world seems normal now. It’s suddenly cool to be like me. But funny enough, I stopped being a germaphobe a few years ago, so now I’m the reckless one! And I only use a small amount of toilet paper since I prefer a more bidet-like experience. But of course, fashions come and go and I might become “anti-social” once again. But for now I’ll relish the fact that I’m basically a “hero” doing my part in the effort against our current enemy.

Though I must say, I wouldn’t mind seeing the streaming traffic and the large warehouses of people it fills become a relic of the past — an end to the rat-race and an easing on the environment. Perhaps it will become an age in which artists and writers flourish — a renaissance no less. And in these more technological times, maybe we’ll enter an age of engineering excellence, with flying cars or new settlements in remote areas — and yes, even space-travel.

Nay friends, I live not in troubling times, but at a point of progression in which old ways are gone for good. How long have we lamented the backward nature of society? So I say relish this opportunity for change and use it to advance ever-forward once again. It is through unexpected upheaval that we enter new epochs of unimagined innovation and prosperity. Not fear, but appreciation should fill our hearts each day. So dear friends, onward and upward!