## [[The wisdom of the emotional self]]
Your emotional self knows you and what you think much better than your composed self does. Emotional you is allowing the depths of your soul to burn hot and bright and in that way, it is allowing you to confront exactly what is at the depths of that soul. When we shut ourselves off from our emotional self, we sever the connection to the gears and cogs that make the machine (you) run.
While we always think with some combination of emotion and logic (See [[Logic vs intuition]]), the composed self thinks based on logic more often than the emotional self. And while logic is helpful for trying to work though certain things, it does not and cannot not tell us about ourselves and our nature. (See [[Goals and their delusions]]). As a result, understanding of the self must come from observing what comes up from the depths, raw emotion is a direct product of who you are, (mostly) without the meddling influence of logic.
If you are displeased with someone, but you're not quite able to understand it, ridding yourself of your restraints and allowing yourself to fully feel the emotion that it produces in you can be useful to figuring out why it is that you're displeased. It is only once you've explored the emotion, giving you insite into what your subconscious mind is up to, that you can understand what will fix your problem (or what the problem even IS to start with).
And while the overly rational person might say that this idea is foolish, I would ask them this: How well do you think you know yourself and why you do things? What makes you think that you have any ability to fully think though the reasons that your infinitely complicated mind produces the things it produces?
What arrogance to believe you do.
## [[The mind's one true motivation]]
In trying to understand why we do what we do, we see that we are motivated to do certain things and anti-motivated to do other things. That motivation, either towards or away from the thing, exists because of what we value. But unfortunately values are not as simple as 'wanting to live a better life' or 'doing well at work' and other typical goals. Your values simultaneously contain many less well-thought out concepts as well as things we wish we did not value, but we do nonetheless. This includes things like wanting to be comfortable, or not wanting to face our problems, or not accepting ideas that stray too far away from our other accepted ideas. These values sit alongside the 'noble' and conscious values and when it comes time to make your decisions, they battle one another for control.
But in this battle for control, what the values are really arguing about amongst themselves is what mind state they want you to end up in. The value of honor wants you to end up with pride and dignity, the value of comfort wants you to go fourth unchallenged and the value of growth wants you to be challenged. In order to get you into these states, ==your values motivate you to act such that you enter a specific context==. This context might be a person, and item, a place or an experience, but regardless of its particular shape the mechanism that motivates action towards it is the same.
Motivation as a whole comes from the fundamental truth that all actions have consequences. The more you understand how your actions will cause change you deem as good, the more you will want to do them. At a more fundamental level, this understanding of what actions will lead to what consequences is really about your mind wanting to shape its state. It is the consequences on your state of mind that the mind spends its days searching for, not the actions themselves, despite the fact that to you it appears that the actions are the attractant. ==The mind is being motivated towards actions that will get you into a context that will trigger the mind state that its looking to get. The motivation is not for the action itself, it is for the state of the mind that is produced by the action.== If your brain wants you to relax, it will motivate you to do something (enter a context) that will induce relaxation. For example you might be motivated to drink a glass of wine at the end of your day because the 'wine context' is associated with relaxation and enjoying yourself. You are not motivated to drink wine *per say*, rather you are motivated to do the thing that will get you to the mind state. ==The action towards the context is motivated by the desire for the mind to conform to the consequences of that context.==
Armed with this knowledge, we can now watch ourselves and notice actions that we are motivated towards and then ask what state of mind that action, if done, produces. This gives us the golden tidbit of information; why we were compelled towards that particular action. Over time, we can build up an understanding of ourselves by remembering these associations. So then, when our mind is working against us, motivated towards actions that will lead to states of mind we do not want, from previous experience we can recognize exactly why we are being compelled towards that action and perhaps find other, more productive activities that will lead to the same state of mind that is so desired or change our values that lead to the desire for that state of mind in the first place.
In mastering this understanding of exactly how we are motivated to action, we are better prepared to face one of the most deceivingly simple but hardest challenges of life, controlling action in our own selves.
## [[The burden of your many branches]]
To us, the particular life we have made for ourselves appears relatively stable. That is to say, that we believe there was high likelihood that our life would turn out the way it did compared to the likelihood it went any other way. For clarity, this is not to say that we believe it will not change radically in the future at all (although that bias may also be present). We feel ownership over our situation, as though our own calculated decisions have lead us to where we are. And perhaps they did, to some extent, but regardless of how much that is true, we are certainly underestimating the role of chance (and overestimating our own role) nonetheless.
In reality, as you go about your life, a branch that would change your world entirely might be (and perhaps is likely to be) only a millimetre away. Some days the potential branches may be more significant than others, but every second of your day untouched branches are zooming past you.
It is the mundane nature of day to day life lures us into believing this.
If we were to be able to 'redo' our lives multiple times, only then would be we able to fully understand the weight that each moment has on the end result. But we only get to live our one life, and thus we never get to experience the consequences of taking alternate branches at decision points. 'What ifs' can be conceived of poorly, but we never get the opportunity to run the simulation over again and explore the stability of various outcomes.
This means that any day can be (and most certainly is) the day that changes the rest of your days. We cannot blindly and naively navigate through the course of our lives any longer, because now we full well know that every moment the potential of infinite life branches are ripping past us. Things that appeared insignificant have now revealed themselves to be of much higher importance. Time now drips with the burden of the potential of each moment.
But we must not take this poorly. The knowledge of the potential of each moment to shape the future of your life (and others' lives) can be paralyzing (see [[Constraining your potential]]), or it can be intensely motivating, beyond that of any other drive or goal. It calls on us to do better, to not allow moments to pass by without paying due attention to their vast and life-changing (literally) power.
## [[The apprentice stone carver]]
We are each made up of our past selves. Each of those past selves mixed together in succession, adding new layers but never getting rid of the old ([[Old problems new solutions]]). Because of this, you could say that we do indeed have control over who we become. But this leaves us with a problem, how do we move past our old selves? How could we possibly transcend our past actions and move forward, unburdened by old mistakes when we are the sum of them?
We all begin our lives as apprentice stone carvers. We start out with nothing but a complete lack of experience, and a chunk of stone. We have little to no vision for what we can or should turn our chunk of stone into never mind how we would go about doing that. But nevertheless, we blindly take a swing at the block of stone with a hammer, taking off relatively large chunks. At some point, a blurry vision, but a vision nonetheless, forms for what the block of stone could become. As a result, the next chunk that is taken off is the result of a more informed swing of the hammer. The very process of starting to shape the rock has given you invaluable insight into how you think rocks (specifically, your rock) should be shaped. Your imprecise and blind initial exploratory carvings have morphed into more precise and goal-directed changes. As you gain more skill, experience, and a better vision of your desired end result, your statue gets more and more beautiful.
But not only does our vision for the future improve with time, we also improve at carving itself. In going about the process of life, ==we not only gain insight into what the goal should be, we also get better at shaping our way there==. And even though that newfound ability to control the outcome is *fundamentally* made up of our initial ignorant swings at the rock, we have actually learned how to transcend those past actions and make new independent changes going forward.
You cannot put back your previously removed chunks, just as you cannot take back any of your experiences or escape your past, but it is not the experiences themselves that we take with us, it is the lessons. In those lessons, we are not chained to our past selves, we are set free by them. The ability to control emerged over time from practice. Just as the carver learns the techniques for shaping stone, we are able to transcend the past decisions that got us to where we are now, and we are able to learn techniques for controlling our selves and our minds.==Control over who we become comes not from 'getting around' our past selves, it comes from integrating and understanding that past self *and how they came to be*.==
## [[Finding peace, with peace]]
To change another person's mind, you would not outright tell them they were wrong. Rather, you would try to understand them more. You would talk to them, ask many questions, and get them to elaborate why they think what they think. Through that shared process you either realize you were wrong, or the other person, in this exploration, realizes that they were wrong. Through looking clearly and inquisitively at the thoughts, stepwise realizations and slow, gradual change has likely come about in both parties. Nothing forced or heavy handed, but instead mimicking the changes that come with age, slow and gradual integration of new experience, information, and thoughts.
This idea is not unlike how we should interact with our own minds. Sometimes, even when we wish they would not, thoughts bombard us. In moments where we wish we could be left at peace, whether in the volume or the content of thoughts, we find we are unable to control our minds. This lack of control can also manifest the other way around, where thoughts become an impulse. Like the 'more water' impulse when drinking while being thirsty, the 'more thoughts' impulse overwhelms us when we are bored or do not wish to feel our minds empty. Either way, the phenomena of 'forced thought' is an excellent example of how out of control of our own selves we are. In both scenarios (trying to change our own mind or someone else's)==we are out of control of the thoughts that we wish to change==.
And while in our first example the idea that in order to change someone else's mind it is best to take a more gentle approach, allowing you to come to new realizations together, may have seemed relatively intuitive, not many people use this same strategy towards their own mind. Learning how to be at peace is not about learning to control the mind like a tyrant, rather it is learning to accept what the mind brings about. From acceptance and understanding, slow changes are made over time. Pushing hard against *anything* only adds more energy into the equation, which in the case of the mind, only leads to more obtrusive thoughts.
==Fighting yourself will do you no more good than a heated argument with someone who refuses to change their mind would, they are fundamentally the same thing.== You cannot argue with yourself the way you think you can (if you want to attain any success, that is). Just as you would to a dear friend, look deeper, understand why you think how you do, ask yourself questions, and the realizations that fall out of that process of inquiry will help you find your way around (and *out* of some parts of) your mind. You may find why the obtrusive thoughts appear, and what they are there for, and in such understanding, you may find the path to the peace you so desperately wanted.
## [[Self-perpetuating problems]]
For better or for worse, not all problems are created equal. Clearly, they vary in the ease by or speed at which they can be solved, however these are not the main factors that contribute to making problems particularly troubling or not. Rather, it is the degree to which the problem self-perpetuates. I'll say that again, ==it's not about how hard the problem is to solve or how long it will take to solve, it's whether (and to what degree) it will keep getting worse the longer you don't completely solve it==. A problem that is overwhelming, but stays the same size no matter how long you don't address it is a much smaller mountain than a medium sized one that will only get worse the longer you do not present it a solution.
For these self-perpetuating problems, the natural human fear of addressing that which is painful is weaponized against us. Hesitation in solution-finding is punished with a now-larger problem. Stress is now even more elevated and it's even more difficult to even face the problem (never mind solve it). It is the compound interest of the problem world. The longer the bill sits on the counter, the harder it is to pick it up and open it, and the more you owe.
