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.

Racing Around

It seems like the most common feeling I experience is “irritation”. Wouldn’t it be better though, if instead of a constant state of annoyance, a more enjoyable sensation dominated my experience? Oh I dunno, maybe something like anticipation, delight, appreciation, and just an overall sense of satisfaction? That seems like a much better approach to life than finding reasons to be upset all the time.

But doesn’t life manipulate your feelings through external stimuli? I’m not so sure about that. Although I believe that life intentionally introduces “surprises”, I think my reaction to those surprises can be steered. Not perfectly controlled, but at least influenced. It seems like my internal attitude makes a significant difference in regards to external stimuli. It’s like driving a car: if you overreact or overcorrect, you’re going to have a bad time. It’s better to stay calm and stay the course.

Gentle turns, soft acceleration, light breaking, maintaining adequate distance – it’s not that difficult. The same goes with the human avatar. If you go nuts, you crash. Why wouldn’t you? Isn’t that obvious? If you get distracted, you miss a turn. Now you’re scrambling to get back to where you were going. There are consequences for being a bad driver – why shouldn’t there be? Gun the engine, strip your gears. Pay attention, or pay the toll.

My point is this: the human avatar is NOT a ride-car that’s safely and securely fastened to a track, whisking your consciousness around a preset stage of audio-animatronic characters programmed for your amusement. Think of this more like a car-driving game in which crashing IS an option. The benefit is that there’s an element of excitement and a greater sense of immersion. The downside is that you have to maintain proper focus at all times – you’re a player not a passenger.

Like in any video-game, there are aspects and cut-scenes that are scripted. For example, a car-driving game has a bunch of race-courses you have to carefully navigate. Games aren’t very open-ended, they provide a lot of structure for a character to follow. This leads to confusion about “free-will” – am I in control or not in control? Basically it’s both. Within the preset parameters of the game, you can control a limited aspect of the character.

What you actually control isn’t quite obvious here. It’s not the avatar directly. Think about “walking” while walking, and you’ll likely stumble. For the avatar to perform effectively, you essentially have to keep your consciousness from trying to micromanage. Like driving a car, you’re just nudging it from time to time, keeping everything steady, staying between the lines while the vehicle does the work rolling down the road.

The destination is already known, it’s the checkered finish-line. Your role is to sit in the driver’s seat with a first-class view, gently influencing the controls. And your primary mode of control is through focus and attitude. Focus on stuff you don’t like and you’ll drive right into it. Have a bad attitude while rip-roaring down the road, and you’ll likely crash. It’s a direct correlation, just simple arithmetic, nothing complicated.

Therefore, if the most common sensation you experience is “irritation”, then we can deduce that you’re not applying enough consideration to your role as driver. You’re likely just sitting there, gazing out the window as the side of your vehicle scrapes against the guardrail and the worn-out windshield wipers drag across dry glass. “Boy I wonder what all that noise is? It sure is annoying!”

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.

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!

Happily Ever After

It’s been 3 years since we loaded up the car and traveled 1500 miles from Maine to Florida. I’ve been in the process of packing my stuff again. I like this place though, it’s probably my favorite home so far. On paper, I’m only leaving because the owners want to sell and I can’t afford to buy (I’m only a renter). I’m not sure if there’s some higher spiritual-plane reason I’m leaving.

If I had the resources, I’d probably just buy it. I like the town, the neighborhoods I walk, the nearby stores are decent, and there’s access to world-class entertainment – overall it’s been a really nice stay here. I actually lived in this same town a decade ago for three years and then left for Maine when things didn’t quite work-out. I came back because I missed it.

I’m fine with leaving in one sense, but to where? I have no place to go. To be fair, when we headed to Maine and stayed there for a few months during a snowy winter, we didn’t have any reason to be there. We only went because my wife saw a seasonal pie festival mentioned on the Food Network. We ended up living there for 7 years. We even welcomed a little Maine-boy into the family. He currently misses the snow, although he might be willing to trade it for a pool.

I don’t really enjoy too much challenge, I’m more of a resource manager. I like buying, organizing, and upgrading stuff. I’m getting too old for sudden changes in lifestyle. I’d like to settle down into a forever-home and go to my workshop each morning – play with tools, do some woodworking, and tinker with tiny motors. Well, if the Disney movies I’ve been watching taught me anything, it’s that something magical will step in to save the day.

Add the Opposite

Adding a negative number to a negative number makes it even more negative. Whereas adding a positive number to a negative number makes it less negative (or positive if big enough). Likewise, adding positivity to your situation incrementally improves it. But if you’ve stockpiled a lot of negativity over the years, you’ll have a lot to make up for. You’ll have to add in a lot of positivity to get on the positive side of life.

Can’t you just discard the stockpiled negativity? Maybe. A lot of it’s stored in memories. To dump memories, simply ignore them when they surface and stop actively recalling them. Memories are reinforced through repeated recall – stop recalling them, and they fade.

Rule number one of positivity: DON’T FIGHT AGAINST THE WORLD. Don’t battle, struggle, resist, argue… nothing. The world is literally THE WORLD, you won’t win. If the world wanted you dead, you’d be dead. In fact, the world guarantees you’ll die at some point, it’s a promise. So don’t attempt to defend yourself from the world, the world is what sustains you – it keeps you alive.

Therefore, your efforts should not be spent in defensive strategies, your energy should be directed towards the cultivation of calm. You must restrain any tendency for aggression, stop criticism, and arrest anxiety. In short, you should spend your time focusing on what’s good instead of what’s bad. This is no easy task by the way, it takes significant dedication and effort.

