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NAVIGATING THE LANDSCAPE

July 9th, 2020

 

The landscape of emotion that we move through is not one we generally navigate in a straightforward way.  We develop a faulty patchwork of hacks and tricks, some work, while others even undermine our aims.  Nowhere is this attempt to self-manipulate more clear than with the artificial hardships we fling ourselves at.

 

We put ourselves through artificial hardship all the time.  Whether it be a course for school, or a training routine at the gym.  Many of these hardships, perhaps nearly a majority in modern times aren’t strictly necessary.  And yet we endure, ideally willingly, these artificial hardships in order to achieve some sort of delayed gain.  The process for most of this is first and foremost an emotional puzzle.  We attempt to set ourselves up with levels of obligation to ensure we’ll actually follow through.  We take out the loan, and pay for the course, we buy a year membership at the gym, and then we moan and groan every time we need to get up for school or the gym.

 

We try to trick ourselves in this way, never really addressing the issue at core: how to navigate and influence the shape of emotion in the moment. 

 

Do you know how to turn anger into peace,

 

embarrassment into joy,

 

sadness into gratitude?

 

 

Every day gives us a near constant stream of opportunities to meet these emotions with new strategies.  Be it a lack of motivation, anger, sadness, sudden disappointment or embarrassment.  It is possible to meet these colors of existence with an equanimity that deflates their power and makes room for a mindful choice, an emotional pivot that changes the terrain by successfully navigating it.

 

We often just stumble forward through these landscapes, instead of pausing, assessing the obstacle and then deciding whether to scale it or find some alternate route around.

 

The skill starts by clearly recognizing what that landscape looks like in the moment.  We need only notice, and when we fail to notice the emotion, we often get drunk with it and move on blindly as though blindfolded,  stumbling into obstacle after obstacle.

 

Navigation starts not with movement, but with pause, by assessing the surroundings and the entire landscape.  It’s only with a lay of the land in mind that it becomes possible to move in meaningful directions.

 


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Podcast Ep. 816: Navigating The Landscape

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USEFUL DUD

July 8th, 2020

 

This episode somehow just doesn’t want to get written.  It’s taken a few failed paragraphs, all deleted to realize just how appropriate it is to fail the attempt to write an episode entitled useful dud.

 

Comedic self-castigation aside…

 

How do we usually react when our effort fail to take off?  When our hope is greeted by the silence of a dud that forever keeps the other shoe from dropping.  If it’s in the presence of others, it’s likely we can expect embarrassment.  Perhaps some negative self-talk creeps in.  Perhaps just the sadness of crushed hopes.

 

There is a miss opportunity with such stereotypical reactions.  We can do a better job of navigating this corner of the emotional landscape.  For one, a dud is better than no attempt at all.  Sure it can be demoralizing to release a project to the sound of crickets, but realize how insidious it is to avoid that embarrassment and shame by not trying at all in the first place?  It is possible to avoid a lot of difficult emotions by simply never trying in the first place.  But such a stance admits that there’s no value in difficult emotions, that they are wholly bad, and can’t be better navigated, transmuted, and even, appreciated.  Those who never try in the first place rob themselves of possible success certainly, but also the enormous benefit that can come from enjoying failure.

 

Be proud to send up a dud every once in a while.  That invisible spectacle is for no one other than yourself.  It’s proof, that you can handle it happening.  It’s training so that when something you’ve inadvertently put a lot of hope behind – fails - you don’t crumble and dissolve into disappointment. 

 

You smile for your ability to gracefully entertain embarrassment, even in the face of those who clearly feel it for you.

 

If you can enjoy failure, then you can learn anything, because we don’t learn through success, we learn by falsifying our ideas with failed experiments.  Duds turn out to be useful in two ways.  Not only are we challenged with a way to deal with such emotions, but such duds tell us what doesn’t work.

 


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Podcast Ep. 815: Useful Dud

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THIS

July 7th, 2020

 

For just a moment, pay attention to this.  Not just these words, whether you’re listening to them, or reading them, but to the context in which they exist.  Of course, this larger context is available to only you.  It’s where you are, what temperature it is, what the quality of light is, whether muted from clouds or bright with sun.  It’s the sensations of the body either at rest or at work with whatever you’re doing in addition to the experience defined by just these words.  That ask is mainly for you to pay attention to your experience of being alive at this moment.  This is your life right now. . . apparently.

