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.

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.

Teasing it Out

Is “teasing” a fundamental force of the universe? I’ve noticed a lot of teasing in my life i.e. attempts to provoke a reaction in a playful way. I say “playful” because nothing overly-bad happens, mainly frustration. Things often annoy me to the point of exclaiming, “Gah! What the heck?!!” Sometimes I look around and notice amused monkeys smirking at my reaction. Because of my persnickety nature, I think I’m extremely susceptible to monkey-business. Just wind me up and I’ll go, go, go.

The underlying question is this though: who’s doing the teasing? Am I attracting this mild abuse because I actually want it? Or perhaps mischievous tricksters roam the land looking for fun? For instance, the two most prominent people in my life have very mischievous natures — coincidence?? Or am I the dreamer, purposefully harassing my character because it’s so fun to watch him squirm?

Even on the surface-level, it’s common to tease yourself. For example, we often do it to prolong pleasure: like lingering on each bite of cake or purposely waiting to open a package, drawing-out the joy of anticipation. Or even watching shows or news programs that are known to elicit feelings of outrage — there’s no cure for boredom like outrage. Or perhaps turning a dull conversation up a notch by throwing politics into the mix.

There’s certain people I talk to in which the conversation typically turns argumentative — specific hot-topic buttons get pushed by each participant. Then there’s some foods I enjoy eating, yet can’t do so without digestive repercussions. And of course there’s the classic circumstance of money lingering just out of reach — where my wants and finances are often mismatched. It’s teasing all the way down.

Again, it’s not that bad, I know I’m not in Hell. But am I in Heck? A realm of constant yet mild discomfort? Is there truly a trickster or am I the devil doing all this to myself? To get out of Heck, am I simply to stop tormenting myself? Yet because of boredom, I’m reluctant to do so? Nowadays I try to participate in low-intensity hobbies, interact with others in milder more polite ways, watch non-dramatic shows, and I’m also trying to soften my general reaction to situations I find myself in.

Well, as was the Buddha’s way, I must remember that my task here is to harness the mind. I apparently have a propensity for pessimism and masochism as aversions to boredom — and my primary objective is to harness and redirect the mind towards more enjoyable thoughts — that’s it.

Under the Tree

I must say, there’s an inordinate amount of monkey-business going on lately. Or is there? If I subtract all my negative-thoughts from the equation, things have pretty much proceeded normally. If I simply stay focused on my own day-to-day activities, nothing’s really different. It seems like a lot of people are experiencing change, but why should I focus on things outside my sphere of influence? “If surrounded by darkness, should we not seek the light?”

When I think of American history for example, I tend to think of bad stuff. But if I think of a runner in a race who hurt his foot, I don’t focus on his sores and tell him he should quit, I focus on his drive and determination to persist despite his injuries. “Look at him go!!” In the same way, despite its sores and flaws, America persists in its grand experiment. Should I not cheer as it goes ever toward the goal of securing the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all? Do I “boo” when it stumbles — or should I shout words of encouragement?

Dark times are but shadows residing in the mind. There’s always a better thought to think. To exterminate negative rumination as it infests the mind is the noblest act we can perform. Here be dragons, dark beasts that terrorize the quiet country-side of men’s minds, vermin to be slain by brave knights who dare tread past fiery onslaught. Claws do tear and fires burn, but we the Lighthearted Knights take up arms to conquer our own negativity — for pessimism is the only enemy we ever face.

It’s Buddhism 101, you see. In the end, the Buddha conquered his own propensity for pessimism and thus achieved enlightenment, freedom from the fetters of fear and negativity. And that’s IT. For those on this path, there is no other way. It is through the harnessing of raw and untamed thought that we find peace. Day in and day out, THAT is our profession, the practice we must perform. The anvil upon which we strike is the mind, hammering glowing hot thoughts into sharpened steel. It is through sudden stillness that we quench our work, from a flurry of thought to none at all.

And so I sit in the shade of the tree, whittling away rough edges, shaping and smoothing, forming thoughts into delightful arrangements that evoke joy.

Wrong View

What if I told you the world isn’t what you think it is? What if I said it’s NOT actually a torture-chamber designed to inflict maximum pain and suffering? Well if you’re anything like me, you’d say: “You idiot! I can see with my own eyes that this world is a hellscape in which strife and misery are rampant! You’re either a fool or you’re trying to lure me into a false sense of security! Either way, I have no time for this nonsense!”

Fair enough. But what if I told you that the unpleasantness you’re experiencing is simply a misinterpretation on your part? You focused on one tiny aspect while completely missing the larger world you’re within. For example, imagine you entered an immersive game in which you were surrounded by dirt — it’s dark and dank and the sounds you hear are low and ominous. You feel frightened so you stay put, not sure what else to do. You remain that way for the entirety of the game.

