Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Water’s Just Fine, Regardless

An old friend who's one of the best musicians in NYC just told me he's in rehabilitation after having been institutionalized for several months for mental issues. I knew he was perennially depressed, and had struggled with substance abuse while coping with some bad childhood trauma. But it apparently came to a head. I sent him this.

It's the third in a series of examples of induced perceptual reframing, along with this and this. Those two "worked"; this one, we'll see (the payload, tied to his specific background and prompting him to use his toolset, is the short final sentence; the rest is just prep):

I'm very sorry to hear that. Let me know if I can help with any real world issues. I have a car.

I’ve been having the converse experience, probably not much more pleasant.

Most people find a way to make their generally pleasant life experience a living hell. I’ve always been curious about this, and even did it myself for a while. Finally, I tried the opposite move, just for shits and giggles. I dropped my resistance to whatever happened, and to whatever my mind conjured up (worries, memories, etc.). No flinching. No judging. I lean in. It’s all “acceptable” (ha, like the world cares how I label it!).

I made that my move. Whatever happens, I embrace. Not stoically/dramatically (I gave up the dramatization habit), just gamely up for the experience. I just live right through it all, come what may. Not trudging/shlepping amid persecution, just curiously receptive to the latest. Even when it’s horrible.

And it’s been kind of horrible (almost like my resolve's been tested). So while everyone else dramatizes and ruins a pleasant life, I’ve been gamely embracing a life that’s horrible on paper. It only feels horrible if I resist, or take the drama view, though. So I just don’t. It’s sort of like one of those Chinese finger traps, on grand scale.

I recognized that the move that's always made me miserable was to frame the world as events happening to me. That sounds so normal it’s impossible to imagine another view. But the other view is that things happen around me, not to me. I'm just sort of there, blinking and watching, same old me, unaffected.

I know I’m unaffected because the awareness peering out of my eyes hasn’t changed since as far back as I can remember. My body may be completely different, and the contents of my memory and mind may be completely different (that stuff does get affected by what happens) but the awareness, the presence, has never changed, so it’s never been touched. It’s always curiously taking it all in. And that’s who I am. As such, nothing ever happened to me. And I’m gamely receptive.

Like I said, often it feels like a test (“Oh, yeah? Try gamely embracing THIS!!!”) I’ve had horrific things thrown at me, and if I lapse into my old habit of resisting (and self-consciously watching my dramatic character suffer), the suffering can be remarkable. But I don’t lapse as much now. I’m not in a movie. I just live straight through it (not as some insipid “personal growth” bullshit, but as a commitment that required insight and courage and gnarly life experience). As I do so, the water’s just fine, regardless.

Anyway, that’s my story. It’s nice in one view, horrific in another. It’s a fresh perspective on great pain, not a negation of it. We have infinite freedom to shift perspective, which only gets as stuck as we want it to be. The world does what it does, but we can view it in an infinity of ways. I think maybe that’s what creativity is: ingenious reframing.

Your friend,


[Update: total radio silence. Upon rereading, I see I loaded it up with WAY too much stuff, WAY too much concept, way too much crap he'd never relate to. I probably looked like a loon - which is fine, I'd risk that if it might help, but...sigh. I am, alas, not always very good at this, and don't mind freely admitting it]


Display Name said...

another great post Jim Thanks I hope things ease up for you and your friend. Thought about your slog last night as I was watching Arrow. One of the main villans explains to his young adult daughter that Pain Is Inevitable; Suffering Is Optional. Then he pours boiling hot water on the back of her hand. After he does it with his own hand. Did you see sheldon today? Now that boy had way too much fun with the flipped perspective. omfg.

Jim Leff said...

I was afraid that might concern people. Every word was true, but I feel very little pain. I didn’t want to stress that in my letter because the point wasn’t to hold myself up as a paragon. It’s not relatable.

Now, in terms of what I went through en route to equanimity, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But even the memories don’t haunt me. I don’t frame that way. It’s empty dramatic indulgence. It’s not true. I love truth.

Blog Archive