To think or not: Zen, Tolstoy, Depression and Enjoyment

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In this world that is sometimes nice, sometimes not, and sometimes blows up in your face, you often meet people who don’t enjoy life.

You can generally tell if someone is not enjoying by their crying, taciturn nature (as in, uncommunicative) or apathetic attitude (as in, nothing  matters), but not always.

Some people who repeatedly say, “I feel depressed” (not clinically, but sad nonetheless) risk labeling themselves and initiating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Nonstop melancholy kills happiness when brooding (as in, deep unhappiness of thought) becomes a controller of character.

coffee and depression

Source: PsychCentral

When life isn’t the way we want it to be, disappointment hits us. Reality feels like it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Something is missing. Something more. What it is remains beyond our reach and thwarted by the very desire to feel it.

As clinical psychologist, Leon F. Seltzer, PhD said, “Whenever you feel that something vital is missing from your life, yet lack the  drive to pursue it, you’re afflicted with this curiously “emotionless” emotion” called “apathy” which is, “essentially the feeling of not feeling” (The Curse of Apathy).

You yourself might not be enjoying at this time (or overall). Maybe that’s why you’re here.

For a lift.

aballoonreminderBut if all joy is fleeting, like the clown says, then so is “despair,” “despondency” and “apathy”! If any and all emotions—including the “bad” ones—are fleeting, then one need only let them pass fleetingly!

Some people who are not enjoying argue they can’t help themselves. If you were in their shoe, you wouldn’t enjoy life either!

terrible shoes

“Look around!” say the rightfully sad, depressed and angry. “The world is a mess and getting messier still!”

“75% of Earth’s Land Areas Are Degraded”

urbansprawl

(source: National Geographic).

With the destruction of nature—not to mention daily aggravation, physical and mental decline topped off by tragedy—depression seems only natural and inevitable for any thinking person.

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In life there is death, disease and dismemberment—not to mention poverty, loneliness and the heartache of psoriasis.

One approach to unpleasant emotion is to go stoic. Think: “Do what you can and let the rest unfold as it will anyway.

This is reality. You are not super-human. You can’t control the world, only your reaction.”

So say the philosophically stoical who endure pain and hardship without showing feeling or complaining.

Cue music: “Help I’m Alive” by Metric (2009)

Let time and distraction work their magic. Focus on ups, not downs and don’t take feelings serious. You can’t rely on externals. You can only rely on your own responses. 

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1st Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper: “Indeed.”

The 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper (not to be confused with rocker Alice Cooper) said like a stoic that it isn’t the things that happen to us that upset us, it is our judgments about them.

Pain is not good or bad, it’s indifferent and the key to it all is in one’s supreme goal (source: Stoicism and Pain Management).

And what is a supreme goal?

(Do you have one?)

If you’re emperor Marcus Aurelius, your supreme goal is to endure fear with courage and renounce desire with moderation.

Good times.

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Alice Cooper: “I’m 18 and I like it.”

Marcus A. would tell himself that pain is just a rough sensation, nothing more.

But if that’s the case—if reasoned self-talk removes suffering—what about someone who’s circumstances are not dire, who does the reasoned stoic self-talk without effect and remains depressed in a life not enjoyed even more than ever?

What then?

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What kills enjoyment in someone who should enjoy? self-pity? bad memories? body deformity? the cruelty of others? depravity? laziness? boredom? addiction?  what?

In War & Peace (the book) we see a supreme goal in action when, on the third day after Christmas, Nicholas Rostov, on leave for the holidays, thinks how the spirit of the house is saying to him:

“Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly(Book 4, Chapter 11).

go to your merry place

Enjoyment is a self-creation. Emotion can lead to correction. Whereas zen says mental chatter and desire inflame suffering, Leo Tolstoy said the highest human attributes of “love, poetic feelings, tenderness and philosophical inquiry skepticism” come by way of thinking and feeling.

Whereas in zen and stoic philosophies observing thought and emotion with indifference is recommended—like watching clouds in the sky floating by—Tolstoy says thought and emotion are a means to experiencing the joy of living (see: 12 Life Lessons To Gain From Reading Leo Tolstoy).

On a cold day, should you be lucky enough to be warm in a gentle house, reclining, not hungry, not thirsty, a warm beverage in hand, no pain, no loss, no regrets (except a few), sitting clear-headed and (relatively) odor free, feeling love and friendship, problems fall away.

The heart of a philosophy of enjoyment is to sing with the band Argent, “And if it’s bad, don’t let it get you down, you can take it. And if it hurts, don’t let them see you cry. You can take it,” (“Hold Your Head Up”, 1972).

Unconcerned with age, beauty, ability, upward-mobility and intelligence (or lack thereof), not judged or criticized, but content as yourself in a body, in this world—seeing, hearing, touching, thinking, and feeling—so it is to fully experience life and enjoy it (no matter what).

Breathe in the air (and enjoy)

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Long you live and high you fly
Smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be” (Pink Floyd, “Breathe”, 1973)

Contrary to popular belief (and advertisers everywhere), people don’t need a product, service or lifestyle to enjoy life.

A moment of peace in a park or beside a drainage ditch with a Great Blue Heron can stop a busy brain from blocking beauty.

Without the blinders of identity and self-interest, a person can go from listening to an interior monologue capable of souring any perspective (and ruin your life), to enjoying the smallest things—a ladybug on a leaf, ducks quacking and water vapour (for no reason).

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Breathing can be enjoyable. In the midst of a problem, you can enjoy breathing (assuming that it is safe to do so).

