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ROCK BOTTOM

January 13th, 2020

 

This episode extends episode 386 of Tinkered Thinking entitled White Diamond.

 

 

That episode seeks to introduce and describe the concepts of vicious and virtuous cycles.  They are most accessible by thinking about good and bad habits.  Both compound in opposing ways and they gain momentum in their respective directions. 

 

All personal development might even be described as merely building good habits and doing away with the bad ones.  Easier said than done.

 

There’s a fishy phrase that floats around talk of the bad habits.  When self-destructive habits compound to the point where we might hit Rock Bottom.

 

The problem with this idea, this rock bottom, is that when it comes to compounding vicious cycles,

 

there is no bottom.

 

There are only breaking points when some small heroic part of our mind looks at the mess and says ‘enough is enough’.

 

This might even happen often, because it’s the next step that’s hardest.  After reaching a breaking point and saying ‘enough is enough’, where do you go from there?  It’s not simply a matter of feeling a sudden surge of motivation to turn your life around.  Doing such doesn’t happen in a day, nor a week, nor a month.  It happens on the same time scale that habits do; a month is a good start, but in order to really turn things around, it’s important to think in terms of years and decades.  Empowering moments when we feel flooded with rare positive outlook… these are fleeting, and while they feel good and might help us with a burst of productivity, they are unstable and are prone to feel like a let down when the high passes.

 

Left unaided, vicious cycles spiral downward forever.  They are asymptotic.  It’s simply impossible to get to the bottom in order to bounce, as rock bottom is often said to be of good use for.  Rock bottom is a deceptive myth.  It’s a false comfort in a dangerous way, because it implies that no matter how bad things get, you can always let things get worse because you’ll just eventually hit rock bottom.  This, however, isn’t the case.  Just as the addicted keep trying to chase a certain high, rock bottom forever recedes until other things simply give out.  Like a person’s mental health, or even their bodily systems, as we see with so many accidental suicides and deaths via the opiate crisis.  How many of these people were un afraid of taking a step further down such a path, thinking that they’d eventually hit rock bottom?

 

 

What many people call rock bottom in retrospect, was really a breaking point.  Some part of the mind wakes up and tries to exert a rare influence on how things are going.  A person might come across many breaking points as they try to gain a footing and climb back up the wall of that slippery vortex which has become a life and a mind that feels out of control.  It’s counter-intuitive but when things are so dismal, it’s a strange relief to give up effort and slide down even further.  But another breaking point occurs and we try to stop sliding and then attempt the superhuman feat of climbing back up against the slippery tide.  We lose the grip and slide again.  Back and forth, this is the sort of mental and emotional struggle that inundates the minds of those who feel like they’ve lost the ability to move forward in life.  It doesn’t help that the sort of stress that abounds in such situations cripples the mind’s ability to think critically and make long-term plans.  It becomes harder and harder for a person to discern what the best course of action actually might be as they descend further.  The mind becomes quite literally drunk on stress.

 

If you have a decent life and things are going well, it’s worth wondering about it in this way:  Would you make good decisions if you were hooked up to a perpetual I.V. of alcohol and you were forced to stay up and sleep only an hour or two a night?  Of course not, but this might serve as an accessible analogy to understand those who just can’t seem to turn their life around.  Who seem stuck.  Can you imagine a life where every waking moment is so difficult that you are in a perpetual search for relief?  But you can’t rip out the I.V. and you can’t keep yourself asleep….

 

 

While such people might seem unnecessarily angry and destructive, it’s worth remembering that the path and experience of such vicious cycles is an incredibly lonely one, even if there are lots of people around.  It’s lonely because such a person feels as though they’ve lost touch with the most important person, the one that could actually change it all: themselves. 

 

Without your one guaranteed friend, it’s easy to feel like the world is against you.  And if a person feels like the world is against them, they become desperate for some of that world to join them.  Such a person feels broken, having lost themselves, so they want to break the world. 

 

Just so they don’t feel alone.

 

The situation is as though a person’s demons are actually caged angels.  Something needs to be broken, but it’s not the world, and it’s not other people, as so often happens when hurting people lash out.  It’s the vicious cycle they are in that needs to be broken.  That’s the breaking point we blindly try to hit as we lash out in such situations. 

 

But all too often our flailing makes the situation worse.  And it is always a mistake to think that rock bottom will show up.  We lose too many people, and this small turn of language might seem harmless, but like all language it’s a part of the brick and mortar of how we make sense of the world.  We make better sense of the world without rock bottom.


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Podcast Ep. 638: Rock Bottom

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Tinkered Thinking


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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: DIRTY MIRRORS

January 12th, 2020

 

The little boy knelt to his sandal, too big for him and the leather now old, cracked, long baked beneath his feet from the hot sand.  He pulled some young reeds and wrapped the broken sandal and his foot, tying the two together.  The boy no longer had a name, since he’d been taken from the rich wet lands to the west. He could only remember moments, his mother screaming, his siblings as confused as himself, and then the long journey. Now he only knew himself by the sound his master yelled at him. 

 

It would be many years before Lucilius would name himself.

