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.

Hope and Joy

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.

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.

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!

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”.