Too Far

Striving for enlightenment might be taking things a bit too far. Instead of overcoming a single challenge, it’s the idea of overcoming challenge itself — thus eliminating ALL challenges in one fell swoop. It’s like sitting in the middle of an arcade and not playing any of the games because you conquered the desire to engage — but the point of a game is to play!!

Imagine exiting the arcade and explaining to the game developers that you didn’t play their games. They ask why. You respond: “Well, after losing a few times I got frustrated and stopped playing. Then I got bored and played some more but kept losing. This led to even more frustration so I proceeded to train my mind to ignore those enticing demo-screens and to ignore the sensation of boredom while sitting still.”

Exasperated, the developers explain that the games are specifically designed to be unwinnable. Winning and losing result in the same outcome: “Game Over”, therefore the games are designed to string players along in an endless series of challenges that are ultimately insurmountable. It’s only a game they say, you shouldn’t get so bent-out-of-shape over it — you’re taking things much too seriously — an arcade is meant to be fun.

So in a sense, the initial quest for enlightenment might be a bad-attitude in which a person wants to give-up on the game and sit quietly until it ends. BUT, if you sit silently long enough, you’ll ultimately come to this conclusion: play the game and have some fun (i.e. lighten-up). You’ll also conclude that you shouldn’t attempt to play every game in the arcade — it’s better to focus on the ones you find most enjoyable.

Enjoying Inefficiency

I could describe the quest for happiness as a search for “enjoyable inefficiency”. The most efficient life is to die as soon as possible. Therefore, our goal is to live an inefficient life. But to last for a long time, we need to find a way to enjoy ourselves — or else we’ll quit from boredom. I happen to love efficiency, so this concept has been a lifelong struggle to understand. “What’s the quickest method that requires the least effort?” That’s the universal question I apply to everything.

Now, I must change it to: “What’s the slowest method that evokes the most enjoyment?”. Instead of wolfing down a meal, it’s about savoring the deliciousness of every bite. Instead of showering as quickly as possible, it’s about the sensation of warm trickling water and the formation of suds on the skin that flow down and around the drain. Instead of a quick breath in and out, it’s about deep lingering inhalation that calms the mind. Instead of an exchange of data, a conversation is a dance performed with words.

Efficiency simply gets you nowhere fast. Within this world, there’s no finish-line to rush to. The application of speed simply ups the intensity but moves you no closer to a desirable outcome. NOT getting to a destination IS the outcome you really want. Every objective achieved simply starts a new mini-game with a new objective. What you really want to find, is the level of inefficiency that induces the most fun. Do you want to raise your own sheep, sheer your own fleece, spin your own yarn? There is some state of wasted-time that will maximize your amusement — experiment until you find it.

“What about laziness and procrastination? Are you saying we should simply become slackers!?” No, inactivity leads to boredom — inertia is not our goal — we MUST constantly remain in motion. But the motion we maintain should be sufficiently slow enough to fill our time on Earth. You must find the pace that suits your taste. If you’re currently dissatisfied, guess what? You haven’t found it yet. Most likely, you’re striving for too much efficiency — add some indirectness into the mix. Find a roundabout way of doing things while avoiding straight paths. It is within the inefficiencies of life that we find satisfaction.

Life on Manual

I know survival isn’t a do-it-yourself option, there’s just no way, it’s too basic for remaining in the game. Yes, I can grab the steering wheel and grind against the guide-tracks and create a lot of sparks and crap-up the ride-car — but overall, the underlying maintenance of the body is an automatic process best left alone. It seems like “worry” and “unnecessary intervention” are the truer causes of bodily malfeasance.

Although to me, it feels like certain aspects of digestion and sleep are Tamagotchi-like. If I don’t find the correct combination of dietary items, then my digestion complains. And if I don’t find the right routine for sleep, I don’t feel rested. I’ve yet to find that routine by the way, I’m still searching after all these decades to find a decent night’s rest: An Epic Quest for Rest.

Whereas food procurement has always been an automatic event for me. Food is placed in an easily accessible location and I eat it — simple as that. Personal protection is another thing automatically taken care of — there’s nothing to defend myself from. Unfortunately, I was super paranoid during the first few decades of existence and thought I had to be at full-alert and ready for battle. Long story short: I spent a lot of time being unnecessarily anxious. I don’t do that anymore and life has become a lot more pleasant — and I’m still unharmed despite my lack of vigilance.

In contrast to those automatic events, “appreciation” is something that’s clearly NOT on automatic. I don’t like much. I tend to reject and down-vote and criticize and hate on everything that passes through my perception. I’m finally trying to get a handle on manual appreciation and I’m focusing specifically on aspects of life that I like — this process has improved my experience so far.

