musings

Mental Quicksand

There’s Danger in These Here Parts

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It’s all too common, isn’t it? One moment you’re trouncing about, free of a care in the world, and the next you’re being sucked into the murky depths of a quicksand pit. Never happened, you say? Okay, so maybe you’re not Indiana Jones, swinging through the Amazon on a tireless pursuit of another shameless sequel.  Our minds, on the other hand, perpetually dwell in an ecosystem rife with treacherous obstacles, where the danger of slipping into the proverbial quicksand is all too real.  

“Hey guy, what the hell is proverbial quicksand? I’ve never seen that on Nat Geo…” 

I’m so glad you asked.

No specimen is immune to the plight of the dreaded  ‘bad day’. Much like the clouds, they seem to come and go of their own accord; we simply try to wring the most sunlight possible out of the circumstances the weather presents.  Cloudy days might start out overcast, but most days destined to become ‘bad days’ don’t start out that way.  Sure, a single piece of bad news is capable of bringing us to our knees.  Watching the hockey game on TV last night and saw your spouse in the front row spooning someone that wasn’t you? Sure. That’ll do it. 

In less sensational circumstances, the typical ‘bad day’ starts out as a series of minor frustrations, which begin to careen out of control as the day builds momentum, leaving us exasperated in its wake. When all of life’s irritations hit you at once, either your thetan levels are peaking– yes, that’s a scientology joke– or your mindset has begun to slip into the proverbial quicksand (told you we’d get back to it.)  Until we learn to register when this misstep has taken place, each successive obstacle throughout the day is doomed to provoke further vexation.  Like real quicksand, lacking the requisite knowledge to survive will end in certain death. (Okay, maybe not literally.)  Figuratively, then, there is a specific way to navigate the treacherous waters that ensures safe passage to the opposite shoreline.

Abandon all Hope, if Ye’ Wish to Survive

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Sinking, or the favorable alternative, swimming, is contingent upon your ability to balance between two extremes, both of which prove fatal in their unmitigated forms.  The greater of the two evils is simply deciding to ignore the problem.  This usually happens when we feel ourselves begin to sink into frustration, but, finding the sensation undesirable, choose to avoid the inevitable in the hopes that it will dissipate of its own volition.  This decision comes with a one-way ticket straight to the bottom of the pit, as one final air bubble rises melodramatically to the surface.  The other extreme, only slightly more favorable, is beginning to flail wildly the moment you realize you’re in trouble.  On happier days, or in a regular swimmin’ hole, this desperate tactic might allow you to stay afloat, despite being inefficient and rather silly to behold.  But this is no happy day or shallow pond; it’s a ‘bad day’, and it’s getting worse– you’re caught in the clutches of the despicable quicksands of frustration.  

As cliche as it may sound, the only way out is to surrender to the quicksand; even Michael Phelps isn’t skilled enough to escape the vacuous mouth of a sandpit free of supplication.  Removing the fear of impending death, this really isn’t such a difficult endeavor.  Quicksand is more buoyant than regular water, allowing a calm swimmer to navigate the surface easily.  The stroke, however, must be far more deliberate, and relegated to a far more modest pace.  Little is needed to accomplish this task aside from self-restraint, yet this desirable attribute is usually most elusive in situations where its presence is deemed most necessary.  In other words, the worst moment to panic is always the exact moment we panic.  Here’s why.

Human minds and bodies are constantly engaged in a feedback loop; when stress and anxiety begin to overcome the mind, it starts transmitting signals to the body forcing it to act out in frenzied desperation.  Behaviors such as this can be seen as the observable result of hectic emotional states.  When the body informs the mind it is experiencing a sinking feeling, it responds with a crude, “OH SHIT!”, and then immediately activates the frantic protocol entitled Try not to Drown.  There is an inherent problem with this protocol– it is merely an exercise in improvisation.  Instead of carrying out a single course of action with diligence and composure, protocol Try not to Drown instructs us to flounder recklessly, directing limbs to twist and turn in a harrowing dance, but void of any precise exit strategy from the pit.  

Just like we will never be rid of the occasional ‘bad day’, our minds will never gain definite freedom from that ‘sinking feeling’, which we recognize as present in our daily lives when we start experiencing thoughts such as, “Why me?”, or “You’ve got to be F-ing kidding me. Again?”  Luckily, it is purely within our control to change how we react when we feel the water rising around our necks.  With some practice, and discipline, we can get rid of protocol Try not to Drown for good, replacing it with the far superior Operation 4C: (Calm, Composed, and Cool as a Cucumber).

