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?”).

colour-room-mood
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.

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A Way of Seeing (Part 2)

truth2

Must we discuss heavy topics such as truth, reality and the best way to live? Isn’t it enough to spend time doing interesting and pleasant things? Shouldn’t we be like young children, free of heavy thoughts and therefore lighthearted?

Isn’t it better to not know certain things? Like, isn’t it better to not know the feeling of cancer?

When we’re young,  death is something that happens to others—the old and infirm and/or unlucky—but then, one day (if it hasn’t happened already), a simple truth suddenly hits: Death happens to everyone—including you.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

cheat deathAs hard as it is to imagine, one day, there won’t be another. One day, nothing will happen and you won’t know what happened. You will be gone like those who have gone before you.

wakeupandsmellcoffee

You will join the non-existent and leave only remains but this reality need not cause anguish. There’s nothing you can do. Fuhgeddaboudit. Some people see death as an opportunity to “live every moment.” To them we say, “What! Are you crazy!”

“Just look!
Even the blossoms that are destined to fall tomorrow
Are blooming now in their life’s glory.” ~Takeko Kujo

bloomingtrees
“Where does your face go after death? I do not know. Only the peach blossoms blow in the spring wind, This year just as last” ~ an  āgama sutra.

Maybe when you die it will be like before your parents were born. Maybe there’s a trick to this death truth.

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The difference between reality and truth is: “Reality has been existent ever since the beginning of the universe. On the other hand truth is something that you have proved ” (source). Reality is multidimensional. Things appear as they do to you based upon from ‘where’ you are looking. 

The “world” is a felt experience but like Wittgenstein said, “The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man” (Tractatus Logico-philosophicus).

In answer to “What is the meaning of life?” Eckhart von Hochheim—aka Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)— said, “Whoever were to ask life for a thousand years: ‘Why do you live?’—if life could answer, it would say nothing but: ‘I live in order that I live’” (source).

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Caspar David Friedrich, Moonrise Over the Sea, 1822.

People have versions of reality that conceal certain aspects but to make the world a better place, it takes acceptance of all of reality and not just the bits we accept.

How a person responds to ethical principles determines that person’s character. For billions of people life means surviving. Life means eating, sleeping and eventually dying.

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The problem seems to be one of money: how to get, spend and save. It’s economics—oil prices, real estate, stocks, debt, GDP, jobs etc.. The purpose of life for billions of people is to get money.

materialism cartoon

Then again, some people don’t care too much for money.

Some people see being creative as their life purpose but regardless of what you think your purpose is (if you have one), you probably don’t mind feeling happy.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in A Man Without a Country, “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”
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Positive psychologists Seligman and Royzman (2003) identified three types of theories of happiness: Hedonism, Desire, Objective List and Authentic Happiness. Which theory you subscribe to (knowingly or not) has implications for how you live your life.

hedonism
Hedonism theory mantra: “Go for it! What the hell!”

Hedonism theory is about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. It’s a popular theory. It’s all the rage. Seligman and Royzman (2003) object to it however. They say it can’t handle someone like philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who lived in misery but died saying, “Tell them it was wonderful!” (source).

Desire theory counters Hedonism by saying that it isn’t about pleasure: it’s about the fulfilment of desire that makes us happy. But again Seligman and Royzman object, saying, if one’s desire is to collect dolls, no matter how satisfying it is to have a big little doll collection, it doesn’t add up to a happy life.

johnnydeppscollection
Desire theory mantra: “I want that!” Image: Celebrity collections.

Countering Hedonism and Desire theories is the Objective List theory. It focuses on “happiness outside of feeling and onto a list of “truly valuable” things in the real world” such as career, relationships, service to community etc., but again Seligman and Royzman object, saying, a happy life must take feelings and desires into account.

objective list
Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit’s “Objective List” Lecture

Seligman and Royzman point to Authentic Happiness theory saying, “there are three distinct kinds of happiness: the Pleasant Life (pleasures), the Good Life (engagement), and the Meaningful Life”  (Authentic Happiness). It’s positive psychology. It’s all the rage. But even if Authentic Happiness covers all bases theoretically, there’s a more deeply rooted problem.

