The Essence of This

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“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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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Beautiful Enjoyable Virtue With More Cowbell

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Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a hell-fire preacher and philosopher. His book, The Nature of True Virtue (1765), is a hard book to read (without falling asleep), but what he said in his wordy way is that virtue, a.k.a. moral excellence, decency, and courage is a kind of sixth sense like Spider-Man’s spidey sense except instead of sensing imminent danger, one senses a beautiful feeling of virtue.

Virtue is “founded in sentiment and not in reason,” said Edwards meaning: virtue is a beautiful feeling. If you enjoy strolling a tree-lined path, you don’t need reason to explain beauty to you. You know its beautiful because you feel it! Virtue is like that. It’s something “immediately pleasant to the mind.”

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“…virtue most essentially consists in love…”  Jonathan Edwards

Edwards may have been indecisive about what to wear, “Should I wear the black jacket or the black jacket?” but when it came to virtue, he was never conflicted because virtue is not relative to culture. Virtue is universal. It may not come to everyone (even though it could), but with genuine concern for what is good, virtue has already come.

Edwards (a.k.a Mr. Bluesky) called true virtue the “benevolence of being” or “beauty of the heart.” The heart being symbolic home to emotions of love, affection, and courage and where people say they feel a heartwarming sensation (as opposed indigestion).

If you are touched by an insurance commercial and “believe in good,” that is true virtue. It isn’t beautiful like a flower, house or body. It isn’t a thing. Virtue is feeling beauty in good doings.

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Taking an opposite stance to “feelings, nothing more than feelings,” (not the Offspring version) is Ayn Rand (1905-1982). To her, reality is exclusively perceived by the physical senses and only REASON can take sensory data and arrive at objectively valid conclusions (source). Her philosophy, Objectivism, is based on reason, egoism, individualism and capitalism.

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“Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” Ayn Rand.

With Rand, prickly analytical type people are either critical (Was Ayn Rand Evil?) or evangelical (The Atlas Society).

Rand argued that morality is a code of values that guide the choices we make which determine the course of our lives (source), but we’ve been offered two false alternatives: be moral – sacrifice yourself to others, or be selfish – sacrifice others to yourself (source). Which did she choose?

Be selfish. 

Edwards probably wouldn’t buy Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness.” He believed in feeling beyond reasoning, but he did say that some virtue comes from self-love (even if it isn’t true virtue).

The Golden Rule for example (treat others as you wish to be treated) treats virtue as an exchange for mutual benefit (reciprocity), but when treated poorly, do people say, “That’s OK,” (true virtue) or do they say, “How dare you treat me this way?” and demand retribution?

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Cue music. Edwards said that “self-love” is to feel “one with one’s self” and true love (like parent for child), is to feel a union of the heart with others: a kind of enlargement of the mind, whereby it so extends itself as to take others into a man’s self.”

In eastern traditions, feeling separated from the earth and each other is a trick. Our brains put things into intellectual boxes that we label, but we are all a self and an other to each other and everything goes together: back with front, sound with hearing, inside with outside.

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Edwards probably believed in a higher self (good) and a lower self (bad), but in Zen there’s no such thing. There’s just you as far as the eye can see! Poetically speaking, “We’re rays of the same sun,” or as Oliver sang it in ’69, “Good Morning StarshineThe earth says hello. You twinkle above us. We twinkle below.

shadowAnd yet, feeling at one with everything sounds like a fantasy because it feels like there’s a self “in here” (with your name on it!) and a world “out there,” (that’s scary sometimes) but this is a trick we play on ourselves (source).

Reality is a feeling of colour, sound and sensation. We receive this as an entirety, but tell ourselves that some of it is “me” and some of it is “you.”

Pristine enjoyment is total acceptance: acceptance of yourself, of this universe as it is in this instant without any feeling of separation between self within (yes you!) and world without (look around!).

True virtue is to enjoy walking 500 miles in comfortable shoes like the Proclaimers claimed they’d do for no good reason but love.

Martial artist, Morihei (“abundant peace”) Ueshiba (1883-1969), said in The Art of Peace, “Foster peace in your own life then apply the Art to all that you encounter” (p. 13), but how do you do that?

Watching simulated horror in The Walking Dead show is popular, but in such places as ISIS territory, in flooding refugees, in crowded slums and extinction of species from inharmonious activity, a leaden-hearted brain-dead zombie apocalypse of a kind is happening now.

That a terrifying show about death feeding on life should provide advice about love and peace just goes to show, “You never know.”

In the non-horrible video below we meet Mr. Eastman who shows a man how to live a peaceful philosophy of nonresistance: redirect, evade, accept, care, protect, move forward and remember: All life is precious (and carry a big stick).

