Focus on Feelings

The question is not “what do I want to do?” or “what goal do I want to accomplish?”. The question is: “what do I want to feel?”

For example: “I want to eat a slice of pie.” But it’s not the pie I really want, it’s the feeling of sweet satisfaction that comes from the experience. Even if the pie was bland, consuming it should be enough – but it’s not. The flavor must align with my expectations, and I don’t want to be rushed and cram it down my throat, and I want a pleasant scent in the air so as not to interfere with the pie’s aroma. The pleasure of the pie comes from the feelings it inspires, not from an emptied plate.

In other words, external attainment is NOT the goal. The external world simply provides excuses to feel. We want to feel, but we also want something to justify those feelings. Bear in mind that “feelings” come from within, the external things aren’t the source – we simply like having something to look at while we feel, or having a narrative to follow. We know this is true because of all the fictional tales we consume in books and movies – these resources provide fodder for feeling despite their intangible nature. Even our imagination creates fantasies that draw out our emotions.

In other words, we don’t need to find specific external triggers for feelings. WE generate the feelings and choose where to apply them. For example, we can love a toy stuffed animal. The object isn’t the source of the emotion, it’s the canvas upon which we paint our feelings. There’s no need to pursue an exact external outcome, we just need to cultivate the feeling we want to feel (such as delight, wonder, accomplishment, appreciation).

Therefore, a more appropriate question might be: “what object or condition will allow me to easily apply my preferred emotion?”. In other words, I could lower my expectations while receiving the exact same feelings for less effort. This is efficiency. You SHOULD want to feel the best you can feel – why not? The point being: if you strain to attain, that’s your choice – it means you’re withholding your feelings, preventing them from being applied to the things readily around you – you’re being picky.

For example, it doesn’t take much to feel like a champion. Play a low-skill video game, watch a heroic movie in which the character triumphs, organize a kitchen drawer, tidy a room, lift some light weights, daydream about winning an award. Every feeling is within reach as long as you don’t get judgmental about it. Does it cheapen the experience of existence to keep lowering your expectations until you achieve satisfaction? No, that’s just good gamesmanship. And once you feel like a winner, perhaps the external world will start treating you like one.

Feelings Exercise

I feel apprehensive but I don’t enjoy the sensation it evokes. I feel a tension in my chest and my thoughts parade unpleasant scenes within my mind. Therefore, I’m going to alter my mood by imagining an opposite feeling. I’m going to dump into a daydream that demonstrates a feeling of confidence and surety.

“There I am, powerful beyond all reason, energy flowing from my appendages, shaping everything around me into exactly as I expect – no mystery or surprise anymore, as my surroundings become me – and I am calm, a gentle creator that forms lighthearted merriment within a world of joy.”

Well now I feel calm and in control, my apprehension has dissipated. Daydreaming about a simplistic scene was enough to influence my mood – serving as an antidote to the poison previously in place. Instead of passively waiting for my apprehension to pass, I applied mental-discipline to displace it immediately.

I didn’t argue with my mind, trying to convince it to be calm. I went to the source, the very foundation, a structure comprised of feelings – and replaced it. There’s a certain ratio of emotions I want to feel, so I only entertain the ones I prefer in the quantity I select.

Selecting Perspective

What I see as the fundamental problem of existence is “perspective”. How are you looking at the world? It is perspective that determines the quality of your experience. Something can become “treasure” or “trash” through a single statement.

Tim: What’s that you have there?
Ron: Oh, just a rock I found, it’s nothing.
Tim: Are you kidding!? That’s a large chunk of jadeite!
Ron: So?
Tim: It’s valuable!
Ron: Oh wow! I had no idea! I thought it was worthless!

The malleability of value is absurd actually. It’s unreasonable how quickly and severely something can be valued and devalued in an instant. From relationships, to objects, to concepts, to styles, to actions and behaviors – it’s nuts how something can be suddenly adored or unapologetically hated. And the condition can even be reversed if new information comes to light!

So here’s what we know: perspective determines the quality of experience AND perspective can readily change. Therefore, a logical conclusion follows: I should be able to alter my perspective until I achieve a high-quality experience. In other words, I should be able to adopt an outlook that paints every scene in a delightful way. And because perspective can easily change, this task shouldn’t be difficult.