Operation 4C

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Concentration is a limited resource, forcing our brain to make momentary decisions on which tasks deserve the greatest share of our attention. Emotionally charged thoughts usually receive priority, so if the brain has to decide between harping on something that pissed you off a few moments ago, and focusing on the current task of pouring a cup of coffee neatly, there’s a good chance you’re ending up drenched in brown sludge.  We’re hopeless to control our thoughts; anyone who claims otherwise is a charlatan, I say!  Thoughts and emotions originate on a sub-conscious level, far below the regions of the mind we exert deliberate control over, but modifying how we react to these thoughts is definitely achievable.

The most essential point to this end?  Negative thoughts, or that ‘sinking feeling,’ don’t always merit a reaction.  Our thoughts will graze whatever pastures they desire, with or without our guidance.  Every time their meandering leads us astray, focus must be redirected to the task at hand, without indulging their vagaries in one direction or the other.  Don’t ignore the beasts, but for god sakes’s don’t feed them either; simply acknowledge them for the capricious creatures they are.  In this way, the successive blunders that usually accumulate into the typical ‘bad day’ will be repulsed back into the forest.  

Danger Has Many Faces

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Quicksand comes in two main varieties.  First, there’s the gritty type, which licks at our heels when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to.  Humans create rigid ideas of how given endeavors should unfold, and when some inconvenience occurs that violates our preconceptions, we become aggravated.  As this aggravation multiplies, we begin to cling more desperately to these idealistic notions, even a small deviation from the aforementioned sending us into meltdown mode. 

Sensing the quicksand rising, we must refrain from abiding by any preset expectations, either good or bad.  If the last hour has been a train wreck, our perception may persuade us to preemptively brace for more carnage, yet this achieves little more than entrenching us within a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Even forced optimism, mobilized to perpetuate the belief that everything is going to turn around in the next moment, can be dangerous.  This type of behavior establishes unreasonable expectations, leaving no room for deviation from perfection. Then, dejection becomes a near inevitably, condemning us to return to a cycle of helplessness.  Letting go, and letting things unfold as they will, is truly our best shot at survival.  Find comfort in knowing that both a day of triumph, or of abject failure,  resolve shortly after sunset.

Type Two

Another variety of quicksand, the sticky kind, is more selective in its choice of victims. Sticky quicksand latches onto us during those times when an inordinate amount of problems demand our immediate attention.  In these instances, the crippling issue isn’t that things aren’t going the specific way we demand, but that fixing our mistakes, and coping with our impaired state of mind, take copious amounts of time already reserved for meeting all of life’s demands.  This type of quicksand may well be the most treacherous, because, as we know, proper technique depends on focused, deliberate action.  Even the simplest tasks must be performed slowly, for in these moments, they demand far more patience than is typically necessary.  Of course, as tasks pile up, our minds become pre-occupied with moving ever more hastily, and pretty soon, we find ourselves gasping for air.  

There is no shortcut to relaxation.  If an unstable mindset has sufficiently burrowed its way into your psyche, dislodging it is going to take time.  And the less time you have, the more you fight it, the deeper it plunges into your cerebellum.  The only way to salvage your day, when this happens, is to start relegating the least important items from the checklist.  It may feel like a luxury time isn’t affording you, or else that it’s some sort of weakness to allow emotions to limit your success.  Be careful if you’re commonly susceptible to thoughts such as this; they may reveal an underlying impetuousness that rarely pays dividends in the long haul.

Any masochist can push themselves through states of physical weakness or emotional turmoil, convincing themselves it forges resilience.  In reality, these people are adding excessive frustration to their lives that will keep them operating at a sub-optimal state for longer, all the while performing tasks haphazardly and half-assedly.  True strength, and long-term success, come from ‘knowing yourself’, in the truest sense of the hackneyed phrase.  This involves the ability to recognize circumstantial limitations as they arise within the body or mind, and the adaptability to approach goals in a way more suited to the current reality.  After all, being the most adaptable species is what allowed humans to reach the top of the food chain– not being the most obstinate.  Allow yourself some slack, and plan around the irritation, instead of trying to march right through it.  It may be frustrating to allot extra time to mundane activities when you’re already behind, but it’s better to reach the other side of the pond slowly, than to sink just a few precious feet from safety.

Go Forth and Conquer!!!

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The landscape is treacherous my friends– harbor no illusions to this end.  Success and failure, happiness and rejection, lie on either side of a tightrope.  The human constitution is fragile.  A few momentary lapses in attention, combined with a bit of old-fashioned bad luck, can have dire consequences for our happiness in the immediate future.  Quicksand is everywhere, camouflaged perfectly, waiting for its chance to lure us in and swallow us whole.  