As is written: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” But the keys to the kingdom are not simply handed over. No my friend, there’s a quest of course! There are traps galore, all set with bait to lure you into negativity. Resist these invitations! Whenever controversy stirs you to anger, resist! Whenever fear takes you by the hand, resist! Whenever suspicion sticks you to woven webs of delusion, resist!

To obtain your kingdom, this is the algorithm you seek: become gentle in thought, word, and deed.

Likable Things

What are some things to like about life?

Items that delight the senses e.g. baked goods for smelling, savory foods for tasting, music for listening, beauty for gazing, warmth for feeling.

Conversing with close friends e.g. reminiscing about shared experiences, inside jokes, evaluating and debating, giggling about nonsense.

Creating or building e.g. essays, craft projects, works of wood, kits and cakes.

Discovery and finding novelty e.g. new creators, new movies, new tools, new places, new recipes.

Falling in love e.g. with people, places, and things. A new artist, a new town or restaurant, a new tool.

Solving riddles e.g. seeing a solution to a previously unanswerable question.

Collecting and using tools e.g. woodworking equipment, computers, text-editors, pencils, pots & pans.

Immersion in stories e.g. merry romps and tales of intrigue – laughter and amusement in comedy and drama.

Playing games e.g. participation in frivolous activity, camaraderie through competition and teamwork, feeling like a winner.

Growth and adventure and the sensation of time-pressure e.g. going from novice to skillful from start to finish – with the motivation of time-pressure encouraging you to go, go, go.

Therefore, with all these things to enjoy, if you’re not focused on aspects you like about life, you’re doing it wrong.

Puzzle Pieces

Imagine you receive a jigsaw puzzle. You admire the picture on the box, open it, and dump the pieces out of the bag. You’re excited! A reasonably sized puzzle of a pleasant picture. Aha, you found some pieces that go together! The game is afoot! Oh, but now it’s time for bed, darn it – well there’s always tomorrow….

You think about that puzzle and the fun you’ll have putting it together. Finally the next day comes and there’s time to work on your puzzle. Wait, what’s this!? The puzzle is complete?? Fully assembled it sits on your table, not a thing left to do – it’s done. Well you’re happy right? Glad that all the work is done? Phew it’s over! Thank goodness! Right?

No, you’re disappointed obviously. YOU wanted to complete the puzzle. All that potential action and intrigue turned into a lifeless static image. THIS is why we live in an imperfect world. Imperfection provides room for improvement – it allows for accomplishment. Instead of a completed world with nothing left to do, we’re presented with a buffet of potential achievement.

From a certain perspective, the world seems like a mess in which everything is a work-in-progress. It’s junk, it’s broke, nothing behaves as it should. Why can’t everything be perfect!? Because there’d literally be nothing to do!! Every puzzle would be complete. The so-called flaws of life are the loose pieces we get to assemble – without which we’d be staring at a lifeless static image.

Therefore, appreciate the pieces and be grateful that no matter how hard you try, the puzzle will always be a work in progress. This perpetual puzzle is not a curse but a gift. Get to work and try fitting some pieces together. You’ll surely assemble some parts while others remain jumbled in piles. Pick the parts that look most interesting. Day in and day out, look forward to this puzzle that’s always waiting for you.

New Year New Me

I’ve noticed that there’s always a predicament I’m in. Whether it’s a personal wellness matter, a lack of things I want, relationship issues, a looming global catastrophe, or even just existential angst – there’s ALWAYS something. Solving the current issue doesn’t fix things since another problem is waiting around the corner.

In video-games, you typically want an endless supply of obstacles to provide challenge and interest. But what if those obstacles are just too tough or not the type you’re interested in? Well that’s my problem with my problems: I want a new set of problems. Otherwise, I’m going full Buddha-mode and ignoring the very concept of problems.

For most of life my problems have been: social awkwardness, aches & pains, digestion issues, inability to sleep and tiredness, financial lack, anxiety, and pessimism. I’m done with that stuff. It’s the junk-food of life, just quick non-nutritive snacks to stave off boredom. Now I want the good stuff.

For example, how about tool collecting, workshop setup and optimization, finding just the right home, sleeping and eating well, perceiving the goodness of life and feeling appreciative. This last year has been about my negativity-free diet. How about I up the ante and adopt a Delightful Diet for 2021. Yeah, let’s do that.

Striving to Strive

If you think about the rewards you receive in video-games, you notice how lame they are. A high score? A virtual trophy? Your character jumping up and down? A screen that says “The End”. Meh. All that dedication and effort for what amounts to nothing? And that’s true in this game as well, the actual physical prizes available here are kinda lame.

There’s nothing here, that once gotten, you’d feel “Wow, this is IT! I’m done! Nothing left to get!”. Once anything’s received, it’s a fleeting sensation of attainment followed by a new-normal in which it becomes an everyday object that sits mundanely as any other. Therefore, as in any game, experiences themselves are the only actual reward.

I’ve wasted countless hours in video-games attempting to achieve lame objectives – yet, I was perfectly entertained by the experience. The fun isn’t in attainment, that’s just another form of “Game Over”. The fun is in striving after something, anything, even if it’s a frivolous goal. Striving itself IS the goal here.

And I don’t mean “struggle” by the way. You really should find a level of striving that feels comfortable. It’s kinda dumb to stress and strain over a pointless objective when objectives themselves are valueless. Since they’re all of equal value (i.e. zero), pick something fun. And if you actually attain the object of your effort? Great, now pick another appealing objective and keep striving.