If you hold your breath long enough, your body breathes for you. Combine this breathed sensation with a heart beating autonomously and you can appreciate self-driving organic automation. breathinggiphy

But breathing and heart-beating (consciously or not) gets boring. After breathing (even if it is enjoyable), people get distracted and ask like Peggy Lee did, “Is that all there is?

What’s easily enjoyed is easily ignored. We might want to enjoy more, but therein is our problem: What we enjoy triggers our brain’s “reward” centers and makes pleasure habit-forming (see also: “Hedonism, Selfishness and a Womb with a View”).

A pleasure repeated can “set up potentially harmful routines, such as overeating, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling and even compulsive use of computers and social media” (Breaking Bad Habits).

Enjoyment (and addictive drugs) prompts the brain to release dopamine—a chemical responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells.

Dr. Russell Poldrack, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas comments, “If you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you’re doing it, that strengthens the habit even more. When you’re not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again” (source)

2007-06-22 Are-you-crazy

(Saturday Cartoons)

Therefore, it isn’t prudent to do whatever thou wilt. One will soon find one’s self on auto-pilot, following a predetermined sequence of operations conditioned by habit prompted by pleasure.

One may soon find one’s self on a Hedonic Treadmill chasing a craving for happiness that becomes evermore unattainable.

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source

“The hedonic treadmill, which is also referred to as hedonic adaptation, is a metaphor for your set point of happiness. The idea here is that no matter how good or bad something makes you feel, you will eventually return to your original emotional state” (developgoodhabits).

hedonicadaptation

Cue music: “The Windmills of Your Mind“:

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon…

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream…”

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Aristippus (435-356 BC) the philosopher saw danger in pleasure and advised, “It is not abstinence from pleasures that is best, but mastery over them without being worsted” (source).

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“The vice lies not in entering the bordello but in not coming out” (Aristippus)

The philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) agreed, but his idea of pleasure was ataraxy, “a state of serene calmness.”

Epicurus advised us not to be ambitious but to live in harmony with nature and strive for tranquility brought by contentment with simple things and the absence of pain.

epicurusExistential Comics: Was Epicurus Really a Hedonist?

Our happiness formula is backwards. We think, “If I do something great, work overtime, get straight A’s, achieve some goal, then I’ll become more successful, and then I’ll be happier.”

But a few weeks after a goal is achieved, the trip over, the new treasure made familiar, happiness levels return to normal and a new goal is needed to achieve happiness later.

hedonic treadmill

The trick to evading the trap of cravings and treadmills is to not wait until later to be happy. Save time and be happy first! To do that, it’s quite simple: Go without expectations, forget who you are and shift from thinking, “I must do something,” to, “I must do nothing.” The real trick is to enjoy reality as it is, because it is.

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You are free to enjoy, but enjoying the world as it is, as you are, is difficult for people who are weighed down by time and things to be done.

Accepting reality without needing or fearing or a will demanding, with a sigh of acceptance without resistance you find yourself where you are as you are in what there there is, enjoying (even the rough bits, see: “This too shall pass“).

Facing A Pine-scented Breeze

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“Stop every now and then. Just stop and enjoy. Take a deep breath. Relax…” (source).

And if you asked, “In two words or less, what is a philosophy of enjoyment?”

Answer: ‘Live well,’ ‘enjoy life,’ or simply, ‘enjoy.’ 

Enjoy (v.):

  1. If you enjoy something, you find pleasure and satisfaction in doing it or experiencing it (see also: And the Waiter said, “Enjoy”).
  2. If you enjoy yourself, you do something that you like doing or you take pleasure in the situation that you are in.
  3. If you enjoy something such as a right, benefit, or privilege, you have it.”

This might sound simplistic and possibly dangerous, so you ask,

If I or anyone else named I adopted this “Enjoy life” philosophy, wouldn’t that mean living in the “pursuit of happiness” like it says in the United States Declaration of Independence?

The answer is, ‘Yes, but it doesn’t take much to enjoy life’ (see also: happy animals running, jumping and playing).

To which you say,

In the phrase “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” doesn’t “pursuit” mean “chasing” happiness and isn’t that just hedonism? (as in, a bad thing).” 

hedonism (n.)

1844 as “self-indulgence,” from Greek hēdone “pleasure” (see hedonist) + -ism.

“… that the pleasure of the moment is the only possible end, that one kind of pleasure is not to be preferred to another, and that a man should in the interest of pleasure govern his pleasures and not be governed by them; hence, that ethical doctrine which regards pleasure or happiness as the highest good. … Egoistic hedonism considers only the pleasure of the individual; altruistic hedonism takes into account that of others. [Century Dictionary]

Hedonism says that pleasure is what motivates us. Only pleasure, our own or another’s, has worth and only displeasure⁠ has the opposite of worth (source).

Pursuing happiness might be encouraged, but to most people, the pleasures pursued by hedonists are indecent, indulgent and possibly sinful (at least, to the religious).

rich and famous

The common myth is that happiness is about having more good times than bad. The more good times, the more happy overall, but it isn’t about the quantity of ups over downs, but how smoothly we ride them.

Everything is changing all the time. From one moment to the next, good things and bad things happen to everyone. Those who are the happiest don’t have more good times than bad, they just don’t cling to the “good” or run from the “bad” like most people.

They appreciate every minute for what it is knowing it’s not going to last forever (see also: “This Too Shall Pass“).

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Surveys show happiness is the number one thing people say they want (money is number two) but the biggest challenge is: “Not knowing what I want to do” (source).

People don’t realize they don’t have to do anything to enjoy living. Try holding your breath and see what happens.

Time slows right down!

After a minute or two, you’ll enjoy life by simply breathing!

(It’s the little things.)

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Enjoy.

