Untamed Mess

Take yesterday for example, I’d characterize many of the events as mildly unpleasant. And that’s not my opinion, nor simply my interpretation, the circumstances were actually disagreeable. For example, my hotdog bun was burnt. Someone I know acted-up and I found it irritating. There was a bunch of junk-mail in the mailbox. My wife received a mere 50 cents from a sale on Etsy. I had zero energy in the evening and just laid on the bed. That’s just some of what happened.

Again, these things were just mildly unpleasant, no big deal. Although in total, they added up to a pretty “meh” day, an experience I won’t treasure. But my point is this: a bunch of unpleasant things happened throughout the day. Why? It was as if I was drawing them to me, instigating sources of minor irritation wherever I went. I couldn’t seem to escape it, the dour cloud followed me around relentlessly.

I admit that my mind was erratic and wandering. I noticed a couple times that it seemed agitated. Was that it? Was it like a wild animal that found its way into a house, subsequently tearing everything apart in an untamed frenzy!? Had I not kept the door open to a wandering mind, would the day have proceeded that much better?

The evidence is this: actual unpleasant things happened AND my mind was perturbed. Yet, the regularity and frequency of vexing events suggests that they weren’t the source of annoyance, but the RESULT of an untamed mind. It was as if my unruly mind emitted a turbulence that upset my surroundings. This implies that my state-of-mind greatly influences my experiences on Earth, and I would therefore benefit by keeping a tighter leash on my mind.

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.

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.

Siren Call

I came in thinking that this was a harsh & brutal realm ruled by random chance in which only the strong survived and the lucky thrived. My relative weakness and lucklessness meant I was doomed to experience a brief and miserable life. I was shocked when I made it to young-adulthood. I had nothing planned since I was confident I wasn’t going to get that far.

Long-term plans are meaningless in a world in which accidents happen. I wasn’t going to waste my time working towards a goal only to have my preparations crumble beneath me. I was so certain that the world was a dangerous place filled with predators always watching for me to falter, ready to attack. Well, none of it happened!! I waited and waited with my back against the wall, ever vigilant of my surroundings, and NOTHING!! I simply got older.

I was wrong. I completely misjudged the world. It’s not what I assumed it was. BUT that leaves me with a bigger question that I’m still trying to figure out: what IS going on here?? I have a lingering suspicion that I’m being deceived by this world. Is it trying to lull me into a false sense of security, baiting me into complacency to fulfill some cruel intention? Am I an experiment that gained consciousness, made to live out an empty life in an artificial world? Or, are my suspicions simply wrong again?

I keep suspecting something nefarious — yet I was wrong the first time. So wrong in fact, that I caused myself to have a miserable experience. Perhaps this is why it’s not beneficial to focus on thoughts. Thoughts, it turns out, are a lot more unpleasant than the actual world. Had I not focused on thoughts, I would’ve had a better time. Every unpleasant experience was only made worse by the accompanying thoughts — thoughts that lingered long after the offending event.

In their meandering complexity, thoughts often masquerade as worthwhile plants in the garden of the mind. “Listen to me, and I’ll protect you from the dangers of this world”, they say. But these are seductive sirens’ calls, luring you to crash upon rocks. Masked in beguiling beauty, it can be difficult to figure-out if a sprout’s a weed that should be plucked. The simple test is this: does a thought fill you with hope and happiness or fear and despair? Only nourishing thoughts should be allowed to remain.

In short, “suspicious thoughts about the world” should go on the “things to avoid” list. And stop focusing on your thoughts in the first place!!! Geez. Just do whatever you’re doing WITHOUT the running commentary that has NOTHING to do with what you’re actually doing! Getting lost in thought is the siren’s call, avoid it. THIS is the reason you keep having a bad time, your physical life thus far has NOT been a punishing experience but your THOUGHTS about life have been a source of self-inflicted torture — stop it already. Oh and lighten-up for christ’s sake.

Faltering Fanatic

If you’re constantly reconciling with life, it means you’re taking things too seriously. In other words, if you’re just trying to get a grip each day, your perspective is WAY off. For example, I focus on my nightly lack of sleep and insufficient energy, my sub-optimal bowel-movements, any aches or pains, how I’ll obtain money and where I’ll live, whether I’ll get along with those around me, how I’ll alleviate boredom and where I’ll find meaning and purpose. That’s my days in a nutshell, and it’s a stupid way to persist.

