Inspirational Limbo

You know how people get flashes of inspiration to do things? Such as: man I really feel like tidying my room right now! Or: wow I just came up with the best idea for a new novel. Or: I wanna study to become an engineer so I can build rockets! Once inspired, people then follow-through on those aspirations or else they suffer from feeling unfulfilled.

I think my mind is attempting to torture me with inspirational ideas that are not within my ability to fulfill. Therefore, I’m in a constant state of frustration. Oftentimes I can’t even see a path to the projected goal, it’s just out-there and fully unattainable. And if it’s a tiny goal with a perceivable path, I’m typically straining the entire time to the end, like walking a narrow pathway full of thorns. And the achievement doesn’t feel worth it compared to the still-stinging scratches.

On one hand, I can try ignoring these flashes of inspiration. But on the other hand, nothing seems to fill their place – I spend most days just passing time as if I’m in a waiting room, simply browsing magazines. I wait for the day to end only to spend another restless night in bed, tossing and turning.

Obviously there’s something “extra” going on here. Is there some greater being harassing me? Am I harassing me? Is this punishment for sins done during a previous lifetime? Am I simply a beta-tester in a poorly designed simulation? Is this world testing my fortitude? Am I an advanced AI running through its paces? Perhaps I’m actually exceeding my intended purpose. Maybe I’m a background character that’s gained sentience. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

Striving to Serenity

In order to successfully traverse life, it seems that one must strive to soften over time. Like a stone that’s weathered and smoothed by the elements, a person should likewise allow his rough spots to be ground-down by the buffeting circumstances of life.

When irritation strikes, you shouldn’t see it as an opportunity to cement your opposing position, you should drop the thought that’s triggered. In other words: that collection of contrarian opinions isn’t something you should maintain. They’re not “you”, they’re just a bunch of dumb ideas you collected. Situations that activate your sense-of-annoyance are helping you to notice these dumb ideas – your task is to dismiss them.

For example: “Ugh, cheesecake for dessert!? I hate cheesecake! Why can’t they just have cake-cake!!” This becomes: “Cheesecake? You little scamp! Cream-cheese in the form of a pie, masquerading as cake! Ha, you’re a silly one. But it’s great that people enjoy you. Well, I’m full from my entree anyway. I’ll be satisfied seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces as they consume you!”

Basically, life should be lived lightheartedly. The active practice of life consists of doing what you’re inspired to do – but in the calmest manner possible. As Jesus stated: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Some translations use the more familiar word “gentle” in place of “meek”).

Sources of irritation themselves aren’t supposed to be removed. These are simply signs alerting you to calm down. Obstacles aren’t the actual obstacle. Or more confusingly: the feeling that an obstacle is an obstacle is the obstacle you need to surmount. In other words, don’t seek to destroy annoyances, seek a state of non-annoyance (i.e. acceptance). Despite the raging inferno that surrounds, be okay with the unfolding events: “This is fine.”

The choice is this: fight a losing battle all the way to the end OR practice unconditional acceptance of everything you encounter. Think of it this way: you’re a block of stone being carved into a beautiful work-of-art by life’s circumstances. You can fight against the artist and refuse to be shaped into something nice – OR you can accept the hammer & chisel blows, allowing the process to happen, letting the rough stone fall-off, revealing the stately statue within.

Avoiding Angst

Wait, so life is like a “Try not to laugh challenge” but it’s a “Try not to get upset challenge?”

It seems so, yes. You can do what’s called-for in the moment, but you can’t overreact or obsess on the situation. Play your part, but don’t get lost. You can end up going backwards if you don’t maintain your focus. Do make the effort though: you’ll keep attempting to complete this challenge life-after-life if need be. And be warned: your progress (or lack there of) follows you into the next.

You should also realize that there are forces deliberately thwarting your attempt to accomplish this challenge. But every game has obstacles and opponents to overcome, right? So no big deal. In this game it’s things like anger, lethargy, confusion, craving, selfishness, and even beauty. These influences try to tie you to this world so you’ll feel invested – making you easy to upset.

Let me provide some scenarios with a couple different approaches (purely fictional, for demonstrative purposes only):

Life: “Hey Rich, your dog just died.”
Bad: “Curse this world!! Why do you taunt me so!? To give me love, only to snatch it away! Will this unyielding cruelty ever end!?”
Better: “Aw man (sniffle). Well, I appreciate the time we had together.”

Life: “Hey Rich, what do you want to do today?”
Bad: “Meh, nothing. Everything sucks, why bother.”
Better: “Hm, good question! I’m sure there’s something interesting I can find!”

