Thursday, November 26, 2020

Liberation and Addiction

I've managed, after a three year effort, to integrate and streamline my thoughts on reframing - meanwhile shining light on the mysterious underpinnings of addiction. The following is lengthy but an easy read. If you’ve been sitting out my struggle to unknot these enigmas, this might be a good point to jump back in.


Liberation

Reframing is liberating. If life teaches us anything, it's that freedom is not achieved by optimizing conditions "out there". It's a matter of how you view it all from "in here." Imprisonment is a state of mind, so liberation lies in the reframing.
Leave a person in a quiet room, and he might meditate and one day leave in a state of vast peace. Put some bars on the window and the same person might decay into a debilitated wreck.
Since liberation requires reframing, an effective Messiah would need a flair for inducing shifts of perspective. And comedians are mini-Messiahs. They make us reframe a little. Jokes hinge on surprising shifts, and surprise is reframing (you can't shift perspective without surprise, and you can't surprise without inducing a shift of perspective). Major shifts are transformative, but minor ones provide a laugh and a lift. And maybe more than that. If you're stuck in a humorless frame of mind, a well-aimed laugh can really liberate. Suddenly it's a new universe, a new life, a new everything. It's all fresh.

Have you ever had a peak experience where everything felt completely fresh? That's the aftermath of a fundamental shift of perspective. You may not even fully notice. Liberation is vast yet subtle. Our human adaptability gobbles up reframings effortlessly. And it yearns to do so. This process must be constantly fed. As the song says, "I need a miracle every day." Reframing is liberating, and liberation is miraculous.

People suppose, wrongly, that the world dictates their perspective for them. This meta-framing (i.e. framing of framing) sticks. We feel like the victims of an oppressive, irritating world, comically/tragically failing to realize that it was entirely our doing. We chose to view it as such...and got stuck in that view.

Consider the crazy phrase "You're making me angry!" It strikes people as reasonable, but can anyone really make you angry? Can anyone make you anything? You own your perspective; your placement of attention; your conclusions.

You probably decline to engage with raving crazy people on the street. This disengagement stems from how you frame them, and yourself. Their ravings persist, often quite loudly, but you choose not to tune in or be triggered. You have that choice. You are the director of your attention; the producer of your inner experience. You, and only you, frame it. That's your freedom, and the exercise of this freedom is liberating. You only need to remember that you can.

Isn’t it interesting that some people rarely get angry while others remain permanently so? The outer reality is no different. Neither lives in a perfect world, free from abrasions and oppressions. They've just chosen different ways to frame it all. The overarching happiness level of your life - its tone - is a choice you once made (and continuously act to preserve).

Recognizing your underlying freedom is, itself, a liberating shift of perspective. It’s the key to the kingdom. It’s like the proverbial genie-wish for lots more wishes. And since one only feels free while exercising one's freedom, reframing must be an ongoing process. 

The Darkness of Frozen Perspective

Unfortunately, some people - hell, nearly all people - are rigidly stuck. And that's a big problem. Frozen perspective accounts for nearly all human darkness.

Here we are, coddled on a gorgeous planet full of life-giving oxygen, water, sunlight, food, and rich action to explore; possibly the only speck of color and comfort in a vast, dark, empty, airless universe. Those of us living in the First World are ultra-comfortable, ultra-entertained, ultra-safe, and enjoy all human knowledge, art, and entertainment - plus instant planetary communications - via a slab of glass in our pockets. Among our most vexing problems are an obscene surfeit of food and personal possessions. The only way to overlook our fantastic good luck would be to skew perspective and lock ourselves down tightly in that skew.

And we do. Oh, man, we do. Having forgotten that we choose our perspective, we find ourselves rigidly stuck. We forget that we control this thing (reframing's like a forgotten cell phone feature), so we flail and suffer, fake-mourning the fake-absence of our omnipresent definitional human faculty. Intentionally directing our attention to frame our inner experience in any of a multitude of ways is the thing humans do, just as fish swim and birds fly. That's why it's so seldom discussed or practiced. Fish don't contemplate swimming - though surely the more neurotic ones torture themselves by thinking "If only I could swim!" as they slice smoothly through the water.