I’m clearly lost in thought and NOT focused on right now. I’m ignoring whatever’s around me and giving my attention to thoughts I don’t even enjoy — that’s dumb. It certainly demonstrates a lack of mental discipline. Engaging with those thoughts isn’t helping anything, it’s just me concentrating on stuff I don’t like. Yet the magnetic attraction to the things I don’t prefer is SO strong. “Give me more fodder to feed my criticism-creature, the beast that bad-mouths everything!”

My task is to slay this dragon through the repeated application of mental discipline — something I’m obviously not very good at. To look at my life from the outside is to see a still-image, barely a perceptible change from frame to frame. Yet, the turbulence within my mind whips the waves with wind and sends me lurching this way and that. “Batten down the hatches me hearties! There be rough waters ahead!” I’m securing the mizzenmast while scurrying around the deck doing what I can to stay afloat amidst the raging storm.

But there is no storm, it’s merely a fantasy concocted by swirling thoughts that I entertain within the parlor of my mind. “Out, damned thought! Out, I say!” And so begins my day of waiting and watching to catch these tricksters as they trample my mental garden. Yet at times I feel overwhelmed by the regularity of the sprouting weeds. One day’s weeding simply seems to make room for more weeds! But as they persist, so do I: a knight of the Lighthearted upon my quest to Enlightenment.

Things to Avoid

In my quest for mental discipline, these are some things I’m looking out for.

Belligerent and argumentative. I find that my mind is constantly setting up straw-men to battle. So whenever I sense internal conflict, I stop the engagement and move on.

Novelty means disaster. Any new information presented to me is automatically interpreted as “bad”. So whenever I sense doom accumulating, I stop the prophesy in-progress and simply listen.

Outrage. Show me some current events, and I’ll tell you why I’m offended. I typically avoid “news” and the like and try to stop any rants from forming.

Startled. A sudden noise or sight, evokes anger or fright. I’ll tend to overreact to a quick surprise – but since my reaction is so fast, I don’t have time to stop it. Therefore, whenever I sense a startled reaction I exhale all the way and hold it until I become uncomfortable. Yes, this is straight-up physical-punishment – but it works.

“Downs” always follow “ups”. I tend towards a perspective that says good can’t exist without bad — a karmic balance must be achieved. Because of that, I don’t readily accept good things without expecting to pay for them through some form of punishment. I now dismiss this sentiment when it appears in my mind.

Criticizing gifts. I can’t accept gifts without immediately looking for something wrong with them. Even if it’s something I wanted, there’s probably a defect lurking below the surface. I recognize that this is a horrible attitude and try to overwrite it with appreciation.

Limited lifespan. Nothing lasts forever, in fact it’s likely on its last legs – on the verge of collapsing in the next minute. Any mechanical device I see or interact with is doomed to die sooner rather than later. When I sense this foul forecast, I replace it with thoughts of reliability and longevity.

Criticizing others for what I’m actually doing. “You’re doing something wrong!” Oh, actually I’m doing something wrong, sorry about that. Others are never the problem, my bad attitude is ALWAYS the true source of every problem I encounter.

Getting lost in the game. I started using hourly chimes to remind myself to take a step back and realize where I am. I’ll use that awareness to release any tension I notice and to say something like “I intend to have a lighthearted disposition”.

Month 6

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time whittling wood. I love tools, and any chance to procure and use tools is a good thing. The other material I’ve been whittling is my thoughts, cutting off all the errant bits that jut-out and make my mind a craggy rough-cut mess. Using mindfulness (an awareness of what’s going on in my head right-now), I notice the dumb thoughts that disrupt an otherwise calm disposition and I remove focus from them, causing them to wither away. I no longer have use for belligerence, outrage, worry, or any type of negativity at this point.

Oh sure, I used to use them as sources of cheap and easy entertainment, a way to occupy my otherwise bored mind. But, I’ve been on a negativity-free diet since the beginning of this year (about 6-months already) and I feel a lot better. Yes, I still have the typical diet-related discomfort and cravings and such (I’ll default to argument and criticism here and there) — but I’m ever-watching, springing into action to disrupt any pessimism I sense.

This isn’t a quick-fix, it’s more of a “I need to permanently change my lifestyle” type diet — and the results aren’t readily self-sustaining, it requires constant effort to remain aware and properly focused. It’s easy to get lost in life and ride the roller-coaster up and down and all around, watching the speeding scenery race by as your heart pumps with the thrill of each bump and turn. Nope, that’s not for you! Calm it down and spend some time appreciating something a bit more serene (like wood-working).