So self-perpetuating problems are evil on two fronts. Not only does problem itself get worse, but they also fundamentally mess with human psychology. Emotionally they get harder and harder to face, which makes coming up with a solution less and less likely and thus the cycle only ever continues.
That is, until some tipping point where the cost of not solving it is so high that you are forced to address it. But it is now far too late. Your problem has grown much larger than it was if you had dealt with it right off the bat. You feel immense regret and perhaps even self-hated. And the true knife in the back, is that these feelings make you even less likely to solve all your other problems that come up. ==Self perpetuating problems that are allowed to run free don't just self-perpetuate themselves, they also perpetrate all other problems.==
## [[Goals and their delusions]]
Every person has an idea of the things they want. They call these things goals and they (in theory) act such that they get closer to them. Sometimes goals change as new information is gained or as the person themself changes, but goals as a whole are generally always present.
There are multiple ways to work towards a goal. What most people think of when talking about goals are pre-planned actions that will lead you closer. But the other, less considered strategy is to instead decide how to act in the moment, navigating on a 'whatever seems best at the time' strategy. One is mapping out every turn on your trip carefully in advance while the other is waiting till you're there and then, without a grand view of the landscape, deciding whether turning left, right, or going straight seems like the sort of move that would bring you closer to your destination.
Both strategies are used regularly, but when conceptualizing goals we tend to think entirely of the planning strategy and rarely consider 'in the moment decisions' strategy.
Extensive pre-planning is done with the more logical mind. It is abstracted away from the stimuli of the real situation. It can be detached and rational. But this logical approach neglects the emotional mind. It forgets that decisions cannot be made without the subjective weighting of how important various factors are (See [[Logic vs intuition]]). It will tend to underestimate emotional impacts, both positive and negative. One who has done extensive pre-planning will also neglect in-the-moment information that stares them in the face telling them to change their mind. On the other hand, in-the-moment, intuition-based decision making means that you might wander around the landscape of the goal without ever reaching it, all the while fully believing that you are making progress.
Both are delusions in their own right, but both are necessary. ==However, the delusion that governs the flaws in both strategies is the delusion that we know what is best for us at all.== The key is to have a pre-determined aim, and some idea of how to get closer to it, but to allow flexibility. To not be too sure of yourself and to instead use the aim as a mere guideline, allowing for in-the-moment interpretations that differ from the grand plan. It is, fundamentally, to allow the logical mind and the emotional mind mingle together in harmony.
## [[The desire for worse]]
Part of every person has the desire for dominance over others, be it in skill, status, or strength. And further, every person contains within them the desire for direct harm and suffering to come to others. Sometimes we wish we could inflict it ourselves. To not recognize these parts of one's self is to be truly naive.
But others are not that different from yourself. Just as you are willing to inflict harm on others, you are willing to inflict harm on yourself. Different people will be more or less willing to do so than others, but the fundamental fact that it is present does not change. You act against your own best interest all the time, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously (which is worse!?). You double down on habits that you know hurt you. You isolate yourself when you need support. You selfishly pass off work to future you. You diminish your level of respect with others. You do not work to solve your problems, and instead actively make them worse.
Why do we do this? It comes from our deepest internal relationship with ourselves. Those who think lowly of themselves, act to perpetuate that belief. These beliefs we hold about ourselves come down to faith, both in the self and more broadly as the faith that life is worthwhile and that it is best to push for better despite inevitable suffering. ==We will act in accordance with our deepest-held beliefs about the nature of ourselves and reality.== And if we hold these beliefs towards ourselves and reality that cause us to act poorly towards ourselves, how can we possibly expect to treat others any better?
If we avoid needless nativity and address the parts of ourselves that don't want the best for us or our world, life improves. ==The belief (that life and reality is good and worthwhile) causes the belief to become true.== Goals are met, relationships grow stronger, mental health improves. Reality itself gets *better* as your relationship with your own mind grows more trusting (of yourself and the world) and less corrosive. Do not denigrate the importance of how you view yourself.
> If you're not sure about the presence of your internal darkness, take a listen to this and see if it sparks some: **Feeling Mean by Ben Bostick**
> [Apple Music](https://music.apple.com/us/album/feeling-mean/1380795655?i=1380796550)
## [[Pardon my interpretation]]
If you start listening to a conversation part way though it, you may be able to catch on to what is being talked about. However, it is equally likely that you will believe that you understand what they're saying, when in reality, because you missed out on the context of the beginning of the conversation you have misunderstand the intended meaning. Not all assumptions/contexts are stated each time a particular word or phrase or idea comes up, and once it is clear to the speaker that the listener understands the assumptions, it need not be repeated.
This same concept applies to understanding people as a whole. If you have a full conversation with someone while lacking an understanding of the context of their life and their perspective, then you will be equally blind in your attempt to interpret their words as the aforementioned person who hoped into a conversation halfway through. You, similarly, have hoped into their *life* halfway, and the fact that you are missing their entire lifetime of context causes you to misunderstand them.
In this case, the person speaking may not even be aware of the ways in which their experience plays into how they interpret their own words. They believe that everyone will interpret their words the way they do and as a result they may not actively work to clarify their statements. The timescale is much longer than in our first example, so in order to see that the you don't fully understand, the speaker would need to be acutely aware of the internal states of both themselves and you. This is very rare.
To get around this, *you* must become the aware one. You must understand that the way that you interpret other people's words is likely very different from how they meant it. You must attempt to ask questions that clear up any potential ambiguities. You must put aside the part of your ego that thinks you *obviously* understand this person already. Ask them to put their thoughts in a broader context. "Why do you think that?" "Where did you learn that idea from?" This is how understanding forms that is both deep and meaningful as well as secure and free of misinterpretation.
## [[Old problems, new solutions]]
People will often say that they wish they could talk to future versions of themselves. We want knowledge of how things will turn out to ease emotional pain or anxieties, and we want the wisdom and knowledge to help solve our problems. So if we are right, and the knowledge of future us could help us that much, then it is worth reflecting on how our current self would solve the problems of the past. This process of reflection is something we do often and is often felt as regret.
However, we are not entirely separated from past us. The new layer has merely been put on top of the old. But unlike re-painting a wall, the old colours still show though. Selves are not overwritten anew, they do not disappear in a flash bang moment, suddenly transformed into a newly upgraded you. Rather, the new merges with the old slowly over time, adding new paint colours into the bucket, diluting the old with each addition, but never getting rid of it entirely.
This is perhaps seen most clearly in suffering and pain. Despite now having newly constructed layers of yourself that are more prepared to deal with these past ailments, old pain still persists. The problems of past you have not disappeared, not entirely (and perhaps not at all). In these cases, you are not your current, up-to-date self, you are still in the mental space of past you, thinking about yourself in old ways and solving problems in old ways. We forget about the new, more well-equipped, layers that have (hopefully) upgraded us.
So you *can* give past you that advice and you *can* help them with their problems, because these remnants of them and their problems remain in you today. You *are still* past you in many ways.
==To the parts of you that have thus far been unable to move on from the past, say hello to current you.== Look in the mirror and see that you are older now, you have novel experiences and you can help the parts of you that are stuck on problems of the past that were not resolved. The person looking back at you in the mirror can help you.
## [[Accepting psychological reality]]
Hope is irrational. Hope as a state of mind is a belief in a good outcome even when, to the best of your knowledge, a bad outcome seems imminent. If an outcome is clearly going to be good, then hope isn't needed, as the situation itself already contains innate hope and it requires no courage to feel it. Hope is specifically the perseverance of optimism through hardship.
But hope isn't 'untrue' and therefore useless, rather it is an idea that works *despite* the fact that you could consider it 'ignoring the facts'. Those who have hope are more likely to continue pursuing their goals, to work towards better things, and to be happier about it along the way. In general, those who have hope live better, happier, and more productive lives than those who lose hope. Another example is humility and your own perception of your competence relative to others'. Those who do not believe they are better than others on any given trait or skill (even if they are) live better lives with deeper relationships, all while learning more from a more diverse range of sources than they otherwise would.
Ideas that are not literally true but help make your life better if you believe them, *are* true to some extent. ==Rather than being truths about objective reality, they are truths about your own psychological reality.== Hope and humility (and many others) are ideas that, when accepted and integrated, improve your psychology's fit to the external world, making you more successful at navigating your life. If you choose to disregard them as 'delusional' or 'illogical', be prepared to face the consequences of your own psychology being less fit to interface with reality.
## [[Death the adversary and the advisor]]
Death is a major event in peoples lives. It is one of the few phenomena that is truly, full-stop, no caveats, universal among humans. It is perhaps the most fundamental fear of humanity, and the list of reasons why death is undesirable is lengthy. I will not dwell on those here, Rather, consider its greatest selling point. It is the mechanism that drives humanity, as well as individual humans, forward.
In each of us, the knowledge of our finite existence encourages us to consistently pursue the activities we find meaningful, making the most with the little time we have left. Those who encounter near-death experiences often come out of them with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. The knowledge of death, and the acceptance of its inevitability, is a gift.
The delusion that death is not coming, or that it is too far away to matter is a curse. It lulls us in to a false sense of security, a thin veil that will one day be broken, bringing us crashing down with it. Pushing off the realization of death until later makes its eventual effect exponentially more painful and destructive. When you realize the reality of your mortality, the closer you are to the end, the less you can do to live the better life that the inevitability of death demands of you, and the more you will crumple and despair.
Accept your gift sooner however, and rather than living as a ticking time bomb of delusion, you will spend the rest of your life ensuring that you are prepared for death, giving your best effort at fulfilling your purpose, whatever that may be, and ultimately, living at peace.
## [[The corruption of self-trust]]
Why does your New Years resolution fail every year? Well, it has something to do with trust. Trust is a valuable and difficult-to-attain resource that we generally think of as something we give to other people. However, perhaps more fundamental than that is trust in yourself.
One form of self-trust is the 'structural trust' that comes along with habits and routines (ex. you know you are going to brush your teeth tomorrow morning because you have brushed your teeth every other morning before). But the trust you have in yourself when it comes to anything that is new or unknown is *much more fragile*. When you start a new project or hobby or habit, you haven't yet established structural trust with yourself and so for any actions that are associated with your novel endeavor of choice (i.e. preparing, practicing etc), you're not yet sure if you're going to actually follow through on doing them. You might decide to take up running, but if you have no precedent with running in the past, you're not yet sure if you're going to work at it consistently or if you'll give up after the first run.