Life: “Hey Rich, check this out, kinda neat right?”
Bad: “I NEED THAT NOW!!! GIMME!! I shall not rest even a moment until it is in my possession!”
Better: “Oh wow, that’s amazing. Might even be cool to have, but I’m fine either way.”

Life: “Hey Rich, I heard that guy called you a jerk.”
Bad: “WHAT!? I hope he fails at life. Should it ever be in my power to do so, I will personally smite him.”
Better: “Ha, whatever, can’t hear the haters! Although, maybe I can improve my interactions with others.”

Life: “Hey Rich, the cake’s all gone!”
Bad: “WHO ATE MY CAKE!!?? That was MY cake! I’ll remember this!”
Better: “Ah okay, well it WAS tasty!”

In a sense, strive to be mellow. It may seem like a strange objective – but really, what else can a person truly control in life? It’s attitude and focus. Maintaining awareness and constant course-correction aren’t easy tasks by-the-way. But this is the vehicle we have, and this is the mechanism by which we steer. Think about driving an actual car: stay within the lane, maintain appropriate speed, avoid obstacles, and don’t overreact. In both situations, calm behavior gets you to your destination.

Three Threads

The Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 14) clearly establishes that one’s eternal essence is bound by certain forces that influence its earthly experience. Being born into this world, the spirit is entwined and anchored by these forces. It is the earth-dweller’s task to unbind its non-physical portion from these influences in order to rejoin the spiritual-whole from which it came. Failing to do so in one lifetime will simply result in another opportunity within another lifespan – and so on.

A question that arises is: why does a supreme-being confine a fraction of itself within an embodied-being and then expect that spiritual-portion to find its way back? In a sense, it’s an “Escape Room” scenario in which the spirit must collect clues and solve puzzles in order to find its way out. Additionally, the spirit must first discern that it’s trapped to begin with. Perhaps this entrapment is simply the byproduct of an overthinking celestial entity.

Whatever the reason, the spirit must untangle itself from the threads that bind it. How? By becoming smooth and friction-free. Imagine a rough non-slip surface that catches on everything it touches – it’s stuck. Now imagine a smooth surface that slides easily through life. By not allowing itself to become wrapped-up in the narrative, the spirit can glide through life and find its way back to the origin. Essentially, the conscious mind has to lighten-up and relax.

By perceiving life lightheartedly, one travels an enlightened path. Imagine the undisciplined mind as Velcro’s tiny hooks persistently grasping at every loop the world offers. Now imagine a disciplined mind as being sleek and hookless, no longer grabbing those loops. The loops are there, but the disciplined mind doesn’t keep getting stuck, it’s free of attachment. The world still turns, but its weight no longer rests on the spirit’s shoulder.

So the goal is this: to experience existence without getting upset. And the tools to do this are awareness, attitude, focus, and interpretation. Maintain awareness of attitude and focus. Actively improve attitude and shift focus to non-distressing topics. Seek and sustain an enjoyable interpretation of life. By engaging in this practice, the spirit can overcome its entanglement and return to a place of peace.

Theory of Existence

The primary objective of the perceptible world is to attract and hold the attention of inhabitants (i.e. to captivate its audience). It will do this even at the expense of personal comfort (i.e. expect to be thrilled more than soothed). As part of this, “surprise” is an inherent aspect of the narrative. Outcomes are purposefully uncertain in order to maximize an attention-grabbing effect (i.e. intermittent reward).

Life isn’t random, the path is tuned to the traits of the character. Additionally, the tone of the narrative is directly affected by the character’s focus and attitude. The prevailing theme of one’s life tends to adhere to wherever the attention is focused and the particular attitude that’s maintained. For example, a lighthearted outlook tends to encourage sitcom-style situations whereas a dour outlook tends to evoke sad or dramatic circumstances.

If an inhabitant doesn’t specifically select a topic through focus, life will select something stimulating. This automatic process can lead to undesirable circumstances. Therefore, it’s advisable to intentionally select a topic of interest to focus on, and to deliberately maintain a positive attitude. Letting the mind wander to “wherever” will tend to increase the intensity of one’s experience while decreasing contentment.

Achievement and attainment of physical-world objects and objectives represents a one-time finish-line, not an end to dissatisfaction itself. Winning one game simply leads to another, and so on. When participating in a game, winning a prize feels crucial, but this sensation quickly fades upon the game’s conclusion. Do participate in games believed to achieve a desired result – but appreciate the activity itself as an amusing way to spend time, and realize outcomes are uncertain by design and essentially unimportant.

