Way of the Wood

When I set out to do something, the process and outcome aren’t typically what I expect. In other words, I’m frequently frustrated by an inability to do what I aspire to do. There’s way too much strain involved for a final product that I’m not satisfied with. That’s basically the story of my life: a lot of exertion with nothing to show for it – a whole bunch of frivolous toil – an engine revving in neutral.

Then a few months ago I got into woodworking. I’m pleased in the sense that I enjoy the effort and I’m somewhat satisfied with the outcome. I even like the ecosystem: I watch woodworking videos and browse websites for tools. The only unpleasant aspect is a slight tool obsession that’s conflicting with a constrained budget. I absolutely love the tools though – browsing through Lie-Nielsen planes takes me to another place.

I’ve only been crafting small-scale projects, like a 1:24 scale picnic table – and I prefer it (6 feet becomes 3 inches). I’m literally milling my own dimensional lumber from small blocks of wood with a little rip-saw and a tiny hand plane. I had started out with whittling and woodcarving, but the effort/output ratio wasn’t quite right. I’m not really an artist, so carving a block into a bunny isn’t something I can readily do. I can’t visualize organic stuff – whereas tables, benches, and boxes I can see.

Through the years, I tried at various times to get into woodworking but it never panned out. For example, my chisels are from a failed attempt almost twenty years ago. Finally, I think things are aligning. The projects aren’t works of art, but they’re good enough and they come together without a struggle. And of course, having a reason to collect and use tools is an awesome thing in itself.

Calm and Easy

If you want a calm and easy life, you need a calm and easy attitude. Hm, I suppose that sounds plausible. Even though the external circumstances of my life are relatively calm and easy, I maintain a raging storm of distressing turbulence on the inside. My thoughts tend to be anxious, disparaging, selfish, petty, paranoid, and pessimistic. In summation, I have NOT harbored a calm and easy attitude – quite the opposite in fact.

Despite that, my external experiences are typically mundane. I suppose I simply couldn’t handle more than that. Remaining relatively isolated in a small room all day? I can do that. But of course that provides ample opportunity for me to wrestle with negative thoughts – resulting in a life that is NOT calm and easy despite its appearance. So now what?

I think after all these years, I’m ready for a calm and easy life. I’m tired of the turbulence. I’ve spent so much time straining and resisting – against what? I rejected life, wouldn’t accept it, and remained constantly suspicious of everything. Yet, this cantankerous contentiousness has not benefitted me in any way. I can finally recognize that perpetual negativity is a dumb hobby.

So is that it? We good here? Is this little epiphany enough to flip my attitude around? Um, hello? Apparently not. So now I’m in a limbo of sorts, aware of my situation and stuck cleaning up the mess? Am I supposed to undo decades of discontent and attempt to fashion a positive attitude from scratch? Well that sounds like a lot of work.

Spoiler Alert! It is a lot of work! I can say that with confidence because I’ve had this exact epiphany over and over for many years. This 8-year-old blog is a testament to that fact. A realization isn’t enough, it takes applied effort. Every minute of the day I’m presented with a new thought that must be processed. It’s tedious. Why are so many so negative!? The defects must be rejected and tossed into the trash.

But how can I catch them all!? I miss a lot of these faulty thoughts and one bad apple spoils the bunch. I’m always looking for a more efficient approach to everything and this process is no exception. If it’s not obvious, I haven’t found it yet – I’m still grinding away. It seems like the biggest obstacle is “forgetfulness” and getting lost in everyday life. I’ll have an epiphany, devise a strategy, then I’ll simply lose it as the day’s drama unfolds.

And no, simply writing it down doesn’t work – as this 8-year-old blog demonstrates. Well whatever, I’m gonna try my hardest to adopt a calm and easy attitude. That’ll be my mantra for now until it’s lost to the repetition. “Calm and easy, calm and easy, calm and easy…” I’ll be an unsinkable cork floating atop the undulating waves of the world on my own joy-filled frequency, calm and easy.

Detailed Questions

Why is the sky blue? Why do people do what they do? What does it mean to fall in love? What’s the origin of illness? What’s healthy? What’s free-will? How do you live a good life?