Shifting perspective, aka reframing, is literally the easiest thing in the world. You don't even need to worry about shifting to a "better" perspective. In the large view, perspectives are neither good nor bad (the one you're currently inhabiting always seems best...until the moment you shift, as anyone who knows an ex-smoker or new religious convert will readily confirm). A shift - any shift at all - yields liberation. Your old perspective was not the problem. The problem was that you got stuck in it.

Depression

It's not even that shifting is so great; it's more that freezing's awful. We’ve devised a familiar term for frozen perspective: Depression (see link for full explanation; this post is long enough as-is!).

Here's a huge surprise: all the familiar depression symptoms arise even when perspective freezes on fantastic loveliness. Very advanced meditators discover that sitting in a lump all day enjoying gushing fountains of internal bliss looks unsettlingly similar to sitting in a lump all day ruminating over a romantic breakup. Or here's a more relatable example: per above, rich people (i.e. everyone in the First World) tend to be bored, jaded, inured, cynical and depressed. The luxurious stability of their circumstance lulls them into a frozen perspective, leaving them, ironically, miserable.

Human bodies don't function well when perspective freezes, regardless of the perspective. When perspective gets stuck, your body gets stuck and your entire world gets stuck. That's what depression is - the world getting stuck. Liberation - the restoration of vibrancy and dynamism and freedom - is eternally available if you'll just remember that you always have the option to reframe in an infinity of ways at any moment.

Addiction

We may grow quite desperate for liberation - for an escape from the monotonous world we've framed via a monotonous perspective. To rouse ourselves from depression, or to attempt, in our desperation, to stay ahead of the stuckedness, we clutch at straws. Things like booze, drugs, gambling, casual sex, and the other addictions serve as blunt instruments for forcing cheap momentary wisps of relief; of freedom. It's a last resort for those who've lost all interest in re-tuning their own perspective, and find themselves burdened and bored by a burdened, bored existence in an apparently burdensome, boring world.

A violent kick to the head is hardly an apt substitute for real liberation. It's not subtle, nor entirely pleasant, and you must contend with repercussions, rebounds, and a build-up of tolerance. But at least you’re temporarily jarred out of the monotony of a frozen perspective. If this is your sole avenue of relief, it will come to feel like salvation.

In the long run, dependence on kicks to the head just heightens the monotony; the freezing. You're imprisoned more and more tightly as you distract yourself from your innate facility for swapping in a different perspective. Reliance on a head kick reinforces the wrong-headed assumption that perspective is dictated by conditions "out there", rather than by your own choices "in here". So your entire life comes to center on some chosen kick (which becomes, itself, a monotonous freeze). You cling to this means of momentarily shaking things up to glean pitifully faint sniffs of the full freedom you’ve chosen to spurn.

Ernest Hemingway had surprising self-awareness of the catalyst behind his alcohol addiction (though insuficient wisdom to recognize that we frame the world, despite our demented and persistent efforts to coax the world into framing us).

Any Shift Will Do

Let's retrace steps and turn away from that ghastly cul-de-sac. The good news is that while we must shift easily and frequently to remain psychologically viable, it's the shifting that liberates, not the particulars of the impending perspective. Since the freedom's in the shift itself, there's no need to frame things optimally. Phew!

Many of us seek a better world which we hope will improve our perspective...with horrible results. A few of us struggle to instill a better perspective - a more "positive" one - also with horrible results. All this effort is neither necessary nor effective. We don't require an optimal world, an optimal perspective, or a kick in the head. We just need to periodically dislodge ourselves.

The game is about staying fluid. In fact, capricious dabbling - a carefree, child-like exploration of myriad perspective options - is the best approach.

Can You Let Go of Your Mythos?

There's a reason we resist a carefree, ad-hoc approach: It means letting go of certain things. Primarily, we need to come to terms with the fact that our lives are actually not weighty, significant, or dramatic.
This is not a movie. We're raindrops slowly working down windows, not heroic protagonists.
That's the bottleneck, right there. That's why we freeze. We're reluctant (often terrified) to lose our notion of a heroic/dramatic life trajectory; to let go of the impression that we're starring in a movie. No mournful cellos accompanying the sad lonely bits nor timpanis thundering as we accelerate to beat traffic lights. Pay raises don't elevate us, nor do firings crush us. It's all just stuff - happening around us, not to us. We are blithely curious travelers. We are not the protagonists in this drama.

