Round 2

Life is suffering, so the Buddha said. From a physical perspective, I can’t deny that claim. Yet, suffering is an undesirable condition. Finding oneself in an undesirable condition is a situation in need of a solution. Therefore, one must find a way out of this predicament.

One option is to destroy the very notion of a physical world. For example, if a video-game character dies over and over, who cares – it’s virtual. Or if something upsetting happens in a dream, so what – it was just a dream. Therefore, by perceiving life as a video-game or dream, the intensity can be lessened through the adoption of a whimsical perspective.

I can say with some confidence that such an approach works. There’s no doubt that the life I experience nowadays is more whimsical than ever. The anxiety isn’t there, the intensity is low. Unfortunately though, my expectations were too high and I assumed the virtuality approach would fix everything – it didn’t. There persists an underlying dissatisfaction – which was always there, it just wasn’t as noticeable amidst the fear and anger of before.

Well, now I can see it. Imagine my disappointment when I defeated fear and anger only to find out that the boss has another health-bar. “Round 2! Fight!” Oh brother, no thanks. You just wanna give up at that point. But what are you gonna do? There’s no viable “Quit” that I can see. So you sit there sulking, contemplating all the effort you put into Round 1, feeling like you don’t have the energy for another battle.

But there’s just no other option. So the blade gets sharpened and sheathed, boots laced and knotted, mags loaded, bandana tied, war-paint streaks applied. “I’m coming you son-of-a-bitch. If I feel pain, maybe you do to.” And here we go again. But this time, I am without fear. And my anger, is solely for comedic-effect. I’ve beaten you once, when I was weaker. Now, we do this on my terms.

Dissatisfying Source

Something I’ve noticed in myself and others, is a tendency to blame a particular condition or circumstance as the source of dissatisfaction. Logically then, one would assume that fixing the condition or circumstance would result in a state of satisfaction – but I’ve noticed that it does not. The attainment of a desired outcome doesn’t produce contentment. In fact, it often elicits a worse feeling. With nothing to blame for ongoing feelings of dissatisfaction, a distressing dilemma can arise.

“What is causing this unrelenting unhappiness!? Nothing seems to satisfy! Won’t I ever feel contentment!?” It appears to me that the root cause of dissatisfaction lies outside the bounds of the fulfillment of one’s desires. In other words, if you attempt to cure discontentment by acquiring something you want, you will fail by your achievement. Another way to put it: by winning, you’ll lose.

I don’t think chasing goals is inherently bad, it’s a game like any other. But believing that attainment will bring a sense of satisfaction is totally and completely wrong. That’s not where you’ll find it. You’re not unhappy because of a condition or circumstance or because you lack something you want. You’re unhappy because you’re perplexed. You don’t know what’s happening here, yet you’re sure that something’s wrong with your situation (which is illogical and demonstrates your confusion).

How could your situation be “bad” if you lack a definitive metric to measure by? Maybe it’s good? How would you know? Yet, you can prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that fulfilling your wants will leave you even more dissatisfied. Try it, you’ll see. You’ll be no less empty – you’ll remain full of discontentment.

Human Taming

In a bunch of older movies, I remember seeing the concept of “breaking” a horse. A horse is cornered or just penned-in, but if the cowpoke attempts to get on, the colt or stallion bucks and throws him off. But if he keeps gettin’ on, holdin’ tight, maintainin’ his balance – the horse eventually relents and accepts the rider. In other words, the fire’s out and it becomes tame.

Of course there’s other methods in other movies too. Like feeding the horse a carrot, speaking to it gently, giving it a soft pat while slowly sliding onto its back. By one way or another, a horse has its perspective changed. “Rider bad” becomes “rider good”. And oftentimes, the cowpoke takes the taming of a particular horse as a personal challenge and dedicates himself to the endeavor.

My point is this: what if my consciousness took on the challenge of taming a wild and unruly human? Consciousness jumps on, the human bucks and resists, always trying to throw consciousness off – yet if consciousness keeps at it, perhaps the human relents and accepts the rider. Maybe the fire goes out and it becomes tame.