A Ponderous Enjoyment

It’s funny to think, as one watches an old movie, how everyone in that old film has stopped living (even the little kids grew old and died).

Well, maybe thinking about how everybody is dead in an old movie (even the little kids who grew old) isn’t that funny, but it is fun to imagine being alive in the 1920’s. In Paris. In the rain. 

If you’re a romantic and don’t mind dampness (and wool).

paris in the rain

For more about “romantics” see Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. The reference to 1920’s Paris’ rain is a nod to American actor, producer, and screenwriter, Owen Wilson (1968- ), and the alteration of human consciousness from egocentric to universal (or something).

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Buster feeling joie de vivre. “Silence is of the gods; only monkeys chatter.” ~ Buster

It’s fun to imagine how the same self-feeling that Owen Wilson feels—that feeling of being Owen, of Owen-ness, of being one’s self, a “me,” a role, a personality, a joie de vivre, a joy of living” feeling, we who are alive feel (sometimes)—is the same self-feeling Buster Keaton (1895-1966) had and you have, only Buster was a different body living in a present we think of as past.

This self-feeling is like seeing (the act of vision with eyes).

We who see know how great seeing is. We enjoy seeing trees with flowers and bees (see also: “A Way of Seeing to Enjoy (Part 1)”.

Seeing is the thing—not what is seen (although, beauty is better).

snowbird hawthorn tree
Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a Snowbird Hawthorn blooming?

What’s being seen is of the past (if you think about it).

Like the song says, “everybody look at your hands” (“Safety Dance”). If you have a hand, you see it and other appendages in the present at this location with your eyes (if you have them). What you see is experienced as seeing. (If there was nothing to see, seeing would be redundant.)

A goat doesn’t have horns because it butts, it butts because it has horns; likewise, we don’t have eyes because we see, we see because we have eyes. The world is literally nothing without you seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting and thinking about it. (See also “Good Morning Starshine” “Gliddy gloop gloopy. Nibby nobby nooby. La la la lo lo.”)

Hand-of-the-Desert-Atacama
Imagine seeing yourself seeing. You’d be in the scene seeing yourself seeing. Image: Hand of the desert at night.

When we look into the sky, we see a star’s past at that location. Since nothing can travel faster than light (including what happens to us), “From where we are, the star is still in our sky, because the space we can interact with goes further into the past as its distance from us increases. In other words, we’re always surrounded by the past” (source).

(See also: Enjoy A Perfect World.)

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Owen seeing without trying. “Just to be yourself and not to try to sell anything or make a good impression, that’s something worth striving towards.” ~ Owen

We who are alive continue a line of life-energy passed like a torch from our parents, their parents, their parents’ parents, back to the beginning (assuming there was one)—not to mention, procreation and the torch carried into the future (assuming there is one).

The same self-feeling and awareness of aliveness that we who are alive feel was transmitted to us by those before us like a game of tag where we who are alive are it—it being an “energy” we don’t want so the game is to touch someone who, when touched, tries to touch back (for more, see: Sammy Johns “Chevy Van” (making love in)). 

Like electricity in water, life-energy conducts itself in the form of a human baby (comprised primarily of water). Born into society, a “burning” biology begins in the baby whereby fuel (food) is burned (digested) creating body-energy to look for more fuel to keep the fire burning and possibly propagate the species (for the good of humanity).

(See also Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire“.)

And so we feel our self as a body in a world, separate and alone. To breathe, sense, think, work and continue as a unit ad infinitum or forever—if possible.

Father plus mother equals child born to live, change, deteriorate and die and all of it traced out in DNA: “a double helix formed by base pairs attached to a sugar-phosphate backbone” (What is DNA?).

DNA

The body of a person is like a machine grown out of a mother who was herself grown from a mother. This machine is called Human or Homo sapiens, if you prefer (we answer to both).

Human society shapes the minds of its members and remains after individuals pass away. Like a tree lives on after its leaves fall away in the winter and are replaced, so too does society continue after individual people are gone.

Where it started no one is quite sure but every person throughout history has had a biology and the same “alive” self-feeling of being (or so one would assume).

Only the names and skeletal remains change.

skeletons

In old films we see people experiencing a present moment captured like a memory.

ladyin1897.jpgWatching old films has a way of putting life into perspective (see also: Electric Edwardians).

One can imagine one’s self as a person back then and from this one might conclude:

Playing with cats is more fun.

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Behaviour modification in action.

We all know life is an “on” and “off” system (see also: The Essence of This). It’s just that we prefer on to off. On (alive) is the absence of “off” (not alive) but as you can see, they go together.

Those who experience stillness know the opinions and stories we tell about identity, social roles, ethnicity, philosophy, religion, politics and so on do not exist in our immediate experience.

In the immediate experience there’s not even a “you” to be found because it turns out that “you” are a story too. Being “on” is all you know and the seemingly long brevity of existence is a twinkle in an ocean of eons. It’s just a matter of enjoying it as it goes and how it goes as it’s going! (That’s all.)

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A Way To Self-understanding and Enjoyment

path of least resistance

On the path of life we walk, stagger, jog or roll—as animated organisms: 99% oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus (who may or may not enjoy the song “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”)—we are called upon to take action or not to take action.

crow on fence post

We must make yes and no decisions the results of which determine how we live, think, feel and behave individually and collectively as a species.

Like a crow on a fence post we see it all from the vantage point of a media centre on top of our neck and shoulders.

If you say yes and take action—with luck, work, will and strategy—goals can be realized. If you say no and take no action, you let life happen without your will intruding. It’s hard to know which is better.

beggar and unarmed man

In our yes and no, action or no action decision, we may feel self-directed, but much is predetermined by systems, society and environment—not to mention: technology, luck, ability and proclivity—your “inclination or predisposition toward a particular thing.”