But you’re no weekend explorer.  Adventure is your life, conquering new lands your vocation, and you’ve trained to handle every situation with absolute composure.  If danger rears its ugly head, it’s within your abilities to act in a reasoned, intentional way.  Attention is a limited resource you’ve learned not to squander, either fighting negative feelings as they arise, or succumbing to them and fanning the inferno.  A true expert understands that no reaction is often the best course of action. Conquerers take nothing for granted, rid of expectations, thereby prepared for anything that may come.  Most importantly, an explorer trusts his abilities, but retains the wisdom, as well as the discipline, to steer clear of unnecessary risks or insurmountable odds. Encountering these moments, never give in, but take the time to chart a more practical trail to blaze. So live, damn you, live!  But keep an eye peeled for the proverbial quicksand.

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musings

Sir Isaac Newton’s Motivation 101

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Inertia Helps us Reach our Goals

Some of the stories we hear about historical figures are a bit, exaggerated.  It is doubtful that Sir Isaac Newton, one of the brightest minds ever known to the world, was inspired to develop the theory of gravity when getting bashed on the head by a falling apple.  Regardless of the particulars, the rest of us are quite fortunate that he was introduced to some stimulus that catalyzed into the  ‘three laws of motion,’ , albeit in a less whimsical fashion.  The first of these, the law of inertia, states that “an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion (at the same speed and direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.)”   This article will find it sufficient to ignore the portion in parentheses.

You don’t have to be a scientist to profit from this knowledge; this law’s application extends far beyond the realm of physics.  Our mental and emotional states are subject to the same rules as the physical world, yet we often fail to realize this because our thoughts and feelings are intangible.  If every other object in the world is subject to a particular phenomenon, our thoughts probably are also. Better understanding how these forces operate in relation to our minds leaves us more prepared to approach our goals in an optimal way.

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Just Start Pedaling

I’m sure we’ve all seen that Nike commercial where a variety of professional athletes perform some incredible endeavor, followed by the screen dramatically fading to black as bold letters materialize to give the command “Just Do It”.  While most of us aren’t likely to “Just” dunk a basketball anytime soon, there is actually some sound advice promoting the realization of our own goals buried within this marketing ploy.  Most of the time, when the inkling to start a new endeavor invades our minds, we initially feel lost, like a child in the supermarket who’s misplaced his mother.  We don’t know what to do, we don’t know how to do it, and we don’t know what to expect even if we do get to the place we don’t know how to find. 

All of these things serve to prevent us from getting our most ambitious plans off the ground, the simple remedy to this dilemma being routinely overlooked. The most effective course of action is to start trying anything, even if it’s the wrong thing, without thinking so much.  In time, this first step will allow us to clarify a more specific direction to head in.  The law of inertia easily proves this to anybody who’s ever ridden a bike; it’s much easier to build some momentum and then turn in the direction of the destination, than to get the bike to turn whilst remaining in a stationary position.  Concern yourself with beginning to pedal, and initiate the motion making it possible to steer to the next course of action, prior to worrying about navigation .

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Browse the Menu First

Most of life’s tasks are pretty straightforward, so we don’t give much thought to planning them out before engaging in them.  Going to the grocery store, we don’t plan every single step from our car to where they keep the carts just beyond the entrance.  Even if we did, the parking spot we initially planned on utilizing might be taken, and our path might have to be adjusted to accommodate this fact. Otherwise, some pesky shoppers engaged in conversation, directly in front of the door, no less, might require circumnavigation. Trusting ourselves to be able to make these small adjustments on the fly,  limited effort is wasted on preparing for each contingency, thus allowing us to be at full speed by the time any decisions need to be made. 

Yet some events in our mind, usually the ones we consider to hold great influence over the course of our future, coax us into the trap of preparing for every conceivable outcome in an effort to avoid the apprehension of uncertainty.  Thinking this will alleviate our anxiety, it actually makes it worse; this behavior is tantamount to planning what you’re going to order at a new restaurant without knowing the type of cuisine they serve.  Once you’ve entered the situation with momentum, and you’re seated at the table, flipping through the menu, it’s quite easy to choose a desirable entree.  But until personal experience has given you access to the requisite information, trying to prepare for an infinite set of potential outcomes creates for more stress than it serves to alleviate, leaving you to fight an uphill battle, in lieu of using Inertia to your advantage.

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Unlocking Your Potential

In the majority of motivational speeches successful individuals deliver, they state that you must fail many times before you can succeed even once. Personally, I don’t believe this to be the case.  For something to be described as a failure, you must have made such a catastrophic mistake that all the work you’ve done to that point proves pointless, starting from scratch remaining the only way forward.  This is exactly the type of occurrence that destroys our momentum, an unbalanced force pushing back against the inertia that has been aiding our progress. Realistically, many attempts labeled as failures are the very endeavors we set out to accomplish in disguise.  