Except that's not entirely true, there's a bit more to it. While you may not yet know your future tendencies for that specific endeavor, you *do* have data from your past attempts at *other* endeavors. You can conceptualize as a sort of 'average success rate' of things you tell yourself you're going to do. If you're the sort of person who follows through on your promises to yourself, then when you make a new one (say, that yearly New Years resolution) you trust yourself that you'll follow through. ==This is a sort of 'long-term structural trust'==(in contrast to structural trust for each activity individually - recall brushing your teeth), ==and it represents the health of your relationship with your own intentions, and it is of critical importance to maintain it well.==
Break your own trust too many times, and you'll find yourself living up to that expectation; forever unable to follow through on your own good intentions. You will feel like you're sabotaging yourself, and you are! You just won't know why its happening.
Building trust in relationships is not a linear process. It is hard-earned, easily lost, and once it is lost, building it back up again is much harder that it was the first time. This same principle holds true for self trust. If your relationship with your own intentions is corrupted, you will have to work hard to repair it. Start small, do not over-promise, and slowly your faith in yourself will return, thus restoring your ability to achieve the goals you set for yourself.
## [[Trade-offs as the mechanism of personal evolution]]
We make decisions based on trade-offs, even if we are unaware of them. Every second spent on one activity could have been spent on another, but you chose to make that trade-off. You could have spent time with your family last weekend, but you decided to invest your energy in your friends instead (see [[Slip slidin' away]]). Money is perhaps a more clear example, where every dollar you spend on one thing is money that wasn't spent on something else. Trade-offs are inescapable when you have a resource that is 1) valuable and 2) limited, where you need to 3) choose what to spend it on.
Trade-offs are inherent in everything that lives and breathes (as well as many things that don't). These trade-offs occur at both the species and the individual level. At the species level, living beings have evolved such that you could consider them to be optimizations of complex equations of possible traits. For example, being strong and smart are both valuable, but no species can have maximum values of both. This is because an individual has limited energy, resources, or time. Big brains *and* big muscles would require us to eat more than we possibly or feasibly could in a day. Rather, evolution weighs\* which traits are most important to survival and reproduction (\*though the gradual process of natural selection, where the characteristics of a species today are determined by the individuals from generations past who were most able to pass on their genes). It makes a trade-off, deciding that humans, for example, are to be 99 smart, but only 10 strong.
This same 'decision-making' process happens in your own brain every day, just on an individual scale determined by you rather than a species scale determined by evolution! They are decisions about how to use your limited time, money and energy. What hobbies do you have? Which (and how many) people do you focus your efforts on building relationships with? What career do choose and what are the taxes and tolls it will take on you? All of these are personal trade-offs. ==You could say that in deciding which trade-offs to make in your own life, you are shaping your own traits the same way evolution shaped human traits like height and brain size.==
You can think of yourself (and the environment you've set up around you) as a combination of past actions based on the trade-offs you made, both implicitly and explicitly. Every waking moment is shaping the trajectory of your own evolution. Do not delude yourself into believing that you can act without trade-offs, for ==nothing you attain or do is without consequence==. Trade-offs are everywhere.
>Thank you for reading! This post is a part of a series on scientific thinking and how it helps me understand my life! If you're interested see also:
>- [[Variation, a fundamental truth]]
## [[Embracing suffering]]
At times, we are overcome by the knowledge that our lives are full of suffering. Fundamentally we all wish, to some degree or another, for an easier life. But before we make any wishes, we should consider this desire carefully. The stark opposites punctuate each other. They work together to make each other stronger. The more joy, the deeper the sting when joy is extinguished, and the greater the suffering, the more joy flourishes when it has passed.
The highest peaks of feeling are what provide flavour to experience. Fear, joy, pain, excitement, they complement each other. Like sour and sweet, they balance the meal. This contrast between joy and suffering ensures that we retain novelty in our lives. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and across lifetimes, we experience this ebb and flow. Never getting to comfortable in either state, and learning to accept each as necessary.
Peace of mind comes after pain has been accepted as a necessary prerequisite for the full experience of joy. Embracing suffering joyfully, in spite of yourself, frees you from it. It is then that the most fundamental joys of life reveal their full, simple beauty - movement, understanding, being understood, presence, sensation, and freedom of mind.
Humanity, for most of recorded time, has understood that there are higher ideals than exist beyond each man alone. We have known that transcendent meaning is worth pursuing and that life itself, despite its suffering, is of divine importance. Generations have pushed forward in spite of pain, and their ability to push forward remains. We have done it before, countless times, and each of us, as well as all of us collectively, can do it again.
## [[Your job as interpreter]]
People rarely ever say what they mean. This becomes a problem when you're one of two things: 1. a person wanting to be understood and 2. a person who is listening and wants to understand. To understand and to be understood; two of the most fundamental human desires. Despite this (or perhaps because of this), we struggle endlessly with communication.
One element of humans not saying what they mean is that, to varying degrees, the things that are said are not necessarily aimed at increasing the understanding of the listener. Many phrases that sound profound or wise or smart contain no element of truth or honesty. When looked at for longer than a moment, they are revealed to be full of holes, caveats and exceptions. These are not entirely void of information, but they are perhaps not worth the listeners time.
On the other hand, much of what people say *is* aimed at increasing the understanding of the listener. It is this category of speech that is worth digging into, and worth the effort to attempt to understand. Sometimes, the speaker is successful and their message is heard loud and clear. But more often than not, the listener has some work to do if they want to get the message. Asking lots of questions, and repeating back the ideas in different words are both important tools. However no matter how good your specific strategy is, your willingness and genuine desire to understand is much more important.
You must believe that the other person has something worthwhile to say, but also that they're competent enough to convey them to you (and you're competent enough to understand!). You must be willing to look past their exact words and search for the core of truth they're trying so hard to get at. Don't get pulled down into the mud of semantics or technicalities; people rarely ever say *exactly* what they mean. So rather, ==you must try your hardest pear through the words and see the part of the soul that said them==. A window into the complex, beautiful, twisted, grieving, and joyful soul, not bad for just another Tuesday evening.
## [[Your mind is your eye]]
We do not see the world as it is. Rather, we sense the world through a distortion filter - the brain. The brain isn't trying to undermine our perception, rather it is trying to make it more efficient. To truly see the world is overwhelming, and impossible to interpret fast enough to get away from predators or hunt for food. Rather, we filter the world and simplify it with assumptions that have evolved thought human evolution. As with anything evolution creates, this filtering process is complicated and multifaceted.
We see what we expect to see, based on our past experiences. If a stop sign appeared on your corner where there was not one before, you would be much more likely to miss it than you would be to miss a stop sign in a town you had never visited before. You are not seeing with your eyes alone, you see with your brain and your expectations. ==The things you perceive fade into the background, no longer requiring your attention, while novel things jump out at you as unknown and yet unsolved problems.==
Another 'problem' with perception is that we perceive based on shifting baselines. If you clean your room partially, you will all of a sudden see things that are not where they should be that you hadn't even seen before. Your baseline has shifted, and so now the old candy wrapper next to your bedside table is visible to you.
Only very newborn babies, taking in the world for the very first time, do not have these two 'problems', however even they are subject to the biological aspect of perception filtering. Your brain does not just interpret the world based on what it has learned and seen, it also interprets based on what your past lives have learned and seen. Your ancestors before you lived, died and passed on their genes to you. Evolution ensured that those who did not perceive a wolf before they perceived the adjacent tree, did not pass on that proclivity you and that those who did became the family that came before you.
Our lives are centered around our perceptions of the world. Your understanding of yourself and your world around you comes from what you see, and your body and mind interpret those into emotions and then actions. If you control what you see, you gain control how you feel and what you do. If you are out of control of yourself, something as simple as a change in perspective can break even those who are the most stuck out of the deepest ruts.
## [[Hope in unity]]
To be in unity is a positive state of being. It is an ideal, a goal worth pursuing. It is a team of sled dogs all pulling in the same direction, or a flock of geese migrating south for the winter as a team, efficiently in V-formation.
==We feel unity when we see bits of ourselves reflected back at us in other people, and we lose unity when we believe we are entirely different.== When we no longer feel unity among us, we cease to give the others the benefit of the doubt. We stop trying to understand each other and we inevitably retreat to selfish feelings and beliefs, filling our souls with thoughts that fuel our egocentric pride.
However as bad as that sounds, lost unity isn't a loss of hope. We can be different but remain united in many ways. We share one human experience. Of the world, of reality, of the rich spectrum of emotions, the depths of pain and the highs of joy. We share a rich history in which we all inevitably are connected.
But unity with others is not only in surface-level identity or in our deeper experiences of life, but also in shared motivation, values and goals. Humanity is looking for a better life, and in that pursuit, we are one. Atoms unite to make molecules, molecules unite to make cells, cells unite to make organs and organs unite to make humans. Who says that this is the right level of analysis to stop? Atoms making up molecules is fundamentally conceptually equivalent to humans uniting to make humanity. And perhaps, just the same, humanity as a whole is united with something even deeper.
## [[Composition of a person]]
When you meet people, parts of them are integrated into you and parts of you are integrated into them. You change each other's intuitions, ideas, personalities, and beliefs. Each person is a mosaic of other people's influences, and their actions reflect this out into the world. So when you see a good friend for example, you are looking at and talking to a part of yourself, reflected back at you. In talking to this friend, you're miraculously able to talk to a part of yourself. Perhaps this is part of why good friends are so comforting. There's a bit of home in each one. And not only is there a bit of you, but you're also talking to many other people that make up the whole person in front of you.
But it goes even further beyond that because, as you well know, you are not the same person all the time. While your fundamental characteristics and experiences don't change (except for slowly over time), the specific characteristics that are brought out *do* change from situation to situation. In one context, you may be more likely to be forgiving or friendly but in another you may be more likely to act bitter or angry, and all of this within the same day. You have not changed, but the part of you that was manifested was different. In these scenarios, *you are manifesting different people*, your various influences.
You're more dynamic than you may have thought. ==Not only are you and your actions made up of (and are manifestations of) other people , but the various situations you're in and the various people you're around also bring out those people to different degrees==. You are not 20% your mom, 20% your dad, 10% your friend and so on, rather, at any moment in time you have some probability of manifesting each of these people. The more influential someone is in your life, the higher the likelihood that you will manifest that person. So perhaps its more like you are anywhere from 10-60% your mom, from 20-50% your dad and anywhere from 5-25% your friend, and what number each of those values take on will depend on the situation you're in. None of the influences ever go to zero, but which ones you manifest will change based on what challenges or blessings you are receiving at the moment. You could conceptualize this as possession by the people who shaped you. And different ghosts of your past possess you at different times. Sometimes it's the one you need most and sometimes the one you need the least. We all struggle daily with this balance of the parts that make us up.
