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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

THE SLIPPERY EXCUSE

October 28th, 2020

 

The problems of friends and family often have painfully obvious solutions.  It’s a perennial challenge and difficulty of loving anybody to negotiate this huge dissonance between the behaviour of those we love, and their simultaneous blindness to better ways of thinking, acting and doing.  Holiday can easily feel like holy wars when people try to point out “the obvious” to their loved ones.  The intention is almost always as pure as the holiest of holy saints, but the result almost always lands about as far from the intention as possible.  One of the primary reasons for this is that resistance to advice and an alternative perspective often inspires a redoubling of effort to persuade, which further inspires a mounting resistance, and the whole affair quickly escalates to destructive levels.

 

The alternative to this hopeless task can seem to be total passivity, inaction and silence.  There is however, a middle way that is far gentler, easier and effective.  The main difficulty with this solution is that it requires a degree of patience and perspective that is often rare between loved ones.

 

To start, recall the first response that is likely to rear it’s slimy head when a person suggests an alternative perspective or a piece of advice.

 

Without missing a beat, an excuse pops up, almost instantly.  And for the person who conjures this excuse, the logic of the excuse seems to feel ironclad, if pressed.  It’s fascinating to pause for a moment and just appreciate the astonishing speed which accompanies the inspiration of such slippery excuses.  It’s incredibly doubtful that even the most advanced computer in years to come will ever be able to match, let alone exceed the speed that excuses can be generated by others.  Truly astonishing.

 

There is something slippery about the phenomenon of these excuses, their speed, and their seeming infinite flexibility.  No matter how strong the counter rebuttal we might give, it always begins to feel like grabbing and picking up an incredibly slippery fish: no matter how hard you try, success wiggles out of grasp and grasping tighter only seems to make it slip away faster.

 

The gentler, more effective path requires patience.  Advice or recommendations met with slippery excuses is best seen as a possibility that a seed is being planted.  And it’s here where the patience of the gardener makes a great deal of sense.  Seeds don’t sprout immediately.  We plant them and then we wait, and if conditions become ideal, then that seed cracks open and begins to reach up for some light.

 

This represents a much better strategy: make a recommendation - if it’s met with slippery excuses, then clearly the soil and the conditions just aren’t right.  Leave things where they are and perhaps that recommendation will lay dormant in the mind of the other, and when conditions do change, when perspective and time have developed, then perhaps that seed will activate.  It might be weeks, months, or even years, but there’s decent chance the subject will come up again, and if that happens, then it’s best treated like a new sprout.  Remember first that such things are fragile, easily killed, and need only gentle encouragement to continue growing.  The same goes for any new perspective in others.  We flirt with possible changes in the way we see the world.  Our old worldview fights to remain, to persist, like any other organism or gene or meme.  Even individual mindsets are trying to survive and flourish, no matter how bad that mindset is for the individual.  It requires a seemingly unnatural amount of self-awareness to realize this is the case with one’s own mind.  Regardless, it’s incredibly easy to see in others.  So any changes need to be treated like a fragile underdog - don’t smoother the progress with love.  Coax it along with patience and even a little bit of curious teasing.

 

This gardening approach to slippery excuses is not only more effective, it’s far less energy intensive, at least when compared to Thanksgiving-style escalations of disagreements between family members.  Such scenarios play out like fishing by trying to swim after the fish.  Not only is  it exhausting and virtually impossible, but if you actually grab ahold of the fish, its slips away easily.  The goal isn’t to shove the hook down the fish’s mouth, as so many “suggestions” seem to be from loved ones, but to lure it gently and unsuspectingly, like a seed that might one day yield bountiful fruit needs a gentle touch in line with how it grows.

The slippery excuse isn’t an obstacle as so many treat it, but an indication, a reading on a thermometer, it’s a status of what the health of the mental soil is where we hope to plant a new idea.


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Podcast Ep. 927: The Slippery Excuse

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A CHANCE FOR CHANCES

October 27th, 2020

 

This episode is dedicated to Nathan

 

The best chance we can take is to try and create more chances.  In it’s simplest form, a chance is just a possibility for something to happen.  There’s a chance it might rain.  But to take a chance explicitly defines something about what we do, our action, and the results that might come about.  To take a chance to create more chances isn’t just a clever sounding trick, it’s an instruction to make moves that are most likely to result in the possibility of more options.

 

In this sense of creating options, options are identical to a certain type of perspective: one rooted not just in possibility but also practicality.  Take for example something a bit more concrete.  All of us dream up ideas everyday for the fantastical things that might be possible with future technology.  But those who actually take the time to learn and understand what technology is available currently and exactly how it works are afforded the ability to dream in a totally different way.  Someone acquainted with the cutting edge knows what is possible from a practical standpoint.

