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.

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!

Rich Whittling

The name of this blog is Whittlin’ Rich yet I haven’t done a lot of whittling. Yes I’ve whittled wood before, but not much. So for whatever reason, I recently took up whittling as a hobby. Here’s a picture displaying my many small projects and the primary tools I’ve been using.

I use basswood since it’s the recommended wood-of-choice for carving. For knives, I use a Morakniv 120 and 122, a BeaverCraft C1M and C2 as well as the tiny C15 — and of course there’s my strop with some polishing compound rubbed into the leather. To carve effectively, you need to strop your blades at the end of each whittlin’ day, in my opinion.

Just to provide some textual detail as to what’s in the picture: there’s a bunch of faces, some full-body figurines made from 1″x 1″ x 6″ blocks (not shown: one of the figurines has another figurine on its back), a small spoon, a carved-out box, my name carved into a block, a minature dumbbell, a wooden knife, an anvil and hammer, a sword, a sword’s handle, and a pine tree. Nothing’s officially “done” since I might go back to add details over time.

It’s been an enjoyable pastime over the last 10 weeks. Lately I’ve been using it as a meditation of sorts, as a way to keep an eye on my thoughts. While whittling, my mind tends to drift down random tangents about whatever so I’m trying to remove focus from those thoughts and remain focused on right-now i.e. whittling.

Good Day

Not long ago, I noticed that I was having a great day. Things were going really well, I even found a few things I thought I lost. But do you know what people with horribly unappreciative and pessimistic attitudes do with such a feeling? “Uh-oh, I’m gonna have to pay for this great day with a horrible day, downs always follow ups, something bad is SURE to happen now!”

I had that thought during my day and I dismissed it whenever it appeared. The next day was a decent one, not great but overall it was okay. And the next-next day? It was a rough morning. I was dropping things, speaking harshly, and things weren’t going my way. It was obvious that my mind was in a frenetic state. It was jumpy, going from one topic to the next as fast as it could.

After breakfast, I sat at my desk and noticed how I kept jumping from one brief activity to the next. “Ah-ha! I see what you’re doing! You’re all over the place! Time to shut down….” And with that realization, I ceased all activity and stopped engaging with incoming thoughts. I simply sat in a meditative state until my mind reset. It finally calmed down after a few minutes and I proceeded from there.

The day went well after that. So the lesson here is this: When things sour, stop. Notice the calamity the mind is causing when allowed to run wild — reset yourself by taking the reins and quieting the mind. When my mind ran rampant, the external world I experienced was unpleasant — but it completely turned around once I became present and noticed what was going on.

Frustration Station

Dear Rich, an idea popped into my head and now I feel frustrated because it’s not something I can readily pursue.

Dear reader, it’s good that you noticed that stormy situation forming in your thoughts. That’s step one. Step two, is to NOT pursue the idea. Pump the brakes. It’s only an idea worth pursing if it fills you with delight and inspires hopefulness for the future. If, as in this case, it makes you feel frustrated, DUMP IT.

It might even be an idea that comes true later on, but right now is not the time to think about it. You’ll know this by the way it makes you feel. Pursuing those feelings of frustration will only hinder your life, it won’t improve anything, nor will it hasten fulfillment of the goal.

You might be tempted to believe that you NEED frustration as a form of motivation. It’s not true. Frustration is the feeling of annoyance, and being pushed around by irritation is a low-quality way to navigate this world. You’ll want to do things because they seem fun and interesting, NOT because you’re upset.

Instead of wandering wherever frustration leads you, take some breaths and clear your mind. Then allow the stream of endless thoughts to flow once again. This time, ignore the frustrating ones and select something pleasant instead. You’re the doorman/bouncer at the hottest club in town, and your job is to let in the coolest thoughts around.

Ideas are just fanciful visions floating around in your head — figments of your imagination. If you ignore one, another takes its place. Even if an idea truly needs to come in, yet shows-up with an unruly attitude, deny it entry until it returns in the form of something pleasant. Don’t worry, it’ll come back — your mind is the only opportunity for these ideas to express themselves. You have the power, not them.

In Lightness Grow

“No! Rich!? It can’t be!!!” Well I’m afraid it is…. For too long have I suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Far too long has this world had its way with my mortal coil, casting it this way and that. A rudderless ship adrift amongst endless waves? Nay! For I shall use the guiding light that leads to safe-harbor. And I shall set an anchor of stone against ye, ne’er to stray again.

For in truth, there is a light that guides those set astray. In thy darkest hour it shines as a beacon to summon men home. From times of old it has resided within the beating heart and rhythmic breath, ever-present signals of a solid connection to the source. Simply close thy eyes and think of nothing, and in that void comes the ancient voice. Anytime it’s wished, empty the mind to let it fill with celestial calm.

