Enemy Within

Mean comments. It’s a situation that affects many content-creators, so let’s talk a bit about insults and being scared of the audience. If I make a video and someone insults my eyes, it wouldn’t register with me. No one has ever mentioned my eyes good or bad, and I’ve never felt self-conscious about them. Whereas if someone says something about my teeth, my discolored, misshapen, misaligned teeth: “Yes I tried braces! That’s where the discoloring came from!!!” Oh he’s right!! My teeth are just terrible!!

Who just insulted me? I just insulted me. If I didn’t have a sore-spot to push on, there’d be no pain to feel. I’m the bully, not some external miscreant — I’M the miscreant attempting to humiliate myself through the comment-section. It’s the same way I use a mirror to humiliate myself, “Look at how ugly you are today! Gross! No one’s going to like your content and the comments will show how untalented you really are!” If I seek to be insulted, I will be insulted.

“Okay, but how about the sheer disrespect of someone trying to insult me!” Well that’s still just a sore-spot, it’s a feeling of unworthiness. From a different perspective, it’s nice that someone thinks about me so much that he needs to connect on a visceral level, he just hasn’t figured out how to express his love appropriately yet. As a content-creator, I’ll interpret the audience’s reaction in whatever way I feel about myself. If I hate myself, the audience will appear to hate me too.

In conclusion, it’s not the guy “out there” I should worry about. It’s my own judgmental self I need to be wary of. What a jerk. And if I can’t get myself in line, how can I expect the external world to fall in line? If I can’t do it, how can I expect others to!? So I must strive to be patient with others and appreciate my audience. Frankly, the audience is a lot less critical of my work than I am, plus they’ve gone out of their way to consume this content and interact in some way. “Thank you commenter, at least you’re a lot nicer to me than I am to myself.”

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Virtual Vehicles

It all started at the supermarket. I was in the car waiting for my friend to come out. Scanning the exit door, I noticed the oldest old-lady you’ve ever seen. She could barely push the carriage in front of her, she could scarcely find the keys to her car, she could hardly lift the groceries into the back seat, then she hobbled into her car. But zip, zap, zoom — she punched the accelerator and away she went, not an issue.

Funny isn’t it? A barely functional person has all the dexterity in the world when it comes to driving a multi-ton contraption of welded steel, a device that requires the proficiency to enact split-second decisions. Too funny in fact. So it got me wondering: what’s going on here. And then I knew. Driving is a “routine”. You get into a car, sit in the driver seat, turn it on, grab the wheel, place your foot on the pedal, and the routine begins. Autopilot turns on and away you go.

When I was a kid, I once went for a bike ride on a road that included a rather large hill. That day I went down the hill and pedaled along to increase my speed — which wasn’t a good idea. I was going too fast, my front wheel started to quiver back and forth, I got nervous and wiped out. My knee was a mess but I survived. At most, I was probably going around 15 to 20 mph down that hill.

Let me ask you this, can you normally make split-second death-defying decisions? I can’t obviously. Yet every one of us can somehow take a fire-powered land-rocket to speeds of 70 mph on a regular basis amongst other barely-functional people for DECADES and come out unscathed? Hm. Okay. In a physical reality, that doesn’t make sense.

For instance, how do we intuitively know how to drive? I don’t know about you, but my driving lessons were less than rigorous. My primary lesson was driving in a parking lot with my mom in the passenger seat for about 30 minutes. I even screwed up during the official driving-test and still passed. My test consisted of driving down an empty residential street (no more than 30 mph) and parking next to a curb — that was it. But that somehow qualified me for highway driving.

Yet if you sit me down in front of a piano or have me hold a guitar, I play like crap despite having toyed around with them for years. If you hand my 74 year old mother some hand-tools, she’s pretty incapable of using them — yet give her the biggest, most powerful tool you can legally purchase (a car) — and she’ll drive like the best of ’em. Funny huh?