In regards to my path through life, I’m not sure what’s going on there. I don’t do much, so I’m kinda assuming that it requires manual intervention. Or am I simply applying the brake and won’t let go? I could be a complete screw-up grinding my ride-car against the guide-tracks, fighting a preset path the entire time — but I’m not sure. My current strategy is to focus on whatever I find fun and interesting throughout the day.

Knowledge procurement seems like an automatic process too. I just kinda know things — talents and abilities are obviously related to this. For example, I seem to know how to use particular tools, they feel right in my hand and they move appropriately for the assigned task. It’s selective though, I know some things and definitely don’t know other things.

Basically, “manual” for me deals with getting myself under control. There is a stream of thought turbulently swirling through my mind and this condition tends to keep me in a constant state of negativity. So I must manually rein-in these thoughts and deliberately adjust my attention to focus on whatever I enjoy. That’s it. That’s the manual control I must master in order to win this game.

Tool Time

I absolutely love tools. LOVE. Throughout the years I never realized how much I adored them. The problem was: I never had much practical application for them. And relatedly, I wasn’t sure which particular tools I prefered. I would stare at tools and wander through tool aisles and wish to have a use for them — but it mostly stopped there. Yes I’ve collected various tools throughout the years, but they never saw heavy use.

A couple of times I tried to dedicate myself to small-scale carpentry projects but it didn’t last. All that measuring, sawing, and drilling got to be a bit much. The precision was a little too exacting. Measure-twice cut-once or the puzzle won’t fit together. I think my detour into computer-programming was a semi-related tool path. But again, I think the need for precision got to me. I prefer a craft that’s more forgiving apparently, something with a higher tolerance for sloppiness.

And so for the past few months I’ve been engaged in whittling or wood-carving or small-scale woodworking — whatever you want to call it. Things like pendants, spoons, rings, whistles, figurines, spinning-tops, cup-and-ball toys — just little things that don’t require exactness or too much time to complete. I’ve been having a great experience using tools and finding new ones to add to my collection.

In a sense, I really did have to find out who I was. I had to enter life’s buffet and sample the selections until I found items I enjoyed. I also needed to delve deeply into the esoteric details. I knew I liked tools for example, but socket-wrenches aren’t my thing, neither are table-saws. I like pull-saws, woodcarving knives, small gouges, and pin-vise drills. But who knew!? You can’t just guess at something so specific, you gotta try things out and see what you like apparently.

Instead of an office, now I want to create a small shop in which all my woodworking dreams come true. My computer desk has been turned into a workbench and I sit next to a stack of drawers filled with tiny tools. In one sense, I’m a tool lover that expresses that love through casual woodworking — what I create isn’t as important as acquiring more tools. I’m always on the lookout for inefficiencies that can be improved by a new tool. And I like it that way, even upgrading older tools is a great option.

So that’s where I’m at right now: attempting to appreciate and engage with something I enjoy (tools). My previous life-strategy was to complain about everything I didn’t like — that turned out to be an unpleasant experience. Oh well, you live you learn.

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.

In-Game Reward

As I was doing something a bit daring, a thought occurred to me: the end of this game isn’t worth NOT taking risks. In other words, there’s nothing to receive at life’s conclusion but “Game Over” — therefore, the ONLY reward to be had is in-game. So if you’re not maximizing enjoyment while on Earth, why not!? But of course, that gets us right back to where we started: a constant quandary about what constitutes a good time, including short-term vs long-term reward and the effects on others, etc.

But that last bit illustrates an important point: don’t over-think it. It seems best to flow with life, finding the fun in every moment. Whereas turbulence is a condition that should be avoided. Imagine sitting in a small boat on a river spending all day in a single spot because you’re attempting to paddle upstream — frustration builds as you’re thrashing and splashing with your oar to fight the flow. But, you could simply hoist your oar and let your boat flow downstream — yes, the familiar no longer lingers as the scenery rapidly changes, but that’s life. Fighting to maintain the familiar is a poor strategy.

Welcome the change. Imagine watching a movie where the actors never leave the scene and nothing ever differs — that’s a bad movie. Life too becomes drudgery if you never allow the scenes to flip from one to the next. Drastic change is what SHOULD happen, that’s what turns the doldrums into a thrilling adventure. If you’re not receiving a bit of thrill, you’re not really riding the roller-coaster, you’re sitting on the sidelines wondering why everything’s so dull. You’re what’s dull!! So take the risk and let life sharpen your edges as you flow through it.

At the end of your time, your character’s dead either way. There’s no bonus points for remaining the quietest, having less bruises, the least failures, or for longevity. The points are cashed in-game only — so spend them now. Live life NOW. The game keeps sending me this message: align with life and there is no struggle. In other words, the stress and strain I experience is all self-induced. Let go of the rope that ties you to the static shore, the dynamic journey awaits.

