Life IS a quandary, and the answer to this puzzle isn’t mere realization, that’s too simple. The answer lies in a life well-lived. To complete any game, you have to actually overcome the obstacles it sets forth, not simply realize their existence.
Spoiler Alert! To live life well, one must cultivate and maintain the right attitude and perspective. It’s not what you physically do, it’s how you perceive what you do that counts. But make no mistake, finding and retaining the right outlook is a difficult task.
I’ve had revelation after revelation over the years. “WOW! That’s IT! I’ve got it now! I finally understand!!” But those moments quickly pass and life returns to what I’m used to. I haven’t had the tactics or discipline to maintain the momentum of my epiphanies.
This blog for example, is the primary method I’ve used to log my thoughts. Tomorrow will mark the 8-year anniversary since my first post. I have written-evidence of all those insights over the years. So in one sense, I get it. But in another sense, I’ve been unable to consistently apply those insights to my daily life.
Therefore, that’s what I’m working on nowadays: the consistent application of a greater perspective into my daily life. To do that, I’m attempting to maintain an awareness of “now”. Because in this moment, right now, I have the ability to select whatever it is I want to focus on. And what I want 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.
In so doing, I’ll achieve a life well-lived and therefore win this game.
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.
Imagine the main-course just ended and you’re sitting at the table and out comes a slice of delicious-smelling hand-crafted apple-pie that’s placed in-front of you. “Wow, that’s nice. Mmmm, the warm cinnamon scent is intoxicating”. Now you notice the plate it’s on. “A weird-shaped orange and purple plate!? Man, that’s ugly! Why would you place something so perfect on something so nasty!?” The plate becomes so distracting in fact, that it’s all you think about while consuming the pie. You barely notice any deliciousness as you’re too busy staring at the plate.
Dumb right? Why would you focus on something so insignificant as a plate when there’s a delicious pie just waiting to be enjoyed? And THAT is the problem of “negativity” and why I’m on a negativity-free diet. Despite the goodness that surrounds, I too often focus on the worst aspects I can find. And if I can’t see anything on the surface, I’ll simply speculate as to what’s wrong underneath, or predict dire consequences that are sure to happen as a result of what I’m currently experiencing. What a horrible habit to have — I don’t want it anymore.
The simple answer is to stop focusing on the negative stuff. But obviously I have to realize I’m doing it in the first place. To do that, I have to pay attention to how I’m feeling. Feeling bad? “I’m doing it again! Stop focusing on whatever horrible thought I’m currently thinking! Now find a positive thought — try appreciating something!” That’s one part of the solution, but I can’t simply react, I have to encourage positive thoughts through deliberate exercises.
I’ve practiced pondering negative thoughts for many years, therefore I must practice pondering positive thoughts until I get good at that. I have to specifically seek out thoughts that feel good to think and purposely place my attention on them. As an illustration, the previous pie example should go like this: “Hm I’m noticing that I’m not enjoying the pie, I feel kinda bad. Ah-ha! I must be focusing on negativity! That’s it, it’s the plate! Okay, I’ll ignore that poor plate and focus on the taste of pie. Mmm, the cinnamon is really coming through. Ooh and that apple mixed with a buttery crust — sooo good.”
Again, I’m on a negativity-free diet this year. And in order to help end the negativity, I’ve been following the techniques described in the book The Law of Attraction (2006). In short, I needed to fill the void created by lessening negativity with something positive. In relation to that, I recently modified my “Creative Workshop” items and the exercise is feeling a bit better now. Previously, I had included very specific real-world items — but their obvious non-existence in my current situation became an irritation. Therefore, I went with more general items.
Here’s what I’m working with now: “I intend to experience appreciation and delight, comfort and contentment, confidence and competence, lighthearted amusement and an overall enjoyment of life”. And as I go through each word or phrase, I try to experience the sensation and feeling that each one evokes. I might imagine a fanciful scene or I might simply look out the window or I might meditate on the concept and how it feels.
An interesting aspect of the mind, is that you can simply think about a feeling and actually feel it. I can picture a scene playing in my mind and experience the associated emotions or just think about the sensation itself. If I want to feel relaxed for example, I can think “relaxed” and feel the tension releasing all around my body. If I want to feel contentment, I can think “I’m satisfied in every moment” and boom, I want nothing — I have everything I need right now.
Another example: for appreciation, I might look out the window and feel thankful for all the pretty trees out there, the flag blowing in the wind, and the white puffy clouds sailing across the beautiful blue sky. Or I might imagine being at a party and receiving a bunch of gifts and a cake and feeling thankful for it all. Or I might just evoke the sensations associated with appreciation, feeling them flow through my body. And after that, I’ll move to the next concept on my list.
When training a dog for example, you’re essentially improving your dog’s experience as well as your own. You want a well-behaved dog that meets your expectations i.e. poops in designated areas, plays with acceptable toys, and doesn’t jump all over people. Through discipline, you’re creating a pleasant relationship that benefits both. And so the same is true of training the mind: you’re disciplining your mind to improve your experience of existence.
Due to a lack of discipline, my mind currently wanders anywhere and everywhere. It gets filthy, often gets sprayed by skunks, gets covered in mud that tracks everywhere, chews on what it shouldn’t, jumps on people, and craps on the floor. So instead of dealing with the constant mess, my goal is to have a delightful day every day. To achieve this goal, I will train my mind so that it becomes well-behaved.
How does one do that exactly? Well that’s the million-dollar question isn’t it!? But now that it’s my priority to find and implement a long-term solution, I’ll attempt to answer it over the course of however long it takes. Maybe a couple days? Or perhaps a lifetime? But honestly, with all the work I’ve already put in over the years, I’m hoping to be on the fast-track (“Twenty years later…”). You don’t train your dog forever though, you just gotta get it on a disciplined path.
Essentially, I need to increase conscious awareness of my thoughts and feelings — then immediately discipline the mind when it misbehaves. And proactively, I have to feed it the best stuff I can, take it on pleasant walks, provide it with acceptable play-things, and stop treating it like a pain-in-the-butt and more like a respected member of the family. Obviously I’ve been a lazy owner that hasn’t put the time-in and I’m hoping to correct that mistake now.
I suppose the primary activity I need to perform here on Earth is training my mind. It’s basically obedience-training for rampant and unruly thoughts. After many years, I’ve proven that I can’t do anything worthwhile without that basic foundation in place. I tried letting my mind wander this way and that, doing as it pleases, but it’s just crapping all over the floor — the stench is finally getting to me. Enough is enough.
Obviously I’ve tried to discipline my mind over the years, but those measures were just quick-fixes to clean up the crap when it piled-up too high. After I tidied, I’d relax and let my mind do whatever it wanted again. Therefore, I need a thorough, all-encompassing approach that puts mental discipline at the forefront of my life. So THAT is my new profession: trainer of the mind. When I wake up every morning, mental discipline is what needs to be on the agenda.
Think of it like waking-up and training the body for athletic performance: going for a run, lifting some weights, eating nutritious foods. This is that, but for the mind. I’m a personal trainer for my mind — simple as that. Less simple though, is trying to develop and implement a training regimen. But at least it should be fun trying to figure something out. As this is now my priority, I’ll be able to see this work from a better perspective.
Like the body, the mind can also get out-of-shape. My mind eats whatever junk-thoughts float by, gobbling them up until it gets a tummy-ache. It’s bloated with bad-thoughts which encourages more bad-thoughts which spirals into a bad-thought binge. And to no surprise, it tends to react negatively to whatever situation it comes across. This isn’t acceptable anymore. So by training my mind, I intend to create a delightful day EVERY day.
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.