Achievement, unlocked

This is an excerpt from One Grain of Sand, a book I am writing at this moment and hope to present to you in full quite soon.

We are nudged at every phase of life into roles we weren’t meant to play, and those who resist are treated as problems to be solved. You can see it for yourself if you read between the lines of the cultural narrative.  Most of us live like so many ants, toiling in endless cycles and seeing only splinters of that labor’s fruit as the rest is siphoned into distant chambers beyond our access. We will dig into the occulted realms of the Control Grid later, but it is the less important piece of the puzzle. Putting blame on some shadowy “Them” is not crazy, but it is lazy. There are such things afoot, but most of what happens in our lives happens because of our thoughts, words, and deeds. In the end, until we choose to operate beyond the spell of the hive mind, we are complicit in our suffering. We are the architects of our private little leper colonies. We make the bricks, and we build the walls. We can also wield the sledgehammers and light the fires.

 Once our minds are hijacked by stress cycles, the lining of our nerves wear away like rocks on the beach. In the eventual depression that follows, we can get in our own way in two big ways: checking out of reality and projecting delusion onto it. Either way, we’re navigating an inner reflection of the Hologram and deepening our tracks in the trench of habit instead of engaging with reality.  This is how vicious cycles develop; Stress wears out the hardware, and then the software glitches out and makes the hardware do strange things. We operate as if our distortions were the territory and not a broken map. If our actions are challenged by others, we may defend them regardless of what makes sense. All the while we get further and further away from where the juice and freedom of life is: direct honest experience.

 We’re living in an age of relative ease, at least for some, but there’s a catch. The brain is an amazing machine, but it developed in a very different world and biological progress happens at a glacial crawl compared to the cheetah sprint of technological development. There’s some bickering among archaeologists, but by current estimates we’ve been roughly the same physical beings for at least a hundred thousand years. Agriculture has only been around about ten thousand. We’ve only been industrialized a few hundred. We’ve only been online for twenty. We began to integrate technology into our bodies on a wide scale about a decade ago. It’s impossible to know where all this is going, but it’s getting there fast. Life is accelerating at a speed that just keeps ratcheting up, and this does not happen without effect.

 Human life spans are short, so we forget that things haven’t always been the way they are for us. We have to give ourselves a bit of a break when it’s all too much and we can’t keep up. Self-punishment is an easy trap to fall into, but it doesn’t solve any problems. In fact it just adds one more layer of stress. Under the strain of modern life, the brain goes into autopilot to  conserve energy and reduce the shock of sensory overload. People tend to stick to what once worked, even past the point or relevance. Some habits are pushed on us from outside through religious indoctrination and other forms of social control, and others we create to cope with what may well be future shock.

These self-generated traps are the ones that do the most damage. You’ll only take so much abuse from others, but there’s often no limit to what you’ll take from yourself. These habits become so familiar through repetition that they seem like extensions of our will, but most of the time they begin as coping mechanisms and mutate out of control. The habits we identify as “just how we do things” are not necessarily correct, just well-worn. Repeat a lie enough times and it will become accepted as if it were a long-standing truth.

For verification on that, you can ask almost any politician, but for now, just ask yourself. Look back and see if the way you’ve done things for years has its roots in a past trauma or obstacle that is now long gone. If so, you’re free to seek the help you need to heal, move on and try things differently. Otherwise you will live like a ghost, repeating the trauma and the role of victim forever. First responders deal with emergencies, deliver people into triage or shelter, and then move on. The fire truck leaves when the fire is out.

I’ll use myself as an example. Like you, and everyone, I contain contradictions. My particular flavor of anxiety is like a broken microscope. I tend to exhibit a spooky calm in a crisis, yet I have a tendency to fret about trivial issues, which seem enormous to me. This leads to procrastination, which compounds the problem by given the problems time to grow in until they approach their hallucinated proportions. By getting kicked around enough by stress to start fighting back against my own nonsense I have learned that the answer is simple. At the beginning stages of stress accumulation, step in and take care of what you can as close to immediately as possible. Oh, there’s a new cheat code to add to the ones we discussed earlier: T’COIN: Take Care of It Now. It’s better to spend the time in the present than to guarantee greater hassle for yourself in the future.

I can’t say what your experience is like, but I think it’s fair to assume that for people like you and I, there are days when doing our duty can be terribly exhausting. This is not an excuse for inaction, simply a truth to be aware of and worked around. Again, I can’t speak for you, but when I’m depressed, my body can require a lot of energy to get through a to-do list. It’s always worth it, but I understand the struggle and I’d like to help you get past the looping thoughts and subsequent behaviors that can keep us all small and sad, but only if we give them permission.

I’m betting you can relate to an experience that I have had many times. Let’s say you’re home for the day and you’re feeling zombified. Between chores or phone calls or episodes of something questionable on Netflix, you lumber into the kitchen, muttering and dazed with hunger. To the outside observer, you are one of the walking dead. Your mind holds one thought: “Snaaaaaaaaacks!” Your shambling gait is stopped cold when your eyes meet an uncomfortable truth. The sink is still full from the last time you had a proper meal because you were too tired or forlorn to deal with them at the time.

 Bad zombie. No snack for you.

 This is not everyone’s experience. Who you are and how you’re feeling determine how you respond to this situation. This is another example of how your perception and bias create your reality. If you can see clearly, what you’re looking at is a brief period of scrubbing and putting away. If you’re in the grip of the Curse, you see an Herculean ordeal. The dishes seem endless, towering over the sink, marinating in bilge water and attracting flies. They become symbolic of your entire life and the echo chamber switches on until you feel completely overwhelmed by something that only requires a little of your attention. You can’t muster the juice to dive in, and feeling defeated, you stumble toward the pantry looking for comfort food.

 A lot of people don’t have this problem. They just do the dishes when they’re done and the problem goes away. This kind of obstacle makes no sense at all to them. The good news is you can become one of those people even with years of inertia in the way.  There was a time when I would leave the dishes long enough to invite frogs to lay eggs. Now I know something’s wrong if I take more than an hour to deal with it. Stage magicians refer to this kind of thing as a “tell,” and they know how a trick works by noticing them. By watching myself, I notice the tricks of my mind as they manifest in my behavior. With focus,  I can then make an informed choice and modify my actions to steer away from the dead-end repetition of the past.

 Here is the truth, as annoying as it may be: things do get easier through practice, and only through practice. The opposite of habit is novelty, which breaks you out of stagnation. When you introduce a new activity, it may be exciting or frightening depending on your temperament. The first time you do anything is mysterious, perhaps downright awkward. There is such a thing as beginner’s luck, but that tends to land on those who were already invested in success. Hesitation is understandable in those first few steps of a thousand mile journey, but you soon find that one foot fits in front of the other just fine.

 The tired old jingle of your dying bad habit is soon displaced by the rhythm of a new practice, which itself becomes habit in time. The difference between good and bad habits comes not from morality but from experience. The habits that serve you will charge your batteries and create momentum and opportunity. Those you slog through out of obligation or self-punishment will drain you like a starving mosquito. There is a period of resistance and frustration that lasts until you’ve logged enough practice to gain traction. Like the first shoots in a germinating seed, you’ve got to push through.  Give a new habit at least 72 hours. Three days in a row, and then 3 weeks. Eventually you’ll stop counting and it will just be who you are now.