For many/most/all of us, that's a daunting come-down (from a pedestal that was conceptual to begin with: again, this is all framing). But it needn’t be. We just need to understand that letting go of that fluff is ultimately liberating, not deflationary. There's no need to stoke a patently false self-image of primacy and centrality. It was always a lie...and, ultimately, a horrendous burden. It's the most deeply-frozen perspective; the one at your core. Its intransigence underpins much of the darkness, monotony, pain, and, especially, depression.

There's another choice; another perspective. Wear the world - yourself included! - lightly, for greatest enjoyment.

Some will feel repulsed by this timeless advice. Such people are sold on the notion that it's dramatic intensity that makes life worthwhile, failing to recognize that the people urging lightness tend to be extraordinarily well-acquainted with dramatic intensity, so they know whereof they speak. Postings like this - Slogs like this - appear when someone's traveled to the end of those corridors, discovering where they ultimately lead. The heady attractions (aka "temptation") have been amply tasted and deemed a sugar high at best. Meh.

In a Comfortable World, We Must Learn to Remember to Shift

Once again, the shifting itself liberates, not the shift-to arrival point. We always get this wrong, pinning our sensation of liberation on the new perspective...which always seems terrific for a short while (you've finally got it!), until the buzz inevitably fades. Liberation never lasts; that's the core human complaint.

I offer a novel explanation and prescription: Keep shifting, preferably with eager relish. Failure to do so explains why depression - aka frozen perspective - has remained so mysterious (we don't need a bright shimmering pathway out. No "healing". Just stop feeding the monotonous rumination which makes the world seem heavily monotonous! Flip to another perspective!), and, likewise, addiction (having forgotten that you own your own perspective, a cheap kick to the head became your sole liberation; your only way out. Flip to another perspective!).

The foundational human tragedy stems from the mistaken assumption that the world creates our frame of perspective for us ("You're making me mad!"), so liberation (which we always imagine will be permanent next time) must await better conditions and clearer weather. That outlook worked ok for a long while; humanity thrived for millennia under this misapprehension. But now, as poverty evaporates and we grow unimaginably wealthy, healthy, comfortable, and secure, we can no longer coast passively through it all, perspective-wise. The world is no longer the wild, terrifying ride it was. The weather’s nearly always sunny.

Per one of the foundational Slog postings:
After millennia spent desperately seeking cheat codes for this world, figuring the whole while that things would be so much better if only we could purge the illness and lions and warlords, the famines, droughts, and extreme poverty, we've done it! This richest of rich-world countries has expunged the vast majority of its nemeses! Yet look around you. Most of us spend most of our time building needless drama, stress, and sorrow for ourselves. We are far more depressed than any human beings anywhere, ever. We build internal towers of brooding discontent, and spend vast tracts of time lost in tumultuous TV shows and video games and sad songs and memories of pain and worries of loss, desperately seeking out whatever snatches of drama we can find to identify with. Having finally slayed the monsters, we are bored, discontent, and hellbent on creating new monstrous worlds to inhabit as deeply and as continuously as possible.
We coddled moderns are mired in misery, consumed by anxiety and depression (cleverly escaping self-awareness by absurdly framing ourselves as living in Hell; e.g. we bitterly kick every horrible, no-good year in the ass on its way out every New Year's Eve. Lord, how we suffer!). Without the attacking lions, marauding warlords, impending famines, grueling warfare, and all-consuming mythologies conspiring to keep things juicy, we struggle feebly to trick ourselves into unforced shifts of perspective. If the world no longer stresses us into frequent shifting, we manufacture fake stress via our imagination (worries, fantasies, "Rich People's Problems", etc.), entertainments (movies, video games, etc.), or else we simply kick ourselves in the head for a squalid buzz. We traumatize our comfortable, blessed lives (perhaps even willingly wrecking our own beloved country) to raise stakes and experience a jolt; something strong and epic, like in The Old Days.

This explains, among many other things, the Drake Equation. As I once hypothesized:
Scientists keep trying to tweek the Drake Equation to explain the absence of evidence of advanced civilization in the Universe. What is the X Factor obliterating civilizations before they can build Dyson Spheres, capturing the totality of a star's energy, or find a way to communicate over the void with brutes like us?