So why haven’t I done it? Maybe it’s simply a lack of effort. Have I tried altering my perspective whenever I notice I’m having an unpleasant experience? I suppose I haven’t applied it all the time. In fact, I tend to accept many unpleasant circumstances as physical facts that defy redefinition. “This is bad and will always be bad!”.

Although to be fair, some of these circumstances are physical ailments, and I’m not sure how to put those in a positive light. For example, what if I’m experiencing digestion issues, have a headache, or my skin has a sore spot on it, how can I reframe conditions that seem fundamentally unpleasant? Because if I can’t, it puts me in conflict with the world. “Oh cruel world! Why would you inflict such harsh punishment upon me!!? What crime have I committed against thee!? Or doth thou reveal thy true sadistic nature!?”

Here’s some techniques to consider. In these cases, you’re trying to justify and accept circumstances that are unpleasant by their nature. Essentially, you’re trying to take blame off the world and provide a quick and easy way to dismiss your complaints so you can move on and focus on something more pleasant.

Put the blame on yourself, chalk it up to laziness and lack of discipline. Although you know better, you allowed yourself to do something that resulted in a negative consequence. It’s just basic hygiene: if you don’t keep your body clean, it’ll eventually smell.

Accept that there’s a minimum amount of discipline and maintenance required by the world. For example, you have to watch what you eat – which foods and how much. The need for discipline and maintenance is good because it allows for deeper immersion, you have control over some serious consequences – you can actually crash your avatar.

Consider maintenance of the body as a bit of a dance that you have to figure out. It’s customized per person and you have to experiment with what works. Like any complex device, sometimes it’s more fun when it’s unreliable. The early days of computers was like that – it was fun when things broke and you had to track down the problem and work out a solution.

You could also accept some ailments as part of the character you’re playing. Oh, well he’s just the “can’t sleep” guy. Then deal with that aspect in a lighthearted way. “A good night’s rest? Ha, if you consider two and a half hours adequate! Then yeah! All rested, haha.” Or perhaps life is doing you a favor, maybe you’d barrel through life like an express-train if you were well-rested and full of energy. At least now you get to observe and enjoy from a slightly sedated state.

Another option is to think of the body as subject to “weather-like” patterns of periodic “good” and “bad” conditions. Have a sore on your skin? Well it’s just passing through, like a rainy season, it’ll move on eventually. And skin simply wears with age, like coastal erosion. “Oh well, just a facet of the environment I’m in.” It’s simply the ebb and flow of nature.

To sum up, perspective is everything. In every circumstance, select a spot that facilitates a pleasant perspective. In this way, quality of experience improves immensely.

One Wish

If I was only able to make one wish, I suppose it would be: for a mind that wanders pleasant paths. In other words: when my mind is lost in thought, I want it to think about awesome, interesting, lovely, delightful, always enjoyable ideas. As it is, my mind constantly assaults my awareness with pessimistic complaints about anything and everything.

Imagine waking up, greeted by a mind welcoming you into the world, painting pretty pictures of potential things to ponder. A mind that entices you into participation through advertisements of vibrant experiences. Whereas whenever I wake up, my mind just shouts nonsense at me, telling me how everything sucks and how today won’t be any better – probably worse in fact.

Imagine walking into a room and NOT experiencing the worst thoughts my mind can muster. Instead of anxious, pessimistic, and disparaging ideas; my mind invites a sense of wonder through curiosity and appreciation. “Wow look at that, it looks so interesting!” Unlike now, which is more like: “Ugh! Gross! This is dumb.”

I wonder if this is something I could practice? I’ve already gotten to a point where I can identify and mitigate negative thoughts – but that’s a daily game of whack-a-mole. If I could prevent those thoughts from popping-up in the first place, that’d be great. Maybe negativity is just a habit I could quit. Instead of simply dismissing negative thoughts, perhaps I could practice replacing them with more enjoyable ideas.

Hm, that sounds like a lot of effort – and I’m pretty sure I’ve had this exact same idea in the past. Although, maybe this time it’ll work. Perhaps I can more effectively imagine enjoyable circumstances nowadays. Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try. So the task is this: when you identify negative thoughts, don’t just brush them aside – stop and actively come up with a better thought, something delightful perhaps.

Advice for Me

Advice for my younger self?

Don’t bother with any form of self-improvement. You can’t make anything “better”.

Do detach from everything. Pretend you’re at a museum: don’t touch, leave everything where you find it.

Your thoughts are absolute poison. They’re a toxic stew that will contaminate anything they consider.