                       

From a technical perspective, we create our life as we live it.  As one particularly infamous movie phrased, life as we experience it is just electrical signals interpreted by your brain. 

 

Our idea of color, shape, sound, even temperature and pressure, all of these things are methods of interpretation evolved by the brain so that our consciousness has a coherent picture of reality in a way that allows us to have an effect on it. 

 

There are, for example, other slices of the light spectrum that we cannot see.  Pigeons apparently don’t look so bland to other pigeons because their feathers reflect ultraviolet light and so their wings light up in ways that are totally unavailable to humans.  But even this radiant fluorescence that we can imagine pigeons seeing is again a method of interpretation.  There’s no way to tell what reality looks like without a certain built in perspective, as in eyes, ears, taste buds and the like.

 

Two questions illuminate the issue:

 

 Does the color blue look like blue to everyone or do some people have a different blue?

 

Or we can wonder:

 

Does blue even exist without a way to see it?

 

This later question is of course a mutation of that question about the sound a falling tree makes in the absence of anyone to hear it.  We can expand infinitely outward and wonder:  Does the universe exist if there’s no one to experience it?

 

There’s no way to know because of this.  That is, what you are experiencing right now.  It’s simultaneously in the way of our exposure to un-interpreted reality and also our only bridge to get any sense of what it may be.

 

The range of reaction we can draw from this oddly wide.  It can be disturbing that we’re only ever seeing an interpretation of reality.  At the same time, it can seem infinitely empowering to have created your own interpretation of reality.  It hints at the possibility that it can be remade, recreated and tinkered with in order to change your circumstance for better and better.  Of course the converse is true, and all of this harks of a line from John Milton’s Paradise Lost:

 

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..

 

We can take this a step further and reflect on the quaint fact that we are all made of start dust, or some other less appetizing detritus spewed from the belly of dying star.  Fact is, each and every one of us isn’t separate from the universe living in the universe, we are each just a little formation of the universe. 

 

When we speak to one another, reality is having a conversation with itself.

 

It’s rather tremendous to meditate on the amount of influence we have on the nature and course of that conversation.  We have each entrusted one another with this wide fun experiment we call living.  It’s perhaps wise we do our best by it because in the end, all we have is this.


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Podcast Ep. 814: This

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MAD

July 6th, 2020

 

If someone is mad, does that mean they’ve gone mad?

 

With all due respect and intended courtesy to those with mental capacities deemed abnormal, the connection here between being mad and having gone mad, is not intended to offend but to examine the linguistic similarity and explore what it means to make good decisions.

 

It’s a matter of fact that society restricts the possible actions of those with mental disabilities and abnormalities.  The most prevalent restriction is probably a driver’s license.  The ability to drive has a further restriction on everyone when mind altering substances are involved, such as alcohol.  We don’t trust people to make good vehicular decisions while drinking for good reason:  people become quite bad at driving. It would be interesting to see how other mental states affect people while driving.  For example:  should it be illegal to drive a car while very angry?  Perhaps so, considering people have their mental capabilities greatly altered while in a state of anger.  No one is without a lingering regret over how they acted while angry at some point in the past.  We all fall victim to the poor choices made while mad.  Apparently in Germany a hangover is considered a temporary disease.  Perhaps the mental state of rage could be considered as a temporary mental illness.

 

Sanity is the ability to stay calm.

 

In fact, it may be permissible to argue that any emotion, if ratcheted to a sufficient degree of intensity might be classified as a kind of temporary illness of the mind, a touch of insanity.  Brain studies reveal striking similarities between people who are newly in love and the signatures of a manic episode for an individual suffering from bipolar disorder.

 

Shakespeare pointed this out a little while ago, from As You Like It, he speaks through the character of Rosalind:

 

Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punish’d and cured is, that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.

 

Shakespeare is probably angling for humor here, but it’s oddly appropriate that neuroscience has unearthed some truth in his observation.  Dare we go so far to say that those experiencing the very highest heights of love shouldn’t drive a car?  Perhaps, but then we’re also leaning towards Huxley’s Brave New World, where all variance in emotional experience is hoovered out of the human population.

 

The trained ability to peacefully face a maddening situation, or any emotionally intense situation is really the only way to seeing next steps that have a chance of being effective.  Anger and rage, jealousy and envy, embarrassment and shame – none of these are the source nor inspiration of ideas that move our lives forward.  The perverse decisions that can grow from these emotions certainly make for a more interesting life similar to the drama of movies and television, but this is likely not the sort of ideal that many of us would like to shoot for.

