Inside the House

I’m several decades old already and I can say without a doubt that the worst experiences I’ve had thus far, have been the times I’ve spent focused on dour pessimistic thoughts. Yes that’s right: bleak, hostile, sad, and worrisome thoughts have served to torture me for many years. I can therefore confidently declare that they are my enemy. They’re intoxicating and unrelenting and they’ve tried to destroy me on many occasions.

In my naivete I thought they were my ally, protecting me from a dangerous world. They were not. I thought they told the truth, warning me of risks all around. They did not. I thought they were simply a part of who I was, just everyday thoughts. They are not. No, these negative thoughts are more like a demonic influence sowing seeds of discontent within every experience. And I succumbed. I failed the test of temptation and accepted every somber suggestion provided.

To be sure, it was a tragic mistake that led to much misery. Yet there was one flaw in the devil’s plan. Turn up the heat little by little and the victim never realizes he’s in hell. Turn up the heat too much at once? The predicament becomes more obvious. “Wait a second, why’s it so hot in here!?” But the illusion is so complete that it’s difficult to discern – despite an awareness of foul-play. Something is wrong, but what, and from where?

Well, it’s those thoughts. Although it seemed external, the enemy was within. “The calls are coming from INSIDE the house!!” And this prankster won’t stop – so I’ll let it ring. Decades have proven to me the harmlessness of these thoughts. It’s okay to ignore them. This devil has no authority, no means to make bad things happen, just tricks to make the good seem bad. The way out of this hell is to maintain focus, ever looking to the light.

Learning to Dance

Life is a celebration of frivolity and inefficiency. The objective is to reach the end as slowly as possible while enjoying the trip. In other words: find something fun to do for a few decades and you win. But as someone that thinks in terms of seriousness and efficiency, this process seems absurdly difficult. I feel like I showed up at a dance wondering why everyone is flinging their appendages around when they should be diligently planning and preparing and gathering resources.

Therefore, much of my time and effort is telling myself to ignore the inclination to squirrel away nuts for the winter. So how can I ever get in the mood for dancing when I’m constantly suppressing the urge to worry? I’m forever on the lookout for optimization and efficiency in a world in which such endeavors are futile. I know my tendencies are wrong because I receive no benefit from them, just anxiety. I have drive without a destination.

I have plenty of energy for worry. But since I don’t allow myself to worry, I mostly sit around ignoring my worrisome thoughts. When I used to entertain those thoughts, I was terribly upset all the time. I traded worry for boredom – intensity for low-energy. So now what!? Well overall I think my experience has improved. My guess is that I’ll have to learn how to dance, in the figurative sense i.e. engage in a frivolous and inefficient activity that I find enjoyable.

For example: this year I’ve been engaging in some small-scale hand-tool woodworking. It’s incredibly frivolous and inefficient. Imagine milling tiny planks of wood from a larger block and assembling those into a minuscule bench too small for sitting or into a two-inch tall raised-panel door to nowhere. Yet, I’ve been thoroughly entertained thus far. Only recently has the close of this year started to take its toll. But of course, I don’t allow myself to worry about it – thus all my energy is currently directed towards disregarding my situation. “This is fine” as the meme says.

Diet Evaluation

At the beginning of this year, I made a resolution in accordance with the New Year’s Day tradition. On January 1st I began a negativity-free diet. This diet was so-named because I was attempting to lessen my focus on negativity. In other words, I was too anxious and pessimistic and wanted a change – I wanted a better experience of existence. So, I tended my mental garden and tried to pick out all the weeds. I also cut out a bunch of external forms of entertainment that contributed to a negative outlook.

Well?? Did it work!? With weightloss, you can just jump on a scale or measure body-fat percentage or analyze how your clothes fit. With negativity, I think the measurement is a little tougher to analyze. And if the process is gradual, it makes differences difficult to notice. I asked a couple people I know and they said I seemed less negative – I “laugh more freely” for example. Funny enough, a longstanding digestive issue seems to have finally cleared up. And I naturally fall asleep at a reasonable time every night nowadays (I still wake-up all throughout the night though).

