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.

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.

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.

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!

Foothold Summary

1. Life is a game, and the objective is a life well-lived.

2. The goal of everyday is to form my thoughts into delightful arrangements that evoke joy.

3. Reality is a dream and I’m the dreamer, so anything is possible — and control of this experience comes from my focus.

4. If I’m feeling bad, it means I must fix my focus.

5. Memory is not a mechanism to rely on, it’s a faulty storyteller.

6. Consistently become aware of right-now — and in that space, select something delightful to focus on.

7. My career is mental discipline.

8. A life well-lived comes from harnessing rampant thoughts — keep improving through continual practice.

Foothold Found

Many years ago, when I first started playing Age of Empires II, I was defeated by the game’s AI every time. It was a slaughter, they even used my own troops against me, utilizing monks to convert them — it was demoralizing to say the least. Finally, I used a brute-force approach of building and rebuilding walls to keep the enemy at bay while inching forward little by little — in addition, I was placing archer-towers inside those walls beyond their reach. It was a tough slough that lasted forever until finally, victory was mine. Essentially, I gained a foothold and was able to keep advancing.

Of course in later games I learned the rock-paper-scissors nature of the units and was able to field a much more effective army that went on to dominate the battlefield. Spoiler Alert! Knights up front, longbowmen behind, and trebuchets in the rear. Monks soon became fodder for my arrows. But anyway, the point is this: I needed to find a foothold in order to win. Prior to that, I was simply scrambling up the side of a sheer rock wall, slipping down in despair, not knowing how to progress. I needed some bit of reliability to capitalize on.

For the decades I’ve been playing, I’ve had a similar problem with “the game of life”: defeat after defeat and no footholds to be found. I’ve had nothing reliable to capitalize on, small victories seem to be happenstance and not repeatable. Well, I think I finally found something. And if true, it’s only a matter of time until I achieve victory conditions. The potential foothold is as follows:

First, I must see life as a game in which victory is achieved through a life well-lived. The answer to the riddle is not found in a simple realization, but in the actual experience of a satisfying life. So to complete the quest, the pursuit of happiness must be sought daily (in every hour!).

Second, the primary goal of everyday is to form my thoughts into delightful arrangements that evoke joy.

Third, I must conceptualize reality as a malleable non-physical experience i.e. a self-directed simulation or a lucid dream. Because of this, ANYTHING is possible and all limitations are self-imposed. Control of the experience is achieved through the proper application of mental focus.

Fourth: if at any time I’m feeling bad, it means my focus is off. To reiterate, the ONLY reason I feel bad is due to a lack of mental discipline — I should therefore properly apply it and fix my focus.

Fifth, I must realize that memory is NOT a mechanism to be relied upon. It’s a faulty storyteller at best. Not the past, but right-now is the only time that matters.

Sixth: I must consistently come into awareness of right-now and relentlessly select something appropriate to focus on. Appropriate things to focus on are thoughts and experiences that evoke appreciation and delight, comfort and contentment, confidence and competence, lighthearted amusement and an overall enjoyment of life.

Seventh: My profession is mental discipline. Day in and day out, my job is hammering glowing hot thoughts into sharpened steel on the anvil of the mind. And it is through the sudden stillness of meditation that I quench my work — from frail frenzied thought to a hardened work of art.

Eighth: It is through the harnessing of raw and untamed thought that I find freedom from the fetters of fear and negativity. Through this practice I conquer my propensity for pessimism and realize a life well-lived — achieving the goal of enlightenment.

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.