Self-awareness and Subtle Enjoyment


If you look up the word “subtle” in the dictionary, you will find a word that’s ill-defined, indistinct, faint and mysterious. That’s what it is. It’s something elusive. It’s not obvious. Subtle insights penetrate depths of being.

If something is hard to understand, it’s probably subtle. Feeling self-aware is subtle. Feeling spiritual is subtle. Such things are subtle because no one is quite sure how to explain them.

clap.gifFeeling self-aware of subtle things in your surroundings with your senses can blow your mind (in a good way)!

When you’re self-aware, you’re never bored. You’re conscious of your feelings and desires but you’re not manipulated by them. You can see where your thoughts and emotions are trying to take you but you’re not taken.

gardeningYou’re free to cultivate peace of mind like a philosopher gardener discarding negative emotions like weeds and watering positive emotions like flowers. You’re free to listen to “A Whiter Shade of Pale” repeatedly without need to analyze or dissect.

Feeling love is enough. The subtle enjoyment of yourself as you: living, breathing, thinking, feeling, loving and attending to this miraculous world with your senses is enough.

And so we begin. Cue music: “Flying.”

Like flightless birds (possibly peacocks or more probably, turkeys) we fly on the ground self-aware of surroundings.


The Cambridge dictionary defines subtle as: “not loud, bright, noticeable or obvious.” When you achieve something in a quiet way without attracting attention, you are subtle. Something subtle is “small but important” (like you and your enjoyment).

Spot the ptarmigan. It’s “white in front of you” (source).

Something subtle is “delicate in meaning or intent” and “difficult to analyze or describe.”

Subtle goes with words like “nebulous” which means muddled and ambiguous, “complex,” which is something with many interconnected parts and “rarefied,” which is something high, lofty and exalted (source). 

How do you describe a spiritual experience that you have standing in stillness with a ptarmigan? It’s subtle. Suddenly you’re aware of a world that wasn’t there before.

Perceiving something subtle takes sensitivity and a penetrating intellect. Subtle things are like the silent ‘b’ in the word “sub” which is hidden in the word subtle and also hides beneath surfaces.

A subtle liar is cunning. He’ll advertise big enjoyment then let you down when expectations aren’t met (they never are). People fall for it because they picture the ultimate enjoyment as being rich like a shark or dragon billionaire on TV but it’s a subtle trick (called envy).

By Robert Crumb.

We might not like feeling envious, afraid, irritated, angry, sad, frustrated, impatient etc., but “What are you gonna do?

There’s nothing you can do except maybe become self-aware. But how do you do that?

Think catch and release fishing.

You cast your line and wait. When you catch a fish, you look at it, then let it go. So too with an emotion or thought. You catch one, look at it, then let it go (or act on it – if it means surviving).

“A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.” – W.C. Fields

People love to imagine winning the lottery. They equate happiness with Las Vegas decadence, which is fine, if you want your enjoyment shallow. If you’d like something deeper, something profound, like a personal “Revolution” for a rock and roll philosopher, well then: go subtle.

Subtle enjoyment will give you chills (in a good way)!

lemon-treeImagine hearing the song “Lemon Tree” in a store. It makes you think of your underwear which has a lemon pattern. Your eyes fall on a picture of a lemonade stand and you smell lemon-fresh Lysol in the air.

Just as you’re thinking, “That’s funny,” someone walks up to you and offers a cookie sample. What kind? Lemon (of course).

What are the chances? It’s like the world is trying to tell you something (about lemons?). It’s subtle. And you smile. You enjoy a thrill and you wonder, “Is it me?” (for more on this phenomenon see: And then…).

As journalist Brian Bethune observed, “Humans have an innate tendency to ascribe random and natural events to conscious agents and a hunger to belong to something larger than ourselves – both militant atheists and fervent believers can agree on this” (Maclean’s, Ap. 2015, p. 41).


If you want to experience subtle enjoyment, look at the world with soft eyes.

more-spiritually-enlightened-or-less-spiritually-enlightenedLisa Miller, clinical psychologist at Columbia University Teachers College, says that a strong self-concept, religiosity, spiritual connection and, “An intensely felt, transcendental sense of a relationship with God, the universe, nature or whatever you identify with as a higher power” actually “confers a protective effect in all kinds of disorders” (Maclean’s, Ap. 2015, p. 41-42).