But do I feel better? Again, it’s been an entire year so I’m not sure how much I’ve changed. I’m not so overflowing with improvement that I’m proselytizing my diet as the best thing ever. In terms of negativity, I started out as “morbidly obese”, so perhaps a single year isn’t quite enough to balance everything out. I obviously made some progress but I need more time and practice. I still have “bad days” – but relative to my previous bad days, they’re probably much better.

Oh and another potential benefit, I’ve been engaging in a new hobby for most of this year: small-scale, hand-tool woodworking. Perhaps clearing out a bunch of negativity made room for something fun. I’d done woodworking in the past, but it was mostly frustrating – this time around it was much more satisfying. Well anyway, I’ll be continuing the diet into the new year.

Farcical Frivolity

In Wonderland, Alice would often get frustrated by the absurdity because she was trying to be serious. Yet being sincere within the nonsensical is illogical – it’s obviously the wrong approach. I had a bad day yesterday which was made worse by my attempt to thoughtfully approach a topic with the intention of being helpful. You can’t “help” in Wonderland – it results in circumstances like painting the white roses red. So instead of digging my hole deeper, I just sat quietly for the rest of the day, trying to escape through not-thinking.

Despite my attempts at not-thinking, I came to the conclusion that I should stop doing anything at all. Nothing works as I intend, so why bother (a logical conclusion). I sat there some more, got bored, and went to watch some YouTube videos. I felt a little better and further concluded: when I attempt to do something “seriously” THAT’S when things go awry. Just watching videos is fine, casually hanging out with a buddy is fine, eating a tasty meal is fine, small woodworking projects are fine.

In a way, humans are robots with a higher propensity for failure. Whereas a robot is engineered to perform repetitive tasks correctly, humans seem designed to perform tasks with a high likelihood of failure. So if I try to do something with the intent of a successful outcome, there’s a good chance I’ll be disappointed with the result. Therefore, in a farcical land, the most frivolous activity makes the most sense.

In other words: if I try to do something practical and it doesn’t work, I’ll be disappointed. But if I do something that’s whimsical, an activity that produces nothing but pure enjoyment, then I’ll achieve satisfaction every time. In the Skinner-box of Life, I’ve been punished over and over for taking things too seriously. I keep doing it though. I keep getting suckered-in and then SLAPPED. Therefore, I’m going to re-double my efforts to stop being so solemn. This is a fun-house, I have to stop being startled and start being amused.

Hope and a Smile

I think quality-of-life can drastically change based on my focus and perspective. Therefore, by adjusting and shaping my thoughts, I can improve my experience of existence. And the crux of this, is mental discipline: the practice of deliberately monitoring and adjusting my thoughts, feelings, and reactions. It doesn’t matter how seemingly upsetting or how logically dire a situation is – with properly applied mental discipline, my state of mind can be improved.

I could attempt to alter my surroundings and the world through physical means – or, I could simply see everything as perfectly fine. Yes, this is EXACTLY like the cartoon-dog sitting in a burning-house meme when he says: “This is fine”. But, he died with hope and a smile. Would it have been better to die in a state of panic and despair? From what I’ve seen, positive attitudes lead to more enjoyable experiences and better outcomes.

As is said: if surrounded by darkness, should you not seek the light? And if that light-source happens to be a raging fire, well that’s fine too. As the poster reminds: Keep calm and carry on. It’s not a defeatist attitude, it’s just pivoting. When you can’t jump high enough to get over the hurdle, you could simply sit and enjoy the day regardless. If you can’t think of something nice to say, you can say nothing at all.