Cross section of soil showing a tree with its roots.

Any quest for happiness through positive psychology is one-sided and self-centred. It’s essentially an unrewarding vision of a full human life because it’s still about another “me” feeling better.

Cue music: Primal Scream “Loaded”.

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Sorry! And the Nature of Suffering,” Existential Comics.

Look at a candle burning. It gives light and heat as long as it burns wax. It lives on wax. It dies as wax wanes. Humans are like candles. We are chemicals. We die as our time wanes and each generation carries our species one step further in time.

how a person is like a candle
A person is like a candle.

sunflowerEach moment must pass away for us to live another. Death is a continuous process.

Living things die as they live but we prefer not to notice.

We’d rather not focus on those who die before us but on the days and nights left to us (see: The Light of Enjoyment and/or Death Clock). But then, maybe being greedy for the pleasure of living isn’t good either.

In Human Minds Margaret Donaldson writes of a man who could put one hundred rattlesnakes into a bag in twenty-eight seconds. The act illustrates something fundamental about humans: We form unique purposes that we pursue with tenacity. If strong feelings are attached, we’ll even die or kill or perhaps maim in pursuit of our purpose.

We share with other animals certain urges—hunger, sexual desire and musicality—but as Margaret Donaldson writes in Human Minds, “it is characteristic of us that we are capable of transcending these urges, though not easily” (p. 8).

calvinandhobbesonselfindulgence

When something that was interesting suddenly isn’t, people get bored. People get angry and argue with others and themselves. The trouble with arguments of self-wanting is that, not only are they self-centred, they’re self-sustaining.

Donaldson says that coming up with a purpose for our lives is easy “because we have brains that are good at thinking of possible future states,” (p. 9) but it is in self-focused single-mindedness that we’re apt to misinterpret reality.

fatalflaw

We feel satisfied when we dispel an illusion but if the illusion serves a purpose, we don’t  want it dispelled. Consider the world of Walter White in the TV show Breaking Bad.

walterwhitesaymyname.gifAt the prospect of death Walter corrupts his morals for money. He thinks ‘ends justify means,’ and finds himself enjoying money and power. Money and power become his purpose.

He becomes poster child for materialism and ego. The Double Whammo. “Say my name.”

Materialism is either a preoccupation with the material world—as opposed to intellectual and/or spiritual—or it’s the theory that everything in the universe is matter. We’re surrounded by matter so it seems only natural that we should be distracted from spiritual and/or intellectual pursuits, but what if problems are caused by materialism and/or ego?

What then?

 

Enjoy An Interlude

moonocean

Which of the following statements are true or false?

#1: Life itself is pleasurable. 

#2: Life is pleasurable like a Pérez Prado mambo

#3: Life is pleasurable in a pretty English cottage. mill-cottages-19.jpg

#4: Life is pleasurable in Syrian rubble. syria-crisis_boy-in-ruins-rubble_1600x500If you answered true to all of the statements, you are probably an irritant to people who find life pleasurable only on condition. To think life itself is pleasurable runs countrary to industrial desires for comfort and convenience (see also: Polarities… and Wisdom).

If you answered false to any statement, it’s probably hard to imagine finding life pleasurable in deplorable conditions.

amas-2015-jennifer-lopez-performance1Surely suffering psychologically in a Syrian city scarred by destruction and murder is not as pleasurable as having Jennifer Lopez sit on your shoulder?

And what about the guy who loves bananas but is denied? For such a one, a banana would be a pleasure beyond measure! Maybe pleasure isn’t in satisfaction but denial? Today we think about thinking and enter a no-thinking-thinking zone.

We drop in to see what condition your condition is in and in a moment of silence or as trippy water music plays, we ponder the mind where all psychological suffering begins (and ends).

whats-on-your-mind
When you open your eyes, what do you see? A world opening in seeing.