With all interactions, we're not looking at people who are totally consistent all the way through, they are a composition of many influences that are invoked or dampened to various degrees depending on how we act towards them. Sometimes we like what we put out into the world, and sometimes we look back and wonder what got into us. Either way, it wasn't *just* us who did it, and learning to recognize and understand the components of you and those you meet leads to deeper and more well-rounded understanding of our own and others' actions and thoughts.
## [[A principle for helping someone feel better]]
When someone you care for is in pain, there is a desire to make them feel better. But despite the ease at which this phrase, "change their feelings", can be thrown about, feelings are not as simple to alter as they might seem. Feelings are manifested from your deep-rooted, fundamental intuitions of yourself. They represent your interpretation of how well you fit in the world (or perhaps how well the world fits you), including your preparedness for your current and anticipated challenges.
In order to meaningfully change someones feelings ==you must convince them that something about their fundamental intuition about the nature of their situation is wrong.== If their intuitions that are leading them to feel bad are not wrong (or you cannot convince them that they are), the best you can hope for is a temporary patch, a piece of gum stuck over a crack in the pipe. Only once you have talked to them at the level of the problem and discovered together why things are better than they initially appeared can you say you have truly made them feel better.
## [[The making of valuable thoughts]]
Thoughts are transient beings. They seem to come and go as they please, sometimes more than we would like and other times less. They are the structure of your own brain making itself known to you. They are the apparitions of your mind based on your current scenario. This means that certain scenarios make thoughts of the various flavours more or less likely. The thoughts that come to you when you're with a dear friend differ greatly from those that come when you're with you parents or when you're alone.
This means that if you care to think about something in particular, you have to put yourself in a scenario that facilitates that. When we think alone and with little external stimulus (e.g an author writing a novel) this 'scenario' isn't necessarily a physical one. Putting yourself in a specific mental place has the same effect, but is just harder to achieve and requires more mental discipline and focus. The physical or mental scenario breeds the thoughts of it's own particular kind, and over time *we all slowly become the thoughts we think* so it's best we choose them (and thus, our scenarios) wisely.
Knowing this, we now have a new context with which to make decisions about how to act. We now know that our choices have deep-rooted consequences, in the form of the thoughts you have, that reach well beyond the day we choose them. These choices include everything from your job environment to the city you live in (I hear New Yorkers tend to get pretty jaded), to the mental and emotional places you conjure, to the hobbies you find, to whether you let a car in front of you in traffic, to (what I think is the example that best exemplifies this), the people you talk to.
In surrounding yourself with the sorts of people who make you think the sorts of thoughts that you find valuable, you are actively encouraging your self improvement. ==These are the people who, with joy, bring out your honest self, who facilitate your own learning about about yourself and your world.== It's the people who have shown you that they're willing to hear you out, and that they're excited to engage with whatever that heck kind of thoughts are brought out of you. It's a positive feedback loop of awesomeness. They bring out the good thoughts which makes them engage more which brings out more good thoughts, and ideally you do the same for them. This is what it is to have a valuable, honest, unforced, genuine conversation. In my experience, this is what the fundamental joy of life is made of. Doesn't get better than that.
## [[Can't get no satisfaction]]
When judging the quality of our lives, one of the key metrics we use is satisfaction. We all want to be satisfied, but it is a trick. Our world contains *infinite* possibilities so this search for *absolute* satisfaction is futile. For example, the human standard of living has been increasing steadily through time, but yet we are not all increasingly satisfied. It is a shifting baseline. To be truly satisfied is to be happy with the road that you're on. In satisfaction, we lack regret or desire, and instead find peace with what is. It cannot be found by attaining a certain threshold, rather it is learned though acceptance. It only comes once we accept that life is the way it is. It is letting go of the sense of greed for and entitlement to *more*.
Remembering the miracle that is our lives, noticing the many parts of that life that add flavor. Still striving for better, but not letting thanklessness get in the way of finding peace with the current state of being. Acceptance of the suffering of our lives brings about satisfaction.
## [[Integrated ideas]]
It isn't bad to hold someone else's ideas. We are all fundamentally made up of everyone else's thoughts mushed together in various ways. In some respects, accepting the thoughts of other people into our own set of thoughts is important, and is even perhaps a skill. They become parts of our belief systems, indistinguishable from or blurred into our own.
There is a certain utility to keeping your existing beliefs, and so the parts of this that were derived from other people are along for the ride as well. We have achieved our beliefs from the trials of life; participation trophies for your experiences. To truly throw them all out is to start from the beginning, naive and confused. We have all unknowingly added some foul smelling drops into the bucket of our minds, but perhaps the water is still viable to keep us quenched during times of drought.
So where does that leave us in regards to other peoples thoughts? Well its not entirely clear. They may be harmful, they may be useful, but either way even if you can identify them as not your own, you're likely not going to be able to identify which ones are are worthwhile or not. An idea can have many ramifications and something that appears harmful or wrong at your first cursory glance may actually contain an undiscovered truth. We are generally bad at knowing what is good for us, and often fall prey to the trap of discarding the things we don't like or aren't convenient rather than what would actually be best or what is true.
So if we've 'given up' on both identification and classification, where does that leave us? I believe the answer is integration. ==The goal of thoughts and beliefs are not to make sure that they are entirely yours, nor to make sure they are entirely 'good' for you, but rather to ensure that those that you do hold, fit together and function as a tool that allows you to interpret the world.== If your set of ideas can be routed together through fundamental principles and conceptual frameworks, you can develop a fluid network of ideas that allows you to solve problems, better understand your current ideas, and learn new things more deeply. By integrating your ideas together, you are, at a more fundamental level, integrating them into yourself.
But this is not a blind process of adding every idea that happens to come your way. When something cannot integrate into your existing framework, then you must weigh the two against one another. Is this new idea so important that it is worth throwing away some part of (or the entire) framework to accommodate it? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes you may think it isn't when it actually is. It is unfortunately not a perfect system, but on average the beliefs that do not describe your experience of reality will be outcompeted over time. This is different to judgment of 'good' or 'bad' ideas, which can governed by your own biases, laziness, or ignorance, because this is about consistency and unity with your existing structure of how things work. ==You are gaining an understanding of how things *are* by trying to fit things together, rather than trying to judge each idea on its own==. A puzzle piece's fit cannot be evaluated except in the context of the other pieces. Ideas are not lone beings, they each belong to a greater context and thus, must be judged as such.
Over time, with this strategy, ideas that do not hold up will be overcome by the influx of new concepts that do not fit. And at the end, you will have an integrated conception of the world that didn't require the decimation of the old system to attain.
## [[On the human ideal and transcendent experience]]
In 2015, I realized that I had a problem. I was an atheist lost to the world with no source of meaning for my life. In a moment of reflection, I asked myself a question that would shape my thinking for many years to come; "if you're not going to find the meaning of your life from religion, what is your reason for living?". Despite my mid-teenage haze, I had somehow stumbled upon a profound conclusion that I still believe to this day; that trying to live my life without an overarching belief structure is not sufficient.
This post is out of the ordinary. It is longer and is certainly more all over the place than usual, but that's because today's the day I'd like to tell you my theory of living, why it all matters, and how I came to 'my own' (big air quotes) conception of God, not from preachers or familial pressure, but from observing and thinking carefully about what I believe and feel towards humanity and life itself. I hope it can bring you closer to a sense of peace and meaning in your life, like it has for me.
#### You and others
Each person is not a product of just their own unique outputs and manifestations, they are a collection of many other things as well. First, you are a collection of all the people you've ever met, and second, you are a product of your physical environment. From those two basic principles, there are many important ramifications that will make up all of the points in this post.
When you act, you are making changes to your world everywhere you go. During very basic everyday interaction with others, you teach each other things. Even in minuscule ways, we all shape the people around us. It's obvious that your best friend or your partner makes a huge person-sized dent in your soul, and your set of beliefs and ideas, but consider that even the grumpy customer next to you in line at the grocery store is teaching you about how you want to act in your life (in fact sometimes these examples of what not to do are even more valuable than examples of what to do). Within this life-long process of teaching and shaping people, you also devote some effort to sharing your perspectives directly. Your comment to your friend that the way the trees and the sky meet is beautiful shapes their eyes into the shape of your eyes. A piece of your consciousness is duplicated and 'backed up' as a new piece this other person. Your spirit spreads. When we are gone, no longer present in the world of the living, all of this impact does not go away. Everywhere you look, there are ghosts of people who are long gone still present. This does not appear right when you die either, it builds your whole life. Consider that what makes the elderly have a powerful and wise presence is that they are not just themselves and 'themself' is not just in them. They are made up of many other people and they themselves are distributed (as parts of other people) around their community. Their impact is now greater than the sum of their actions. As you live your mortal life, you are carving the shape of your eternal life into the world.
And just as you impact others, you yourself are made up of other people. Clearly, the direct influences in your life make up a large part of you. You contain within you the lessons you've learned from each person and along with them, pieces of their spirits. But this relationship between you and the people you've met is predicated on something even deeper. You are the result of many generations of human evolution. Countless generations lived and died before you, shaping the human experience from the ground up through the generations over time. Those who survived passed on their proclivity for certain experiences, emotions, reactions and understandings. They made you *you*, and you are all of them. When your heart leaps for joy, or when you're alone in the dark, this happiness or terror in your soul is the voice of your ancestors. Their experiences are passed on and are now yours to grapple with and use to understand yourself and your world. We are walking zombies. We contain within us the spirits of every ancestor that came before us. Their genes code our instinct, our emotions, and therefore our actions.
You are not solely responsible for the way your life and how you act. In fact, it may be selfish to believe so. Rather, you contain within you all of your experiences and influences *plus* these countless generations of people before you. Every person has built their own empire and attained their achievements atop those of the past, never alone. You are a combination of ghosts, of spirits that passed that were then passed on to you. You carry their torch. You carry both the blessings and the weight of that responsibility on you. Nothing you feel, think or do is particularly new. It has been given to you, by the sacrifice of other lives. And one day, you too will have to sacrifice it to the next generation. Your spirit remaining, your experiences and legacy passed on to be continued for the rest of human time.