The trouble with self-aware subtle (spiritual) enjoyment is that it disappears in noise, aggression, decadence, bright lights and vacuous parties and these are the things people are attracted to.

Subtle enjoyment goes unnoticed because people don’t see it. They think it’s boring because they don’t know it.

keep-it-simpleTo breathe, to watch the sky, to eat a lemon, to watch birds fly, such things are boring to people acclimatized to constant mental stimulation without downtime but that constant stimulation makes everything seem boring. Attention spans are waning! Bored people get depressed.

Bored people get addicted to sex, drugs and alcohol. Bored people don’t enjoy work or school very well.

“Go ask Alice, when she’s feeling ten feet tall,” (hear: “White Rabbit“)

Quiet activities and stillness in nature might strike a lot of people as boring, but the most profound moments of pure transcendent enjoyment can only happen when your mind is quiet and the world inside you is not quite boisterous.

When a profound feeling of subtle enjoyment hits you, you know you should be bored, but you’re not. A subtle feeling  of peace and calm can hit anywhere, anytime.

So, be

Something subtle is hard to see. It’s something discreet and low-key. Enjoyment is like that. It doesn’t have to be in your face. It can be subtle. Sometimes all it takes is a little Boogie-woogie.

Go! Be subtle. And then, enjoy it.


Imagination and Enjoyment

English_SheepproustMarcel Proust (1871-1922), French novelist and bed writer, came from a wealthy family. He had the Leisure of a W.H. Davies poem and enjoyed pondering ponderings, galleries, fine dining, observing and writing without brevity.

In Remembrance of Things Past (1923), people say he wrote about having new eyes (as in a metaphorical ocular transplant), but that’s not quite what he meant.

eye2His wordiness is construed as follows: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

It’s become a slogan slathered on pillows and bric-à-brac for those who enjoy pithy inspirations.

music2In a salon long ago, Proust enjoyed a musical performance that transported him to a wonderful “strange land” in his mind (see: What Proust Really Said… and a reenactment).

He was writing about beholding with the eyes of another person so as to appreciate the universe from that person’s perspective – especially the perspective of a painter or composer who help us to fly with them from star to star.

The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star” (Proust, “The Captive“).

Joyce Hesselberth: Developing Empathy

Imagine yourself as another person. Feel what he or she feels. It’s an enjoyable projection. To drink of the fountain of youth is to behold with the eyes of a child.

Neuroscience describes this as the act of mirror neurons: “a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action (The Mind’s Mirror).

This is to see a man drink and say, “This is better than good,” and taste it yourself. It is to see a person’s foot do something and neurons connected to our own foot fire. It’s like that Joe South song, Walk a Mile in My Shoes, that Elvis sang.

shoesThe relation between yourself and the world is like a pair of shoes. You have a left shoe (that’s you) and a right shoe (everybody else). You take care of both out of self-interest. You imagine the best life possible by maximizing choices to get what you want.

george ainslie
George Ainslie (not Larry David)

George Ainslie, psychiatrist and economist, is quoted in Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience (Hall, 2010) as saying, “Self-control is the art of making the future bigger” (p. 173). You imagine a future you’ll enjoy over an immediate gratification you’ll regret.

You construct, as Ainslie says, “your idea of your character, your idea of heaven, your idea of simply the moral life, the kind of person you insist on being in the long run… (it) is a budgetary skill” (p. 173).

There are two aspects to enjoyment: one is to have awareness of reality (beyond the way it appears and the way you want it to be) and the other is to use this awareness of reality to take action to increase happiness and decrease suffering.

golden ruleA rampantly selfish campaign is like focusing only on the left shoe (your self). To do that is to hop on one foot. It’s tiring and leads to tumbles.

Not enjoyable.

Every creature wants to avoid suffering and be happy, but happiness and suffering are interconnected. We know this. The other guy is like you.

boomerangWith imagination (and those mirror neurons), we see from another person’s mind and make choices knowing that another’s well-being is as our own. Kindness towards another is advanced self-interest.
california-starsTrain yourself to enjoy like it’s an Olympic event and you’re an enjoyment athlete. Even when you lose, you lose well. Enjoyment hangs like grapes picked like California Stars.