But does knowing the cause of psychological suffering stop suffering? A drug addict knows the cause of his suffering but knowing doesn’t stop him. We know we make a mess, but knowing doesn’t stop us. Knowing isn’t helping! Selfing isn’t helping! Maybe a no self would be better?

We don’t need self-reflection but self-expansion.

hiding-in-plain-sightA  truth can hide  in plain sight when you are preoccupied. Reality is obscured by how you see the world. Freedom comes when you can see your self selfthinking.

By singing “I’ve Got To Be Me” (a bill of goods to impress dames) we create a Sid Vicious circle and think our way into a “me” way of thinking where trouble begins.

falstaff
“…jovial… without anything envious, malicious, mischievous, or despicable… yields that peculiar delight… in Falstaff’s company” (source).

It isn’t about “me” or “we” thinking. It’s all just thinking.

Break free of me-thinking and sing “I want to break free!” by Queen.

In taking time to not do anything but relax and think about thinking you break free of trying to be because you already are.

Everything is a giant puzzle held together by nothing, but don’t take it serious.

Enjoy eating bananas when you can and when you can’t, c’est la vie.

Here we come to a truth, but as the mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) said, “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth we shall never know it” (Thoughts).

Relativists argue, “all points of view are equally valid” (source), but is something true because it pleases you like a Rick Nelson chorus, “But it’s all right now. I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself” (“Garden Party”)?

garden-party

If you are blind and someone says, “The sky is blue,” unless you know blue, you won’t know if it’s true. If someone says, “The answer is 42!” (see: answer to life, universe and everything), how do you know?

The crux of the matter is that truth cannot be conveyed to another. In the TV show Boardwalk Empire Arnold Rothstein repeated something Blaise Pascal said, “All of man’s troubles come from his inability to sit in a quiet room by himself.” In an interval without a goal, we sit quiet and let troubles go by not hanging on.

drugs

There are labels we ascribe to ourselves that become self-fulfilling. When you look at the world from within a bag of skin, whether you think the world is good, bad or indifferent depends on your way of thinking. It’s more than about having a positive attitude or being self-reflective. It’s about letting go of ego and seeing Reality.

not-a-good-signThe world you see has a thin film of personality covering it. You imagine who you are through flashbacks, inspirations and self-talk (see: Levels of Enjoyment). Self-talk comes as a voice. In comics it’s a cloud of words. On TV it’s voice-over narration like when Pete did it in The Family Guy or as portrayed in Fight Club except with swearing.

We narrate ourselves into being and the life we are leading but in so doing we don’t see reality.

When the words in your head vanish and the cartoon cloud goes empty, where do you go? Without self-talk are you animal, vegetable, or spiritual?

rodin-thinker

As long as you think of ‘me and my thoughts’ and ‘me and outside world’ there will be conflict between with no peace of mind.

We think of thoughts as train cars connected on a track puff-puffing somewhere saying, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can” which is fine for getting to a destination but not so for enjoying.

i-think-i-canIf you want to slip out of “I-think-I-can” thinking and enjoy peace of mind, shift your centre outward like Copernicus and pick up good vibrations.

copernicus
“Those things which I am saying now may be obscure, yet they will be made clearer” Nic Copernicus.

People thought the Sun went around the Earth (a 2012 study found one in four Americans still do), until Copernicus went far out and saw the big picture.

In noticing how things are connected by nothing, in calmly breathing and heart beating, in stilling circular thinking – not doing, sitting quiet, walking across a parking lot, on a beach, up a tree, on a bus, in a store, eating a banana on the floor… in not-doing you are an integrated personality no longer conscious of having a personality! In being ordinary in reality there is tranquility.

Between thought and not trying (on occasion), a profound realization and peaceful sensation beyond explanation spontaneously arrives in body and mind like snow gently falling and all you do is enjoy enjoying.

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Reality And The Zone of Enjoyment

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When it’s springtime in the  graveyard, the crocuses are in bloom (set to the tune of “When it’s springtime in the Rockies“)

Sometimes, reality isn’t so great. It isn’t everything. We want more. The world is a mess and getting messier still. Go to a zoo. You’ll see. Is it any wonder people seek escapes?