 

A vast imagination can be quite a hinder when trying to accomplish something in the real world.  With a head always stuck in the clouds of tomorrow, the real opportunities of today are missed.

 

The best way to create more chances isn’t to have a more active imagination, but to learn something.  Learning by default requires a change in perspective; the journey through confusion sheds an old way of understanding for a new way of looking at the world.  The primary change after having learned something, especially something practical, like welding, or coding, or woodworking, is having a tighter understanding of what is actually possible.  Then a vast imagination can more efficiently filter itself into avenues that are far more likely to be real paths in life.

 

Everyone has an idea for an app, and this is usually a mashup remix of all sorts of components of other apps that we all use on a daily basis.  It’s reasonable to think these remixes would work, but only a coder can see if and more importantly how it would be done.  But the practicality goes beyond this.  With practical tools and knowledge at hand, there is a flip side: other creations not even dreamed of can be seen by the mere juxtaposition of very real possibilities.  So often the process of creation yields new things that were never planned nor dreamed of; but this can only happen with real action, actual effort, and the required skills.

 

It’s the skills we acquire, and the practical knowledge associated with them that generates a real chance.  Unlike the fleeting and fickle nature often associated with luck and opportunity, the hard-earned path of plying one’s attention and focus consistently to a topic can eventually generate opportunity, not by manifesting luck, or even preparation, but simply coming to a clear understanding of what’s actually possible - and then acting upon it.


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Podcast Ep. 926: A Chance for Chances

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Tinkered Thinking


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FIRST WAVE

October 26th, 2020

 

Going out with a surfboard for the first time, no one has much in the way of expectations.  It’s something to try out, to see what it’s like.  As a few waves pass and the movements and actions of others are studied, it becomes obvious that there’s an all or nothing moment that requires developing a bit of an intuition in order to catch.

 


But eventually, with enough trying, that first wave is caught.  Then getting upright on the board and staying up long enough to have the gleeful realization I’m surfing! is often as far as the plan, the hope, and the expectation go - but the wave keeps going, which can be quite a pleasant surprise.

 

Suddenly necessities like steering left and right to avoid swimmers and other surfers becomes instantly important and is often not something that was thought of in advance.  But with the gleeful first accomplishment of just getting up on the board, the rest is gravy, and so it’s all taken far less seriously.  And sometimes, there are no swimmers or surfers to avoid, and the wave keeps going, lessening, until that first wave has run it’s course.

 

There’s a certain zen like perspective that many naturally bring to their first attempt with surfing: like a true beginner, like a child, the focus is almost exclusively on that first tiny success: just getting up on the board and get moving with the wave.

 

However, when it comes to many if not all of our other endeavours, the planing goes haywire and even skips the most important part.  Instead of focusing on just starting, just getting up and getting going, the backflips are planned, the cool shots from inside the curling tunnel of a breaking wave, the competitions are envisioned, the trophies nearly already won, even the dreams scripted for sleep after a long day.  And in all this, the most important step: just getting going, is often overlooked for a much larger, grander vision.  The tradeoff risks the whole endeavour, and because this, it’s best to think of that zen mindset so many have when setting out for that first wave.

 

Whether it be surfing or starting a company, or writing a novel, or building that killer app, focus on the most important thing:  Just figure out how to get started. 

 

&

 

Get going first.


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Podcast Ep. 925: First Wave

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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: GOLDEN HERRING

October 25th, 2020

 

This episodes is dedicated to Chris Larsin, whom you can connect with on Twitter with the handle @ChrisLarsin

 

 

Lucilius chuckled at the elaborate ploy he’d concocted, and celebrated by taking a sip of rum.  To be sure the ploy hadn’t yet been carried out yet.  But the idea was now completed.  He was delighted as he began to lay down all the pieces, thinking about how nice of a surprise it would be, but noticing the time, he realized he needed to rush.

 

“Everything ok?”

 

“Always,” Lucilius said into the phone, realizing he must sound a bit odd, his spirits being so high.

 

Vacantly, he tried to keep up the conversation but his mind was elsewhere as he organized the clues in an order that seemed best.  He was eager, to get going - to start.

 

“Every time you get that tone in your voice it means you’ve got something on a roll.”

 

Lucilius smiled ridiculously, trying not to laugh.

 

“I guess you could say that,” he admitted, knowing he couldn’t hide the tone of his voice - all aglow.

 

For a great while Lucilius had been fascinated by the entire notion of a puzzle.  Not just the idea of solving them, but more importantly, crafting them and figuring out where to start.  Lucilius fancied all of life to be a bit of a puzzle, or rather a puzzle made up of puzzles.  And because of this, he relished the opportunity to make up new enigmas, riddles and clues for scavenger hunts that he would then of course give to friends to send them searching.  Needless to say, he’d become a bit infamous.  He loved using anagrams, acrostics, golden shovels, a clever chiasmus, and ever other bit of word play he could find or cook up.