Previous experience shows that I can’t handle the roller coaster — I tend to freak out. I can’t lazily let my mind run wild — it requires supervision or else things become unpleasant FAST. And so that’s what I’m doing: monitoring my mind. It’s a full-time job for sure. I suppose I’m currently in that transitional zone where I can see the diet’s working and I appreciate the results, but I certainly notice all the effort it takes to maintain the gains I’ve gotten. In other words: it’s a lot of work and I can feel the burn. At least the gains are good enough that there’s no going back — I’m on a one-way trip to Positivity City.

Capture and Keep

Sometimes I play Call of Duty: Mobile — in the game, there’s a mode called Hardpoint. The objective of Hardpoint is to occupy a designated location in order to accumulate points until your team reaches the winning score. The obstacle comes from the enemy team trying to do the same thing, using whatever means necessary to capture and keep the spot you want — in addition, this spot changes throughout the game. If no one occupies the spot or if both teams occupy the spot, no points are received.

I bother mentioning this because I think it serves as a decent metaphor for mental discipline. Instead of Guerrilla Squad versus Special Forces, it’s Negative Nancies versus Positivity Pros — and “mental focus” represents the hardpoint you must capture and keep. In the game of mental discipline, you have to maintain focus on positive stuff, just keeping negative stuff out-of-focus isn’t enough.

“Hostiles have the hardpoint!” — in mental discipline, this warning is issued via your feelings. If you feel bad, get to the hardpoint and let-loose multiple magazines of positivity. NOW! In other words, direct your mental focus away from whatever you were thinking and put it on better thoughts. Okay, it’s working. “Hardpoint contested!” Uh-oh, more negative thoughts are trying to creep-in. Shut that stuff down. NOW! Lob some positivity into your focus. ba-BOOM!

“Hardpoint locked-down!”, good job you’re holding it together. Uh-oh, simply doing the same thing won’t work forever, the hardpoint (and mental-focus) changes right-out from underneath you. “Capture the objective!” It’s shifted again, find and capture it! Be prepared, you’re gonna need to apply the best positivity ammo you can muster, mister. Do your homework and know what works — you can’t saunter-in with noob-caliber gear, doing “whatever”.

Your overall objective in mental-discipline is a well-lived life. That’s a worthwhile goal and those are some pretty high stakes — are you willing to risk it all simply because you couldn’t be bothered to prepare and figure-out what kinds of thoughts evoke feelings of delight? Remember, you have to occupy the hardpoint to receive points, so you have to fill your focus with delightful musings. Now get out there and capture the objective!

Pie in the Sky

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.”

Ennui On We

It’s my belief that greatest threat to humanity is ennui. In other words, existential boredom. In an attempt to alleviate this boredom, mankind invents all sorts of problems to contend with. In my life for instance, I’ve been trying to balance intensity and stillness. There’s either too much or too little — things are too serious or too frivolous. Like Goldilocks, I’m ever searching for “just right”. For most of life I’m either scared or bored.

Even after a few decades, I’m STILL trying to get it right. I’m trying to find low-intensity forms of entertainment, things that don’t rely on fear, frustration, anger, sadness, etc. to stimulate and hold my attention. I tried computer programming for example, but found it much too frustrating. I’m also trying to quit the classic game of “worrying about money” — I really think I’m getting close on that one. On the other end, I’m trying to get into woodworking as a hobby, but it takes effort to keep from getting bored. I tried playing a musical instrument for instance, but there just wasn’t enough excitement to sustain it.

Whereas I’ll light up like a Christmas tree when I hear some monkey-business going on. I’m trying to quit that though. Like junk-food, it leaves me with too much of a tummy-ache nowadays and I want no part of it. Maybe my tastes are maturing… or perhaps I’ve been beaten into submission, not sure. I was so good at pessimism and criticism, and they kept me endlessly entertained. Now optimism and appreciation are the arts I’m trying to master — I feel like such an amateur though. It’s so easy to tear something apart and so foreign to build it up.

Well dear diary, that’s where I’m at right now: mid-life and finally trying to put an end to my immature approach to existence. I’m attempting to go from scared and bored to appreciative and enthusiastically engrossed. The greatest hardship I’ve ever faced is reconciling with life, just trying to get a grasp on what’s going on here — and on top of that, finding the right balance of engagement. Some day soon I hope to taste that perfectly warmed porridge and sleep in that comfortable bed.