In general seems people who are hyper aware/vigilant of all the dimensions of their life are less happy. Which of course is a large swath of the people that get categorized as "successful". In contrast I see many folks with "type B" personalities, on the lower rungs of corporate America, seemingly choosing to be less engaged in their career and/or personal growth. Many of them seem at least as happy.
Last night I witnessed the extremes of this, but with a twist. After a good many-year run, my lower back gave out. This forced cancelation of all my active plans last weekend including fun things like hang gliding (not getting enough of this in this year - starving) and biking. Also prohibited many of my projects in progress like badly needed house and yard maintenance and improvements in preparation for my daughter's birthday party in a couple weeks. And almost as bad as the mental anguish, I had been in agony for a week with pain reaching dizzying levels. With an upcoming doctor appointment but no healing progress and the black cloud of inevitability of losing the upcoming 3 day weekend to mopping around the house, I would have to report my happiness level as low. Very low.
But not so for my 4 year old daughter, Rio. When I got home from work, we went on a short/slow walk around the neighborhood as back therapy for me and for her to provide her dolls a ride in a toy baby carriage. Her happiness was barely containable. She skipped, jumped, played pretend on what the dolls are thinking/saying, picked up small things, smelled things, noticed things on the ground and in the sky. All of this on a very regular day in her life. I was thoroughly in awe.
As a side note, this great example of mindfulness notwithstanding, her pedestal did come crashing down. She produced a rare but severe tantrum on objections to the order of things in her bedtime routine (gotta brush your teeth before...). When she did not get her way, in just a few minutes, she went into a state of misery in excess of my current low with a complete and canonical 4 year old melt down. Cried so hard that she transitioned directly from sobbing to sleeping and was then tucked away in bed for the night.
The best of both worlds, would be the mindfulness of finding happiness in the moment when we went for a walk AND the mind control to "let go" of the things that can't be changed like loosing a couple weeks of precious activeness for me and bed time routine order for her. Mindfulness practices are step one, but big step number two, is mind control (e.g. let it go).
Lately I have been reading and pod-listening about mindfulness, Buddhism, and Stoicism, in the context of navigating through life’s chutes and ladders. Combining these three, I have come up with a simplified flow chart, for what it is worth. Note the below is focus more on “bad” things, but can also somewhat apply to “good” things.
Entry: An “Event” has happened.
Examples: just got bad or good news, plans changed, got faced with a task, a conflict, a comfrontation, or decision, etc.
Recognize that “shit happens” and how you react to events *IS* what determines who you are. Great poker players are not great because they get lucky cards, it is because they make the right decisions based on the cards they get. You must realize that despite any emotional factors that are generated by the event, it is critically important that you make good decisions, which generally involves managing your attitude.
Measure the vector of the "event" and your "emotional reaction" to it. A vector includes a direction and a magnitude. For "events" the direction could be good, bad, or in the middle, etc. For "emotional reaction", examples are angry, sad, anxious, happy, frustrated, etc. For magnitude, with respect to both "events" and "emotional reaction", it could be anywhere from critical/severe to minor/unimportant. When you think about the vector, you may realize the event is not that bad, or has a mix of good and bad. You may realize your reaction to it seems un-proportionate. You may find that doing the consideration activities of this step has yielded a greatly reduced emotional reaction. Furthermore, you may now find yourself back in a more balanced state of mind and able to procede with the task of making the best decisions. But if not, proceed to the next step.
This is the Vipassana step. Take some time, perhaps some breath (even if secretly), and feel how the emotion is affecting your thought process and your physiology. Think about how humans evolved, optimized for more simple situations that generally required physical response to solve issues. The purpose of the meditation is to view your emotion with as much detachment as possible. This sometimes can allow for attenuation of its control of your mind. If this is successful, you can make a good decision on how to proceed and alleviate much of the damage of the emotional residue. If not, proceed to the next step.
This is the Buddhism part. Realize that people evolved to never be satisfied. Suffering is a part of life for everyone at times. Even when your situation is better than before, you will soon get used to it and again be unsatisfied. A metaphysical hamster wheel. To live in happiness, one must realize that all we have is the here and now. No matter the situation, the biggest lever to our happiness is expectation management.
Esalen 1: There and Back.
Got back from Esalen last night. A bit tired. My muscles are tired of asanas. My eyes are tried of crying. My tongue is tired of talking. My lungs are tired of laughing. My mind is tired. But all parts long for more.
Nostalgia. Can't go back to that time and place. Enormous gratitude. Preciousness. Gratefulness.
Namaste to all who were a part of that time and place for me.
Esalen 2: Tree Fort.
Between my last two jobs, I starting building a tree fort and pushed through a reasonable level of completion of the project during my new job. I convinced my self that having a tree fort was a nice part of my childhood and therefore would be a nice thing for my daughter. The fort consists of a small platform equal in height with the second story of a house and big platform at about at the third story height. Some climbing aids were constructed but basic tree climbing skill is needed to get up there (I have this). I bought a child rock climbing harness for her and rope her up for climbing attempts, but she has no inclination to climb that high.