And so it is upon this day, that I do declare my dedication to this just cause. Such terrestrial pedantry shall not mar me. Nay, for I shall rise to the heights of heavenly bodies soaring well above the fray, reflecting the brightness of the light that maintains their course. It is in hours such as these, that men’s wills are tried. Does one simply turn to dust under pressure?

Or does one become as a non-Newtonian fluid, strengthening under increasing strain — yet softening when the push is no longer present? The game played here is a simple one: maintain tranquility amidst a turbulent sea. The penalties and rewards are immediate. The sensation of drowning versus the perception of contentment. What begets which is obvious to those amply illuminated — so seek the light.

Inevitably Invincible

I keep seeing the theme of latent-ability released through adversity. In other words, a character has a power that he doesn’t know he possesses until he faces a challenge tough enough to force its release.

In one sense, he’s finally sick of losing. He’s tired of deriving pleasure from pain, done with his masochistic ways. He’s ready to handle invincibility.

So let me ask you this: are you ready to win? Ready to wield the hammer that constructs victory conditions? Willing to climb the hill to become king?

Illness and ache? Negativity and lack? Adversity and bad-luck? Are you done with these concepts yet? Forged from these fires you will awaken as steel, shined and sharpened. You will know only invincibility.

Dirigo. I lead. I am the North Star by which ships sail.

I’m conscious, therefore I tell my tale.

For me, in order to get into the mindset of invincibility, I picture myself as Wolverine, adamantium claws extending, and posturing to strike. Wolverine is invincible, an unstoppable force of pure fury. Similar to the Honey Badger: Honey badger don’t care. Honey badger don’t give a shit.

One of my new mental-training exercises is to bathe in the imagery and sensation of invincibility for five minutes. It’s very invigorating.

Seven Years

Oh. Ha. Okay I think I get it. Today is the 7-year anniversary of the very first post on this blog. SEVEN YEARS!!! I’m not excited, I’m amazed at my ineptitude.

Instead of actually disciplining my mind, I’ve been writing about disciplining my mind. I mean yes, I’ve improved, but more by osmosis rather than direct effort — that seems terribly inefficient. Had I directly applied myself to the task of mental discipline, I probably would’ve had better results.

My friend was just saying to me: I’m procrastinating instead of doing the work I need to do. And then it hit me: I’M procrastinating instead of doing the work I need to do!! For SEVEN YEARS no less!!! I should really stop procrastinating and DO the work.

Like the Dhammapada says:

As a fletcher makes straight his arrow, a wise man makes straight his trembling and unsteady thought. It is good to tame the mind, which is difficult to hold-in and flighty, rushing wherever it listeth; a tamed mind brings happiness. Whatever an enemy may do to an enemy, a wrongly-directed mind will do us greater mischief. Not a mother, not a father will do so much; a well-directed mind will do us greater service.

And so THAT’S what I should be doing with my time and effort: disciplining my mind. Therefore, I hereby declare by the powers vested in me by the state of consciousness, that I do solemnly swear to perform such tasks and fulfill said duties that directly lead to a disciplined mind. I shall henceforth engage in adequate activities that indubitably achieve the desired result of calm and steady thought. Furthermore, this pursuit will most assuredly provide receipts for ensured compliance.
— Faithfully and most ernestly yours, Rich.

Flowing Flowers

The most important thing you can do to enhance your experience of existence is this: mental hygiene. In other words, if you’re having an unpleasant time, then you have a dirty mind. Every day, every hour, every minute, you have to tidy up as thoughts ceaselessly blow in through the window of consciousness.

The thoughts themselves aren’t necessarily “dirty”, it’s your own tendency to collect them and clutter up your mind that’s the problem. On their own, thoughts blow in, thoughts blow out — no big deal. But when you hold on to them, storing them away on a shelf for easy access, regularly marveling at them to the exclusion of new thoughts — you’ve got a problem.

Be careful of collected thoughts. Once you take a thought, it’s like plucking a flower off a bush. It’s cool to have it in your house for awhile, but it will wither and wilt soon enough, becoming a decayed version of its former self. And that’s fine, who doesn’t like some fresh-cut flowers around? But, you must maintain the vases and throw-out the flowers when they start to droop.

Who wants ugly or stinky flowers in their home? If a thought is unpleasant, don’t maintain it in your mind. Let it go, move on to the next one — there’s always a new one waiting to come in. Try not grabbing any, just soak in the sights as you browse the thought aisle. Scan past the ones you don’t prefer and focus on the ones you do.