 

The little boy stood, wagged and stamped his foot to make sure the leather sole would stay and then continued on his way.  He arrived back at the merchant tent where his master was rapidly pressing a dried and pointed reed into a tablet of soft clay.  But when the man saw Lucilius, he yelled, making the boy startle and cower.  The man took a stiff leather stock and struck the boy’s bare back, then he pointed at the copper mirrors and threw a wollen clump at the boy.  Lucilius took soft bunch and went to the copper mirrors his master had pointed at.  He looked up from the clump of wool and saw his own big eyes, rounded down by the feeling of tears held back.  He saw his own little mouth in the mirror quiver, and then he squeezed his eyes shut to keep himself from seeing it.  He looked away, down the busy market street that lead to the giant blocked building, radiant in the sun, the ramps cutting such long straight lines against the smooth wall of the building.  Lucilius had never seen anything like it before he’d been brought to this place.  He squinted at the brilliant reflection of sun on the gold ornaments atop the temple, and seeing their shine he remembered his task. 

 

He turned back to the copper mirrors to find a calm face and a steady gaze.  He bobbed his head at the boy in the metal, tinted like old sun, as though they both understood what should be done.

 

Dust kicked up from the main thoroughfare had coated the copper mirrors and Lucilius gently began to polish the shining plates back to their full luster.  He worked diligently, clearing each one and on the last he found a blemish, some blood or spit, he could not tell, but he rubbed harder with the crude wool, smearing and then slowly clearing the mess, and as he worked his tired arm against the mirror he leaned in closer.  The blemish cleared and before Lucilius sat back he looked again at himself in the mirror sheen.  He watched his eyes twitch as he looked at different parts of his own face.  Then he slowly turned his head away, straining his eyes to see as he did, and  when he could see himself no more, he whipped his head back as though he might catch the sight before it shifted.  But alas there he was again, looking at himself.  He leaned in closer, seeing his eyes grow and then he started looking off into the mirror as though he might see around the edge, but only the blocky temple came into view.  He got closer, wondering if the mirror world in there went on forever.  He pressed his face against the copper, as though he might be able to push into that world and get away from this one.  He wanted to know, what was in it.  Surely it wasn’t what was behind this plate of copper.  There was something else in there, and he might be able to get at it if only he could somehow get past that image of himself pushing back with his cheek.

 

His master yelled his new name again and Lucilius jolted, trying to turn to see where the man was as the leather stock landed again on his sore back.  The man hit the boy, over and over, as the boy held on to the plate of copper, terrified of letting go, knowing the mirror would get dirty again if it fell.

 


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 637: A Lucilius Parable: Dirty Mirrors

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Tinkered Thinking


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FORGOTTEN GIFTS OF CHILDHOOD

January 11th, 2020

 

 

We’re always amazed how quickly kids learn.  As chaotic and unruly as they might appear to us, something in all that cloud of activity is figuring things out at a speed that adults can only admire with in frustration.

 

And then puberty hits and we gain such a claustrophobic degree of self consciousness that we spend much of our adult life trying to get rid of it, or somehow get around it.

 

Aphorisms like be yourself and don’t care what others think don’t really apply to children in the way that adults covet such ideas.  Children are generally so immersed in their experience of reality that the who concept of a ‘self’ is far less important than it proves to be for adults.

 

And it’s likely because of this small identity that children are so fluid with their failure and as a result, they learn very quick.

 

Our ideas surrounding failure are fundamentally tied to our sense of identity.  Failure is somehow a commentary on who we are.  We somehow take it personally and our own value is called into question in our own eyes.  The recursiveness here is only detrimental.  Children, on the other hand generally don’t have this sort of recursive issue.

 

Failure is but a passing road sign on the way to doing something new.

 

We as adults, however, are not wholly exiled to this torturous realm of self-conscious paralysis.  It’s possible to down-regulate your identity and the importance of your sense of self until your relationship with failure becomes both enjoyable and challenging in the same way that playing tennis or chess with a friend can be.

 

The process is simple, but requires consistent effort.  Dusting off that forgotten gift of childhood depends solely on the ability to simply pay attention to the moment.

 

It’s a simple as that.  If you are paying close attention to the moment, then you’re simply not in your own head anymore. But doing this reliably and consistently requires a dedicated effort.  One that can be achieved through meditation.

 

But a whole practice of meditation with some sort of teacher and exercises isn’t necessarily needed.  You can prove this point about the moment to yourself easily.

 

As you go about your day today, try to remember this idea, and when you do, simply stop, pause, and look around at the life in which you are immersed.  Try to soak up every detail, as though you’re in some fantastically realistic videogame.  Allow yourself to marvel at the fact that you even exist – no matter what you life entails, how much difficulty or sadness, the chance to pay attention this closely is always on offer.  Let the details of reality sink in and you just might find some relief, perhaps even a joy that feels distantly familiar.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 636: Forgotten Gifts of Childhood

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Tinkered Thinking


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




RIVALNYM CASE STUDY: CRAZYGENIUS

January 10th, 2020

 

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a Rivalnym, it is something developed by Tinkered Thinking to address a certain class of words and concepts that fall in a strange place between Synonyms and Antonyms.  A rivalnym is a word, or rather, a pair of words that are somewhat synonymous in literal meaning, but opposite in terms of the emotional valence we ascribe to the thing being described.