If reasons and explanations to life’s questions vary over time, then perhaps details don’t matter. How can details be so subjective? You might postulate that understanding simply evolves. Well I don’t understand anything! I’ve certainly not received any of this advancing knowledge! Nor do I see evidence of it as I witness people living similarly dramatic storylines to those that came before. Fashions change, but the basics seem the same.

Schooling, amusements, occupations, competition, romance, parenting, complaining, and the search for satisfaction – what really changes? Style varies with era, but the fundamentals remain constant. Every age has its own explanations of why things happen, yet subsequent ages scoff at those antiquated ways. And this current age’s understanding will be mocked by those that follow. In that way, modernity admits its own lack of understanding.

What this adds up to is an obvious conclusion: events do NOT sit atop a solid concrete structure of objective ingredients. In fact, the framework for circumstances is fictional, mere illusion, a concoction cobbled together after-the-fact. Something happens, THEN the “how” and “why” forms based on perspective.

This conclusion obviously implies a dreamworld/simulated-reality in which a dreamer/player has ideas that manifest from imagination/pixels. There really is no “how” or “why”, it’s simply not necessary when dealing with dreams/simulations. Anything can appear anywhere at anytime.

And of course I had it backwards the entire time. I thought I was supposed to seek-out the step-by-step specifics in order to traverse a particular path. If you want to accomplish a task, read the pre-printed instructions obviously! NOPE! You simply “do the thing” and let it unfold before you. It’s a dream whose scenes manifest before your very eyes.

Whereas when you’re lost in the dream, it seems so concrete. The details ARE the reason, and nothing exists beyond what the senses perceive. But that’s such a limited perspective – you’re trapped into inaction and unable to do anything significant. Therefore, you must reset your frame-of-reference, step back from the intensity of a dream created by a wandering mind.

Remove yourself from the chaotic nightmare through discipline. Discipline is specifically focusing the mind. It’s pulling focus away from dissatisfying topics while putting focus on delightful ones. It sounds silly, but life is a silly thing. Tame the chaos you previously created, let it go, replace it with a new world in which you choose to experience contentment. In a dream, time is malleable. It is now the dawn.

Mental Priority

No thought is worth more than mental discipline. In other words, any idea or mental-image currently capturing your attention is less valuable than a well-focused mind. A thought will never provide the insight or satisfaction that mental discipline brings. This means it’s better to specifically direct your attention, instead of allowing it to wander amongst thoughts.

If you dismiss a thought, you’re not missing anything important. Thoughts come from a chatterbox that likes to hear himself speak. But he rambles on until he stumbles into a topic that thrills and excites, then you’re stuck with the resulting anxiety. You do yourself a favor by stopping this process and preventing this search-for-excitement.

This chatterbox is like a hacker brute-forcing a way towards anxiety, trying every combination of ideas and images until he finds a weak-spot into your attention. And once found, he throws everything he’s got at it. Deny such attacks by shutting down the spam, don’t bother looking at the attention-getting titles, just auto-filter it out.

This chatterbox is like a door-to-door salesmen that constantly comes knocking – don’t invite him in or you’ll be subjected to a stream of solicitations all day and night. “Boredom!? Not any more with the new and improved Thought-o-Matic Instant Anxiety Machine! It’ll make you tremble with stories so shocking, that you won’t be able to concentrate on anything else!”

Mental discipline is the practice of not answering that door. It’s the practice of denying thought-scans that seek surges of emotion. It’s the practice of putting proper focus first, above all thoughts. So stop giving thoughts priority, put them in their place below mental discipline. A well-focused mind is the key to your satisfaction.

Practicing WhoAmIism

I’m sick of imagining a dumb backstory. “Remembering” isn’t even the word for it since I don’t know if it really happened. Because honestly, who’s to say when existence began? I literally could’ve achieved consciousness this morning and presumed a bunch of ideas and injected a few false memories about who I am and what’s happened thus far. My examination of my situation could be further tainted by a negative perspective, leaving me with incorrect interpretations all around.

So now what? What does that leave me with? For one, it leaves me without ANY baggage to carry along. I’m free of whatever preceded right now. In other words, I can think of the present moment as the start of a dream. Nothing before this moment actually existed, it’s all concocted in an attempt to explain what’s happening now. I don’t have to take it seriously, I can ignore it or even invent a better backstory and believe that instead.

