Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Paradise Lost

If you could enter a person's head and listen to their thought stream, you'd hear a nonstop litany of complaints about what's missing.

Most acute is the immediate scanning: If only it were a little warmer. Or a little cooler. If only I'd slept more, or eaten more, or if my chair were more comfortable, or this person with me were more interesting or attractive or attentive. All the food I'm not eating and the sex I'm not having right now! This moment simply won't do. I reject it.

If, despite best effort, your scanning finds nothing immediately vexing to lock on to, it pulls from a go-to bundle of standing vexations. If only I were thinner, or better-looking, or wealthier. If only my job were better, my home bigger. If only my spouse were more understanding. If only my parents had never said that terrible thing.

Finding fault with the moment and picking at scabs is what most people's minds do most of the time (it's no wonder nothing ever gets done!), though we're no more aware of it than a fish knows it's perpetually swimming. We elevate cooked-up mental drama above reality; an indulgence entirely untethered from the here and the now. I've offered this same observation many times (chart my progress here, or else cut to the chase and know that Hell is the realm of What's Missing....while Heaven is What Is). But this time let me ask an odd question.

Before I do, think of the last moment when it all felt perfect; when you wouldn't have changed a single thing. Try to remember. I'll wait.

Now here's my odd question: what took you out of that moment? How was paradise lost?

Did some fearsome warrior assault you, and put you in chains? Did your pet die? Did blood suddenly spurt from your ears? No. Nothing like that. What happened (if you could remember, which you can't, because we don't focus our higher perspective on such shifts) is that your scanner - perpetually operating in the background - locked on to something. You felt a bit too warm. Or cool. Or hungry. Or sleepy. Or you suddenly remembered that you don’t drive a Porsche, or you latched onto that thing your parents said. Your abrupt exit from Heaven was triggered by minute and gratuitous mental perturbation, sending you straight back to Hell, i.e. the reverie of What's Missing.

The ultimate expression of this is depression - another term for frozen perspective. This is a state where you ratchet onto maximally obsessive reverie over some "What's Missing" issue. Depressives are wholly immersed in mental drama (there’s great wisdom in the urging to "come back to your senses!"). They're paying more heed to the phantasmagoric than to the actual. In fact, detachment from What’s Actually Happening strikes most people as completely normal (if you read one link, make it this one...and be sure to also read the first sentence of the first comment).

The instant you opt out of the habit of conjuring up reasons to quarrel with the current moment, you depart the Hell of What's Missing and enter the Heaven of What's Actually Happening. Burdens drop and problems seem to magically disappear (they were illusions - mere thought-knots, aka "First World Problems" - anyway). We call such interludes "peak moments", but they aren't flukes - lucky haphazard occurrences afforded by grace. They're a perpetually available framing choice. You can live there if you’d like.

Reframing to the actual world - diligently returning to your senses; to the raw feed of it all - provides a particularly useful perq aside from the happiness, the unburdening, the disappearance of problems, and the access to Heaven. When your mind isn't occupied with maintaining a regimen of self-torture and malcontentedness (because that’s where you choose to place your attention; you vote via your attention and the mind accommodates), it finds other ways to serve; other things to do. Poetic things, creative things, insightful things.

The free-flowing insight you may notice in labors like this Slog doesn't stem from natural intelligence or talent. For example, I'm not "gifted". I just don't spend every second desperately seeking reasons to be at odds with the universe, and this frees up tremendous resources (cognitive, emotional, creative, and energetic). I haven't elevated myself in the slightest, nor do I enjoy any genetic edge. I'm a hapless shmuck who blundered into opting out of behaving like a lunatic. You can, too. Right now.

If you can recognize, even just as a matter of principle, the self-indulgent and self-defeating idiocy of a life spent ruing What's Missing - i.e. quarreling with the current moment - you are 95% of the way to breaking a habit no more fearsome, really, than sugar craving. This is a choice. It’s not a popular one, so it would never occur to those who frame their world in line with contagious trends. But it’s perpetually available.

If you make this choice, which takes effect instantly, you'll have one foot in heaven and your mind will surprise and delight you with on-demand insight and truth. There's no "personal growth" involved, because it's a letting-go rather than an improvement. It's neither woo-woo nor holy, and it is certainly not the exclusive domain of certain people.

It's not even hard! Just break a habit that never did you any good anyway! Obsession is far more difficult, requiring dogged work and relentless attention. Letting go is easy....even lazy (it’s bizarre that we consider forgiveness - one means of letting go - challenging when forgiving happens effortlessly within the wink of an eye whereas grudges and resentment are ambitious, sprawling, labor-intensive projects that must be diligently nursed).

If you find it's too much to do in one step, try meditating first (fwiw I like this stripped down, de-mythologized method). Meditation expands perspective, showing that you are not your thought stream, but, rather, an observer of thoughts that were never under your ownership to begin with. There's no need - nor ability - to "improve" your thoughts, nor to repress them, but you do always have the option of giving them less attention; of letting the engine race without engaging the drivetrain. But this requires a recognition that hasn't dawned on many people: that we are not our narration. Meditation opens breathing room between you and your thought stream.

From there, it's easier to blithely let your mental scanner whirr without giving its reports your attention; without reframing yourself into Hell whenever some nagging tinge arises. You'd had it wrong all along; you never needed to abandon heaven for every itchy toe, full bladder, or strand of recollected mental drama. Happiness can exist even when things don’t turn out as envisioned. It never all needed to go any certain way.

Having forgotten about this posting, I wrote another version a few months later here. If neither version speaks to you, don't worry, I'll probably rewrite it a few more times (this posting serves as a sort of index of my attempts to hit at this point from various angles.

1 comment:

Anonymous coward said...

"If you could enter a person's head and listen to their thought stream, you'd hear a nonstop litany of complaints about what's missing. " Leff

I have trouble with that now for sure. When I was younger I had more trouble with guilt. I felt remorse over all that I had, health, able bodied, living in a 1st world country. I think I grew up in an era where healthy, able bodied, and 1st world children were shamed for what they had by their teachers and the T.V. I felt like I didn't deserve nor earn any of what I had. This brought me a lot of unhappiness if I remember correctly. I felt bad for having all four limbs when others didn't.

I think my father told me something to the extent like "you have it so good and you don't even know it." This all goes in line with there are starving people in India, and you have food on your plate, so feel lots of negative feelings of guilt and remorse because it is the Christian thing to do.

I found reason helps a lot. Feeling negative feelings about having food on your plate while others don't won't help. If you really want to help educate yourself on the problem of 3rd world hunger. Educate others on the issue, maybe march or donate money or something. Or perhaps work on another easier problem.

"Before I do, think of the last moment when it all felt perfect; when you wouldn't have changed a single thing. Try to remember. I'll wait."

Happens several times a day, usually when I am petting an animal or highly engrossed in T.V., eating food, drinking a delicious beverage, or video games. My mood is a roller coaster of up and downs throughout the day.

"How was paradise lost? " Leff

As soon as my interest in the task began to wane. My attention would drift to my fatigue, soreness, dark and edgy fantasy involving violent flat Earthers in space ships and lizard men who believe they are the master race.

I have my doubts about the depression part. I think depression is a serious mental issue that should be left to professionals. After my dabbling in quackery, I tend to value expert opinion more and be skeptical of non-professional's opinions.

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