A metaphor for character building built with two friends: Some times the easiest way to encourage your self to climb is after you have fallen. Imagine your mental state as a cliff. Who you want to be, how you want to think and feel is high up on the cliff face. The ground at the bottom is where you are most base, self-loathing, helpless, and arrogant. Climbing up the cliff is very time-consuming without tools, and can be difficult. If you have been hanging on to the same part of the cliff for a long time, your proverbial muscles will have gotten used to simply being responsible for keeping you in place, and will be a little relieved, if you begin to slip. Many people will find their selves slowly slipping, due to depression or anxiety, and spend a few moments here and there frantically trying to climb back up to where they were comforted, spending more energy than they should just to return to where they had been. For some, slowly climbing past that point is enough. Growing stronger in small increments, exploring new ways of being one small step at a time, can get one near the top, if they are highly disciplined and patient. Others who find their selves falling may benefit from letting it happen.
Some times the easiest way to encourage your self to climb is after you have fallen. The bottom of the cliff is usually terrifying. Climbing can be scary too. On the ground level, though, there is an advantage. Though it may be dark and cold down there, being able to stand on the ground allows you to use your proverbial hands for things other than climbing. From the bottom you can build a ladder. From the bottom you can fashion any kind of ladder you like from any of the materials that you can find down there, walk it to a new edge of the cliff, and prop it up. From the bottom you can see many different areas of the cliff, as long as you are able to make your self look upward. From the bottom you can start a fresh climb, and aim your new ladder directly at your target. From no thing, you can become some thing new down to the last detail.
Though no ladder can be built that is long enough to get you to the top, you can climb it past the foundation of your cliff with ease, and, if you have picked a spot ripe with discipline and patience, you will easily step from the ladder, sink your fingers in to the cliff face, and continue your journey toward the top- and you will do it happily.
On taking care of your ‘computer’: A mind is a cluster of memories, and some of those memories are habits. Regular memories are like computer files such as documents or other media. Habits are like computer programs. Not all programs can handle the same file types, and some programs are hazardous to other programs and strenuous to the hard ware. A personality is a collection of habits, and just as programs can be installed, upgraded, deleted, and created so too can we change our habits and even become new personalities. Just like a computer, a solid operating system is required for other soft ware to run well, or even run at all. In time, a buggy system putting too much stress on the hard ware will no longer be able to run fun applications and access fun files. Maintain your operating system. Delete negative attitudes and thought loops.
On responsibility and blame: When you have a problem, do you take responsibility or find some one to blame? When you feel hurt by some thing that some one else does, do you immediately jump to accusations or do you remember that you and only you are responsible for your own emotions? Problems are to be solved, and to blame others is to give up control. We all strive to be masters of our own domains, and to blame others for our misfortunes every chance we get is to give away our domains to them. Some times others are spiteful and they take power away from us, and some times we need help, but when ever a problem arises we should always first ask our selves ‘what can I do to solve this?’ The more responsibility we can maintain, the more comfortable we will be by our selves.
On finding happiness and comfort: A friend recently asked me how to ensure that he becomes and stays happy. He said that when he thinks that he feels happy, he always wants to analyze how he feels in order to confirm it. As he knew from this repeated experience, analyzing positive emotions extinguishes them. It is a tragic thing that actively observing your own positive emotions collapses them, while actively observing negative feelings reinforces them. It is also unfortunate that not all feelings of pleasure and delight are healthy and good, such as the sensations of eating junk food or enacting revenge. One must learn through analysis and failed positive emotions what true happiness and comfort are, and then rest assured that experiencing them, not observing them, will bring them peace.
How can one repeatedly bring about happiness and comfort, though, without an observable system? Imagine getting from base line to happy as getting from A to Z. We do need systems to ensure repeated happiness and comfort, but they do not have to detail every letter. I called it ‘getting from A to T’, since the key is to develop systems that get you most of the way there and then allow the rest to unfold naturally. This is a subtle but significant difference. The change from controlled stimulation to naturally flowing joy can be thought of like a bullet being fired from a rifle. After the bullet begins its journey, it travels through a controlled environment: the barrel with its rifling. This forces the bullet to move in a straight line and spin. By beginning in a straight line, the bullet is ejected in a straight line. By being spun by the rifled barrel, the bullet is encouraged to continue along a straighter path had it not began in that environment. The barrel is A to T. When the bullet is in the air, it is going from T to Z.
On meditation: When I was a teenager I would meditate. I referred to this practice as achieving ‘State E’, a state of emptiness. It was forced dissociation, primarily from my own identity, but from others, my environment, and some times my memories as well. It was a way to be free from my emotions, things that I believed served no healthy purpose. This was ironic of course, because emotions are purpose. Last week I visited a Zen studio where I was briefly reminded of the method and purpose of Zen meditation. This form of meditation, like many other traditional forms, is meant to turn of thoughts, described by my instructor as ‘commentary’. The old me would have laughed at this, having believed that thinking is valuable and our only safeguard against feeling. Thinking is dangerous and draining too, though. And it is ultimately poor thinking that leads to loops of ill emotions. What’s more, as any psychologist might tell you, dissociation of all kinds can be dangerous too.
On young people and commitment to others: The same friend who inquired about my A to T model said during the same conversation that, though he loves the idea of a committed romantic relationship, he does not feel that he is ready. What’s more, he claimed that no one should be ready at his age, due to expectations of change. I had not thought about this before. I pride my self on how I have grown and changed, actively creating better habits and expelling bad ones. Concerning this point, my romantic ideals have definitely changed along with my other habits over time. How can I expect some one else to dramatically change along with me in the same ways? Who is arrogant enough to proclaim that their teen-aged self or twenty-some-thing years old self will be who they are for the rest of their lives? In this light, committed romantic relationships seems to be for people who have achieved their other dreams, settled in to their more-or-less final selves, and decided who they want to be for good.
This does not mean that romantic relationships have to wait, how ever. Though our interests change and so our friends often change, though we need to experience many different things in order to find what we really want, people can grow together and walk paths in parallel. It is difficult and unlikely, requires flexibility and patience, but it can be done, especially if one keeps in mind how impractical it is and adjusts accordingly.