#### The ideal and the collective human experience
So if *you yourself* are a product of these many things (you, your experiences, the other people in your life, the people who lived before you, your environment, and the whispers of your ancestors in who you are biologically) then your conception of the *ideal way to act* is also a product of these as well. We are each striving for our own conception of the ideal. We hear it in our heads, judging us when we act or fail to act. You feel it in your heart as guilt or pride. Whether you choose to accept it or not, you know very well when you have acted in a way that was not in accordance with your ideal. We hear the whispering judgments of other people through our consciousness. If this conception of the ideal is, as I said, a product of all other people and your environment, it's really your best guess at what all of the collective wisdom of humanity has come up with. In doing so, *you hear the voice of God*. He may not be a magical being in the sky, but he is perhaps so much more real than that. Ask yourself, honestly, for answers and your conception of the ideal, will speak to you back. Listen for the voice of God and you will find it. You cannot escape the bounds of your reality, and existence itself, and your ideas of that and of how to go about life in it are as powerful, omnipotent and inescapable as any God ever to have been portrayed.
We all share a common origin, we share a world, we share a uniquely human experience of consciousness. When you look out over a city, you can be sure that at any one moment, within your field of view, the entire spectrum of experience is occurring. Some people are having the best day of their life on the same day that others have the worst. And maybe when we add that up into something like the human collective experience, we get something that's so experienced and vast and powerful that we don't know what to do with that or what to call it. What we do know, is that it is transcendent and *living* and we have no choice but to call it God. It is above the realm of any one man. We feel this presence when we gather people together, working towards a common goal (a common God) regardless of what that goal is. This is the feeling of riots and community projects and sports teams and yes, churches. It is the transcendent experience of a conscious collective effort or intention.
On a given day you may find yourself possessed by many false Gods that lead you astray from your true God, your ideal way of being. You may be possessed by anger or lust or bliss or vengeance, all of which are clearly emotions, but when looked at from a wider perspective of humanity, it makes sense to conceptualize as something more. For example, a crowd can be perfectly peaceful, but once one person is possessed by the false God of war, again, riots can ensue. It happened here in Vancouver in 2010. Our hockey fans rioted in the streets, tossing cop cars and lighting them on fire. All because their team didn't win the championship game. If that's *not* possession by the God of war, manifested as the collective human experience of anger at the time, then I don't know what the word God means. While in this example, the God that manifested was a false one, when we look at humanity from our wider perspective, we see that overall, our God is one of striving for better. It is each person's conception of how to live their best life, even if this occasionally doesn't manifest and is momentarily overtaken by our flaws. The human desire is one for better; God is good.
So as you have seen, there are many ways in which your existence matters and even more ways that you can make that existence better. There is a flow of life that passes through us and is then passed on. Your ancestors carved you from their world, brought you to be shaped by your world and the people in it so that you would go on to shape others and pass your life forward to the future. Your actions now, carving out your spot in eternal life. Your impact making ripples many generations away. You pass on your experience, your ways of understanding; they persist long after your physical form has left. Your time is limited, but the human collective experience, which you are but one small part of, and which you have contributed your soul to, outlasts any one person or structure or creature. Our collective push for better, for knowledge, prosperity, and meaning endures.
Modern people are often overly dismissive of ideas that have manifested in humanity, wrought from trial and error over the course of many thousands of generations. We seem insistent on not giving our predecessors the credit they deserve. I believe we benefit greatly by giving old ideas the benefit of the doubt and looking deeply at them for their utility and fundamental truths, rather than their purely 'factual' (huge air quotes) state. Here I have presented a God that is not unscientific or separate from that which we know, rather I have presented the God that we feel in the depths of our hearts every day. One that I think is undeniably real and bears a striking and undeniable resemblance to many others from history. I have not explained *away* God nor religion itself, I make no attempts to diminish either. Rather, I believe I have explained *in* these ideas. They are of upmost importance. Thank you sincerely for reading and considering what I have written.
## [[The fundamental human experience]]
Music manifests emotion, this is clear. But it is also capable of manifesting physical changes in the body - dance. The experience of listening to music and having it provoke action is a near-universal one that ranges widely from the obvious example of dance to the less-obvious walking with extra hop in each step. Music brings fourth action. Music brings fourth *both* action *and* emotion. But fundamentally, emotion is indistinguishable from motivation, so perhaps it is emotion, rather than the stimulus that caused the emotion, that is driving this action. Action, manifested through emotion, manifested through music.
Emotions are the outputs of brains, where brains are acting as 'life integration machines'. They represent everything that it has ever experienced, processed through the structure of the brain, which has (through evolution, via the life and deaths of countless generations of ancestors before you) been tuned to sort through and store information efficiently and in a manner that ensures your survival. This finely tuned system works entirely subconsciously. It takes stimuli and almost immediately produces emotions, even if logically you can't know why it produced those emotions in particular (see [[Logic vs intuition]]).
Once you have been given these emotions by your brain, you can then consciously try to weigh your emotion with logic and reasoning. You assess your feeling (even though you can't possibly understand fully why it is the way it is), weight it with facts, and try to reason. In the end, you will end up giving some weight to both your emotion and your reasoning; perhaps 80-20, 50-50, or 0-100 (i.e. acting entirely on emotion). If, when added together, those motivations meet or exceed your threshold for action, then you act! This is fundamentally how people work.
I believe that this process explains why people like music so much, it's because it provokes the same emotions (motivations) as life, and in the same stunning variety. Music hijacks the evolutionary process of stimuli producing emotions, giving you emotions 'straight from the bottle' at your command. Its raw emotion because for listening to music, the logic step isn't needed at all. Emotions 100, logic 0. You experience stimulus to emotion to action in its full, raw, unaltered form. The human experience distilled.
## [[Curiosity, the portal to the genuine]]
To learn from another person is very easy. Mere observation is enough to gain profound insights into the nature of people and the self. However, observation alone is generally not enough to satisfy, rather our curiosity leads us further down the path, provoking us to engage in personal interactions. If your partner in conversation is also driven by this same curiosity, then you are likely to engage in a genuine, enjoyable and honest conversation. Perhaps you are even guaranteed to. This represents a fundamental respect for the others' capacity to see pieces of reality you have not yet seen.
Do not waste your time on people with no regard for your insight. This is common wisdom, but the reverse is much more important; if you find yourself in the habit of engaging people in conversation while believing that they have nothing to offer you, you will later find, after much wasted time, that you have missed out on the joy of genuine conversation.
## [[Catalysts for thought]]
Left in solitude for the whole of your life, you would come up with a certain set of conclusions based on what you could think up about the world. The introduction of other people provides sparks for the mind. For you, people have the intense potential to allow you to grow your realm of possibility by providing you new problems, experiences, and ideas to play with. By yourself, you can, in your head, conceptualize a person, give them motivations, and try to understand how they might act and think to explore and idea and hopefully learn something new. While this is useful, real people are *true* models of one possible way to live in the world that you can not only observe but also interact with and ask questions of. Now, instead of hypothetical people leading to somewhat unfounded and potentially misguided conclusions you have real data based on real observations of how other people act and think and whether their strategy was successful.
Under this framework, the existence of people in your world is a miracle. It's valuable information with no paywall other than your own observation and perhaps interaction effort. Your job just got drastically easier. You don't have to single-handedly and magically come up with many different ways of thinking and then also think through their potential consequences. Instead you have real, living, honest examples right in front of your to examine. Each person is a simulation of what humanity can do, a complicated mix of desires and motivations that is far more intricate than you could ever come up with on your own. Consider what makes people the way they are (especially people you see as 'bad' examples) and how that information might be applied.
## [[The ripple effect of action]]
When we look out at the world, we don't just see a flat, meaningless image, rather we see a display that strikes us with fear, safety, comfort, discomfort, contentment, discontentment, happiness, sadness, or some mix thereof. The world presents itself to us primarily as a gradient of emotions. Once we have understood the emotional content of what we are perceiving, we can then act on them. Stimuli provoke emotion which provokes action.
Some emotions promote action more readily than other do. Shame and guilt manifest when we feel observed, and are high up on the scale of emotions that are likely to lead to action. They tell us when we aren't acting as we or others think we should. They tell us all the ways we're not living life as we should even if we're not sure what the exact reasons are for why we should live that way. They are instinctual voices that compare us to the ideal, inevitably judging.
If you do something good (which I'm sure you do all the time ;) ), and someone else sees it, acknowledges that it contains some element of good, but isn't on a path that brings them to do that good as well, they are likely to feel guilt or shame. This will then motivate them to act on this disparity between their reality and their ideal. Whether this action does or doesn't occur is of course situational, but the key point here is that it makes it *more likely*. When our ideals are locked away in our heads, it is much easier for us to ignore their judging eyes, but in this hypothetical situation, you (the person doing the good) have become to them a less-ignorable manifestation of their ideal, making them more likely to act on it. This is the butterfly effect of doing. Keep doing good things, and others are likely to follow. You will reap the benefit of this not only from yourself doing the good, but also from others acting as a result of it and spreading it into the environment in which you live. Karma has many tendrils of influence.
## [[Self-criticism as a necessary danger]]
Commonly, we are told by well-meaning people that we are too hard on ourselves, that "you are your own biggest critic". However I think this misses part of an important point. While being overcritical of yourself leads to fear and an unwillingness to act at all, being under-critical of yourself will lead to the amplification of your faults and your stagnation or degradation as a person. But at the end of the day, no person, other than you, has the time, the care, or the insight into your mind to be as thorough of a critic of you as you are. You have to be your own biggest critic, no one else will do it for you.
As the person who must make changes in your life, you are tasked with hearing, considering and acting on criticism. So, not only must you be your own biggest critic, you are also tasked with considering *all* of the criticisms of every other person you've interacted with on top of your own. This means that the sum total of criticism will naturally have to be more than any one person's opinion. By existing as a person trying to achieve a better life, you are required to be your own biggest critic, otherwise you are being intentionally blind to the wisdom you are given.
That said, what I think the well-meaning people who say this common tidbit wisdom are actually trying to get at is that you cannot let yourself be emotionally affected by criticism to the point where it crushes you more than it helps you. While it is important to accept critique, we strive to prevent it from upsetting our current efforts to remain stable or to improve. This is a balancing act. Accepting criticism and self-criticism brings about forward growth, but only up until the threshold where beyond that, it is shattering to both your confidence and your hope for a better future for yourself.
## [[Logic vs intuition]]
How would our lives be different if our minds operated like computers? Would we shed all the pesky ambiguity and make perfectly logical decisions calculated based on data and probability? Or would we just suddenly lack all the bits of human life that make it exciting with no benefit? What is logic and how useful is it to us? The answer to these questions lie in considering the components that make up decision making.