Enjoy living in the beauty of virtue. In the words of the band Blue Oyster Cult, “Don’t fear the reaper,” but if you do, amuse yourself with a little more cowbell!

And remember: Living in peace is better than resting!

Enjoyment And Enlightenment: Side By Side

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Lee Morse2In 1927 a small woman with a big heart named Lee Morse sang, “Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money. Maybe we’re ragged and funny, but we’ll travel along, singing a song – side by side…” It’s a song about enjoying good times and bad together but it could be about enjoyment and enlightenment. They go together.

One might even say they’re one and the same.

Kant 2In 1784 a small man with a big head named Immanuel Kant wrote “What Is Enlightenment?” In it he called people cowards. He said that except for a few men (and no women), most people are too lazy, immature and afraid to think for themselves. Kant believed that mature thought and reason is enlightenment.

He said, “Dare to know!” is the motto of enlightenment.

Spiritual types say otherwise. They say it’s not about thought. It’s about heart and love and letting go of what you think you know. A teacher in the Zen koan tradition, Joan Sutherland, said that enlightenment is “more true than our ordinary self-oriented ways of experiencing life… Enlightenment is our true nature and our home… it’s not about being a better self but about discovering our true self” (Lion’s Roar). But most people wouldn’t know their true self from a hole in the ground.

We can’t help it.

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Neuroscientist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz said, “The brain puts things into our consciousness, but it is the active mind that makes choices about whether to listen and how to listen.” He said that our brains trick us with deceptive brain messages that come to us as mental chatter.

Schwartz said, “Deceptive brain messages are any false or inaccurate thought or any unhelpful or distracting impulse, urge or desire that takes you away from your true goals and intentions: your true self” (“It’s not me. It’s my brain”…).

bootstrapsWhen we try to improve ourselves, we can’t seem to because the one that needs improvement is the one trying to improve! Spiritual entertainer Allan Watts said that it’s the equivalent of trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and it can’t be done.

Thinkers think enlightenment is thought, feelers feel enlightenment is felt and scientists say it’s a matter of re-programming. Enlightenment sounds hard if not impossible, but it isn’t! It’s like enjoyment. It’s easy. The word enlightenment has light in it. Lighten up!

It’s like that scene in the show Breaking Bad where a tough guy who broke the law and lost everything sits watching a river and waiting to die.

scene from breaking bad

Everything he tried to do was for naught. He’ll never see his beloved granddaughter again but just before dying, he finds peace. He simply enjoys watching the river and is enlightened (the Breaking Bad river scene).

herman hesseIt’s not just that the river is tranquil, soothing, and the best place to chill beer. Rivers are wellsprings of ancient wisdom (in a good way). In Siddhartha, Herman Hesse uses a river to represent existence and time. Through a river Siddhartha is enlightened: “You’ve heard it laugh,” he said. “But you haven’t heard everything. Let’s listen, you’ll hear more.” 

They listened. Softly sounded the river, singing in many voices. Siddhartha looked into the water, and images appeared to him in the moving water: his father appeared, lonely, mourning for his son; he himself appeared, lonely, he also being tied with the bondage of yearning to his distant son; his son appeared, lonely as well, the boy, greedily rushing along the burning course of his young wishes, each one heading for his goal, each one obsessed by the goal, each one suffering. The river sang with a voice of suffering, longingly it sang, longingly, it flowed towards its goal, lamentingly its voice sang. 

“Do you hear?” Vasudeva’s mute gaze asked.

Siddhartha nodded (chapter 11).

Rational thinking may be necessary for day-to-day responsibilities, but sometimes, in an odd moment of awareness, when you realize that doing something won’t help you and not doing something will also not help you (like the old man in the Breaking Bad scene), you are in the zone of enlightenment. You step out of “the quicksand of time” (Moody Blues). You watch. You listen.

squeegy enlightenmentWhen we listen to what others have to say about enlightenment, it’s like trying to see through a dirty window.

We get caught in the middle like that Stealers Wheel song that goes, “Trying to make some sense of it all. But I can see that it makes no sense at all… Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am. Stuck in the middle with you…” (Rafferty & Egan).

Who is the clown? Who is the joker? How do you know? You Kant. It’s all opinion. But when it comes to enjoyment and enlightenment it isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s direct experience. A feeling of peace and tranquility is not a matter of opinion. It is enjoyed. Like music.

In 1969 the Moody Blues sang “Watching and Waiting” with the words: “But don’t be alarmed by my fields and my forests / They’re here for only you to share / ‘Cause here there’s lots of room for doing / The things you’ve always been denied / So look and gather all you want to / There’s no one here to stop you trying.”

And there it is. No harm trying. Watch and wait. That’s all it takes. Enjoyment is enlightenment enjoying.