From ‘in here‘—alone as we are with our thoughts inside a skull walled-off by skin—it’s only natural to feel separate and set apart from a world that appears to us as ‘out there.’

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But however real this feeling of being separate from the world is, scientifically speaking, it’s only skin deep and mental. We know we can’t be separated from this world—not without air, water and Twinkies!

Cue Boney M. “Rasputin” (for no apparent reason).

SONY DSCWe know living things are made up of cells and a cell is a “protein-based robot too small to feel or experience anythingbut do we know that even though cells have the properties of life—they eat, grow, react and reproduce—no part of a cell is actually alive?

The cells that comprise us are composed of dead matter animated by chemistry and moved by the laws of the universe. We’re like zombies except with a more varied diet and higher aspirations (hopefully).

Funny-zombie-cartoon

Technically speaking, “Stuff reacts chemically with other stuff forming reactions that start other reactions which start other reactions,” until we draw this conclusion:

One thing is for sure, the idea that life is fundamentally different for non-living things because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than inanimate objects, turns out to be wrong” (source: “What is Life?…”).

Our body changes but awareness of our self remains consistent:

It’s like having an old wooden boat. You may have repaired it hundreds of times over the years, replacing wood chip after wood chip, until one day, you realize that not one piece of material from the original boat is still part of it. So is that still your boat? … 

In this way, what you are is not really a thing as much as a story, or a progression, or one particular theme of person. You’re a bit like a room with a bunch of things in it—some old, some new, some you’re aware of, some you aren’t—but the room is always changing, never exactly the same from week to week” (“What Makes You You?”).

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You are like a room.

You are an ever-shifting mass of thoughts, feelings and perceptions but you feel a sense of continuity. You can look at a picture of yourself as a child and know that was you.

With an understanding of yourself as a story, personal hurt is reduced—how can you, as a “theme of person,” take it personal?—and selfless action is increased because you see yourself not as the egotistical pinnacle but as inseparable and integral (like a beaver).

we think we're special

Source

Unless you’re in the “Experience Machine”—a machine that generates happiness in your brain as you float in sense depravationreality is as it is and it couldn’t be otherwise. What is couldn’t be any more different than what ‘was’ could be altered. Accept what is and was and work toward what will be.

the experience machine
“If pleasure were enough, you’d plug yourself in the machine in a heartbeat”—wouldn’t you? (see: “The Experience Machine” thought experiment).

This feeling of being separate from nature comes from our ability to manipulate and disconnect at will. To understand, try this thought experiment:

Imagine you are walking in a park. As you breathe in trees, feeling movement and a soft breeze, you come to a roundabout with a botanical circle in the centre like the one pictured above and you must decide whether to go around or over.

If you go around, you conform to civic expectation, park design and gardener preference. You flow like water around the obstacle in acceptance of the extra distance. If you go over (or through), you do not conform to civic expectation. You take a logical short-cut that feels natural to save yourself time and energy.

Point
White arrows show the flow of around and over.

This is not to judge one or the otheraround or overas better, but to show how thoughts are powerful. They direct you and take you. What you think can become reality. If you realize that all things change, you won’t try to hold onto anything. Go back to innocence and live spontaneously with your senses.

If you think “I am weak” or “I am going no where,” so be it! Your wish is granted. If you say, “I am the Greatest!” (like Muhammad Ali did), “I am strong” or “I enjoy life!”—So be it. Again your wish is granted! Assertions we live by are reflected in our life experience.

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Extend yourself in what you see. Detach from a self that is separate. Flow like waternatural, gentle, aware of yourself in the big picture—enjoying a finite story that is selfless in a universe that is endless.

Enjoy it.

Beautiful, Average, or Disappointing—what’ll it be?

stairs to nowhere

How would you rate your life thus far, overall and right now? Would you rate your life thus far, overall, and right now as (select one):

Radio buttonsOption 1 Profoundly Beautiful
Quote: “Life is beautiful. I would not change a thing.”

Option 2 Just Average
Quote: “Life is O.K., but there are a few things I might change, if I could.”

Option 3 Rather disappointing
Quote: “Life sucks—more or less. There are many things I’d change, if I could.”

Of course, the above questionnaire is limited and it’s leading. You’re not given much for choices. Most people would probably select option 2 or 3. Option 1 sounds far-fetched—especially given the nature of vales of tears and potholes that we’re in (Latin vallis lacrimarum potholeus).

life cycle

How can life thus far, overall, and right now be profoundly beautiful when aging, dying and disappointment are guaranteed—especially towards the end. Profoundly beautiful seems only to happen in fleeting moments—here and gone, here and gone, and again, if you’re lucky.

Profoundly beautiful doesn’t lend itself to a permanent state of affairs—at least, not without some training in the art of enjoying (see also: Rainbows, Religious Experience and Nerf Warfare).

quickdraw
Watch where you point that thing.

This questionnaire may make you say, “Hold on thar, Baba Looey! I’ll do the thin’in’ around here, and dooon’t you for-git it!” like Quick Draw McGraw used to say before hilarity ensuing.

If you paused before option 1, “I wouldn’t change a thing,” your thoughts may have gone to moments that were not beautiful. There may be many non-beautiful moments, but such is the world.

It is what it is. Things happen. Resistance is futile.

Acceptance frees us and expectations are a set up.

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From chaotic to predictable and back again, we go like row boats tossed on waves of ups, and downs. The trick is, therefore, to enjoy the rowing (you may as well)

Cue Pérez Prado “Patricia”.

For lots of people (on behalf of lots of people), life may be profoundly beautiful, but, only on occasion. Most people would probably say things don’t seem profoundly beautiful, thus far, overall and right now because, we’re too busy.