 

A pair of words that makes an easy example of this rivalnym concept are the words:

 

Stubborn and Determined.

 

 

Both can be perspectives that we have about someone else’s goals.  If we approve of someone’s goal, then we label their efforts as determined.  But if we don’t approve of their goal, then we see their efforts as a kind of stubbornness. 

 

 

Another set of words that can fit into our Rivalnym framework are Crazy and Genius.

 

Appropriately these two words have been joined lately in culture.  It’s not just that someone’s a genius anymore, it’s that they are a crazygenius!  And this trend in thinking might lend more credibility to the Rivalnym framework than we might first realize.

 

More historically though, the difference between crazy and genius was decidedly more pronounced.  The ill-fated story of Ignaz Semmelweis is a good example.

 

This Hungarian physician made the horrific discovery that new mothers were dying in his hospital because doctors were not washing their hands after performing autopsies on corpses before delivering babies.  To the modern ear this sounds horrific, even to a young person of little education.  The germ theory is so widely expected, so robust and has such a strong place in the human conception of the world that even children understand at an early age the idea of tiny and potentially harmful microbes sticking to our skin and looking for a way into our bodies.  But back in the 1840’s this concept was unheard of. 

 

Semmelweis figured it out by getting the doctors to simply wash their hands.  The rate of death among new mothers plummeted, and you’d think that would be enough proof for the scientific community to accept a new idea.  But alas, it was not to be so for quite a while.

 

Semmelweis was outspoken and forceful about his message, and because of the way he delivered his message, people thought he was crazy.  The poor guy suffered a nervous breakdown and was actually committed to an asylum where he died.

 

Now we might look back at the man and call him a genius for making the leap of logic and experimenting for the sake of helping people.  That’s all the guy wanted, was to help people.  And yet people ignored his message and thought him crazy.

 

In the world of today, it might be that we’ve started to compound the two words into simply crazygenius because we can now see so many examples where it’s clear you have to be a little mad to come up with an interesting and potentially paradigm shifting idea. 

 

Apple’s eternal slogan Think Different, is both a call to the genius and the crazy person.  Both such people think different.  The dichotomy couldn’t be more appropriate:

 

We need only ask: would you risk going crazy in order to find a genius idea that might benefit your fellow human?

 

Sanity certainly seems a small price to pay when you look back at the innovations that have lifted the lives of billions over the years.

 

But perhaps best to have your cake and eat it too.  Be a crazygenius, and try to reap the benefits in this life.

 


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 635: Rivalnym Case Study: Crazygenius

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Tinkered Thinking


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

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




PLANNING WHO YOU'LL BE

January 9th, 2020

 

It’s very difficult to bridge the gap between the decisions we make today and the ramifications that will follow years down the line.

 

We are tired now and want to relax and the lure of a TV show and a glass of wine and some delivery suddenly exhibits a pull on our being that is undeniably strong.  Repeat this several thousand times, however and the results are not something to be desired.  And the end of the day, we have to ask: is this the best way to spend our precious time alive?

 

Meditation, as a practice, is a bit of strange thing to start.  The benefits are nearly non-existent in the beginning, and any energy mustered in order to continue is a bit of an admission of dissatisfaction about who a person currently is.  It’s somewhat amazing that the human mind is set up in a way that it can be negatively self-reflective.  Of course, this ability is certainly tied to such mental difficulties as anxiety and depression, but the fact that something can not like itself in some capacity is somewhat amazing.  It’s certainly hard to imagine this capacity in animals aside from the guilty looking dog that  couldn’t help itself when it ate the freshly baked cookies when no one was watching.  The human mind, on the other hand has the capability to take this negative self-reflection to a whole new level. 

 

A person can get to the point in such negativity where they admit that something needs to be done.  The constant depression, the anxiety, it’s just not working, it’s not doing anything other than telling a person that something is wrong.  At that point a person needs to pull every available lever both psychologically and physically in order to get things moving in more interesting directions.

 

Starting a practice like meditation is in some sense done with the idea that it will eventually change who a person is.  The fact that a mind and a person can willingly undertake such a metamorphosis is interesting because it requires accepting a certain death.  In order for a new person to come about, the current one needs to go.  It’s not so straight forward of course, but profound transformations do put that old self to rest.

 

It’s worth taking a few moments to wonder what sort of person you will become based on the influences and habits that you have going right now.

 

Do you revere poets and writers who ended up killing themselves?  What sort of direction does that kind of influence have?

 

Are you more likely to give into pleasure instead of doing something that might be a little bit uncomfortable but more fulfilling in the long run?

 

There are enough people out there, enough examples of lives lived to get a sense of where your own habits will lead you as they slowly grow a deeper and deeper root into who you are.

 

If the probable result doesn’t look too appealing, then perhaps it’s worth planning a different outcome, and then engineering backwards to figure out what you should be doing today.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 634: Planning Who You'll Be

from
Tinkered Thinking


donating = loving

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

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TIP JAR

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