Cultivating Calm

Chaotic forces swirl and I sail atop else I get swept up in their turbulence.

Why does such chaos exist? It is the source of creation, the pool of imagination – from it, pours the world. Out comes the many scenes and seeming randomness of experience. Be without a rudder, a set direction, and a thrilling adventure whisks you up, down, and all around. But set your focus firm and you’ll tend to head in a specific direction.

A novel intensity that keeps boredom at bay or a sure thing in which appreciation must be continuously cultivated. Choose one.

Being unable to appreciate anything, I picked the first option. But the intensity was too much – now I want the second option. Yet, focus and enjoyment of what’s in hand are difficult things for me to master. I can see there’s a certain charm to the calm – but allowing my mind to wander into the fray is so easy.

Every day, every hour, every minute, I must become aware of what I’m focusing on, examining my thoughts and how I’m feeling.

The external world I experience conforms to my focus. A bad time reflects a bad attitude. I no longer strain to jump actual hurdles, but train my mind to remove focus from the concept of obstruction. As a result, concrete problems dissolve back into the swirling chaos.

Whenever I experience unpleasantness, I am to blame. Disagreeable circumstances are a consequence of haphazard consciousness, a lack of mental-discipline. Leaving my mind unattended leads to an ever-spreading blaze. But if I simply attend to the flame, keeping it within a designated area, I receive warmth and illumination.

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.

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.

Ignore It

If I ignore something, does it go away or get worse? Answer: it goes away. That sounds like the wrong approach, that such a strategy would only lead to a festering mess in the end. Yet, over the course of many years, I’ve found that it’s the exact tactic that works. Whether it’s an internal ache or something external, ignoring it has typically made it disappear whereas focusing on it only increased the intensity.

From thoughts, to pains, to people, to situations – whenever I stop maintaining them within my mind, they simply fade away. It’s not always easy to forget something, which is why things don’t blip out instantaneously. I typically have to repeatedly ignore the image while trying to focus on something else. But if I keep at it, it goes away.

Yes, this phenomenon demonstrates that the world is not a concrete physical reality in which I’m a mere spectator to life’s objective events. My thoughts and feelings are readily influencing the reality I’m experiencing, there’s no doubt about it. But if that’s true, why am I not having the best time ever? Why do I find myself experiencing unpleasantness again and again?

My guess would be: the lack of application of mental discipline. In other words, I don’t ignore enough. I don’t selectively identify and ignore that which produces discomfort. If I’m not feeling great in every moment, that means there’s something I’m not ignoring. Could it be that simple!? Does ignorance truly result in bliss!? I’m going to dedicate myself to this experiment and find out!

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.

Plowing Ahead

In one sense, it doesn’t matter what’s causing unpleasant external conditions. I have to deal with them either way. Whether it’s random chance, mischievous imps, an existential escape from boredom, karmic repercussions, part of a dramatic narrative, a simulated challenge-generator that maximizes player engagement — it doesn’t matter, the obstacles are there. And complaining about their presence, is an ineffective strategy for dealing with them (my exhaustive multi-decade study has proven this to be true).

Since complaining doesn’t work, I have to try a different approach. But I will NOT be engaging with these obstacles directly, it’s just not my play-style. Any time I’ve tried the direct approach, I’ve just gotten frustrated by my lack of ability. Whereas I’ve always been intrigued by the Buddha’s approach: disregard obstacles. “Oh is something blocking my path? Hm, cool, well I’ll just chill here, no biggie.” Haha suck it obstacles! You hold no power over me!!

There’s still hurdles, but instead of jumping over them, I shift my perspective until there’s no longer a desire to jump them. This isn’t new to me, I’ve been trying to get this nonchalant approach to work for a long time. It hasn’t been effective enough to end my angst yet. Essentially, I’ve been attempting to dismantle the veil of illusion that makes the world seem “real”. But of course the world lures me back with a mix of pain and pleasure, physical aches and aspirational promises.

Ideally, there’s a balance I can achieve in which I’m in this fictional world AND able to enjoy the experience. By all my efforts thus far, it seems to be a VERY delicate balance though. Oftentimes I wonder if a balance is actually achievable, and the attempt feels futile. I keep trying since I’ve got nothing better to do. I don’t believe I can quit this game – if I dared, I think I’d be right back where I started. My only option is to plow ahead.

Plowing ahead for me means to keep adjusting my focus. Thoughts streaming through my mind require evaluation before they monopolize my attention – most should be disregarded and left unconsidered. It doesn’t matter why I encounter unpleasant experiences or even the content of those experiences – my role is to remain calm and unattached, tuning my focus to whatever’s more pleasant in the moment. Day after day, I chisel away on my quest for balance.

Detailed Questions

Why is the sky blue? Why do people do what they do? What does it mean to fall in love? What’s the origin of illness? What’s healthy? What’s free-will? How do you live a good life?

If reasons and explanations to life’s questions vary over time, then perhaps details don’t matter. How can details be so subjective? You might postulate that understanding simply evolves. Well I don’t understand anything! I’ve certainly not received any of this advancing knowledge! Nor do I see evidence of it as I witness people living similarly dramatic storylines to those that came before. Fashions change, but the basics seem the same.

Schooling, amusements, occupations, competition, romance, parenting, complaining, and the search for satisfaction – what really changes? Style varies with era, but the fundamentals remain constant. Every age has its own explanations of why things happen, yet subsequent ages scoff at those antiquated ways. And this current age’s understanding will be mocked by those that follow. In that way, modernity admits its own lack of understanding.