Relatedly, logic is useless. Without a solid foundation, logical conclusions just float in the middle of nowhere. Don’t waste your time, there’s no anchor to attach them to.

Memory is also useless – just ignore memories. They’ll be used more for tormenting you than anything.

Life IS out to get you, you’re not paranoid. Keep your head down and maintain a humble attitude. Life will relentlessly try to break you. The more you resist, the tougher this bullying will be. A calm/polite attitude tends to make things easier than a frustrated/rude attitude, but there’s no guarantee.

You will NOT enjoy this experience, don’t even try to settle into a comfy spot. Think of it like boot-camp or prison, it’s not a vacation.

You should try to remain calm at all times. It tends to lower the intensity of the experience. Plus, if you don’t react, life might drop the subject.

You aren’t here to learn, the storylines are just in-game nonsense. All the dramatic arcs just devolve into drivel. Just use “Last Thursdayism” as your historic perspective.

Survival is not a thing, don’t worry about it. Like boot-camp or prison, life tends to keep you alive. Don’t be afraid of anything, there’s no point – you can’t protect yourself, you’re at life’s mercy.

And if it’s not obvious: you can’t quit. No one’s going to setup something like this simply to provide an easy way out. Just settle in for the long-haul and find some hobbies along the way.

Bad Daze

As previously stated, I’m on the hunt to find out why “bad days” exist in my life. I noticed another “bad day” yesterday and I’ll be discussing my findings here.

I did happen to watch another “negative” movie prior to this bad day. Did it influence my mood or did a pre-existing mood influence me to watch the movie? Either way, if I’m watching “negative” movies, then I can guess there’s potential for a “bad day”.

I should note that my “bad days” aren’t actually that bad on an absolute scale. In one sense, I don’t really have “bad days”. But relatively, I do. For example, my Internet connection went down yesterday. It rarely goes down, so that’s one of those external events that are beyond my immediate control. But guess what? It was only out for 30 minutes and I could use my iPhone’s cellular connection in the meantime. Therefore, I’m wondering if my “bad days” are just hysterical overreactions to the day’s events?

In other words, a “bad day” is just my mind having a temper tantrum. My mind wants something in the world, isn’t getting it, and therefore freaks out. And expectedly, I can’t calm it down by reasoning with it during the middle of an episode.

How does one effectively deal with temper tantrums? Well, that’s Toddler 101 stuff. A few years ago when I spent a lot of time with an actual toddler, I remember distractions worked wonders to snap him out of a tantrum. If I could get his attention off the tantrum and keep him occupied, the situation stabilized (this didn’t always work though). I also remember a validation technique in which his mom would say things like:

“I see that you’re upset. You’re really mad. You’re mad because you want to play with the remote-control but I wouldn’t let you. You really wanted to play with that remote-control didn’t you? But the remote-control could break and we wouldn’t be able to watch the TV. But I know you really wanted to play with the remote-control. I’m sorry you can’t play with the remote-control, would you like to play with your race-car instead?”

I know my mind has been frustrated lately, so it follows that my mind would have frustration-based tantrums. That also explains why reasoning doesn’t work once I’m in the middle of a “bad day”. So perhaps distractions, like a new activity, could work. And perhaps “journaling” in which I acknowledge my mind’s distress could help too.

I definitely feel different today, so it seems as though the latest episode has passed.

More Bad Days

I’ve been attempting to solve the phenomenon of “bad days”. At first, I wasn’t sure if “bad days” were just negative interpretations of a given day. As I’ve been actively observing though, I can confirm that concentrated cascades of chaos are actually occurring. I’ve witnessed headaches, wrong-address deliveries of packages, shipments in limbo, incorrect food orders, uncomfortable interactions with others, just to name a few situations that pile-on during a “bad day”. A lot of these events are outside my direct influence – and it’s not just a single event, there’s a bouquet of unpleasantries. Then like a storm passing, everything eventually goes back to normal.

In many ways, my life has improved due to the practice and application of mental discipline. Yet, I still have “bad days” mixed in – why? What’s the source of this discomfort? I can be going along relatively comfortably and then BAM, I’m roughed up. Is it due to a lapse in attitude, carelessness in my focus, or just an inherent challenge built into the game-of-life? There seems to be waves of unexpected unpleasantness attempting to turn my attention to some chaotic storyline.