To make a decision, you need to decide what to decide on, what options you will consider as answers and what options you will consider as factors that play into which answer is better. A logical decision maker goes through options, weighs the inputs against one another and comes to a conclusion based on on that. So you might say that human feelings are illogical to a fault, and only get in the way of this logical processing of data. However ==the brilliance of the human mind is that we do not have to consider so explicitly these questions and factors==. Rather than spending excess valuable time and energy sitting and processing the logical flow of data and weighed sums and long term predicted trends, we have the luxury of a shortcut - the feelings and intuitions that come to us spontaneously based on our previous experiences. Logic generally requires explicit inputs to generate answers to questions, but feelings on the other hand, are the output of life experience integration machines. Your intuitions, feelings, and emotions are your life summed up by processes in your brain that keep the important memories, throw out the boring stuff, and leave you with a personality, beliefs, values and other factors you aren't aware of that produce your unique set of intuitions, feelings and emotions. Lessons you don't remember learning are held within you and manifest for you to use as emotions, feelings, and intuitions. This then is a quick and easy way to decide what is important, and in practice this means you subconsciously come to conclusions of how to act. Fundamentally, listening to these intuitions, feelings and emotions is indistinguishable from listening to *you*. It is you added up over all your time, integrated throughout your entire life's history. A voice from the past, including your own past and to some degree even the past of those you know and the past of the many generations before you.
So, for some questions, your feelings will tell you one thing, while you cannot possibly come to a logical reason why. *You simply do not know yourself well enough to enter as much data about yourself into your logic equation as your intuitions, feelings, and emotions do.* This applies to others as well, if you look at someone else's decision and cannot discern why they made it, you must be missing one or more of the factors that matters to them, that they may not even be able to describe to you either.
And as if that wasn't enough, not only can we make these amazing complex decisions, be it by feelings or logic, we can also creatively and spontaneously think of new questions and problems to solve. We can oh-so-powerfully *decide* what to optimize for in our decisions and thus, our lives. This is again, a decision process, so you could theoretically decide this based on logic as well, however humans tend not to act this way. Each person has certain fields of inquiry that call to them, questions that they must answer or thoughts they must continue thinking about, regardless of whether or not they think the questions are logically important to pursue. If we switched to logical question and subject choosing we would lose out on the pursuits of people who know what they want but don't have the explicit logical reasons for it, they just feel it.
The logical mind comes to concrete conclusions. It believes it has worked fully though the problem, and has the definitive logical answer. Putting aside all the reasons I discussed why that can be wrong, at the end of it all, I really don't want to be fully certain anyways. Though uncertainty is terrifying at times, it also keeps us on our toes and makes life exciting. Uncertainty is distinctly human. You can think of yourself as logical if you choose, but beware the cockiness of believing your own lies, consider perhaps that you're missing that which you have not or cannot consider consciously, but your soul understands.
## [[Accepting the important but painful]]
Most people know to accept the things they cannot change, this tidbit of wisdom has permeated popular culture, but what about accepting the things that you don't want to - or shouldn't - change? Rather than being about the things that we fundamentally have no control over, this is about the choices that we should (or shouldn't) make if we want to live better.
For me, the most straightforward example, and the one that inspired this post, is exercise. As much as we *want* to *not want* to do it, we generally have some undeniable fundamental intuition that it would make our lives better. We have complete control (in theory) over whether we exercise, how intense we exercise, and for how long we exercise. It would most certainly not fall under the category of "accepting the things we cannot change". But because it is an important part of a happy and healthy life, it is something we should accept *as though* it is something we cannot change.
Taking away choice in this way - making it so that important things *become* things you cannot change - is one way of fighting the part of ourselves we all have that if left unchecked, would happily let us do nothing for the rest of our lives. Fundamentally, it is a process of getting rid of the desire to stop (or to never start) that nags our thoughts, telling us we don't have to - we could *choose* not to. Ideally, we get to the point where it must simply be done, though getting to this point is clearly easier said than done. If I accept that a difficult thing will be with me forever - even if it won't - it vastly increases my ability to tolerate, and even enjoy it.
To clarify, I don't think that this has to be a form of lying to yourself (which I am generally not a proponent of), because you can conceptualize it in a slightly different way. While I believe that the way I have outlined it above works the best for changing how you act for the better, I also think the following way makes more intuitive sense: Rather than a lie, think of this as changing the most basic requirements you have of yourself such that they include the things that you want to do but are difficult. Right now this set of requirements probably includes a certain level of eating, drinking, socialization and sleep - the things that you would not let yourself not do. What I have suggested is a specific, and I believe useful, way of thinking about 'upping your standards' for how you care for and improve yourself. Do beware though, with higher standards follows a higher level that you will require of yourself to earn your own basic self respect. No one ever said progress doesn't have consequences.
## [[Peace amidst uncertainty]]
When the course of life is uncertain, and just *thinking* about what to do never mind *actually deciding* is painful, we lose hope for a better future. We get stuck thinking that what is present now will remain forever. A better future or the future itself may feel unreachable. We feel this way because if these challenges were presented to us now, we couldn't handle them. But in believing this, we are forgetting something crucial. You are not the same person now as you were previously, and future you will not be the same as current you. The evolution of yourself through time strengthens your will and makes challenges that were once insurmountable, trivial. A stronger, more capable and more experienced future you will arrive one day, perhaps when you weren't even looking, equipped and ready to help you.
Don't worry my friend, regardless of your plight, someone more knowledgeable will be here soon.
## [[War of ideas within]]
Reconciling the fact that we have different ideas than other people is difficult. We each have our own set of ideas, values and beliefs based on our own experiences. Most people appreciate this element of variety among people's opinion as necessary and good. However, the difficult part is knowing how to weight your own ideas in relation to others' ideas, when to change or modify your beliefs and when to double down. We make a calculation in our minds, do we scoff that someone's idea is 'clearly wrong'? Do we consider their idea to be of equal importance as our own? Do we trust them enough to swap out our old idea? Your choice for how to reconcile differing ideas will depend on how much you trust and respect the judgment of the other person and yourself, how convincing their argument is and how deeply embedded your belief is. This process is a difficult one no doubt.
This problem deepens when the person with whom you disagree is not in front of you and readily open to a detailed, constructive discussion where you explain and weigh out your differences. Often the people we (think we) disagree with are abstracted from us in some way. We see the way they present themselves, their actions, their words if we're lucky, or someone else's interpretation of their words if we're not. In these cases, weighting your own beliefs to theirs becomes much more difficult. You may find yourself quickly disregarding them, perhaps mocking them and in doing so claiming your rightful place as intellectually or morally superior. What a *heroic* act!
In such cases, you no longer have a person to argue the opposing point. It's now up to you. You must be willing to be convinced, no one can force you. You must humble yourself, face and respect this person in spite of how wrong you might initially think they are. Remembering that your ideas are not *true*, they are only your current best guess at what truth might be that need to be updated as often as new information can be delivered (kinda like security updates to your computer!). And critically, you must assume that they are *good* people who have valid reasons for the things they think and do. Only once you have honestly and in good faith explored the possibilities of why they might think or act the way that they do can you begin to learn from the mind of someone with whom you have limited contact with.
## [[Truth in spontaneity]]
When we look inwards on ourselves, we come to less conclusions about the state of ourselves than we might expect. Our thoughts are a web of complicated motivations, past experiences and current goals, and this makes separating out what is *us* and what is external to us very difficult. On the other hand, people who observe us from an outside perspective see only the raw data of our actions. They do not see the underlying mess of motivations, just what actions you output after having considered all such motivations.
This feeling, that other people understand us better than we understand ourselves, causes frustration and crippling self-doubt.
One possible way to get around this problem is to consider that perhaps there *is* a time where we can honestly observe ourselves without getting to into our own heads. That time being the time in which you are acting spontaneously, when action springs fourth from your soul, unyielding to any existing doubts. It is when what you are doing is natural, unforced, and honest.
So if we assume this is true, that observing who you are when you are acting spontaneously is the key to discovering yourself, then it follows that we should seek out scenarios that promote this growth. We should seek out people, places, and activities that make us act and speak spontaneously, that show us the truth of ourselves, perhaps even when we don't want the truth. Only in truth can we bring ourselves forwards.
## [[The gift of cycles]]
Human lives consist of a series of repeated cycles. Days repeat until weeks repeat until months repeat until seasons change until the year rolls over to the next until entire lives pass and new lives begin. We have endless opportunities to encounter endings and new beginnings that each bring with them the potential for another chance. We are blessed with having our lives broken up into more manageable, repeated chunks. We find comfort in the cycles of our lives.
In this process, we are taken away from the endless monotone march we would otherwise feel if we lived our lives in one straight line, while also having time put into greater perspective. We get to experience the variation and novelty of a new day or week or the changing on the seasons, feeling our world constantly moving forward via these repeated cycles. Without them, you wouldn't experience the realization we all come to every once in awhile that a whole season has passed us by, or a whole year. Cycles push us, gently reminding us that we must keep moving forward.
## [[Whose beleifs exactly]]
Beliefs define how we interpret the world. They can act as a filtering mechanism, using what you've already figured out, to efficiently sort through and categorize new information. On one hand, we know that it is important to question our beliefs, however it is also important to understand the opposite side of this.
These beliefs are derived from two places. First, from your own experiences and second, from your interactions with other people's beliefs. Because of this, to some extent, these beliefs are not entirely yours. You can take credit for integrating all of your experiences into one mind with a set of beliefs, but the composition of those beliefs is largely determined by your interactions with the world and other people directly. Your beliefs are a mosaic of your life. They represent every person who ever won you over in an argument, every story that tugged at your conscience, every time you learned from someone else's thoughts or actions, be it out of admiration or disapproval. We do not remember their sources accurately, but each part of us is (at least in part) borrowed from somewhere else.
So really, by this logic, you can trust your own beliefs as much as you trust your sources, personal experiences and your own interpretation skills. That is a personal understanding that you must figure out for yourself. However, this way of conceptualizing belief comes with an interesting interpretation.
If you believe (ha!) what I have said, that your beliefs are not fully yours, then perhaps you have some responsibility to them. They are the sum total of all things you ever considered to be valuable or useful. All the people who ever shaped you are contained within them, and who are you to haphazardly throw that away?
This is not to say that we should remain static, or that we shouldn't accept new ideas and change to our beliefs (obviously that would break the system because then you couldn't have formed any beliefs to start with), but rather it is to say that we shouldn't disregard them carelessly. There exists a cost to letting go just as there is a cost to holding on. In considering new paradigms, consider carefully why you think how you do, how it has served you, and whether change would merely be change for change's sake or a genuine movement towards a more complete set of useful and 'true' beliefs.
