Calm and Easy

If you want a calm and easy life, you need a calm and easy attitude. Hm, I suppose that sounds plausible. Even though the external circumstances of my life are relatively calm and easy, I maintain a raging storm of distressing turbulence on the inside. My thoughts tend to be anxious, disparaging, selfish, petty, paranoid, and pessimistic. In summation, I have NOT harbored a calm and easy attitude – quite the opposite in fact.

Despite that, my external experiences are typically mundane. I suppose I simply couldn’t handle more than that. Remaining relatively isolated in a small room all day? I can do that. But of course that provides ample opportunity for me to wrestle with negative thoughts – resulting in a life that is NOT calm and easy despite its appearance. So now what?

I think after all these years, I’m ready for a calm and easy life. I’m tired of the turbulence. I’ve spent so much time straining and resisting – against what? I rejected life, wouldn’t accept it, and remained constantly suspicious of everything. Yet, this cantankerous contentiousness has not benefitted me in any way. I can finally recognize that perpetual negativity is a dumb hobby.

So is that it? We good here? Is this little epiphany enough to flip my attitude around? Um, hello? Apparently not. So now I’m in a limbo of sorts, aware of my situation and stuck cleaning up the mess? Am I supposed to undo decades of discontent and attempt to fashion a positive attitude from scratch? Well that sounds like a lot of work.

Spoiler Alert! It is a lot of work! I can say that with confidence because I’ve had this exact epiphany over and over for many years. This 8-year-old blog is a testament to that fact. A realization isn’t enough, it takes applied effort. Every minute of the day I’m presented with a new thought that must be processed. It’s tedious. Why are so many so negative!? The defects must be rejected and tossed into the trash.

But how can I catch them all!? I miss a lot of these faulty thoughts and one bad apple spoils the bunch. I’m always looking for a more efficient approach to everything and this process is no exception. If it’s not obvious, I haven’t found it yet – I’m still grinding away. It seems like the biggest obstacle is “forgetfulness” and getting lost in everyday life. I’ll have an epiphany, devise a strategy, then I’ll simply lose it as the day’s drama unfolds.

And no, simply writing it down doesn’t work – as this 8-year-old blog demonstrates. Well whatever, I’m gonna try my hardest to adopt a calm and easy attitude. That’ll be my mantra for now until it’s lost to the repetition. “Calm and easy, calm and easy, calm and easy…” I’ll be an unsinkable cork floating atop the undulating waves of the world on my own joy-filled frequency, calm and easy.

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.

Frying Pan

I’ve swung so far: from surety in a brutal concrete reality to surety in a fictitious dreamworld. That’s a LOT of surety for someone that’s lost and confused. But when you’re drowning, you grab tightly to whatever’s near, whatever provides the most buoyancy amidst the turbulent waves that cause you to choke with panic.

You grip tightly until you’re eventually calmed by despair. I suppose hopelessness is the primary driver behind my religious conversion. There was no grand epiphany in which I was visited by angels, I simply couldn’t take the intensity of ever-present anxiety, and gave up. I quit caring. I stopped taking the game so seriously.

And nothing happened. I didn’t drown. It was as if I had been in shallow water the entire time. There was no danger. I was overreacting and only imagined myself drowning. Oops. It wasn’t my cunning and vigilance keeping me alive!? Oh well. Luckily, I’ve got it all figured out now! Nah, just kidding.

I know how to be pessimistic and overly serious, but I don’t quite understand how to play and have fun. I’ve simply gone from one confusing predicament into another. So now I have to spend my days dismissing my inherent negativity while attempting to add levity into everyday life. I have to find enjoyable activities and actively appreciate them.

Happiness isn’t easy, it’s a lotta work. But again, what would I know? I like precision and predictability and knowing how things function. Yet patterns and pathways seem to be purposefully derailed in this world. My inclinations don’t apply. Whatever direction I step doesn’t get me any closer to where I want to go. Nothing makes sense!

But if you’ve ever attempted to learn something new, that’s what it feels like. And over time, with practice, you get better. Living a good life isn’t something you inherently grasp, nor something you figure out in a day or even after a few years. You immerse yourself in the process and you stop trying to think your way through it; you let it happen.

Corporeal Lament

I’ve watched captivating movies, lost myself in enthralling shows, and journeyed alongside characters in great books. While engaged with these stories, I’m undistracted and enjoy myself. In other words, I’m an effective audience member. But when I leave these stories and return to my own story of everyday life, I’m often distracted and frequently fail to enjoy myself. What gives!?

Obviously it’s because my story SUCKS. And it’s true, I don’t like it. If I had to devise a dumber plot or a more unlikable character I’m not sure that I could. As I implied earlier, good storylines are effortless to consume, but bad narratives are boring and a chore to get through. I know good stories exist, I’ve seen them, yet my life is not one of them – why?

Nothing short of a bonafide Christmas Miracle would make the preceding years balance out. Maybe aliens introducing advanced technology such as teleportation, perfect health, mechanized avatars, and recreational virtual worlds. Well whatever it is, there needs to be a deus-ex-machina alteration to this narrative for it to become a worthwhile story.

Am I unappreciative of the miracle of life? YES, it needs to be interesting and engaging or else who cares. Ooh look at me walk around. How fun. Ooh trees! Neato. Ooh all those stars in the sky! So bright! I don’t care. Physical pain, the awkwardness of personal interactions, digestion difficulties, sleep and energy issues, the tediousness of transportation, finding purpose — who needs that crap!? If this world is simply a lesson to teach me that bodies are terrible things to have, then mission accomplished.

