The Best Thing You Can Do For Yourself

Change oftentimes happens so slowly in each of us, we don’t realize that we’re changing when we are.  The biggest change that’s happened with me over the past, oh, I don’t know, past several years is I have far less inner dialog in my head than I used to.  That’s not to say that I don’t think or plan for the future.  It’s moreso gaining control over my thoughts, removing a lot of useless negative thinking, and suffering a lot less.  One of the greatest forms of suffering is rooted in that inner dialog gone out of control.  There is this incessant chattering in the skull, always judging things, narrating your life, comparing this moment to another moment, reflecting on the past, worrying about the future, asking you why you didn’t do this or that, wondering how things could’ve been had you taken a different path in life, and all that sort of thing.  Largely removing that voice from my head has been one of the greatest blessings.

Things started changing for me years ago when I began listening to people like Alan Watts, or there is this other Indian Yogi philosopher I began to enjoy named Sadhguru.  They always stress removing useless inner dialog and being more present, being more accepting of reality as it is, and being less judgmental.  It’s done a lot for me.  What someone new to this line of thinking has to understand is that it has nothing to do with “living in the moment”.

As Sadhguru points out, our brain is like a super-computer that nature has produced over hundreds of millions of years of evolution.  It can remember the past and it can imagine the future, and that’s a beautiful thing.  The problem is that this power, which the animals lack, requires a lot of operator know-how to make it function properly.  The brain is highly programmable, and you have to know how to use it, or else it runs a muck, making you and everyone around you miserable. Sadhguru made a point which stuck with me — much of the haywire happens when we have certain ways of interpreting the past or the future that aren’t good for us.

I’ve noticed I always get irritated when I have something I planned to do, or there’s a certain way I think things should be, and things refuse to go along with my expectations. That’s life in a nutshell, I guess. It can be small things or large things.  For a small thing, I may be immersed in a video game then get a random text or some other distraction. At one moment you’re the hero saving the galaxy, the next you’re scooping out the litter box or carrying a smelly bag of trash to the bin outside. Or larger example, I had all sorts of expectations for what I thought a university would be like when I enrolled. I got there and was quickly disillusioned and disappointed. It’s always the same dynamic.  You wanted to experience one thing, then things don’t go as planned.

Expectations can make you miserable.  This may sound like “giving up” to some people, but at some point you have to be satisfied with your life, even if things didn’t turn out how your know-nothing teenage self thought they would.  Maybe your husband or wife isn’t everything you always dreamed of, maybe your career isn’t exactly what you had imagined for yourself, and maybe you’re not as successful as you had once thought you would be.  When is happiness and peace finally going to be a part of your life?  When?  Do you really have to achieve everything you imagine in your head before you can enjoy this life?  The older I get, the less I think any of that matters.  Your state of life typically isn’t the problem, it’s how you perceive it. In most cases, you can enjoy life and be at peace if you have the right way of looking at things.  Keyword is most cases.

This may sound at odds to what I was writing about in my last post.  After all I talked about working hard and not making excuses when it comes to your goals.  I firmly believe in that too.  If you think you’ll never be happy, or ever have peace, or ever find joy until you achieve such and such, then go and do that.  Quit daydreaming about it.  Go and do it.  If you think it all hinges on this or that, then go make it happen.  But it gets annoying when you’re around people who think where they are isn’t enough, yet aren’t doing anything to change it.  “This place sucks, but I’m stuck here.  And nothing’s worth changing”.  That attitude is annoying.

What I’ve found even after achieving goals I set for myself is I don’t feel all that different than what I did initially.  Take one stupid thing.  I remember as college went on, I was normally so busy with that that I didn’t get to play a lot of video games that were coming out.  There was this big gap, like seven or eight years of good games I hadn’t gotten to play.   And this kept building until it became a fantasy in my mind.  I was like, “Oh, if only I could get away from all this work I have to do and play these games.  I bet they’re so fun.”  You know what I did?  I took an entire semester, only took one class (just so I could stay enrolled), and bought all those games and played a lot of them.  It was ok, I guess.  Wasn’t worth all the hours I daydreamed about it though.  I ended up spending most of the time studying artificial intelligence instead.  But that’s what you gotta do.  Just do it.  Get it out of your system.  Maybe after you’ve experienced this a few times you’ll realize that the mind is always trying to draw you away from the present moment and steal its joy, telling you the joy is somewhere else.  Oh, once I get this job, or find this perfect woman, the perfect man, or get this new car, or this home, or whatever you think it is, then the joy will flow, but not now.  Nope, this situation sucks, and if only I knew how to change it.  You think that’s where life is?  Go ahead.  Do it.  Go for it.  Change.  Go bungee jump off some mountain and drink champagne in Paris.  I can almost guarantee you it’s going to let you down, but you’re not going to believe me.  And who am I to say?  Maybe it’ll be a transformational experience for you?  Never has for me, but it may be for you.