Feeling profound beauty takes a special kind of silence and a special sense of awareness of yourself and the place you’re in. In day to day life most people don’t have time to pay attention to paying attention. Only oddballs, musicians, mystics, actors and comedians have that kind of time to waste.

It can get crowded.

people
People.

Most of the time we’re on auto-pilot. That’s why we don’t notice what’s really going on. What matters most to most people is the life they’re in right now and only rarely is that life profoundly beautiful (or so it feels).

If anything is (or was) profoundly beautiful, we’d hardly notice. We’re critical. We’re oblivious to our breathing and hardly notice birds in the trees or the beauty of life on this blue planet.

big pictureBut no more. With a click of awareness, from this moment forward (and backward), you will be aware of yourself, of yourself breathing and of your Self living and everything else. You will notice yourself noticing with your senses and with your mind attuned to the miracle of life and living like the wisest wise person ever.

That’s you.

It’s a paradox, really.

A paradox is “a proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory” (source).

In the paradox of “less is more,” for example, how can less be more? Out of two opposites “less” and “more” comes the concept that what is less complicated is often more appreciated (see also: Where Are You? The Paradox of Happiness).

A paradox appears to contradict the truth, but it is an implied truth. It describes an action or situation that seems absurd but is true. It challenges the mind to question common thoughts such as, “Just average is on the right side of terrible.”

Choices we make about what to do now or later and our levels of satisfaction as derived from those choices are driven by comparisons. In economic circles, they call the trade off between now and later satisfaction, “time discounting.”

 

economics of now or later

Contrary to post-modern relativism and lack of truths, the paradox of happiness is that it comes when you are gone!

But, if you want even more than just to lose track of time and get absorbed in what you’re doing, the profoundly beautiful feeling of living life thus far, overall and right now comes only with awareness (see also: “Where Are You? The Paradox of Happiness”).

boing

So the trick is to find your self  in feeling aware of yourself feeling aware in the space you’re in, as if you are extended into what is seen.

Easy peasy.

Boing.

Enjoy.

Priming, Framing, Transcending & Enjoying (part 2)

nuthatch2

Philosophy is the study of living. The absence of a true philosophy can destroy a life. We may want what we want, but we get what we get. Sometimes we don’t know why we want what we want or, even less, why we get what we have.

There are about five billion web pages on the Internet (source). Readers who return to a Philosophy of Enjoyment or who stumble upon it, are looking for something.

tasmanian-devilUnless you’re a bot—an autonomous program on a network—you’re here for a reason.

We’re more or less a mystery to ourselves. That’s why we say and do things and think later, “Why did I say and/or do what I said and/or did?”

The post “Priming, Framing, Transcending & Enjoying” (2017) produced evidence from the sciences that says we don’t always know why we think and do what we think and do do. We can be manipulated at an unconscious level by priming and framing (source).

Priming can influence any decision including one’s judgment of happiness. Priming is when an exposure to a stimulus activates mental pathways without conscious guidance. Those pathways can become mental ruts with repetition.

priming2
In this example, dotted lines show primes from words that sound similar and straight lines show words that have associations (source).

In the dictionary priming is a “substance that prepares something for use or action.” It comes from the Latin primus meaning “first.” Priming here means the same except, in psychology, instead of a substance preparing a surface or priming a pump, it’s a memory triggered by a sensation that leads to streams of associations.

We see the word BLUE” and get confused. Priming is more than a wandering mind triggered by sensation. Every perception that we have consciously or unconsciously sets off a chain of ideas in our neural network (McRaney, 2011).

Magicians trick us through our brain’s limitations. If life is a joke, wanting is the set up, getting is the punchline. You get it or you don’t. If you get it, you laugh and enjoy. If you don’t, there are no spontaneous eruptions of glee.

Doug always circled around four or five times before lying down to sleep.

Look at Jim Morrison from the Doors. Jim wasn’t into playing it safe. Better to be wasted than see life being wasted. For Jim Morrison, life boiled down to having fun regardless of consequences.

In 1968 Jim Morrison sang, “No one here gets out alive.” It’s from the song “Five To One”. Jim had no idea when he sang that one-liner that he’d be dead three years later.

And so it is for many people who argue that nursing homes are full of people who played it safe and now live with mental deficiencies. Rather a full life that is shorter than a slow life that is longer, so the argument goes. For Jim and others like him, the hardest thing to do is do nothing.

dwight from the office

But doing nothing can be a good thing. By not doing and enjoying a moment of stillness, time feels extended. You can see how driven, agitated and restless our brains normally are (see also: “Enjoy a Funny Feeling“).

Can you watch a pot boil?

Can you stop and stare like a sheep or a cow? Can you enjoy the stillness of a lull or the silence of no sound? Can you not do anything, at least, for a while?

boiling water.gif

Existence is the starting point. If you don’t exist the absence of pain is assured and the absence of pleasure, although sad, isn’t bad either. 

kinder eggWant buys you a Kinder egg in hopes that you enjoy the toy inside. What you get from wanting is a prize, guaranteed. 

Rather than fight the current of your stream of consciousness or think what you want is important, go with it. Let life take you.

What did Kurt Vonnegut Jr. say in Breakfast of Champions (1973) when a character sees the question, “What’s the purpose of life?” Answer: “To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool!”

gnome

The universe exists because you’re in it and of it for when you cease to exist, you and your universe go together.

If you’re reading this, this reading is your life. Primed by sensations, you make a collage of images from your consciousness pasted from memories, emotions and thoughts that exist only in your skull.