“It’s not me. It’s my brain.” Self-Help, Brain Training and the Art of Enjoyment

foggy forestSince Sammy Smiles (yes, his real name!) wrote the bestseller Self-Help in 1859, millions of books have been sold as self-help. In 2008 self-help brought in 12 billion dollars (The New Atlantis) and a recent search of “self-help” in Amazon revealed 436,600 titles.

It just goes to show: people want help.

selfhelpcartoon3In The Pros and Cons of Self-Help Ben Martin wrote, “Self-help books may in fact be helpful, but don’t expect them to work magic” and in The Science of Self-Help Algis Valiunus wrote, “The recidivism rate for self-help users is high.”

Apparently not all selves in the self-help game are helping. (Big surprise.) Maybe it’s a, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” kind of thing.

chickeneasySelf-help is defined as, “the use of one’s own efforts and resources to achieve things without relying on others” (Google).

Is a Philosophy of Enjoyment any different from other self-help stuff out there? No. Not really.

But it’s a bit like asking, “What’s the difference between you and Jimmy over there?” or “What’s the difference between Bieber and Beethoven?” 

bethoven and bieberIt’s obvious: Each is unique. You are you. Bieber is the Biebs and Beethoven only looks constipated.

frankensteins-monsterPeople have a mania for comparing and under or over rating each other. We’re opinion machines.

If the intent of self-help is to teach readers how to solve personal problems and achieve success, then a philosophy of enjoyment will do the trick.

Everyone has problems. That’s life, but you deal with them and success, what is that? How is it measured? If you enjoy life, isn’t that success? In a Philosophy of Enjoyment, external problems are secondary and outward appearances of success is meaningless. What is foremost is sensory awareness.

cartoon3This has nothing to do with your self. It’s not about you. That is, the thing to do is to forget yourself. Enjoy all you see, hear and feel. No ego. No win. No lose. No success. Be as 24 hour radio: All humility! All the time!

Stop what you’re thinking. Take a break. Look at something small (a leaf, a stone, a fairy) and calmly abide. If you get distracted by negativity, return to abiding (like the Dude). With awareness of yourself in this world you can experience ecstasy as you are right now.

bird on postYou, in the form of criticism, regret, worry and fear, are a distraction. Only when you are gone do you know. You don’t need drugs to remove the gauze of yourself. Use your senses. You are an observation post for the earth. Like a bird. Like a frog.

Be free.

The greatest thing is to forget yourself completely and to live in the sensations of hearing, feeling, seeing, and tasting. Attend to experience in a particular way: on purpose. When you work, work. When you look around, enjoy paying attention non-judgementally.

It’s a zen thing.

moon reflectionA zen story tells of a woman carrying water in a bucket. She glances across the surface of the water and sees the reflection of the moon in the bucket. As she looks, the bucket breaks and the water runs into the soil and the moon’s reflection goes with it.

The woman realizes that the moon she’d been looking at was just a reflection of the real thing like her whole life had been (No Moon, No Water). In other words, thought colours what you see.

Jump thousands of years and science discovers what is there.

SchwartzResearch psychiatrist and neuroplasticity – conscious use of directed thoughts – expert, Jeffrey Schwartz says, “You Are Not Your Brain.” He explains that the mind or, “directed attention,” changes how the brain sends messages.

Schwartz says, “The brain puts things into our consciousness, but it is the active mind that makes choices about whether to listen and how to listen… the reward centre sits right embedded in the habit centre. Both are run by dopamine…Dopamine gives you pleasure, but in the process of doing that it gives you embedded habits… anything that gets that reward pleasure centre activated rapidly becomes a habit…balance the relationship between pleasure, reward and habit…Your brain becomes what you focus on ” (You Are Not Your Brain).

Moreover – and, in addition to – science says that our brains have a negativity bias (Our Brain’s Negativity Bias). Don’t you hate that?

water on leafNicole Force (yes, her real name) writes, “Although some people are naturally more negative, negative events still have a greater impact on everyone’s brains…” (Humor, Neuroplasticity and the Power to Change Your Mind).

Neurobiologist Carla Shatz calls Hebb’s Rule, “Cells that fire together, wire together” (The Organization of Behavior).

endymionIt’s not that we want to stop firing, it’s that we want things firing to help us enjoy. The trick to beautiful enjoyments is to realize that what your brain is doing isn’t you, as in: “Excuse me. That wasn’t me. It was my brain.” Schwartz calls this your “true self” or “wise advocate. You can change your brain effectively through “wise focus of attention.”

Shift attention to the beauty of the world like poets of long ago.  

