Spiritual Sensei

Without control of your thoughts, you’re lost. Your turbulent mind is going to take you on a wild ride that you won’t soon forget. If you can’t shut your thoughts down or can’t differentiate between worthwhile ones and worthless ones, you’re going to have a hard time. If you think you can handle that level of difficulty, which maybe you can, have fun. But for those of you having an unpleasant time with existence, there’s a less intense route through this funhouse.

It’s called spirituality. The purpose of spirituality is to ease your journey through life — that’s it. Spirituality is a way of looking at the world that allows you to comfortably navigate through it. You CAN look at life as a struggle, and it’ll be every bit as hard as you imagine. But you CAN look at life as an enjoyable adventure, and it will be.

“But Sensei Rich, reality is what it is, life is cruel and hard, I’ve seen it!”

Then why are some people having a great time? Reality is relative or else everyone would be having a tough time. Everyone has obstacles, yes, but the difference is that they enjoy the experience. They see the game-like nature of life and have fun while completing the provided challenges. But it’s even better than that, once you get in the right frame of mind, you get to pick the problems you want to solve.

And this ability to appreciate life begins with spirituality. Step one, is to get your thoughts under control. Step two, is to redefine reality into something you can handle. Step three, is to enjoy. Not so bad right? Then what are you waiting for? Your options are these: keep doing what you’re doing and continue having a rough time OR pursue spirituality and start having a great time. Seems like an easy choice, yes?

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Foggy Start

Oh man, what a morning. Ugh, and last-night too. Not the best. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was rough. My first thought and interpretation was: “this is definitely not going to be my day today, bad-day here I come.” But do you know what interpretation I settled on instead? “Witness my power, ye mighty, and despair!”

Through my ability to manifest the world I experience, I created a tsunami of unpleasant scenes. The sky itself was overcast while the streets were masked in fog. That’s true power right there. Of course it’s a dumb way to wield my creativity, but at least it demonstrates my ability to shape the life I’m living. If I want a horrible time, then so be it! It is done! Voila!

No, I didn’t specifically wish for a bad time — but that’s the problem. I didn’t specifically wish for a good time either — and the turbulent mind, when left on its own, undisciplined, will take you on a wild ride filled with dips and dunks. And boy, did I let my messy mind lead the way. Unpleasantness was the product of my unconsciousness.

Later that morning was a lot better, I had a fine time walking my son to school, then met up with my wife and we walked around town for about an hour. It was great. I couldn’t have planned it better and the temperature was just right. And the fundamental thing that changed was my attitude: from helpless pawn of life’s cruel game to absolute creator of my own reality.

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.

Miserable Mess

The bad news is: you are living in a miserable reality. But the good news is: you created this mess — and as its creator, you have the power to change it.

First: entering into existence is a tumultuous affair, no doubt — who could blame you for being a bit sensitive towards the spectacle of light and sound flashing before you. But that initial anxiousness made you imagine everything as potentially dangerous. You took life much too seriously and literally believed yourself to be a fragile creature struggling for survival. And since then, things have spiraled out of control to the point that you’re wracked with fear and you’re having an unpleasant time.

What you’ve got, is a negative attitude: no matter what life presents you, you twist it into something nefarious. This then frames you and life as opponents: life is trying to kill you, while you’re simply trying to survive. The way out of that hole is to surrender to life, to say:

Ya know what, Life? I understand that if you really wanted to kill me, you could’ve done it quite easily by now, but you haven’t. In fact, you’ve been sustaining me this entire time. I’m sorry for disparaging you every chance I could. I realize that the horrible things I’ve experienced were due to my confusion and pessimism. After considering things, I want to live happily, I want the best of what you have to offer, I don’t want to think of you as my enemy, but as my provider. Thank you Life for what I’ve been provided, and I will strive everyday to consume these gifts with appreciation.

Scary School

When I was a kid in school, we were told to be afraid of drugs and drug dealers. It seems like every generation is provided with something specific to be scared of — some boogeyman that will steal your life away. I remember seeing the old “Duck and Cover” films of the 1950s that were about nuclear attacks for instance. And before that I believe there was polio and other childhood diseases. I think my mother was most afraid of abductions by strangers. Then there were political and philosophical ideologies out to get you. Heck, you could even get drafted by your own government and sent off to die in war.