Peace seems to come from within and it flows out of you into the world and changes your surroundings.  But most people seem to think their surroundings are going to change them, not them change their surroundings.  If you take a person who doesn’t have their mind together, and put them in beautiful place, they’ll trash it.

I can’t remember where I heard this from, but I once read someone say that the entire world around you is a reflection of who you are.  There’s a lot of truth to that.  The people you draw into your life, your friends, your relationships, your career and education choices, everything is a reflection of who you are.  The people in your life are a reflection of yourself.  Your choices.  The way you see things.  What you believe about the world.  About yourself.  If you want the world to change, you change.  Then as you change, certain things will fall out of your life and other new things will come in.

But even when I’ve changed inside, the world around me hasn’t always changed in any significant way.  When I was entrepreneur, I hated that world.  I hated the greed, how everything was about making money, how people treated each other terribly, and the whole way it operated.  So I changed and decided to be a scientist.  Felt more noble.  And while it’s true that my surroundings changed, I saw the same sort of human shortcomings and failings in the world of science.  The things I hated about the business world were just as present in the university and world of research.

A lot of people talk about coming back from near-death experiences, seeing that realm of love, and just having no interest in much of how we do anything here on Earth.  They often give up everything and refocus their efforts on healing people, like being a counselor, social worker, or some job that deals with healing people emotionally and spiritually.  I saw one guy who was a rich Wall-Street investor, he died and had an NDE, and then he gave up his firm and became a trauma counselor.  The more I think about things, it makes sense.  That’s really what the world needs.  A lot of healing and more love.  Sounds hokey, but isn’t it true?

I’d personally like more peace of mind.  I talk about finding peace wherever you’re at, and letting it flow out of you, and all that, and in some cases I feel like I can fix situations with that, but at other times, even if I try to inject goodness and beauty into the situation, there is so much toxicity and darkness in a place that any goodness I bring into the place is stamped out and smothered.  Some people just resist it and choose darkness.  So much of life is soul crushing.

The soul crushing comes from other people, mainly.  The longer I live, the more I see life as a sort of spiritual journey.  So often I just want to live in the woods in a log cabin and have next to nothing to do with anybody.  I’ll tell you why.  I can watch near-death experiences and people talk about dying and entering heaven.  They’re greeted by a massive crowd of people who all hug them, and cheer that they’re there, and telepathically beam unconditional love into their mind, and it’s just an ocean of love, gratefulness, and appreciation.  I wish the world would treat me that way, but it doesn’t.  I go to bring more of that into the world, and I so often get none of it back.  But it’s always worth doing your best to bring it into the world.  I got my teaching evaluations back from the last semester.  I was rated a 3.9/4.0, and one student wrote that I’m a “badass” and left a cryptic emoji sequence that I’m too old to understand.  The only complaint seemed to be that I sometimes didn’t talk loud enough for those in the back rows.  That was nice.  My parents and immediate family can be really kind and loving toward me, and I have some good friends, but the world overall is ice cold, indifferent, and uncaring.  There are times I want to scream at people, “Why are we treating one another this way?”

I guess I can create little loving bubbles with students I teach and my family, but the rest is up to, well, the rest of you.  And it’s not like I can insulate myself from the rest of the madness.  The stupidity seeps into my world as well.  I hate grades and the whole way the academic world operates, other than actually teaching students and conveying knowledge.  So I gotta give students “grades”.  Stamp letters on all their heads.  What do they mean?  Who knows.  Nobody knows.  Write a hard test, they all get A’s, a harder test they may get C’s, yet both are the same students with the same knowledge.  And what does 73% mean as opposed to 81%?  The grading scheme and point awards are arbitrary.  And if they miss something, why don’t we just work it again, and again, until everyone understands everything they want to?  I don’t get it.  They’re paying a small fortune to be there.  Why is there not enough resources to tutor them until they get it?  People can sign up for websites and for $15 a month access live tutors, 24 hours a day to talk with them about any problem they ask.  Yet they can pay thousands of dollars and they may get a special day once a week for that, and maybe some office hours, but other than that nope.  And if they bomb a test, they can look forward to thousands more to take the course again.  No retakes!  That’s unfair to the other students, you know.  These arbitrary grade assignments and relating student performances to one another is everything, don’t you know!