Conceptualize achieving success as opening a big padlock with a comically large set of keys in every conceivable shape, size, and metallic hue.  Having no idea which key opens the lock, there is no reasonable way of ascertaining the appropriate key short of engaging in a simple process of trial-and-error.  Trying one to find it doesn’t work, are you going to engage in self-deprecation, immediately labeling yourself a failure? (I certainly hope not.) Making a mental note of each key that doesn’t work, each new attempt may be considered a necessary step that brings you mathematically closer to your desired outcome.  

Adopting such a healthy, pragmatic attitude towards unlocking our life goals proves challenging because we consider ourselves to be fairly intelligent, and despise setbacks that challenge this opinion.  We certainly are intelligent, but most of us share a fundamental misunderstanding of exactly what this means.  Intelligence is measured as the ability to evolve our current abilities to learn a new task, to collect knowledge and then apply that knowledge in a concerted effort to improve at a given endeavor.  Intelligence cannot be measured in terms of how ‘naturally’ adept we feel during our first engagement with a new pursuit.  Humans are born into the world naked, knowing nothing but how to cry, and having any intimate understanding of what it takes to achieve a particular goal is impossible before going and participating in it directly.  General life experience does not automatically prepare us to succeed at specific tasks, so we must gather up the strength to gain some initial speed, and learn to view each incorrect approach as a force that helps us adjust to travel more precisely in the direction of our goals.  

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Fall on Success

This article is only an entry level course, but I hope it assisted in helping you feel at least slightly more comfortable in calling yourself an amateur physicist- at least in terms of your own mind. Objects in the material world have little influence over the laws of motion exerting forces upon them, but you have significant control over the forces that promote achievement within yourself.  Start as soon as you have the impulse, don’t over-plan, and realize that building momentum, even in the opposite direction of your goals, makes finding the correct path much easier than hesitation.  Taking these few simple steps will ensure, in due time, that you’ll be descending upon success at an even faster rate than the apple that most certainly did not fall on Sir Isaac Newton’s head.  

musings

Should I Stop and Smell the Roses?

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Every week, I like to take a popular phrase from our language, and then play around with it a bit to see what I can learn. Today’s prompt is “Stop and smell the roses.”

Sitting at a cafe the other day, hunched over my laptop, I heard someone suggest to their companion that they should “Stop and smell the roses.”  Of course, this phrase is just a fancy way of saying “You gotta slow down once in a while.”  As one of those individuals that really struggles to relax, my anxieties love spending their free time whispering in my ear about every little task I’d be better off engaging in.  In the past, I’ve forced myself to endure periods of inactivity in an effort to ‘Smell the roses,’ and part of me always resented feeling unfulfilled in these moments.  

Today, upon leaving the cafe, I will no longer be fighting my true nature.  Much as a gardener who prefers to be digging in the soil, and is only half-content with viewing the garden through the kitchen window, I will no longer view my constant desire to be tilling the earth as a bad thing.  Even if I’m not going to take time to stop and smell the roses, I still wish to enjoy the fruits of my labor.  Exploring this analogy, I think I can discover a way to remain in motion, and open my mind to embrace the smell of the roses all at once.  After all, a rose in mid-bloom need not be sought out to be enjoyed; a flower spreads its petals to share its beauty with the world naturally.

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Tend your garden

If you want to be able to smell the roses while you work, the most important piece of the puzzle is to plant some healthy, happy rose bushes.  The great thing about flowers is that they really only require a few precious components: soil, water, and sunlight, in the right proportions, to allow them to flourish of their own accord.  Similarly, our mindset needs these same three things (metaphorically speaking) to prosper, letting us smell the roses without taking a break from our lives.

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Soil

Good soil is the foundation of a happy garden.  While soil is a precious source of nutrition for the plant, its nutrients are limited, and if too high of a demand is placed upon it, any of the flowers planted within will eventually wilt and wither.  In our lives, we have things that are absolutely essential: making an income, raising a family–responsibilities not represented in this analogy by the flowers, but by the garden of life itself.  The flowers are activities that we might feel are necessary to our happiness, but are not absolutely essential.  Because we have so many activities that seem prerequisite for our happiness, we plant too many flowers and overtax the soil.  It’s far more beneficial to our well-being to maintain one or two activities that we permit to flourish completely, as opposed to a dozen hobbies shedding petals as we brush by them to reach the next item on our checklist. Pick the few flowers that you find most stunning, and leave the rest for someone else to plant in their garden. As the sun sets each day, what makes the activities we choose to spend our time on so utterly sacred is that they have been selected above so many others to be worthy of our time and efforts. 

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Water

Watering the plants is a precious ritual to any gardener; it must be done deliberately and sincerely for them to prosper, and this requires great diligence.  But we cannot neglect this task, because the roses are depending on us, and our mindset is depending on us to treat it with the same dedication.  ‘Watering our minds’ is actually how we learn patience, how we enable the plant to grow strong and healthy; how we develop skills that bring us real joy.  It’s no secret that we enjoy things when they’re coming easily to us,  with times of struggle and stagnating improvement usually accompanied with mild resentment. These less desirable times will, unfortunately,  always surface in any activity truly worth pursuing.