## [[Karma is human nature]]
`To those who have everything more will be given and from those who have nothing everything will be taken - The Matthew Effect`
This means that your life will be as it has been in the past but amplified, for better or for worse. The good thing grows exponentially and likewise, because what is life if not fair (ha!), the bad thing grows exponentially too. This is intuitive when you think about it. For example, people who have work experience get more work experience but people with none cannot get a job or get low paying, undesirable jobs. People who are fit get more fit because its rewarding and easy for them to move, whereas unfit people find it extremely difficult to get moving and gradually get more unfit over time. People who have money can use what they have left over to grow that money, but people just making it can only spend their money, not save or invest.
However importantly, this concept manifests itself not only as *life* directly providing you with opportunities or slaps to the face, but also as *us* doing this same thing indirectly. Humans are probabilistic in nature, so when we do something it makes us more likely to do that thing again. If you do something good for yourself, you're setting yourself up to continue to do that same thing, bringing you closer and closer to your heaven on earth. And you guessed it, likewise if you do something that is bad for you, you're sentencing yourself to your own personal hell. For example, if you cut yourself off from the people you care about, you're setting yourself up for a lifetime of loneliness, or if you allow yourself to hold on to grudges you're setting yourself up for a lifetime of bitterness and mistrust. We are the judge and the judged simultaneously. We hold in us the divine power to send ourselves into a trajectory leading to a life of despair or to a life of meaning. We are our own karma, it comes preinstalled in human nature.
So really, this quote, while it sounds rather pessimistic when you first hear it, is can be seen as a message of hope. It tells you that you are responsible for your fate, for making your life better or making it worse. And if you spend some time getting yourself working towards having more (of *anything* worth having), your efforts will land you further than you expected they would.
Each action is more important than just its pure, isolated value. And your actions together are worth more than the the sum of their parts. You are synergistic, you double down on what you've already done and replicate that in how you act in the future.
## [[Shared reality]]
In our existence, we not only get the experience of being human, we also get to share that experience with other humans. We go about our lives in one shared reality, with common experiences, emotions, and motivations that connect us innately. We also have elements of us that are unique, and that are not shared between us and another person. These are the parts of us that we have to converse about and provide our perspective directly in order to have that same connection with another person.
Why might you want to connect with a person and come to a mutual understanding of your shared reality? Well there are a number of important reasons, including to gain a sense of comfort and familiarity with this person, or to get their advice, or to expand your (likely limited) sphere of consciousness and grow as a person. But perhaps more fundamentally, underlying all of those things, is the fact that without the presence of an underlying shared reality between two people, they are unable to have a real, honest, productive conversation at all. Because they have fundamentally different baselines of how the world works, anything that one could learn from the other about how to navigate in the world will be lost. They will confuse each other, and accidentally (or sometimes intentionally if there is ill will between them) misinterpret one anothers' words. When you do not live in the same reality, someone else's interpretation of their reality means nothing to you living in your own, separate reality.
## [[Variation, a fundamental truth]]
Anything you can possibly think of contains within it variation. All this really means is that our subject of interest will not remain exactly that same, that when you measure many subjects they will all be different, and that different groups will be different from each other in ways that are unique to those groups. You can consider variation as a meta-phenomena with underlying causes that could (in theory) be explained. This makes it a very useful mental tool for thinking about basically everything. Any statement of fact is innately naive if it is without the additional context that all things occur not only due to factors we can explain, but also in part due to random chance and in part due to factors we cannot know.
An illuminating example is when you have any group of people with a goal. Within this group, the people themselves will not remaining totally stable through time, but there will also be variation withing the group at any one time. Some members will be more strategic, some more action oriented, and some will be louder and more likely to want to make their voices heard. What that means for you, is that the people you will see (the loud ones) will be different from the people making things happen (the action oriented ones) who will again be different from those who actually devised the plans (the strategic ones). From your perspective, ==you likely have no idea what is really going on in this group due (in part) to the in built variation from person to person==. When variation causes patterns, it can make seeing the truth difficult.
Understanding and accepting variation means also accepting that you cannot always predict or understand everything. Without this acceptance you will be overly confident in your wrong assessments (and your correct assessments) and thus be unable to understand these things anyways! Instead, you can use an understanding of variation to pare back what you think you know and learn how humans are impacted by their environment. This is incredibly useful, being that you're a human (presumably...) who might like to not only understand how the world around you is shaped, but also how you fit into that world and how you yourself work.
## [[Slip slidin' away]]
Life is in large part about making trade-offs. Anyone who put in a lot of effort to do something great, simultaneously gave up countless opportunities to do many other valuable things. ==The choice to act, is implicitly also the choice to not act on all of the other possibilities.== So not only are we perhaps not very good at staying on track with the objectives we do choose to lock on to, we are also constantly neglecting all the other things we could have done instead. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the phrase "no good deed goes unpunished".
This all sounds rather depressing, however I see it rather as a useful way to conceptualize your decisions in a way that makes more intuitive sense to us. Similar to when people conceptualize purchases in units of other smaller purchases ("this oil change costs FOUR sushi lunches?!"), this framework puts each activity into the perspective of the lost potential of other valued activities. Something that is going to take your time and effort needs to be valuable enough such that it warrants taking time away from whatever other worthwhile activities you could be doing.
Moving forwards, towards anything, means going away from everything else.
>This post is inspired by, and I cannot help but recommend, one of my favorite songs that I believe gets at this concept very beautifully.
"Slip Slidin' Away" by Paul Simon.
It sends shivers down my spine every time.
## [[A beautiful pot]]
Trust is a fragile balance. It is unstable, much easier to break apart than to stay together. It is an uneven state, building it takes years, breaking it takes seconds. Once someone knows you have the potential in your heart to knowingly deceive them, you then have to convince them that you have sealed off that hole in yourself in order for them to ever trust again. Trust returns long long after forgiveness has already occurred. "It's okay" is a sign of peace between parties, but it does not set the situation back to what it was before.
Some baseline level of trust is given to all people. We trust other drivers on the road not to hit us (sort of), and we trust the person beside us on the train not to be a murderer with a knife (maybe). But when we lose someone's trust, it is possible to go into the negatives, where we are now not only not trusted, but we are less trusted than the baseline of how much we would trust a random stranger on the street.
A beautiful pot, sitting on a shelf in the sun offers much enjoyment and utility. It takes many hours of skilled work to craft and decorate. But a moments mis-step and it smashes to pieces, perhaps now even lesser than the clay and paint it once was. At least clay and paint have the potential of a pot.
## [[A resonant story]]
A good story is one that is about everyone. If something that is written is able to resonate with many people, then it isn't merely something that the author made up that can be brushed aside, it tells something about human nature or the human experience. It's resonance is an indicator that it in some way expresses truth about the reader.
Such a story that tells us such a truth, conveys some element of our common conception of the human ideal. It shows us a truth surrounding our connection to the ideal that we judge ourselves against. We are able to step outside of ourselves and see an embodiment of action that we then apply our own integral judge to, allowing us to much more objectively understand how our conception of the ideal relates to our own action. Our automatic judgments on the actions, inactions, virtues or faults of a character are, if we are open to it, reflected back at us and show us our distance or proximity to the ideal. We may even learn some new element of ideal that we had not yet incorporated into our framework of what our ideal is.
So perhaps consider this next time a story resonates with you, ask yourself what element of this character's actions is being judged and what that judgment can help you see in your own life.
## [[Karma, community, and self-respect]]
If you act poorly to others, it won't go unnoticed by witnesses. The consequences of this are intuitive. Perhaps this is what is meant by karma, but consider that there may be more to this idea than meets the eye.
Your conception of yourself matters. It manifests itself in all aspects of your life, both in how you feel and how you act. Consciously make choices that you do not believe in and you will develop contempt towards yourself. Develop contempt towards yourself, and you will aim yourself at the ground. Your motivations, actions and thoughts become disjointed from one another, and your sense of self control starts to erode. It appears to me that self-destructive behavior follows when you no longer find yourself to be likable to your own mind. You are the reaper of your own karma, simultaneously the judge and the condemned.
And if that wasn't enough, there is an additional factor at play that makes our actions all the more impactful. If you aim, even unintentionally, to corrupt the integrity of the community of people you interact with (perhaps the whole world given the internet), you will find yourself living in a situation that is slightly worse than it was when you got to it each time you act, and for better or for worse, it is in the nature of things to continue on in their current direction. Your bitterness or arrogance or anger may be the act upon which the collective momentum of such traits in the people you surround yourself with grows. You make the environment in which you live more hostile the more hostile you are to it. In retrospect, this seems obvious, but all of us forget.
A 'magic' that ensures all is fair in the world is perhaps nothing but a hopeful cry for justice from a cheated man. But consider instead, as we have, that perhaps the people who thought up this idea were explaining a fundamental trait of human existence, just in a manner that is less familiar to us.
## [[Confidence as truth]]
Confidence is having respect for yourself such that you have honest faith in your own competence. It is fundamentally an inward-facing knowledge and self-respect that then causes a 'confident' outward portrayal of yourself to others. You cannot lie to yourself to fool yourself into being confident, as your heart will inevitably show you (and likely others unless you're a brilliant actor) how truly calm and collected it can stay in the moment.
To some extent, how confident you feel can be a good barometer for how much you truly believe in yourself and how much you stand by the actions you have taken in the past. For example, if you believe you have prepared as well as you could for a given test, you will likely be imbued with a sense of confidence (if not, then a lacking self-confidence may be an issue for you). But if you feel guilt, knowing that you could easily have been working harder or smarter, you will likely be riddled with nerves.
In the end, the judgment of the self (and the future self) sees the truth behind our actions, and thus provides us with or leaves us without confidence. You cannot (and should not) trick your own mind into believe that you are better (or worse) than you are and if you do, this unearned ego will pay heavily for it when you fail at that which you were confident in.
## [[Look yourself in the face]]
<!--- What is being honest with yourself and why is it useful --->
To be honest with yourself is to confront your current flaws and mistakes head on. It is to look yourself square in the face without flinching. It is to understand and accept your current position such that after, you are in a much better position to change for the better.