But yeah, I feel a bit reserved saying that you can find peace, regardless of your situation.  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  It hasn’t been true for me.  From my own experience, there are places and situations where the best thing you can do is plan your escape.  There are some people who will make your life miserable.  There are places, like that university, that are difficult to enjoy.  When you’re forced to spend 10-12 hours a day studying, tediously memorizing calculation procedures you know you’re going to forget and likely never use, and constantly being threatened that if you don’t memorize all of it, in vivid detail, they’re going to rip away all your dreams, well, that just isn’t a loving, caring environment.  No room for mistakes.  No real connection with the people there.  That was my life, for years.  Just wake up, study things I oftentimes didn’t want to be studying, go to bed.  Do it all over again the next day.  Sad thing is, I’d sometimes blame myself.  I’d be like, well, I have to take responsibility for this, I choose to leave the software world and do this.  In the back of my mind, I’ve viewed it all as a huge, giant mistake.  But after I’d invested years of effort into it, I didn’t know whether to turn back or keep going.  I kept going.  – shrugs –

Though I haven’t wrote about this on my blog, I’ve also dealt with family members who have drug and alcohol addictions.  I’ve had  family members who’d get drunk and rage, running around punching doors, slamming cabinets, getting in my face yelling.  Then they’d break a bunch of stuff, and there’s glass shards all over the floor, and I’m cleaning that up and they’re continuing to yell at me, and I’ll readily admit, I was not at peace.  It’s a difficult emotion, when you both love someone yet also want to shove their head through the wall.  Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek, and that’s pretty amazing, but when I try to emulate that, I end up with anxiety attacks.  There have been times where I’ve endured that for three hours straight, just standing in one spot in the kitchen, the person pacing around, punching things, yelling, screaming, getting in my face.  Each time, them getting in my face, knowing I’m strong enough to destroy them, but keeping my cool.  Friends have told me that I should bust them up, just once, showing that I won’t put up with it and put a visceral fear in them to doing that sort of thing around me.  But I don’t know.  As it’s gone on, now just certain noises give me these anxiety spikes.  One time I saw a table with different bottles of alcohol on it and I was filled with rage.  Almost like a crazy person, I was going to tip it over and bust all the bottles on the ground and just yell, “Garbage!  Why does this mind-maddening poison exist in this world?”  Then I snap back to reality, and there’s just anger.  Just sort of mutter under my breath, “Get this away from me.  I want out of here.”  I hate alcohol and drugs both.  Deep down, visceral hatred, at the core of my being.  I guess I’m stuck with family members, but I’d never voluntarily let someone into my life that drinks, at least not around me.  Not even casual drink.  I won’t deal with it.

When that stuff happens, you don’t want an apology.  The only thing you want is change.  I remember hearing the story of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, and everyone was calling her a gold digger.  Then she released that video of Johnny getting drunk and slamming cabinets, and yelling at her, and I was like, “Girl, get out of there.  You don’t need that or deserve that in your life.”  I don’t care how rich someone is.  I’d rather live in a tiny apartment, struggling to get by, with someone who loves me and treats me well, than live in a golden palace with someone that acts like that.  I saw that video and instantly connected to her.  I have seen that same thing so many times.  I know how that goes.  It might’ve only been a minute long clip, but that’s all I needed to recognize it.  If you’ve never been around it, you won’t get it.  But once you have, it’s misery, and if you have the option to get it out of your life, you should get out of there as soon as you can.  But those sorts of people latch onto their family members, because loving parents, and other loving family members get worried that if they don’t help the addicts, that person would end up homeless.   A long time ago I wrote a post that I hate drugs and alcohol.  I mean it.  I HATE drugs and alcohol.  The second I even see alcohol, I dump it down the sink.