We all know that you can’t force a plant to grow.  Even when we do everything we can for the flower, its prosperity must come in time, and all we can do is water it day after day. This means we simply return to our chosen activity, even when it brings us great frustration, ignoring the voice in the back of our minds that tells us we’re wasting our time.  Most importantly, we avoid the temptation to over-water our rose if its growth begins to dwindle, just as we avoid over-exerting ourselves to overcome some obstacle in our own improvement.  This tendency towards excessive compensation ends up taking us in the wrong direction, and the roots, the strong foundation we have laid, can actually begin to erode in the over-irrigated soil.  Every day we just return to the practice, because it’s important to us, diligently watering the flower, but also acknowledging that a little goes a long way, and we are hopeless to do a job that can only be accomplished by time.  

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Sunlight

With our mind, wherever we go is our garden, and wherever our garden is, so too is the perfect amount of sunlight.  Just like a flower turns naturally to follow the path of the sun, our mind naturally seeks the empty space needed to make room for the smell of the roses. Often times, this space becomes filled with excessive worries that carry our mind elsewhere, with these worries stemming from unhealthy soil or an inappropriate watering schedule. 

The sunlight, to our minds, is the illuminating knowledge that allows us to approach all of our activities with ‘pure intent’. This knowledge is simply that a human cannot actually try to relax, any more than they can force themselves to enjoy something.  If a flower grows too many petals in an effort to catch more sun, it can become too heavy and droop under the weight of its own efforts.  Accordingly, when we try to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment out of something, we cause anxieties to accumulate within us that make it impossible to water our flower with the ‘pure intent’ its success depends on.  We must learn that sometimes, the efforts we think are taking us towards our objectives are really the same things holding us back, simply letting go of the tendency to try and think our way to success.  Nurturing this ‘pure intent’ within ourselves, the things we truly desire will bless us with their radiating warmth in time.

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Isn’t the Aroma Grand?!

Being a human is nice for the same reasons gardening is; there are few highly demanding skills involved, thus inviting anyone to participate, while truly mastering the art is a life-long pursuit, always providing something for us to look forward to.  We often feel that life is difficult, that dramatic things are always happening, in turn requiring drastic action to remedy them.  But most of the time, life, like gardening, is a very subtle process. If the soil becomes depleted, we add a little fertilizer; if forgetting to water it one day, we don’t water it twice as much the next day to compensate and risk drowning it– instead simply resuming our typical procedure, trying to be a little more diligent from then on. Our efforts are not directed towards searching for the smell of the roses, opting instead to pursue what’s important to us, in the appropriate way, thereby welcoming the wonderful aroma of spring to find its way to our nostrils in due course. 

functional philosophy, musings

You’re a Freak (And Your Friends Don’t Like You.)

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(Warning: mature language and content)

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that the world is full of freaks. A lot of us are half way to developing agoraphobia in an effort to avoid interacting with one of them.  Actually, I would argue, that with a few exceptions, the level of normalcy demonstrate by most individuals is rather astounding.  I know, I know, you’ve seen them out there, gun toting crossdressers swinging from ropes made of dildos (well, maybe not THAT crazy.) But take a good hard look at yourself, and then try to claim that you don’t have some traits enveloped within your own psyche bordering on unadulterated insanity.

We spend a lot of our lives pretending to be acceptable excuses for human beings, usually at work, or in the first few months of a relationship before we get too comfortable and blow everything up.  To pull off this subterfuge effectively, we dedicate far more time than we realize to filtering all of our unacceptable desires, urges, and preferences out of the garbage bin that contains our ‘true selves.’ These efforts separate church and state in a sense, and are the reason most of us are able to refrain from displays of public masturbation.

So maybe I was wrong to suggest that the freak population of the world is dwindling- it seems that each of our births gave rise to one more freak wandering the planet .  The fact that people can manage this reality, and maintain amicable, often durable social relationships, is truly a miracle.  Now let me lecture you on the two primary mechanisms that allow this miracle to flourish.  

The first mechanism operates by diverting the thoughts that appear in our minds down two different paths.  One path leads to our vocal chords where these thoughts are turned into speech before spilling out of our sultry lips.  This second path is reserved for thoughts that would shatter another’s person’s world were they ever to be spoken out loud, or at the very least reveal how bat-shit crazy we truly are.  These thoughts end up getting buried very, very deep in the backyard of our consciousness. Back before sentience evolved in our giant craniums, this wouldn’t have been possible.  When a dog gets an idea, say to hump your leg, then a change of pants is in your future.  If you do this as a human, you swiftly become a social pariah of Harvey Weinstein proportions.  

