Training Days

Many years ago I trained with weight-lifting equipment and followed a strict diet. You could say bodybuilding was a hobby of mine. I started out very skinny and proceeded to bulk-up. People noticed. But after a few years, the gains stopped. I looked like I lifted, yet I was no longer getting bigger or stronger. Training seemed kinda pointless at that point. It’s been about two decades since then.

Ever the self-improvement and training type, I moved on to mental stuff. I’ve been training my mind for many years now. I definitely see a change and I think it shows. But like before, I kinda feel like I’ve reached a sticking-point or plateau in which the gains have stalled. I get it, I can see straight through the veil of reality and grasp the fundamental illusion of existence. But so what?

I’m no longer seeing enough change to inspire further training. Like my weightlifting days, I’m a bit disillusioned and wondering whether it’s a pointless endeavor. I even wonder if I’m retrogressing. I feel as though I could finally appreciate living a good life yet the doors still seem closed. “Uh, hello!? I’m ready now!!” Granted, many things are good, but there’s some major changes I’d like to see. I dunno, maybe I’m just impatient….

I can’t help but feel as though I should be experiencing the best of what life has to offer. I didn’t previously believe it was possible. I’ve changed and experienced many resulting differences – yet there’s so much more I imagine. I know this world is a fictional construct, merely a dreamlike concoction of swirling stories, and I know anything can come to fruition – pixels are pixels after-all.

What’s this world to me? A dream. But if it’s any ol’ dream why have it?Just wake-up and go again. Yet I’m a horrible dreamer. For the first half, I believed myself trapped in a hellish nightmare surrounded by pain and danger. In the second half I realized I’m dreaming but live the most mundane experience possible. I don’t want intensity, I had that, I want grandness, magnificence, a sumptuous banquet. For what use is a body but as transportation to travel this realm in splendor and delight.

Likable Things

What are some things to like about life?

Items that delight the senses e.g. baked goods for smelling, savory foods for tasting, music for listening, beauty for gazing, warmth for feeling.

Conversing with close friends e.g. reminiscing about shared experiences, inside jokes, evaluating and debating, giggling about nonsense.

Creating or building e.g. essays, craft projects, works of wood, kits and cakes.

Discovery and finding novelty e.g. new creators, new movies, new tools, new places, new recipes.

Falling in love e.g. with people, places, and things. A new artist, a new town or restaurant, a new tool.

Solving riddles e.g. seeing a solution to a previously unanswerable question.

Collecting and using tools e.g. woodworking equipment, computers, text-editors, pencils, pots & pans.

Immersion in stories e.g. merry romps and tales of intrigue – laughter and amusement in comedy and drama.

Playing games e.g. participation in frivolous activity, camaraderie through competition and teamwork, feeling like a winner.

Growth and adventure and the sensation of time-pressure e.g. going from novice to skillful from start to finish – with the motivation of time-pressure encouraging you to go, go, go.

Therefore, with all these things to enjoy, if you’re not focused on aspects you like about life, you’re doing it wrong.

Puzzle Pieces

Imagine you receive a jigsaw puzzle. You admire the picture on the box, open it, and dump the pieces out of the bag. You’re excited! A reasonably sized puzzle of a pleasant picture. Aha, you found some pieces that go together! The game is afoot! Oh, but now it’s time for bed, darn it – well there’s always tomorrow….

You think about that puzzle and the fun you’ll have putting it together. Finally the next day comes and there’s time to work on your puzzle. Wait, what’s this!? The puzzle is complete?? Fully assembled it sits on your table, not a thing left to do – it’s done. Well you’re happy right? Glad that all the work is done? Phew it’s over! Thank goodness! Right?

No, you’re disappointed obviously. YOU wanted to complete the puzzle. All that potential action and intrigue turned into a lifeless static image. THIS is why we live in an imperfect world. Imperfection provides room for improvement – it allows for accomplishment. Instead of a completed world with nothing left to do, we’re presented with a buffet of potential achievement.

From a certain perspective, the world seems like a mess in which everything is a work-in-progress. It’s junk, it’s broke, nothing behaves as it should. Why can’t everything be perfect!? Because there’d literally be nothing to do!! Every puzzle would be complete. The so-called flaws of life are the loose pieces we get to assemble – without which we’d be staring at a lifeless static image.

Therefore, appreciate the pieces and be grateful that no matter how hard you try, the puzzle will always be a work in progress. This perpetual puzzle is not a curse but a gift. Get to work and try fitting some pieces together. You’ll surely assemble some parts while others remain jumbled in piles. Pick the parts that look most interesting. Day in and day out, look forward to this puzzle that’s always waiting for you.

Filling Voids

We all have something missing in our lives – and once we find it, we’ll finally feel fulfilled. Sweet relief! OR, once we find it, we’ll simply chase the next craving that comes up. Spoiler Alert! There’s ALWAYS something else we feel we need. No matter what we attain in this world, no matter the achievement, the sensation of lack and a need to fill it follows us around wherever we go.