<!--- Many factors make problems hard to look at --->
However, in your way to that change for the better is the fact that acknowledging the factors that are actively negatively influencing your life is painful. We very naturally want to look away from such problems, choosing to be blindly and blissfully unaware. Confronting these problems would require accepting that there are things we *can* do to improve our situation that we are *not* doing. No one wants to admit that they are actively working against their own best interest. On top of that, not only do we feel the burden of judgment from our current selves, future you's judgment also hangs over your head. It is even more painful if the problem has persisted with you for a long time and if it has has wormed its way into multiple aspects of your life. Momentum can be a force for good, it can help you continue to do the things that you would like to be doing, but it can also drag you down as a force towards the anti-productive things you have succumbed to in the past (see [[Discipline vs momentum]]).
<!--- the hard-to-look-at nature makes you reach for distractions --->
The combination of pressures to do better means that you will be exceptionally tempted to instead give over your attention to anything that can decrease the likelihood that you will wander into thoughts about your problem. You will feel this as an irresistible pull towards anything and everything that can distract you from certain emotional pain and regret. The things that worked at covering up your problems in the past will be top candidates to fulfill this function, and depending on how you've set up your life, these things may be inevitable. And so, here we see that the natural human propensity to look away from our problems, coupled with the momentum surrounding avoiding such problems with our familiar distractions is an exceptionally effective pair.
<!-- Examples -->
An office worker ignores the fact that the path they are on will never land them near anything resembling meaning by their sheer fear of change. A student avoids studying for the class they are failing and lands absent-mindedly on Facebook instead. A father avoids the fact that his marriage of 40 years is falling apart by involving himself heavily with work. A depressed person drowns out their own thoughts for every waking moment with anything that can be routed through a pair of headphones. I'm sure you've seen many more examples.
To get around this, we must intentionally do the opposite, practicing telling ourselves the honest truth as often as possible and recognizing moments where we might reach for a distraction rather than face a problem. Then, you can choose to confront aspects of yourself you do not want to confront, rather than choosing to tread again on old habits that bring you further down the path of blindness and distraction from the things that are actively making you and your life worse.
## [[Discipline vs momentum]]
Generally, discipline is conceptualized as a motivation that allows someone to work towards their potential. It is an internal negotiation between present you and future you, based on the state that past you put current you in. Present you agrees to put its desires and comfort aside in service of future you. In that sense, discipline is the sacrifice of the present for long term gains. It is valuing a given outcome so much so that you are willing to make trade-offs to see it attained. However that which we see manifested as discipline has elements that often go unseen. It is more complicated than just the pure grit and determination to fulfill potential and reach a goal, it is often an effort against the patterns and habits that you have laid down behind you.
Each action (or inaction) carries with it momentum. Doing something make you more likely to do that same thing, or similar things, again in the future. Thus, action can be seen as setting not only your current behavior, but also as increasing the probability that you will do that thing again in the future. In that way, discipline often entails going against the momentum of laziness or anti-productive actions that has been built up over time. Unfortunately, past you did the wrong thing, or failed to act at all, thus leaving current you with a strong likelihood of continuing to do exactly that again and again. Discipline involves working against this momentum that you have set up for yourself in order to achieve your potential.
People who appear to have a lot of discipline may have merely set up their momentum in a positive way and are using it to their advantage rather than their disadvantage. They started down a road, and since then momentum has been with them, allowing them to continue to make better choices with better habits. Your ego looks at such successful people dismissively, saying that "they just have so much discipline", however this attitude does you a disservice. Rather, it is important to see the forces that are currently working against you, and learn to use them to achieve your potential. Change your momentum to change your life.
The initial changing of the direction of your trajectory is the hardest part, requiring the aforementioned negotiation between current you and future you, and without a doubt, the maintenance of positive behaviors will be difficult as well, however starting down the right path has more power than you think. Conceptualize your actions as setting you up to do that action again, rather than merely having the value that it presents immediately, and your ability to control your own life may be revealed to you.
## [[Experiencing choice]]
Our world is, in large part, mysterious to us. We experience our lives, however the extent to which this experience gives us information on the state of reality cannot be known. So, I present to you one of the many possibilities of how our lives may be positioned in existence.
The entity that is generally identified as you is really a **system**.
That system has a certain **structure** that allows it to interact with the external world. We partition that structure into two parts, the **mind** and the **body**. The body receives both internal and external inputs and connects them with the mind, which synthesizes these experiences into a (somewhat) coherent representation of you and your environment and in doing so, generates thoughts and actions.
However none of this yet includes *you*. **You** are the entity experiencing the **system**. You go about your life, observing the states of being that your system takes on. In some sense, you are the system, but in another sense you have no genuine control over the system. You don't know where the mind's nor the body's outputs originate and have no conception of how their processes work, you merely reap the benefits (and pitfalls) of them.
Think on it. You cannot stop thinking about a purple elephant. You cannot get yourself to do your homework. Thoughts emerge that you do not wish to think. You cannot stop your body from shifting position. You think to move your hand, but where did this thought come from? What *exactly* did you think you had control over?
If we are the consciousness that experiences the structure of the system, we have no form of control. Being so integrated with the system and it's structure, we get to experience the inner workings of *that which determines the output*, however importantly, this is very much different from real choice. **We experience choice, but we do not choose.**
## [[Constraining your potential]]
To attempt to fulfill your potential is a loaded game if not considered carefully. A person would need infinite lives to meet the full extent of their potential. One lifetime learning literature, one lifetime learning traffic control engineering, one lifetime attaining a high level of physical aptitude and so on an so fourth. So in one lifetime, reaching your potential is about doing what you choose to do well and fully, not about doing everything you could theoretically do. Just as the extent of potential is very wide for any person, so are the range of goals they can choose to pursue. **All of us commit the sin of wasting some amount of our potential**, and thus the real decision is to decide which things we will pursue and, more painfully, which things we will allow ourselves to not pursue, wasting our potential. This point is worth repeating. We all fail to reach our full potential, and part of the challenge of life is deciding to leave some worthwhile things behind and focus on that which we find most important. Only once we have these goals defined, can we judge what a waste of time (potential) is. And only then can we properly use our sense of guilt and duty to inform what to do at any given time.
[[You have potential]].
## [[You have potential]]
Part of learning to be honest with yourself is learning to recognize when you are avoiding important things out of fear or laziness. Ignoring your potential is one of these such things, you will happily ignore if you do not purposefully acknowledge it. It requires effort to reach the activation energy of acceptance, perhaps because we know the consequences of it. For once we accept our potential, moments of stagnation will forever contain an element of guilt. Time not spent working towards your potential become dirtied with the knowledge that time moving on is only **draining your reserves of potential**. Everyone knows that time is money, and this statement is an extension of this idea that time is potential. Thus not just monetary goals, but any and all of your goals skip though your fingers by the second.
To be told that you have potential is to be told or reminded of an innate burden that you will carry (and have carried) with you through your life. And unlike some burdens, you have no way of ever putting it down, not for a second. The judgment of potential looks away not for a single moment.
This is a rather big realization, and is known to incite existential dread. How fun! So naturally, we instinctively reject such compliments. We listen to our ego telling us that we are on the right path already and avert our eyes from the terrifyingly sharp and judging eyes of potential. Besides, *you* couldn't possibly do *that*. Right?
## [[Valuing the real]]
For a long time I've had a word stuck in my head. That word is the word 'real'. When new things come up against my idea of what it means to live a 'real' life, I have consistently pushed back against them.
To live a life that I would characterize as real, ==I think you have to express the deepest and most honest characteristics of your soul==. Anything that brings out that soul is something that is real, and anything that makes you hide from yourself or distort your interaction with your soul is not real, or fake.
To live a real life means to experience human consciousness and life. To explore our way of being, to allow ourselves to experience a broad range of feeling and emotion. To not be afraid of ourselves, to seek feeling and meaning. It is to connect with the deep common human experience that has existed in us as a species for thousands of years.
The first obvious objection to that is that our souls are not idealized, perfect entities that are just waiting to be unearthed. Human souls are, almost by definition, imperfect, twisted, and in need of improvements. Giving in to our deep, repressed desires isn't generally considered a good move, however the darkness of it does not, take away from the fact that doing so would be 'real'.
To walk feeling the rain on your face. To laugh and enjoy your time with other humans. To dance and express yourself creatively. To think and communicate to understand each other. And yes, to explore the monsters within us as well. To understand the desire for power. To play with physical dominance over others. To wish harm and suffering on other conscious things. To explore the deepest pits of sorrow. Not all things that are real are pleasant.
Given that, it must be said that to live a real life cannot be the only goal. 'Real' is directionless, other values must be coupled on top. However I believe this is a strength of the value of real. It allows freedom to explore yourself, your humanity and your world and to be open to new values and goals that come by.
For instance, when we are in pain we reach for distraction to take us away from our painful reality. We actively move to release ourselves from the present moment. Technology is a new and ever-more tempting source of this release. Sometimes more potent than ourselves, it has the ability to free us from our thoughts and feelings and save us from the trouble of learning how to deal with them and even knowing what they are.
To live abstracted away from the things that make our experiences real is to avoid your emotions, to block out the emergent experiences of being human, to drown yourself in distractions and to never be curious enough to explore your own potential, good or bad.
## [[The addict's dilemma]]
If an addict is reliant on their vice of choice, how much of what they present to the world on a daily basis could be considered them? On one hand, you are always a product of you and your environment. Both for direct things like food, water, sleep as well as more indirect things like how your conversation partner is looking at you or what physical environment you're in and what thoughts that environment conjures up in you. By that logic, a vice is just another aspect of your environment changing your internal state. On the other hand, you could say that both the presence and absence of the vice is an impedance on the person to act as they naturally would in the world. Perhaps conceptualized as a middle man, it prevents real interaction between the person and their world.
Few people would dispute that hard drugs and their generally associated downward spirals fall under the second category, but more mundane vices are placed closer to the first. However, this interruption of the genuine interaction of the 'true' self and the world can have unforeseen consequences.
A person at a social gathering, reserved and quiet, consuming alcohol to feel comfortable engaging with others. Perhaps this is a positive change, however the fundamental truth is that their honest self is not the thing that is being manifest in the world. At the current moment, this person is dependent on alcohol to manifest these traits. Their actions are disjunct from what they are capable of.
Quick fixes offer false promises. They entice us to comfort, rather than the discomfort of fixing the problem. To me, this is the difference between our first point that we are a product of our environment all the time and our second point that middle men muddle real interaction. The problem begins when the vice provides an easy fix to a real problem or a way to avoid needing to improve to get a certain outcome. When a vice stands between a person and their own ideal, it can no longer be dismissed as a mere factor of their environment.