From the perspective of planet Esalen, wow, the tree fort was for ME!!!! I made it way higher and inaccessible than appropriate for children. Looking at it now, I really made a meditation and yoga platform. Seems in no way was it designed as a "tree fort". Wow, seems SO obvious now. And cool! - now I have the BEST place for this that I could ever imagine. I don't know if she will ever use it, nor if I really will, but funny how sometimes you get not what you think you wanted, but want you needed. Which is exactly what seems to happen at Esalen.
Esalen 3: Sugar and Coffee Cravings.
No big deal right? Everybody has them - or something like them. No worries, my physical health is good, I can afford a little give and take on this. I know sugar to be unhealthy and too many trips to the coffee maker can't be good either. My self discipline maintains overall limits, but sometimes I go to pretty extreme measures to get my little fix - like eating all the sugar packets in a hotel during a craving at night. During hard times the cravings are stronger and during fun times they are easier to control.
I had believed this "demon" was just biology based. My body was craving the sugar/insulin rush, and the caffeine boast. Nothing more to it, right? Well, at Esalen, I did not have any of these (and other) cravings. Absolute zero. Hmmm.
Consideration both from within the Esalen biosphere and now back on Earth leads me to believe these are actually symptoms of lack of peace within. Review and reflection of when the cravings are strong and when they are weak is revealing. Certainly not entirely correlated to physiological states like hunger or tiredness or boredom; more to them. I am very happy to have found this new dashboard gauge. "What cannot be measured cannot be managed".
At the end of the yoga based retreat, chocolate bars were passed around for everybody to take a piece. The momentary combination of the spiritual practice and on of my craving targets was the perfect in-your-face-hint to take a look at this for me. For others, likely just a tasty treat to end the session while we all reflect on the aspects of our Esalen journeys.
My daughter is so much more capable than I. I was listening to the Tim Ferris podcast which featured Dr. Adam Gazzaley discussing some research on neuroplasticity and optimizing cognitive abilities in adults. The challenge is improving the structure of the adult mind which is developed, more or less, and therefore less flexible to fundamental change. But recalling an event over the weekend, I think I saw this metamorphous, massive in extent, and conducted in moments, not months. This was achieved by my favorite little human, my daughter, almost three years old. She is in a “princess phase” (ah jeez) and fascinated with slightly older girls. We were at a local community event where we took a seat to watch a child prodigy singer/musician (maybe I have no idea) and a few group dance routines done by girls ranging from a couple to several years older than her. Her focus and concentration on this show was at a level only achievable by a child. Seriously, children have earned a reputation for lack of concentration and focus, like when they are asked to pick up their toys and or develop some of the skills needed for Daddy’s sports, but I have seen her concentrate and focus at a level no longer available to me. Her eyes wide, studying every movement, every sound, perceiving nuances filtered out by the adult conscience, in a high bandwidth un-distractible connection. Her face muscles twitched with rapid transformation of her mind’s evolving understanding of the world; I think I saw it in her eyes which would not break focus from the show. This event, one of many that happen each week, probably changed her more than I can change in a decade. Think the movie Matrix-styled brain download, but not just learning about a skill, but constructing the cognitive infrastructure necessary to live in this world. Maybe I am reading too much into this, can’t be sure, I don’t have the neuroplasticity needed to fully take in all the information that was presented. Nor do you anymore.
I’ve had a couple of ideas on how to make the world a better place. When I say "better" I mean slightly better like instituting public canings for bad parking execution and or reducing the number of 100+ degree days in southern California. And when I say "the world" I mean my world that I inhabit in my normal daily life. The first idea is Public Restroom Timers. Restrooms could have a timer that resets when someone enters, and could illuminate a light visible outside and inside when a large time had passed and perhaps another light/sound when an very large time has passed. This could serve as a reminder to the occupant that there may be others waiting. Additionally it could be helpful to determine if someone in the restroom is in trouble/asleep. And most importantly, it could benefit me as I hate waiting forever outside a restroom for someone who doesn’t subscribe to the belief that there are other people in the world. Actually I’d prefer the timer spray the occupant with water or something but happy to compromise for the slightly embarrassing timer light.
The other is Talker Volume Alerts on cells phones. Cells phones could contain a function that when the user is speaking too loudly they hear a message to warn them of this. Hey, we all do it accidently occasionally. Speaking really loud on a cell phone does NOT help with clarity of the communication, in fact, at a certain threshold of the cell phone microphone the voice signal clarity is reduced considerably. And for sure, it is super annoying to others in the vicinity. If this were implemented on all production cell phones it would save me the undetermined amount of time and money that I may need to spend on ordering a cell phone jamming device (they do have these...imagine the satisfaction of ending that rude person’s call...call you hear me...hello?). I think both these ideas would be improvements to society.
How can I interpret this any differently? The woman got there by knowing how to be desirable and to please. The guy made it by prioritizing efforts on good impressions and presentation at the expense of time spent on quality/content. The engineer, "smart guy", is stuck in the back and steeping in the aroma of urine. Or maybe I’m just drunk.