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The Tinkered Mind
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September 2nd, 2020
This episode is dedicated to Barbra who has been kindly beta testing "Brutal Honesty" mode in a new App from Tinkered Thinking and found herself face to face with a very interesting question. You can connect with her on twitter with the handle @_brbaramrtns.
Despite our modern obsession with happiness, we understand it quite poorly. And beyond this, our discourse surrounding happiness is terribly unorganized, vague and shifting. This is a bit odd considering western culture’s obsession with categorization and taxonomy. English in particular has a gargantuan vocabulary. English is quite a bit larger than most other languages you can name because English has cannibalized those languages and cannibalized even itself in a growing mission to fulfill that biblical profession of pointing at things and having a name ready for it. Despite this sprawling and voracious effort on the part of english, when we each point at happiness and say the word, we don’t all seem to be on the same page.
Some people think happiness is about peak experiences - that is when joy and pleasure seem to get together in the core of our experience and get busy. It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that living with an experience of a perpetual peak experience isn’t just impossible but it would be paradoxically awful. First off, everyone would probably think there was something terribly wrong with you. Aside from this, it’s difficult to imagine anyone getting anything done if they were constantly in a state of peak pleasure and joy.
Well of course you can’t be deliriously happy all the time, that’s ridiculous! So what do most people mean when they speak of happiness? Could the very concept of happiness be doing us some harm? Imagine for a moment if the concept of happiness just didn’t exist. By talking about happiness it’s easy to come to the conclusion that perhaps you’re missing out on something. Everyone seems to be talking about something that you don’t seem to be experiencing. Perhaps the follow up question that we forget to ask is: What if no one is actually experiencing this happiness thing in the way it seems everyone is describing it?
Humans certainly aren’t strangers to the idea of pontificating about experiences, realities and laws that actually don’t exist. There are a few other words that fall into this devious category: hope, and passion, to name just two. All of these words form an imaginary inner sanctum of experience, which functions primarily to alienate us from ourselves. The human imagination has vast powers and with these sorts of words, the power of the imagination is turned against the individual who imagines. If you imagine a perfect ideal, than real life is always going to be a bit of a disappointment because that object of the imagination sets up an expectation that never materializes.
We constantly jump to grasp the peak experience only to grasp at something that isn’t there and leave ourselves to fall lower than we were before. The subtle lesson of a mindfulness practice, or stoicism or even potentially a steady creative practice is that everything is actually quite nice as it is. It’s these hazy concepts that we use to inadvertently gaslight ourselves, and by doing so we miss out on how lovely the simplicity of any given moment is. No matter where you are, whether it be waiting for hours in line at the bank, or slogging it through a day at work, it is possible to take a conscious breath and look around with gratitude and amazement at the fact that you are alive. This is possible even when burdened with terrible sadness and even pain. But it is a bit of a skill, and the development of this skill requires a bit of skepticism for some of the concepts we already operate on. It requires questions that feel odd in the mind and on the tips of our lips:
What if hope is a damaging concept?
What if happiness is a mirage that makes us miserable?
What if they are best regarded as NULL concepts?
What if the present moment is actually quite lovely and...
What if it’s the mind that bars our ability to see it?
Our sense of experience is overwhelmingly dictated by our ability to make sense of it. We have to ask: what exactly is the software we have running that is allowing us to make sense of it in the way we do? What if there’s some insidious code running, camouflaged as our favourite feature? Should it be any surprise that buried within the box of Pandora with all the other ills of the world that were unleashed when opened was hope?
If happiness is something that can be achieved for moments longer than peak experiences, then it most likely begins to look, sound and feel a lot like another concept:
Do we achieve peace by adding more things? Or do we all have a subtle intuition grown from our total immersion in consumerist culture that adding one more thing probably isn’t going to make us happy. But what if we do the opposite?
What if peace is a subtractive process?