The second mechanism within us is a large part of the reason we’re so fucking cruel and unaccepting of one another.  Each society develops an unofficial checklist of activities, speech, dress  — essentially every medium that a person can choose to express themselves through– that dictates what is acceptable within these mediums and what isn’t.  Instilled within each of us is a desire to viciously eradicate in others any display of behavior that deviates from this checklist.  In the not so distant past, mobs of inbred morons achieved this with a tree and a noose.  Today, however, we’ve become so damn civilized (Did I make you laugh?) that we usually try to achieve these same ends via verbal torment and ridicule.

The harsh, cringe-worthy, reality is that at base level, a modicum of this behavior serves as the glue that holds society together. Without some basic rules to guide social behavior, things would quickly fall apart.  Ever been on a first date where you flailed desperately just to find something in common with the other person to break the silence? Of course you do- it was the worst hour you ever spent at Applebee’s.  If all of society failed to find this common ground, civilization would quickly deteriorate, and a modern dystopia spring up in its place.  Not the sexy “I, Robot” type either, but the filthy, cannibals-stranded-in-the-desert type scenario that Mel Gibson has to envision to get an erection. 

 These basic instincts that allow socialization on a mass scale are the same instincts causing you to feel so shamefully uncomfortable in your own skin.  Individuality has been systematically beaten out of you in an attempt to reshape you into a Jenga piece, whittled to fit seamlessly into the tower we call ‘culture’.  But the process isn’t quite so simple.

A person’s inherent nature cannot be fundamentally altered through any degree of ridicule; it is a gift and a burden to be carried from conception to death (except in the event of a lobotomy, of course.) You can, however, condition a person to become adept at suppressing their true nature.   Even social justice warriors, who so selflessly dedicate their lives to fighting back against the evils of categories and labeling, make categories of their own to fill the void.  Gender, politics, religious beliefs, we all have particular ideals we subscribe to, and we know very precisely what behaviors are and are not accepted among individuals sharing these ideals.  If we have a desire that does not adhere to these ideals, we swiftly move to conceal it.  

By the time adolescence appears in the rearview, we have moved far beyond the skill of censoring our urges, coming to condemn and even vilify our true identity.  Our own individuality begins to be treated as a metaphorical herpes outbreak, with flair ups of idiosyncrasy being quickly forced down into our subconscious.  Now, a few uniquely abhorrent desires might serve well to be buried (such as bathing in the blood of a newborn.)  On the other hand, the gross majority of activities that we forego due to our own inhibitions are either harmless, or beneficial in nature, and preventing the fulfillment that would stem from these activities is very harmful to our mental health. Much of the anxiety and stress we attribute to external factors is actually much more deeply rooted in these penitent exercises in self-suppression.  

For many of us, this isn’t a complete revelation.  The most inhibited among us understand, at the very least, that happiness would be easier to attain if we ceased to be affected by other’s judgments.  Freaks who take pride in their true nature have at least one friend in any room they enter in their own countenance. For the rest of us, indulging our self-conscious urges does not leave us invulnerable to external criticism, while simultaneously offending our true nature, who now refuses to text us because we only answer when we’re drunk.   

Social condemnation hurts more than having to urinate with an erection (take my word for it girls, its no picnic).  By the mere virtue of individuality, expression your own true nature will materialize different from everyone else’s.  So far we’ve only discussed the personality in terms of desires and courted behavior.  Yet personality is just as encompassing of traits and behaviors that we expressly dislike, ranging in flavor from mild aversion to spicy hatred.  

I’m talking to you here millennials: don’t think your perception of yourself as some open-minded, non-discriminating, all organic progressive places you above casting judgments. Just as societies develop a checklist of acceptable behaviors, this same process occurs on an individual level.   In a loose sense (rest assured that a ‘your mom’ joke was removed from this sentence in the final edit), society’s concept of acceptable behavior operates on an average of the checklists of each of its constituent members.  You will never be exempt from judgment, and never cease to judge, and that doesn’t make you small-minded. Overwriting this part of our biology is just as inconceivable as overcoming our need to breath.  But, if you don’t like my writing style, feel free to try both, starting with the second option. 

Where the hell do we go from here?  The best thing we can do for ourselves is to try to prevent our own inborn judgments from hindering another’s ability to express their true nature.  You don’t have to like the guy that wears a cross necklace to complement his aesthetic when he’s not even religious; in fact, I encourage you not to.  But don’t roll your eyes so hard they point back towards your tiny brain, or stare so long you get mistaken for being in the midst of a catatonic episode. 

We don’t have the bloodiest idea of how the thought processes of other human beings unfold, so we assume they function in a congruent fashion with our own.  People who look at others in a generally positive light feel, overall, like people view them in a positive light, and vice versa. And of course, the same thing goes for assholes.  Altering our own perceptions is the best way to foster optimism involving our own notions of how others perceive us. 