This doesn’t feel far from my experience, frankly. Me, the consciousness, is out for a pleasant ride through life. But unfortunately I’m on a bucking bronco that doesn’t accept my commands and repeatedly throws me into a pile of unpleasantness. I’d much rather be riding a tamed beast. So I wonder, what method of human-taming is most effective?

Beat it into submission through harsh ascetic practices — keeping it away from delightful indulgences and everything it desires, subduing it with an iron fist? From what I heard, the Buddha tried this method and rejected it. He recommended a middle path – but how does one find that balance? Should I allow this human to eat treats while slyly persuading it to behave in the way I prefer?

As the cowpoke that took on this taming as a personal challenge, I suppose I just have to experiment until I find what works. I can say this though: the calmer/gentler approach seems to work best thus far. But I don’t think complete indulgence works, as it tends to spoil, providing all the reward without requiring cooperation. And lastly, I believe the human must be steered into a creative endeavor – he’s gotta make something that he’s semi-satisfied with.

Whoa Woe

If you blame your woe on something, and that “something” goes away, you’ll be left with woe and nothing to blame it on. In some sense, it’s a worse predicament to be in. So, you’ll find a new source of sorrow. But what if all potential sources of strain dry-up and you’re stuck with only woe?

You’ll have a dilemma: what’s the root-cause of my dissatisfaction? All external scapegoats have failed. As happens in the thrillers: “The call is coming from INSIDE the house!!” Everything on the outside has proven itself incapable of serving as a source of dissatisfaction or satisfaction. Now what!?

Obviously, mental-discipline is the answer – it’s literally the only option. But how does one effectively apply mental discipline? That’s the problem. Awareness, consciousness, presence, nowness – whatever you call it, it’s a necessary component. If your mind is wandering, getting lost in life, you can’t apply mental discipline.

Awareness can be used to monitor and steer “focus”. Focus on unpleasant topics, you’ll feel bad. Focus on pleasant topics, you’ll feel better. Be advised though: finding and devising pleasant topics takes effort – but it must be done. Accepting defaults hasn’t worked, you need to seek and experiment until delightful topics are found.

In a good way, you’ve found the source of dissatisfaction. You’re dissatisfied because you’ve failed to apply mental-discipline. You haven’t invested the effort in remaining awake and aware – and as a result, you’ve lacked proper focus. Without intentional focus, you’ve experienced a mishmash of mayhem.

The world you experience is derived from your focus. If you focus on negativity, you consume negativity. Whereas if you eat cake, you experience cake. From the menu of life, you must seek and select what’s preferable, delightful even. By your careful cultivation, you create a world in which you want to live.

Wandering Mind

When I stop to notice what I’m feeling, I often find that my thoughts are causing me distress. Antagonizing and abusive thoughts are constantly bombarding my awareness. What a way to spend the day!

Realizing the absurdity of the situation, I aim to fix it. But how? Well, I see that the source of the problem is my wandering mind. It’s an unruly beast that likes to roll around in muck and mire.

The solution is to leash the beast, to put it under ceaseless surveillance, not allowing it to wander where it wants. I must stop myself from getting lost in its chaotic rambling.

In that sense, negligence is the true cause of my distress. I must stop shirking the duty of monitoring my mind. I must not follow it down dark and dingy pathways. I must maintain awareness and focus on what I prefer.

In short: happiness and satisfaction are the result of a well-disciplined mind.

Spooktober Time

Imagine the scariest scenario you can think of. After doing so, you’d probably feel bad, right? Why wouldn’t you? Now contemplate this idea: what if you never allowed yourself to focus on another scary thought for the rest of your life? It’s a pretty decent theory that you’d live a fear-free life from then on.

I’m actually putting that theory to the test. It’s not as easy as it sounds. If I allow my mind to wander, random thoughts can contain scary scenarios. And of course there are times when I’m half-asleep or even dreaming – at those times, weird thoughts can be harder to ignore. I also had to change my fundamental belief system so I could logically dismantle scary ideas. Managing all this is literally a full-time job.