Upon exiting, you say to the game’s developer: “Wow, that sucked! What a crap game.” And the developer replies: “Oh that’s odd, it was supposed to be really fun. Hm. Well what’d you think about the skies and the oceans and the llamas? How about the mountains? Weren’t they majestic at least?” Confused, you say: “What are you talking about?! It was dark dirt all around!” The developer replies: “Oh, you were supposed to dig through that, like a growing plant emerging from the soil. Beyond the dirt was an expansive world filled with every imaginable delight.”

In other words, you messed up. Whoopsies. Yes, you are currently surrounded by muck and mire, but it’s YOU who is torturing yourself. YOU simply need to stop scaring yourself. Existence is more dreamlike than you think: the way in which you experience this world correlates directly with your thoughts. In other words, a bad attitude makes everything seem unpleasant whereas a positive attitude makes everything seem great. External circumstances are the RESULT of your attitude, they are NOT the cause. You had that reversed.

You believe that horrible things happen which then cause you to have a miserable time. In other words: bad things first, feeling bad second. No. In actuality, you felt bad, and that turbulence created a storm of horrible happenings. You were in a bad mood and told yourself a sad story. Everything around you became dark and grey and unpleasant to be around. THAT is what’s happening here.

To get out from the muck and mire you must STOP telling yourself terrible tales of gloom & doom. That’s IT! Suddenly you’ll spring forth from the mud, the sun emerging overhead, a resplendent glow lighting up the land, and you’ll begin to experience the delightfulness that surrounds. You’ll be glad to be within such a world, ever grateful for the enjoyment you’re experiencing. THAT is the right view.

Frustration Station

Dear Rich, an idea popped into my head and now I feel frustrated because it’s not something I can readily pursue.

Dear reader, it’s good that you noticed that stormy situation forming in your thoughts. That’s step one. Step two, is to NOT pursue the idea. Pump the brakes. It’s only an idea worth pursing if it fills you with delight and inspires hopefulness for the future. If, as in this case, it makes you feel frustrated, DUMP IT.

It might even be an idea that comes true later on, but right now is not the time to think about it. You’ll know this by the way it makes you feel. Pursuing those feelings of frustration will only hinder your life, it won’t improve anything, nor will it hasten fulfillment of the goal.

You might be tempted to believe that you NEED frustration as a form of motivation. It’s not true. Frustration is the feeling of annoyance, and being pushed around by irritation is a low-quality way to navigate this world. You’ll want to do things because they seem fun and interesting, NOT because you’re upset.

Instead of wandering wherever frustration leads you, take some breaths and clear your mind. Then allow the stream of endless thoughts to flow once again. This time, ignore the frustrating ones and select something pleasant instead. You’re the doorman/bouncer at the hottest club in town, and your job is to let in the coolest thoughts around.

Ideas are just fanciful visions floating around in your head — figments of your imagination. If you ignore one, another takes its place. Even if an idea truly needs to come in, yet shows-up with an unruly attitude, deny it entry until it returns in the form of something pleasant. Don’t worry, it’ll come back — your mind is the only opportunity for these ideas to express themselves. You have the power, not them.

Simulated Satisfaction

How to be happy within a simulation.

Step one: pixels.

You don’t need to acquire anything, it’s not real — it’s just flickering light. Attainment is simply an updated entry in a database. Nothing changes but a value — sometimes coordinates are modified or a boolean is flipped from false to true.

Step two: perception.

If nothing’s real, then everything’s mental. Solidity is imagined, therefore your focus determines how permanent something is. If you believe in a particular obstacle, that obstacle will become a fixture in your life. And if you maintain a memory through constant recall, it’ll remain as a constant companion. So the most logical option, is to focus your mind on things that evoke delight and refrain from recalling the repugnant.

Step three: practice.

Your mind wanders. Your satisfaction within the simulation is directly tied to how well you can steer it. Think of this world as a driving simulation: thoughts come racing by and you have to steer clear of all the ruts in the road that’ll send you reeling. Negative thoughts are the source of all misery — avoid them as they enter your field of view. Not all thoughts are unpleasant though, some are downright delightful — stop the car and take some time to visit with them and appreciate their presence.

Wrap-up.

The pleasant perception of pixels takes practice. But as your skill grows, your life within the simulation greatly improves. Whenever your life is less than awesome, you can be certain that you’re smashing head-on into negative thoughts. Slow down.

In fact, you should pull over to the side of the road and sit still. You have the ability to take a break. Simply watch all the thoughts racing by on the adjacent road. For right now you’re no longer part of traffic. Thoughts come and go, but you remain motionless.