But what’s the point? If there’s a constant reoccurring narrative, it’s an obvious sign of an artificial reality. How can EVERY generation get some unique form of fear? That’s ridiculous — it’s a conspicuous pattern. And what’s even more ridiculous, is the helplessness that surrounds the source of fear. Surely SOMETHING could be done?! “Nah, it’s just the way things are….” Or at least when I was in school, you could try saying “No!” to drugs, but they didn’t always listen.

So we all grow up with a boogyman that can’t be stopped — and the details change in order to mask the repetition. Oops! Spoiler Alert! My bad.

But you know what? It’s probably not Life’s fault. Life is not a torture-chamber designed to scare little children — it’s a fun-factory that makes dreams come true. So the society-wide boogymen we experience, are likely due to mass-hysteria brought about by all the pessimists among us. (Being a former pessimist, I would like to apologize for my contribution to any mass-hysteria I was a part of.)

And the reason nothing can ever be done to stop the source of fear, is because the boogyman isn’t real. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his inaugural address: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.” It is literally FEAR that must be stopped — that’s the only way to end the cycle.

Having been a child when Freddy Krueger came to prominence, and subsequently scared shitless by those movies, I don’t find the concept of battling the demons-of-our-dreams too absurd. And like in Freddy’s world, our nightmares can kill us.

In summation: to end the nightmare, stop being afraid.

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!”

Guilt-free Consumerism

If Life is a simulation, a game-like environment developed for the amusement of a consciousness residing on the outside — and this is an artificially manifested world comprised of flickering pixels, a virtual-reality — then there truly is no consumption or waste-production going on here. Pollution isn’t real, it’s pixels — flora and fauna aren’t real, they’re pixels — people aren’t even real, they’re pixels.

Whew! That’s a load off my mind! What’s the alternative interpretation? That this is an actual physical world and everything I do imparts a net-negative impact on the planet? Under that perspective, if I truly loved the planet I’d bury myself alive to transform into compost as fast as I could — it’s a pretty anti-human outlook.

Side note: be careful of logic because it can lead to some really dark places. Just because something is logical, doesn’t make it right, it just makes it logical. Logical simply means there’s a clear path to a conclusion. In other words: just because a conclusion can be reached through reason, that doesn’t make it a good one.

But where was I? Ah yes, consumerism. In video-games for instance, I’m oftentimes a consumer. There’s no deeper spiritual meaning involved, that’d be weird, it’s just straight-up consuming — and ya know what, I’m entertained by it. Many games deal with an endless upgrade cycle. Gotta get that new sword, the new armor, the new manufacturing process — whatever it is, I have to keep upgrading. And what’s wrong with that? It’s just pixels anyway.

So what’s wrong with that in our own world? The obvious question is this: if constant-consuming and consumerism is bad, why does it exist and why does it occupy such a prominent place in society? Should I not participate in this process? Wouldn’t it be rude to deny such an obvious way to engage with this world? You’re telling me that I was born into a consumer-focused world in order to completely reject it? Why set it up like that then? Why have shops around every corner?

I think it’s pretty clear that the theme of this particular instance of Life is “consumerism”. Stores are our churches, the places we all regularly attend. Those that achieve-at-selling are society’s heroes — those are the names we all know. Henry Ford? Steve Jobs? Bill Gates? Jeff Bezos? Just to name a few. Those are who we reward with our highest praise as well as our dollars.

My point is this: we shouldn’t feel guilty over consumerism, it’s who we are as a civilization. But that’s not to say we should do it without grace or refinement — oh no. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. We shouldn’t sloppily clear-cut forests just to sell some lumber. We shouldn’t pour pollutants down drains and into waterways just to get rid of it. We shouldn’t be using the messiest fuel sources we can find. No, we should be seeking to refine and improve the way in which things are produced — always. We are consumers dammit, not savages! We need a constant upgrade cycle — and that means making things better — always.