Memories hidden from conscious awareness prime associations without you knowing why. That’s when you confabulate—as in, fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for a loss of memory.

buster running and jumping

Framing is like priming except different.

Large and small decisions are based on a “frame of mind.” Words used to frame perceptions are based on thoughts and feelings these same words evoke in you. Framing is circular or, more usually, rectangular.

Appearances frame perceptions based on visual cues. Feelings frame perceptions based on emotional responses. We think we know what affects our behaviour, but in truth, we don’t always. It’s how you spin it.

Ren? Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009  øðä îàâøéè, áðå ùì àãí, 1964, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009

The painter René Magritte once said, “There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us.”

On TV when someone is falsely accused or “framed,” evidence can be construed as damning or inconsequential. If you effectively frame, you strategically magnify losses and gains depending upon the desired outcomes.

The truth is, most of the time, we’re unaware of the influence of our unconscious. We react in the situation (the ground) to some thing embedded (the figure). We toggle between positive and negative and sometimes mistakenly frame what we think we saw.

Framing is how we see an idea, issue or reality based on context. One’s perception of reality is not set in stone or passively observed. One constructs reality as one sees it.

salvador dali.jpg
Each morning when I awake, I experience a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.

You could be somewhere and smell a rum-dipped cigar. Automatically you think of your grandfather. Grandfather loved his garden. His garden was replaced by a Walmart which reminds you, pick up vegetables and rum.

To enjoy the full experience of this movie, there is laughter and tears, but there’s a big difference between a brain as thing and the experience of thinking or the heart as a pump and not the home of loving.

The trick is to enjoy what transpires as it’s transpiring.

Enjoy the Art of Being In Touch With the World

mystical forest

Human organisms are motivated by psychological drives. A psychological drive is “an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need” (Oxford). If you are hungry, for example, wanting to eliminate or reduce the unpleasant state of hunger is what drives you.

The psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) theorized that we have two drives: a drive toward life—includes instinctual impulses to have sex, eat, drink and need for fun (see: Pleasure Principle)—and a drive toward death—includes anti-social behaviour, anger, aggression, hate and violence (good times).

I hate everyone

From these drives Freud theorized that personality is a system of three interconnected parts: Id (instinctual part: “Give me now”), Ego (realistic part: “No, I don’t think so”) and Superego (moral conscience part: “You should be ashamed!”).

Id, Ego and Superego are a translation of Es (it), Ich (I) and Ueber-Ich (Over-I). Id is like a horse. Ego is the rider and Superego lambastes Ego for trespassing. As your “ideal” self, Superego conforms to society and prohibits unethical behaviour (Simply Psychology).

id ego super ego

Freud saw ego as a good thing. Ego negotiates between human impulses and social standards. There are, however, other ways to look at it.

Cue music: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Man On Fire”.

As a ‘me’ ‘mine’ and ‘for myself,’ we consider ourselves distinct from the world, but if you look closely, you realize: it isn’t true.

If you want inner peace, break free of what Freud says.

Garry Shandling
Garry in high school. “It’s not the hair on your head that matters. It’s the kind of hair you have inside.”

Garry Shandling (1949-2016)—a comedian who made loneliness and self-hate funny before turning it into love for the world—said before he died (obviously):

All my journey is to be authentically who I am. Not trying to be somebody else under all circumstances. The whole world is confused because they’re trying to be somebody else. To be your true self it takes enormous work…. Ego drives the world. Ego drives the problems. So you have to work in an ego-less way. Egolessness, which, is the key to being authentic, is a battle” (The Green Room).

In spiritual circles ego is seen as an enemy and a synonym for “selfishness.”

Psychological drives operate on a feedback control system similar to a thermostat. When a need is satisfied, the drive is reduced. We relax. Eliminate a drive completely and a state of mental balance or psychological equilibrium is obtained

tragic humouros 2

When we’re calm and comfortable, that’s room temperature. When our emotional temperature changes, we feel tension and an instinctive response to potential conflict.

Some people perpetuate unpleasant states for purposes of enjoyment. They eat when not hungry, drink when not thirsty and enjoy death defying activities like skydiving and the thrill of almost dying (source).

Some people have a drive for lots of money, power, fame or whatever. Such people will experience an unpleasant state of dissatisfaction when they realize that externals don’t matter.

hungry-ghost-gaki-zoshi-arthistory

This is hungry ghost territory. This is, as Gabor Maté, M.D., said, “where we seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment. The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances, objects or pursuits we hope will soothe it are not what we really need. We don’t know what we need, and so long as we stay in the hungry ghost mode, we’ll never know. We haunt our lives without being fully present” (Hungry Ghosts).

But, don’t worry. It’s normal.

As one seeks to survive in a culture of consumption and comparison in the midst of mass advertising, it’s only natural to want more than is possible. If you get hungry ghost-liketake a deep breath and ask yourself: “Do I have what I need?”

The psychiatrist Shoma Morita (1874-1938) proposed two other drives: a drive to live fully and a drive for comfort and security. Sometimes these drives are at odds.

drive

With eyes on a need yet achieved, there is anxiety and self-doubt. Such feelings cannot be avoided.  Emotions are messages.

Avoid or suppress feelings and you disrupt your ability to function. For example, if you are anxious in social situations, the inclination is to avoid them, but avoidance perpetuates a lack of confidence and the very anxiety one is trying to escape. Self-confidence comes with experience. Understand a feeling and take action if need be (source).

Some of us have drives that are difficult to satisfy. Sometimes a drive takes over and we are driven.

The question is: Where are we going?

charlie brown where are we going

Many humans—many, many humans probably (in fact)—experience a constant dissatisfaction with life. Their minds have made a judgment: Life is not the way it should be.

But why?