Grit Rushing

When you’re using sandpaper to smooth a surface, you start with lower/rougher grits and move your way up through higher and finer grits. For example, I might start with 150 grit to flatten out rough spots, but that leaves the surface a bit fuzzy feeling, so then I move up to 320 for a finer finish. If I want to get closer to an eggshell shine, I’ll follow that with 600 grit. And sometimes for the fun of it, I’ll go up to 1000 or even 2000 grit — the wood I use won’t really attain that level of sheen but I try anyway.

Okay, so what happens when you get impatient and rush through the grits? Maybe you’re sanding some wood or sharpening a knife or glossing up epoxy-resin. Well, if you switch to a higher grit too soon, the deep scratches from the courser grits won’t disappear, you’ll just get some shiny spots alongside the gashes. But you’re so anxious to see your reflection that you rush through the grits!

In life, I think I rushed through the grits. In many ways, I never got past pre-K. Just basic things like sleeping and using the toilet are actual challenges for me on a regular basis. I obviously have some deep gaps in knowledge. I suppose I skipped some early grits and wanted to get right to the final polishing. In gaming vernacular, you could call it a “speedrun”. Just get to the end!! Screw the build-up process and the prerequisites! I’m ready to graduate NOW!!

Thankfully, life isn’t an experience in which one must struggle for survival amidst a harsh and unforgiving landscape. I’ll be fine. Despite continually ignoring the basics, I’ve made it this far. That really says something about the degree to which life is willing to support and encourage my existence. It makes for an abrupt and disjointed narrative, but I don’t care. Life catches me struggling and says “Oops! You should be here by now sweetie!” and places me there anyway.

Not sure I’ll be getting high-score on this round guys….

Whittling Life

Whittling is a subtractive process, meaning you start with a block of wood and remove some bits until you arrive at the shape you want. Whereas carpentry is additive: you keep adding boards until you arrive at the final structure. Carpentry also has a jigsaw-puzzle aspect, where pieces have to fit together just-right. I never bothered to contemplate the difference before, but the other day I noticed that I’m a particular type of woodworker.

I had split a block of wood into tiny planks with the idea that I’d assemble them into a small box — a carpentry project. But I sat there staring at the boards, deciding on how to assemble them. Carpentry is about precise cuts with saws and lots of sawdust — and that’s just not my style. I’m a knife guy — I like cutting into wood and having curls drop off. For instance, I already have a small box made from a block of wood that I simply hollowed-out with a knife and chisel.

So instead of piecing those tiny planks together, I’ve been using them as starting-points for carved pendants. It turns out that I’m into subtractive art, not additive — I wasn’t quite aware of the distinction before. And it’s true: when faced with a blank canvas, I don’t know where to begin — my mind is equally blank. But when presented with a work-in-progress, I can certainly tell you what doesn’t belong. It’s basically a form of criticism: “Nope, that doesn’t look right! Remove it!”. You just keep pecking away until there’s nothing left to criticize.

And this serves as a metaphor for life. If presented with the idea that life is a blank-canvas, I’m frozen with indecision. I don’t know how to proceed — I need something to evaluate and judge. BUT, this criticism needs to be applied with the intent of creating a work-of-art. I had been criticizing and stopping there — I wasn’t actually cutting anything out. Therefore I always see the same bits that don’t belong, every single day.

So instead of looking for what I should add into my life, I should be evaluating what I already have, then actively removing the bits that don’t belong i.e. whittling my life into a work of art. I had been trying an additive approach, which simply didn’t suit me AND I had neglected to remove the bits that didn’t fit. For example, my tendency for general-negativity is something that needs to be sliced away — and my knife in this context is mental-discipline.

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.

Year Eight

Life IS a quandary, and the answer to this puzzle isn’t mere realization, that’s too simple. The answer lies in a life well-lived. To complete any game, you have to actually overcome the obstacles it sets forth, not simply realize their existence.

Spoiler Alert! To live life well, one must cultivate and maintain the right attitude and perspective. It’s not what you physically do, it’s how you perceive what you do that counts. But make no mistake, finding and retaining the right outlook is a difficult task.

I’ve had revelation after revelation over the years. “WOW! That’s IT! I’ve got it now! I finally understand!!” But those moments quickly pass and life returns to what I’m used to. I haven’t had the tactics or discipline to maintain the momentum of my epiphanies.

This blog for example, is the primary method I’ve used to log my thoughts. Tomorrow will mark the 8-year anniversary since my first post. I have written-evidence of all those insights over the years. So in one sense, I get it. But in another sense, I’ve been unable to consistently apply those insights to my daily life.

Therefore, that’s what I’m working on nowadays: the consistent application of a greater perspective into my daily life. To do that, I’m attempting to maintain an awareness of “now”. Because in this moment, right now, I have the ability to select whatever it is I want to focus on. And what I want 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.

In so doing, I’ll achieve a life well-lived and therefore win this game.