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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

MENTAL HYGGE

April 30th, 2021

In Danish and Norwedgian cultures there is a concept called ‘Hygge’, pronounced ‘who-glee’.  It refers to the measure of coziness and comfortable conviviality that any given space has.  For example, your favourite coffee shop probably has excellent Hygge, while a hospital with it’s sterile, fluorescent environment lacks pretty much any positive measure on this spectrum.  

 

Many cultures outside of Scandinavia could benefit greatly from a consideration of Hygge.  North America is certainly one of them.  But beyond this, the external world we create probably reflects to a good deal our internal mental world.  There is something ironic about considering something like Hygge in the first place is likely indicative of positive mental health.  

 

Many people can notice this on a small individual scale.  We often procrastinate by tidying up, but once the tidying is actually done, the mental space as influenced by the actual physical space is a bit more positive.  Hygge in terms of the design, layout and ambiance of an entire room or house just takes this to a whole new level.

 

As an aside, we might wonder how much more benefit the mentally ill would experience if mental institutions were designed to be incredibly cozy, as opposed to something like a hospital or a prison.

 

But regardless of the physical space where we might find ourselves, applying the concept of Hygge to one’s own mind yields an interesting question:  Is it comfortable and cozy to be in your mind? To be in your skin?  To be you?

 

This is a bit like the opposite of anxiety, and it’s interesting that we don’t really have an explicit antonym for anxiety.  Is it relaxed?  Or happy?  Content? Or Fulfilled?  All of these are slightly different aspects that are actually quite transient.  We can’t feel any of them all the time, and yet there must be some sort of quality of mind the persists across all these transient states.  Is that quality a cozy one?  Or do you have some redesigning to do?


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Podcast Ep. 1111: Mental Hygge

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INVERSION OF STRESS

April 29th, 2021

 

Putting off a necessary chore is a strange sort of torture.  The longer the wait, the worse the effect.  And such things are always far less painful than we imagine.  It’s almost as though the procrastination creates an intensifying anticipation, and the entire experience before anything happens is the actual experience.

 

Then once the task is done, all of this inverts:  stress turns into relief, and even a sense of achievement.  But the longer it’s taken to get to this point, the less time is available for it.  The sooner we get something done, the sooner we can enjoy this relief and achievement.  The tradeoff is not, unfortunately, proportional.  

 

We might sense more relief after because there’s been more negative anticipation, but no degree nor intensity of relief can really make up for lost time spent.  That resource of time is surrendered forever to a past that was marked mostly by an experience of stress.

 

The obvious lesson is, of course to do what needs doing as soon as can be done, and ideally the less desirable the task, the higher the priority it should have.  But the point of exploring the topic is to realize the tradeoff that cannot be rectified by waiting.  And beyond this, the neuroendocrinology, as laid bare by researchers like Dr. Robert Sapolsky, it actually becomes harder to get the right thing done with this sort of stress, and the longer we wait, the harder the task actually becomes because the additional stress further impedes our ability and motivation.


It’s a vicious cycle in the it’s simplest form, one that extends to the neurological level. It’s not just a coincidence of psychology that things get harder to do the longer we wait, it’s a cascade of neurology which cements the fact with time.  

 

Getting to the task on time isn’t just a matter of prudence but a matter of being able to get to it at all, because wait long enough, and it might as well be impossible.


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Podcast Ep. 1110: Inversion of Stress

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OFF BEAT

April 28th, 2021

The days that compose weeks and the weeks that compose months bare a strange similarity to music.  Songs are at once incredibly repetitive and also striving to delight with something new.  This is an odd challenge: how do you present something familiar while making it novel?  This is the task of artists of all kinds, musicians, even companies, programmers, writers and dare we mention politicians.  We are constantly trying to conserve the good of the past while introducing new material that might improve the future.  That’s what we’re constantly trying to do: to get the best of both worlds, those worlds being both the past and the imagined future.