In 1818 doomed poet John Keats wrote:
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing” (from Endymion).

alley catA poet of enjoyment lives in song. Try: Run Runaway, Alley CatMoulin Rouge, Walk A Thin Line, My Best Friend’s Girl, Ballroom BlitzPart of the UnionChirpy Chirpy Cheep CheepLily The Pink! or enjoy silence and stillness. Whatever! Life is your song.

Reader, breathe deeply! Let go of what you think about money, ego drives and and materialistic success. Focus on your true goals. Live good and wholesome in a goodly way with tear-stained eyes and flushed cheeks until the day you die!

Only you can see and feel what you feel. You are the window. It’s true! Lighten-up to humour, love and sadness. In kindness go. Enjoy this sometimes beautiful world. What have you got to lose?

It’s all good even when it isn’t. Enjoy it all in spite of everything. 

Let success be measured in moments of attention and awareness.

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Everyday Ecstasy (Without MDMA)


It is written: “Don’t bring me down. Grroosss. Don’t bring me down. Grroosss.” So says the the Electric Light Orchestra and a philosopher of enjoyment in difficult times.

keep calmA rousing song can provoke a fighting spirit to not give up – to get up like Buster Keaton after a tumble and see humour in a fall. Slogans like Keep Calm and Carry On, songs like Trio’s Da Da Da and the glad game (from Eleanor Porter’s novel Pollyanna) can turn a frown around.

She’s a Rainbow

But even though the glad game (which is about finding something to be glad about no matter what happens) is nice, saying “It’s going to be all right, you’ll be fine,” can be irritating to someone who’s in a jam. Conceptually, inspirations like this might help a person feel OK (satisfactory, not exceptional) but to feel better than OK, takes more than platitudes. Feeling OK is only half the battle.

Half the battleTo feel better than OK is to enter a state of grace and ecstasy. That’s what we want. To feel burdens lifted and a passage made enjoyable. Ecstasy: to feel overwhelmed by great happiness (Oxford Dictionary); “a state of exalted delight, joy and rapture” (The Free Dictionary).

But today ecstasy is “associated with orgasm, religious mysticism, and the use of certain drugs” (The Free Dictionary). It wasn’t always that way. There was a time before methylenedioxy-ethamphetamine (aka MDMA).

It comes from the Greek ekstasis meaning “‘standing outside oneself'” (Oxford Dictionary). It is to step out of yourself into a reality that you’re not used to. It is to feel like you no longer exist. It’s a trance-like state where you immerse yourself in what you’re doing.

blue_skyExample: If you look at the sky and consciously experience the blueness of it, you stop attending to your self. When you stop attending to yourself, you are not self-consciously gazing at blueness.

You’re conscious but not self-conscious.

bhagavan_sri_ramana_maharshi_4It’s like what the Indian sage Venkataraman Iyer (aka Ramana Maharshi) said, “Who is the seer? I saw the seer disappear leaving That alone… No thought arose to say I saw.

The challenge isn’t to climb Everest, it’s to lose yourself in doing. Laugh at Seinfeld bloopers, drive very slowly, bike ride, write, draw, construct, play, work, walk, talk, sipDo what you do without thought of reward.

Lose yourself in doing no harm and shift mentalities outward.

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist replaces the popular notion of the brain hemispheres being left-is-logical and right-is-creative with the idea that they pay attention in different ways. The left is detail-oriented and the right is whole-oriented.

The right hemisphere has “a more immediate relationship with external reality as represented by the senses” (Master and His Emissary).

sweet peeBefore depression and shock treatment, poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy” (The Bell Jar).

Researchers now find that, “People who are exposed to natural scenes aren’t just happier or more comfortable; the very building blocks of their physiological well-being also respond positively” (How Nature Resets Our Minds and Bodies).

landscape3Jack London wrote, “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive…” (The Call of the Wild).

In a letter to his son Einstein wrote, “I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano…That is the way to learn the most…. when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes… Also play ringtoss with Tete…”  (Einstein on Learning).

flowPsychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, examined the roots of happiness to discover that ecstasy is “a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity… characterized by complete absorption in what one does… a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task… (flow) has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions” (Flow).

zhangzhiAround the fourth century BC, Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu,庄子) supposedly said, “Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free: stay centred by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”

He also said, “The sound of water says what I think,” which could mean he was  in flow at the time that he spoke.

It’s like how the Dude in the movie The Big Lebowski is comfortable with what he’s got. Like a tumble-weed the Dude takes the path of least resistance. He is authentically content and complacent without doing harm. He lets life carry him along.

He’s learned how to enjoy every moment without apathy. He knows that it’s all strikes and gutters. Sometime you win. Sometimes you lose.

We can’t all be as lazy as the Dude but we can go forth and abide. We can expose ourselves to natural scenes without being obscene and put the Credence on.