This means we’re in a constant state of dissatisfaction with the world. Yuck. Nothing’s good enough. Nothing scratches the itch. We always want something else. The only cure for such a predicament, is mental discipline. This is the practice of deliberately focusing our attention. In all aspects of our lives we should maintain proper focus – and by doing this, we can improve our condition.

Essentially, we must train ourselves not to obsess over the treadmill of desire. We should take it less seriously and watch it lightheartedly. “I want something? Eh, okay I’ll chase it for awhile. Ha, this could be fun! Who cares if I catch it!” We should be focusing on appreciation instead of lack – focusing on the enjoyment of pursuit rather than the fact that we don’t have what we want.

After-all, as soon as we get what we want, we no longer want it – and soon enough something else takes its place. “But I REALLY want something!!” Well, obtaining it won’t cure the underlying feeling of craving: the sensation remains as the object of desire switches to something new. The only way to get rid of that feeling is through mental discipline i.e. focusing on what’s positive instead of what’s negative.

Satisfaction is an internal state achieved through internal means. It’s a perspective. Picture your life full of lack, you’ll feel dissatisfied. Picture your life full of abundance, you’ll feel satisfied. If you’re unsatisfied, it means your thoughts are arranged in a discordant way. What you need to attain is an answer to this riddle: how can I rearrange my thoughts so they evoke feelings of delight. Focus on THAT instead of external attainment and you’ll find an end to suffering.

Passing Scenery

There’s always something to be unsatisfied about – so a quest to fulfill emptiness through external means never ends.

Therefore, seek to be satisfied in every moment through mental discipline (the practice of focusing the mind). Practice until thoughts flow in and out like scenery in the distance. Hold no thoughts in focus. This is one of the hardest games to play, have patience and persist. Ignore thoughts that race-in to fill voids. Boredom is a sign it’s working whereas anxiousness and drama are signs of misplaced focus. Now with a blank canvas, paint with delightful hues that invoke satisfaction.

Focus is the fundamental force of the universe. With focus, you control your experience of existence. “Out of all the thoughts I could be having, is this one worthy of my focus?” Ask yourself this for each and every thought that gets your attention. Pondering positive possibilities is acceptable for example. And if you can’t think of anything nice, don’t think of anything at all. Notice a thought and gently transition to no-thought.

Sometimes you’ll sense mischief, deal with it through lightheartedness. You’re only susceptible to monkey-business when you’re serious. A monkey pokes and prods searching for a tender spot, wince or whine and he’ll know he’s found his treasure. “Ha, what a silly little game” should be your only reply to shenanigans. And consider this: you might be the monkey teasing yourself – but either way, don’t be the patsy losing yourself to frustration.

No thought is more valuable than the practice of mental discipline. Default to unfocusing on thoughts, refocusing only when a thought proves itself good. Evaluate the feelings it evokes. Weed this mental garden, leaving only the resplendent and nourishing to bloom and grow. The path has always been there, it simply seemed too tedious. Why bother with thoughts when a whole world awaits? But those thoughts are the very foundation of the world you experience. Bad thoughts, bad experience – good thoughts, good experience.

And remember, external objectives are never the point, they’re simply finish-lines placed for the fun of it. The purpose of participating in games is to extract enjoyment through the pursuit of frivolous goals.

Learning to Dance

Life is a celebration of frivolity and inefficiency. The objective is to reach the end as slowly as possible while enjoying the trip. In other words: find something fun to do for a few decades and you win. But as someone that thinks in terms of seriousness and efficiency, this process seems absurdly difficult. I feel like I showed up at a dance wondering why everyone is flinging their appendages around when they should be diligently planning and preparing and gathering resources.

Therefore, much of my time and effort is telling myself to ignore the inclination to squirrel away nuts for the winter. So how can I ever get in the mood for dancing when I’m constantly suppressing the urge to worry? I’m forever on the lookout for optimization and efficiency in a world in which such endeavors are futile. I know my tendencies are wrong because I receive no benefit from them, just anxiety. I have drive without a destination.

I have plenty of energy for worry. But since I don’t allow myself to worry, I mostly sit around ignoring my worrisome thoughts. When I used to entertain those thoughts, I was terribly upset all the time. I traded worry for boredom – intensity for low-energy. So now what!? Well overall I think my experience has improved. My guess is that I’ll have to learn how to dance, in the figurative sense i.e. engage in a frivolous and inefficient activity that I find enjoyable.

For example: this year I’ve been engaging in some small-scale hand-tool woodworking. It’s incredibly frivolous and inefficient. Imagine milling tiny planks of wood from a larger block and assembling those into a minuscule bench too small for sitting or into a two-inch tall raised-panel door to nowhere. Yet, I’ve been thoroughly entertained thus far. Only recently has the close of this year started to take its toll. But of course, I don’t allow myself to worry about it – thus all my energy is currently directed towards disregarding my situation. “This is fine” as the meme says.

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.