So driving is a pre-programmed “routine”, so what. So what!? Well a routine doesn’t run in an isolated environment, it only runs as part of a larger program. The obviousness of driving serves to highlight the virtual-nature of the wider world. Unfortunately, driving speeds kept getting faster and faster — which becomes unbelievable at some point. But the program is accounting for this now: robotic self-driving cars.

On first blush, you’d think autonomous cars would be the unbelievable part of the story. That’s until you consider people that can’t even use a simple screwdriver or a hammer, let alone a cordless drill, are driving all the time without any problem whatsoever. Not long from now we’ll forget that people even drove cars and this plot-hole will be patched. Remember, people used to get around by horse, which was an autonomous vehicle of sorts. Even boats pretty much just float there when left unattended.

All we can do as players in this game is politely overlook such an obvious inconsistency. Though for myself, I use it as a reminder of what type of world this is: virtual. And I do that because I tend to take things too seriously. I see the illusions before me as real physical objects and react accordingly, which leads to a fear-filled time. But when I remember the illusionary nature of existence, and the fact that this is a manufactured environment, I relax and appreciate what an impressive place this is.

I guess I got a little more than I expected at the supermarket that day.

Spiritual End

Isn’t this blog just a bunch of naval-gazing? Shouldn’t I be concentrating on the experience of existence rather than simply contemplating it? Isn’t spirituality a means to an end, not an end in itself. To be here in the world is to live as an embodied being. After all, how did the Bhagavad Gita end? Arjuna didn’t don a robe and dedicate himself to God. Krishna successfully convinced Arjuna to stop his whining and get out there on the battlefield. As he said in the beginning: “Why such weakness in a time of war? Stand and fight!”

There’s a saying: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” And what I take from that, is this. At some point along your spiritual journey, you have to drop it and get back to living life. You’ve been stopped at the rest-stop for awhile, you’ve refueled and refreshed, now get back out there! You can’t stand on the sidelines talking to God forever, that’s not what THIS is. THIS is earth, the realm of physical existence — do THAT.

And no offense, but you’re not a spiritual teacher. It’s not something that interests you. And the proof is in the pudding: no one cares — nor would you want them to. You care about new technology, culinary delights, entertaining shows and movies — I mean come on, you’re not a spiritual guy, that’s not you — you took this spiritual pitstop as a way to get back on your actual path — that’s all it is.

What wakes you up in the morning? Some spiritual endeavor? Service to others? Hell no! You’re excited by new technology. You stop and stare as Teslas roll past you in the street. Almost a decade ago, during a depressive episode, your spirits were kept high by the impending release of the second-gen MacBook Air (you actually drove with your friend to New Jersey to purchase it!). You don’t stare at nature with awe, you stare at those robotic creatures from Boston Dynamics with amazement. When your son asked you your superhero name, you thought: hmm, OM-Man, no, Enlighten-Man, no, Mr. Technology? — that’s a bingo! Would you prefer to see angels ascending into heaven or a Falcon 9 rocket launching and self-landing? You know damn well which one you’re more excited over. Would you prefer to visit a Zen temple in Japan or use an advanced Japanese toilet-seat? Jets of water all the way!

Arjuna was built for battle, you were built with an appreciation for technology. Unfortunately, I have no idea what you should do with that appreciation — but obviously something to do with technology would be barking up the right tree. Aren’t you the guy that couldn’t even understand spirituality until it was framed by a simulation-theory perspective? But once you “get it”, there’s nothing left except getting back into the game. You don’t sit there reading the rules over and over, you play. Now go! Stand and fight!

Seeking Conflict

The world is FULL of potential combatants. There’s conflict to be had everywhere. But should you seek it? Conflict, like fear, is a low-quality, low-effort source of amusement. Conflict is certainly a common source of excitement, but it’s not necessary for a good time. There’s companionship, laughter, delicious foods, artistic pursuits — and of course there’s even symbolic-conflict in the form of games, and fictionalized-conflict in stories.