In a sense, I should approach each new moment as if I have amnesia, unsure of who I am or what’s going on. It sounds a bit odd yet it’s closer to the truth. I really don’t know who I am or what’s going on here. Sure, I’ve made a bunch of assumptions but I don’t know if they’re correct, in fact they’re more likely to be wrong. These assumptions I’ve made haven’t benefitted me in any way – and typically, they tend to make me feel bad.

In summation: As soon as I became conscious, I inadvertently focused on a lot of strange thoughts. I assumed they represented a factual reality. I further assumed that following those thoughts would lead me to an explanation of what’s going on here – but doing so only led to more confusion. All those thoughts I invested in turned out to be trash and are therefore unworthy of further attention. The present moment is the only time in which I should invest my attention. Focus on now.

Olden Days

“What a horrible time we’re living in! I wish things were more like they used to be! Things were uncomplicated back then! People were polite! They talked to each another! You could afford things! Politicians weren’t corrupt! Truth and justice weren’t just tag-lines in a comic-book!”

As someone that’s been alive for a few decades and has an interest in history, those kinds of statements don’t make much sense. Even a casual review of the historic narrative reveals a distinct repetition of themes and events. Facades change, but the foundational elements remain the same. Therefore, what the above sentiment is truly referring to, is not some point in history, but to some simpler time in the speaker’s life i.e. childhood.

What such people are really trying to say is: things were easier when I was a child because I was taken care of and I only focused on things that mattered to me at the time. And this is true, things ARE easier when you’re taken care of and when you only focus on the things that are important to you. So now what? Can we go back to a simpler time? i.e. a time when we possessed a childlike view of the world?

Jesus once said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Maybe he’s saying that we should focus on the things that matter to us in this moment, as children do — and in so doing, experience a heavenly time on Earth. Whereas focusing on the “big picture” and global-matters is a means of getting lost in the world, a condition that ultimately leads to dissatisfaction.

But what about being taken care of? Well Jesus also said this: I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body. Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.

So when we lament the modern times we’re living in, perhaps our wish shouldn’t be to time-travel to some idyllic point in history that never happened – but to get back to a childlike perspective. And to do that, we must focus on what’s at hand right-now in this moment. Perhaps we should be focusing on who’s around us and whatever activities are immediately available. A childlike perspective is not dour or disparaging, but wondrous and appreciative of whatever’s happening all around.

In summation: in order to enjoy life, we must not strive to resurrect a fictional past, rather we must strive to attain a level of mental discipline that allows us to focus our attention on whatever evokes delight.

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.

Lowest Point

Even if everything in your life improves, there will still be a “worst thing ever”. In other words, everything’s relative and there’s always a lowest point. For example, if the worst thing I dealt with was a constant fear of physical violence, and I eventually overcome it, I’ll then deal with anxiety from financial instability. If I overcome THAT, I’ll be worrying about the stability of my long-term romantic relationship. And if I eventually stop worrying about THAT, my worst day is having a headache that won’t go away. No matter what, there will ALWAYS be something to ruin your day.

So what? It means that you can’t achieve contentment through external means. It’s like that saying: wherever you go, there you are. If you simply change your surroundings, you’ll just judge your new environment by your old standards and place old labels on new things. Instead, you have to stop your tendency to criticize, stop applying those dumb labels. EVERYTHING should be 5 outta 5. Reset your rating-scale. You’re now having a full five-star experience! Whoa! Nice!

Everything in your reach is now the BEST. If you used to lie to yourself all the time and claim everything was the worst, why is this any different? Well, it’s not! Except that evaluating at the high-end makes you feel much better than evaluating at the low-end. If you claim that there’s always room for improvement, then you’ll never have a top-tier time — you’ll always feel slightly cheated and a little lacking. Whereas if you call something the best thing ever, you’re suddenly transported to a high-end experience that can’t be topped. Except that it IS exceeded by the very next thing! WOW!!

Wait, is this a joke!? No! The joke is that you’d relentlessly sabotage your experience on Earth by constantly criticizing everything while worrying about unpleasant ideas that you focus on in your mind. That’s a dumb joke. So through the power of mental discipline, flip the script and start thinking of your experiences and surroundings as an awesome adventure through wonderland. It’s madcap crazy! It’s exciting! Use an ounce of creativity to find your way there, paint a rose-colored hue on everything you encounter. Make this your new routine and see if you’re not suddenly living the best life ever.

