Friday, October 9, 2020

How to Be a Ninja

Today I knocked over a small bottle with the back of my hand. As it fell toward the floor, I snatched it with that same hand, catching it swiftly in mid-fall. No biggie.

It dawned on me that I'd done something almost impossibly hard. And I must emphasize that I'm not well-coordinated. Yet this sort of thing happens a lot.

To solve this mystery, your first observation would be that I'm calm. So there’s no spastic flustered flailing. My face remains placid and my heart rate doesn’t budge. And, indeed, that's a big part of it. But the full explanation has to do with bandwidth.

Most people in that situation would launch a mental narrative that's lengthy but fast-playing (since it's so familiar and rehearsed):

"Aw, crap. Another thing's going wrong in this shitty day of my shitty life in this shit-tastic universe. I'd better catch the goddamn bottle. Now, where is the thing? There? Better grab fast. GO! GO! GO, goddamn it!! I'll probably miss, and that will suck even more..."
You protest, right? You believe you're nowhere near so negative! Well, let me ask you this: have you ever spent a New Year's Eve thinking "that was a real good year?" No, you haven't. Not once. We kick every year in its ass on its way out. Every damned one. To a neutral observer (say, your great-great grandfather, before he died from that infected paper cut or was eaten by a bear or shot and left to bleed out during some grisly armed conflict), we're living far more comfortable, luxurious, secure, empowered, and entertained lives than our ancestors could have imagined, including emperors (Julius Caesar would switch places with you in a heartbeat). Yet, to us jaded aristocrats, it's a nonstop toilet flush. We live in Shit World, a conceptual realm with little resemblance to the world in which we actually live, which is a unique tiny point of delight - a refuge of nourishing sunlight, oxygen, food, water, love, entertainment and infinitely rich possibility within a vast universe of dark empty coldness. Even if the president tweets like a lunatic and you have to wear a mask at the supermarket. 
The bottle has hit the ground before your hand got anywhere close. And this triggers yet another "Oh, shit!" response. Another aggravation to add to add to the immense psychic burden (every stubbed toe, every blasting alarm clock, every misplaced car key, etc.).

I wrote the following here:
Once you’ve escaped the ISIS prison camp, and made it back home, it’s a good idea, when you stub your toe, to resist the urge to cry “DOES IT EVER END??”

If you don’t watch out, that can be the rest of your life. It can really happen. And it’s needless.
While none of us have been through anything as traumatic as an ISIS prison camp, we nonetheless weave our indignities into a continuity. It's your little project. Your "Story".
There are no stories. Stories are fake graft-ons. What's real is right-here, right-now, and it's all absolutely snowy fresh in each and every moment. Nothing sticks unless we choose to hypnotize ourselves into pretending it does.
That's why we needlessly flail and stress when bottles fall. Our attention is fragmented, plus the bottle represents much more than just some bottle.

Moving on, contrast that "normal" mental narrative with what goes through my mind after I knock over a bottle:
That's it! I register and react freshly, without weaving it into an overarching tale of woe or augmenting a weighty burden. The bottle is framed as just a bottle. Fun! Catch!

My brain doesn't waste cycles with surprise or complaint. Programs don't run, violins doesn't play, dialog is not read. And in the spacious silence of my bemused response, 100% of my cognitive bandwidth is available to set in motion my snatching of the bottle. And that's how a phlegmatic elderly trombonist surprises himself with Ninja moves.
I'm not joking. That's actually how Ninjas did it. Spirituality has been the eternal secret sauce for martial artists and such. I've given away the secret, boiled down to its essence - a flick of attention; a reframing. One can easily opt out of self-defeating mental self-indulgence - and there's really nothing else you need to know. You just have to want to.
A couple postings ago, I explained how most people fritter away cognitive bandwidth on self-defeating crap. They can barely function, much less pursue secondary considerations such as the happiness of those around them. Humans aren't unkind because they're evil. It’s because they have few spare mental cycles available for non-compulsory stuff like kindness or generosity.

It's a deep problem - the human problem - and it all happens too internally to draw much attention. But there are times when it externalizes. It can be glimpsed, for example, in the spastic, flailing, grasping, stressed, aggrieved way we snatch for falling bottles. 

This Slog is full of insight made possible by the simple trick of declining to waste bandwidth on miserably self-defeating fluffy fluff. It's a feat not of intelligence but of clarity. I don't keep replaying old arguments and injustices, or endlessly find fault with the current moment. As anyone who doesn't own a TV (I didn't get one until 2006) will tell you, it’s amazing what you can get done simply by opting out of needless distraction.

There are two ways to be smart: 1. be smart (which is hard...I’ve never managed it, myself), or 2. reduce your stupidity, which is comparatively easier. The problem is that to reduce one's stupidity, one must concede that one is stupid, and people would much rather feel smart than be smart, so conceding stupidity is the last thing they want to do....which keeps them stupid.

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