What this adds up to is an obvious conclusion: events do NOT sit atop a solid concrete structure of objective ingredients. In fact, the framework for circumstances is fictional, mere illusion, a concoction cobbled together after-the-fact. Something happens, THEN the “how” and “why” forms based on perspective.

This conclusion obviously implies a dreamworld/simulated-reality in which a dreamer/player has ideas that manifest from imagination/pixels. There really is no “how” or “why”, it’s simply not necessary when dealing with dreams/simulations. Anything can appear anywhere at anytime.

And of course I had it backwards the entire time. I thought I was supposed to seek-out the step-by-step specifics in order to traverse a particular path. If you want to accomplish a task, read the pre-printed instructions obviously! NOPE! You simply “do the thing” and let it unfold before you. It’s a dream whose scenes manifest before your very eyes.

Whereas when you’re lost in the dream, it seems so concrete. The details ARE the reason, and nothing exists beyond what the senses perceive. But that’s such a limited perspective – you’re trapped into inaction and unable to do anything significant. Therefore, you must reset your frame-of-reference, step back from the intensity of a dream created by a wandering mind.

Remove yourself from the chaotic nightmare through discipline. Discipline is specifically focusing the mind. It’s pulling focus away from dissatisfying topics while putting focus on delightful ones. It sounds silly, but life is a silly thing. Tame the chaos you previously created, let it go, replace it with a new world in which you choose to experience contentment. In a dream, time is malleable. It is now the dawn.

Delving Into Details

I’ve noticed that whenever I delve into the details of something, it doesn’t make sense, the specifics are silly, the overall concept is absurd. It’s exactly like analyzing the plot of a movie too closely: if you forgivingly accept the storyline, then things proceed smoothly – but whenever you analyze the details, plot-holes abound.

Not only does this demonstrate the fictional nature of this world, it illustrates that circumstances don’t arise from details. Larger concepts come first then details are developed second – and only when examined. Additionally, these details are not objectively true – they vary depending on who’s investigating them.

For example, if you see someone driving a car, you don’t think anything of it. Cool, maybe he’s going to the store. But if you start to analyze the concept of humans controlling complex contraptions comprised of substantial steel at speeds 10 times that of their normal pace, producing forces that far exceed their normal abilities, yet able to maintain their course with adequate reaction time, it gets weird. Especially when you saw that same person having difficulty pushing their simple little shopping cart through the store’s aisles moments earlier.

And that’s not the only example, it’s EVERYTHING. And the good news in all this, is this: details don’t matter. Imagine a supervisor briefly explaining a task to you, yet he leaves out all the critical details and you’re left wondering how to proceed. This is a common scenario simply because details are NOT critical. Humans aren’t typically taught step-by-step instructions, they’re provided with broad concepts, then kinda wing-it.

In other words, if you attempt to learn the details in order to do something, you’re doing it wrong. You do the thing and IGNORE the details. Humans could never reliably drive cars if this wasn’t the case. In fact, details are dangerous and they’re likely to lead to logical conclusions that shouldn’t be contemplated. Whereas if you stick to the surface, things are more malleable and make a lot more sense.

The devil really is in the details. Do not summon him forth through incessant investigating. You’ll create logical conclusions that’ll trap your mindset. Circumstances change much more readily when they’re not ensnared by technicalities. Never worry how something gets done, it just does! It’s a dreamworld after-all.

Cyclical Stupidity

There is no doubt that mischievous moments are periodically introduced into my day – annoying little events that seem specifically engineered to trigger irritation. In addition, I can plainly observe the absurd nature of the society I live within. Therefore, all of this regularly occurring foolishness suggests a dreamlike reality. Otherwise, such a world would’ve collapsed long ago – something external MUST be maintaining it.

So the question becomes: am I personally manifesting these things or are they from an outside source? Am I the dreamer or a hapless victim? A long-held axiom of mine is: if it could be one or the other, it’s probably both. Therefore, I’m likely creating an experience based on my mindset and the world plays along, providing the scenes to make it so. For example, I’ve noticed differences in the types of mischief over the years. Why has it changed? Perhaps it’s because of my maturing mindset.

I only care about these philosophical questions because I’m dissatisfied. If things were great, I’d simply sit back and enjoy the show. But when I sense unpleasantness, I yell “CUT!! Stop the show! This is ridiculous! NO! I’m not doing this! Where’s the director!? Get him out here! Fire the writers! This is the most inane storyline I’ve ever had the displeasure of performing! I’ll be in my dressing room until it’s fixed!”

So then I sit there, alone and brooding. And I start wondering who’s crafting this nonesense. I wonder if I’m actually the writer. What if this is improv!? What if this is a dream I’m having, and I’m the one imagining all the dopey events taking place. I mean, if you analyze the shows I watch for instance, there’s always plenty of chaos and shenanigans going on. Based on my viewing history, you’d think I enjoy when crazy situations popup and everything goes wrong.

So then I walk out of my dressing room and apologize to the cast and crew for my temperamental behavior. Yes, I overreacted to a situation that I likely had a hand in creating. Sorry guys. Things calm down for awhile while I’m a bit more mindful of my attitude. I get comfortable, maybe even appreciative: “Heck, life isn’t so bad! Ha, it’s kinda fun when you get the hang of it.” And then the f**KING mischief begins again!!! “I QUIT!!” But the cycle continues, on and on it goes….