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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

BOREDOM'S JUGGERNAUT

January 27th, 2022

A great project or stint of productivity can have awesome momentum. Eyes snap open in the morning and the mind is already filled with the next step in the hop-scotch puzzle piecing process that marches toward a goal.

 

Boredom, strangely, can have a similar momentum. A state of doing little to nothing gains a hold like an addictive project. It’s perhaps a tribute to just how habitual our primate beings can be.


I’m reminded of the fact that friction has two different coefficients, one for static friction and one for kinetic friction. The whole point is that if something isn’t moving, it’s harder to get it started moving than it is to keep it moving. In technical terms, the coefficient of static friction is much higher than the coefficient of kinetic friction. But just as something moving with great inertia seems to be devoid of the friction it’s clearly overpowering, the extra ‘stickiness’ something at rest has is a bit like it’s own inertia or momentum, as if stationary objects have their own built-in stubbornness about staying put.

 

Strange that human psychology can follow such a similar principle. A normally very productive person can take some time off, and then decide to get back to work, write up a list for the next day, and end up getting pretty much nothing done.

 

I’m definitely talking about myself here. Last year was a freight train of productivity, and with the new year, I needed to take a little time off and breathe. But now I’ve found I’ve had enough of it, and I’m looking at a juicy list of things I’d like to get done. And yet this list has remained the same with nothing ticked off for a disconcerting number of days.

 

The temptation is strong to think the right way is to never take a break. I remember years ago I rode a bicycle across a continent and noticed that if I took a day off to rest, the very next day of riding was far more difficult. Half way across the continent I decided to stop taking rest days and went the rest of the way non-stop. Fasting is similar. Getting through the first day or two is always the hardest. But once past that, it’s pretty easy to go a week or two.

 

The switch between being stationary and moving is a curious one - enigmatic in almost all circumstances. Even just moving your own hand. If you look at it and think about when it’s going to move, and what the difference in thought and sensation is between the times you actually decide to move it and simply think about moving it, are eerie in that there doesn’t really seem to be much difference. It can even become unsettling: am I actually deciding the moment when my hand moves, or am I simply witnessing it? Whatever it is, the difference is small, and the kernel of change to shift between stationary and movement is tiny, but must grow very quickly.

 

Getting started, or restarted is like starting habit. Perhaps everything we do is simply a habit in some stage of decay, growth or maintenance. Regardless, getting started is tricky because even if not much effort is required, like sitting to meditate for a mere 10 minutes a day, the consistency of such effort has to be quite strong.

 

The juggernaut of boredom isn’t undone all at once, but with a tiny effort, simply repeated, compounded and grown and then before long, a new juggernaut has taken shape.


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Podcast Ep. 1167: Boredom's Juggernaut

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Tinkered Thinking


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THE SHAPESHIFTER

January 26th, 2022

Can you consciously imagine a thought you’ve never thought before? It’s a feat easily achieved by reading an excellent book. But in solitude, with no stimulation: can you consciously imagine a thought you’ve never thought before?

 

A new thought or idea feels a bit different from the same old humdrum that seems to fill the mind’s walls. It’s a bit like a surprise, like an unexpected gift from a friend. Where did come from? What was the purpose, the origin, the occasion? Why? Is an overwhelming reaction if the event is given any thought.

 

But usually the experience of a new thought is too engrossing to be bothered with any kind of meta analysis about the moment.  Consciousness has taken a different shape, and there’s often pleasure in the novelty.

 

The state of our mind has a composition. How to describe this composition is the aim and practice of many arts. Composition of consciousness can be visual and auditory, it can be in language or feeling, which the arts try to capture and recreate in others. The myriad and subtle sensations that form the kaleidoscopic shape of consciousness eventually reshape to form patterns. It’s a shapeshifter with a heartbeat, and often we are just going through the motions, literally, and figuratively.