Comfort and wealth, baby. That's the perilous X Factor. Comfort and wealth.
Spurning Utopia

The stability mankind has always sought has made us miserable, because we still depend on wash cycles of fraught drama to force the shifts our psyches require. In our desperation, we resort to stupid, self-destructive channels for a whiff of liberation. A world of tamed dangers and ample gifts can't coax passive aristocrats into shifting perspective (a lion rushing at your throat will really seize your attention!), so we turn viciously on Utopia, viewing its remaining puny hurdles and annoyances as super-oppressors. Per the princess and the pea, subtler and subtler irritants seem increasingly galling. It all turns to shit while we, at long last, are enthroned in Utopia. That is the current trendy, contagious reframing, and it's already lost its freshness, so the clock's ticking.

Thirsty for deeper, more liberating shifts, we will contrive ever more gripping drama and grievance, even though, as with Dorothy and her ruby slippers, everything we were looking for was right there with us all along.

While You're At It...

Thanks for reading. Tip your bartenders.

Since you've shown the patience to tackle long form explanations, I offer some slightly less fully-baked but still interesting and novel efforts I humbly consider worth your attention:

Mankind has had a devil of a time trying to bottle lightning and get a handle on the most fleeting of phenomena: Epiphany, Eureka, and Inspiration. They've long remained elusive because we've been foggily amnesiac re: our innate reframing ability. Work on that a bit, and the fickle Muses grow more responsive.

A really useful testing ground for reframing is the application of Forgiveness. Not big showy huggy dramatic gestures; I mean the internal process. Shift from seeing it this way to seeing it that way. That's what reframing is, and it's stupendously, maddeningly easy (don't tell yourself a story about having done it. Don't just pose. Really actually do it!).

The most interesting question of all: Who, exactly, is The Framer?

The Visualization Fallacy is a series of extraordinarily wide-ranging postings explaining that framing doesn't just color our world, it creates it. The insight is quite simple, but requires great effort (and lots of words) to explain, because so many false assumptions must be hacked through. This series sheds light, among many other things, on parallel universes.

I sketched it out quickly as it spilled into my brain, and didn't try to polish it much. But I've spent the subsequent three years retracing - organizing, streamlining, and struggling to express it more accessibly (this present effort is by far my best effort to date). But I never returned to the deeper, more speculative parts, because, frankly, I'm way out of my element; over my skis. I'm nowhere near smart enough to properly explain it. Oddly, my insight vastly exceeds my intelligence...and I ain't getting any smarter.

Soothing the Baby fills in the back story of the lifelong "letting go" which led me to realize the primacy (and perqs!) of framing. I trace some of the steps I took to open myself up, as a spiritual child prodigy.

I've linked to it, above, but, in case you missed it: “Why God Lets Bad Things Happen” (Spoiler: it’s ‘cuz we like it that way).

One lifelong perspective gave me a hell of a hard time: the tendency to keep asking myself "What's missing?" Before I began diving into framing, I traced my progress dropping that persistent and highly destructive perspective, finally indexing those efforts in a posting titled "The Evolution of a Perspective".

As I note in that last link, I began to recognize what was going on one night when, in a spectacular (and spectacularly self-indulgent) feat of reframing, I helplessly watched along while my mind kept flipping a wonderful evening into devastation...and then back again. Back and forth. The experience was the genesis for all of this, prodding me into spending twelve years untangling it all. Go back in time and ponder with me "The Deeper Implications of Holiday Blues".




I realize postings like this seem densely cumbersome. It's true that they're written with the expectation of multiple re-readings, but this was actually a feat of simplification. Entire canons of theology and fields of mythos have been distilled into a few down-to-earth paragraphs. As unwieldy and opaque as this may seem, it might be the simplest, clearest explanation of what makes humans tick presented to date. It's way less challenging than spending decades contemplating in a frigid, pizza-less Himalayan cave. And even the shivering swamis never boiled it down and un-knotted it to this degree.

Aspects of these insights have been recognized and explained, piecemeal, by sages over the eons, but, to my knowledge, it's never been so stripped down, de-mythologized, and integrated. It's never been stated without resorting to overblown woo-woo contrivances. I'm not bragging (I'm plenty confused and cloudy and oafish in plenty of ways). I just want you to understand that, despite the lack of self-important weightiness, this is worth consideration. Crap, even that sounded la-dee-dah. Lord, grant me gravitas...




Does reframing seem abstract? Too hard to wrap your mind around?