Sorry for that rant.  I mostly shared that stuff to show you guys that there have been situations in my life where I couldn’t find peace, I just had to get away from the source of misery, or at the very least wait for it to end.  When I was younger I used to have a judgmental side of me, where I would almost sort of look down on people who would get divorced, or people who wanted nothing to do with certain family members, or people who had a deep hatred for their job.  Now I don’t judge them at all.  I still think forgiveness is the best option, but once you’ve been seriously hurt or wronged, that’s easier said than done.  When I see all this sort of thing, all I think is I’m sorry you couldn’t find happiness there, or that you got stuck in some terrible situation and couldn’t find a way out.  Maybe that’s part of getting older?  You experience a lot more, have seen a lot more, and can relate to people and their struggles a lot more than you could when just a young teenager.

Thoughout my life, I’ve tried to impose my will on reality, but the universe always kicks, screams, and thrashes its way out of whatever mold I try to put it in.  I can’t control it, so a new strategy of mine is to create “space”.  Space is simply room for other people’s goals, intentions, failings, and things which don’t line up with what I want or even need.  I expect whatever.  I go to do something, make all kinds of plans, hope for wonderful things, do my best, then I just wait.  I know it’s coming.  A grand shower of crap I didn’t want or expect.  It’s like, yeah, we could do things in a way that makes sense and would actually work.  Things could be peaceful and good.  We could all share the burden, live responsibly, all do our best.  But yeah.  Ok random person who came screaming down the road on drugs, slamming into my car in the driveway, destroying beautiful trees in my front yard.  Don’t know where you came from, but you’re here.  Now what?  Actually when this happened to me, they weren’t there.  They were driving a beat up junker, fled the scene, and of course didn’t have insurance.  Ohh, MY insurance rates will now be going up?  Fantastic.

Where am I even going with all of this?  I don’t know.  Something along the lines of, yeah, reality is crazy, but I’m going to have peace of mind, be loving, and not let all this garbage change who I am.  Be a light in a dark world.  Be warm when everyone’s cold.  That sort of thing.  But most of all, you have to have things together in your head.  I had some things I wanted to talk about related to that.  About removing the inner negative dialog in your head.  I think it’s one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself living on this planet.  It doesn’t end suffering, but it keeps you from amplifying it, and dragging it with you into your future.

In the video above, Sadhguru points out that one of the main problems people do is wrongly identify with the things they perceive, and that gets their mind’s chatter going.  I really do believe that each one of us has at our core all the peace and happiness we need.  Your true self is already at peace.  That’s why a lot of people meditate, just to simply perceive this fact.  But what happens is people have this brain machinery, it’s being filled with garbage (mostly from all the things we experience in this place), and it’s constantly taking a mental diarrhea on the core of their soul, blocking it out from their consciousness.

In my world at the university, I see so much status seeking.  Write up your papers and get published in the most prestigious journals.  Get invited to conferences, have people pat you in the back, tell you you’re a big deal.  None of it is real.  When I was beginning my PhD research, I had professors offering me to work on research with them, and when they’d talk about the work, they didn’t talk about real value it’d bring to the world, or how interesting it’d be, it was, “This work would be prestigious.  It’ll help advance your career.”  Careers, money, status, fame!  My mind sort of shuts off and I think, just leave me alone.  When you think about it, does any of it even make sense?  So I’m going to work on something I’m not interested in for years, working eight to ten hours a day, all in the hopes that somebody else, who I have no control over, may acknowledge that what I’m doing is worthwhile and invite me to a conference, where I’ll spend a weekend or so in a hotel room, then go and give a little talk to people I do not know and am not emotionally attached to, and hope (keeping my fingers crossed here), hope that they’ll pat me on the back, tell me I did a good job, and validate that all the work I did was good for something.  No thanks.  Why do people do that?  I don’t understand awards, status seeking, prestige, fame, or what value any of it has.

I’d rather just enjoy right now.  The majority of my time awake and living.  I’d like for that to be pleasant.  And really, I’d like for that peace and happiness to depend as little as possible on this transitory, crazy world.  Do I have food in my belly?  Am I warm?  In decent health?  Hopefully I already have more than enough to find a good degree of peace as long as I shut off the mental diarrhea chatter.  Mute the world’s most negative narrator.  You have to learn to sort of step out of your mind, no longer identify with those thoughts, just see them happen, let them happen, and then analyze what causes those negative outbursts of mental diarrhea, and rethink why you think that way.  Well, unless things get too crazy.  Maybe if I was more spiritually developed, I could even find peace in a warzone, or when an addict is yelling in my face, but I’m not there yet.  Understanding and empathy is the best approaches in this situations, but those only go so far to me.  Maybe there is a sort of pride in me that, “I’d never do that”, incapable of identifying with terrible behavior.  It’s probably something I should reflect on more and think about.