Everyday Buffet

Imagine you have a plate in front of you. Upon that plate you spoon on servings of frustration, worry, disappointment, and hopelessness. It’s a small plate so you can’t fit anything else. You’ll notice that there’s no room for delight, contentment, appreciation, or enjoyment. And everyday, you head to the buffet and pile on more of what you’re used to, more of the same disgusting dishes that fill you with dissatisfaction. To you, the world becomes a nasty one-star dump with multiple health-code violations on the verge of closing down.

But it turns out that better selections exist. You don’t have to repeatedly scoop the same slop day after day. You can choose something different, something delicious in fact! Of course you won’t naturally do this – you’ll logically assume that every entree is as bad as the ones you’re already consuming. Although sometimes, you’ll get so sick from eating the gross glop that you’ll have no choice but to try something else. Yet, if you do happen to find something better, oftentimes you drift back to the old stuff over time as habits are hard to break.

WAKE UP!!! That’s the only sure-fire way of fixing this situation. You must become aware and REMAIN aware of what you’re scooping onto your plate. The way to win at a buffet is to take many small samples so as not to overwhelm yourself, then go back and get larger portions of the stuff you liked. And whenever you return to the buffet, only grab the SAME items you liked during the sampling phase. IGNORE the items that brought about feelings of revulsion, just focus on the good stuff.

Again, mindlessness and habit will steer you back to what you knew. This WILL happen. It is therefore imperative to utilize discipline in order to maintain focus on the good stuff. You must constantly steer your attention, keeping it on the correct course. You should either be sampling new items in small portions OR taking hearty scoops of stuff already proven to be good through sampling. Do this continuously and the world becomes a five-star masterpiece of unyielding delight.

Manual Appreciation

I was watching some interviews recently and left dismayed each time. Basically, the interviewees had so much luck that their lives turned out great. Life essentially intervened at every point and made sure these people experienced charmed-lives. There was no planning on their part, life took care of everything — they were at the right places at the right times. They’re successful in all regards, top of their field, admired by others, working with who they themselves admire, and having an overall great experience that they fondly remember. WHAT THE F**K!!?

I can think of many times in which life could’ve intervened within my experience, but didn’t. It coulda provided awesome parents and siblings. It coulda had random kids come-up to make me laugh just for the challenge of it. It coulda made my programming interests align with the dot-com era. It coulda made my stock-picks soar. It coulda made my YouTube or blogging endeavors successful. But no, NOTHING.

Uh-oh. I just realized that I’m a do-it-yourself type guy. What if I flipped every switch to “manual” and said “eh, I’ll figure it out”. F**K!! I’ve literally done that in a bunch of games. For example, I’ll often flip off “auto-fire” or “aim-assist”. But which switches can even be flipped?? I know “survival” is on automatic-mode or else I’d be long-dead by now. Luck? Appreciation? “Luck” must be the process of life assisting with the fulfillment of your narrative. “Appreciation” must be the functionality of automatic enjoyment. I don’t think I have either of those on automatic. My narrative sucks and I don’t tend to like stuff. Oh and “sleep” seems to be on manual as well, which has been difficult.

Relatively recently, I’ve been working on “manual” appreciation where I’ve been attempting to specifically focus on aspects of life I prefer. I think in some ways this seems to work, but it’s slow-going and it’s like sorting through the trash. As far as the narrative situation, I’m simply trying to do the little things I prefer — it’s nothing grand of course, just a way to pass the time.

Yet in the scope of things, maybe the grandest of accomplishments mean little to me. Perhaps I wouldn’t care about the “trophies” I received — quickly moving on to the next thing as soon as I won the current thing. So instead of ticking off accomplishments, perhaps I chose to focus on manual effort? And instead of something basic like “survival”, it’s something a bit more esoteric like “appreciation” — ha, that sounds like something I’d do. What a dick.

What an emo, hipster, gourmand, wannabe, dummy that couldn’t simply take the pre-planned narrative and experience a fulfilling life. I had to showoff what a boss I was and bite off more than I could chew and choke my way through existence. Stupid. Well if it helps, I’d like to call this little experiment a failure and recommend that all automatic switches be turned ON. It’s not worth the effort. Thanks.

Strawman Setup

I’ve been watching my mind a lot lately, you might call it the practice of mindfulness. Something I’ve been noticing, is my mind’s tendency to setup straw-men to fight against. It’s constantly offering me opponents to engage with — but I’m trying not to take the bait. It turns out that I’m very belligerent and always looking to battle, therefore my mind dutifully presents material that excites me. But I don’t want to consume that type of entertainment anymore, it’s too intense, so I’m refusing to participate.

There’s literally a new matchup every ten minutes. My mind brings in people from my past, from shows I’ve been watching, or from wherever — then conjures reasons for me to argue. But thanks to mindfulness, I’m noticing the invitation and declining. While it’s captivating and thrilling to wage war, it’s time for me to move-on from low-quality forms of entertainment. I want something a bit more refined.

That’s probably why I’ve been wrapped-up in woodworking lately. I love tools — and using them to shape wood is an enjoyably wholesome pastime. But boy, it takes constant effort to keep my mind clear during whittling sessions — it’s so inclined to wander where I don’t want it to go. But really, that’s a great opportunity to practice mental discipline — now whenever I’m whittling, I’m closely monitoring my mind and reining it in.

If I’m truly done with the drama, discipline is the practice I must perform to achieve the tranquility I seek. It’s such a silly way to live: perpetually attacking imagined enemies around every corner. It’s the junk-food version of existence. Now is the time for true nourishment, a life filled with cherished relationships and delightful activities — engaging with the best of what life has to offer. This is the boss-battle I must overcome: lay down my sword and stop struggling against a fictional foe.

Teasing it Out

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.

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.”

Workshop Modification

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.