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.

Youthful Exuberance

The Declaration of Independence served as formal separation from old ways. Youth and newness were to replace the stodgy conservatism of the aging and antiquated. Thomas Jefferson himself was in his early thirties at the signing of his handiwork. Progress was not fast enough and the exuberance of an emerging nation could not be contained. And so it was, over two centuries ago that the United States of America was born by the passion of a rising generation.

And the lesson I take from such a significant event: whenever tradition hinders progress, it should be thrown to the fire. Ways of doing things are only worthwhile when they advance mankind. And what should we consider progress? “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Anything that moves us closer to that ideal is progress.

Though it seems absurd that a country so enterprising in oppression and servitude should express such an ideal, it is exactly those lofty and seemingly insurmountable goals that America is famous for achieving! We can also be sure that such an ideal WON’T be attained through a government created in antiquity and populated by elderly statesmen. The “new world” in this digital age exists online obviously — and it is in this realm where the brashness of a rising generation will take its place at the helm.

As everything moves online, those stuck in an immovable conservatism will persist in an unchanging world as vitality happens in the cloud. And in time, that liveliness will spread to the static domain as it plants itself on the remains of what was. So on this day, July 4th, I celebrate an end to the old while welcoming in the new. As John Adams wrote to his wife after the signing:

“I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

So you see dear friends, it is the American way to usher in change before we’re ready then somehow deal with the consequences. Therefore, even though we’re not ready, we must embrace a new era and all the change that comes with it — and we should do so with unrepentant optimism, ever heading towards the ideal so stated above: that all of us are born with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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.

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.

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.

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!