 

The hanging silence on the phone broke -“..Lu-“

 

“Sorry! Sorry, just focused on something.”

 

“If you don’t have time, I can call again later today?”

 

“No, no, my bad, I’m just excited about something I’ve got on the go.”

 

“K, well, let’s just chat later then, maybe tonight when you’re done, let’s go out?”

 

Lucilius smiled to himself, delighted by his own conniving. Even suspicious, how unsuspecting, unknowing it is for such a friend.  It was also important, Lucilius knew, to throw in a little noise into the puzzle, red herrings, as they’re called within the enigmatic idiom.

 

“About 8 maybe, we could get a drink?”

 

“Sure, that sounds great, I can always use a bit more hootch.”

 

“Then I’ll see you later if you show.”

 

Lucilius laughed.

 

“Ever been a time when I didn’t?”

 

The phone filled with a chuckle before the two hung up.

 

There was still a lot to do.  Lucilius surveyed the clues again, double checking that they all worked together in tandem.  He rearranged them in terms of fastest travel to each location where each clue would be hidden, glancing at the time quickly.  He repeated the order again silently like a sort of mantra.

 

Each part of the puzzle was like a petal that revealed another part.  Everything had to unravel in the correct order otherwise the whole thing would go askew.  But he’d done this many times before.  Though now, he’d gotten further into the rum.  He stood up, wavering a bit, and surprised he grabbed the bottle and shook what was left of the rum.

 

Reeling from the tipsy surprise he nearly fell and reached out for something to grab.  He giggled and then flushed with sober panic, he collected all the clues in order to start.

 

Steadying himself, he got underway, finally.  He grabbed his coat, and patted his pockets for keys and wallet, clues in hand and was just about to leave when he realized he’d forgotten the most important part of the entire plan - the first clue, the one thing he’d yet to think up.  He grabbed a pen and paper and haphazardly wrote down the riddle,  “does meaning lie limp on the story’s surface or across tickled letters, certain words, roused only by a focused moment?


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Podcast Ep. 924: A Lucilius Parable: Golden Herring

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Tinkered Thinking


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THOUGHTFUL OUROBOROS

October 24th, 2020

 

This episode is dedicated to the person who operates the Twitter handle @IndigoCorrine, who spurred this line of thinking.

 

Meditation is often defined popularly and regarded -erroneously- as a practice in the absence of thought.  As with most popular understandings, this is a popular misunderstanding.  Certainly, with a consistent and long practice, moments without thought might arise, but this is not necessarily the ‘goal’, if meditation is to in fact even have a goal.  Instead of goals, it’s perhaps better to think of such things in terms of the effects of meditation.

 

One effect is most certainly a change in the experience of thought.  For a person with no experience in this area, that might sound like a curious if even paradoxical notion.  Many people, if not most who’ve never spent a good deal of time with formal meditation practice have never even considered the idea that each of us has a relationship with our thoughts.  The very notion offers up some simple questions:

Is it a good relationship?

What does it mean to have a… bad relationship with one’s own thoughts?

 

From a perspective evolved in conjunction with several years of mindfulness practice, it seems fairly safe and valid to note that a great many people have an awful relationship with their own thoughts and don’t even realize it’s the case or that this relationship can change.

 

Far from being a total clearance of thought, meditation in the mindfulness tradition often functions as an observation of our relationship with thought.

 

Contemplate for a moment the odd recursive nature of this situation: can thought observe itself?  If we become aware of the fact that we are having a thought, is that then a thought about a thought? 

This simple recursion, if repeated enough times consciously in formal practice eventually leads to some interesting effects.  The awareness of a thought slows it down, like a sobering moment when the grip of intoxication lessens and a heightened awareness of the situation comes online.  The effect this has on the thought is often one of deflation.  Thoughts we have can often be far from our best interest, and simply noticing that this or that thought is presently occurring can have the effect of de-powering that thought - as though popping it, letting it dissolve in the wide space of the mind.

The nature of this reflective process is a bit like a ouroboros - the depiction of a snake eating it’s own tail.  Mindfulness meditation, in some sense is a practice in the ability to direct focus and awareness in a way that allows thought to eat itself, like a snake swallowing more and more of it’s tail until poof! it simply ceases to exist.

 

This ability to interrupt, stagnate and then dissolve thought gives the mind a kind of editing function, which - over time - becomes the primary tool to empower a person to change their relationship with their own thoughts.

The composition, cadence and subject matter of the thoughts produced by the mind changes with enough of this simple editing, and with enough time, the mind can become a space of peace filled with a deep sense of what it means to be a living, thinking being in the world.


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Podcast Ep. 923: Thoughtful Ouroboros

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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.