 

An experience like one created by a strong psychedelic takes that routine shapeshifter and bends and contorts it all out of the usual forms.  But wonder: can’t the same be achieved my merely reading someone’s first hand account of such an experience?

 

The answer is most certainly no. An approximation can certainly be constructed by reading such accounts, but the mental approximation and the actual experience, or we might say: the shape our consciousness takes in response to reading a description, and the shape our consciousness takes during the actual experience of such an event are radically different.

 

Pushing the shape of consciousness beyond the bounds of its routine configurations often requires something outside of consciousness to radically impact the shape. The boredom of our routine and patterned shape shifting has us constantly on the lazy prowl for something that might do this - but not too much. The methods for extreme shifting of consciousnesses shape are all too obvious and known.  And such a statement does not merely apply to something as radical as psychedelics.  The same can be said for learning something completely new and very difficult. The experience is profound in similar ways: much of it can be unpleasant, but the capacity and variety of shape of one’s consciousness is forever altered.

 

Excellent entertainment seeks a kind of lukewarm contradiction: just titillating enough to distract from the moment’s boredom, not enough to radically disturb someone.

 

And what might be said of very good art? In this context it might be an accurate and successful attempt to capture the shape of an artist’s consciousness. Or perhaps it goes beyond this and it’s the artist’s attempt to change the shape of the viewer’s consciousness.

 

Compare the shape shifting here of art, entertainment and psychedelics with that of spending time with little children. The experience is likely to be a challenge, one where much falls outside the realm of logic or common sense, often resulting in frustration, and even anger. And yet spending time with energetic small children is always punctuated with moments of extreme preciousness, that leave the mind reeling that frustration and anger ever could have come about during such an experience. That is, of course, until the next rather insane choice of behavior takes ahold of such a child.

 

With all the clatter, noice of the world, it’s strange that we don’t crave and rejoice in silence and stillness. Certainly many say they crave such things, but solitary confinement is also our most severe punishment next to the death penalty, and most people, if given absolutely no stimulation would likely be very uncomfortable. We crave a certain medium frequency when it comes to the changing shape of our consciousness. Like Goldilocks and her three bears: not too rambunctious or weird, not too quiet and slow, but somewhere in the middle is just right.  But even there, satisfaction is rarely found, and dreams of extremes form at the edges of consciousness.  It as though fear, like a thick sheet, presses the the shape of our consciousness back into it’ usual forms while courage stretches out against it, always trying to pierce that rival, yearning for what shape it might take beyond the restraint. 

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 1166: The Shapeshifter

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Tinkered Thinking


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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: NO TIME IS NOW

January 23rd, 2022

Lucilius felt a pressure on one of his shoulders, but it slid off. Some clatter in the room filled his ears and then a new pressure on the thigh. Two pressures. A wavering tone and gurgle accompanied the clatter, and the lobe of his ear tightened, squeezed.

 

The breath filled his lungs, and he felt the cool ether of it slide through the channels of his face and neck, down into his chest.

 

But weight pushed down on his chest, as his shoulders wavered askance. His scalp pinched in a thousand small places as his hair yanked at the skin.

 

The breath flowed out from him, as another crash ricocheted from another part of the room.

 

His hair yanked in a different place and the weight on his tilted shoulders nearly pulled him off balance, but the muscles of his torso were strong from recent work, and it was easy to hold his posture.

 

A pull clamped around his neck, but again, the muscles of his back were solid, and his gentle posture easily supported the strange weight.

 

His breathe filled him once more, as a stray thought about the patterns and colors and events of yesterday filled his mind. He smiled slightly as he released the thought.

 

A piercing pitch sliced into his ear, but Lucilius remained as he was, simply sitting and breathing.

 

The tiny ding of a bell sounded and Lucilius opened his eyes. He looked down, and sitting in his lap was a little boy - a toddler, naked aside from a diaper, covered in marker.  The toddler looked up at Lucilius and a big smile filled his little face and his round eyes.

