20 April, 2023

Less "If-Then", More "Is"

We live our lives in uncertainty, in the hypothetical. How many of your thoughts today have been about what could (or, in your opinion, should) be?

"If I got a raise, then I can afford a new laptop."

"If I see Jessie at the party, I can ask them on a date." "If we stopped people from littering in this neighborhood, property values would increase." From the minute to the monumental, from the greedy to the altruistic, our tendency is to birth thoughts that point us toward the future, that incomprehensible, ever-elusive destination. We build not only our ideals but also our perspective on clouds. Herein lies a foundation for anxiety, paranoia, and all kind of stress. If thinking like this seems impractical, consider for a moment the value of making accurate predictions in a cause-and-effect reality. The ape who doesn't choose food that's safe to eat doesn't live to forage another day. Smart creatures make observations, then infer from those what foods can be eaten. "If I eat the red berries, then I might get sick" is a reasonable conclusion if you've seen others poisoned by eating red berries. If-then is the cornerstone of logical thought. The problem is, it can also be a trap. If and then assume the present as a given. In doing so, they incline us to ignore it. Even when a thought is based in here-and-now, how often do our minds remain with the present? The mind's inclination is to leap from one association to the next. We're natural storytellers. We're fantasists. We think that it isn't enough to have a fudge sundae in front of us; we imagine it'd taste even better with chocolate ice cream. Why is it so hard to be happy with what we've got? For crying out loud, it's right here at our disposal! Why not rejoice at our good fortune to have that sugary, fatty calorific sundae to savor? Yet this wishing for something else is exactly how we respond to circumstances most of the time, even when the dissatisfaction is subtle enough not to seem, on its surface, like a genuine lack. While shopping: "The name brand would be better than what I'm buying." On YouTube: "That video looks more interesting than the ones I've been watching." [Click.] During an evening walk with the one we love: "Those crickets could be quieter." You see the illogic here. Our big, amazing human brains can be so dumb. If not, no office drone would tack to their cubicle walls pop-philosophy statements like "It is what it is." They'd deem such statements too head-slappingly obvious to be interested. The sheer proliferation of "It is what it is" is solid evidence that a majority of us live not here-and-now but in dreamland. The world in which we live is in some ways a figment, the product of whims and half-understood psychologies. To open our eyes and perceive the present reality
that is, to become conscious of the precise now, without superimposing an imagined other, an if-then is the very definition of contentment.

Simply: "My laptop does what I need it to do, and more." "Being romantically unattached simplifies my life." "Picking up the litter I see in my neighborhood is the right thing to do." "This sundae is delicious." Is statements we should make more of them. Easier said than done. Countless times each day, I remind myself to remain in the presence of the present. Countless times each day, I fall short. That's okay. The point is that effort is being applied. When I catch myself drifting off course, listing toward dreamland, I gently take note and perform a corrective nudge. I no longer suffer from depression or anxiety. I get fewer headaches. Even my digestion has improved.

I wonder sometimes if the reason I've made mindfulness my practice is as a psychological shield against the effects of imprisonment. The seeds of enlightenment were already there, but there's no doubt the soil was cultivated by this pared-down lifestyle. There's a reason that millennia of seekers have removed themselves from society and become hermits, monks, and wanderers. Contemplation demands distance. The distance imposed on me by prison has played an indisputable role in my growth. There's just no way of knowing how much.

I wonder about this, and then I realize that it makes no difference anyway. No matter the reasons, this is the life I'm living. I'm trying to make the best of it by treating it well. How are you treating yours?

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