 

On an individual level, we are living out a song composed by the beat of days.  All sorts of life events come along to disrupt that beat.  A good night of drinking with friends or a tough sleepless night attending to a new born - our beat is constantly experiencing the disruptions of life’s anomalies, and yet, it’s still bound to the rotation of light and dark, or communal sleep and waking, despite how much or little we get to take part in each.

 

We all go off beat from time to time, whether by design or by force of circumstance.  In a larger sense these departures texture the winding structure of our life, no matter how uncomfortable the experience is.  The departure casts out into a strange direction from which we have to find our way back, like an asymptote, always trying to arrive at the perfect day, that perfect beat.


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Podcast Ep. 1109: Off Beat

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PERMISSION FORGIVEN

April 27th, 2021

If they don’t say you can’t, you can, and you probably should.  But a little ignorance can be a great benefit in this area.  So many people fail to try new things because of the limiting sense that permission is required.  In nearly all such circumstances, the better strategy is just to ‘go for it’ and ask for forgiveness if things don’t turn out as smooth as hoped.  

 

The thing is, often times it’s nearly impossible to find the person or entity required to ask for permission.  On the other hand if something truly is against the rules, the one to ask for forgiveness will come find you.  Then again, if something truly is against the rules, it’s likely not something that requires much thinking.  We all have a communal sense for right and wrong.  Just ponder the fact that laws are not taught in schools.  From a logical standpoint this makes no sense whatsoever.  Wouldn’t the education of national laws be a high priority?  And yet it’s not, because culture teaches us these laws by virtue of osmosis.  What comes with this strange transmission is a feeling, a sense for the goodness or wrongness of a given idea or thing.  

 

If that space feels iffy given a particular idea, then chances are it’s doable, even if asking for forgiveness is something that comes about as a result. 

 

The lesson is to trust this hazy, ambiguous space, to trust that even if forgiveness is required that it’s worth a shot, because if it’s not obviously bad then there’s something to learn, something to discover.  And while curiosity may have killed the cat, perhaps there’s a reason we ascribe nine lives to the feline.


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Podcast Ep. 1108: Permission Forgiven

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STABILITY & AGILITY

April 26th, 2021

Stable security is a false goal.  And yet it’s what we goad each other towards: The stable career provides security and there’s a stable traditional path to achieve that career.  But at what cost?

 

Stability exists as a tradeoff with agility.  The more stable something is, the less agile it is, and vice versa, but the compliment has an ulterior benefit.  The more agility something or someone has, the less stability they have, but also the less stability is needed.

 

For example, one might say that the Empire State Building is very stable, but if it was actually pushed over, it has no way to recover, whereas a toddler who has just learned to walk might not be very stable, but develops the ability to catch themselves before fully falling.  This is how we all walk.  We push ourselves out of balance and catch ourselves.  But we do this with such automaticity that we don’t even think about it, and falling forward briefly no longer actually feels like falling.  Our agility with regards to walking is so well practiced that we don’t recognize the any difference between walking which is a pattern of instability and something that is stable and inert.  

 

It’s only when we start navigating an unfamiliar surface that questions of agility and a lack of stability feel pertinent.  For feet well accustomed to the concrete jungles of cities, and the uniform surfaces of modern buildings, the terrain of a rocky hike can suddenly feel like a very unstable experience.   Of course, this is only because our sense of physical agility hasn’t had much practice in that sort of novel environment - we feel a lack of stability when really we experience a lack of agility.

 

Stability is attractive because once established it requires an absolute minimum of effort.  It’s easy.  Agility on the other hand is a skill that either improves or diminishes based on use.  It’s anything but easy, but it’s far more useful and far more robust than stability.  When circumstances change and the stable job suddenly evaporates, a need for agility to pivot and figure something else is suddenly in high demand, and for someone out of practice, this can be extremely stressful.  But for those who eschew the opportunity for stability, agility becomes a constantly exercised muscle, and nearly all manner of external shifts, large and small feel far more natural to work around or work with.

 

Stability is, in the short term, far easier, but stability grows more risky with time.  The only true constant is change, and eventually change will come for the conditions that allows for stability.  In the long term, agility is, ironically, the most stable aim to develop.


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Podcast Ep. 1107: Stability & Agility

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