Once a “bad day” begins, I haven’t been able to interrupt it – it feels like a storm I have to wait out. I’m still experimenting, but nothing’s worked so far. My motivation is zapped and I just wanna give up. I can recognize a “bad day” as it’s happening, but I feel powerless. At the very least, I’ve been trying to “do no harm” by engaging as little as possible. Then a new day comes and things are fine again.

I wonder if the movies and shows I watch are a significant factor. For example, I was recently watching the 1996 classic movie “Romeo + Juliet” – which is obviously filled with lots of tension and calamity. Like watching a horror movie before bed can result in nightmares, does watching a woeful movie encourage a woeful day? This isn’t the first time I noticed a possible correlation, so I’m keeping an eye on it.

The “bad days” seem so abrupt and obvious. In one sense, I feel like they should be easy to overcome because they’re so identifiable. But in another sense, they’re just so unrelenting and pile on the pain until I yell “uncle”. Life: Oh you think you’re tough!? Try this on for size! Me: Ow! It hurts! Stop! I give up! You win! Life: LOL….

My next step is to keep track of “bad days” on a calendar. I’ll jot down some details and such and see if I can get to the bottom of it. There’s something contrived about them, which makes me think there might be an obvious pattern and thus a potential way to abstain. Since they’re so difficult to deal with once they start, prevention seems like the best approach.

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!

Self-care Routine

I practice self-care through the process of mental-awareness combined with mental-discipline. In a sense, I allow myself to have a good day. This is not related to external circumstances, it is solely in regards to how I’m feeling. I watch my thoughts through the practice of awareness and when something inappropriate is detected, I steer them away through the practice of discipline.

Again, my physical situation isn’t important, I’m only concerned about my attitude: is it positive or negative. For example, if I look up to the sky and see an astroid hurtling towards me, I’d notice a disturbance in my feelings. As soon as I’m aware of this agitation, I’d drop those thoughts and adopt other thoughts that improve my mood. “Oh how beautiful that burning rock is! And to think it should all end like this, in a magnificent world-ending event! This must be what I came here to see! Amazing!”

But honestly, I’m rarely if ever exposed to disturbing external events. Most of what disturbs me is self-inflicted. In a sense, I’m constantly hitting myself with a stick. A stick that takes many forms:

“Hm, why do you look like that, what’s wrong with your face. Why aren’t you good at anything? You know, there’s a term for unfit creatures like you, it’s called extinction. Imagine your life if you weren’t so unpleasant to be around, people might like you – or maybe not. Why’d you do it that way!? That’s dumb! You’re going where!? Do you know how dangerous the world is!? You must be a special type of moron to have a complete lack of regard for personal safety! Uh-oh, is that an ache? It can only mean a severe disease followed closely by death.”

It’s surprising how much of my life is just me bullying myself. Therefore, the most significant step I can take to improve my life is to stop hitting myself.

Diet Evaluation

At the beginning of this year, I made a resolution in accordance with the New Year’s Day tradition. On January 1st I began a negativity-free diet. This diet was so-named because I was attempting to lessen my focus on negativity. In other words, I was too anxious and pessimistic and wanted a change – I wanted a better experience of existence. So, I tended my mental garden and tried to pick out all the weeds. I also cut out a bunch of external forms of entertainment that contributed to a negative outlook.

Well?? Did it work!? With weightloss, you can just jump on a scale or measure body-fat percentage or analyze how your clothes fit. With negativity, I think the measurement is a little tougher to analyze. And if the process is gradual, it makes differences difficult to notice. I asked a couple people I know and they said I seemed less negative – I “laugh more freely” for example. Funny enough, a longstanding digestive issue seems to have finally cleared up. And I naturally fall asleep at a reasonable time every night nowadays (I still wake-up all throughout the night though).

But do I feel better? Again, it’s been an entire year so I’m not sure how much I’ve changed. I’m not so overflowing with improvement that I’m proselytizing my diet as the best thing ever. In terms of negativity, I started out as “morbidly obese”, so perhaps a single year isn’t quite enough to balance everything out. I obviously made some progress but I need more time and practice. I still have “bad days” – but relative to my previous bad days, they’re probably much better.

Oh and another potential benefit, I’ve been engaging in a new hobby for most of this year: small-scale, hand-tool woodworking. Perhaps clearing out a bunch of negativity made room for something fun. I’d done woodworking in the past, but it was mostly frustrating – this time around it was much more satisfying. Well anyway, I’ll be continuing the diet into the new year.