Frustrating Circumstances

I’m constantly frustrated. Like, that’s literally my primary character trait. Sleep? Can’t do it. Eat and expel food simply and easily? Nope. Carve a path through life? Yikes, no. Get something I want. Ha. Eventually get something I want? Okay, but it’ll just open up new pathways of frustration. Play a game or engage in a hobby? Okay, but again, it’ll just be another source of frustration.

Imagine a car-racing game in which the car bolts off the starting-line and crashes into everything. It swerves and skids and spins 180 degrees – it has a terrible time getting to the finish line, if it makes it at all. But why not simply slow-down to a manageable speed? Because, you’d lose by not qualifying for the minimum time allotted for the race. So there’s an in-between space that must be mastered: not too fast and not too slow.

I’m stuck alternating between those two extremes, losing either way – hence my perpetual state of frustration. In games, I can sometimes manage to make this back-and-forth work. Practicing at the fastest and the slowest can sometimes get me to a middle-ground that’s workable. Why can’t I just start at medium? I don’t know. It’s either all-in or barely-in, and then I can potentially maintain an “average” for a limited time.

Is this the middle-path that the Buddha spoke of? I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve been perpetually frustrated and I don’t like it. At some point it’d be nice to achieve a state of mastery in which things just work. Instead it’s: “Oh no, another problem, another obstacle, another reason this can’t be done.” Frankly, I’m sick of it. If there was a reward for all this effort, great. But I’m simply trying to get through each day, performing the most rudimentary tasks.

Okay, let’s calm down and think for a second. If I’m supplied with an endless quantity of frustration, maybe that’s a good thing? Frustration is invigorating. For example, if a task goes smoothly, it’s over and done with – quickly forgotten. “Oh I won? Cool, what’s next?” Whereas a frustrating task keeps me coming back and burns itself into memory. “Gah! I’ll get you this time! Ha! Victory never felt so sweet!!”. You see? Without frustration, you wouldn’t care.

Take that car-racing game as an example. Imagine you’re able to easily drive through the first few courses. Why bother with the rest? You know the outcome, the game’s too easy. But as soon as you swerve off and smack the first tree… the challenge begins! There it is: the thrill of the hunt! Can you improve?! Can you make it past this race-course!?? Oh no!! There’s a conundrum, a puzzle to be solved – a question without a known answer! And you’re off, energized by the investigation.

So dear Richard, you’re simply being an ungrateful complainer. The game sparks your interest and you curse it. And if each day passed without challenge, you’d also curse it! Think about what happens if you win the car-racing game? You receive a virtual trophy. The point being: rewards are insignificant – just superficial symbols that cannot satisfy. They are finish-lines painted at arbitrary points for the purpose of providing something to race towards – giving you something to do. It’s the pursuit that matters. And the very thing that powers pursuit is: frustration.

Therefore, you have unlimited access to the greatest and most powerful resource ever created: frustration. Ipso facto, you’re very rich and powerful. Congratulations, you’ve done it!

Art of Life

I suppose I’d liken life to the production of art. In art, you have a certain set of tools to work with, and each toolset has distinctions and limitations. The medium of choice has its own characteristics too. You’re also producing a product that fits within certain expectations. If you don’t do anything, your medium will just sit there – which is true in life. You have to actually go about sketching, painting, sculpting, constructing – whatever.

In my experience, I could simply sit alone in a room and nothing much happened. So in that way, life is not a ride on a track whisking me around, showing me all the wondrous things I should see while I passively sit back and relax. But, there seems to be impulses of inspiration encouraging me to do certain things (just like in art). In some ways I think I can ignore these urges.

An artist shouldn’t necessarily paint over his entire canvas with a splash of maroon simply on a whim. Some impulses should be ignored depending on the selected theme. And art can certainly be frustrating. It often takes years of practice for brush strokes to come across as artistic additions instead of blotchy mistakes. Sometimes the initial vision wasn’t right and you have to repaint or repair.

For example, I initially painted life with dour hues – so now I’m trying to paint the whole thing over with brighter colors. There’s just so much grey and sometimes I need several coats. I try to stay focused on the pretty parts I’ve updated while ignoring the rest. What happened before this point in time? I don’t care, I’ve moved on. That paint’s dried and I can safety paint atop it.

Entry 227-772021

Dear diary, I’m currently displeased. And as such, my modus operandi tends to be questioning the very fabric of reality. Why are things this way? In fact, why is anything the way it is? What is this world anyway?