See humour in oddities, as from above. Will enjoyment and let it roll. Just imagine. Practice emotional self-control and let go. Notice surroundings and contemplate. Contrary to what you may have been told, you’re not special and those who think they are: probably aren’t. Humility is a key to enjoy ability.

The trick is to enjoy the expanse, float and feel at home in yourself.

Horizons, Games, Connections and Enjoyment

horizonPeople enjoy games. They say that “life is a game.” Who they are isn’t clear, but you know: “They say a lot of things.”

On the Internet Einstein is quoted as saying, “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” When he said this isn’t clear. It doesn’t sound like him.

the_problem_with_quotes_found_on_the_internet_saA web site with the tagline, “the best answer to any question,” said: “He (Einstein) wasn’t really big on advertising how he was better than other people,” (see:

The analogy of life as a game, isn’t a stretch. Life has rules (physical and man-made), winners and losers (depending on who you ask) and, like all games, life appears to end.

CheckeredGameofLifeMilton Bradley used to sell a portrait of Abraham Lincoln without a beard. When Lincoln grew a beard, sales dried up.

Such is life.

In 1860 Bradley came up with the first popular board game called the Checkered Game of Life. It had a moral message. According to Wikipedia, the object of the game was to land on “good” spaces, collect points, and reach “Happy Old Age” in the upper corner, opposite “Infancy” where you start.

The game evolved into a track now called The Game of Life. It simulates a person’s travels from school to jobs, to marriage and children. The purpose of the game is to enjoy it.

Such is life.

Joe South (1940-2012) as he looked in 1970.

In 1969, Joe South observed: “Oh the games people play now. Every night and every day now. Never meaning what they say now. Never saying what they mean. And they wile away the hours, in their ivory towers, till they’re covered up with flowers, in the back of a black limousine.”

The song came from a 1964 book about the “games” human beings play in interacting with one another.

Grantland Rice on the links in 1921.

In 1908 Grantland Rice, a Southern sport journalist, wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes; To mark against your name; He writes – not that you won or lost – But how you played the Game” (Alumnus Football). From this we get the saying it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

In the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Gartland Rice was played by Lane Smith (a Southerner).

bagger vance
Click image to see film clip of golf in the field.

The legend is based on the Bhagavad Gita which is about a warrior hero named Arjuna (Junah=Matt Damon) who refuses to fight (or play) until the god Bhagavan (Bagger Vance=Will Smith) helps him find his way through awareness of the field.

Bagger says, “You got to look with soft eyesSee the place where the tides and the seasons and the turnin’ of the Earth, all come togetherwhere everything that is becomes oneYou got to seek that place with your soul Junuh… Seek it with your hands. Don’t think about it… Feel it… Your hands is wiser than your head ever gonna be…”

In the story Junah (Matt Damon) failed when he concentrated on himself and worried about failure. He succeeded when he played to enjoy – with awareness from his senses. He succeeded when he forgot about himself and concentrated on doing the work as well as he could and identifying himself with the field. That is when he entered an infinite game. That is simple enjoyment.

Retired professor, James P. Carse, said in Finite and Infinite Games (1986) that there are two kinds of games: 1) a finite game – played for the purpose of winning; and, 2) an infinite game – played for the purpose of continuing to play (p. 3)

In a finite game there is an ending. There are boundaries. Opponents are known by their differences. Winning or losing is thought of in terms of one to the other and it’s imagined in terms of life or death. To play is a choice of spontaneous desire (Carse, SALT talk, 2005).

landscape2In an infinite game the rules or boundaries are like a horizon. It moves. Where it is depends on where you are. It’s ill-defined. Nature on this planet is our best example of an infinite game. It plays to continue to play. It plays to keep players in the game.

The rules in an infinite game allow players to continue without a limitation – not even death. It is infinite because limits are taken into play. “Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries” (p. 10, Finite and Infinite Games).

Go into the field. Enjoy the game. As the song says, “It’s all inside you.”