Striving to Strive

If you think about the rewards you receive in video-games, you notice how lame they are. A high score? A virtual trophy? Your character jumping up and down? A screen that says “The End”. Meh. All that dedication and effort for what amounts to nothing? And that’s true in this game as well, the actual physical prizes available here are kinda lame.

There’s nothing here, that once gotten, you’d feel “Wow, this is IT! I’m done! Nothing left to get!”. Once anything’s received, it’s a fleeting sensation of attainment followed by a new-normal in which it becomes an everyday object that sits mundanely as any other. Therefore, as in any game, experiences themselves are the only actual reward.

I’ve wasted countless hours in video-games attempting to achieve lame objectives – yet, I was perfectly entertained by the experience. The fun isn’t in attainment, that’s just another form of “Game Over”. The fun is in striving after something, anything, even if it’s a frivolous goal. Striving itself IS the goal here.

And I don’t mean “struggle” by the way. You really should find a level of striving that feels comfortable. It’s kinda dumb to stress and strain over a pointless objective when objectives themselves are valueless. Since they’re all of equal value (i.e. zero), pick something fun. And if you actually attain the object of your effort? Great, now pick another appealing objective and keep striving.

Trend Spotting

I’ve been attempting to analyze the trends of reward/punishment in relation to my behavior.

For example, I’ve clearly noticed a negative trend from overeating. It’s not every time, but overall it leads to unpleasant circumstances such as a tummy-ache or a complete lack of energy. But when I eat sensibly, not stuffing myself mindlessly, things proceed much better. I can clearly see a path I should take and one I should avoid.

Another trend deals with thinking about things I don’t like. If I allow unpleasant topics to remain in my thoughts, I typically feel bad. And once in awhile, those undesirable things even show up in my life. Whereas if I reject those unpleasant thoughts and focus on things I do like, my mood is better and my situation tends to improve. There seems to be an obvious pathway here too.

Another trend deals with how I treat people. If I’m careless and rude for example, good things don’t usually follow. Whereas when I present the best version of myself, I’m more satisfied with my interactions and things typically go much better. Again, there seems to be an undeniable path here.

The overall trend seems to deal with the application of mental discipline. If I’m lazy and let myself act like a disrespectful pessimistic slob, things don’t go well. Whereas when I stay aware of myself and keep to the role of a polite lighthearted guy that colors within the lines, things trend better.

Why are there preset guidelines that I must stay within? Perhaps the answer’s simple: it provides me with something to do. In games you move your character, making sure he stays on the correct pathway – that’s it. Life isn’t a movie: if you sit there, nothing happens – and if you stomp the accelerator without steering, you’ll likely crash.

As player of this game, I must remain awake and aware, with my hands on the wheel ready to make micro-adjustments as necessary to keep my character on the pleasant path. A path that’s discoverable through the reward/punishment mechanism. For instance: I have to actively monitor what he eats, what he thinks, and how he treats others.

Skinner Box

Is Earth a form of aversion therapy? In other words, am I punished for improper behavior? And if that’s the case, am I rewarded for good behavior?

Even from a purely physical perspective, you’d likely say that penalties exist for inappropriate actions. For example: if I eat too much, I get a tummy-ache. If I treat others poorly, I tend to suffer negative repercussions. If I allow my mind to wander, I find myself thinking thoughts I don’t prefer. If I consume dour and pessimistic media, I feel bad. In short, there seems to be a direct correlation between careless behavior and discomfort.

Is the opposite also true? Am I rewarded for considerate behavior? If I eat an appropriate amount of nutritious food, do I feel better? If I treat others well, do I benefit from similar treatment? If I guide my thoughts down pleasant paths, do I find myself delighted? If I watch a lighthearted movie, do I feel cheerful? In short, is there a direct correlation between thoughtful behavior and well-being?

In behavioral conditioning, the obviousness of the correlation between cause-and-effect is a key factor for learning. For example, if I fail to realize that a specific action results in a particular punishment, there’s no reason to stop an action. In other words, the amount of punishment won’t matter if I don’t know why I’m being punished. Yet, it would be heavy-handed or even harsh to reprimand for every infringement.

In teaching/coaching situations, obviousness is often sacrificed for gentleness. Instead of correcting every single misstep, a gentle teacher often allows some incorrectness to slide. This puts more responsibility onto the student, who must actively watch for trends in order to grasp the direction of the reward/punishment mechanism. The tradeoff is a greater feeling of agency and influence over one’s own life.

This would explain why actions in life aren’t always rewarded or punished appropriately. Life trades cold mechanical conditioning for a more organic feel. There’s no lever that reliably releases a pellet when pressed – outcomes follow trends instead. Also, intermittent reward is a more captivating circumstance and likely leads to longer, more involved engagement.

Honestly, I’ve been obstinately plowing through life, ignoring any signs pointing in the proper direction. I follow my own assumptions about what’s appropriate. As you might imagine, it hasn’t been an effective strategy. Am I to simply follow the path set forth by the aversion/reward mechanism? Hm, that almost sounds like cheating. Wait, actually that seems like a lot of work. Well, I’ll have to keep this is mind and be on the lookout for trends resulting from my behavior.