A lot of thought patterns aren’t helpful to you.  Like for me, during my entrepreneurial days, I had developed patterns of thought that were very hostile and untrusting toward people and the world in general.  For various reasons, I felt I always had to cover all my bases, making sure that nobody can ever take advantage of me.  Then I learned to find that inner peace and it’s like, “What is anyone going to take away from me?”  Then I realized that all of that bad thought pattern was based on this idea that earning all this money was my ticket to happiness, and otherwise I’d be stuck in this miserable state of life, working some crappy job I didn’t want to be at, subject to what other people told me to do all day long.  I saw that pattern and was like, well that’s not true, especially not anymore.  I don’t mind teaching, I’m totally fine with it, I don’t have any particular use anymore for huge sums of money, and this way of thinking is of no use to me anymore.

Today I could work most any job and be ok with it.  Like I was hanging out with some guys in the gym and they all do construction.  One reason they all lift weights is to stay strong enough to lift heavy equipment and things on the construction site.  I got to thinking the other day that I wouldn’t mind working construction.  I think those guys are really cool.  I’d rather work with them, where I’m respected and feel comfortable, than be somewhere where I make loads of money but the people are nasty.  I used to be weak and scrawny, but after almost three years of weight lifting, I’m one of the strongest guys in the gym.  I can lift heavy boards, jackhammers, and other equipment.  I think it’s cool to build beautiful homes.  What’s wrong with that?  It’d be cool to build a new deck for someone.  Growing up I used to do that sort of thing with my dad and grandpa.  I don’t get why people look down on blue collar work.  I don’t.  I wouldn’t mind working on roads, or working for the power company repairing electric lines, or laying pipe underground.  I could be a firefighter.  I could work for the parks service stocking fish in our lakes and rivers.  I don’t see being a theoretical physicist as more prestigious than what they do.  I don’t even feel I’m smarter than they are.  I just know different things, that’s all.

I’ve noticed that that’s what most of spiritual teachers do — they reprogram your mind to think in new ways that are more loving, trusting, accepting, more open, more secure and confident in yourself, less worrying, more productive, etc.  The brain is a complicated instrument, full of a bazillion knobs and levers, capable of thinking practically an infinite number of ways.  You have to be careful what you let in there.

The only thing that seems real to me anymore is bringing more happiness and peace into this world.  Physics is fun too, trying to figure out what this world is that I’m experiencing, but at this point it’s mostly just a really interesting puzzle to work on.  Physics is about understanding the stage that this show of life is happening on.  But the stage isn’t what’s most important.  It’s about both putting on a good show, and having the audience enjoy it.  The people are what matter.  Also, in my eyes, one of the greatest achievements is to have a peaceful, loving mind.  Even if the show’s going well, if your mind’s a mess, you’ll screw up any good situation.  If you can go through all the hell this life puts you through, and still love people, still be good to people, and have peace of mind, you’ve accomplished the biggest feat there is, I think.

I’d like to get to a place where I love the world.  I can’t say I feel that way now.  “The world” is kinda vague, I guess.  There are things I like, and a lot that I don’t like.  That might be the better way to put it.  However, the more I’ve applied everything I’ve been learning, I’m slowly getting to where the crappiness of the world doesn’t bother me nearly as much, but when I objectively look at so much of the world, I can’t honestly say to you, “Things are wonderful.”  People just aren’t good to each other.

So I live a sort of walking contradiction.  I don’t think my mind is wrong when it looks at so much of this world and says, “This isn’t good.”  The negative voices is oftentimes telling the truth.  But I’m not going to spend each waking hour letting this negative tape recorder play negativity in my mind, playing the role of world’s most miserable narrator, constantly murmuring and making everyone miserable, robbing me of what happiness there is to experience in this life.  It’s not useful to anyone.  If you’re in that situation, the greatest thing you can do for yourself is start listening to enlightened people, cut out a lot of the negativity, and deprogram your mind of all that garbage.  Get rid of those bad thought patterns which aren’t helping you.

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