Since I have nothing better to do I’m doing it. It seems kinda strange to manually manage my mental-state so carefully, but here we are. I’ve been able to get to a place where I barely feel fear or even worry, but that didn’t solve all my problems unfortunately. I even worked on diminishing my anger, but I’m still fraught with frustration.

You’d think I’d be somewhat satisfied, but I’m not. My problems simply changed shape. I guess the Buddha was right. It’s the underlying concept of dissatisfaction itself that must be eradicated, NOT the proximate causes. I was always “anxious” so I thought its expulsion would allow me to live a satisfying life. Nope, I just found something else to be dissatisfied about.

Even though I can readily witness myself genuinely appreciating aspects of existence nowadays, little things still annoy me. And so it’s “death by a thousand cuts” as all these tiny irritations make a day or week seem unpleasant. For example: something always hurts, there’s a minor ache or small sore somewhere. Another example: there’s always a shifting deadline, something somewhere is due.

Therefore, I’ve got to go deeper. Fear, anger, so what – I need to gain complete control of my mental focus. To be fair, the Dhammapada says this in the beginning. It’s all about mental-discipline through mindfulness and proper focus. Oh well, I suppose I still have a lot of work to do. Imagine straining to a finish-line only to find out it’s the starting-line of a whole other race.

But I have a huge head-start thanks to all the meditation, mental-discipline, philosophical, and spiritual stuff I’ve been doing for the past couple decades. I suppose it boils down to this question: what would happen if you never let your mind wander? Well, I’ll have to put that to the test.

Going Home

Sitting down for meditation is like placing a bucket full of sloshing water on the floor and waiting until the ripples settle. In other words, you should expect some initial turbulence, some resistance to the calm. But after awhile the tiny waves diminish – unless disturbed by your own hand. Therefore, one must resist the temptation to stir the pot.

Don’t follow thoughts, keep focus on the breath, see the mottled formlessness within closed eyes. Remind yourself of the infinite absolute: “OM”. Say it silently as exhaling. Imagine you’re going home (‘ome), drifting through space, to the origin of all. Step back from physical existence, reset your perspective by visiting a realm of pure potential.

Meditation is the practice of mental discipline. When a thought remains in focus, remind yourself that no thought is more important than the practice of mental discipline – then unfocus from that thought. Something else to consider: meditation is a concentrated form of what should be occurring throughout the day. Actively apply the product of this practice while living within life’s physical form.

When practiced regularly, meditation should improve the everyday experience. It does so by increasing awareness of all those swirling thoughts within the mind. It’s these thoughts that cause so many problems, thus they must be pruned. Meditation enhances the ability to focus and unfocus attention on these thoughts – so when thoughts arise, they can be dismissed. With a clearer, more focused mind, life gets better.

Filling Voids

We all have something missing in our lives – and once we find it, we’ll finally feel fulfilled. Sweet relief! OR, once we find it, we’ll simply chase the next craving that comes up. Spoiler Alert! There’s ALWAYS something else we feel we need. No matter what we attain in this world, no matter the achievement, the sensation of lack and a need to fill it follows us around wherever we go.

This means we’re in a constant state of dissatisfaction with the world. Yuck. Nothing’s good enough. Nothing scratches the itch. We always want something else. The only cure for such a predicament, is mental discipline. This is the practice of deliberately focusing our attention. In all aspects of our lives we should maintain proper focus – and by doing this, we can improve our condition.

Essentially, we must train ourselves not to obsess over the treadmill of desire. We should take it less seriously and watch it lightheartedly. “I want something? Eh, okay I’ll chase it for awhile. Ha, this could be fun! Who cares if I catch it!” We should be focusing on appreciation instead of lack – focusing on the enjoyment of pursuit rather than the fact that we don’t have what we want.

After-all, as soon as we get what we want, we no longer want it – and soon enough something else takes its place. “But I REALLY want something!!” Well, obtaining it won’t cure the underlying feeling of craving: the sensation remains as the object of desire switches to something new. The only way to get rid of that feeling is through mental discipline i.e. focusing on what’s positive instead of what’s negative.