It could be that we experience dissatisfaction with life “as it is” because in comparison to life imagined, the life we live falls short of expectations. We try to make life match our ideal by noticing what’s wrong and making changes, but when we achieve what we want, we imagine how life could be even better. We think that once we fix what’s wrong, we’ll be satisfied, but when the “future” arrives, it’s just another dissatisfying moment.

al franken just remember you are good enough

It’s rare for people to feel a deep satisfaction with the way things are. We live as if the present moment is a barrier to the life we’d rather be living. The future we dream of never arrives and herein is the human conundrum.

Most of us live in a world of make-believe—even though we know life isn’t a fairy story. Most of us live a mundane existence in stark contrast to our make-believe world, but take heed: Reality does exist and it’s better than make-believe.

Reality is a world of opportunity, happiness and peace of mind. You might be content within a comfort zone of normal life—happy to take out the garbage, do laundry or whatever (all good stuff)—but there are degrees of happiness.

You could be only scratching the surface. Pay attention to what it feels like or sounds like to be here and now. Do this and you are taken from make-believe to a direct experience of reality. You start seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling and tasting the present in a way that you haven’t done since you were a kid.

Like Boston (the band, not the city) said, “People livin’ in competition. All I want is to have my peace of mind, yeah, whoa” (“Peace of Mind“).

Yeah. Whoa. That’s it precisely.

The Essence of This

the_essence_of_life_by_christopherpollari-d4xh15w
“The Essence Of Life” by Christopher Pollari

There’s a phrase found on knickknacks in gift shops that goes, “I’m a human being, not a human doing.” The implication being, that a “human doing,” is not what you want to be.

Better to be than to doso the song goes. Human doings identify with action but doers (those who do) get so caught up in doing they don’t see the beauty in just being a being being (see also: “Moonshadow”).

Then again, devaluing doing could be a sweet rationalization for inactivity.

funny-lazy-quote-men-s-t-shirt

“I’m a human being, not a human doing,” is attributed to at least two writers: Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1922-2007), “So it goes,” and Wayne W. Dyer (1940-2015), “Our intention creates reality.”

kurtvonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut in his natural habitat. “Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why” (Slaughterhouse Five, pp. 76-77).

“To be is to do – Socrates.
To do is to be – Sartre.
Do Be Do Be Do – Sinatra.” (Vonnegut).

As Dyer said, “Don’t equate your self-worth with how well you do things in life. You aren’t what you do. If you are what you do, then when you don’t… you aren’t.” Or said the other way around, “If you do what you are, then when you aren’t….you don’t.”

Funny.

To simply enjoy being relates to a line in Slaughterhouse Five (the book, not location): “How nice—to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive” (p. 105), or, better yet, “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt” (p. 122).

slaughterhouse-five-quotes-kurt-vonnegut-quotes

In Your Erroneous Zones (the book, not location) Dyer explains how negative thinking leads to negative emotions (e.g. worry, guilt, anger) which leads to painful consequences via erroneous (read: wrong) actions (see also: “Where do the children play?”).

dyer wishers fulfilled
“Remember those three magic words: You are God.” (Dyer).

Dyer’s path to happiness is based on commitment to oneself. He thought that humans have the potential to live happily, but not everyone does because external influences form erroneous (wrong) zones in your personality that block personal fulfillment.

The idea of individuality is discussed in the movie Harold and Maude (1971).

The question is, “What flower would you like to be?”

Dyer moved from behaviorist psychology—Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy—to a philosophy where positive thinking cures disease, solves problems, and manifests goodness by aligning thoughts with divine intention to create miracles (Psychology Today).

So it goes.

wishfulthinking2

The crux of the matter is this: Let’s say you’re trying to do something on a computer, but no matter how determined you are or how much you want a result to happen, no matter how frustrated and emotional you get, the computer will only respond to your actions. Only when you do what needs to be done, will results be satisfactory.

The same holds true for life.

Water-Droplet

The world is like a computer that responds to your behaviour. The world doesn’t feel your feelings. Feelings come and go as they will.

As David K. Reynolds put it in Playing Ball On Running Water (1996), Reality doesn’t respond to my will or my wishes or emotions. To believe that positive thinking changes the world directly is childlike naiveté. To be sure, my thoughts and feelings may influence what I do (my behavior), and that action, in turn, may influence reality. But it is what I do that affects my world. And it is the same for you” (p. 16). 

shoma morita
“Life flows from being natural” (A River to Live By, pg 39).

Insight isn’t enough. You need to do, so as to be.

As the Japanese psychiatrist Shoma Morita (1874-1938) put it, “Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator, or unhealthy, or lazy, or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.”

Morita taught that energy comes from everywhere—things, people, words, feelings, nature, places—and as individuals we have the choice to live in positive or negative energy (source).

The question is: positive or negative?

What is your essence?

essence of human nature

By knowing your essence, you know who you are, what to do, and how to do it. But essences are tricky. They’re abstract. They exist in thought and not as physical things.

Your essence is your “intrinsic nature” (as in, essential). It is your “indispensable quality” (as in, “absolutely necessary”). Your essence belongs naturally to you. It is essential but what is it? Is it self-awareness?

antennaeExistentialists assert that a human being is “thrown into” a universe that cannot be “thought away.” This means that being in the world comes before consciousness and that being in the world is the ultimate reality.

The essence of you is the meaning you ascribe to yourself or, as Sartre put it, “At first [Man] is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.”

thought and emotion

And so you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, “How did I get here?”

You win a lottery! Bam! you’re happy! A loved one dies, Slam! you’re sad. Emotions are natural reactions. It’s natural to feel highs and lows and stress. That’s the ride. Stress motivates. Emotions are your natural response to a given circumstance.