If you’re not pursuing some other avenue of entertainment, conflict becomes an easy option to alleviate your existential boredom. But the going wisdom is: don’t do it. Conflict and fear are easy paths to pursue whereas higher-quality paths require effort on your part. It’s easy to generate excitement when you imagine EVERYTHING is out to get you. Step one: stop being so lazy. Conflict and fear are cheap thrills, you can do better.

The highest spiritual pursuit is to end fear and conflict, to see the world as the wholesome place that it is. The world is not devising ways to destroy you — you’re not that good, you couldn’t avoid it if the world really wanted you dead. So stop it already, you’re embarrassing yourself. You’re an invited guest imagining that the host keeps slipping poison into the food, but through your skill and cunning you’ve successfully managed to navigate through the minefield of danger. That’s dumb.

Have some respect for yourself, as well as the host. Accept this invitation into existence graciously and gratefully. “Wow, thank you! This is a really nice place!”, “Oh, for me? Wow! Thanks for this delicious meal!”, “Hey, some companions too! Wow, the giving doesn’t stop around here!”, “Hey let me show you how much I appreciate the time I have here! Check this out!”, “What a great day that was! I can’t wait for another! This place is awesome, thank you so much!”

Say your Prayers

I just read the Bhagavad Gita again, which in essence, is a distraught man’s conversation with God. It’s about a guy having a tough time with life, and so God-incarnate talks him through it. “Hey bro, life’s not as miserable as you’re making it seem — I mean yeah, it can look a little gruesome, but so what. A cake is an unappetizing mess until it’s cooked too — but the process is still worth it. So ya know what? Have some fun, get rowdy, and break some shit brah!” In the end, the archer gets it and does what he needs to do — which in this case, is to fight in a bloody feud against members of his beloved family.

And it got me thinking about what I’ve been writing in this blog for the last six and a half years. What IS this? I suppose you could say it’s a distraught man’s conversation with God. I seem to be the primary audience here, I read and re-read posts all the time — I find them super insightful. I’m the one always asking questions and receiving helpful answers — I don’t know where those answers come from, they’re certainly not from my everyday-self or I wouldn’t ask the questions in the first place. And anyone that wanders upon this blog is simply witnessing the conversation taking place.

Perhaps this is a form of prayer, a dialog with God in the form of a diary. Prayer is often portrayed as one-sided, but I’ve certainly heard of two-sided prayer in which God responds in one way or another. And apparently, the easiest way to interface with me, is through succinctly written entries. For the most part, this is where I come to get in touch with my “higher self”, the part of me that’s beyond the scared little creature I often revert to. This is where I come to make sense of the world going on around me. Are You There God? It’s Me, Richard.

As far as I’m aware, I never had a personal relationship with God. I didn’t go for that nonsense, it didn’t resonate with me. “Um hey big-guy, so I know you’re busy maintaining the universe and all — but if ya could, my team really needs a win this Saturday. Whaddya say?” Well that’s how a relationship with God was portrayed in pop-culture anyway. But considering it now, it seems that I’ve established a relationship with God through this blog. Just a decade earlier I was writing atheistic, I’m-too-smart-for-this-world type posts in my previous blog — I guess I’ve gone 180 degrees in some ways.

I dunno man, I suppose we’re all trying to figure things out. Even with God by our side, this stuff is tough. No offense, but a game requiring this much hand-holding might be a tad too complicated. Or maybe those of us that need extended-help just suck at this game — I can see that. From an external perspective, it looks like I’m not even trying. But I interpret everything so intensely, that I barely have to do anything and I feel overwhelmed for the day. I recognize that I’m overreacting to the world’s stimuli, but it just happens to be my default. “AH! What was that! Oh, it was nothing. AH! I’m being attacked!! Oh, oops, no it’s fine.”