Mental discipline is still a form of striving by the way. But instead of struggling against physical obstacles, it’s striving to shape my perspective into something positive – no matter what. It’s like those people that train themselves to sit in icy water despite the seemingly uncomfortable and improbable nature of the task. I tend to see situations as unpleasant or impossible, and I must overcome that tendency through the practice of mental discipline. I must have hope and smile.

Ignore It

If I ignore something, does it go away or get worse? Answer: it goes away. That sounds like the wrong approach, that such a strategy would only lead to a festering mess in the end. Yet, over the course of many years, I’ve found that it’s the exact tactic that works. Whether it’s an internal ache or something external, ignoring it has typically made it disappear whereas focusing on it only increased the intensity.

From thoughts, to pains, to people, to situations – whenever I stop maintaining them within my mind, they simply fade away. It’s not always easy to forget something, which is why things don’t blip out instantaneously. I typically have to repeatedly ignore the image while trying to focus on something else. But if I keep at it, it goes away.

Yes, this phenomenon demonstrates that the world is not a concrete physical reality in which I’m a mere spectator to life’s objective events. My thoughts and feelings are readily influencing the reality I’m experiencing, there’s no doubt about it. But if that’s true, why am I not having the best time ever? Why do I find myself experiencing unpleasantness again and again?

My guess would be: the lack of application of mental discipline. In other words, I don’t ignore enough. I don’t selectively identify and ignore that which produces discomfort. If I’m not feeling great in every moment, that means there’s something I’m not ignoring. Could it be that simple!? Does ignorance truly result in bliss!? I’m going to dedicate myself to this experiment and find out!

Striving for Something

I’m here, so I might as well keep busy. I’ve found it’s best to keep striving for something, anything. It can be a frivolous goal, it doesn’t matter, it’s the effort that counts. I’m currently pursuing three primary objectives.

Number one: I’m striving to become a mellow, lighthearted fellow. I started out as an tightly wound, overly anxious, paranoid, pessimistic naysayer. I’m trying to do a 180 flip into a calm, optimistic, friendly and welcoming guy that always has a good word to say about everything. Will I get there? Eh, who cares, it’s the striving that counts. (Ha, such a casual attitude, it must be working!!)

Number two: I’m striving to maintain good relationships with my wife and son. My attitude and behavior are obviously key aspects to this. These relationships are the reason I want to tame my negativity in the first place. I’ve noticed that my interactions improve as I progress along the mellow path.

Number three: I’m currently striving to use tools – particularly for small-scale hand-tool woodworking. This has become a great hobby over the past few months and I hope to continue with it. My longer term goal is to put together a small woodworking workshop with the finest tools I can procure.

A Christmas Cratchit

Dear diary, I will now mention the reason why I’ve been a bit upset lately. It’s money. Of course. That old cliche has inserted itself as a prominent part of my narrative.

We’ve been living in our current location for about two-and-half years (it’s a lovely locale and I like it). Mathematically, the money was going to run out about seven months ago – it didn’t. It somehow lasted till now, the end of the year. Right in time for what? That’s right, a Christmas Miracle. It’s the first of December today, a month of many celebrated birthdays (including my own).

I love Christmas Miracles by the way, which is why I have hope amidst the lack. Of course I have to feel bad for a bit and soak in the dour circumstances, setting the scene. “Gee wiz guys, I guess Christmas isn’t going to be very merry this year. Aw shucks….” But in my heart of hearts I believe in the power of Christmas and know it’s never too late. Christmas isn’t over! There’s still time!!

Just the other day, my friend said how much she hates the holidays since we only ever have enough money for minimal living expenses – and this year we have even less. But oh does the crescendo start soft and gradually build until the loudest frequency fills the ear with an abundance of sound. I know not what form this miracle will take, but I believe in its inevitability.

Christmas CAN be saved. It must. So too must she know Christmas as a time of merriment and delight. There is not one thing more in this world I want than to see their faces on Christmas morning alight with the resplendent glow of joyful glee. Yes James, there is a Santa Claus and he lives through me – today and for 10 times 10,000 years he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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.