Happiness is a state of mind: you are provided the raw-material of random thought, “happiness” is the careful cultivation of this resource. Whereas misery is the consequence of allowing random thought to run rampant. The choice of pursuing happiness is yours to make.

In Lightness Grow

“No! Rich!? It can’t be!!!” Well I’m afraid it is…. For too long have I suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Far too long has this world had its way with my mortal coil, casting it this way and that. A rudderless ship adrift amongst endless waves? Nay! For I shall use the guiding light that leads to safe-harbor. And I shall set an anchor of stone against ye, ne’er to stray again.

For in truth, there is a light that guides those set astray. In thy darkest hour it shines as a beacon to summon men home. From times of old it has resided within the beating heart and rhythmic breath, ever-present signals of a solid connection to the source. Simply close thy eyes and think of nothing, and in that void comes the ancient voice. Anytime it’s wished, empty the mind to let it fill with celestial calm.

And so it is upon this day, that I do declare my dedication to this just cause. Such terrestrial pedantry shall not mar me. Nay, for I shall rise to the heights of heavenly bodies soaring well above the fray, reflecting the brightness of the light that maintains their course. It is in hours such as these, that men’s wills are tried. Does one simply turn to dust under pressure?

Or does one become as a non-Newtonian fluid, strengthening under increasing strain — yet softening when the push is no longer present? The game played here is a simple one: maintain tranquility amidst a turbulent sea. The penalties and rewards are immediate. The sensation of drowning versus the perception of contentment. What begets which is obvious to those amply illuminated — so seek the light.

Middle Path of Pixels

In terms of a video-game analogy, you do want to be here on Earth playing this game as a specific character. You’re not attempting to get beyond your character. “Enlightenment” is not transcending your character in order to solely identify as the player. That’s dumb — the player came to play, and to do that, he must become a character.

But as a player, you don’t want to over-identify as your character, it’s too stressful. Yet this is what happens: the player gets so lost in the game that he forgets he exists, he believes he’s actually the character. So what enlightenment is, is when the player finally realizes that underneath it all, he’s actually a player — but it doesn’t end there.

Once the player realizes he’s a player AND a character, he must balance those two perspectives into an enjoyable ratio. Too much character is too intense — and too much player lacks a feeling of immersion. All this Earth-stuff is here for a reason, you most certainly want to interact with it, but you need to do so with a lighthearted attitude, not taking things too seriously.

Imagine if you associated too closely with the character of Pac-Man for instance. You’d attempt to hide from the ghosts, you’d be petrified of being eaten, every step you took would be a step closer to your doom. You’d hover over by the power-pellets, your only source of safety in a world designed to destroy you.

Now imagine if you associated too closely with the player of Pac-Man, never immersing yourself in the game. “Who cares about gobbling those meaningless pellets?” — “So what if a ghost gets me, it doesn’t matter anyway.” — “Oh well, died again, and again, and again.” — “Meh, game over, so what.” — “That was quick. Now I’m bored and have nothing to do.”

Whereas if you strike the right balance between character and player: “Ooh! That was a close one! Ha almost got me ghost, but not today!” — “Oh, oops, well I guess his friend got me. But now it’s my turn to get you!! It’s Power Pellet Time!!” — “I can’t believe I cleared the board! Victory is mine!!” — “Second stage! Let’s do this!”

Practicing Presence Update

So it’s been about a month since I’ve been focusing on presence — how’s it going? First off, I have noticed some benefits, so I’ll be continuing the practice. But after 30 days I’m still not encased in a golden glow of pure bliss — kinda disappointed about that. But I think my mood is lighter and my reactions are more mild — so that’s good.

And I’m not living a tough life right-now by the way. In fact, it’s idyllic in many ways. But can you enjoy paradise if you have a bad attitude? The answer is: NO, you cannot. So I’m currently trying my hardest to enjoy the delightfulness I’m surrounded by. Isn’t that a ridiculous situation to find yourself in? Life: “Here! Enjoy!” Me: “Um, Uh, well I guess….”

The video-game I’m finding myself within is sending me obstacles in the form of dissatisfaction. And my role is to overcome that negative inclination and develop an appreciation for all the treats in my path. It’s a strange premise. Experience situations that should entertain you, yet feel anxiety and revulsion instead.

The source of that sourness is my over-thinking mind, so it is my duty to shut it down. That’s what the practice of presence is all about: stopping the incessant thoughts from polluting the experience of existence. And boy, I’ve been noticing the toxic-waste my thoughts have been excreting lately — nasty stuff. I lose nothing by shutting them down. But man are they persistent!