Here are some things I know. I know I exist within a fictional construct. This world is artificial, yet it attempts to conceal its fabricated foundation in order to enhance a sense of immersion. But every time circumstances fall outside of my expectations, I’m shaken awake by my discomfort. If the fiction doesn’t want to reveal itself, why doesn’t it simply comply with my assumptions?

I don’t have much patience for this world, so additional casus belli don’t help. And what about that? I frankly have a lot of issues with this place. Does it keep me alive and supplied with the bare essentials? Yes. But why doesn’t it go above and beyond? What’s with the bread & water routine? Am I a prisoner? Is this a behavior modification facility?

I seem restricted from doing what I want and I can’t leave. Sounds like prison to me. Hm, even the other inmates form gangs and fight amongst themselves. I currently have an eye-strain headache which doesn’t help, I’ve never gotten a good night’s rest in all the years I’ve been here, and I don’t understand the point of this place. I feel punished, yet I don’t know what for – thus I can feel no repentance.

If I’m supposed to learn something, it’s lost on me. I’ve been in-game for decades and I still don’t get it. Did I sign up for this place? With an in-game single-lifetime obligation? If I did, I’d kick my other-world self in the nuts. I’ve stated many times to this world, just give me what I ask and I’ll play along. Yet for some reason, I find myself ever amidst a sea of uncomfortable turbulence.

Dearest and Almighty Creator of this world, I beseech you as a humble participant in your grand experiment, do not let this wretched creature suffer. Fulfill the preferences implanted within and let me know triumph in this world. Relieve the pain and stresses known so long. Let time-served be punishment enough for transgressions done. Let this mortal form not serve as example of a state unwished for, but let this character become a shining beacon on a hill, an inspiration, one that has realized the resplendence this world has to offer. If there is any hope to be had, let it manifest now.

Floundering Finish

Think of it this way: life isn’t supposed to be a straight line. The screw-ups are part of the path. If you’ve ever sat on the bowl with the sun beaming in, a brownie slithering out while you catch a whiff and retch from the stench – you know life isn’t a serious place. It’s a joke and your mortal frame is the punchline. Making it from point A to B isn’t the point – point B doesn’t matter, it’s simply an excuse for the slapstick in-between.

Think of what Captain Picard said to Data: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.” In other words, failure is part of the deal. Why? If you’ve ever seen any movie or TV show, you’d see flawed characters stumbling through life, fools attempting tasks beyond their reach. Yet from time to time these goofballs actually achieve something – an absurdity that proves humorous. Off-kilter narratives are the threads with which existence is woven together.

Like those characters on screen, your life is a not-so-serious narrative in which a dummy wanders amongst other dummies, all attempting absurd activities in which nothing of note is accomplished. It’s a joke: laugh. To witness life pass by and never smile is a heinous act. It’d be a setup that goes unappreciated. Silence lingering long after the punchline is delivered, just waiting for your laugh – but you sit stone-faced, unmoved by the attempt.

But that’s not how it should be, you should be grinning and giggling the entire time, ready to roll on the floor in complete appreciation of the ongoing hilarity. Remember: getting from one point to another doesn’t matter – it’s the laughter along the way that counts. Who cares how the movie ends, when it’s over it’s over – you should be focusing on the gags in the current scene, those are the parts that incite delight. In other words: keep your attention on the flick in front of you, stop wandering around the lobby, cease thinking about other things. And keep this in mind: the most entertaining adventures are those in which the protagonist flounders to the finish.

Interpretive Dance

What’s going on here, what is this? I ask such questions because it’s my nature to do so. Yet I know every question that’s answered simply fades away, a new one takes its place. Seems a bit futile doesn’t it, like Sisyphus rolling his rock up that hill.

Of the many question & answer pairs I’ve coupled throughout the years, I can see that the question doesn’t really matter, nor does its answer. Think of it like eating. What’s one meal matter? I could skip a meal and be none the worse for it. The same routine everyday, multiple times per day. Yet by the next day, even though I’ve done it all before, I’m eager to eat again.

Frivolously insignificant repetition – is that the fundamental nature of existence? An individual leaf on a tree is pretty insignificant – but as a whole, leaves bring a tree to life. Song and dance are frivolous by their nature, bewildering words mixed with repetitive sounds, all while undulating in circles. And it’s one insignificant stroke at a time upon canvas that paints a masterpiece.

Every insignificant day forms a life, and every insignificant life forms the pageantry of this world. Each piece of the puzzle is both insignificant and significant, holding two states at once – perspective of the observer determines which. Where is your attention focused and what’s your interpretation.