Reality is not, as they say, “a day at the beach.” Unless it is, and you do spend a day at the beach in which case the beach is probably polluted or littered with irritated egomaniacs getting sand in everything.

he loved the beach

As Tony Soprano would say, “Reality? Fuhgeddaboudit!” But Tony didn’t know about the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and his forty principle doctrines. Then again, even if a fictionalized TV gangster like Tony did read Epicurus, he wouldn’t get it. He’s too busy being Tony. Tony follows a script (like a lot of people).

forgetaboutit
“You know my feelings: Every day is a gift. It’s just, does it have to be a pair of socks?”

Reality is as we think it to be and people resist what they most need. We can read something smart, say, “Good one!” then go and do what we know shouldn’t be done.

To get what Epicurus said, go into a garden (real or imagined). Listen to the music of sound and look around like a child would.

An-Old-Fashioned-GardenTake a deep breath and sit calm and content without concern for those who would do you harm.

What most people don’t know – as they go around in a daze behind their wind-shield eyes – is that with a slight shift in attention, reality changes from the way we think it to be.

david puddy
Puddy staring on a plane scene.

In not doing we see what’s there. We hear what’s heard. We enjoy without expectation or defense mechanism like David Puddy in Seinfeld

Puddy is content to stare at the back of a seat. Such not-doing drives busy people crazy, but in not-doing anything you can enter a dimension of boredom beyond comprehension where everything is as it could be.

Revolver movie
“The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would look” Julius Caesar, 75 BC.

Mental chatter is like a shadow that is, as Alexander sang of it in Truth (2011), “And everyday it’s trying to trick me into doing battle.” But the shadow battle is over when the ego con is revealed.

We go naturally good like the guy in the elevator scene in the movie Revolver (2005) who realizes that his fear is the result of lies he’s been telling himself.

broiled face
“Well, here you are” (Shell Silverstein).

In a zone of enjoyment, you can present your face to the world and say, “This is my face.”

You can be in chaos, in the dreariest or most beautiful place and it won’t matter. You’re impervious. The world is the way it is because it couldn’t be any other way. If the world could be different, it would.

We all do the best we can. When the best we can isn’t good, it’s because we couldn’t do better. If we could, we would. Reality is revealed by what we do. Potential is only imagined. When someone does something stupid, selfish, cruel or rude, they did what they did because they thought they should.

rocket lady small
Hope rockets eternal.

Epicurus (341-270 BC) said, “It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honourably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honourably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honourably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life” (Principle Doctrines).

A PLEASANT LIFEIt’s like a three-legged stool: to live pleasantly – live honourably, wisely and justly; to live wisely – live honourably, pleasantly and justly.

As the world gets shaped in our image, we hardly notice its destruction. We have our hobbies, electronics, addictions and jobs. Some of us have self-control and those who don’t sometimes die a slow death clutching a sign in search of someone to help us from ourselves.

smile
A stoic who doesn’t know it.

Those who say, “What the hell!” can (figuratively speaking), release their egotistical beast to destroy its host (and anything else that’s vulnerable).

A person is the product of thought, heredity and capacity mixed with language and culture. (Love and spirit get lost when attention is on a bottom line.)

Language and culture gave us great things like law, science, ethics and philosophy, but language and culture can also make us victims. The key is in you as an individual.

infected
Culturally infected.

Novelist Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) said, “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity to take things for granted” (Brave New World).

He also wrote, “There are quiet places also in the mind’, he said meditatively. ‘But we build bandstands and factories on them. Deliberately — to put a stop to the quietness. …” (Antic Hay, 1923).

joshua tree desert
“Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still. For once on the face of the earth, let’s not speak in any language; let’s stop for one second, and not move our arms so much” (Keeping Quiet by Pablo Naruda)

A trick to profound enjoyment (and happiness) is to find quiet places in your mind. From there you can see and hear without taking things for granted. Because heaven is here.

And heaven is now.