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The Tinkered Mind
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March 19th, 2019
New difficulties are bound to spring up. Progress might even be defined as the rate at which we can gobble up these difficulties that lie on the path to our goals.
Many of us react to these new difficulties in similar ways. We roll our eyes, we groan, we ignore them, we get frustrated, angry and even bitter. We essentially invoke that ancient image of the toddler stamping their feet and having a tantrum.
On the other hand, some people have discovered and developed a kind of super power response to such needling details. Some people take delight in such difficulties. Such a response might seem mildly psychotic to a person who has no accessible benchmark for such a perspective.
A possible remedy is to think of games. Those played by the youngest children are very easy: like putting a star shaped object into a star-shaped hole. For a young child we can imagine this is good for pattern recognition, but for an adult, this task would be inane and boring. The game is too easy. But present the same adult with a more difficult game? Intrigue and enjoyment are more likely to arise and perhaps provoke a sense of curiosity.
This tension between difficulty and curiosity is an invaluable waypoint in the process of becoming a more effective person and less triggered.
We can think back on our own recent history and ask: do small difficulties make me angry and frustrated? Or am I more likely to be curious about such things?
In such questions lie an important caveat: if such difficulties are too simple, and merely represent a procedural repetition in our job or life, than we are perhaps playing a game that is too simple for the mind we find ourselves equipped with. If such is the case, then it’s time to Level-Up and go find a more challenging game, one in which the inevitable difficulties can be used as fodder for curiosity.
On the other hand, there are aspects of living that are impervious to such game-switching. There are things that we as humans have to do on a regular basis that cannot be swapped out for more interesting tasks. And here in lies the mirror complement of the above caveat: we can further ask if there’s any way we can tinker with our perspective to change our relationship to frustration during the times we have to deal with such simplistic difficulties.
We can take something as simple as doing the dishes, or folding laundry. While some people can actually pay their way out of such tasks, the vast majority have to engage in this kind of activity from time to time. Just as a more difficult game requires stretches of perspective and recombined ideas, our more mundane tasks still offer a similar opportunity. Here a practice like Mindfulness can be invaluable, and while a full discussion of the topic will be left for another time, we can still phrase the useful difficulty in a simple way, we can wonder: how well-tuned is my ability to focus on the task at hand?
Am I always lost thinking about the past or thinking about the future? Or can I leave the past and the future where they are and walk the Tightrope of the moment in the present and simply enjoy being alive, regardless of what I am doing?
This is an important difficulty that besets all people, and yet little training or exercise is undertaken to address such difficulty. While it generally requires some study and a healthy amount of practice, it is well within reach to develop the on-command ability to take delight in the moment, no matter which moment. Such an ability is another superpower, especially in today’s hyper-saturated distracting environment that appears hell-bent on convincing the common person that their life is pathetic when compared to others. Not only does such a mindful ability clear such useless obstacles, but it opens up the space to teach ourselves that first mentioned superpower: the ability to take delight in difficulties as opposed to simply getting angry. By observing, noting, and taking careful heed of our default reactions to different issues as they arise in life, we can slowly but steadily edit those defaults and eventually rebuild a perspective so that when irritating trifles arise, we either respond with delight and curiosity or we take the opportunity to simply enjoy being alive.