As a human, you are a living, breathing form of art.  (Don’t feel special, I’m feeding that same line to everyone else reading this.)  The difference is, however, if a musician comes down from an acid trip and realizes his latest masterpiece is the auditory embodiment of a scrotum, he can just roll the sheet music into a joint.  That same luxury is not afforded to us.  From our first breath, we are broadcast on national radio and all the world is invited to tune in.

When you suppress your desires in the name of normalcy, you become coffee shop music. Tolerated, lightly impressionable, but never deliberately sought out.  Many people fashion themselves a commodity because others seek their attention or affection.  This leads them to reason that they must have something wonderful to offer.  I never meant to make you cry, but the majority of your social acquaintances could be little more than ‘fair-weather friends’.  

Humans have an intense need for socialization, even pasty-skinned introverts like me, and if they lack access to a kindred spirit to share time with, they might fancy you the most convenient person to fill that void.  Ironically, it could be your selective muffling of the stranger desires within you that makes you so.. tolerable.  But is that really the kind of person you want to waste precious time on, even as every moment of life draws us inexorably closer to death?  

Beating this music analogy to death, art is subjective, and the very same reasons that I cite for considering hip-hop absolute trash, are the same reasons that people lacking my refinement waste all their trunk space of sub-woofers.  If absolutely no one can find a reason to take issue with you, then nearly everyone is struggling to find a strong reason to hold you in high esteem.  We, as a species, can handle negative judgments if we have someone that truly loves us to glue the pieces of our self-esteem back together afterwards, but we drown in loneliness when we swim in a sea composed purely of these ‘fairweather friends’.

It’s a daunting task to engage in any activity that you believe may result in criticism, but you can take solace in the fact that judgment shines like a light- in every direction. If some asshole indulges his biological programming to attack any individuality he sees manifested in you, this same unwillingness to combat his biology is wreaking havoc behind the scenes of the disguise he’s tailored for himself.  Internal suppression of desires is often the culprit when some dude dies from a massive coronary in his 40’s, and everyone goes “Oh my GOD! He was so young.”  Maybe, but his true nature was attempting to gnaw its way out of the facade he was building for the last 40 years, and it was only a matter of time until it finally succeeded.  

An insult, especially of the ‘sick burn bro’ variety, can fester for a few days, and the blisters can sometimes take years to dissipate entirely.  But living a life void of the sincere pursuit of fulfillment, a life trapped within the naivety of a faulty perception forced upon you by society, results in a pathology affecting the rest of your sad little life.  

In the words of the revered prophet, his esteemed holiness, slim shady: “…you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, cuz opportunity knocks, once in a lifetime.” Engage in activities that will make you look silly, wear things that will get you pointed and stared at; be the freak you really are.  The friends that judge you don’t appreciate the real you anyway, and the friends gained from engaging in true expression of self will be the ones truly needed to conquer the insecurity, fear, and doubt that are currently working to inhibit your pursuit of happiness.  

Let that freak flag fly girllllll.

fun with phrases, musings

Picking up the Pieces

Ceaselessly, the earth careens through space, forever at the mercy of the unforgiving sun.  Just as the earth is helpless to escape the very gravity of its own condition, we too are helpless to escape from life’s insatiable lust to exert pressures upon us.  We can either adapt to these pressures, or be obliterated in the wake produced by life’s rapacious march.  When we find ourselves struggling to recover from a recent devastation, an undesired outcome having forced its way into our lives, we’re said to be “Picking up the Pieces.”

Unlike many colloquialisms in our vernacular, this phrase describes the situation it’s designed for acutely and directly.  Hidden within it is found a rejuvenating elixir; it offers hope in situations of despair.  Obstacles that we abhor, that stir up the most vile emotions within us, also offer unique opportunities for change and growth that are inaccessible to sailors casting out to calmer seas.  Confronted with the task of ‘picking up the pieces’, if we so choose, we can leave behind those pieces no longer serving in our best interests.  In our bleakest moments, escape from a sepulchral situation might call for even more drastic action.  This is life imploring us to burn each particle of our very being to ash, and cast ourselves in a new form.

Opportunities for growth are always present, but we are rarely offered chances for unbounded transformation in times of peace. This is a product of our compulsive reliance on a so-called “Self-Concept.”  The human need for socialization has deemed it beneficial to craft, and cling to, a singular identity .  Determining our place in the world is a relational activity, and having a consistent self-concept in a world subject to constant fluctuations is essential for succeeding in this endeavor.

The Self-Concept, at most times, is extremely durable.  This is fortuitous for our species, as it supports the ability to make successive decisions all in accordance with a single end.  Our decisions and behavior constantly engage in a cycle of reinforcement with our self-concept that serves to continuously increase its resistance to external pressures.  We attempt to make decisions that are in alignment with our self-concept, and in turn, we rely heavily on our actions to help us define who we are.