Satisfaction is an internal state achieved through internal means. It’s a perspective. Picture your life full of lack, you’ll feel dissatisfied. Picture your life full of abundance, you’ll feel satisfied. If you’re unsatisfied, it means your thoughts are arranged in a discordant way. What you need to attain is an answer to this riddle: how can I rearrange my thoughts so they evoke feelings of delight. Focus on THAT instead of external attainment and you’ll find an end to suffering.

Plowing Ahead

In one sense, it doesn’t matter what’s causing unpleasant external conditions. I have to deal with them either way. Whether it’s random chance, mischievous imps, an existential escape from boredom, karmic repercussions, part of a dramatic narrative, a simulated challenge-generator that maximizes player engagement — it doesn’t matter, the obstacles are there. And complaining about their presence, is an ineffective strategy for dealing with them (my exhaustive multi-decade study has proven this to be true).

Since complaining doesn’t work, I have to try a different approach. But I will NOT be engaging with these obstacles directly, it’s just not my play-style. Any time I’ve tried the direct approach, I’ve just gotten frustrated by my lack of ability. Whereas I’ve always been intrigued by the Buddha’s approach: disregard obstacles. “Oh is something blocking my path? Hm, cool, well I’ll just chill here, no biggie.” Haha suck it obstacles! You hold no power over me!!

There’s still hurdles, but instead of jumping over them, I shift my perspective until there’s no longer a desire to jump them. This isn’t new to me, I’ve been trying to get this nonchalant approach to work for a long time. It hasn’t been effective enough to end my angst yet. Essentially, I’ve been attempting to dismantle the veil of illusion that makes the world seem “real”. But of course the world lures me back with a mix of pain and pleasure, physical aches and aspirational promises.

Ideally, there’s a balance I can achieve in which I’m in this fictional world AND able to enjoy the experience. By all my efforts thus far, it seems to be a VERY delicate balance though. Oftentimes I wonder if a balance is actually achievable, and the attempt feels futile. I keep trying since I’ve got nothing better to do. I don’t believe I can quit this game – if I dared, I think I’d be right back where I started. My only option is to plow ahead.

Plowing ahead for me means to keep adjusting my focus. Thoughts streaming through my mind require evaluation before they monopolize my attention – most should be disregarded and left unconsidered. It doesn’t matter why I encounter unpleasant experiences or even the content of those experiences – my role is to remain calm and unattached, tuning my focus to whatever’s more pleasant in the moment. Day after day, I chisel away on my quest for balance.

Too Far

Striving for enlightenment might be taking things a bit too far. Instead of overcoming a single challenge, it’s the idea of overcoming challenge itself — thus eliminating ALL challenges in one fell swoop. It’s like sitting in the middle of an arcade and not playing any of the games because you conquered the desire to engage — but the point of a game is to play!!

Imagine exiting the arcade and explaining to the game developers that you didn’t play their games. They ask why. You respond: “Well, after losing a few times I got frustrated and stopped playing. Then I got bored and played some more but kept losing. This led to even more frustration so I proceeded to train my mind to ignore those enticing demo-screens and to ignore the sensation of boredom while sitting still.”

Exasperated, the developers explain that the games are specifically designed to be unwinnable. Winning and losing result in the same outcome: “Game Over”, therefore the games are designed to string players along in an endless series of challenges that are ultimately insurmountable. It’s only a game they say, you shouldn’t get so bent-out-of-shape over it — you’re taking things much too seriously — an arcade is meant to be fun.

So in a sense, the initial quest for enlightenment might be a bad-attitude in which a person wants to give-up on the game and sit quietly until it ends. BUT, if you sit silently long enough, you’ll ultimately come to this conclusion: play the game and have some fun (i.e. lighten-up). You’ll also conclude that you shouldn’t attempt to play every game in the arcade — it’s better to focus on the ones you find most enjoyable.