If a cosmic bystander simply observed my reactions to the world, he would assume Earth was a prison-planet in which inhabitants were regularly tortured for the sadistic pleasure of a malevolent creator. Whereas if the same cosmic bystander observed what I actually did all day, he’d wonder why I sat still for so long, and he’d wonder why I randomly freaked out for no apparent reason. Objectively, the physical portion of my life has never been difficult — but the mental aspect has been off the charts. And the only reason the mental part is so hard, is because of my tendency to overreact. If I’d simply stop imagining the worst, things would be easy.

And that’s where spirituality and this blog come into play. These entries are helping me to understand that life is not out to get me. For six and a half years I’ve been trying to rewire my defaults. I think I’m getting better — really. Yes, I oftentimes react as if I’m afraid, but underneath I don’t feel anxious, I quickly dismiss my scaredy-cat responses. Yes, I’m still presented with classic pessimistic reactions to many things that come my way, but I usually laugh at the silliness of such a perspective. And if someone attempts to sell me a pessimistic idea, my mind readily counters it with positivity.

So that’s the message I received this time around while re-reading the Bhagavad Gita.

Sink or Swim

Dear Rich, if life is so awesome why am I not having a great time?

Dear reader, plain and simple, it’s because you lack discipline. Imagine that you’re thrown into a pool of water at a young age and have no idea what’s going on, you thrash around believing you’re about to drown at any moment. Luckily, the water isn’t too deep so you’re able to manage, but once in a while you lose balance and take a mouthful — it’s not a pleasant experience at all.

Now imagine that you know how to swim. This is discipline. It’s remaining calm, it’s working WITH the water to remain buoyant — it’s moving your body in a controlled manner, in sync with the motion of the ocean. From this disciplined perspective, you’re able to maneuver wherever you want and have fun while doing so.

So dear reader, in order to enjoy yourself, you have to learn how to swim through life — and that’s achieved by mental discipline. Without it, your thoughts are flailing around completely uncontrolled — you’ll need to rein them it. You’ll need to calm yourself and get comfortable with remaining still — float. And from there, you can coordinate your movements to head in a desirable direction.

Trust in buoyancy, trust that you’re being kept afloat by life. You clearly don’t know how to swim through it, and you clearly haven’t been treading water this whole time. You float, end of story — believe it. You’ve actually been fighting against life and submerging yourself with your frantic efforts. Stop fighting, calm down, embrace the stillness, now gracefully glide. And off you go….

Challenge Accepted

Do you have a problem? Is it a problem that you don’t prefer to have? Stop focusing on it, don’t think about it. The problem dissolves. A new problem floats in and replaces it. Rinse and repeat until you find a problem you prefer, one whose solution interests you. Dedicate your time to solving it.

Because life is a virtual environment comprised of flickering pixels, what you do here ultimately doesn’t matter — this also means that problems don’t matter either — so you’re free to pick and choose amongst the bunch you’re presented with. Being the particular person you are, you’re provided with a range of problems that fit your specific character.

For example, I’m a suburban-dwelling American male at about mid-life. In this role, I have certain career issues I can wrestle with, family relationships from a husband/father persective, existential crises, my fitness and appearance, political/profession sports-team stuff, finding just the right movie to watch on Netflix, whether to play video-games, and seeking out delicious foods as part of a culinary adventure.

Previously, I was under the assumption that I had to acknowledge EVERY problem that presented itself — even those that weren’t mine. “Is there a problem somewhere in the world? Then I can’t relax until it’s solved!” That was dumb and it’s a great way to create a miserable experience for yourself.

But it turns out that not only shouldn’t you acknowledge every problem in the world, but you shouldn’t even acknowledge all of your own problems. You get to pick and choose. And yes, you still want “problems” — what else are you gonna do with your time? But if you’re doing it right, they’re not really problems in the painful sense, they’re challenges and obstacles for you to overcome simply for the fun of it.

In summation: accept the challenges you prefer, decline the challenges you don’t. So when a non-desirable problem shows up in the queue, repeat after me: “This is not a problem I choose to focus on. Next!”