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.
My Christmas message this year is about hope. Hope is simply faith in our imagination. Hope typically implies a pleasant image of what’s to come. Why waste energy hoping for something distasteful? So the ideal approach, is to hope for what seems most delightful. In other words, hope is about spending time inside an enjoyable daydream and accepting its premise as plausible.
In our minds, we could certainly spend our time conjuring-up dour predictions of the future. Or, we could eschew such dismal hobbies and partake in satisfying ones instead. THIS is the gift we could give ourself. The gift of joy through hope – but, are we willing to receive it? A gift so grand requires an appropriate vessel to contain it – the only way to hold it, is through mental discipline (the practice of maintaining focus).
To extract joy from hope we must remain focused on that satisfying thought. Of course we could criticize it, pointing out a hundred different ways it’s wrong, or generate a thousand dour scenarios to drown it out – but we won’t. Through our dedication to giving and receiving this gift, we won’t. The joy resides inside, unlocked by our commitment to this cheerful cause.
So it is upon this Christmas Eve that I recommend this gift that’s been waiting within for you to unwrap. Read the tag “To you, From you”, rip off the ribbon, tear through the paper – focus on gratitude for a gift given in the spirit of festive merriment. Maintain that focus! Steady! Think of nothing else! Bathe in appreciation and the warmth of joy, feel the sensation of tingling as calmness flows and a smile forms. In your imagination everything is as it should be, perfect, complete.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
If you think about the rewards you receive in video-games, you notice how lame they are. A high score? A virtual trophy? Your character jumping up and down? A screen that says “The End”. Meh. All that dedication and effort for what amounts to nothing? And that’s true in this game as well, the actual physical prizes available here are kinda lame.
There’s nothing here, that once gotten, you’d feel “Wow, this is IT! I’m done! Nothing left to get!”. Once anything’s received, it’s a fleeting sensation of attainment followed by a new-normal in which it becomes an everyday object that sits mundanely as any other. Therefore, as in any game, experiences themselves are the only actual reward.
I’ve wasted countless hours in video-games attempting to achieve lame objectives – yet, I was perfectly entertained by the experience. The fun isn’t in attainment, that’s just another form of “Game Over”. The fun is in striving after something, anything, even if it’s a frivolous goal. Striving itself IS the goal here.
And I don’t mean “struggle” by the way. You really should find a level of striving that feels comfortable. It’s kinda dumb to stress and strain over a pointless objective when objectives themselves are valueless. Since they’re all of equal value (i.e. zero), pick something fun. And if you actually attain the object of your effort? Great, now pick another appealing objective and keep striving.