Every aspect of our personality is interwoven, making it very troublesome to divide into all of its components.  Much like the blocks in a pyramid, it is difficult to manipulate a single aspect of our personality when it is held fast by so many others.  This necessitates an event that exerts a considerable amount of pressure upon our Self-Concept to allow the removal of an element that is no longer benefitting us.  In relation to our self-concept, this pressure is applied in the form of emotional strain; the exact strain resulting from a life event that leaves us “picking up the pieces.”

Let’s view our self-concept as a cup, not containing our morning coffee, but our very personality.   If this cup is shattered,  and we identify shards that are better left behind, we can’t simply glue the pieces we deem worthy back together and move on.  This will leave our personality perpetually spilling onto the floor, rendering us unable to maintain any sense of stability. We must demonstrate great care in rendering a new piece of the same dimensions to replace each one we leave behind.

Regaining equilibrium after leaving a harrowing relationship is a common situation that results in ‘picking up the pieces.’  Assume we find ourselves in this situation, and when we attempt to locate the dust pan, we find that it’s already out of the closest due to frequent usage.  Clearly what we’re doing isn’t working– after collecting the pieces, we must refrain from reassembling the cup in the same shape we have so many times before.  Sifting through the fragments in the dust pan, we discover that many of them are aspects of our self-concept that we cherish, and don’t require disposing of.  The task at hand becomes determining which shard is responsible for making the cup so susceptible to repetitive breakage.

Matching up so many jagged edges can take a lot of time.  If we work in a bar, and this is where we meet most of our partners, then perhaps we need to stop going on dates with people we meet in this environment.  We know that simply determining to stop responding to propositions at work is not enough; the piece must be also be replaced with another that forms an airtight seal.  Substitution of an activity that places us in more suitable locations to meet potential suitors, whether it be an exercise class, spending more time with single friends, or even joining a social dating site, is also an integral part of our restorative journey.

It’s also possible to implement a decision to give relationships a break altogether.  In this case, some of the other fragments of the cup may expand to fill the void.  Increasing the amount of time we spend on activities that we enjoy achieves this end, providing they are increased in equal measure with the amount of time previously invested in relationships.

Of course, we might replace a piece only to discover we incorrectly hypothesized the source of instability.  The magnifying glass is then retrieved from the drawer and the search continues– perhaps the true culprit is a particular quality we’re lured to in mates that functions as a negative presence in our lives.  Success relies on our willingness to continue experimenting with different pieces, and to always maintain a specific plan to replace whatever piece we hold accountable for our shattered state.  And remember, absolutely everything you throw in the trash ends up there for a reason.  Never reduce yourself to digging through the garbage.

Sometimes something so detestable happens, perhaps death or losing everything to addiction, that restorative efforts prove woefully inadequate. During these times, it becomes necessary to melt everything down to clay and build something completely new.  This requires colossal effort, demanding exponential stores of time and dedication.   The only realistic way to approach this elephantine task is to reengineer the cycle of reinforcement the self-concept is constantly engaging in.  Durability of the self-concept prohibits its direct augmentation- believing ourselves to be other than we are is an exercise in futility.  We must formulate a strategy to attack the other half of the cycle, an endeavor contingent upon our ability to alter our decision-making, and thus modify our behavior.

This means engaging in antagonistic behavior in relation to our perception of our own identity.  Prior to our most recent decimation, if we generally reacted in a singular way when faced with particular situations, we must now react in an antipodal fashion to the way our self-concept will undoubtedly seek to initiate.  Activities that we opted out of participating in, and behaviors that ‘people like us’ simply don’t engage in, serve as the precise stimuli we must embrace to reprogram the cycle of reinforcement.

By definition this will feel uncomfortable at first, and our very identify will be engulfed in feelings of conflict.  We will occupy places we perpetually feel like an outsider, and foster passion for behavior that we used to laugh at others for exhibiting.  With patience, repetitively making the decision to act in new and challenging ways will alter our very perception of our own self-concept, and make it easier to engage in activities harmonious with our understanding of who we want to become.

Temptations luring us to regress to a previous state will continually surface, whether we’ve amended a single aspect of our behavior or reemerged in virginal form.  If the reinforcement cycle responsible for the self-concept is not actively bent to our will, it will quickly resume working against us.  We must at all times be aware of what shape we’re seeking to embody, and also every previous shape that didn’t serve our interests, and be aware of whether our behavior is moving us in the appropriate direction.  If we remain vigilant, the grim labor of ‘picking up the pieces’  can be realized as the ephemeral opportunity for unbounded transformation that it really is, and we can grasp it before it dissipates back into the shadows cast by our pernicious behavior.