I understand (and will offer some suggestions, below), but first I need to emphasize that you can't wrap your mind around reframing because reframing is, by definition, an unwrapping. That's why our best stuff - our creative inspiration, eurekas, and epiphanies - evade formulization despite mankind's incessant efforts. It's not like discussing some concrete, material Something. Subjectivity is squishier than objectivity. That's why I've developed this fresh approach to meta-frame it all.

But, sure, let's get practical. If you do nothing but play chess for days and someone suddenly comes along and kicks the board and all its pieces up into the sky, revealing that you've been sitting in a beautiful garden - failing to notice because your attention was so fixated that your chess board had become your universe - that's not a recognition you'd have "wrapped your mind around" prior to the disruption, because it didn't involve movements of knights, rooks, or pawns! There's no "kick the board" move in chess!
That last sentence deserves much contemplation (I have a bad habit of burying ledes). It offers a visceral experience of the foundational shift characteristic of reframing. It serves as a tidy parable for everything I'm saying here.
The board kick was an application of pure Creativity - which always manifests as surprise, which is the hallmark of a shifted perspective; of liberation from the imprisonment of frozen perspective. So here's my question: if such a thing happened to you, leaving you delighted by liberation and freshly enjoying the lovely garden (assuming you'd mananaged to overcome your initial sputtering outrage at the startling disruption), would you think to yourself "Geez, who can I hire to come kick the board for me periodically?" Or would you keep a vial of crack handy as a distracter, filling the role of lunging lion? Or would you, could you, perhaps entertain the option of simply remembering to look up once in a while? It's so much easier; so much cleaner. No fuss; just change your channel for a moment. It's what you should have done, anyway, rather than wait for a kicker to randomly come around! You needn't wither within a perceptual dungeon of monotonous chess, nor force a reset by smoking crack. Just look up sometimes!

This is what this all ultimately amounts to: Look up once in a while! Or, if you're already doing that, look down! Whatever! Be lithe! Recognize your freedom to adopt infinite perspectives! That's the ridiculously simple and easy path of liberation and freedom! It required 4000 words of explanation because, for those who've forgotten that they always possess the option (i.e. 99.9% of humanity), the suggestion sounds like crazy talk. There's no "up" on a chess board! “What, precisely, do you mean by 'up', you deranged lunatic?" [Here's a similar scenario of oblivious rejection of an easy reframing suggestion.]

If you require more concrete examples (there's a dandy one in the second paragraph - "Leave a person in a quiet room...", plus the link in the previous paragraph, plus the entire chess parable...c'mon, reader, you're drowning in examples!), this Slog offers many. Here's one, and here's another. And here's the tale of distraught mourners being immediately restored to their everyday selves via five minutes of some goofy dude stringing words together. It was seamless, so none present consciously recognized what had transpired nor identified a cause. Liberation happens in your head and is projected outward into a revised world, so there's no reason to look for some character hoisting a magic wand. Reframing is an "in-here" move. In its aftermath, the outer world seems fresh. That's the formula - simple but highly counterintuitive.




Special thanks to reader Lynn W for affirming that I'm not annoying/confusing every last person out there with these framing postings.

I'm mortified that they make me look like a kook, or, worse, a prophet. I'm just desperately trying to get through life with less disorientation than during my first half-century. I'd truly prefer to keep this stuff to myself, but when I consider the stars that aligned to evoke these insights - a perfect storm of arcane talents and cruel life lessons - I realize it's unlikely to be so deeply understood and accessibly expressed any time soon, and I might save some hypothetical someone some trouble, confusion, and pain.

If such a person stumbles into this Slog and feels a buzz of truth, I hope they'll take time to really plunge in...and, eventually, surpass my understanding and/or expression. Leap frog straight over my arduous work, relieving me of the burden and embarrassment of serving as the awkward larynx for this wisdom. And then, maybe, step quietly aside, yourself. That'd be best. We're ants.

As I wrote here:
Life consists of a series of revisitations to tired cliches, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. And so it is with Edison's "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." That quotation used to conjure up images of wild-eyed fanatics banging hammers in garages in the middle of the night. But it's just a matter of normal people blithely but indefatigably putting out. The Colorado River, etcher of the mighty Grand Canyon, is just some shitty little river. The best among us are shitty little rivers. To me, that's what Edison was saying.

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