 

Do we improve our life and the lives of those around us when we act while angry?

 

 

Would you trust someone who’s gone mad to make good decisions?

 

Correction:

 

Would you trust someone who is mad to make good decisions?

 

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 813: Mad

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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: SUBVERSIVE SERVANT

July 5th, 2020

 

 

The sunshine seemed to waver before it’s sheet of bright blue.  Light breeze drifted along an edge of the garden, and the crisp murmur of deep green leaves joined Lucilius’ realm of appreciation.  Distant taps grew harried and stamped, and Lucilius looked just in time to see the old wooden gate to his garden slammed shut by a friend.  Lucilius noticed one of the old joints in the gate gently fall apart from the crash.  He noted the need for fixing as he breathed in deep and took in the infuriated air of his friend as the man approached.

 

“Well, hello,” Lucilius said cheerfully.

 

The man glanced at Lucilius only to confirm the smile on Lucilius’ face.

 

“Same thing as yesterday, or something new today?” Lucilius asked.

 

The man’s pacing stopped.  “What’s that supposed to mean?” he snapped.

 

Lucilius shrugged. “If it’s the same thing as yesterday, it saves you some explanation.”

 

“No really,” the man doubled-down, “what’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Lucilius shook his head softly.  “You were mad yesterday… you’re mad today…”

 

“You saying I’m always mad?”

 

“It wouldn’t be accurate to say it’s not a part of how you operate.”

 

“What is this?” the man charged, “yesterday you were kind, you understood what I was going through, and today, I get this snark.”

 

“You’re right, I should be more consistent,” Lucilius said, “like you.”

 

“Oh, so I’m always mad?”

 

“Yea, we just went over this.”

 

“Why are you doing this?  Can’t you see I’m already I’m angry?  Why are you trying make this worse for me?”

 

“Well,” Lucilius said, leaning back against the great oak tree of his garden, breathing in, his brow softly rising.  “You seem determined that such anger will show you the way forward.  You entertain it all the time, so it must work for you.  Does it not follow to help you by fueling it a little more?  Get you there faster to the crux of action?”

 

“Oh so you are trying to make me more angry, great.”

 

“Figure it might help.”

 

“And why do you figure that?”

 

“Like I said, you entertain anger so much.”

 

“You say it like I have choice.  You think I wanted to be angry today?

 

Lucilius shrugged.  “Does it really work any other way?”

 

“Something bad happens, you get pissed off.  With what you’re saying it’s like I want bad things to happen because I want to be pissed off.”

 

Lucilius dazed off momentarily as he listened.  His eyes came to focus and he found he was looking at the gate at the other end of the garden, now broken.  He smiled limply, and kept the smile as he looked back to his friend.

 

“How well does it serve you?”

 

“What?”

 

“Your anger, yesterday.  Today… Every time something bad happens: how well does your anger serve you?  Does it do the job?  Does it help?  Do you find yourself reflecting gratefully upon the brilliant things you’ve done out of anger?  Because, if the answer is yes, if anger serves you well, then I don’t see much problem.”

 

Lucilius’ friend merely looked away, squinting at the brighter sight of blue.

 

“It seems to me that anger serves you much as it serves everyone else.  As a servant of your person, your character, and your life, it seems to serve itself first, provoking you again, beyond the bad bit of life, spurring you on to some other decision to regret, to bitterly reflect upon, and again get angry about.  In that way, anger seems as though it has more foresight than ourselves, planting seeds in the present for a worse future, one over which we’re likely to again become angry.”

 

The man’s mouth pulled tight against his face as he looked away from Lucilius.  Then he walked away, hurriedly.  And when he opened the gate, his anger interrupted momentarily from the reluctance of the little door.  The man looked to find the damaged bottom dragging on the stone path.  But the resistance only frustrated him more, the realization of what he’d done making it worse.  He tore the gate open and tried to slam it again, but it slid short and stopped as the man walked away.

 

Lucilius got up and slowly walked to the gate.  He knelt down to look at the details of the break.  He’d been meaning to tend to it for some time, having noticed how weak it’s construction had grown.  It would be good, Lucilius reflected.  It had been quite a while since he’d plied his tools, and now he wondered why, knowing how much he enjoyed the work, now grateful for the opportunity.


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Podcast Ep. 812: A Lucilius Parable: Subversive Servant

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If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.