 

“HI!”, announced the little boy.


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Podcast Ep. 1165: A Lucilius Parable: No Time is Now

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Tinkered Thinking


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PRAYER & SIMULATION

January 20th, 2022

Not too long ago there was a fantastic post on the birdie site that was about someone having a fantastic year. When asked what was different, the short conversation was posted: apparently this person had decided to think of the world and their life as the matrix - as in the movie, or rather, to think of all existence as a simulation and a game.

 

William James, the father of American psychology did something similar. When he was in his late twenties he had a mental breakdown, depressed that unlike his siblings and his father, he’d yet to find his way in life. This was despite an incredibly varied education replete with incredible experiences. As a kind of ultimatum, he made a deal with himself regarding his depression: he would live one more year believing that he had full control over his destiny, and if nothing changed during the course of that year, then he would give himself the ultimate reprieve and end his life. Lucky for him, and anyone who has read his work, the ultimatum worked, and the mere belief that he might have more of an effect on his life did in fact create the effect he was looking for.

 

The way we look at our reality is everything. It hampers, hinders or expands our agency in the world. Believing or feeling you are powerless goes a long way to rendering someone powerless and ineffective. Believe the opposite and suddenly the dominoes of reality seem lined up at each or your finger tips, their terminations ginger at the threshold of your goals and dreams.

 

One of the conclusions of Williams James’ seminal work The Varieties of Religious Experience is that prayer really does seem to work. He makes no claim about how it works, be it divine intervention or some other mechanism, he simply records observations and results.

 

The Divine aside, this makes sense. The psychology of the praying person is far different from the one who does not pray, regardless of divine status or involvement. We can also say something similar about the person who feels powerless compared to the individual who decides to regard existence as a simulation and a game that can be altered, learned and in some sense: won.

 

Be it prayer or simulation theory, there are simply more effective ways of regarding and conceptualizing one’s reality. This isn’t a particularly interesting or subtle point. It’s more effective to think of reality as one that has gravity as opposed to one that doesn’t. The subtle and profound change isn’t so much the exact nature of how we conceive of reality, but how we conceive of our relationship to that reality. The reality of the devout and praying person is far different than the reality of someone who believes they exist within a simulation. But the relationship each has with such realities is startlingly similar. Both maintain a sense of agency, a  voice that doesn’t go unheard, and most importantly, an infinite and eternal opportunity for changing one’s particular situation in that reality.


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Podcast Ep. 1164: Prayer & Simulation

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Tinkered Thinking


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THE FUTURE OF OUR FUTURE

January 19th, 2022

It’s not uncommon to think back to some earlier part of life and wish that somehow, we could impart all that we know now, curious as to how much different - and presumably better - life would turn out.

 

How much stranger to think of some future time when we wish the same thing about our current moment. What might our futures selves wish we knew now to steer our lives in better directions. Perhaps the pieces of the puzzle are already before us, and it’s merely an incident of perspective, a narrowing due to focus that obligates better directions from our current view?

 

It’s one thing to look back and simply wish we could give a past self a winning combination of lottery numbers. It’s quite another thing to wish a past self could simply see how the pieces of the puzzle at the time could fit together in better ways. In retrospect, everything is obvious, so given the pieces we have today, what will look obvious when looking back in five years or ten?  What combination of facts and circumstances is piling up against destiny that seems invisible now?

 

A favorite line in this realm is when someone says “not in my lifetime!”, when pertaining to some prediction about the future, be it self driving cars or some machine that can speak in a manner more loving than anyone we’ve ever known.

 

And yet time has a funny way of flying by, and the future so many imagine to be a part of time beyond their own life may get here far sooner than many expect.  Forces and technologies compound like invisible puzzle pieces, clicking into place far faster than we might imagine a present set of circumstances capable of evolving.

 

Planning for the future might require imagining it arriving far sooner than expected.


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Podcast Ep. 1163: The Future of Our Future

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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.