You can’t help yourself from hating people sometimes, but you can stop yourself from killing them. Truth is built upon life experience. Your self is a flow of attention. The real trick is to enjoy reality.

Go from there.

That’s the heart of it.

THIS IS HERE! (or are you disappearing?)

disappearingThis is about “How to disappear completely” (in a good way).

Some people get the wrong idea about “disappearing.” As Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) saw it, reducing self interest leads to the “calm and confident serenity afforded by the virtuous disposition and a good conscience…” (Nineteenth Century Philosophy, p. 120).

Moreover, says Schopenhauer, “The egoist feels himself surrounded by strange and hostile phenomena and all his hope rests on his own well-being…”

alone and afraid.gif

“The good person lives in a world of friendly phenomena… the knowledge that every living thing is just as much our own inner being-in-itself as is our own person, extends our interest to all that lives; and in this way the heart is enlarged” (p. 120).

enlarged heart

“Therefore, although the knowledge of the lot of man generally does not make his disposition a cheerful one,” writes Schopenhauer, “the permanent knowledge of his own inner nature in everything that lives nevertheless gives him a certain uniformity and even serenity of disposition” (p. 120).

And, as we all know, serenity is so enjoyable.

virtuous life
See the Virtuous life of Nick Otterman.

Serenity is freedom and tranquillity is lovely. It is time once again for all good philosophers to enjoy the lighter side of being.

schopenhauerMom1
Existential Comics “Schopenhauer’s Mom”.

According to science, perceptions of time and motion depend upon the observer’s position. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics, chaos theory and complexity theory all point to things being relative.

relative_failure_080514_1704If you’re a relativist, it’s not that things aren’t true one way over another, it’s just that, what’s true for you might depend upon context, laws of physics and your personal and cultural beliefs.

But for now, for the sake of something profundus—that’s Latin for “deep, boundless, and not bounded”—we set relativism and all other isms aside.

Imagine you are a marble trapped inside a three-dimensional box. 

You hover around inside this box. You see six walls and eight corners. If you move in any of the familiar dimensionsup/down, left/right and front/backyou hit a wall.

There is no escape.

marble in a cube

Now imagine your marble body “lifting” into the fourth dimension of time (as shown in ghostly red in the illustration). In this “lifting” your position remains unchanged. You don’t come near the walls. You simply elevate to a new three dimensional layer of the four dimensional space.

As you “lift” into the fourth dimension, you see your storied existence as if from a distance. You see the universe interconnecting.

This isn’t a shift to selflessnessthat is to say, you give of yourself and still see separation. This is the freedom to rest your face completely (even if it makes you look angry).

resting faceThis is a shift from first personI am living my life! We do things our way”and second personYou wait here”—to third personhe, she, it, they—with one’s self observed and observing.

From this perspective, everything is you. A child kills herselfthat’s you. Ducks in the parkthat’s you.

Begin perspective shift and self expansion (and we don’t mean a pig-out on Cheesies).

You are like a disembodied narrator describing. You can’t see through a character’s eyes, but you can imagine.

This awareness of your self as subjective and objective interconnected, pops the bubble of how you see the world.

first-second-third-person-grammar-

This is the realization that other people are as water-balloons floating in water. “I am who I am,” as someone once said. It’s a sentiment we have when we look in a mirror and think of Popeye.

This is the freedom to be what you are and will be.

Read the following instructions and then do them:

  1. Look around.
  2. Go for a walk without swinging your arms.
  3. Look at everything from the side of your eyes.
  4. Listen as if you hear something.
  5. Walk and look at the ground as if you’re 30,000 feet up above in an air-plane.
  6. Think to yourself, “This is me. This is me seeing. I see this. This, is what I see. I can see myself seeing.”

Shazam.

You shift from outside world and inside self separated to a world of here and now as perceived by the one perceiving. It is all of a thing. From a third person self-included perspective, you shift to a decentralized position. You see yourself and others as funny (in a nice way). What you see is seen and seeing

walkingincircles2.jpg

Just as Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) shifted from Earth as centre to sun followed by NASA shifting from sun as centre to a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A-star! so too can you shift from yourself as centre in space and time to a decentralized position in an imagined fourth dimension. This shift is revolutionary and quite possibly could save the world (and probably will).

Like Mike Milligan said (Mike Milligan is a character in season 2 of Fargo), “Now, ironically, in astronomy, the word “revolution” means “a celestial object coming full circle. Did you know that? Which, if you think about it, is pretty funny, considering here on earth it means “change.”

This shift is an epiphany. From a first person perspective your life began and will end. All you really know is, “I am here,” but there are two ways to look at “I am here.”

The first way is to say that an individual person is located in a place called “here.” In this, you, as a self, experience the world as separate from your body.

The second way to look at it goes in the opposite direction. The statement, “I am here,” is a statement of fact. It means what it says. It means that “I am here,” Literally. It is to see yourself in what you’re seeing. “Here” is not just a location, but everything and you’re in and of it.

I am here,” is like saying, “I am Jimmy,” or “I am bored.”… I am here.

vase face

This is the third person perspective. You switch from a world of “things” ‘out there’—positive shapes against a negative background from a single vantage point, that being, your body—to seeing the space between not as empty but as connecting. With this shift in awareness, you see yourself as the place you are seen in.

To loosen a knot one must trace a string’s path and slowly loosen things up. To loosen the knots of a befuddlement one must first be self-aware. Self-ignorance is a leading cause of unhappiness, insecurity and self-injury. (But no more.)

Today, with the resting-face of true freedom, we accept our lot in this life with humour and love for this story that we tell and are told has an ending.

References:

Nineteenth Century Philosophy