Everyday Buffet

Imagine you have a plate in front of you. Upon that plate you spoon on servings of frustration, worry, disappointment, and hopelessness. It’s a small plate so you can’t fit anything else. You’ll notice that there’s no room for delight, contentment, appreciation, or enjoyment. And everyday, you head to the buffet and pile on more of what you’re used to, more of the same disgusting dishes that fill you with dissatisfaction. To you, the world becomes a nasty one-star dump with multiple health-code violations on the verge of closing down.

But it turns out that better selections exist. You don’t have to repeatedly scoop the same slop day after day. You can choose something different, something delicious in fact! Of course you won’t naturally do this – you’ll logically assume that every entree is as bad as the ones you’re already consuming. Although sometimes, you’ll get so sick from eating the gross glop that you’ll have no choice but to try something else. Yet, if you do happen to find something better, oftentimes you drift back to the old stuff over time as habits are hard to break.

WAKE UP!!! That’s the only sure-fire way of fixing this situation. You must become aware and REMAIN aware of what you’re scooping onto your plate. The way to win at a buffet is to take many small samples so as not to overwhelm yourself, then go back and get larger portions of the stuff you liked. And whenever you return to the buffet, only grab the SAME items you liked during the sampling phase. IGNORE the items that brought about feelings of revulsion, just focus on the good stuff.

Again, mindlessness and habit will steer you back to what you knew. This WILL happen. It is therefore imperative to utilize discipline in order to maintain focus on the good stuff. You must constantly steer your attention, keeping it on the correct course. You should either be sampling new items in small portions OR taking hearty scoops of stuff already proven to be good through sampling. Do this continuously and the world becomes a five-star masterpiece of unyielding delight.

Life on Manual

I know survival isn’t a do-it-yourself option, there’s just no way, it’s too basic for remaining in the game. Yes, I can grab the steering wheel and grind against the guide-tracks and create a lot of sparks and crap-up the ride-car — but overall, the underlying maintenance of the body is an automatic process best left alone. It seems like “worry” and “unnecessary intervention” are the truer causes of bodily malfeasance.

Although to me, it feels like certain aspects of digestion and sleep are Tamagotchi-like. If I don’t find the correct combination of dietary items, then my digestion complains. And if I don’t find the right routine for sleep, I don’t feel rested. I’ve yet to find that routine by the way, I’m still searching after all these decades to find a decent night’s rest: An Epic Quest for Rest.

Whereas food procurement has always been an automatic event for me. Food is placed in an easily accessible location and I eat it — simple as that. Personal protection is another thing automatically taken care of — there’s nothing to defend myself from. Unfortunately, I was super paranoid during the first few decades of existence and thought I had to be at full-alert and ready for battle. Long story short: I spent a lot of time being unnecessarily anxious. I don’t do that anymore and life has become a lot more pleasant — and I’m still unharmed despite my lack of vigilance.

In contrast to those automatic events, “appreciation” is something that’s clearly NOT on automatic. I don’t like much. I tend to reject and down-vote and criticize and hate on everything that passes through my perception. I’m finally trying to get a handle on manual appreciation and I’m focusing specifically on aspects of life that I like — this process has improved my experience so far.

In regards to my path through life, I’m not sure what’s going on there. I don’t do much, so I’m kinda assuming that it requires manual intervention. Or am I simply applying the brake and won’t let go? I could be a complete screw-up grinding my ride-car against the guide-tracks, fighting a preset path the entire time — but I’m not sure. My current strategy is to focus on whatever I find fun and interesting throughout the day.

Knowledge procurement seems like an automatic process too. I just kinda know things — talents and abilities are obviously related to this. For example, I seem to know how to use particular tools, they feel right in my hand and they move appropriately for the assigned task. It’s selective though, I know some things and definitely don’t know other things.

Basically, “manual” for me deals with getting myself under control. There is a stream of thought turbulently swirling through my mind and this condition tends to keep me in a constant state of negativity. So I must manually rein-in these thoughts and deliberately adjust my attention to focus on whatever I enjoy. That’s it. That’s the manual control I must master in order to win this game.